Using Wills and Probate Records in Genealogy Research

Using wills and probate records for genealogy can lead to unexpected “inheritances” of your own: clues about relatives’ identities, wealth, personal belongings, and family relationships. Wills can reveal great family stories, too: researcher Margaret Linford entertains her mother with them during trips to the courthouse. Here’s how wills can help your family history—and Margaret’s tips for finding and using them.

Using Wills and Probate Records in Genealogy Research

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way” to find out more about your family’s history.

Wills are legal records created to direct the settlement of a person’s property and other final affairs after his or her death. Probate (or estate) records are created after an individual’s death as part of the legal distribution of the estate and payment of debts. You’ll often find wills as one of many kinds of the documents included in probate records.

Wills and other probate records are valuable research tools, but are frequently neglected as sources of genealogical information. People often focus strictly on birth, marriage, and death records when searching out their family histories. If you rely solely on those records, your research will encounter many brick walls in the early 1800’s. 

Probate records and land records were often the only official documents left behind to tell the stories of ancestors who lived prior to the legal requirement for the registry of births and deaths.

Wills of slaveholders can also be valuable tools in conducting African-American genealogical research. Before the Civil War, enslaved people were listed in wills because they were valuable property of slaveholders.

For instance, in the 1863 Smyth County property tax records, it is noted that Abijah Thomas owned 56 slaves, which were valued at $53,800. Some were given their freedom within wills, while others were transferred to other members of the family or sold. For instance, one of the first wills recorded in Smyth County is that of Hugh Cole.

Within his will, he says the following: “I bequeath to my beloved wife Martha Cole a negro girl named Amanda which she is to hold during her natural life.” The mention of an enslaved person in a will—along with any personal description of him or her—may be the only surviving document to mention that person by name.

Within another Smyth County will, recorded on February 20, 1835, a woman named Elizabeth Blessing left the following directive: “I will and desire that my negro woman Betty be free at my decease, and must see to her own support during her life, as I shall not make any provision for her out of any part of my estate.”

Information Found in Wills Varies

You can find just about anything in a will!

One organ, one compass, chain and plotting instruments, two chests, one hat rack, one music rack, one old United States map. These are some of the items found in the appraisement bill of the personal property belonging to the estate of Abijah Thomas, who lived in the well-known Octagon House in Marion, Virginia.

Here is a photo of that home, now in a dilapidated state, from a Wikipedia file image (click image for attribution.)

Octagon12 8 07

Also included in his personal property is a church bell. The story behind the bell is intriguing and illustrates the significance of the probate process.

Abijah Thomas utilized the bell at his foundry works in Marion, Virginia, to indicate shift changes. For decades, the oral history surrounding the bell indicated that he had donated it to the Wytheville Presbyterian Church before he died. The court documents reveal a different story.

court document regarding the church bell

Court document regarding the church bell

Since Abijah died intestate, the court appointed three men to appraise his personal property. During this process, the bell was valued at $75. It was sold on September 1, 1877, to the Presbyterian Church in the town of Wytheville, Virginia, as shown in the above list of items sold from his estate.

This document dispels the family myth surrounding the church bell. This is just one of many examples of the types of stories you find in probate records in courthouses all across the United States.

Genealogical Information May be Found in a Will or Probate Records

Wills and probate records can pass along unexpected genealogical wealth to you. You may find the following information in them: date of death (or approximate date of death), name of spouse, children, parents, siblings and their place of residence, adoption or guardianship of minor children, ancestor’s previous residence, occupation, land ownership, and household items.

Probate records also contain such interesting stories that they can even be read for entertainment!

Whenever I go on a research trip, I usually drag some poor, unsuspecting soul along with me. That person is usually my Mom. While she enjoys the scenery on our drive to different courthouses, she rarely enjoys the time spent at the courthouse.

Some of the research I do requires me to stay at the courthouse for several hours. That has posed a problem in the past since I haven’t known how to keep Mom occupied. But I have found the perfect solution. When we arrive at the courthouse, I find an old will book and let her start reading.

My mom enjoys reading the stories in these old—and sometimes tattered—books. One of her favorite stories came from a will in Henry County, Virginia. It is the will of Addie T. Thornton and reads as follows:

“I also give to my nephew Thomas T. Earles, fifty ($50) in cash to be deposited in some safe Banking Institution, on interest until he arrives at the age of twenty-one (21) years old and then the principal to be invested in a watch and I request that a monogram with both his and my name, one on inside and the other on outside of watch.

Obviously, Addie Thornton cared deeply for her nephew, Thomas, and wanted to make sure he remembered her for the rest of his life.

Here’s part of Addie’s will, followed by a closeup image of the lines about the watch:

Addie Thornton's will

Addie Thornton's will

Stories like these are so much more meaningful than just a date of birth, marriage or death. Wills can help us know who these people were, how they lived and what was important to them during their sojourn here on earth. We can learn of their struggles and their successes. We can tell what their lives were like by reading through the lists of household items included in the inventories that are recorded.

And with stories like Addie’s bequest of the watch, we can also learn about ancestors’ personalities and how they expressed (or occasionally withheld) love for others through the final disposition of their belongings.

How a Will is Created

Before beginning probate record research, it is important to be familiar with the probate process and legal terminology associated with these records. It is estimated that, prior to 1900, about half of the population either left a will or was mentioned in one. Those who died having left a will are said to have died “testate.” Those who died without leaving a valid will died “intestate.”

A typical, legally-recognized will contains certain critical elements. It should be in written form and it must have signatures of the person leaving the will (“testator”) and witnesses, who attest to the validity of the document. A codicil is a document created by the testator to amend the will.

Once the testator dies, the will is presented to the judicial authority by a family member or executor/executrix (person appointed by the testator to see that his/her wishes are carried out), accompanied by a written application or petition for probate.

These petitions include names and addresses of the closest living relatives. The court then admits the will to probate and sets a hearing, providing an opportunity for interested parties to contest the will. The will is then recorded and the executor is given the authority to settle the estate. During this process, an inventory of the estate is made.

Some wills contain detailed information, regarding the testator’s final wishes. At times, these requests will shed light on relationships that might not otherwise be discovered. This was the case for a will on file at my local courthouse. Due to the nature of the requests made by the testator, I have changed the last name of the family to Smith. This wife was, obviously, upset with her husband and the circumstances of their marriage, providing clear details of her grievances for future generations.

“Since my husband has never made me a part of his family and has completely cut me out of ever living in Chihowie, Virginia [the husband’s hometown], or never provided me with a home or paid any of my bills and has broken all marriage contracts that we agreed to—I hereby decree that I be buried in Round Hill Cemetery at Marion, Virginia, where I own a lot—that my body or anything I own or possess will never be taken into Chilhowie or the Smith household.

My husband has never taken me into his own home, and furthermore stated, backed up by his nephew and his wife, whom he turned everything over to shortly after our marriage—that I would never own or live on a foot of the Smith ground, even though I have tried to build or buy or remodel a home in Chilhowie, Virginia, at my own expense.

“I give all books and material things pertaining to books to the Smyth County Library, Marion, Virginia, as I am sure that my family would not want anything to fall into the hands of anyone who has mistreated me.

“My husband has kept our marriage strictly on a time clock basis since his nephew and his wife moved back to Smyth County, and under their influence he comes at 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. (whichever is convenient to them) or later, and leaves promptly in the morning by 8:00 or 8:30 a.m., never calling during the day or show[ing] any sign of caring. He changed completely after they returned to Chilhowie to break up the marriage. Therefore, if I am still his wife, or otherwise, see that my wishes are carried out and that my remains and possessions remain in Marion.”

Where to Find Wills and Probate Records

The best place to search for a will is at the courthouse where your ancestor lived, if you can reasonably go there yourself.

Since the probate process is a function of state governments, the laws governing the maintenance of these records and their location will vary by state and should be researched before making a trip to the courthouse.

For example, in Virginia, probate records are maintained within the Circuit Courts and independent cities. In Massachusetts, probate records are found in county Probate Courts.

A useful resource for figuring out how U.S. probate records are organized state-by-state is free on the Ancestry.com wiki: Red Book: American State, County and Town Sources. Scroll down to click on the name of the state in question. Then go to the right side and click on the probate records link for that state to read about these records.

Once you have determined where the wills for your state/county are housed, the next step in the research process is to locate the Index for Wills. Even–perhaps especially–if you are unsure of the date of death for one of your ancestors, you may want to look through the index of wills (an example is shown here). Even when no specific death record exists, you may be surprised to find probate records that reveal the date of death, a list of heirs and more.

There will, most likely, be several index books, organized by year spans. These books serve as a compass, pointing you to any available probate records that may include your ancestors. The index is divided by devisor (the person making the will) and devisee (any person who is named in the will, as the recipient of property).

The research process will be incomplete if you do not conduct a search for your ancestors among the list of devisees. Even if you fail to find their names among the devisors, they could have inherited property from someone else.

Probate records include more than just the will of an individual. You may find letters of administration, lists of heirs, inventories, bills of appraisement, guardianships and other documents related to the settlement of an estate. In some counties, all these documents are found in the same collection. Other counties maintain these records in separate collections. It is important to understand the manner in which probate records are organized for your particular county.

The probate research process should not be rushed. Valuable records may be overlooked when time dictates the quality of your research. For this reason, it is important that you set aside ample time to comb through the probate records. If you find yourself confused about abbreviations or the location of records within the courthouse, there is usually someone in the records vault who would be happy to assist you. Never be afraid (or embarrassed) to ask for help.

Smyth County, VA courthouse records

Fortunately for many of us who can’t easily get to every ancestor’s courthouse, there are some wills available online on genealogy websites, including two of the genealogy giants, FamilySearch and Ancestry.com.

For example:

  • Subscription website Ancestry.com has made it a priority to curate an enormous collection of wills and probate records from all 50 states. At last count, this collection has more than 170 million records—and they keep adding to it.
  • The free FamilySearch.org hosts millions of probate records from the U.S. and around the world (click here to browse their probate and court record collections). Many of these collections are marked “browse-only,” which means they are not yet searchable by name online. You just have to page through them. Click here for instructions on reading browse-only records on the site (it’s not that difficult—and did I mention they’re free?).

Additionally, libraries or genealogical societies in your ancestor’s hometown or county may have books with abstracts from local wills or other resources related to local probate record research.

General Index to Wills probate records genealogy research

General Index to Wills

Well Worth the Effort 

Finding the will of one of your ancestors is an amazing experience. Walking into the vault of a courthouse sometimes feels like walking into a time machine. As you read through the pages that tell of people who lived so long ago, you feel like for even just a small moment that you have gone back in time. You are sitting with them and hearing their stories whispered through the aging and brittle pages that have been left behind. They are all there just waiting to tell their stories. So take the opportunity to go to the courthouse and “meet” your ancestors through the one of the last—and perhaps one of the most revealing—documents they may ever have written: their wills.

Researching Wills and Probate Records: Your Next Steps

Take your genealogy research to the next level by planning a trip to a courthouse to retrieve records like wills and probate records. These articles and podcast episodes will help you get ready:

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Margaret Linford
Margaret Linford is a professional genealogist who specializes in the Mid-South Region of United States research and has logged over 20,000 research hours. Born and raised in Virginia, she has enjoyed traveling the world, and now lives in her childhood hometown with her husband and children. She enjoys teaching her children about heritage, taking them along on research trips and serving as President of the Smyth County Genealogical Society.

Episode 198

This episode’s got a bit of holiday sparkle! Lisa Louise Cooke welcomes Genealogy Gems Book Club author and Victorian lifestyle expert Sarah Chrisman to the show to talk about Victorian holiday traditions, some of which may still live on in your own life. Following that conversation, Lisa shares a fun description of Victorian-era scrapbooking: how it’s different than today’s scrapbooking hobby but also how it reminds her of modern social media.

More episode highlights:

Three success stories from Genealogy Gems listeners: a Google search with great results, a brick-wall busting marriage record and yet another YouTube find for family history (people keep telling us about those!).

Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard chimes in with what she likes so far about MyHeritage’s new DNA testing service.

An internationally-themed German research conference and a makeover for the Scotland’s People website.

NEWS: GERMAN-AMERICAN GENEALOGY PARTNERSHIP CONFERENCE

First-ever German-American Genealogy Partnership Conference: Minneapolis, MN, July 28-30, 2017.

70 presentations over 3 full days on the theme,  “CONNECTIONS: International. Cultural. Personal”

Topics will include major German-speaking regions; social networking opportunities each day for those with common interests in specific regions

For the full scoop, at www.GGSMN.org and click “2017 GAGP Conference”

Trace Your German Roots Online  by Jim Beidler. Click here to get your copy of this terrific book.

NEWS: SCOTLAND’S PEOPLE

The newly-relaunched ScotlandsPeople website has several exciting new features:

Mobile-friendly web design and an enhanced search function;

quick search option for searching indexed records by name and an advanced search for specific types of records;

Free access to several records indexes;

More than 150,000 baptism entries from Scottish Presbyterian churches (other than the Old Parish Registers of the Church of Scotland) have been added and more are coming, as well as marriages and burials;

More types of records held by National Records of Scotland are coming, including records of kirk sessions and other church courts;

Explore the site for free, including handy how-to guides for using Scottish records such as statutory records, church registers and census returns.

MAILBOX: GOOGLE SEARCH SUCCESS STORY

From Joan: “I used one of the handy hints from your presentation at the South Orange County California Genealogical Society’s all day seminar in Mission Viejo, CA. I entered some of my common named ancestors, used the quotes, added a time frame and included some key words, like locations. Most of what I found were my own queries and posts. That shows it works!….

One thing I was amazed at was a multi-page article I found: ‘The Lincoln Kinsman,’ written in 1938. It included a lot of information on the Bush family [which is another of her family lines]. The article even included what I think is my ancestor Hannah Bush Radley.”  (Click here or on the image above to see a copy of “The Lincoln Kinsman” at Internet Archive.)

Listen to a free 2-part series on cold-calling distant relatives or others as part of your genealogy research: “Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast, episodes 14 and 15.”

BONUS CONTENT for Genealogy Gems App Users:
A handy cheat sheet with 14 tips from that series on cold-contacting distant relatives. It’s updated with brand-new suggestions, including ways to find potential relatives’ names during the research process. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users.

MAILBOX: VONDA BLOGS A MARRIAGE RECORD DISCOVERY

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 197 that inspired her discovery

Vonda’s blog post on her discovery: “Right Under Your Nose, or at Least, Your Fingertips! Dickey Family about 1909”

MAILBOX: YOUTUBE SUCCESS STORY

Gay entered “Freeport Texas history” in YouTube and found historical newsreel footage of the opening ceremony of a local water treatment plant. She and the women in her family were seated on the front row. Here’s a screenshot from that footage: maybe this is a stylish young Gay in sunglasses? (Watch the video here.)

Another amazing YouTube family history find in an old newsreel: Gems Editor Sunny Morton finds an ancestor driving his fire truck?with his dog

Lisa’s book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox has an entire chapter on discovering family history gems such as these on YouTube.

More tips and success stories on using YouTube to find your family history in moving pictures:

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. By the end of 2016, RootsMagic expects to be fully integrated with Ancestry.com, too: you’ll be able to sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.

 

 

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

 

INTERVIEW: VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS WITH SARAH CHRISMAN

Sarah Chrisman lives her life every day as if it’s the Victorian era. Her clothing, household, pastimes, chores and more all reflect the time period.

Listen as Lisa and Sarah talk about the Victorian Christmas tree; gift-giving, crafts, decorating and things that might surprise us about holiday celebrations during that time.

Books by Sarah Chrisman:

This Victorian Life: Modern Adventures in Nineteenth-Century Culture, Cooking, Fashion and Technologies, a memoir Sarah’s everyday life. The Book Club interview in December will focus mainly on this book.

Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present and Myself;

True Ladies and Proper Gentlemen: Victorian Etiquette for Modern Day Mothers and Fathers, Husbands and Wives, Boys and Girls, Teachers and Students, and More;

First Wheel in Town: A Victorian Cycling Club Romance. This is from her series of light-hearted historical fiction set in an era she knows well!

Sarah Chrisman joins me again later this month on the Genealogy Gems Premium podcast episode 142 to talk about what it’s like to live every day like it’s the late 1800s. Don’t miss it! Not a Premium member? Click here to learn more about the perks of membership!

 

Legacy Tree Genealogists provides expert genealogy research service that works with your research goals, budget and schedule. The Legacy Tree Discovery package offers 3.5 hours of preliminary analysis and research recommendations: a great choice if you’ve hit a brick wall in your research and could use some expert guidance. Click here to learn more.

 

MyHeritage.com 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.

 

 

 

 

GEM: VICTORIAN SCRAPBOOKING

The Victorians coined the phrase “scrapbooking:” they literally pasted paper scraps into books. As an embellishment, those who could afford to bought “relief scraps,” such as the ones shown here. These were like the precursors of modern sticker sheets or die cuts, printed just for the scrapbooking hobby. You could buy colorful images of everything from flowers or children to animals, or angels or Father Christmas. These images were raised or embossed on the paper, which is why they called them reliefs.

Relief scraps could be used as embellishments around other items on scrapbook pages, but sometimes they were the only decoration on a page, arranged in pretty patterns.

This Ladies Home Journal magazine from May 1891 at HathiTrust Digital Library describes quote “a Sunday Scrap-book?as a source of almost unlimited pleasure and profit to children who can read and write.”

Victorian Scrapbook Gallery at the Library of Birmingham

 

DNA WITH DIAHAN, Your DNA Guide

I don’t think there is any dispute that the four major online resources for genealogy include Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Find My Past, and My Heritage. Of those four, only Ancestry.com has attempted any real integration of DNA test results into traditional genealogy.

That is, until recently. On May 19, 2016 MyHeritage announced that they will be adding a DNA matching service to their offering, and then on November 7th announced they would be conducting DNA tests themselves. Now, MyHeritage has enjoyed partnerships with 23andMe and Family Tree DNA for quite some time now, but those partnerships have been woefully underutilized and are little more than an affiliate service, where MyHeritage provides a discounted rate to test at those companies.

There is no question that the launch of DNA Heritage fully into the genetic genealogy market is exciting news. In fact, it is something I have been pushing for ? we absolutely need someone to challenge AncestryDNA. Competition is good.

In September they began to provide matching results for individuals who had uploaded their results. As of today, uploading your results is still free, so if you have been thinking about it, you may want to take advantage sooner rather than later. As expected, the matches are only as good as the depth of the database, and it is early in the game, so their database is small, but even now we can get an idea of what to expect from MyHeritage as they take their first steps into genetic genealogy.

One of the most exciting elements of their November 7th announcement is their development of a Founder Population project where they have handpicked individuals to represent their reference population for calculating ethnicities. They plan to launch with 25 population groups, but will likely increase to 100 in a fairly short amount of time. This is a far more advanced ethnicity report than is currently offered anywhere else.

After you have figured out how to download your raw data from your testing company  (see my instructions here: http://www.yourdnaguide.com/transferring), and then managed to add it to My Heritage (you have to add a family tree to MyHeritage to do this, see further instructions in their May press release), and waited the requisite time to process, you will receive a notice that you have new DNA matches.

For a full review of the features and ins and outs of where to click and what to look at, please refer to the September blog post from MyHeritage.

As for my favorite features, I like how they list all the possible relationships that make sense between you and your match taking into account multiple factors like your age, gender, and your genetics instead of a simple, generic range like 2nd-4th cousins. The accompanying chart that visually shows you all possible relationships is also very helpful. You can access it by clicking on the little question mark icon next to the relationship suggestions. I like that these suggestions remind us that our genetic relationships have different genealogical interpretations. Meaning that genetically, a 2nd cousin once removed, a first cousin twice removed, and a second cousin, all fall within a similar genetic range and it is impossible to determine your exact relationship based on the genetics alone.

I also like that they are providing all three genetic descriptors of your relationship: total amount of shared DNA, how many segments are shared, and the size of the longest piece of shared DNA. While this more of an intermediate to advanced piece of your results, it can be important as your relationship analysis becomes more involved.

One unique claim made by MyHeritage in their press release about their matching feature addresses a main concern that genetic genealogists have: the lack of pedigree information provided by their matches. MyHeritage claims that 95% of their DNA samples have pedigrees attached. That is remarkable! However, from my own quick calculation of my matches, the number with pedigrees is more like 60%.

They also indicated that they will soon be doing a bit of pedigree analysis for you by providing a list of shared surnames and locations between you and your match based on the pedigrees you have both submitted. This will certainly be a welcome addition.

According to the November 9th Q and A they haven’t decided yet if the ethnicity features will be available to those who only transfer, and they hint at many more features they have in the works that may only be offered to those who purchase their test.

In short, the MyHeritage site is currently functioning much like the top three genetic genealogy sites (Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, and 23andMe) and like the free tool Gedmatch, offers a meeting place for those who have been tested at one company to meet those who have tested at another, with the added bonus of a promise of new features on the horizon.

PROFILE AMERICA: A DICKENSENIAN TALE

PRODUCTION CREDITSGenealogy Gems Newsletter Sign Up

Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer

Sunny Morton, Editor

Amie Tennant, Content Contributor

Vienna Thomas, Audio Editor

Lacey Cooke, Additional Production Support
Check out this new episode!

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

New Digital Archives for Genealogy: Canada, Oregon, Virginia

New digital archives for genealogy host Canadian photos and history magazines, Oregon historical records, and Virginia newspapers. Also this week: Google Maps additions in Canada; Norfolk, England records; England and Wales criminal records; Scottish Presbyterian church records and Glasgow newspapers; and criminal records from England/Wales.

Canada: History Magazines in Digital Archive

Canada’s History Society has launched a new, mobile-responsive digital archive. Canada’s History launches with the entire run of a unique magazine: The Beaver, which explored the history of the Far North from fur-trade colonial days to modern times. “In addition to The Beaver, the archive will feature issues of Canada’s History magazine as well as Kayak: Canada’s History Magazine for Kids,” says a news article. The project was partnered by the Hudson’s Bay Company History Foundation. Its website is also worth exploring if your family history reaches into that part of the world.

Image courtesy Canada’s History Society.

Canada: Photo Archive

More than 100,000 digitized photos represent the beginning of a new Canada photo archive available to subscribers of The Globe and Mail, which is celebrating its 173rd birthday this year along with the country’s 150th. According to a news article, photo topics “range from a 1901 picture of the Forester’s Arch being erected on Bay and Richmond streets for a royal visit to a Canadian astronomical discovery in the late 1990s. You can search the archive by date or Globe photographer, and there are special collections that cover different aspects of Canadian life.”

England: Norfolk Records

Subscription website Findmypast.com has added to these collections of genealogical records on Norfolk, England (see a Findmypast special offer at the bottom of this post):

  • Norfolk Marriage Bonds, 1557-1915. “Browse 444 volumes of marriage bonds from four ecclesiastical courts: the Archdeaconry of Norfolk Court, the Archdeaconry of Norwich Court, the Dean & Chapter of Norwich, and the Diocese of Norwich Consistory Court.”
  • Norfolk Non-Conformist Church Records, 1613-1901. Browse “11 registers covering various denominations including Methodist, Quaker, and Baptist in the parishes of Attleborough, Aylsham, Kenninghall, Norwich, Tasburgh, Walsingham, and Wymondham.”
  • Norfolk Poor Law Union Records, 1796-1900. Browse “55 volumes covering 20 unions across Norfolk to discover whether your ancestors fell on hard times. Explore 10 different types of records, ranging from baptism and report books to relief lists and court orders.”

England and Wales: Criminal Records

Findmypast.com has finished adding a final installment to its Crimes, Prison and Punishment Collection. About 68,000 records were added that may help you “uncover ordinary and extraordinary stories of criminals, victims and law enforcers from Georgian highway robbers to Victorian murderers, Edwardian thieves, and a whole host of colorful characters in between!”

Scotland: Glasgow Newspapers

The British Newspaper Archive has added the following to its collection of Glasgow newspapers:

  • Glasgow Evening Citizen: added the years 1879-1892, so the current collection now tops 20,000 pages and covers 1866-1890.
  • Glasgow Evening Post: added the years 1881-1890. The total collection of over 14,000 pages and covers 1867-1890.

Scotland: Presbyterian Church Records

More than 36,000 Presbyterian church records, covering 1744 to 1855, have been added to ScotlandsPeople, a website maintained by the National Records of Scotland. “The 20,255 births and baptisms (1744–1855), 10,368 marriages and proclamations (1729–1855) and 5,422 death and burial records (1783–1855) may be especially helpful for anyone searching for a person who was born or baptized, married, or died before the introduction of statutory registration in 1855,” states an article on the site.

United States: Oregon Digital Archive

The Oregon Historical Society has just launched OHS Digital Collections, a new resource for researching Oregonians on your family tree. “This new website allows online public access to a rich variety of materials from the OHS Research Library, including items from the manuscript, photograph, film and oral history collections,” states a Hillsboro Tribune article. More content is planned for this new site, so check back periodically.

United States: Virginia Newspapers

The Virginia Newspaper Project is putting the Library of Virginia’s collection of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) newspapers on Virginia Chronicle, a free digital newspaper archive with nearly a million pages. According to an announcement, “The camp newspapers in the LVA’s collection, published from 1934 to 1941 by the young men of the CCC, were mostly distributed in camps throughout the Commonwealth, though a handful are from locales outside Virginia….[The camp newspapers] offer a vivid picture of camp life during the Depression…[and] are also packed with the names of people who were active in the CCC–you might find a mention of one of your relatives among the pages. Click here to learn more about the CCC and the newspapers they produced.”

Special offer: Through July 2, 2017, get your first month of Findmypast.com World Subscription for just $1.00! In addition to unparalleled record content for England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, Findmypast has added tons of great content to its US and Canada collections.

Bonus! Get an exclusive subscriber-only webinar, 20 Unmissable Resources for Tracing Your British and Irish Ancestors, when you sign up!

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links. Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

15 Freebies for Genealogy – Episode 77

A ton of genealogy and family history research can be done for free. In this episode I’ll share 15 fabulous free websites and what I love about them. These are essential for everyone serious about saving money while climbing their family tree.

(Get your ad-free Show Notes Cheat Sheet at the bottom of this page in the Resources section.)

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LISA’S SHOW NOTES: Get your ad-free downloadable handout in the Resources section at the bottom of this page.

Episode 77 Show Notes 

1. Genealogy records – Familysearch

Website: https://www.familysearch.org/en/

Features:

  • Free account
  • Download and print
  • Historical records
  • Digitized Books
  • Browse Images
  • Trees

2. Books, Magazines & Newspapers – Google Books

Website: https://books.google.com

Features:

  • 10 million free digitized book
  • Google’s newspaper collection
  • Magazines
  • Catalogs
  • Almanacs
  • City directories
  • County histories
  • Court records
  • Government reports…

Tip: Use the Tools button on the results page to reveal the filter menu. Filter your results down to just full digitized and searchable books by selecting Full View.

Learn more: Elevenses with Lisa episode 30.

3. Records – Find free records at Ancestry

Website: tinyurl.com/lisaancestryfree (affiliate link)

Features:

  • Use the link to zero in on only free records
  • All types of genealogical records!
  • Use fields to search just the free records and free indexes.
  • Free Trial available

Learn more: Elevenses with Lisa episode 17.

4. Burial Records – Find a Grave

Website: https://www.findagrave.com

Features:

  • over 170 million burial records.
  • birth, death, and burial information
  • many submissions include additional biographical details (possibly an obituary) and information about spouses, children and parents.  

Search Tips:

  • Name fields: 
    ? replaces one letter. 
  • * represents zero to many letters. g. Lars?n or Wil*
  • Search for an exact birth/death year or select a range, before or after.

Select “More search options” to:

  • Search for a memorial or contributor by ID.
  • Include the name of a spouse, parent, child or sibling in your search.
  • Use partial name search or similar name spellings to catch alternate spellings or broaden your search.
  • Narrow your results to famous, Non-Cemetery Burials, memorials with or without grave photos and more.

 5. Free downloadable worksheets – Family Tree Magazine

Website: https://www.familytreemagazine.com/FREEFORMS/

Features:

  • 5 Generation Ancestor Chart
  • Family Group Sheets
  • Ancestor Research Worksheet
  • Records Checklists
  • Family Relationship Chart
  • Online Search Tracker
  • Ancestor Surname Variant Chart
  • Oral History Interview Worksheet
  • S. Census Checklist
  • Genealogy Source Documentation Guide

6. Resources & Information – US Gen Web

Website: https://usgenweb.org/

Features:

  • Free, volunteer organization for 25 years
  • Organized by State then Organized by County
  • Free guidance from experienced researchers in that area
  • Links to free records

7. Resources & Information – FamilySearch Wiki

Website: https://www.familysearch.org/wiki

Features:

  • Organized by country, state, county…
  • Provides an overview
  • Directs you to where known records are located
  • Alerts you to pitfalls and tips from experts at the FHL

Learn more: Elevenses with Lisa episode 64.

8. Passenger Lists – Ellis island Website

Website: https://heritage.statueofliberty.org/passenger

Features:

  • Passenger lists images & transcriptions
  • Photos of Ships

Search by:

  • name
  • the Wizard
  • One page form

Snagit Clipping Tool: Here’s our link for purchasing your copy of Snagit (screen clipping tool) Thank you for using our link.  Use coupon code GENEALOGY15 to get 15% off.  (We will be compensated at no additional cost to you, which makes the free Elevenses with Lisa show and notes possible.)

Learn more: Elevenses with Lisa episode 34.

9. Books, Images, Videos – Internet Archive

Website: https://archive.org

Features:

  • Old webpages
  • Books
  • Images
  • Records
  • Audio Recordings
  • Storage
  • Videos

Learn more: Elevenses with Lisa episode 43.

10. Photo Identification – Dead Fred photos

Website: https://deadfred.com

Features:

  • A place to post photos for potential identification
  • Reunite orphaned photos with families
  • Find old family photos

11. Military Records – Soldiers and Sailors

Website: https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm

“Cooperative effort between the National Park Service and several public and private partners whose goal is to increase Americans’ understanding of this decisive era in American history by making information about it widely accessible.

free website for military

11. Soldiers and Sailors Database

Features:

  • Men who served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.
  • Histories of Union and Confederate regiments.
  • Links to descriptions of significant battles.
  • Selected lists of prisoner-of-war records and cemetery records.

Learn more: Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 149.

12. Postcards & Newspapers – Old Fulton Postcards

Website: https://fultonhistory.com/

Features:

  • Started as New York post cards
  • Expanded into newspapers
  • Now boasts “Search over 41,433,000 Historical
    Newspaper Pages from the USA & Canada” 

Tips:

  • Take the time to visit the Help & FAQ section
  • Visit the Old Fulton New York Post Cards page at the FamilySearch Wiki.

13. Newspapers – Chronicling America

Website: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov

Features:

  • Newspaper Directory (1690-present)
free newspaper website

13. Chronicling America: the Newspaper Directory

  • Digitized Newspapers (1777-1963)
  • Image search with Newspaper Navigator

Learn more: Elevenses with Lisa episode 26.

14. Land Records – BLM GLO

Website: https://glorecords.blm.gov

Features:

  • Land Patents
  • Land Surveys
  • Legal Land Descriptions

Learn more: Elevenses with Lisa episode 67

15. Video – YouTube

Website: https://www.youtube.com

Features:

  • Home Movies
    (search by surname,
    “old home movie”, locations)
  • Old Newsreels
  • Local TV station coverage
  • Documentaries

Learn more: Elevenses with Lisa episode 58.

Resources

Three ways to watch Elevenses with Lisa:

1. Video Player (Live) – Watch live at the appointed time in the video player above.
2. On YouTube (Live) – Click the Watch on YouTube button to watch live at the appointed time at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Log into YouTube with your free Google account to participate in the live chat. 
3. Video Player above (Replay) – Available immediately after the live premiere and chat. 

Questions and Comments

Please leave your questions and comments below. 

Episode 200

The Genealogy Gems Podcast
Episode 200
with Lisa Louise Cooke

Listen Now

It’s finally here – the 200th episode of the free Genealogy Gems podcast, also celebrating its 10th year.

In this special episode, Lisa invites Professor Mark Auslander to share his discoveries about a mother and young daughter separated by slavery. Learn how he pieced together their story from a poignant family heirloom found at a flea market.

Throughout the episode, you will hear from several listeners, past podcast guests, Gems staffers and supporters in the genealogy industry with congratulations, memories, stories, and favorite Gems tips. Listen for the DNA success story of an adoptee who never gave up his search for his biological roots.

Thanks to all listeners and friends who sent congratulations! Among them are:

Allison Dolan, Publisher, Family Tree Magazine. She mentioned the Family Tree Magazine Podcast

Bruce Buzbee, RootsMagic family history software

DearMYRTLE, veteran online genealogy educator and author of the award-winning DearMYRTLE blog. She mentioned Lisa’s Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast; her all-day seminars at societies; and classes at her booth during conferences.

Geoff Rasmussen, Legacy Family Tree webinars, and author of Kindred Voices: Listening for Our Ancestors

Jim Shaughnessy, Findmypast.com

Mary Tedesco, host and genealogist on PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow, founder of Origins Italy, co-author of Tracing Your Italian Ancestors and a guest on Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #175, talking about Italian research and her work on Genealogy Roadshow

Steve Luxenberg, author of Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret. Listen to Lisa’s conversation with him in The Genealogy Gems Podcast episodes 120 and 121. This book and interview planted the seed for the Genealogy Gems Book Club!

Yev Pusin, Social Marketing Marketer, Backblaze online computer backup service, also celebrating its 10th anniversary

 

MAILBOX: LISA AND SUNNY

The following were mentioned in listener emails and voicemails:

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. This is a FREE step-by-step series for beginning genealogists?and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. One listener mentioned the series on naturalization records in episodes 29-31.

The Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. Monthly episodes?and the full archive of past episodes?are available to Genealogy Gems Premium website subscribers. This podcast takes what you love about the free Genealogy Gems podcast and goes deeper, broader and more exclusively into topics of interest for U.S. and international audiences.

The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users.

Using Evernote to organize your family history research: free tips and great resources to help you make the most of this free app (or its Premium version) to keep all your genealogy research notes and links organized and at your fingertips.

Netvibes computer dashboard tool and mobile apps for genealogy

Computer backup story from Kathy: “I was robbed! They took the computer AND the backup drive!”

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.

DNA WITH YOUR DNA GUIDE DIAHAN SOUTHARD

Diahan’s series of how-to videos, available to Gems fans for a special price.

Diahan’s series of DNA quick guides, available in print or as digital downloads

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search WebHints on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. Soon RootsMagic will also be able to search records and even sync your tree with Ancestry.com, too.

 

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

 

INTERVIEW: MARK AUSLANDER

Mark Auslander is an Associate Professor and Museum Director at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, WA and the author of The Accidental Slaveowner: Revisiting a Myth of Race and Finding An American Family.

“Slave Mother’s Love in 56 Carefully-Stitched Words”

Mark’s path to the probable family of this artifact used these techniques:

Look closely at all clues from the artifact: the fabric, stitching, colors, facts conveyed in the text, etc. Look at both the historical clues and the artistic or symbolic aspects of it.

Create a profile for the people mentioned based on what is known. Probable age for Ruth Middleton in 1921, etc.

Use contextual and social history clues to hypothesize a scenario. The inclusion of “South Carolina” hints that the seamstress didn’t live in South Carolina, so he guessed that she was part of the Great Migration of millions of African-Americans in the early 1900s who headed from the rural South to the industrial Midwest and other urban cities.

Take advantage of unusual clues. Rose is a common name for an enslaved woman, but not Ashley.

Look through all available records. Possible census listings for Ruth Middleton in 1920 didn’t seem likely candidates. He dug through marriage records for Northern states until he found a woman named Ruth who married a man named Middleton who fit the profile he’d created.

Use specialized sources for African-American research, especially records created by and about the slaveholder that relate to the holding, sale or transfer of enslaved people.

Mark says that some researchers describe the search process as “guided by some force larger than yourself that keeps you going through those endless hours in microfilm rooms or online. But it does connect us all in very profound ways to those who came before and those who come after?.Through genealogical work, in a sense we can triumph over death itself and we can move back and forth in time in the most remarkable way.”

Coming up next month in The Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 201: An interview with Angela Walton-Raji on finding African-American ancestors. She shares tons of resources! Even if you haven’t found any African-Americans on your family tree, the challenges and rewards of African-American genealogical research are both fascinating and moving to learn about.

Legacy Tree Genealogists provides expert genealogy research service that works with your research goals, budget and schedule. The Legacy Tree Discovery package offers 3.5 hours of preliminary analysis and research recommendations: a great choice if you’ve hit a brick wall in your research and could use some expert guidance. GENEALOGY GEMS EXCLUSIVE OFFER: Go to www.legacytree.com/genealogygems and use coupon code GEMS100 to save $100 off your purchase of research services (expires 4/30/17).

CONVERSATIONS WITH MORE GEMS

Amie Tennant, Gems Content Contributor: see the Genealogy Gems blog

Lacey Cooke, Gems Service Manager

Vienna Thomas, Associate Producer and Audio Editor; she mentioned a favorite Genealogy Gems Book Club title and interview were with Chris Cleave, author of Everyone Brave is Forgiven

 

GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB

   

The Truth According to Us by internationally bestselling author Annie Barrows

It’s the summer of 1938, and wealthy young socialite Miss Layla Beck is now on the dole as a WPA worker, assigned to write a history of the small town of Macedonia, West Virginia. As she starts asking questions about the town’s past, she is drawn into the secrets of the family she’s staying with?and drawn to a certain handsome member of that family. She and two of those family members take turns narrating the story from different points of view, exploring the theme that historical truth, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.

Click here to read an introduction to using WPA records for genealogy.

Annie Barrows is also the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This novel takes place after World War II in a London recovering from the Blitz and an island recovering from German occupation. At the heart of Guernsey is an unlikely love story and the inspiring tale of a community that took care of each other in their darkest days with humor, compassion and good books.

Click here to see more Genealogy Gems Book Club selections and how you can listen to Lisa’s upcoming exclusive conversation with author Annie Barrows about The Truth According to Us.

Music from this episode is from the band Venice

The song played at the opening was “We’re Still Here,” from the album Born and Raised.

The song played at the closing was “The Family Tree” from the album 2 Meter Sessies; click to purchase the album or download the song as a single.

 

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Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

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