How to Navigate the FamilySearch Wiki (and find what you need!)

Show Notes: The FamilySearch Wiki is like an encyclopedia of genealogy! It’s an invaluable free tool that every genealogist needs. However, many folks get frustrated when they try to search the Wiki. In this week’s video premiere I’m going to help you navigate with ease.

how to navigate the FamilySearch Wiki

Video and Show Notes below

You’ll learn: 

  • what the Wiki has to offer,
  • how to access the FamilySearch Wiki
  • how to navigate the FamilySearch Wiki effectively
  • and how to overcome the number #1 reason people get frustrated when searching the Wiki!

Watch the Video 

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout  (Premium Membership required)

How to Access the FamilySearch Wiki

(00:42) There are two ways to access the FamilySearch Wiki. The first is to visit the website direction at https://www.familysearch.org/wiki. This will take you to the home page of the Wiki. Although you can sign into your free FamilySearch account on this page (in the upper right corner) it isn’t necessary in order to use it.

The second way to access the Wiki is to go to the FamilySearch website. You will need to log into your FamilySearch account or sign up for a free account if you don’t already have one. Once you’re signed in, then in the menu under Search click Research Wiki. This will take you to the same FamilySearch Wiki home page. However, you will see that you are signed in and able to use some of the additional features like participating in discussions, posting and creating watchlists.  

FamilySearch Wiki known as Research Wiki

On the FamilySearch website: Search > Research Wiki

Searching the Wiki by Location

(01:21) On the home page, what you see a map of the world. This is a great way to search the Wiki because in genealogy, it’s really all about location. We need to know where geographically we want to search for ancestors, and from there we can narrow down the timeframe. Typically, you’ll have a sense of at least in which country you need to be researching. So, the map is typically the best way to start.

familysearch wiki

The FamilySearch Wiki Home Page

You’ll notice also on the home page, there is a search by place or topic search field. You could bypass using the map, and just start by typing in a place. If you do, you’ll notice that it starts to prompt you on the kinds of things that are commonly searched for. This could be kind of nice if you are really focused on a particular thing such as Italian census records. You can just start typing Italy and see if census is one of the prompts. If it is, simply click it and it will take you right there.

However, generally speaking, the map is the best way to search for records and information that is rooted in a location. Start by clicking the button for the continent, such as North America. Notice that if you go to click on the map itself, it isn’t an interactive map. You’ll need to actually click the button.

From there, select the county from the menu, such as United States, then drill down by state. This will take you to the Wiki entry for that state.

You’ll notice that the FamilySearch Wiki is a lot like Wikipedia. It’s like an encyclopedia of information. But the exciting part is that it’s genealogy specifically! This means you don’t usually have to worry about including the word genealogy in your searches. 

Location-based FamilySearch Wiki Pages

Oftentimes, our research ends up taking us to a new location where the next set of great grandparents came from. If we’re not familiar with that location, let alone familiar with what’s available from a genealogical standpoint, that can pose a real challenge. You might be asking questions like when did they start recording birth records? Or did that state conduct a state census? Every state, every country, and every county has different types of records available.

Start your orientation over on the right-hand side of the wiki page. There you’ll typically find an overview box.

(04:15) This is a great place to quickly see what’s available here, and what you could dig into further. If you’re really new to research in this particular area, you might want to start with the guided research link. You may also see links to research strategies, and a record finder.

In the next section of the box you’ll find record types. This is going to be different depending on the area that you’re researching. For example, if they don’t happen to have any military records available you might not see that listed under record types. You should expect to see the most commonly used records included in the list. Click the link to the page for more information on that type of record. It will provide more details on record availability, and where you access the records.

Further down the box you’ll find links to background information on the area. It’s really easy to skim over this in excitement over records. But if you don’t want to get stuck at a brick wall, getting to know the place that you’re researching can make all the difference. Learning the background of an area can help you prepare the right questions to ask. It can help prevent you from looking for something that doesn’t exist or that wasn’t applicable to that area. You may find links to more reading, gazetteers and maps, migration patterns, periodicals, and the law. Understanding the law is going to help you understand why records were created, and who they affected. For example, if your ancestor was under 18 there might be certain records that don’t apply to them. Understanding the parameters of who was affected by the law will help guide you through the records themselves.

Next you’ll see cultural groups that you might expect to find in this area, and links to more specific information about researching them.

Under Resources you’ll find links to archives, libraries, societies, and the family history centers that are available in this particular area.

At the top of the main part of the page you’ll find the Getting Started section. Here you’ll find links to beginning step-by-step research strategies and some of the most popular records for that location such as vital records.

(08:35) You might be wondering who is putting this information together. Well, it starts with experts at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. These are people who have worked the reference desks and found answers to thousands of patron questions.

Locating and Using the County Wiki Page

(09:22) Back on the state landing page scroll down further to the map of counties. Navigating by location is still important, even when we’ve narrowed it down to the state. Unlike the map on the homepage, you can hover your mouse over each county and click.

Find county page at FamilySearch Wiki

County map on the state wiki page

The county pages are where the real magic happens because many records such as birth, marriage, death, and court records are typically available at the county level. Here you’ll find out how to contact or visit the current county courthouse.

One of the most common questions new genealogists ask is “should I be looking at the county where the town is located today, or the county that it was when my ancestors lived there?” Counties certainly do change over time. The answer to the question is that we go to the county at the time that are ancestors lived in the area. In fact, the Wiki page provides the history, or genealogy, of the county. Look for Boundary Changes on the page.

Because these pages are often quite long and dense, use your computer’s Find on Page feature by pressing Control + F (PC) or Command + F (mac) on your keyboard. This gives you a nice little search box at the top of the page. Type in a keyword like Boundary and it will highlight all the locations on the page where the term appears. This is a great way to make quick use of the Wiki. This is also a good trick to use when you don’t see the record type or keyword that you’re looking for in the page’s table of contents. It may be called something else there, but if you search the page for your keyword, it should find it for you. An example of this is that you may not see Birth Records in the TOC because they list Vital Records. However, in the Vital Records section further down the page they definitely mention birth records.

Finding the Dates that Records Began

(14:45) Here’s another reason the wiki is so helpful, and it makes things go so quickly. Remember, we talked about that location is key, but also timeframe. Well, if we are looking for genealogical records, we don’t want to look for a record in this county before they actually started creating those records. The wiki typically provides a nice little chart on each county page showing then some of the most important civil records such as birth, marriage and death were first created.

How to figure out when birth records started

County record dates at FamilySearch Wiki

Often times civil records began much later than church records. Sometimes you will see an asterisk indicating when statewide registration for these civil records began and then another date indicating when general compliance was enforced. All of this is guiding us to success in finding genealogy records, and it’s saving the headache of investing time looking for records that did not yet exist.

(17:42) Further down the page you’ll find links to places. These may link to town pages on the Wiki, but more likely they will take you to Wikipedia where this information already exists. There will be a small icon indicating that the link will open in a new tab and take you to another website.

Next you’ll likely see a Timeline section which gives you a sense of when the first people settled in the county and who those people were. Again, it provides you more context to better understand the records.

In addition to all these individual records, many of them linked over to FamilySearch, Ancestry or MyHeritage, we see Research Facilities. Why is that so important? Because not all records are going to be online. When we’ve exhausted online records and resources we need to go offline, and there are lots of resources here on the wiki to work with: county archives, family history centers in the local area, libraries, museums, and genealogical societies. The wiki provides contact information and links to their website where you may be able to see a listing of what they have onsite so you can plan your visit.

Other website links may take you sites like USGenWeb which is a fantastic free genealogy website. It’s organized by location much like the FamilySearch wiki website. Drill down to the state and then the county. You may also see links to the State Archive, or the state’s Memory project, and, of course, the FamilySearch catalog.

How to Overcome the #1 Search Problem

(22:01) The wiki really should be one of your first stops when you’re going to be starting research in a new area. Let’s wrap up with a quick conversation about the wiki’s search box. You could go ahead and put a topic in there. Many people will come in here and they’ll type in marriage records, Randolph, County, Indiana, and they will get a list of results. They don’t look as clear cut as Google results, and they may not all be on topic. This is where we can get lost. I think probably the number one reason why people give up on the wiki is they get these kinds of search results. They realize, wait a second, this isn’t even Indiana, it’s talking about Kentucky! Why am I getting all these? It can be frustrating.

familysearch wiki search results

The wrong way to search at the FamilySearch Wiki

This happens because we tried to do it ourselves, with our own keywords. Remember, like most search engines, they’ve indexed their content to make it searchable, so that means they’ve already decided how they want to talk about a particular topic. Rather than just addressing marriage record first, the wiki focuses on the location. Where is this marriage record? So, focus first on the place unless you are just looking for general information on a general genealogy topic such as genealogy software.  

Pay attention to the pre-filled suggestions as you type because the wiki is going to suggest what it has in the format it has it. Again, you may want to first go to the country, state or county level page and then look for the record type.

What if you’re looking for marriage records but you don’t see them listed? Well, it might be that the word marriage isn’t the keyword the wiki uses. Or it might be that the type of record you’re looking for is a state or federal record. That’s another reason why the find on page feature (Ctrl + F) is so helpful. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see what you want listed in the table of contents. It may just be a keyword issue. Let the work that they’ve already done in organizing their materials guide you. You’ll be more successful and also avoid frustration. The FamilySearch Wiki is just too good of a resource to miss.

Learn more about using Family Search at Genealogy Gems

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Find Family Recipes in Old Newspapers

Show Notes: Learn how to find old family recipes in newspapers. Lisa Louise Cooke and her guest Jenny Ashcraft of Newspapers.com show you how to find old recipes and discover what newspapers can tell you about the food your ancestors cooked and ate. Genealogy & family history has never tasted so good!

Video Premiere with Live Chat

Watch Live: Thursday, August 11, 2022 at 11:00 am CT 
(calculate your time zone

Three ways to watch:

  1. Video Player (Live) – Watch the video premiere at the appointed time in the video player above.
  2. On YouTube (Live) – Click the Watch on YouTube button to watch the YouTube premiere with Live Chat at the appointed time above 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 ends. 

Show Notes

Get 20% off Newspapers.com. Click here and use coupon code genealogygems

Do you have a family recipe that has been passed down for generations? Or maybe you wish you could find a family recipe that has been lost?

Jenny Ashcraft of Newspapers.com  is back and we’re talking about food and family history. How to find long-lost family recipes in Newspapers, how history has impacted the food your family ate and the recipes they used, and food trends over the decades.

You’ll learn some of our favorite search strategies, and who knows, you just might discover a recipe from your family in the papers!

Food really evokes powerful memories, brings people together, and strengthens family history ties among both the living and the dead.

Families have gathered around the table forever, and family recipes evoke powerful memories. Have you ever smelled something baking or had a little taste of something, and the memories just flood back? Food is usually a part of family gatherings, and it’s a way to strengthen traditions and express love.

Why did newspapers publish recipes?

In the days before the internet, newspapers were a popular way for home cooks to share recipes. Most home cooks had a repertoire of recipes they cooked often. Newspaper recipes were a way to try something new. Recipe exchanges in the newspapers were popular, with cooks both asking for recipes and sharing one of their favorites. 

Muffin recipe in the newspaper

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Sometimes newspapers called for readers to submit recipes, and they would choose a few to publish. Other times the paper published the recipes of contest winners. Papers also published brand recipes like this 1928 recipe for brownies using Borden Magnolia Sweetened and Condensed milk.  https://www.newspapers.com/clip/106800978/borden-sweet-and-condensed-milk-brownie/. Many newspapers also had official food columns. Just the other day, I went to my cookbook to find a recipe and noticed that I still have all kinds of newspaper clippings in my own recipe collection.

1920s Brownie recipe

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

How to Find Family Recipes in Newspapers

Finding a recipe from one of your ancestors is so exciting! Let me share an example of how one of our customers discovered his grandmother’s recipe for kolaches.

In July, we published a Newspapers.com blog about finding your ancestors in the newspaper Society Pages. Maurice, one of our readers, commented that he searched the society pages to see if his grandmother was mentioned. Initially, he didn’t have success. However, as he continued to search, he found his grandmother listed under her husband’s name, Mrs. Frank Vonasek. This was 1932, and it was common for women to appear in the paper using their husbands’ names.

Maurice found his grandmother in several articles. In one, she shared her recipe for kolaches. Maurice said it was such a thrill to find this family recipe and just about brought tears to his eyes. Notice how this recipe says cook in a hot oven (usually 375-400) In 1932, some cooks were still using ovens heated with wood or coal. Ovens with temperature settings were invented around 1915, but not everyone had one. Without the ability to set your oven to a designated temperature, cooks became very adept at determining if the oven had reached the desired temperature.

Old kolaches recipe

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

It was a thrill for Maurice to find his grandma’s recipe, but what if you can’t find your ancestor’s recipe? Chances are, you will find one very similar. Let me share a personal example.

My family loves fresh English peas that come on every spring. We go to the fruit stand or farmer’s market and buy a bag. We just shell them and pop them in our mouths. Every year, my husband talks about the new potatoes and peas in a white sauce that his grandmother used to make.

I decided to search for this recipe on Newspapers.com. I began by searching “new potatoes and peas” in the search box. I started finding some recipes, but none that were similar. Then I added the term, “white sauce”. Again, I wasn’t finding much. I wondered if the white sauce was a cream sauce, so I searched, “New potatoes, peas, and cream”. When I entered those terms, I saw a few recipes that said, “Creamed New Potatoes.” As I looked over the ingredients, I realized I was getting warmer. So, then I started searching for “Creamed New Potatoes and Peas,” and I found tons of recipes.

1937 Creamed New Potatoes and peas recipe

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

It’s not uncommon to find ingredients that are now unusual in historic recipes. For example, in my recipe for Creamed New Potatoes and Peas, one of the ingredients is irradiated evaporated milk. I didn’t know what that was, but after a few moments of searching, I learned that irradiated milk simply meant that the milk was treated with ultraviolet light to get rid of any bacteria.      

Learn about history from the food your ancestors cooked

Another thing that impacted the way your ancestors cooked and ate was history. What was happening in the world around them, and how did it impact what they cooked?

Great Depression recipes and food.

One example of this was the Great Depression. How did the Depression impact your family? Was the father out of work? Could they afford to buy food? Where were they living?

Your family’s experience could be dramatically different if they lived in California, where they could grow food in a home garden, or if they lived in the Midwest and were impacted by the Dust Bowl. Growing food was a huge challenge for those people. Residents not only had great difficulty growing food, but they contended with swarms of grasshoppers that destroyed crops.

When you search for recipes during the Depression, you’ll see recipes that used cheaper food and recipes that utilized leftovers, so nothing went to waste.

One example of this is a gelatin loaf. These loaves were used during the Great Depression as a great way to use anything leftover.

For most of us, that is not very appealing. Our Newspapers.com social media team has a lot of fun trying and sharing historic recipes on our social channels. If you are not following us, check us out on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.

Dandelion greens were another way to get some nutrition. People could go outside and pick dandelions or buy them at the market for a low price. This clipping from 1930 tells readers how to soak the dandelion greens and then the best type of salad dressing to use over them.

old Dandelion recipe Great Depression

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

What are some other examples of the times impacting food?

Another example of how history impacted the way our ancestors cooked was World War II. Food availability during WWII was different. The world was at war, so some items were hard to get – just like today’s supply chain issues. Foods like sugar, coffee, canned foods, meats, cheese, butter, and oil were rationed. To purchase these items, families presented the grocer with the correct stamps from their government-issued ration books and the money to buy these items.

WWII rationing in newspaper

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Newspapers became a valuable source for home cooks to share ideas and recipes to navigate rationing. Home cooks had to get creative. For example, In WWII a chocolate chip cookie recipe caleld for using honey instead of the hard-to-obtain sugar.

Newspapers sponsored contests and awarded cash prizes for the best wartime recipes using small amounts of rationed food items or substitutes for rationed foods.

Another example of how rationing impacted cooking during WWII was cooking with meat. Nicer cuts of meats required a higher number of ration points, but organ meats like kidneys, liver, and heart had relatively low point values. So, we start to see a lot of recipes using these low point value meats. Maybe this is why your grandparents ate liver and onions.

old liver recipe pork livery loaf

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Fresh fruit and veggies were not rationed, but canned, bottled, and frozen food was. WWII recipes focused on high nutritional value to make sure people were still getting vitamins, minerals, protein, and energy even though their diets may have changed due to rationing.

1950s and 1960s Recipes and Food Trends

There have always been food fads and trends, and as we move out of the WWII era, we see evidence of this.

For example, in the 1950s, we see lots of recipes with canned pineapple. During the 1950s and the 1960s, many Americans loved anything tropical, and canned pineapple represented the islands. Here’s a reader-submitted recipe for pineapple cookies in 1954:

1950s pineapple cookies recipe

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Bourbon balls were also very popular in the 1950s. Apparently, they are still popular today because this is one of our viewers’ favorite recipe posts.

Pimientos were big in the 1960s, and you’ll see that manifest in recipes:

pimento recipe

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

The 1980s brought an excess of cheese. Starting in WWII, processed cheese was a commodity that was controlled on a federal level. The cheese was stockpiled in warehouses around the country, and by the early 1980s, there were more than 2 lbs. of cheese stored for every person living in the United States.

cheese surplus 1980s

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan signed the Agricultural and Food Act and began distributing all the stockpiled cheese. As a result, in the 1980s, we start to see a plethora of recipes to use all of that processed cheese.

cheese recipe

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

How recipes changed over the years

Once you find your ancestor’s recipe in the paper or just one you think looks interesting, it’s important to know that there may be differences in historic recipes and recipes today.

Some ingredients or brands are no longer available. Here is a 1918 ad for a product called Egg-O. It was a common ingredient and an egg substitute.

What is Egg-O baking cooking

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Package sizes are different. An example of this is bakers’ chocolate.

The way recipes were written can be different. Some old-time recipes used hyphens instead of slashes for fractions. So, it may look like 2-3 cups of sugar, but it is really 2/3 cup of sugar.

what dashes mean in a recipe

Courtesy of Newspapers.com. Dashes mean the same as a slash. They are fractions.

Recipes also might taste different today. If you have your grandmother’s banana bread recipe, it was likely made using a different variety of bananas called Gros Michel. In the 1950s, a disease destroyed wiped out the banana crop, and farmers started growing a variety of bananas called Cavendish. Apparently, the Gross Michel bananas were better, so your banana bread will never taste quite the same.  

Many old recipes called for sour milk. Before milk was pasteurized, it soured very quickly. When you combined the sour milk with baking soda, it created a chemical reaction that was just like using baking powder. The reaction also removed the sour taste from the milk. My sugar cookie recipe calls for sour milk, and I add a bit of lemon juice or vinegar to the regular milk.

Uses for sour milk in recipes and cooking

Uses for Sour Milk in cooking. Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Exact measurements may not be used in older recipes. Standardized measurements didn’t come out until the Victorian era and even then they took a while to catch on, so up until the 1940s or so, it’s not uncommon to see a recipe that calls for terms like a teacup of sugar, butter the size of an egg, or a gill of milk (which was about 4 oz).

What a gill is in cooking

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Recipes were often in the paper in paragraph format, not the column format we are used to today.

Start finding recipes in old newspapers

Take the opportunity to ask your parents and grandparents about the types of foods they prepared and ate. Start a family conversation. We can learn so much from these oral histories.

If you’ve been lamenting that long-lost family recipe, you’ll probably find it on Newspapers.com. We have nearly 775 million pages of newspapers dating back to the 1690s. You can search papers from every state and international papers from the UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and Panama.

Get 20% off Newspapers.com. Click here and use coupon code genealogygems

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

 

Dropbox vs. Backblaze: Does Cloud Storage for Genealogy Replace Computer Backup?

cloud storage computer backup serviceDoes using cloud storage for genealogy (like Dropbox) replace having a computer backup service like Backblaze?

Recently I heard from Jim in Midland, Texas, USA, who is a little perplexed:

“Hi Lisa, I’ve heard all your podcasts, some more than once, and I appreciate your tutelege of five years.  I’m nearly 80 and some of the techie stuff is frustrating, but I’m still working at it.

You recommend Backblaze for cloud storage now. Does this mean that Backblaze is a replacement for Dropbox or do they serve different functions? I haven’t used either, but I am looking for a means of storing my information in a safe and retrievable place.”

Jim asks a great question! Dropbox and Backblaze are indeed different animals.

Dropbox quote boxDropbox is a temporary place to put active files you want to access from a variety of computing devices (such as a  smartphone, iPad, your spouse’s computer, etc.) I think of it as Grand Central station for the files I’m actively working with.

You can install Dropbox on multiple computers and download the app to your various mobile devices so that any file stored there is accessible and synchronized. Many apps and devices build connection to Dropbox right in to their own service or device, making it super easy to access files.

Cloud storage for genealogy research makes it easier to collaborate, research while traveling and access your files from different devices or locations. However, I don’t know anyone who only uses Dropbox for ALL of their files. Typically we also save files to our computer’s hard drive, particularly more archival types of files. So while you would be able to retrieve files stored on Dropbox if your computer crashed, and files that are on that computer would be lost. Dropbox also makes it easy to share folders and files with others. Again, think Grand Central Station for active files. Dropbox does have limitations regarding the amount of storage and sharing.

Backblaze quote boxBackblaze is a cloud-based backup service for your entire computer. Once you activate Backblaze, you can just forget about it. It constantly is backing up EVERY file on that computer. If that computer crashed all of your files would be retrievable from Backblaze. You have the added convenience of being able to also access your files from Backblaze.com or the Backblaze app, and in that way it overlaps Dropbox. But that’s not usually how you would access your files. Usually, you would just turn on the backup, and forget about it. There is no limit to how many of your computer files you can back up with a cloud-based backup service like Backblaze.

My Bottom Line: Dropbox is short term storage for active projects, and Backblaze is long term, automatic, secure storage.

Files I’m currently working on (like projects, articles, etc.) I store in Dropbox, making it easy to work on the file from different computing devices and making it easy to share with others. While they are in Dropbox they are “on the Cloud” on the Dropbox servers. Once the project or item is done, I move the file(s) to my main computer. This keeps me from going over my Dropbox limits, and ensures the files are still accessible AND fully backed up and secure in case something happens to my computer. I can full restore my files to a new computer in one swoop if need be.

backblaze genealogy gems handshakeI have chosen Backblaze as the official cloud backup for Genealogy Gems. Backblaze is also a sponsor of the free Genealogy Gems podcast. For only $4.99 a month Backblaze can back up your computer files, too. Why not check them out and see if their service is right for you? Click here to learn more about Backblaze.

 

Fire, Flood or Earthquake? 5 Tips for Researching Disasters in Your Family History

We have five strategies for researching disasters for family history. They come in response to a listener email about her own “disaster-prone family.” Use these tips to learn about natural or man-made disasters, epidemics, travel accidents, and more that affected your ancestors, and very possibly more about your ancestors role in these events.

View of Eastland taken from Fire Tug in river, showing the hull resting on it’s side on the river bottom. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view with full citation.

It might seem a little sad to search out disasters, epidemics, and accidents in the lives of your ancestors, but it certainly helps us see things in a different light. Genealogy Gems Editor Sunny Morton has shared recently how enthralling it has been for her to dig deeper into her ancestor’s experience of living through the Johnstown Flood. She used many of the tools I write about extensively in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox (Google Books, Google Earth Pro, and even YouTube) to add an amazing amount of meat to the bones of the story.

I also recently received an inspiring letter from Natalie, a Genealogy Gems Premium Member about how researching disasters in her family history turned her into a passionate genealogist. Here’s what she said:

“Dear Lisa and Company,

I just subscribed to your Premium podcast and must say that listening to Premium Podcast episode 143 affirmed that I made an excellent decision!

I also had family members who were in the Johnstown Flood, since that’s where my family initially immigrated. My parents and I were born there and [I] have heard of stories of the Great Flood of 1889 since I can remember. There was a long-standing family story about my 2nd great-aunt, Julia Pfeiffer Rohr, being pulled out of the floodwaters by her hair.

Ironically or not, my ancestors relocated to Chicago a few years after the Johnstown Flood, only to have my maternal grandmother’s sister (who was a few months away from her 19th birthday) killed while aboard the Eastland [steamship in 1915]. Not sure why some families are ‘disaster prone’ through the generations, but ours seems to be one of those.

I learned about the Eastland Disaster as an adult when my mother’s half-sister in Chicago wrote and shared a family history with me. As a Twin Cities journalist, I published an article (click here and go to page 5) in one of the community newspapers about the disaster.

Still, at the time, I found next to nothing on the Eastland, which was both frustrating and puzzling. [Since then,] I’ve done a ton of research on the event and have written larger pieces, including a to-be published book. I didn’t intend to become an expert on a shipping disaster, but that’s what happened. Also, this marked my entrance into the amazing world of family history.”

5 Tips for Researching Disasters in Family History

Learn more about the disasters your own family experienced with these 5 tips that I shared with Natalie in the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 145. Although these tips are for researching the Eastland disaster specifically, you can absolutely put them to work for you!

1. Start with Google. The world’s leading search engine, Google.com can lead to rich resources you may never find in a local library or archive. In the case of the Eastland disaster, a Google search immediately brought up a website dedicated to the event. The casualty list had everyone’s name, age, gender, marital status, ethnicity, and the cemetery in which they were buried.

2. Next, we go to Google Books, where Google takes you deeper and more specifically into historical books. Using the Eastland disaster as our criteria, the first result was a published final report by the American Red Cross’ disaster relief committee on what happened, and how the affected families were helped. Several published histories of the disaster were also listed there. These can be purchased, or you can find copies of them through inter-library loan at your local library. If you just want to see which books in the search results can be read for free, click the Tools button under the search box, and a new menu bar will pop up. Click Any books, then choose Free Google eBooks, like so:

Watch my free video tutorial on finding free e-books on Google. This video is one in a series of tech tip videos available for free at my YouTube channel. Click the Subscribe button while you’re there and you will be notified each time a new genealogy video is published.

3. Keep checking back! New things come online every moment of every day. In 2015, historical video footage about the Eastland disaster was discovered and identified in an online archive (see my blog post about that). But of course it’s impossible to rerun the same searches every day looking for new and updated material. The answer: set up a Google Alert for your search query. That way Google will do the searching for you, and you will receive an email only when Google finds new and updated items that match your search terms. Read my article on How to Set-up Google Alerts for step by step instructions on how to set up your own Google Alerts. Then read How to get the Most out of your Google Alerts for Genealogy.

4. Search YouTube separately. YouTube has several video clips of the Eastland disaster. The Chicago Tribune has wrapped that historical video clip into a short video documentary that includes additional photos their researchers discovered. You’ll also find an animation from the Eastland Disaster Historical Society that recreates what happened and how. Read chapter 14 in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition which is devoted to using YouTube for your genealogy research.

5. Explore Gendisasters.com. This site compiles information on all kinds of tragedies from the past: tornadoes, fires, floods, and buggy-related disasters are just a small sampling of what they cover. You can search by type of disaster, but if you’re not quite sure how it might be filed (like was it a drowning or a ship disaster?), then search by year or place. I looked for Eastland disaster first under ship disasters, and I saw that events are listed alphabetically by place, specifically by city in most cases. There isn’t a way to jump easily to “Chicago,” so I had to scroll through several pages, but I did find it under Chicago, IL Steamer Eastland Disaster, July 1915. Since I already knew the city and date, I could have gotten to it faster by searching under those tabs, but I sure saw just how many events are cataloged at Gendisasters.com. It’s amazing!

Avoid Disaster with the Right Tools

Google Drive and other tipsLastly, some of the disasters you are researching may have a website dedicated to it. The Eastland disaster webpage has several interesting pictures of the ship and the disaster itself. There’s a nice long narrative about the tragedy and some transcribed newspaper articles, as well.

Researching disasters for family history can be exciting and enjoyable. The world wide web is truly like a time machine. See what other ways you can use Google for genealogy in my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. Effective Google searches, Google Earth, Google Alerts, and Google Translate are just the tip of the iceberg! You will become a Google guru in no time.

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