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. 

Our current Genealogy Gems Book Club title takes place at the outset of WWI. The Summer Before the War: A Novel
by Helen Simonson has endearing characters who experience fairly light-hearted dramas–and then they are plunged into war.

Through their eyes, readers begin to understand that those who lived through ‘the Great War’ experienced something totally unprecedented. There had never been such a massive loss of life and devastation.

1. Ask family what they know. Ask all living relatives what they know about ancestors’ involvement in World War I. Listen for stories about anyone who may have served in the military, dodged military service, took care of things on the homefront, lost their own lives or loved ones or lived in an area affected by the war. Ask about any old documents, photos or letters that may survive.

There are lots of ways to ask your relatives these questions. Poll everyone at your next family gathering or reunion. Use Facebook (click here for some great tips) or other social media. Connect with other tree owners who have documented ancestors of WWI interest (see step 2, below) through communication tools provided at sites such as Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and FamilySearch.org.

2. Identify ancestors affected by WWI. Look for families and individuals who were alive between 1914 and 1918. Where did they live? Was it an active war zone?  Research local histories and maps to determine how their city–or even neighborhood or property–was affected. Scan death dates on your family tree–did anyone living in a war zone die during that time period?

Were they in a country that sent troops to war? If so, look for soldiers on your tree. The age of those who served in World War I varied. In general, look for men born between 1880 and 1900 who were alive in 1914. Again, look for death dates during the war.

3. Search military records on genealogy websites. Fold3.com’s WWI landing page is the place to start for WWI ancestors in the U.S., since it specializes in military records (you may be able to access it from your home library). Ancestry.com users can go to this landing page to search all WWI records from the U.S. and here to search U.K. records. Findmypast.com users can search WWI records here, including an extensive collection of British military records but also others from around the world. If you’re searching U.S. records, remember that draft registrations are not records of military service.

If you’re looking for a country or region not represented in these online collections, start Googling! Google search phrases such as “Germany WWI genealogy” will bring up results like these. (Click here to watch free video tutorials about Google searching for genealogy records.) You may discover new databases online or records collections you could access through archives or libraries.

How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers

Available at http://genealogygems.com

These tips are just to get you started. As you discover records, you’ll have a better sense for the stories of your WWI ancestors. Then you can start chasing those stories in newspapers, local histories and other sources. Turn to a book like Lisa Louise Cooke’s How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers to learn

WWI photos, World War I photographs

British volunteers for “Kitchener’s Army” waiting for their pay in the churchyard of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London. August 1914. Wikimedia Commons Image

sleuthing skills you’ll need for searching out your WWI family stories in the news.

More WWI Genealogy Gems for You

Europeana World War I Digital Archive

5 Ways to Discover Your Family History in WWI

More Great Books to Read, Including Orange Lilies, a WWI-era Novella in the Forensic Genealogist series by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Birthdates and DNA – Audio Podcast Episode 279

AUDIO PODCAST SHOW NOTES: I’ve got two great genealogy topics and interviews for you in this audio podcast episode. First up we’re going to tackle the problem of conflicting birthdates. When you find different dates in a variety of genealogical records, how do you decide which one to record in your family tree database? Well, you have to do more digging and analysis! So, we’re going to talk about:

  • Reasons for Birthdate Discrepancies in Genealogy
  • 5 Questions You Should Ask About Conflicting Birthdates
  • Birth Record Substitutes
  • Case Study Strategies for Solving Conflicting Birthdates

Then we’re going to switch gears and take a look at a popular online DNA tool called DNA Painter and who better to tell us about that than the creator of the shared centimorgans project on DNApainter.com, Genetic Genealogist Blaine Bettinger. He’s going to explain DNA Painter, the Shared Centimorgans tool, and what he sees coming next in genetic genealogy.

These interviews are also available in video form here on the show notes page (below). And if you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium Member, you’ll be able to download those show notes as a PDF cheat sheet in the Resources section at the bottom of the page.

Listen to the Podcast Episode

To Listen click the media player below (AUDIO ONLY):

Watch the Original Videos

Resources

Genealogy Gems Premium Members can click the links below to download the handy PDF show notes that complement this podcast episode:

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Premium Members have exclusive access to:

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  • The Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast
  • Elevenses with Lisa video archive
  • downloadable ad-free show notes PDF cheat sheets for all videos and podcasts. 

Become a member here.  Learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium Membership.

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Don’t miss the Bonus audio for this episode. In the app, tap the gift box icon just under the media player. Get the app here. 

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New & Updated US Genealogy Records Online

From coast to coast, U.S. records from the ‘genealogy giants’ are new and updated this week. Findmypast has a new collection of mine accident records for Pennsylvania (and we’ll also highlight a similar collection for England). Ancestry.com has updated a large number of genealogy collections for U.S. marriage, census, and military records that you’ll want to check out. And lastly, FamilySearch has made updates to a small set of U.S. county, tax, and enumeration records. 

new genealogy records online

Pennsylvania, Register Of Mine Accidents

Mining was an integral part of United States history. Immigrants were able to find work in the mines but sometimes at great risk and peril. Findmypast has a new collection that may shed light on the miners in your family tree.

The Pennsylvania Register of Mine Accidents is a collection containing records from the Department of Mines and Mineral Industries. These records document mine accidents for the anthracite districts and the bituminous districts between 1899 and 1972. They are held by the Pennsylvania State Archives and links to the PDF versions of the accident registers are available on the transcripts.

The records explain where the accident happened, the cause, whether the accident was or was not fatal, and who was at fault. A few examples of the accidents include caught in a conveyor belt, runaway trip wrecked into an empty trip, crushed with a possible fracture of the leg, fallen roof, and falling coal.
With each record, you will find a transcript of the vital information about the individual involved in the mining accident, including nationality, name, age, marital status, and other details. Over time the amount of information recorded at the time of the accident changed as the volume of accidents diminished.
More Mining Records at Findmypast
If your mining ancestors were immigrants, they may have also been miners in their home countries. Findmypast has another fascinating collection of records of England Mining Disaster Victims. Included in these records are the 26 children who lost their lives in the Huskar Pit disaster of 1838 as well as 88 of the men who died in the Cadeby Main pit disaster in 1912. The initial explosion at Cadeby Main killed a total of 38 men; however, when a rescue party was sent in, another explosion occurred, killing 53 of the rescue workers.
From these transcripts, you can discover the following information: name, birth year, age, event date, colliery, and incident details. Four counties are represented in the records: Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, and Yorkshire. This collection has been obtained from the Alan Beales Database of Fatalities in the Coal Fields. Additional information about the records can we found on the source’s website.

Updated U.S. Records at Ancestry.com

Over at Ancestry.com you’ll find big updates to numerous records collections for the U.S.

Marriage Records

Military Records

Census Records

More Updated US Genealogy Records at FamilySearch

Lastly, we head over to the all-free genealogy giant website FamilySearch. This week they’ve made updates to the following US genealogy records collections:

Most of these updates are pretty small, under 2,000 records. But you never know where your ancestor’s name might be lurking! The Ohio Tax Records collection has over 1.5 million new records, so if you have Ohio ancestors you’ll definitely want to check it out.

More U.S. Research Resources on the Free Genealogy Gems Podcast

If you’re filling in the gaps of your family tree with your U.S. ancestors, you’ll love episode #193 of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast! In this episode, we’ll talk about tips for using the U.S. Public Records Index. We’ll also dig deep into using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for genealogy research, including what kind of records you can access, how to request them, and more. Take listen to this episode right now in the YouTube media player below, or find it on the go on the Genealogy Gems App!

Lisa Louise Cooke Author

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke is the producer and host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google ToolboxMobile GenealogyHow to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series. She is an international keynote speaker and the Vice President of the Genealogical Speakers Guild.

 

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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