Website Review & How To: Archives.com

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

Why Use Archives.com?

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

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

What Makes Archives.com Unique?

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

archives.com

What Does Archives.com Offer?

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

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

What Record Collections are Included?

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

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

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

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

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

How to Search for Records at Archives.com

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

There are three different ways to start searching:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Beginner’s Basic Guide 

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

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

Can You Build a Family Tree?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Turn Spring Cleaning Into a Treasured Family History Christmas!

honor your female ancestorsIt’s the last day of March, so it must be time to start thinking about Christmas, right?

OK, so you may not be thinking about your next Christmas craft project or gift-giving. But March has been Women’s History month and I’ve got a fun and easy craft project for you that will honor your female ancestors, help you do a bit of Spring cleaning of your stashes of left over fabric, and put you well ahead of the game when it comes to holiday prep.

Follow along with me in the video below as I piece together a crazy quilt Christmas stocking.

 

Familiar Female Faces

This stocking not only possesses a nostalgic flare with its Victorian-era crazy quilt design and embroidery, but it’s also brimming with familiar female faces from my family tree. Gathering together as many photos as I could of the women that I directly descend from was a fun challenge. I scoured old photo albums, searched online family trees, and put the word out to family members to make sure I had every available image. I was pleasantly surprised at how many I came up with.

Not Just for Stockings

This crafty idea certainly isn’t limited to Christmas stockings. You could translate this into a wall hanging, or even a full-size bed quilt. Make one as a gift, and it will surely be handed down the family lines for generations as a treasured heirloom.

Create a Video Story of Your Creation

I made this video with Animoto, a web and mobile app that makes this job of video creation oh, so easy! And it got me to thinking how lovely it would be to give a “bonus” gift of video to the recipient of this family history present.

  1. Re-purpose the Photos – since you’ve already pulled out the photos to create the transfer images, why not drop them into Animoto? Add your memories, poems they wrote, and any other tidbits that help their legacy shine through. Sprinkle with a bit of music (Animoto has loads of songs to choose from), and in minutes you can create a short tribute video to the women in your tree.

  2. Document the Project – Grab your smartphone and snap pictures and videos during the process of creating the stocking (or other form of this project). Toss your photos and videos into Animoto, add personalized comments, and you’ll have a sweet video to accompany the gift. It will show how you poured love into every stitch! (Ah! What I wouldn’t give for such a video of my Grandma sewing the lovely items I treasure today!)

Made with Love

(Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. I appreciate you using these links because that compensation helps make the Genealogy Gems blog possible. Thank you!)

Animoto is a trusted sponsor of the Genealogy Gems Podcast.

 

1950 Census Locational Tool Project for Genealogy

Hands up, who wants to help prep the 1950 U.S. census for us all to explore?

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The 1950 census won’t be released to the public for seven more years, but it took just longer than that to create the locational tools that millions of researchers have used to find their families on the 1940 census.

The dynamic duo of Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub, who produced the locational tools for the 1940 census on the Morse One-Step site, are recruiting 200+ volunteers to help transcribe enumeration district definitions and create urban area street indexes for the 1950 census.

Their “job description” for these volunteers sounds really meaty and hands-on: “These projects aren’t for everybody. Volunteers should have basic computer skills, typing skills, have access to the Internet, be detail people but not perfectionists, be independent workers and able to follow instructions, be patient enough to handle large amounts of information, and be comfortable with projects that may take weeks or months, not hours, to accomplish. You should be able to handle and manipulate images (jpgs) of maps and Enumeration District (ED) definition scans. A large computer monitor would be desirable but not essential. We will provide instructions for carrying out the work, and a place to ask questions. Volunteers may use some free programs to help speed up the entry process. We expect volunteers to make steady progress on their assignments, and we have the luxury of time right now to do it well.”

Learn more about the project here, and try the 1940 One-Step locational tools here.

 

 

Family History Episode 1 – Getting Started

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast

with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished August 8, 2013

 

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

In this episode, I chatted with Margery Bell, Assistant Director of the Oakland, California Family History Center. Her own family history journey started in her 20s with a visit to a relative’s house. She didn’t even know what to talk about! But it was a start. Years later, she visited the Northern Ireland home of her great-grandmother, and felt like she’d come home. Learn her tips for getting started and two inspiring stories of “genealogy serendipity.”

In the second half of the show, you’ll learn why choosing a database for your family tree is your first essential step. Hear about some of my favorite databases—both free resources and products you can pay for. Don’t spend too much time fussing about software: I’ll tell you why you should just pick something and go with it.

Choosing a Genealogy Database

Whether you want to build an elaborate family tree, or just want to know who your direct ancestors were and some of the stories about them, the place to start is to get yourself a family history database. You don’t have to be highly computer savvy to use one. They are VERY intuitive and user friendly. Basic data entry skills is all you need.

Now I know you’re anxious to get started finding out about the folks who came before you and contributed to putting you on this planet. But this step is key to long term success and enjoyment. I know too many people who have gotten all excited and jumped in, getting all kinds of information about their family, but without a database they very quickly end up with huge stacks of paper and stickie notes. With all this chaos they often end up duplicating efforts they forgot they already did which is a waste of precious time. And worst of all, when someone shows an interest in what they are doing, it’s impossible to coherently pull out the information from the jumbled stacks in order to share it.

Having a family history database will keep all of your findings organized, with proper background information on where you found the data, as well provide a place to pull together photographs, documents and everything else you discover along the way. It’s like painting a piece of furniture. A little prep work goes along way to a really nice finish.

Now there are lots of family history software programs out there, but you only need ONE, and all of them will serve your basic needs. So I’m going to give you my top choices. It’s you’re decision how much you want to spend and how sophisticated you want your database to be.

If FREE is your price range, and you’re looking for a place to stay organized with streamlined screens to work in without a lot of startup time, then Family Tree Legends Online is perfect for you. (Family Tree Legends Online is now Family Tree Builder by MyHeritage.

Don’t let FREE fool you into thinking it won’t do the job. Legends offers lots of family history charts; custom reports; helps you share your data and pictures on a CD or DVD; allows you to back up your files to CD or DVD; and includes genealogy programs for Palm handheld devices and the Pocket PC. I’ve used it and it’s great. You can download the software FREE at the above link.

If you’re a PC user and are willing to spend $30-40 dollars, there are several really good and easy to use options available. You can order the product or purchase a digital download which will save you some money. And frankly, I really don’t think you need to the physical boxed product. All the help you need is online. And all of these products offer a free demo that you can download to try it out before you buy.

The top seller is Family Tree Maker which is from the folks at Ancestry.com which is the largest online records website which we’ll be talking a lot more about in future episodes. Click on its name to learn more about Family Tree Maker. This is probably the most commonly used database out there.

If you’re looking for great printed reports that you can share then RootsMagic is a great choice. It’s available as a digital download from their website at RootsMagic.

Some of the differences you’ll find between these products is the types of reports and charts they produce. So if that’s important to you, you can try the demos and see which you like. But again, I really don’t think you can go wrong with any of these products. They are all well established and fully supported.

And I want to stress, it’s just important that you take the steps and get started. Don’t get bogged down in analyzing software forever. If you really want to change to a different program down the road you can always do that. But the important thing here is that you have a place to put the information that you find and be able to retrieve that information so you can share it with others.

Now if you’re a Mac user I have two solid programs you could use. Again, both of these programs offer free demos if you want to test drive them:

  • iFamily for Leopard is the most affordable at $29.95.
  • Reunion 9 is fairly pricey at $99.95. If you’re interested in Reunion 9, I highly recommend that you listen to Episode 51 of my more advanced Family History show called The Genealogy Gems Podcast. In that episode you can listen to a review of Reunion 9 by my contributing partner Ben Sayer, the MacGenealogist, who’s an expert on everything Mac for family historians. And if you want to compare iFamily against Reunion to see what you’re getting for your money, you can also listen to Ben’s review of iFamily in Genealogy Gems Episode 53.

Now when you fire up your new software database it’s going to ask you to fill in information about yourself, then your parents and so on. In family history we always start with ourselves, and then work our way backward. So enter everything you know. By just enter data on you and your parents, you’ll very quickly get a feel for how the program works. And once you get everything in there that you know, go ahead and try and print out a pedigree chart.

And there’s our first family history term: “pedigree chart.” You’ve probably heard the term used for pure bred dogs, but pedigree just means lineage or ancestral line. It shows your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc. No aunts, uncles or siblings. Just the folks you directly descend from.

Another type of chart your database can print is a descendant chart, which shows all the people who descend from one person. So if you had two kids, your descendant chart would show you at the top, and two children directly under you. This comes in real handy when you want to have a reunion of all the descendants of let’s say your great grandpa Marvin. You would go to Marvin’s card in the database, and then print the descendant chart from there. It would then include Marvin, all his kids, his grandkids, his great grandkids and so on. But it wouldn’t show the kids spouses, or Marvin’s parents. It’s just going to tell you who was born directly as a result of Marvin.

So enter what you know, and once you’ve got all that in there, play around with your new database by printing out a pedigree chart and a descendant chart. And next week we’ll start uncovering more clues to your family history.

Here’s a final thought for today: A famous idea taken from one of Shakespeare’s plays is that what is Past is Prologue. It seems to me that a key to moving forward in your life is to look back and see what’s come before. How things were done. What worked, and what didn’t. It can inspire you to continue family traditions or give you the motivation to create something new for the next generation.

Up next: Episode 2: How to Interview Your Relatives.

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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