Love Finding Old Maps Online? Help “Index” Them!

The Beaver Map, 1715. By Special Collections Toronto Public Library. Flickr, via Wikimedia Commons.

Recently I’ve seen two calls for volunteers to help “georeference” old maps. Basically, you’re tagging the maps in a way similar to tagging photos of people on social media sites. This makes finding old maps online easier and more accurate. It also allows sites to overlay the old and new maps. “Some places have changed significantly or disappeared completely, creating a puzzle that reveals an exciting contrast,” explains the British Library.

These two sites are asking for volunteers:

The British Library Online Gallery. The British Library is asking for volunteers to help georeference 50,000 maps it’s put online. Go right to the site and you’ll see the invitation to help on the home page. You’ll also see that you can click on a tab to search maps that are already georeferenced! The British Library tells its volunteers: “Your name will be credited, and your efforts will significantly improve public access to these collections. Contributors can see the results of their work, as well as the progress of the pilot and other participants, and the top contributor will be publicly announced.”

David Rumsey Historical Maps. This mega-maps site is also looking for volunteers to help add locations to its online map collections. On the home page, click on the left where it says Georeferencer: Help Add Location to Maps.

We blog about maps a lot here at Genealogy Gems. To learn more about using old maps online and for genealogy, go to our home page and search on the Maps category on the lower left side of the page. Additionally, Genealogy Gems Premium members have access to full-length video classes like these:

Not a Genealogy Gems Premium member? Click here to become one!

Canadiana: Canadian Digital Archive and Portal to the Past

CanadianaDo you have Canadian roots? Then Canadiana should be on your list of online resources searched regularly for family history information.

Recently Newswire.ca described Canadiana as “a digital initiative of extraordinary scale,…a joint effort of 25 leading research institutions, libraries and archives working together with the goal of creating Canada’s multi-million page, comprehensive online archive.” Its digital collections chronicle Canada’s past since the 1600s and most of its content is free.

What we especially noticed in a recent peek at this enormous Canadian digital archive:

  • The Héritage Project. This FREE resource “aims to digitize, preserve and make accessible Canada’s archival materials for Canadians and the world. Héritage is also a pathfinder project to determine the best ways to organize and fund ongoing efforts to make all of Canada’s remaining documentary heritage accessible online.” Their large collection of genealogy materials so far includes immigration records, church records, land records, family histories, voters’ lists and more. Military history, government documents and aboriginal records are also well-represented. Tip: check back often! More is coming, like local and regional newspaper digitization and records of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces.
  • The Canadiana Discovery Portal. This gateway to digital collections from 40 repositories points to 65 million pages! Sample subjects include  Ontario genealogy and War of 1812 campaigns. This portal is also free to use.
  • Early Canadiana Online, with 5 million images already and expected to grow to 16 million. This part of the website requires a subscription ($10/month or a year for $100) This is “a full-text collection of published documentary material, including monographs, government documents, and specialized or mass-market periodicals from the 16th to 20th centuries. Law, literature, religion, education, women’s history and aboriginal history are particular areas of strength.” The site describes itself as “the most complete set of full-text historical content about Canada, including books, magazines and government documents.” Tip: scroll down on the home page to click the Genealogy and Local History portal, but don’t ignore the rest of the site!

how to start a genealogy blogLike this post? Here’s a few more posts you may enjoy:

If more posts like these are what you’re looking for, sign up for our free email newsletter. You’ll get Lisa Louise Cooke’s free Google Research e-book when you do! From our home page, enter your email in the sign-up box.

Find Genealogy Apps with the FamilySearch App Gallery

Do you ever wonder whether you’re missing something when you browse iTunes or Google Play  for genealogy apps? Well, FamilySearch has created a space JUST for family history apps: The FamilySearch App Gallery.

According to a FamilySearch press release, the gallery helps people “more easily find the right application from FamilySearch’s many partner applications, or services, to enhance their family history efforts. With just a few clicks, patrons can now begin to search partner apps to find those that meet their specific need.”

For example, you can search the App Gallery by:

  • what the app does (family tree software, find ancestor, photos and stories, charts and tree views and tree analyzing);
  • platform (web, windows, Mac OS, Android, iPhone/iPad and Windows phone);
  • price (free for everyone, one-time payment, subscription, or free trial);
  • language (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and more);
  • and FamilySearch compatibility (reads from FS, updates into FS or FS account not required).

Remember, the nature of apps is usually very specific. The BillionGraves for Android (or iOS) app, for example, lets you image and index gravestones for the BillionGraves website. But you may not have ever come across some of these apps before–and may find them very useful for your current or future research. For example, Historic Journals lets you run your own indexing project with your own  group. You can tag, index, share or archive historic documents in a public or private environment.

Genealogy Gems Podcast and Family HistoryI’m pleased to report that the Genealogy Gems Podcast app for iOS and Android are in the FamilySearch App Gallery! In case you don’t already know about the Genealogy Gems Podcast app, it brings the free Genealogy Gems Podcast to your smart phone or tablet along with exclusive bonus material. And in January the app celebrated it’s 5th anniversary! In addition to getting access to the show, you’ll also receive access to special features like PDFs with tips and ideas from the show; Genealogy Gems wallpaper; bonus audio and video content; the ability to follow the show on Twitter; and call-in audio comment feature (iPhone only). (Not all features available for all episodes.)

While the FamilySearch App Gallery is a great resource, it isn’t a comprehensive home for ALL family history related apps. And a lot of genealogy-friendly apps aren’t categorized as such in Google Play or the App Store. Learn more about TONS of apps to further YOUR family history in Lisa’s book Turn Your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse. This book introduces you to the tablet/iPad way of “thinking” (it’s different than how you use a computer). It gives you an in-depth look at over 65 genealogy-friendly apps, 32 fabulous tips and tricks and links to online videos where you can watch things for yourself. Got a tablet? No problem–apps available in Google Play are included, and the tips include clues about features to look for in your brand of tablet.

Adoption Research Success: “I Continued His Quest to Find His Birth Mother:”

Searching for birth parents? This adoption research success story involved several proven techniques: mapping DNA matches, research legwork–and years of patient determination.

Adoption Research Inspiration

This inspiring letter about adoption research came to me from Liz:

“Dear Lisa,

Thank you for your part in a major milestone of my genealogy research! You motivated me, educated me, and shared many wonderful resources throughout hours and hours of your podcasts. After listening to you talk with Diahan Southard a few times, it finally dawned on me that I should contact her to help me better understand DNA and its impact on my research.

Here’s the “story” as it unfolded for me.

During much of the last 30+ years my brother-in-law, Chuck, searched constantly for his birth mother. Chuck maintained hope that information he requested from the state of Michigan or newly available electronic adoption records might give him enough clues to help him find his mother. Six or seven years ago, Chuck was disabled by a stroke and a few years following the stroke vascular dementia robbed him of his ability to continue the search for his mother. In January 2015, we were able to get Chuck (despite the dementia) to spit in the test tube and provide a DNA sample. Little did we know he would be dead by Thanksgiving. As I wrote Chuck’s obituary, I realized I could offer one other piece of assistance to Chuck’s widow and children. I offered to continue his quest to find his birth mother.”

Then Liz outlined the steps she took to carry on the search:

“After gathering the limited detail we had (birth date, location, possible mother’s name and age) I began my research in earnest. Ultimately I:

  • created a “proposed” family tree for Chuck based on Chuck’s birth mother’s surname and his birth location,
  • reviewed Chuck’s DNA matches and
  • began to narrow down the family tree.

I used Diahan Southard’s website tutorials as the foundation for my analysis, put together a PowerPoint presentation with my research and theory and presented the information to her in a video conference. She found no fault in my logic and helped me plan my next steps: the search for Chuck’s birth father.”

Eventually, the paper trail and the genetic research came together to tell a story:

“Last week my niece finally received the adoption records from the state of Michigan, eighty-six years after Chuck was born, over twenty years after Chuck first requested them and almost a year after his daughter requested the records. I am impatiently awaiting my copy! What I do know so far:

  • Postcard of Harper Hospital, MI, posted on RootsWeb (click to view).

    My research (thanks to you and Diahan and DNA) accurately determined the identity of Chuck’s mother.

  • She had a very difficult young life and died of TB—tuberculosis – when she was just 25 years old in 1939.
  • Chuck’s mother became pregnant with Chuck while a ward of the state and an Inmate at a girls school.
  • Chuck’s mother became pregnant during a time when the school “farmed out” Inmates to Harper Hospital to work as nurses’ aides.
  • Both Chuck’s mother and her sister checked on Chuck after turning him over to the state, both in an attempt to get him back and to learn how he was doing.

It was heartwarming to learn that Chuck actually had a birth family who cared about him! I wish he had known!”

WOW, what an incredible story! Congratulations to Liz on such thorough and persistent research. I feel very sure that Chuck knows that not only did he have a birth family that cared, but also a wonderful sister-in-law (although I would guess he well aware of that even before he passed.)

I’m also thrilled that Genealogy Gems was able to play some part in Chuck and Liz’s story.

Get Ready for Adoption Research Success

Are you looking for someone’s birth parents? Get started with the DNA strategies Liz used:

  • Take a DNA test from a company such as AncestryDNA, which has an enormous database of testers and family trees. Click here to learn more about your DNA testing options.
  • Map your DNA test results using Google Earth and/or, if you test with AncestryDNA, the site’s tool within an individual DNA match view for identifying locations you have in common on your tree. Click here to learn more about using Google Earth for genealogy by watching my free full-length video class on using Google Earth for genealogy.
  • Share your DNA results on other websites (such as Gedmatch) to increase your chances of finding matches.

To access Diahan’s great video tutorials on her site that Liz used, click here— as a Genealogy Gems reader you’ll get a great discount on them.

Along with DNA evidence, create the best paper trail possible, as Liz did. Scour all available records and follow up on all possible leads for any information about the birth parents. In this instance, Liz needed to rely on records created by or about institutions, such as the hospital and state girls’ school. Genealogy Gems Premium members will find tips for finding and using these records in my newest Premium video tutorial, Institutional Records. (If you’re not a member yet, click here to learn more. )

Sources in our cover image for this post include this photograph of a pregnant woman and a postcard found on the Harper Hospital (Detroit, MI) hospital webpage at RootsWeb. Click to view full citation information.

Got Criminal Ancestors? How to Investigate Their Crimes

Lydia thinks her great-grandfather was murdered–perhaps even by her grandfather! Here’s some advice for her and everyone researching “cold cases” for criminal ancestors on your family tree.

Cold Case investigate your ancestor criminals

I heard recently from Lydia with these intriguing questions:

My great great grandpa William John Gabriel Nelson disappeared one day, never coming home from work. It was family lore that he had been “shanghai’d.” But even as a child the story didn’t add up. [Through a] few other mentions of the account throughout the years, and recently reconnecting with cousins through Ancestry.com/DNA and your advice to just email DNA matches, I have a growing reason to believe my great-grandfather was murdered. An even bigger fear is that my grandfather may have been the one to do it.
 

All parties involved with this are now dead, so follow-up is impossible with them. But I’m wondering about contacting the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) or the library to determine if indeed there was a cold case, missing persons report or John Doe. Since this happened in the mid 1940’s, would I contact the LAPD or is this now a job for a historian?

As a citizen, Lydia can certainly contact the LAPD here. It might take a bit of persistence to get to the right person or resource. I would start by asking for how you can find out the status of a cold case from the year in question.

Here are 4 ways to follow up on your own criminal ancestors’ cold cases:

1. Look for cold case files online.

As I often say, all good searches start online because they will help you prepare to go offline. In other words, not everything is online, but searching online first will give you a lay of the land, revealing what is available, who to contact, and where to go in person. Start with a Google search such as LAPD cold cases.  The search results include several good leads:

cold case search

With a case like Lydia’s that is over 70 years old, I wouldn’t expect to pull it up in an online database (though you never know!) But I do see several sites here that provide phone numbers to gain access to those who can lead you in the right direction.

2. Search Google for clues.

Google Drive and other tipsUse Google’s powerful search technology to look for online mentions of the names, places, and dates of your particular case.

In Lydia’s case, she might begin with keywords relating to her great-grandfather’s disappearance, with his name, year, and the place he was last seen. Including descriptive keywords such as disappear, mystery, vanished or murder might also yield helpful results.

Learn more about effective search techniques in my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition.

3. Check old newspapers.

Newspapers in your ancestor’s hometown (or further afield) may have mentioned the incident. With a common name like William (or Bill) Nelson, you may need to weed out the overabundance of unwanted results you get. Let me show you how I did this in GenealogyBank, a popular genealogical newspaper website:
genealogybank initial search
The initial results of searching GenealogyBank (above) for the terms William Nelson and Los Angeles brought up over 1,000 search results! (The red arrow points to the tally.) Since I don’t like wasting valuable research time on irrelevant results (who’s with me?!), I refined the search. I specified Nelson as a last name, William as a first name, Los Angeles as a keyword, and I added a date range: the decade during which he disappeared. Next, I limited my search to Los Angeles-area newspapers, shown below:
genealogybank refine search
This search narrows results down to under 200: a robust number, but at least manageable to look through for relevant material.
I want to be able to use these same search parameters in the future, so I click Save My Search. The search now appears in My Folder for future reference.
newspaper research at GenealogyBank

4. Look for criminal records.

If you knew (or suspected) that a relative was prosecuted for a crime, it’s time to start looking for records relating to the criminal case. There may be several kinds:

  • In cases of suspicious death (where there was a body, unlike Lydia’s case), look for any surviving coroner’s records.
  • If a trial may have occurred, research the jurisdiction to find out what court would have handled it, and then look for files relating to the case.
  • If an ancestor may have served time, look for prison records. Genealogy Gems Premium podcast episode 29 is devoted to the topic of prison records.

 

Get inspired!

Read this article about a woman who was researching not one but two mysterious deaths on her family tree.

 

Want to help investigators lay to rest their own cold cases?

Click here to read about the Unclaimed Persons Project and how you can help.

Unclaimed Persons Project

Pin It on Pinterest

MENU