National Archives Digitizing Projects: Colonial, WWII, Jewish and More

Over million in grants has been awarded by the National Archives (U.S.) to digitize important historical documents. Here’s how the awards break down:

  • $1.1 million to “nine publishing projects from the U.S. Colonial and Early National Period, including the papers of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Dolley Madison, and John Jay.  Projects to record the Documentary History of the Ratification of the U.S. Constitution and the Documentary History of the First Federal Congress also received funding”
  • Nearly $700,000 to “State and National Archives Partnership (SNAP) grants to enable 28 state historical records advisory boards to carry out their mission to support archival education and strengthen the nation’s archival network;”
  • Over $500,000 to 7 projects to “digitize World War II Oral History files; the papers of Leo Szilard, the nuclear physicist; the papers of General Oliver Otis Howard,  Civil War general, Commissioner of the Freedman’s Bureau, and third president of Howard University; Historical Collective Bargaining Agreements from the 1880s through the 1980s; the Center for Jewish History’s American Soviet Jewry Movement collections; Early Connecticut manuscripts; and 19th century trademark files in the California Archives, including the original trademarks and specimens from Levi Strauss & Co. jeans, 19th century medicines and tonics, and the original trademark registered to Anheuser Busch for its Budweiser lager.”

As you can see, there’s a lot in there to appeal to family historians. Maybe not so much the Levi  Strauss and  Budweiser artifacts, but I could see many of us being interested in the World War II oral history files; the papers of the Freedman’s Bureau Commissioner; the Center for Jewish History’s files; those early Connecticut manuscripts and more.

The National Archives’ press release doesn’t say where these digitized files will end up. But I’m guessing at least some will eventually be made available on Founders Online, an award-winning database on the papers of “America’s  Founders.”

How to Use Online Genealogy Trees and Hints Wisely

Is the tail wagging the dog in your genealogy research? Resist the temptation to jump at each hint and online family tree. Instead, take the lead in your own research and follow the scent of each clue with genealogical best practices. Here’s how…

Almost as soon as you start adding information to your family tree on any of the major genealogy records sites (AncestryMyHeritageFindmypast) you will start getting suggestions. These suggestions are known by a variety of names on the various sites, such as hints, Shaky Leaves, Smart Matches, record matches, etc. No matter what they’re called, they can be a great way to quickly make even more progress in growing your family tree.

There’s an old saying: you get what you pay for. In the case of hints, you have technically paid for them by subscribing to the genealogy website’s service. However, you didn’t pay for them through careful research following solid genealogical methodology. You haven’t yet verified their accuracy, or in the case of suggested online family tree, verified their sources.

how to use online trees and hints wiselyhow to use online trees and hints wisely

Online family trees are one of the most common types of hints you’ll receive. And it’s no wonder: there are billions of names entered in online family trees*, so your tree is very likely to match some of them.

However, with all those matching trees there are bound to be problems. If you’ve been wondering about the reliability and usability of other people’s online family trees being recommended as hints, you’re not alone. Keep reading to learn more about using information gleaned from other’s online family trees.

The question of trusting online family trees

Brenda is a Premium eLearning member, and she wrote me recently with a question about using online family trees:
“I’m just getting back into my genealogy research after 10 years of not having time. It seems that research has completely changed to online work! I’m getting [hints that link to other] family lines, but can I trust them?”

And this related question comes from Douglas: 

“Weekly, I get emails with family tree matches, asking me to confirm the match. My problem is not with the matching but with when I dig into their tree, the source for their information is another tree. That info may be a clue but I learned way back that the info needed to be backed up by good primary and sometimes secondary sources, not what somebody thought was right.  Info that I entered in my tree years ago and found subsequently to be wrong is still hanging out in a dozen trees. What is your opinion?”

My guess is that at some point you’ve had some of the same questions as Brenda and Douglas. Am I right? Well, even though it’s exciting to find someone who’s already built a family tree that includes your ancestors, it’s important to proceed with caution. Avoid the temptation to “graft” or copy the tree onto your tree.

That’s not to say you should ignore online trees. Instead, let’s discuss how reliable they are and how to use them wisely and responsibly.

How to use online family trees as hints

Douglas has stated the problem accurately. The researchers behind those tantalizing trees may have made mistakes or copied unfounded information without verifying it. Unfortunately, this is a very common occurrence.

Once copied to one tree, incorrect information can easily get picked up by others and copied over and over again. And the problem is made worse because the more it’s copied, the more unskilled researchers may assume it must be accurate because they see everyone using it. It’s a vicious circle indeed!

mistakes in online family trees

Mistakes can happen in online family trees

Approach every online hint and tree as a clue – a lead – to be considered and scrutinized. You won’t know the accuracy of it for sure until you review the research and verify the sources. That being said, the next logical questions would be “how in the world will I have enough time to verify all of the information in all of these trees?”

The answer is, you don’t.

Instead, do your own genealogical research first, one person and one generation at a time. Work from the present generation backward and learn everything you can from known and trusted primary and secondary sources. If this idea sounds new to you, I strongly encourage you to start listening to my Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast. It’s free, and available here on my website, as well as through all major podcast apps. If you’re new to genealogy or returning after a long spell, this podcast will cover the basics in genealogical research and help you get on track.

Family History Genealogy Made Easy PodcastIt’s easy to let other people’s online trees give you a false sense that you are quickly and easily building your own family tree, but it’s just not true. A tree worth having is a tree worth researching. Don’t let the tail wag the dog here. Follow the proven genealogical research process, and then tap into online family trees when you need a fresh new lead.

Automated record hints and matches

On genealogy websites, you’ll get two types of automated hints or matches. The first is for other people’s trees, which we’ve already discussed. The second is for historical genealogical records.

In order to deliver the historical record hint, the website has compared the data on your tree with the data available in the transcriptions of their records. Since many people share the same name and other distinguishing characteristics like birth dates, it’s important to look at each record closely and carefully.

Review both the record transcription and the digitized image of the document (when available), keeping in mind that not all the useful genealogical data is always transcribed. And in the process of transcribing, errors may have been made.

You first want to evaluate whether this document pertains to your relative. Next, you will need to determine what else it adds to your knowledge of them. Compare what that document says to what you’ve already learned about your family. Watch for multiple, specific pieces of evidence that support or are consistent with what you already know.

FindMyPast hinting 2 online family trees

Genealogy Giants guru Sunny Morton says that “record hints on Genealogy Giants FamilySearch and MyHeritage are especially known for a high degree of accuracy; Ancestry.com’s are generally pretty good, too, but the site is clear about reminding you that these are just hints. I don’t have data on how accurate Findmypast hinting is, but I do know that they’ve been adding more records to the pool of records they hint on, and that’s also good.”

wise owlAfter reviewing all the record hints you’ve received, conduct additional searches yourself for records about each ancestor. Use the same process described above to scrutinize and evaluate each record.

Remember that even a digitized record hosted on one of the major websites can have transcription, spelling, or other errors, and sometimes you’ll have to make judgment calls. There’s no substitute for your brain! And there’s no substitute for carefully verifying and documenting every discovery as you go.

Next steps for using hints and trees wisely

By using hints for online family trees and historical records as leads when needed rather than the main path to follow will help you build an accurate family tree.

We are here to help you take control of your family tree and your research every step of the way. For specific information about reviewing record hints, read Getting started on Ancestry.com. 

When you do find errors in someone else’s tree, here’s some sound advice for How to approach someone about errors on their family tree

And finally take a moment to read Don’t lose control when you post your family tree online.

If you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning member like Brenda, I suggest Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 152. It features my audio interview with Sunny Morton on take-home strategies for using hinting tools at the Genealogy Giants.

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, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

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!

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gemsHere’s our weekly list of new genealogy records online. Do any collections below relate to your family history? Please share with your genealogy buddies or with societies that might be interested!

AMERICAN LOYALIST CLAIMS (U.S., U.K., CANADA). A database of claims and cases heard by the American Loyalist Claims Commission (regarding British subjects in North America who remained loyal to the crown during the Revolutionary War) has been updated at Ancestry. “These documents include books of evidence and memorials given by witnesses, accounts of losses (which can provide detail about places and possessions), evidence of claims, correspondence, indentures, and other documents collected over the course of these examinations.”

BRITISH NEWSPAPERS. Over 5.8 million new newspaper articles are online at Findmypast. According to the site, “This includes 22 brand new titles and additions to a further 94 publications. The new titles come from all over England, Scotland and Wales and include newspapers from Edinburgh, Liverpool, Sheffield and Wolverhampton. The largest of the new publications is Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser which contains over 939,000 articles covering 1805-71….Over 1 million articles were added to London Evening Standard. There were also substantial updates made to Falkirk Herald, Swindon Advertiser and North Wilts Chronicle and Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer.

CALIFORNIA NATURALIZATIONS. Original naturalization records from the state of California, 1887-1991, have been updated at Ancestry. “Most pre-1906 naturalization papers contain little information of biographical or genealogical value….There are, however, wonderful exceptions, so it is worth seeking pre-1906 naturalizations. Records created after 1906 usually contain significant genealogical information.”

DUTCH EMIGRANTS TO CANADA AND U.S. A new Ancestry database captures information on Dutch emigrants who relocated to the U.S. or  Canada between 1946 and 1963. “Details from those lists are included in this database. You may find name, birth date, place of origin, arrival year, destination, sponsor year, religion, relation to head of household and family size.”

ENGLAND AND WALES PROBATE CALENDARS. Findmypast subscribers now have access to an index to the Principal Probate Registry system for England. In these indexes, you can find the deceased’s name, death date, address, occupation, marital status, spouse’s name, names of executors/administrators and beneficiaries and their occupations and the size of the estate. Use this data to request a copy of a will from the National Probate Registry.

U.S. QUAKER RECORDS. A substantial Ancestry database of Quaker meeting records (1681-1935) has been freshly updated. According to the site, “Quakers recorded a variety of details in their monthly meeting minutes which can be searched by name, location, and event date; or browsed by state, county, meeting, and record type….This collection marks the first time a major collection of Quaker meeting records has been made available online with a comprehensive index.”

sign up newsletterSign up for our weekly newsletter, and this weekly round-up of major new record collections will be among the “gems” you find in it! With your sign-up, you’ll receive a free e-book on Google search strategies for genealogy. Simply enter your email address in the box in the upper right-hand corner of this page. Thank you for sharing this post with anyone else who will want to know about these records (and this weekly blog post.)

Old Cookbooks Are Among New Online Record Collections

Old cookbooks are among new recent online records collections. So are British newspapers, British Columbia estate files, New Zealand WWII appointments, UK Parliamentary returns, UK military indexes, US newspapers (Arkansas, Kansas, and New York) and church records for Sydney, Australia; Norfolk, England; and Stockholm, Sweden.

Featured New Records Online: Old Cookbooks and Home Remedies

heritage recipes cookbookThe US National Library of Medicine has “recently embarked on a project to digitize and make available” its collection of historical recipes and cookbooks, according to its blog. Old recipes (also called “receipts”) may give you a glimpse into what daily life was like for your ancestors. Among these are “recipes and advice for food preparation and preservation, animal husbandry, preparing useful household concoctions, and allopathic medicines and treatments for maintaining personal health.” Find these at the National Library of Medicine Digital Collections.

Love these? Click here to find more old recipes and classic cookbooks on the Genealogy Gems website.

Australia – New South Wales – Church records

Nearly 125 years of baptism, marriage, and burial registers for the city and parish of Saint Peter’s in the greater metropolitan area of Sydney, Australia (1839-1963) are now available on Ancestry.com. Baptismal registers may include the child’s name, birth and baptismal dates, parents’ names, abode and profession of parent(s) and officiant’s name. Marriage records may list for bride and groom the names, occupations, residences, ages and marital status, along with the date and place of the wedding, names of those giving consent (if required) and the officiant. Burial registers may mention the name of the deceased; death and burial dates; abode; age; “quality” or profession, and officiant.

Britain – Dougal’s Index Register

A Findmypast.com collection of Britain’s missing beneficiaries and unclaimed estates (1910“contains over 500 records from Dougal’s Index Register to Next of Kin, Heirs at Law and Cases of Unclaimed Money Advertisements from 1910. The publication looks specifically at properties or estates registered in chancery court, which have gone unclaimed because a deceased person did not create a will or did not have any known descendants….The lists only provide an individual’s first and last name.”

Britain – Newspapers

Over 48,000 new articles and two brand new titles have been added to Findmypast’s collection of historic British newspapers. This month’s new titles are The Shipping & Mercantile Gazette and The Rutland Echo & Leicestershire Advertiser.

Canada – British Columbia

Findmypast.com subscribers may now browse among over 750,000 records of British Columbia Estate Files (1859-1949). According to the site, these “allow you to delve through probate estate files pertaining to the judicial districts of British Columbia; the County Court and the Supreme Court. Probate estate records are a valuable resource for family history research, providing vital details such as dates, names, and locations to help grow your family tree. Included in this collection is a probate index for the district of Vancouver, sorted alphabetically by last name.” Browsing tip: narrow results by year, document, court, and district.

Canadian genealogy research

Canada celebrated its 150th birthday in 2017! Click here to read tips for starting your Canadian research from Lisa Louise Cooke’s conversation with Library and Archives Canada staffer Claire Banton.

England – Norfolk parish records

Fifty-one volumes of Norfolk Archdeacon’s Transcripts (1600-1812)  and 123 volumes of Bishop’s Transcripts (1687-1901) are now browseable at Findmypast.com. According to the site, the collections contain records of baptisms, marriages, and burials from across the county.

New Zealand – WWII

Fold3.com hosts a new collection of WWII Appointments, Promotions, Transfers and Resignations, extracted from the New Zealand Gazette. These give information such as name, rank, event date, and regiment for members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces (including army, air force, and navy).

Sweden – Stockholm

Nearly 175,000 indexed names and over 14,000 digital images were recently added to a free collection at FamilySearch.org: Sweden, Stockholm City Archives, Index to Church Records  (1546-1927).

UK – Military

Ancestry.com has published a new collection of UK Military Indexes, 1920-1971. According to the site, “These lists comprise the names and service numbers of those who were discharged from the armed forces after 1920 and born before 1901. Details given for over 300,000 individuals found within this collection may include (where available): initial and surname, date of birth, their service, service number and Ministry of Defence reference number.”

UK – Parliamentary Returns

The UK Parliamentary Archive has “recently uploaded the Protestation Returns for Berkshire, Cornwall and Cumbria,” according to its blog. “The Protestation Returns are the closest thing we have to a census for England in 1641-1642. They originate in the scuffling between Parliament and Charles I just before Civil War engulfed the country. It was decided that all men over the age of 18 in England and Wales should swear an oath of allegiance to the Protestant religion, Parliament, and the King. Around one-third of the records for England survive.” A companion map allows users to search for these records by location.

US – Arkansas, Kansas, New York – Newspapers 

Among new digitized newspaper collections at Newspapers.com are the following titles: The Frankfort Bee (Kansas, 1876-1898), The Southern Standard (Arkadelphia, Arkansas, 1878-1905), Arkansas Times and Advocate (Little Rock, 1837-1838), Cortland Register (Kansas, 1889-1924), The Frankfort Sentinel (Kansas, 1886-1892), The Marshall County Index (Frankfort, Kansas, 1905-1906), Epworth Advocate (Frankfort, Kansas, 1895-1896), Springville Journal (New York, 1867-1985) and The Ness County Pioneer (Sidney, Kansas, 1879-1880).

Are you listening to the free Genealogy Gems Podcast? This year Lisa Louise Cooke celebrates 10 years on the air. The show has more than 2.5 million downloads worldwide. Listen to hear for yourself her winning combination of technology tools, genealogy research strategies, inspiring stories–and tons of tips you can apply right away to your family history!

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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