If you would love to take a genealogy travel adventure to your ancestral homeland, consider who might help you make it happen. Get inspired and ready with these tips!
Map: Wikimedia Commons image. Click to view.
Recently Joyce, a Genealogy Gems Premium member, wrote in to thank me for the new Premium video, Inspiring Ways to Captivate the Non-Genealogists in Your Life. Then she asked a great question:
“What I would really like to know is if you have any travel agent/agency that is great for Europe travel to do my own ‘Who Do You Think You Are.’ Any help or direction you can give would be much appreciated.”
I have just the thing for Joyce’s travel question! In the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 115, I interviewed Kathy Wurth, who specializes in family history tours of Europe. (You will find her contact information here on the show notes page for the episode.) Even if she doesn’t go to the locations you want to visit, I’m sure that she could help match you up with a travel consultant who does. Tell her “hi” for me!
Before you set off on your own genealogy travel adventure, get inspired and get ready! Here are some great resources for doing just that:
Get inspired! Listen to or read about these genealogists’ travel adventures to ancestral homelands that I’ve covered on Genealogy Gems in the past:
She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me by Emma Brockes. An award-winning journalist tells the story of her discovery of her mother’s tragic childhood in South Africa. This is a genealogical journey, complete with trips to archives, poring over old court cases and dramatic reveals. This is the ultimate how-to book for exploring and sharing sensitive family stories because she shows you how it’s done. Listen to an excerpt of our interview with Emma Brockes on the Genealogy Gems podcast episode 174 and the full-length interview in Premium episode 118.
Three Slovak Women, Second Edition by Lisa Alzo. A popular genealogy expert’s story of three generations of Slovak women in the steel-producing town of Duquesne, Pennsylvania, and the love and sense of family binding them together. Click here to hear Lisa in the free Family History Made Easy podcast talk about her reasons for researching her family history and what she’s learned along the way, including in her travels in Eastern Europe.
Running Away to Home: Our Family’s Journey to Croatia in Search of Who We Are, Where We Came From, and What Really Matters by Jennifer Wilson. In this book, Jennifer takes us on a once-in-a-lifetime genealogical journey. She walked in her ancestors’ shoes and lived among their descendants. I profiled this book in Episode 129 of the Genealogy Gems podcast and was so inspired by the story that she created this YouTube video on the book.
Get ready! Here are some free travel tips for genealogists from our friends over at Family Tree Magazine:
More Resources from Genealogy Gems on Family History Travel Adventures:
Family History Travel with a Non-Genealogist Companion: Tips and Laughs on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 124 (Genealogy Gems Premium website subscription required to access; click here to learn more)
Look for Genealogy Records in a State Capital When You’re Traveling There
Road Trip, Anyone? An Orphan Train Museum
If you want to take a genealogy travel adventure–or invite someone else to–please share this article with them! Just email a link or It’s easy, it’s free–and maybe you’ll pick up a travel companion! Happy travels!
Featured this week are new and updated records for South Africa. The all-free site FamilySearch has two new and one updated collection for South Africa including death and probate records and passenger lists. Ancestry.com also has an updated collection of church records going back to the 17th century. Also new at Ancestry.com are four genealogy records collections for Essex, England.
Featured: South Africa Genealogy Records
If you have ancestors that lived in South Africa, you may already be familiar with some of the challenges of researching them. And if you’re new to genealogy or to your ancestors that lived in South Africa, you might be in for a surprise when it comes to records: census records aren’t available! They are routinely destroyed after being abstracted and thus not available to the public.
So where’s the best place to start looking? Most genealogy experts will tell you to start with death notices. A death notice is different than a death certificate, in that it’s not an official document. Rather, it is a document provided by next of kin, friends, or associates of the deceased. Information provided may not be 100% accurate or reliable, but it can often provide really helpful details and a glimpse into the person’s life.
FamilySearch as a new collection of South Africa, Orange Free State, Probate Records from the Master of the Supreme Court, 1832-1989. There are over 300,000 records in this set, and the most useful records in the collection are the death notices, which give detailed information. The probate records usually have multiple pages and are included in a probate file, which is identified by a probate number.
When a person died, the nearest relative or other connection should have completed a death notice and sent it to the Master of the High Court within 14 days of the death. These records might tell you the deceased’s name, birthdate and place, marriage status, parents’ names, the names of their children, information about property and wills left, and more.
There is an updated collection of actual death certificates at FamilySearch, which is the Transvaal, Civil Death, 1869-1954
collection. “Death certificates are arranged chronologically and alphabetically by place and include full name, parent’s name if under the age of ten, mother’s residence, age, sex, birthplace, marital status, occupation, whether pensioner or pensioner’s dependent, place and date of death, residence, place of burial, cause and duration of death, and background of informant. For the years 1899-1902, records are arranged separately by internment camp and district where death occurred.”
If you’re an Ancestry.com subscriber, you can also check out the recently updated collection of Dutch Reformed Church Registers, 1660-1970
. This collection contains records from various locations which were part of historic Cape Colony, including Namibia, Cape of Good Hope province and Transvaal province. Record coverage will vary depending on location. It is also available at FamilySearch
Ancestry.com has four new collections of genealogy records for Essex, England. These BMD records date back as far as the 16th century and may hold important details about the lives of your ancestors living in Essex.
Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1918: “Children were usually baptised within a few days or weeks of birth. The records generally include when the baptism took place and in what parish, child’s Christian name, parents’ given names and the family surname, residence, father’s occupation, and who performed the ceremony. Sometimes you’ll find additional details such as date of birth. Early records may contain less detail.”
Church of England Marriages, 1754-1935: “Couples were usually married in the bride’s parish. Marriage records typically include the bride and groom’s names, residence, date and location of the marriage, names of witnesses, condition (bachelor, spinster, widow, or widower) and the name of the officiant. Some records may also include the father’s name and occupation.”
Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1994: “Burials took place within a few days of death. Records generally list the name of the deceased, residence, burial date, and age at death.”
Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812: “This collection contains images of Church of England parish registers of baptisms and burials during the years 1538–1812, and marriages during the years 1538-1754 from Essex, England.”
Get more new and updated records every week!
Each week we round up the new and updated genealogy records collections for you in a helpful article so you can jump right into researching! Our free weekly email newsletter always has the latest records round up article, as well as other featured articles on genealogy methodology, inspiration, tips and tricks, and more. Plus the newsletter also lets you know where there is a new episode of The Genealogy Gems Podcast, new videos, and updates on news and events. And best of all it’s free! Sign up today to get our email newsletter once a week in your inbox.
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 Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How 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
Browse-only collections at Ancestry and other genealogy websites are sometimes viewed as inaccessible, but they are actually a hidden treasure. Learn how to access these browse-only collections at Ancestry and expand your family history research.
In the past we’ve written about how to access browse-only content at FamilySearch.org. Many readers said it opened a whole new world of genealogy records to them that they didn’t know they were missing.
The good news is that FamilySearch is not alone in offering browse-only content. Ancestry.com also has browse-only collections of digitized records. (Not an Ancestry.com subscriber yet? Click here to learn more. This is an affiliate link and we are compensated if you make a purchase, which supports this free blog. Thank you!)
Knowing how to search and browse records effectively is critical because you shouldn’t just rely on hints. Ancestry, for example, only provides hints from about the top 10% of their most popular databases. That means if you only spend time on reviewing hints, you’re missing a massive amount of genealogical information available in all of the other records.
Typically you’ll be using the search feature to find those other records. However not all records are searchable. That’s because after the long process of acquiring the rights to digitize and publish a genealogy record collection, it takes even longer to get them indexed for a variety of reasons. Thankfully, Ancestry doesn’t always make us wait to gain access to them until the indexing is complete.
The digital images are published without an index. This means they are not searchable by names and other keywords. Therefore, it can take some time to locate a record within one of these collections. But I think you’ll agree it’s more convenient to look through them from the comfort of your own home rather than renting microfilm or traveling to a far off location!
Here’s your checklist for better browsing.
HOW TO FIND BROWSE-ONLY RECORDS AT ANCESTRY
While Ancestry.com doesn’t make it quite as easy as FamilySearch to find browse-only or partially-indexed databases, it’s still very much worth the effort.
1. Head to the Card Catalog
From the main menu on the Ancestry website, select Search > Card Catalog.
2. Search and Filter
In the upper left corner you can search the catalog by title and / or keyword. However, if you know the type of record you are looking for, such as military records, the best place to start is filtering by that category. If the list is long, you can then search within that category by keywords.
3. Determining if the Records are Searchable
If you don’t see a search box on the left side, then you can assume that this collection has not yet been indexed and therefore isn’t searchable by keywords and other data. Instead you will see typically see the source information box at the top.
HOW TO FILTER BROWSE-ONLY GENEALOGY RECORDS
1. Browse This Collection Box
On the right side of the screen you will see a Browse this Collection box. The filtering options presented will depend on the way the collection is organized.
In the case of the Nevada County Marriage database, a drop down menu allows you to filter by county.
2. Make a Selection
As you can see in my example, once I selected a county I can also filter down by record books. So even though you can’t search names, you can often zero in on the portion of the collection most relevant to your search.
Browse this Collection box
HOW TO BROWSE RECORDS AT ANCESTRY.COM
Once you have selected the available filters, you’ll find yourself in the digitized records. They are displayed in a filmstrip layout which will come in quite handy for navigation through the pages.
Navigation is crucial since we can’s search by names and keywords. Let’s take a closer look at the ways you can navigate:
Browsing a digitized genealogy record collection at Ancestry.com
Finding the Filmstrip
if you don’t see the filmstrip view, click the filmstrip icon:
Finding and Using the Original Index
WATCH THE BONUS VIDEO below to see the next section in action. Click on the sound button to the right of the play button to turn on the sound.
Many records that were originally bound in books like this collection include index pages. In this book the index appears at the beginning. If you look closely at the filmstrip images it’s easy to spot where the index lists are and where the records begin.
So even though Ancestry hasn’t had the chance to index the records yet, they are indexed in the book. This will make the job of browsing for the records you need even easier.
The “About” box on the card catalog entry often includes important information about whether or not the collection has an index. One example of this is the Canada, Photographic Albums of Settlement, 1892-1917 record collection. It is a browse-only series of digitized photo albums by Canada’s Department of the Interior between 1892 and 1917. The collection description includes very useful instructions such as: “At the beginning of each album, you will find a table of contents with a brief description of each photograph and the photograph number. Use these tables to help you browse to the photograph of interest.” As you can see, taking a few extra moments to read about the collection can make browsing it much easier.
Save Time When Browsing Between Volumes
Remember that Browse this Collection box on the right hand side of the card catalog entry page? (See the Browse this Collection box image 6 images above.) This handy menu is also embedded in the record viewer. If you need to switch to a different book, album or other portion of the collection, you don’t have to hit the back button and start over. Instead, at the top of the viewing page, click the volume or collection you are currently viewing (this appears as a sub-title under the main title of the collection.) A browse structure menu will appear showing you all the other options within the collection. Just click the one you want and you will be instantly switched over. Think of it as pulling a different volume of a series of books off the shelf!
Switching volumes within the collection within the viewer.
Browsing Indexed Records
There will be times when even though a record collection is indexed, you may still want to browse it. Browsing isn’t just for unindexed records. Many genealogy gems can be found by browsing a database that you’ve already searched. You may spot neighbors of interest, other surnames from your family tree, and more. So even when you are working with a record collection that has a search box, look for the browsing option in the right column.
HOW TO FIND THE NEWEST RECORDS AT ANCESTRY.COM
The records most likely to not yet be indexed, and therefore browse-only, are the newest records added to Ancestry. If you’re looking to bust through a brick wall, here’s a great way to find the newest records that just might do it.
1. Go to the Card Catalog
From the main menu on the Ancestry website, select Search > Card Catalog.
2. Sort the Records
In the right hand corner you’ll find a Sort By menu. Select Date Added.
Select Date Added from the Sort by menu.
3. Newest Record View
The Card Catalog will now be presented in the order in which the records were added. The newest records will appear at the top of the list.
4. Filter the List
Use the filters along the left side of the page to filter the collections by record type, location, and date. Then use the search boxes to target keywords. This will give you results that include your keyword starting with the newest collections.
BONUS PDF AND MORE RESOURCES
Making a small investment of time in getting to know the search and browsing functions of a website can pay off big.
BONUS PDF: Click to download a handy ad-free PDF version of this article for easy reference: How to Find and Browse Unindexed Records at Ancestry
Here are three more articles and podcast episodes here at Genealogy Gems that can help you maximize your genealogy research efforts:
WHAT DID YOU UNCOVER USING THESE BROWSING STRATEGIES?
Please leave a comment below and share the genealogy gems that you uncover using these techniques. And of course if you have any questions, leave those as comments as well and I’ll reply.
Before you rely on any genealogical sources for your family history research, you should know their provenance. Ask these questions about the records you find—and you’ll better understand the source and what it may (or may not) be telling you.
In the art world, knowing the provenance of a piece is crucial to understanding its value. Provenance looks at an object’s origins, history, and ownership. These can shed light on whether the piece is authentic. In other words, it tells us whether it truly was created by the attributed artist in the stated timeframe. It also provides insight into the value of the item.
Genealogical sources: Why provenance matters
The principle of provenance is true for genealogical sources, too. Records created at the time of an event by eyewitnesses are generally much more credible. Documents created in places associated with your relatives, by people who knew them, are much more likely to pertain to them (rather than to other folks by the same name). The same holds true for objects that are passed down through the family. Therefore, whether you’re looking at a family Bible or a typescript of a reminiscence you find online, it’s important to learn as much as you can about it so you know how much to trust it.
Questions to ask about your genealogical sources
What type of document or item is it? When was it created?
The nature of an object or record can often tell you something about its history or credibility. In the case of a photograph, we might ask these questions:
- What type of photograph is it? (tintype, carte de visite, Polaroid, etc.)
- Is there printing or writing on the back of the photo?
- If it’s a studio portrait, is the studio’s name and location identified?
For example, this photograph is a daguerreotype. It is a type of image taken on a silver-coated copper plate. Photo expert Maureen Taylor says these types of photos were in most use from 1839 to about 1865. You can learn additional clues from Maureen about using hairstyles, fashions, and other clues in the actual image in her book, Family Photo Detective.
Perhaps you have a manuscript in your grandma’s handwriting. Is it a diary or an autobiographical sketch? Is it dated or signed? Is it an original or a photocopy?
You will likely date these items, associate them with specific relatives, and judge the reliability of their contents based on answers to questions like these.
If a document isn’t identified, study it closely for clues as to what it is. Contributing Editor Sunny Morton has spent a lot of time studying old diaries and life story writings. Here are some tips from her on understanding them:
- Diaries and journals were created gradually over time. You may see date headers before some entries and changes in the handwriting or ink. Entries often focus more on the present or immediate past than the deep past and they wouldn’t reveal future events because they hadn’t happened yet.
- Autobiographical sketches or reminiscences may or may not be labeled and dated as such. These were usually written much later in someone’s life, often over a short period of time. The writer’s tone may be more formal, introspective, defensive, or self-conscious as she reflects on the past.
Look at all other documents and items that are associated with the source in question. For example, not long ago I received a box of old family items from my sister-in-law. The box originally belonged to my mother-in-law (Pat) and held an eclectic mix of mementos. One item of particular interest was a Guest Book sporting a cover made of wood. I immediately understood the significance of the cover because my father-in-law (Bill) had worked his entire career in the forest products industry. But that didn’t mean that the book actually belonged to my in-laws. Further examination was required.
The Guest Log
Before removing the book from the box, I made note of what was tucked in around it. Perhaps all of these items were unrelated, or perhaps they had all come out of the same closet. Slow and careful examination is key identifying all the potential clues about the item.
It took several hours of reading through the various entries to determine that the Book was given to Pat and Bill as a gift by Pat’s parents. It contained many original signatures acquired over many years from a wide range of friends and family.
If you’re looking at digitized records online, read the description of the record collection. If you’re in an archive, read the finding aid or other collection description. (Genealogy Gems Premium subscribers can learn more about using finding aids in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #149.)
Records or artifacts may come with dates or timeframes associated with them. Sometimes there is no date or only a rough range of possibilities. You may have to rely on clues from several sources to date the item and match it up with your family history timeline. For example, this quilt was found in a suitcase in my Grandmother Pauline Moore’s closet after her death with this note pinned to it.
The quilt made by my great grandmother
The note that was pinned to the quilt.
She says in the note that it was made by her mother before her stroke, which occurred in the 1960s. Based on the flour sack fabrics, I would date it more in the range of 1925-1945. It’s possible that she may have hung on to all these scraps and made it later in life. But I know from past conversations with my grandmother that most of her mother’s quilting was done in the earlier timeframe. Adding strength to my theory is a dress that hangs in my laundry room. I inherited the dress from my grandmother years ago. I have photos of her wearing it in the pre-World War II era. It contains some of the exact same fabric that makes up the quilt.
My grandma’s 1940s house dresses.
Finally, with documents especially, consider whether you’re looking at the original version, meaning the first format it ever took. Whenever possible, consult the original. Indexes, typed-up copies, or abstracts are convenient reference tools. In some cases, they are the only versions you’ll be able to access. However, they may not be as complete or accurate. Handwritten copies of older originals may have been made in the days before photocopying technology.
Here’s a digital copy of a 4-page family history written by Sunny’s great-aunt Lena Hall (1903-1981). Sunny received this copy from her mother. The title “as told by” at the beginning hints that this is a typed version of an oral history. If an original audio taped version still exists, Sunny doesn’t have it. So in this case, this is the best version she can get.
Document by Lena Hall
When was it written? A note at the end simply says the document was “copied by a niece” in 1987. It was created after 1950 because Aunt Lena names that as the year her father died. Aunt Lena states that her parents now had “25 grandchildren, 58 great-grandchildren, and 4 great-great-grandchildren.” Studying a complete family tree in descendancy view would likely reveal when her parents had only four great-great grandchildren—perhaps the best way to date this document.
If you can’t identify or assign a rough date to an artifact, consult a professional historian, genealogist, appraiser, or others with knowledge of particular documents or objects.
Where was it created and where has it been kept over the years?
Sometimes, family history sources are labeled with place names, like the city stamped on the front of an old photographic studio portrait. These can help you connect them with your family—or confirm that they don’t pertain to your family.
Where the source has been kept over time, and who has kept it, is an important part of provenance. For example, last summer, I was given this camera by my uncle.
He said it was originally owned by my grandma, Alfreda Louise Burkett. Much to our delight, we discovered that the camera had unexposed film inside! I scurried off to a few local stores, and quickly learned that the film pre-dated the current standard 35mm film, and they couldn’t process it. As I mentioned before, there are times when you will need to consult an expert, and this was one of them. Google led me to a specialty photography store about an hour from my home. It also served up this website which revealed that the camera type (Kodak Senior Six-20) was produced from 1932-1937.
The knowledgeable folks at the photography store connected me with a highly specialized film developer in Colorado. I’ve sent the film for processing. They told me the film type (C-22) can be dated to pre-1970s. This time frame makes sense: my grandma passed away in 1986.
As long as it has taken for this camera to make its way to me, I’m going to have to wait a little longer to see what the roll of film reveals. There is so little of this film still in existence that it can take up to 18 months for the developer to collect enough of it to warrant a processing run. When the happy day arrives that the photos appear in my mailbox, I’m optimistic that the images will further help me narrow down the timeframe between the 1930s and the 1970s when they were taken.
This chain of ownership—from my grandma to her son to me—is strong and reliable, based on my confidence in my uncle’s memory and honesty. This makes me more confident that the pictures inside that camera will be of my family. Stay tuned, because I will surely share the outcome here on the blog.
Why was it created?
The original purpose of a source is highly relevant to how much faith you put in its contents. For example, a woman might have altered her testimony in divorce proceedings in an effort to minimize damage to her own reputation and future. A man filling out his draft registration paperwork may have lied about his age or citizenship, either to avoid military service or in order to be included despite being under age. And most certainly newspaper articles may be filled with a variety of biases by the author, publisher, or those being interviewed. Give careful thought to these possible motivations when evaluating the contents of records.
Does it appear to be complete?
Whenever possible, consider a source as a whole. It’s tempting to want to zero in on the paragraphs or photos that interest you most, but you may miss out on important information that changes what this source has to tell you. The specific placement of a photo in an album can be as significant as the printed photographic image. A photo’s position can indicate the relationship of the people in the photo to others on the same page, or the timeline of events.
Image: Genealogy Gems
Take note if any part of the source appears to be missing or illegible, especially if it appears that some of it has been deliberately removed, erased, or crossed out. You may be able to make more sense of the partial information—or take a guess at why it was removed—as you learn more about the family. (My grandma’s diaries from the 1930s gave me insight into this photo!)
There may be a perfectly innocent reason for the change. But you may also be seeing evidence that someone who wanted to erase unpleasant memories or conceal a scandal.
Who was the informant?
The informant in any record is the person who supplied the information. Sometimes this is the same person who created a record, such as the writer of a diary. In the case of a U.S. census, the informant is the person in a household who told the census enumerator about the people who lived there. In most cases, it’s impossible to know who the informant was. Thankfully in 1940, census enumerators were instructed to mark the informant with a circled “X,” as shown in these two households.
Remember that a source may have multiple informants, who would have been in the best position to provide certain kinds of information. Below is the death certificate for Mary Mollie Overbay, beloved grandma and hero of Genealogy Gems contributing writer Margaret Linford. (Read more about her here.) In this death certificate, Informant #1 reported the deceased’s personal information, and would typically have been a close relative. Informant #2 provided the medical particulars relating to the death, and would typically have been the attending physician.
Death Record Informants
What primary and secondary information is revealed in this record?
Historical evidence can either be considered primary or secondary information. Genealogical scholar Thomas W. Jones defines these terms in his book, Mastering Genealogical Proof:
- “Primary information is that reported by an eyewitness. Primary information often was recorded soon after the event, but it may be reported or recorded years or decades later.
- Secondary information is reported by someone who obtained it from someone else. It is hearsay.”
The same document can include both primary and secondary information (which is why we now talk less about primary and secondary sources and more about information). On the death certificate above, Informant #1 shares the deceased’s last name, so was likely a relative. He likely had first-hand knowledge of the deceased’s marital status, spouse’s name, and occupation. If Informant #1 was the deceased’s father, he would also likely have provided primary information relating to the deceased’s birth, place of residence, and parents’ names. Secondary information he reported would include his own birthplace (as father) and that of his wife (since he presumably wasn’t present for it). If Informant #2 was the deceased’s attending physician, he would have provided primary information about the deceased’s immediate and contributing causes of death.
How do all these clues add up?
It’s clear that as genealogists our goal is not only to evaluate each family history source, but also each piece of information it provides. We need to scrutinize it from many angles and make some judgments. Asking the right questions helps us ultimately answer the all-important question: how much do you trust what this record is telling you?
Next steps: Keep learning
Is there more to do after you review a family history artifact or record and extract every piece of information from it? You bet! Create a research plan that will help you find other records to verify or shed additional light on the information in the document. For example:
- If you’ve got a death certificate, look for other death-related records, such as an obituary, tombstone inscription, and funeral home records.
- Follow up on additional leads provided in the source. A death certificate sometimes mentions a Social Security number or military service, both of which have their own paper trails.
If you’re new to research plans or looking for a way to take them paperless, you’ll find detailed answers in my video class “Using Evernote to Create a Research Plan.” The video and handout download are available to Genealogy Gems Premium Members.
Genealogy Gems Premium Video Class