WPA Records for Genealogy: Historical Record Surveys, Local Histories and More

Have you used WPA records for genealogy? Their Historical Record Surveys and local and oral histories may help you in your family history research. Existing records and locations vary widely. Here are tips to help you in your search.

WPA records for genealogy

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, employees of the Works Progress Administration (WPA, also known as the Works Projects Administration) created new resources for U.S. genealogical research. It’s possible you’ve even consulted some of these without being aware of their WPA origins. After all, the projects and their formats varied. They didn’t always prominently credit the WPA and some were printed long afterward. We’re going to shine the spotlight on WPA-era local histories, oral histories and statewide Historical Record Surveys.

WPA Records for Genealogy: Local Histories

In Annie Barrows’ novel The Truth According to Us, Layla Beck heads to the small fictional town of Macedonia, West Virginia to write a local history as a WPA assignment. Drama ensues, both in Layla’s personal life and as she tries to learn local stories, which everyone reports a little differently. (We featured this book in the Genealogy Gems Book Club.)

Actually, local histories were written as WPA projects. Their scope, topics, and formats varied, depending on the unique background and resources of each region and how active WPA workers were in each state and county. For example, WPA historical materials in Morrison County, Minnesota include “histories on townships, cities, churches, schools, businesses, the military, and miscellaneous county history topics,” which have since been collected and reprinted by the county historical society. Many historical projects included photographs, such as this one for the city of New Orleans.

WPA Records for Genealogy: Oral Histories

WPA workers also captured oral histories of individuals, too. Many were collected in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940, now online at the Library of Congress. According to the collection description, “The documents chronicle vivid life stories of Americans who lived at the turn of the century and include tales of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the 1871 Chicago fire, pioneer journeys out West, factory work, and the immigrant experience. The documents often describe the informant’s physical appearance, family, education, income, occupation, political views, religion and mores.”

Other important WPA oral histories are narratives of former slaves and their families. You can browse an enormous collection of these online at the Library of Congress. These aren’t the ideal eyewitness accounts we wish for, as they were gathered so long after the end of slavery, from many who were young children at the time. Also, many researchers believe interviewees may not have spoken candidly, especially to white interviewers who may have known them personally.

It’s a long shot to find an ancestor mentioned by name in WPA oral histories. In some instances, pseudonyms were even used for names and places. But, you can still learn a lot from others’ descriptions of daily life and unusual events your ancestors may have experienced.

WPA oral history transcription

From one of the slave narratives mentioned in this article.

Historical Record Surveys

The Historical Record Surveys created by the WPA are among the most genealogically-valuable of their projects. “Under the auspices of the WPA, workers went to archives, historical societies, public and university libraries, and compiled inventories of manuscript collections,” writes Bryan Mulcahy in an online report. “They went to courthouses, town halls, offices in large cities, and vital statistics offices and inventoried records. Besides compiling indexes, they also transcribed some of the records they found.”

Today, many of their efforts still exist. They include indexes to cemeteries, newspapers, and naturalization records, as well as inventories of courthouse records, church records, and other manuscript collections in various archives or libraries. Of course, some records may have been moved or destroyed since inventories were created, but knowing what records existed around 1940 and what they were called may help you locate surviving collections. Some indexes, such as those of cemetery tombstone inscriptions, may actually be more valuable since they captured information from tombstones that may no longer exist or be legible.

A blank WPA Historical Records Survey church records inventory form. Image courtesy of the State Archives of Florida. Click this image to find it online at Florida Memory.

One great example is the Historical Records Survey for the state of Oregon, described as “the most comprehensive documentary project of Oregon history and related records of its time.” It includes historical essays, document transcriptions, interviews, research notes, photographs, pamphlets and more. According to its collection description, “The territorial and pioneer periods of the mid-to-late nineteenth century receive the greatest attention, with an emphasis on the growth of state government and infrastructure, business and agriculture, transportation, education, biography, and relations between social groups. Native Americans figure prominently in this collection.”

Finding WPA Records for Genealogy Online

Some WPA projects were carried out on a federal level and others by state agencies. They were never centrally published or collected. Today, surviving original files and published volumes are scattered across the country. Some can be found in the National Archives, many in state libraries or societies, and many more available at local repositories.

A Google search such as historical records surveys and the name of the state and/or county is a great way to start your search for WPA records for genealogy research. Some results will lead right to the kinds of resources you want, such as this guide to WPA records in archives in the Pacific Northwest. Others, such as this one for the Iowa Historical Records Survey published in The American Archivist, are mostly a history of the effort. However, they do contain several useful bibliographic citations to records that were created. Add the name of the county to your search and you may find more targeted results, such as this library catalog entry for the inventory of the Jasper County archives. Click here to learn more about Google searches for genealogy records you want to find.

Remember, though, that many WPA publications and collections aren’t identified as such. Don’t fixate on needing to find WPA listed in the title. Just concentrate your efforts on finding the local and oral histories, photos, historical record indexes and inventories, and other resources that may be out there. When you find one created during the Great Depression, you’ll know it may have been done by the WPA.

Love what you’re reading and want to learn more? Go deeper into genealogy “gems” like these in Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems Podcasts. Lisa produces a free internationally-renowned monthly podcast that’s had over 2.5 million downloads! Additionally, Genealogy Gems Premium website members also have access to her full archive of monthly Premium podcast epidodes: check out a full description of these here including Episode 2 on WPA records for genealogy.

How to Upload Your E-books to Your Own Google Play Books Library

These days we are all collecting more ebooks than ever before. We also have more devices than we’ve ever had before. Here’s a solution that gives you access to your ebooks from one convenient location no matter which device you are using. 

 

The Advantage of eBooks

While you may love the feel of the pages of a book rifling through your fingers, there is a distinct advantage to collecting many of your genealogical reference materials and books ebooks. They don’t take up precious shelf space in your house!

However, I don’t live in a digital fantasy-land. I’m keenly aware that there are some challenges you may want to avoid:

  • purchasing an ebook and downloading it to one device, and then trying to figure out how to access it on your other devices
  • corralling your ebooks from different sources all together
  • having to pay for an app or web service to manage them

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

If you’ve ever attended one of my genealogy classes, or watched one of my videos, at some point you’ve probably heard me say that I use Google Books on a daily basis for genealogy. I don’t say that just because the service provides access to over 25 million books, many of them fully digitized and searchable, and downloadable. It also provides you with your own personal library. Let’s take a look at how Google Books and Google Play Books work together to make that possible:

Google Books is a free and powerful service that also allows you to have your own library within it called My Library. As you search for and find ebooks to aid you in your genealogical research, you can save them to your library.

Google Play Books, is sort of the other side of Google Books. It is a vast ebook store that includes a feature called My Books. When you purchase an ebook, it is saved to your My Books. However, it also includes all ebooks that you have saved to your Google Books My Library. Even better, it allows you to upload your own ebooks! This makes it a central clearinghouse for all of your ebooks.

Here’s the bottom line. Think of My Books and My Library as the same thing in two different places: a personal library for your free, purchased and uploaded ebooks. The only reason they have different names is because Google Books has evolved over time into a book store as well. Don’t worry about that. Just know that whether you are searching through Google Books, or shopping in the Play book store, your library is right there with you, no matter what device you are using.

How to Start Using your Google Play Books Library

To get started, all you need is a free Google account, which you very likely already have. Go to https://play.google.com/books and sign in. In the menu on the left, click My Books. If you have ever saved a free ebook to your My Library in Google Books you should now see it on your screen.

This library is a place where you can save, upload, and access your digital books from any mobile device. This means everything is conveniently in one place, and accessible from all of your computing devices, both Apple and Android. You’ll have the freedom to read your favorite books on the go, and to access your digital genealogy research library at the drop of a hat.

Yes, there are some other services out there that could also do the job. But if you’re like me and don’t want to invest the time to learn and pay for yet another tech tool, Google Play Books is a great solution, because we are already using Google Books for our genealogy research.

How to Upload Your Own eBooks to Your Google Play Books Library

Let me walk you through the simple steps to putting this free tool to work for you:

1. First, open your web browser and log in to your Google account.

2. Go to play.google.com/books.

3. Click Upload files.

 

Google Books Library

4. Select your ebook files from your computer folders, or drag them into the box shown. You can also click on My Drive to select files from Google Drive. You can choose epub documents or PDFs.

Now, let me stop right here for a second and distinguish between doing this on a computer, and doing it on a tablet or smartphone. What I’m illustrating here is on a computer. I always recommend when you purchase ebooks to download them first to your computer, regardless of whether you plan on uploading them to Google Play Books. However, if you do want to do this on a tablet, for example, there are currently two options from which to pull your ebooks:

  • “My Drive” which is Google Drive,  or
  • click “Select files from your computer” then tap “More” and select Dropbox.

Trust me, things will work more smoothly if you use your main computer as your hub for downloading, and then upload directly to your Google Books library.

Other things that are good to know:

  • It may take a minute or two to upload an entire book.
  • The cover will be the title page, not the actual dust-jacket cover you might be used to.
  • Currently, you can only search within books you obtain from Google (both free and paid), not the ones you upload.
  • You can upload 1,000 books into your Google Play Books library.
  • It’s private. Your books are only visible to you when you login to your Google account; you’re not sharing them with the world.

Google Play Books Library My Books

Your Google Books Library on Your Mobile Device

So now you have found free historical ebooks on Google Books (if you haven’t, take a moment and click here to read my article about using Google Books) and saved them to your Google Books My Library. Then, you uploaded your own ebooks and PDFs to Google Play Books. The final step is to jump on all of your smartphones and tablets and head to the app store. Search for Google Play Books and download the free Google Play Books app to each device. Sign in to the app with your same free Google account, and you’ll have access to all of your ebooks. Your library can now travel with you in your purse or tucked into your pocket.

In the app, tap the three horizontal lines icon in the upper left corner, and then tap My Library. You’ll find your ebooks sorted under the following tabs:

  • All Books
  • Purchases
  • Uploads
  • Samples

By tapping the three uneven horizontal lines icon in the upper right corner, in each category you can sort your books by:

  • Recent
  • Title
  • Author

Those Pesky Variable Formats

Google Drive and other tipseBooks come in several different formats. While I’m not covering in this article how to convert file types or deal with DRM protected books, there are resources available to help you do so.

The answer? Just Google It!

And if you need help figuring out how to effectively Google search, I have a book for that! The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox–the ultimate guide to using all of Google, including a full chapter on Google Books.

PDF – I Love You!

Many white-papers, scholarly works, and quick reference guides come in PDF format, and they upload like a breeze.

PDFs are so versatile, and they play ever-so-nicely with Google Play Books. It’s just another reason to love your Google Books library.

Stock Your Google Books Library

Are you feeling like your Google Books Library has room to fill? All of our quick reference guides are easy-to-upload PDFs, and all of the following genealogy resources are available as digital downloads in the Genealogy Gems store:

For a hand-picked list of novels and other great leisure reading for genealogy lovers, visit the Genealogy Gems Book Club page. I know you’re going to love our suggested best-sellers and best-kept-secrets about family, the search for identity, and fascinating stories in history.

 

How to Use PERSI Like a PRO!

Show Notes: PERSI

Learn how to use the Periodical Source Index (PERSI) like a pro! 

The Periodical Source Index known as PERSI is a subject index of an amazing array of genealogy and local history articles published by subject experts in newsletters and periodicals from all over the world. Discover bible records, source materials, ancestor charts, transcriptions of original records, and much more.

Search PERSI and you just may find out that you don’t have a genealogical brick wall after all. We’ll show you how! My guest, Allison Singelton, Acting Genealogy Services Manager at the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, IN will guide you through:

  • where to find PERSI,
  • the best way to search PERSI,
  • and how to obtain copies of PERSI articles.
How to use PERSI Periodical Source Index

Video and show notes below:

Watch the Video:

How to Use PERSI like a PRO!

My guest: Allison Singleton, Acting Genealogy Services Manager at the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout including BONUS PERSI At-A-Glance section for Premium Members

What is the Periodical Subject Index known as PERSI?

(00:59) Allison: PERSI, the periodical source index is an index that we create in-house. It indexes periodicals (of genealogical value) from all over the world. These are periodicals such as newsletters, quarterlies, they could be anything from genealogical society publications, special interest group publications, surname or family society publications, or ethnic society publications. So, it’s a little bit of everything.

We are indexing the titles of those articles. It’s a subject index, and it’s full of amazing pieces of information that a lot of people don’t have access to from home otherwise. We’re able to take that information published by people in the locations where these publications are from, people with specific knowledge, that dive into a topic really deep. They’re the experts, the subject experts, and you’re able to get the information from the people who know the most, which is invaluable as researchers.

I absolutely love going through these different records. You may find Bible records, some source materials, ancestor charts, perhaps it’ll be a transcription of original records. You know, in fact, somebody actually found a transcription of records that later burned in a fire. So, that was a very exciting day, there were tears, it was awesome! So, you never know what you can find. Now, I don’t guarantee that everybody’s going to find a gem like that, but there is hope. There’s hope to break through some brick walls, maybe get some research techniques, or at least learn about some different people who are doing research on the same topics as you.

How Old are the Periodicals in PERSI?

(03:09) Lisa: Allison, a lot of these periodicals could be quite old, couldn’t they? I mean, I think about genealogy society newsletters. Those have been around well before we ever got online and started sharing information on the internet. So those included as well?

Allison: 100%. We have periodicals that go back to the 1800s. It’s pretty amazing to go through some of the results. I really enjoy being able to show someone that somebody’s already written something on their family history generations back.

How to Search PERSI

(03:51) Lisa: So, this is an index of a huge collection of genealogical articles published in a variety of Periodicals. You said it was a name index search. We’ve been talking a lot about indexing these days with the 1950 census. People are very aware that they’re going through and grabbing pieces of information out of the census and indexing them. This is sounds like it’s the same with these articles. So, we may not always necessarily search on the name of an ancestor, but rather a topic or a place, would that be fair to say?

Allison: It’s a mix. When articles are written, it’s the title of that article that is typically indexed. The exception is if somebody names an article, something like, Bones, and you don’t know exactly what that is. The indexers will put in that it’s about cemetery records. But it’s basically just going to go by the titles of those articles.

Not all of us have articles written specifically about our ancestors. I recommend doing not just a surname search, but also a location search, and topic search. There’s a lot of different types of searches you can do. We can dive a little bit deeper into that later, and folks are welcome to contact us for assistance. We would love to talk to anyone who wants to dive into PERSI a little bit deeper.

Lisa: The Genealogy Center is a specialty section of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. You guys have an extensive genealogy website we’ve talked about here at Genealogy Gems. Tell us about specifically what we’re going to find at the Genealogy Center website. How do we access PERSI and do these searches that you’re talking about?

Where is the PERSI Webpage?

(05:38) Allison: If you go to our website at GenealogyCenter.org, there is a green button on the left-hand side called Our Resources. Once you click on that, there are two options: Free Databases and On-Site Databases. Free Databases are the ones that you can access from anywhere in the world at any time of the day. Click on that link, then scroll down the menu and click on Periodical Source Index (PERSI).

Best Way to Begin Your PERSI Search

(06:09) Lisa: On the PERSI search page we see a lot of different options. Where do you typically start? Does it depend on what your genealogy question and plan is? Or do you have one favorite kind of starting place for your searches?

Allison: It depends on what my research question is. Typically, I do you like to do a Surname search first, just to see if I’m lucky enough to find an article for the surname I’m looking for. You never know what can pop up.

PERSI Search Strategy: Use Synonyms

(06:47) Once I’ve finished with that, I then go to the Location and start diving a little bit deeper. I’m usually looking for an event, so I want to search for all the different search terms that I can think of that surround that specific event. For example, if I’m looking for a Death Event, I’m going to look up the words death, died, burial, funeral, probate, wills cemetery, anything that has to do with a surrounding a death event. Don’t just search one word. Articles can come up under anything the author thought of to call it and some of them get pretty clever, which is interesting, but unhelpful.

How to Get a Copy of a PERSI Article

(07:41) Lisa: Well, you’ve really whetted our appetite for these really one-of-a-kind kinds of articles that are over at PERSI. How do we get access to the article once we found it in the index?

Allison: That is the beautiful part, you have multiple options.

Contact the Publisher

The first option would be to contact the publisher. I recommend going to the source when you want something. And many times, if you contact a publisher, especially if it’s a smaller periodical, or even a local one, you might be able to just find it online. Perhaps they’ve been digitizing their own periodical. Or perhaps someone would give you a copy. Sometimes there’s a nominal fee.

Search the title in WorldCat

Another option is to search the periodical title in WorldCat. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s an excellent research tool for genealogists. It’s a worldwide library card catalog. You can find where a local copy of a periodical would be, and maybe get an interlibrary loan or go to your local library where they have it.

Order from the Genealogy Center

Last, but not least, you can order it from us. There is a nominal fee, and you do get to fill out a form. We will fill your request as quickly as we can but give us about four to six weeks.

Digging Deeper with PERSI Search Strategies

(09:00) Lisa: You’ve given us a fantastic overview. Let’s dig a bit more into PERSI at the Genealogy Center website.

Allison: As I mentioned, the first thing that I typically do is start with a surname search. Something that I think is really interesting is when you have a name, which is a common word. So, one of the examples I like to give, it’s actually a surname that one of my colleague’s searches, Church. When you search church in things like newspapers, you get every church known to man building-wise or denomination, not surnames. The beautiful part of this database is it actually brings up the surnames.

Lisa: Fantastic! We don’t have to slog our way through all those other common words. It knows we’re looking for a surname.

Allison: Exactly! And then once you’re in here, you can search within the results. But if you do the search at the top of the page under the results, it will come up with anything that’s in the title of the article, the periodical, or the publisher. So, if you put in a location, such as Ohio, saying you only want results for Ohio, it’s also going to bring up Ohio if it appears in the name of the publisher. So perhaps it is something you’re looking for, or perhaps not.

Lisa: You mentioned that not everything is indexed in these articles. It’s really like you picked the top pieces of information that we would need in order to search the title, the year, and the publisher, so we’re not going to be doing a lot of just keyword searching.

Allison: Correct. You’re going to be looking for information in the article title. You’re looking for the events that your ancestor was involved in, or occupations, or you’re looking for anything that could have impacted your ancestors’ lives. The wonderful thing about periodicals is a lot of times they can add more of that story to your family tree.

Where are the PERSI articles held?

Lisa: I see an article mentioning Abigail Church Witchcraft Case. It came out of a periodical published in 1924. Is this something you would have on your shelf at the Genealogy Center?

Allison: Yes. The result includes our call number, which tells you exactly where to find it in our library.

A Fourth Option for Obtaining PERSI Articles

(12:44) Lisa: I don’t see anything clickable in the search result. Tell folks again how we get them the article this is referring to.

Allison: We offer the three options I mentioned before: contacting the publisher, searching WorldCat, or ordering from our library. There’s always the fourth option of looking to see if it’s been digitized online. Since the Abigail Church article was published in 1924, there is a good possibility that it might be online somewhere. You can Google search the title of the article and that might bring it up. But the first thing I would do is contact the publisher, Ohio History Connection, and see if they have the periodical available either online or could send you a copy. The next thing I would do is take the title of the periodical copy it and put it into WorldCat to see if it’s available in a location near you. You can simply enter your little zip code at WorldCat, and it will list the holding libraries in the order they are closest to you.

Lisa: That’s just such a great tool.

Allison: It really is! Now if you wanted to order it from us, which you definitely can, there is a link on the results page to order articles. It’s going to bring you to a PDF form, and you get to fill this out and then send it to us via email. It does say that there’s a charge, it doesn’t necessarily need to be prepaid. If you want to prepay it, you’re welcome to. Our address isn’t on this specific form, but you can find our address on our website pretty easily. The most important thing is to fill out the form with the information and know that there is a $7.50 charge for the form. You will be billed an additional 20 cents per copy page. It does take quite some time to pull the articles and then make the copies. Everything is done by hand. It’s not digitized.

Lisa: And will we receive a digital copy, like a PDF? Or do you actually mail us the paper copy?

Allison: It depends on what you would like. I would recommend noting that you would like it via email or a paper copy.

Lisa: And also, I noticed on that form, there’s a spot for several articles. So, since we were going to pay the $7.50, we might want to take a second to see if there are any other articles we want. The form allows us to order several for that one price, right?

Allison: Yes, it’s $7.50 for this entire form which includes up to six articles. The requests are filled in the order that they’re received. We work hard to ensure your order is accurate, and you’re getting the information that you are seeking. In fact, we look to see if there are additional pages that are not included in the article title that are applicable to what you request. So, we are definitely trying to make sure that every customer gets the information that they are seeking.

Lisa: And at the library, you have the advantage of looking at the original, the paper copy, not just in a database, so you can do that little extra search.

I really liked your idea of the Google search. I actually did that with one of the articles I found in PERSI, and discovered that the item was fully digitized over at the Internet Archive. I was able just to go ahead and see it in the moment, which was really neat.

Google Searching for PERSI Articles

Allison: Yes, and I highly recommend that. All you have to do is highlight the article title and copy it. Next, paste that title into Google and see what comes up. If you don’t get a result right away, you can try putting quotations around the title to search it exactly. It’s always worth it to do a search and see if you can find it online for free.

More Strategic Searches at PERSI

(18:03) Lisa: You’ve been at the genealogy center quite some time, and you’ve seen so many of these periodicals. Help the genealogists really fully grasp what the potential is here. How we should be thinking about searching. I’m guessing we’re not always going to be really hyper-focused on our individual ancestor, but we’re going to think about them in the context of their life and see if there’s an article that touches on that. Tell us a little bit about how to strategize.

Allison: Sure, there’s a couple of ways to do it. I prefer to go into the location database and look specifically where they lived. We usually know where our ancestors were, even if it’s just the state. I would search the county and state when possible. Next you’ll get categories that you can look through.  You can then see which ones larger and which ones are smaller. In my search History is the category with the largest number of results. Look for things that really stand out. Perhaps I’m looking for World War II information. I would want to click on that topic and then kind of go down and see if it looks like there is a periodical that was published in Fort Wayne.

Lisa: I imagine that when you do find something, let’s say we find an article that really just hits the mark, it tells us the periodical it was published in which might be an opportunity for finding even more in that same periodical. You can just search by publisher?

Allison: Yes, you can search by a publisher, you can search by the year, and you can search for the periodical. So, let’s say we found a ton of what we need from The Beacon. We can just search that publication. There are 323 entries from the Beacon from that total of 370 that we started with.

Lisa: I notice that as you type the results automatically updated.

Allison: Yes, it automatically updates. So, if I want to search for articles on medical topics I just start typing medical in the title. I get four different results. Well, medical is a good keyword, but I might also want to search on Red Cross. You need to be kind of creative with your searching.

Lisa: And I see that it again updates as you type. So, you’re actually kind of testing out med, medic, medical as keywords as you’re typing.

Allison: Yes, I don’t even have to finish the word and I start getting results. Just start playing around with the different terms that you can think of surrounding your ancestors’ lives.

Demystifying the Periodical Subject Index (PERSI)

(24:05) Lisa: I think about how many people have at some point heard about PERSI but then got a little intimidated. They weren’t quite sure how it was going to help, and then when the get to the website they weren’t quite sure how they were going to find what they wanted. Give us your final elevator pitch on why they should invest the time and try the PERSI search engine.

Allison: PERSI is constantly updated. We have around 3 million subject entries and that number is going up. We are constantly adding more information. It’s a database that you’re going to want to search periodically from time to time to see what pieces of information might be there for your ancestors.

We’ve already built the framework for our family trees with the names and dates and places. We want to add more to that. We want to add more of the meat to our family by adding new stories. Our ancestors lived amazing lives, and hopefully searching PERSI can help you find some of those stories. And you know, if you’re looking for ancestors who are proving to be elusive, occasionally you can find information in PERSI that has been previously thought lost.

Lisa: That is such a great point. It’s really not a brick wall, until you’ve made your way to the Allen County Public Library website and the Genealogy Center to check PERSI.

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout including BONUS PERSI At-A-Glance section for Premium Members

 

Episode 197

Episode 197

with Lisa Louise Cooke

This episode celebrates the most recent family history there is: our own. A chat between host and producer Lisa Louise Cook and Gems editor Sunny Morton explores the meaning and memories behind heirlooms hanging in Lisa’s bedroom. They comment on the larger value, for self and others, of recording our own memories in honor of Sunny’s new book, Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy.

Also in this episode:

  • A spotlight on new marriage records online for the U.S. and around the world.
  • Lisa walks a listener through several tips for learning more about her immigrant ancestors (a mother and daughter). Lisa shows how to use today’s technology tools to help with traditional research skills such as locating passenger lists, immigrant society records and naturalization.
  • Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard talks about organizing your DNA matches so you can get the most out of them.
  • Genealogy Gems Book Club featured author and Victorian lifestyle expert Sarah Chrisman describes what it’s like in her home–which doesn’t use electricity–as the days grow shorter and the darkness comes earlier.

NEW RECORDS ONLINE: Marriage Records

New York City Marriages: a new index to more than 3 million marriage licenses for recent New York City marriages (1950-1995)

Free FamilySearch marriage record collections recently added or updated include:

Learn more about marriage record research: Listen to Using Marriage Records in Family History: Episode 24 in Lisa Louise Cooke’s free step-by-step podcast, Genealogy: Family History Made Easy.

 

BONUS CONTENT for Genealogy Gems App Users: Finding Copies of Images Online with Google on Your Mobile Device

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is an exclusive step-by-step tutorial PDF that shows you how to use your mobile device and Google to locate copies of images online. Remember, the Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users.

 

MAILBOX: Finding a Female Immigrant Ancestor

Question from Jo: “I have been fortunate to find information about most of my great-grandparents.  I have hit a wall with my maternal great grandmother who immigrated from Switzerland to the US in the 1880s when she was 8 years old. I was hoping that by upgrading to International records on Ancestry that I could find the ship and where she and her mother came from. The curious thing for me is that she and her mother traveled solo to the US and went to Cincinnati, Ohio. I’ve been to Cincinnati and have searched there and have found directories with addresses but no profession is listed like other people. I didn’t find any ship records either. Where might you suggest that I look or search to find more information?”

Tips for searching passenger arrival lists:

Consider what ports would have been the most logical point of arrival for an immigrant ancestor based on the time period and the U.S. location in which you find them. Cincinnati, Ohio, was reachable by rail by the 1880s from major ports, as well as by water via the Mississippi River for southern ports, so that doesn’t narrow things down much. According to an Ancestry.com article, more than 80% of immigrants arrived at the Port of New York by the 1890s, so Jo might scrutinize those New York passenger arrival lists for the 1880s again.

Free New York City passenger arrival databases at

Search multiple NYC passenger lists simultaneously at Steve Morse’s One-Step web portal

For “deeper” searching at Ancestry.com or other sites with powerful, flexible search interfaces: do a “nameless search” (without any name) for girls around age 8 for arrivals in particular years. Try additional searches with various combinations of name, place of origin (Switzerland) or “Swiss” in the keyword field, which will bring up that word in the ethnicity or nationality column. That column doesn’t have its own search field in Ancestry.com but it is indexed, so use the keyword field to search it.

Research Swiss immigration to Cincinnati during that time period. Who was coming, why they were coming and where they were coming from? Click here for free tips about researching historical questions such as these.

The Swiss in the United States at Internet Archive

Swiss-American Historical Society and Swiss Center: Genealogy

Tips for researching records of immigrant societies:

In the U.S., the time between an immigrant’s arrival and naturalization is often documented in records of ethnic organizations such as fraternal benefit societies, immigrant aid and colonization societies. These kinds of community groups often existed in cities and towns where specific immigrant groups had a strong presence.

Become an expert Google searcher (for genealogy and everything else you want to find online) with The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, 2nd edition, by Lisa Louise Cooke. Or click here to get started with basic Google search strategies you can use now.

Tips for researching naturalizations:

Naturalization records from that time period won’t reliably tell you where an ancestor was from. But they’re still worth looking for, especially if census or other records indicated that the person naturalized.

When looking for women’s and children’s naturalization records, remember that during this time period, they automatically became naturalized if their husband or father did, so individual records for married women and minor children won’t exist under their own names. But a woman could apply on her own, too. Click here to read a free article on women’s naturalizations.

Learn more in a free, 3-episode series on immigration and naturalization records: episodes 29-31 in the free, step-by-step Genealogy: Family History Made Easy podcast.

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. In the works: RootsMagic will be fully integrated with Ancestry.com, too: you’ll be able to sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.

 

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at http://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

 

INTERVIEW: Sunny Morton on recording your own life stories

 

Story of My Life

 “Some people about writing their life stories like I do about going to the gym. I put off going, but once I do I remember how much I enjoy it?and how much good it does me.” -Sunny

Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy available as a writeable PDF ebook or as a full-sized softcover workbook

GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB: Sarah Chrisman

 

This Victorian Life

Featured Genealogy Gems Book Club author Sarah Chrisman describes what it’s like when the days get shorter and the darkness comes early?in a house without electricity.

 

 

 

 

Legacy Tree Genealogists provides expert genealogy research service that works with your research goals, budget and schedule. The Legacy Tree Discovery package offers 3.5 hours of preliminary analysis and research recommendations: a great choice if you’ve hit a brick wall in your research and could use some expert guidance. Click here to learn more.

GENEALOGY GEMS EXCLUSIVE OFFER: Go to www.legacytree.com/genealogygems and use coupon code SAVE100 with your purchase of research services.

 

MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Click here to see what MyHeritage can do for you: it’s free to get started.

 

 

DNA WITH DIAHAN SOUTHARD

Parents spend a good portion of their parenting time ferreting out the real story from their children. One time when Henry was in Kindergarten he was playing outside with another little boy. I was in and out of the house watching him and checking on other things. Hours later I noticed that his bike had been spray-painted black. When confronted, he claimed he had no idea how such a thing could have happened. Unfortunately, I jumped to conclusions and blamed the other kid (you have to give me credit, at six Henry was such a good boy and had such an angelic face with his blue blue eyes and blonde blonde hair). But as I was on the phone with my husband telling him about the issue I looked over at Henry and I saw it- that guilty look and my stomach sank, recalling the things I had said to the other boy’s mom. “I’ll have to call you back,” I told my husband.

As genealogists, we spend our time trying to ferret out the real story from our ancestors, or at least from the records they left behind, because they’re not sitting in front of us with guilty looks on their faces. We are constantly checking family stories against, say, the information on a census record, then comparing it to the family will, then making sure it all agrees with what’s in the military records. And even if we have total agreement, which isn’t always, more information often comes along, like in the form of DNA testing, and we may find even more apparent discrepancies.

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a reporter, Cameron McWhirter, who talks about finding just that kind of discrepancy between his family lore and his DNA. He even goes so far as to say, “I am descended, at least partially, from liars.” And he makes the point that “many immigrants reinvented themselves when they arrived here (the United States),” which could be a nice way of saying they had a chance to INVENT a new legacy, not just reinvent it. His assessments are certainly interesting, and worth reviewing, to help us see how DNA testing can affect the way we look at family stories and traditional research results.

McWhirter may be the classic modern genealogist, never having set foot inside a courthouse or scanned through microfiche, relying instead entirely, he reports, on internet research. Now before you roll your eyes, just stop for a minute and appreciate how exciting this is. Here is a man who never gave his family history a second thought, yet because of the death of his parents started to tinker around a bit, and then due to the large volume of information online “was quickly pulled into the obsessive world of modern genealogical research.” I say, score one for the genealogy world!

What he found was that while his dad was proudly and solidly a self-proclaimed Scot, the records and DNA revealed his heritage was actually from Ireland and eastern Europe. McWhirter says that his “father hated Notre Dame, but judging by my results he could have been one-quarter to one-half Irish. He spoke dismissively of people from Eastern Europe, but part of his genetic code likely came from that region.”

McWhirter’s evaluation of his genetic report includes only his ethnicity results, which as you can hear, were meaningful to him in the way they flew in the face of his father’s prejudices and assertions of his own identity. But the ethnicity results fall short of the point of testing for most genealogists. He might even more powerfully transform his sense of family identity if he took a look at his match list and saw an actual living cousin, for example, a third cousin perhaps who was also descended from his German great-grandmother, who maybe never mentioned that she was also Jewish.

Connecting with other cousins who also have paper trails to our ancestors serves to provide further confidence that we have put all of the pieces together and honored the right ancestor with a spot on our pedigree chart. It’s like we multiply our own research efforts by finding more people like us?literally?who are descended from the same people and interested in finding them. As long as they’re as diligent in their research as we are, of course.

At a recent conference I met a 5th cousin. Even with a connection that distant it was exciting, and it made we want to look again at our connecting ancestors and pause for just a minute to marvel how my DNA verified my paper trail back to them, and that part of them was around, in me, and in my new cousin. To me, THAT’s a bigger picture I want to see?when the paper trail comes together with the DNA trail and turns into real live cousins, even if they turn out to be a little different than the stories and sense of identity that were handed to us when we were young.

Maybe you’re something like Cameron McWhirter: you’ve taken a DNA test, been intrigued (or disappointed) by the ethnicity results, but haven’t yet fully explored all your matches on your list. I’m telling you, you may be seriously missing some opportunities. If that’s you, I may actually have written my new DNA quick guide just for you. It’s called “Next Steps: Working with Your Autosomal DNA Matches.” This guide will teach you how to leverage the power of known relatives who have tested. You’ll get an intro to chromosome browsers and their role in the search process, and access to a free bonus template for evaluating the genealogical relationship of a match in relationship to the predicted genetic relationship. This guide also gives you a methodology for converting UNknown relatives on your match list into known relatives, which is what we’re going for here.

So check it out, either as a solo purchase or as part of my Advanced DNA bundle.

*Update: The Next Steps guide has been replaced with Breaking Down Brick Walls with DNA.

 

PROFILE AMERICA: Lights Out

 

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer

Sunny Morton, Editor

Amie Tennant, Content Contributor

Vienna Thomas, Audio Editor

Lacey Cooke, Additional Production Support

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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!

Episode 211

The Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode #211 with Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa and Barry by Beth Forester

Photo Credit: Beth Forester

In this episode, host and producer Lisa Louise Cooke talks with Barry Moreno, Historian at Ellis Island. Hear about the life cycle of this busy U.S. immigration station (1892-1954) and Barry’s research into thousands of Ellis Island employees who worked there.

 

More Episode Highlights

Archive Lady Melissa Barker tells us about the National Archives Citizen Archivist program and Lisa profiles a volunteer effort coordinated by the British Library to geo-tag thousands of old maps that are already online.

A giant genealogy lost-and-found! Two listeners write in about rescuing old artifacts and returning them to those who might be interested.

Military Minutes contributor Michael Strauss talks about Official Military Personnel Files for 20th-century US servicemen and women?files that were unfortunately partially destroyed. Hear what he learned about his grandfather.

Genealogy News

National Archives Citizen Archivist Project, reported by The Archive Lady, Melissa Barker

The British Library Georeferencing Project

Flickr Commons collection of digitized maps from the British Library Collections?mostly 19th century maps from books published in Europe.

Use Google Earth for genealogy! Check out these resources:

FREE Google Earth for Genealogy video

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, by Lisa Louise Cooke. This book has 7 full chapters on Google Earth! Available in print.

Google Earth for Genealogy Video Training by Lisa Louise Cooke. Available now as a digital download.

 

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Available in the Genealogy Gems Store

 

New Video for Premium Members

“Share Your Life Stories More Meaningfully” Premium Video

Every life is fascinating when it’s well shared! Learn from the author of Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy what stories you have that are worth telling–and several inspiring reasons to write them. Review different kinds of memories, why some memories are more vivid that others, and how to flesh them out. Learn tips for researching gaps in your memories, how to turn a memory into a good story, what to leave out and several ways to share your stories.

Genealogy Gems App Bonus Content

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is a preview of the new Premium video class, “Share Your Own Life Stories More Meaningfully” by Contributing Editor Sunny Morton. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users

Mailbox: Roland’s Heirloom Rescue

Mailbox: New Listener Photo Rescue Project

What can you do with a collection of unidentified photos?

Return them to a loving home. In this case, it was a local historical society. Linda wisely kept the collection together because often there’s power in what some of the photos may tell you about others.

Get them digitized and online so those who want them can find them. The historical society put images on Find A Grave memorials and Iowa GenWeb. They even plan to display them for locals to look at personally and try to identify!

Historical and genealogical societies can also share mystery photos on their websites (or their local library’s website if they don’t have their own) or on their blogs, Facebook pages or even in their regular newsletters. These are great conversation pieces, especially when you can later report that you have solved the mystery! (Click here for more tips aimed at supporting genealogy societies.)

Photo mystery SOLVED: Savvy tips to identify old photos

Rootsmagic

Visit www.RootsMagic.com

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. RootsMagic is now fully integrated with Ancestry.com: you can sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

MILITARY MINUTES: OFFICIAL MILITARY PERSONNEL FILES

The military service files for your ancestors who served during the twentieth century or later are located at the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, MO as part of the National Archives. The files are called the Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) and are available for each of the military branches; namely; Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.

Researchers should be keenly aware of the devastating fire that occurred on July 12, 1973 at the research facility that destroyed or damaged between 16-18 million service files from the United States Army and the Air Force. Remember that the Air Force wasn’t officially organized until September 14, 1947. Before this date Air Force records were part of the United States Army Air Corps, then part of the U.S. Army.

National Archives at St. Louis. Overview of the holdings, media articles and PowerPoint presentations (download as PDFs)

The 1973 Fire at the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, MO

Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) Non-Archival Holdings

Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) Archival Holdings

Archival Research Room at the National Personnel Record Center (Request an Appointment, Availability of Records, Copy Fees, Hours of Operation, Hiring a Researcher)

Request Military Service Records (Online request for Veterans, Standard Form 180, or For Burials and Emergency Requests)

Mail Order Request for Record from the National Personnel Record Center (SF 180)

Zerbe H. Howard

Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.com.

Watch the video below for an example of a family history video made with Animoto:

 

MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Click here to see what MyHeritage can do for you: it’s free to get started.

 

INTERVIEW: BARRY MORENO, ELLIS ISLAND HISTORIAN

Photo Credit: Beth Forester

Barry Moreno is a leading authority on the history of Ellis Island, the famous receiving station for millions of immigrants to the United States from 1892-1954. He has worked in the Museum Services Division at Ellis Island for more than a decade. He is the author of several books, including Children of Ellis Island, Ellis Island’s Famous Immigrants (including Bob Hope, Bela Lugosi, and Max Factor) and Encyclopedia of Ellis Island (which includes information on displaced persons).

      

Ellis Island: Historical highlights

Prior to 1890, immigration was handled by the states (primarily New York, as most passed through the Port of New York).

1920-1921: New regulations cut down immigration dramatically. Each country had quotas that could not be exceeded. New regulations were passed requiring immigrants to

  • have a passport from their home country
  • have medical examinations
  • pay a tax to the American Consulate in their home country.

During the last 30 years, Ellis Island mostly handled immigrants who were “in trouble.”

Starting in the 1930s some immigrants arrived by air (Colonial Airways from Canada). After WWII, Air France started service, and German and Italian airlines came in the 1950s.

Ellis Island was closed in 1954 by President Eisenhower. Immigrants who were still detained when it closed were sent to jails.

After 1954, Ellis Island was still used by the Coast Guard for training and by the Public Health Services department.

Barry’s research on workers at Ellis Island:

Most employees were men. Interestingly, blue collar men tended to die before age 60, and better educated ones lived much longer.

Female employees were typically widows, unmarried or had husbands who did not support them. “Char woman” was a common role held by Irish, Swedish and German women. Char means “chores” (cleaning women). They worked often for about $400/ year with no pension, and lived to old ages.

A nursery was opened at Ellis Island; many Christian missionaries worked there. Ludmila Foxlee (1885-1971) was one of them, a social worker with the YWCA. Click here to read more immigrant aid workers at Ellis Island.

Three more great resources for discovering the stories of your immigrant ancestors:

What was it like to land on Ellis Island? Read this article and watch (for free) an award-winning, official documentary)

If your search at the Ellis Island website doesn’t retrieve your ancestors, head on over to Stephen P. Morse’s One Step Pages. There you will find dozens of links to search resources, including the Ellis Island Gold Form for arrivals between 1892 and 1924.  Even the folks at Ellis Island refer researchers to Morse’s site. Listen to Lisa’s interview with Stephen Morse in Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #153.

In Lias’s free Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast (episodes 29-31), genealogist Steve Danko covers immigration and naturalization records in depth and even offers up some little-known tips about deciphering some of the cryptic notes researchers often find on passenger lists.

 

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
Sunny Morton, Editor
Diahan Southard, Contributor: Your DNA Guide
Michael Strauss, Contributor: Military Minutes
Hannah Fullerton, Production Assistant
Lacey Cooke, Service Manager

Disclosure: This page 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 this free podcast and blog!

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