Virginia Genealogy Strategies and Best Websites – Podcast Episode 269

Episode Show Notes

In this episode, we’re focusing on early Virginia genealogy.
 
In our first segment, I’ve invited a professional genealogist to join us to help pave the way for tracing our ancestors back to Virginia just prior to the Revolutionary War. Jeri Satterwhite-Dearing specializes in early Virginia research in her work as a professional genealogist with Legacy Tree Genealogists.  In this podcast episode she explains some of the biggest challenges you’ll face when researching early Virginian ancestors, the records you should be looking for, and some of the best resources.  
 
In the second segment, I’ll cover a list of the best websites for Virginia Genealogy. 
 

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Fort Wayne, Indiana is the home of the second largest free genealogy library in the country. Make your plans to visit today. Learn more at https://www.visitfortwayne.com 

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Learn more about the free genealogy resources at VisitFortWayne.com

 

7 Best Websites for Virginia Genealogy

1. Archival Resources of the Virginias

Formerly known as Virginia Heritage, this website is a “consolidated database of finding aids that provides information about the vast array of manuscripts and archival materials housed in Virginia and West Virginia.”

2. Cyndi’s List: Virginia (state)

A comprehensive and growing list of links to genealogy resources for Virginia research.

3. FamilySearch Research Wiki: Virginia state page

A guide to Virginia ancestry, family history, and genealogy (birth records, marriage records, death records, census records, and military records.)

4. Linkpendium: Virginia

Links to Virginia family history & genealogy resources such as census, birth, marriage, death records & more.

5. VAGenWeb – State of Virginia

Part of the U.S. GenWeb Project.

6. Virginia Memory

From the website: “Part of the online presence of the Library of Virginia, the state archives and reference library. The Library maintains vast and varied collections of print materials, manuscripts, archival records, newspapers, photographs and ephemera, maps and atlases, rare books, and fine art that tell the history of the commonwealth and its people.”

7. Virtual Jamestown

From the website: “The Virtual Jamestown Archive is a digital research, teaching and learning project that explores the legacies of the Jamestown settlement and “the Virginia experiment.” As a work in progress, Virtual Jamestown aims to shape the national dialogue on the occasion of the four hundred-year anniversary observance in 2007 of the founding of the Jamestown colony.”

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Which Genealogy Website Should I Use? Comparing the Genealogy Giants.

Genealogy Giants quick reference guide cheat sheet Big 4

“Which big genealogy website should I use?” Genealogy Gems takes on that ambitious family history question in ongoing comparative coverage of the “Genealogy Giants,” Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. (Disclosure: this article contains affiliate links. we will be compensated if you make a purchase. Thank you for supporting this free blog.)

Which Genealogy Giants website is best for me?

The four Genealogy Giants (Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com) all offer the following to their top-tier users:

  • millions of historical records from around the world;
  • powerful, flexible search interfaces;
  • family tree-building tools;
  • automated record hinting (if you have a tree on the site);
  • Help/tutorials for site users.

But each has unique strengths and weaknesses, too. You may determine that one or two of these sites meets your needs now. But your family history research needs may change. For example, you may discover an Irish or Swedish ancestor whose records may be hosted on a different site than the one you’ve been using. Or you may find that you need DNA to push back further on your family tree. It’s critical to which sites offer what records and tools, so you know your options when your needs or interests change.

Comparing the Top Genealogy Websites

There are so many features on each site–and an apples-to-apples comparison isn’t easy.

Here’s one example: how many records are on each site? Some sites include DNA results and user-submitted family tree profiles in their total record count. Others don’t. One site has a universal family tree–ideally with one record per person who has ever lived–and the others host individual trees for each user, leading to lots of duplication. Does a birth record count as one record? FamilySearch thinks so. But other sites may count a birth record as three records, because a baby, mom and dad are all named. So it’s not easy to compare historical record content across all the sites.

Watch the “Genealogy Giants” kick-off lecture

Additional Genealogy Giants Website Resources

Ancestry.com:

  • Click here for a step-by-step introduction to getting started on Ancestry.com.

FamilySearch.org:

  • Click here to learn why everyone should have a free FamilySearch login–and use it!

Findmypast.com:

  • Click here to learn more about the historical record collections Sunny Morton loves on Findmypast, including British Isles resources and content for tracing your U.S. ancestors!

MyHeritage:

Reviews of “Genealogy Giants”

“You may have asked, ‘Which is the best online genealogy service for me to use?’….I suspect this video [presentation by Sunny Morton at RootsTech 2017] will answer most of your questions. Topics covered include cost, record types, geographic coverage, genetic testing, DNA matching, search flexibility, languages supported, mobile-friendly, automated matching, and a lot more. Sunny provides the most information about these four sites that I have ever seen in any other one document or video. This is a keeper! I have been using all four of these web sites for years and yet I learned several new facts about them, thanks to Sunny’s online video presentation. I suspect you will learn some things as well.”  – Dick Eastman, Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter

“We want to tell you how much we enjoyed the presentation about the comparison of the four major websites. [Sunny] did an excellent job and we were so thrilled with her presentation. She was so prepared and presented it in such a manner as to be understood. Give her our best.” – Eldon and Dorothy Walker

“I am incredibly thankful for your Big 4 session. I’ve never had interest in Findmypast or MyHeritage as I felt FamilySearch and Ancestry had it all…and hadn’t heard of PERSI either. With newly found Irish roots (via DNA), I’m excited to extend some lines that have gone cold.” – a FamilySearch employee

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!

Family History Episode 34 – Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 1

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished June 3, 2014

Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.

https://lisalouisecooke.com/familyhistorypodcast/audio/fh34.mp3

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 34: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 1

Did you know there is a gem of a genealogical resource right in your own backyard? Well, at least in your own neighborhood—and also in just about every neighborhood where your ancestors lived. The public library is one of the most underestimated sources of genealogical information around! It’s free. It has better hours than most government-run agencies. There are staff with research skills, knowledge of their locale and knowledge about their collections. I have invited Patricia Van Skaik, Manager of the History and Genealogy Department of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to join us here on the podcast.  In this episode she’s going to give us the inside scoop on the unique genealogical resources that are tucked away in public libraries just waiting to be discovered.

What’s at the library?

Each library has unique materials for its locale. Examples include:

  • City directories
  • Maps
  • Obituary indexes
  • Partnerships with local societies and clubs, and organizations (access to databases)
  • Unique library expertise

TIP: Check with the public libraries in each location where your ancestors lived TIP: Genealogy holdings vary, and often have to do with what local constituents want.

TIP: Get involved and make requests at your local library if you want more genealogy resources.

How to prepare for your visit

  • Determine your questions ahead of time and gather the appropriate ancestor information to take with you.
  • See if they have a genealogy area on the website. There are lots of things on the library website that are not in the catalogue (special exhibits, digitized images, and databases)  Don’t just jump straight to the catalogue.

Search the online catalog and identify the books and resources you want

  • Look for the geographic area, not the person’s surname (town, county, geographical area)
  • Use the Advanced search – “you don’t have to be an advanced researcher to use the advanced search!”
  • Don’t use the word “genealogy” in your search.  It’s pretty useless.

4 more tips from Lisa and Patricia

Email in advance – ask some questions ahead of time:

  • Is the website up to date?
  • Reconfirm hours of operation
  • Parking?
  • What’s the best time to come for more service?
  • Is wi-fi available?
  • Do you need change for copy machines?
  • Are there any special collections you should know about?
  • Do they offer orientations?

Plan a group visit: Some libraries will make special accommodations for a group visit. Ask if they will provide a tour geared to genealogy. And they may have a meeting room where you can have lunch or meet. It’s a small investment in time and money to make sure that you’re going to get the most of the time you’re going to spend there.

Get their expertise! Librarians don’t just know the collection, but they also know research strategy, collection contents, all the questions that have come before, and local area resources.

Phrase your questions for success: Pose questions in terms of a query. For example: “I’m trying to find evidence of someone’s death during this time frame. What materials do you have that may help?” (Don’t just ask specifically for obituaries or government death records—they may not have one but they may have other resources you’re not thinking of.)

Tune in next week to Episode 35 to learn more about researching at the public library, like tips for advance searching those online card catalogs, thinking like a librarian, unique collections at librarians and the types of questions you can ask your public library staff.

Episode 222 – The Free Genealogy Gems Podcast

The Genealogy Gems Podcast
Episode #222
with Lisa Louise Cooke

 

Download this episode (mp3)

In honor of Family History Month, Lisa celebrates YOU! This episode is packed with comments, tips and questions from Genealogy Gems fans. Topics range from podcasting to metal detecting, must-use resources and inspiring genealogy discoveries. You’ll also hear from Kirsty Gray at THE Genealogy Show in the UK.

NEWS: INTERNET ARCADE
Internet Archive blog post: Over 1,100 New Arcade Machines Added to the Internet Arcade
Internet Arcade on the Internet Archive

BONUS CONTENT for Genealogy Gems App Users

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is a great tip from a fan on an essential resource for those of you with roots in Northern Ireland. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users.

MAILBOX: A PODCAST SKEPTIC?

Gary recommends Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning! Get access to more than 50 Premium Videos and 160 Premium Podcast episodes. It’s the ultimate ongoing genealogy education! Click here to read more about it. Gary mentions becoming a “happy user of” Evernote who now protects his computer with Backblaze cloud back-up service, enjoys using Google Earth for genealogy and learning more about DNA. Click on these links to start exploring for yourself—and to watch a Google Earth video for free.

MAILBOX: CUBAN GENEALOGY PODCAST
Cuban Genealogy Podcast

MAILBOX: METAL DETECTING FOR GENEALOGY
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Homestead records

Premium eLearning members also have access to these video tutorials:

 

MAILBOX: LOCAL HISTORY BOOK FIND BY ROBIN
Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #220
WorldCat.org

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch, Findmypast and MyHeritage.

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.

MAILBOX: CORAL’S FRIDAY RECORD DISCOVERY
The Friday record post discoveries appear weekly on the Genealogy Gems website. Subscribe to the free Genealogy Gems newsletter to receive a free weekly email with links to these posts, along with tips, inspiration and money-saving deals.

MAILBOX: VEHICLE REGISTRATIONS
On Florida Memory: Early Auto Registrations, 1905-191b

MAILBOX: GENI.COM QUESTION
Geni.com

Tip: The Premium eLearning video “Genealogy Giants: The 4 Top Records Websites” explains the difference between individual and collaborative trees.

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.

MAILBOX: 3 MILLION GERMAN NAMES
Lisa’s post on German WW1 ancestors

Tim recommends the Onlineprojekt Gefallenendenkmäler

MAILBOX: TRISHA’S INSPIRING JOURNEY
Another Premium eLearning video recommendation (click to see landing page):

MAILBOX: KIRSTY GRAY

THE Genealogy Show
Kirsty Gray has over 15 years ofresearch experience and has her foot in many genealogical doors around the world. Her first involvement in family history came at the tender age of seven years with her maternal grandfather’s tree in hand. Obsessed with her great-grandmother’s maiden name of Sillifant, Kirsty began a surname study on the name in 1999, publishing tri-annual journals on the surname for more than ten years. Founder member and Chair (now Secretary) of the Society for One-Place Studies, Kirsty has two places registered, on the Devon/Cornwall border and is considering another study of a hamlet in Cornwall. In November 2014, Kirsty founded The Surname Society with five other genealogists across the globe and the membership is already close to 500!

PROFILE AMERICA: HOME MAKING

PRODUCTION CREDITS
Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
Sunny Morton, Contributing Editor
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!

Download the Show Notes PDF in the Genealogy Gems Podcast app

How to Use Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Family History

Sanborn fire insurance maps help genealogists map out their ancestors’ neighborhoods and everyday lives. Nearly 25,000 digitized Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps are now on the Library of Congress website–and more are coming. Here’s what they are and how to use them for family history.

sanborn fire insurance maps

What are Sanborn fire insurance maps?

Sanborn fire insurance maps are a gem of a resource for those researching their roots in the U.S. (and parts of Canada and Mexico). These were detailed maps of city neighborhoods published periodically by the Sanborn Map Company beginning in 1867. They became available for a large number of cities by the 1880s and for many, were updated periodically for many decades. Today, the entire Sanborn fire insurance map publication series covers over 12,000 cities and includes over 700,000 maps.

Sanborn maps are valuable for “anyone with a personal connection to a community, street, or building,” explains a recent article from the Library of Congress. “They show the size, shape, and construction materials of dwellings, commercial buildings, factories, and other structures. They indicate both the names and width of streets, and show property boundaries and how individual buildings were used. House and block numbers are identified. They also show the location of water mains, fire alarm boxes, and fire hydrants.”

Here’s a sample map clipping from Elroy, Wisconsin:

sanborn fire insurance maps elroy WI

 

How to use Sanborn fire insurance maps for your family history

The information in Sanborn fire insurance maps served the needs of urban planners, developers, and insurers, and now it can serve your genealogy research, too. A series of Sanborn maps is almost like stop-action aerial photography of your ancestor’s home and surroundings, with clues that can lead you to new documents and insights about their lives. Here’s a summary of how to use them:

1. Learn where exactly your ancestor lived. Look for a street name and house number in documents relating to your ancestors, such as city directories, deeds, WWI or WWII draft registrations, or passport applications. U.S. censuses have columns for house numbers and street names beginning in 1880, but are more likely to be filled in starting in 1900.

2. Find maps for that city. (See below for top places to find them online.) Find volumes published before, during, and even after your ancestors lived there.

3. Locate the map sheet with your family’s neighborhood using the map index in the front pages of the map volume. (Look for a street index.) Go to the correct map sheet.

4. Find the address. Look closely at the individual lot that belonged to your family, if you can identify it from the house or lot number (deeds may have lot numbers on them). You’ll likely be able to see the property boundary lines with measurements, along with the dimensions and footprint of buildings on the lot. Some details, such as as the building use, construction or whether it had asbestos or fire escapes, may be explained in Sanborn’s colorful map keys, like the one shown here from the Library of Congress website.

5. Check out the neighborhood. What kinds of buildings or features surrounded your family’s home? What schools, churches, factories, and other local institutions may have served your ancestors, and how far away were they? If you know where a relative worked, do you see the workplace nearby?

6. Compare maps from year to year. During the time your family lived there, the neighborhood likely evolved. There may have been new housing, business, road layouts, street names and numbering, and property use. You may see over time that an outbuilding was built, then transformed from a stable to a garage.

7. Use these details to create a description of your family’s everyday surroundings. Did they live in a brownstone duplex, frame home, or tall apartment building? Did their five-story walk-up have fire escapes? How close was their home to their neighbors’ home? How large was the lot, and what kinds of outbuildings were there? What kinds of buildings or features surrounded the property? How far away were the amenities they needed for daily life?

8. Note additional records to check. Do you see a nearby church, school, funeral home, cemetery or another institution that may have created records about your family? Follow up by looking for their records. (Click here to read my favorite online search strategies for finding records.)

Where to find Sanborn fire insurance maps online

Now we come to some excellent news. The Library of Congress now has over 25,000 digitized Sanborn fire insurance map sheets online! The collection description says these sheets come “from over 3,000 city sets online in the following states: AK, AL, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, GA, ID, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MO, MS, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NV, OH, OK, PA, SD, TX, VA, VT, WY and Canada, Mexico, Cuba sugar warehouses, and U.S. whiskey warehouses.”

That’s fantastic, and the Library of Congress says more are coming. Recently they announced that over the next three years,  they will be adding new map sheets every month until all 50 states are covered from the 1880s through the 1960s! By the end of the project, half a million Sanborn fire insurance map sheets will be online. So it will be worth checking back periodically to see if the maps you want are there.

Other digitized collections of Sanborn maps are online, too, and published collections exist at major libraries. Use the search strategies mentioned in this article to find them.

genealogy video premium buttonDid you learn something in this article? You can learn even more by becoming a Genealogy Gems Premium website member. Members of my site get access to more than 35 exclusive genealogy video tutorials. I have an entire video class just on using Sanborn maps! You’ll get to explore what these maps look like and how to use them. Click here to see a current list of Genealogy Gems Premium website videos: which ones would help your research most right now?

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