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. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 9: UsingCensus Records
In this episode we start off by talking about a group of records critical to family history research in my home country: U.S. Federal Census Records. You’ll learn not only what to find in the regular schedules, but about the enumerators, the instructions they followed, and special sections like the economic census.
Then in our second segment we go straight to the source: Bill Maury, Chief of History Staff at the U.S. Census Bureau. I’ll be talking to him about the History section of the Census Department’s website. Note the updated Genealogy tab on the site, as well as the Through the Decades tab, which is packed with historical information for each census.
Since the show first aired, the 1940 U.S. Census has become publicly available. This was the largest, most comprehensive census taken, with over 132 million names of those known as the “greatest generation.” Full indexes and images are available at several sites. Your first stop should be the National Archives’ official 1940 census website to learn about the census itself. Then search it at your favorite genealogy data site in one of the links below.
Finally, I gave you specific instructions in the podcast on searching the 1930 U.S. Census online at Ancestry.com. To specifically search any of the U.S. censuses (or any other record collection) at Ancestry.com, go to the Search tab and select Card Catalog. You’ll see several censuses among the options they give you, or you can enter keywords like “1940 census.”
ScotlandsPeople has a new look and more free features. Here’s what the makeover involves, and how customers of the former host Findmypast.com are affected.
Recently, ScotlandsPeople gained a new site host, after finishing its previous contract with Findmypast.com. ScotlandsPeople is the official Scottish government website for searching government records and archives.
Hundreds of thousands of people use it each year to research their family histories and access documents such as censuses, statutory and parish vital records, valuation rolls, wills and other critical historical records.
New on ScotlandsPeople
ScotlandsPeople has undergone its most extensive overhaul since 2010. It recently relaunched with several new features, including free content and services. Here’s a summary list taken from an article on the site:
You can now search indexes to records, including statutory records of births, deaths and marriages, free of charge for the first time. (You will be charged when you view or download a record image.)
The improved site design allows you access across digital devices.
An enhanced search function makes it easier to locate and view records.
You can now link to the Register of Corrected Entries from the relevant entry in a statutory register free of charge.
Transcriptions of the 1881 census can now be read without charge.
Indexes to births, marriages and death for 2015 and early 2016 have been added.
You can now search coats of arms up to 1916.
There are now more than 150,000 baptism entries from Scottish Presbyterian churches other than the Old Parish Registers of the Church of Scotland. More will be added in the near future, including marriages and burials.
Over the next few months, more records will be added from the National Records of Scotland, including records of kirk sessions and other church courts.
Effect on Findmypast.com users
So, how did this transition affect Findmypast.com subscribers? Did they lose any access to Scottish records? No, says company rep Jim Shaughnessy: “Nothing is changing from a Findmypast perspective. Because of how Scottish records work, we didn’t have a reciprocal arrangement with ScotlandsPeople; our users didn’t get access to their records. We’ll continue to have the extensive Scottish records we already have, our users aren’t going to lose anything at all.”
Findmypast.com has Scotland’s census for 1841-1901, indexes to births, baptisms and marriages back to the 1560s, and some other collections. Click here to search Scottish records on Findmypast.com.
Need to contact distant relatives? Got cold feet? Follow these steps and you’ll warm right up–and hopefully, so will those you contact!
Today, online trees, social media, and email make it easier than ever to find relatives you don’t know well (or at all). And there are SO many reasons to contact them: to collaborate on research, swap photos or stories, or even request a DNA sample.
In these cases, you may need to make what salespeople refer to as a “cold call,” or an unexpected contact to someone you don’t know. I’ve done it successfully many times myself, so I can tell you this: it does get easier. Follow these steps to make it a smoother experience.
1. Identify the person you want to call. Common ways to identify a new relative include:
Another relative tells you about them
Family artifact, such as an old greeting card, address book, captioned photograph, letter, etc.
On a genealogy message board
In an online family tree (with enough information showing to identify them)
As the author of a book, article, or blog post with information about your family
2. Locate the person’s phone number, address, and/or email address.
Here are some great websites for locating people you don’t know, or at least learning more about them (as you can on LinkedIn):
TIP: When looking through a geographically-based directory, don’t forget to search the entire metro area, not just one city. Try just searching their first name, particularly if it’s not a really common first name. Try and track down their number through other relatives or researchers.
3. Prepare ahead for making the call. Every tough job gets just a little easier when you do your homework first!
Take into account a possible difference in time zones.
Choose a time when you are not too rushed
Set yourself up in a quiet place, where there will be minimal background noise or disruptions
Do a brief review of the family you are researching so it’s fresh in your mind
Make note of specific questions you would like to ask.
Have your genealogy software program open or your written notes at your fingertips
4. Adopt a positive mindset. It’s natural to feel some apprehension when calling someone you don’t know. Before you pick up the phone, give yourself a little pep talk. Remind yourself how valuable this person’s information could be to your research. If he or she is quite elderly, remember that none of us will be around here forever so you need to make the call today! Say to yourself, “I can do this. This is important!” Be positive and remember, all they can do is say, “No thank you.”
5. Introduce yourself. Give your first and last name and tell them the town and state where you live. Then tell them the family connection that you share. Tell them who referred them to you or how you located them. Cover these basics before launching into why you’re calling or what you want.
6. Overcome reluctant relatives. Be ready to share what you’ve learned, and to share your own memories of a relative that you have in common. Mention something of particular interest in the family tree that might pique their interest. If they are very hesitant or caught off-guard, offer to mail them information and call back once they’ve had a chance to look at it. That way they can get their bearings, too.
7. Do these things during the call:
Take notes: try a headset or use speakerphone, which will help to free up your hands for writing.
Ask for new information and confirm what you already have.
If you have a way to record the call, then you won’t have to take notes and you can focus all your attention on the conversation. You can then transcribe the recording later. However, in some places, it’s illegal to record a conversation without telling them first and/or getting a person’s permission (not to mention discourteous). It can be very off-putting to start the first call by asking if you can record them. So, establish a connection first, make your request to record, and then press the record button.
8. Leave a detailed voice mail message if there’s no answer. State your name clearly, and that you would like to talk with them about the family history. Leave your phone number and tell them that you will call them back. Consider leaving your email address and suggesting they email you with a convenient time to call back. These days many people are more comfortable with email for the first contact.
9. Ask questions like these:
“Do you or anyone else in the family have any old family photographs or a family Bible that I could arrange to get copies of? (Reassure them that you are happy to pay for copies and shipping.)
“Do you know anyone else in the family who has been doing family research?”
“May I have your permission to cite you as a source in print in the future?”
“Is it OK with you if I keep in touch from time to time? What is your preferred method of contact?”
10. Wrap up the call. Offer to give them your address, phone number, and email address. Ask for their mailing address and email address. Repeat or state your desire to share information you have, and tell them how you’ll send it. Let them know you would be pleased to hear from them if they come across any other information, pictures, etc.
11. Document the call. Keep track in your genealogy database of each time you call someone and the outcome (“left a message” or summary of conversation). Having a log of calls and voice mail messages you’ve left will help you know when it’s time to follow-up with whom—and who wasn’t so interested in chatting again.
After a conversation, sit down at the computer or your notepad right away and make detailed notes about the phone conversation while it’s fresh in your mind. Include the person’s name, address, phone number, and date of the conversation. Make notes regarding any items you think may be questionable to remind you to go back and do more research on those points. Enter their contact information into your genealogy database as well as your email contact list.
12. Enter new information into your genealogy database.
This is a must. Do it right away while it’s on your mind. Cite the conversation as the source of the information.
Remember to respect the privacy of those who prefer to remain “off-the-record” by not naming them in sources you post on public online trees.
13. Create an action item list. Create action items based on what you learned. Ask yourself “What are the logical next steps to take considering what you’ve learned through this interview?” The call is not the end goal. It’s a step in the research process, and it can really help to make this list now, and while it’s fresh in your mind.
“The call is not the end goal.”
Lisa Louise Cooke
14. Follow up. Send the person a written thank-you note or email. Remind them of your willingness to share your information, and acknowledge any willingness they expressed to share theirs (restate your willingness to help with copying expenses, postage etc. and consider including a few dollars). You never know: they might catch the genealogy bug and become your new research partner!
Next, put their birthday on your calendar and send them a card on their next birthday. Try this service: Birthday Alarm. If you don’t know their birthday but do have an address or email, send a greeting card for the next major holiday or on your shared ancestor’s anniversary or birth date. It’s another way of keeping the connection alive and expressing that you really do appreciate their help.
Occasionally make a follow-up call. See how they are doing, share any new family items you’ve come across recently, and ask whether they have they heard or found anything else.
Resource: Genealogy Gems Premium Members can learn strategies for finding living relatives with their exclusive access to my video class, “Unleash your Inner Private Eye to Find Living Relatives.” Class includes:
a handout summarizing 9 strategies and resources
a resource guide for online public records (U.S.)
a downloadable Living Relatives worksheet you can print (or open in Word) that will help you capture and organize what you learn about them
Click here to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium website membership.
Here’s this week’s collection of new genealogy records online for New Spain, England, Ireland, the U.S. and the Kindgom of Hawaii.
FEATURED COLLECTION:NEW SPAIN/NEW MEXICO. Ancestry.com has posted a new collection of land records for what is now New Mexico when it was part of Spain. These records span 1692-1846, come from the Twitchell compilation of materials from New Mexico’s Spanish Archives, and are only searchable by keyword and date. See the collection description for more details.
ENGLAND – BURIALS. Over half a million records have been added to Findmypast’s collection of Westminster burials. These include names, birthdates, , death and burial dates and where they were buried.
ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND. About 13.5 million new newspaper articles have been added to Findmypast’s British Newspapers collection. New titles cover Cheshire, Essex, Kent, Lancashire, Wiltshire, Yorkshire and Scotland.
ENGLAND – LONDON – MISC. A new online collection at Findmypast.com “details the lives of ordinary and common Londoners” from 1680-1817. The 1.5 million records include criminal registers, apprentice records, coroner inquests, workhouse minutes, clerks’ papers and more.
ENGLAND – SURREY. A new Ancestry.com collection of water rate books for Surrey, England is now available online. According to the collection description, “Rates were collected in each parish for support of the sick and poor, maintenance of roads and church, and other parish expenses.” You can expect to find names along with street names and dates.
IRELAND. A collection of Dublin Metropolitan Police prisoner’s books are now online at the University College Dublin website. According to the collection abstract, “The Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) Prisoners Books for 1905-1908 and 1911-1918 are amongst the most valuable new documents to come to light on the revolutionary decade. They include important information on social and political life in the capital during the last years of the Union, from the period of widespread anticipation of Home Rule, to the advent of the 1913 Lockout, the outbreak of the First World War, the Easter Rising and its aftermath, including the conscription crisis of 1918. They will also be invaluable to those interested in criminology, genealogy, and family history.”
U.S. – CENSUS. Ancestry.com has updated its 1920 U.S. Census collection. The nature of the updates aren’t described. (About a year ago we mentioned FamilySearch’s re-indexing of parts of the 1910 census in this blog post.)
U.S. – HAWAII. Ancestry.com has posted a new collection of Hawaiian passport records for 1849-1950 and 1874-1900. These records were under the jurisdiction of the former Kingdom of Hawaii.
Every week we post new genealogy records online! Are you getting our free weekly e-newsletter so you can stay up to date? When you subscribe you’ll receive a free e-book on Lisa Louise Cooke’s Google search strategies for genealogists. Enter your email address on this page.