The latest episode of the free Genealogy Gems podcast (Episode 178) has been released and it’s PACKED with gems you can use now to inspire your family history!
First, nationally-renowned genetic genealogist CeCe Moore joins me on the show to talk about using DNA for genealogy research, adoption, and the Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. TV show.
I love CeCe’s analogy of using different DNA test providers to “fish in different ponds.” She talks about using different types of genetic tests (autosomal, y-DNA or mDNA) to chase answers to specific genealogy research questions, and the importance of using test results together, not in isolation. Because autosomal DNA is coming onto so many people’s radar, I ask her to explain that in more depth–its uses and its limitations. CeCe shares her favorite tips for people who are getting started and gives us lots of great buy gout medication examples, including a helpful example for African-Americans who are trying to identify a genetic ancestor (who may also have had a slaveholder relationships with the family).
Also in this episode, we announce the newest featured title in the Genealogy Gems Book Club: The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist)by British author Nathan Dylan Goodwin. Listen to the episode to hear what this mystery novel is about and why we chose it.
Finally, I share some fantastic new record sets that are online now and ready for you to explore, and a Genealogy Gems listener shares an important update on adoption records in Ohio.
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 4: Attending Genealogy Conferences and Vital Records Requests
In our first segment, our guest is the longtime online news anchorman of genealogy, Dick Eastman, the author of Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter. He talks about the changing industry and the benefits of attending genealogy conferences.
Next, you’ll learn the ins and outs of using some “vital” sources for U.S. birth and death information: delayed birth records, Social Security applications (SS-5s) and death certificates.
Genealogy Conferences Conversation: A Few Updates
Dick and I talk about Footnote.com as a relatively small site. Has that ever changed! Footnote.com is now Fold3.com and it’s a go-to site for millions of online American military records.
Family History Exposstill offers an exciting conference, especially for first-timers. But there are others as well: In the United States, there’s RootsTech, the National Genealogical Society and many state and regional conferences (like one near my home, the Southern California Genealogical Society’s annual Jamboree). Find a nice directory at Cyndi’s List. Many conferences are starting to offer live streaming sessions for people who can’t attend: check websites for details. In addition, Family Tree University offers regular virtual conferences—where sessions and chat are all online! If you live outside the U.S., look for conferences through your own national or regional genealogical societies. If you can get to London, don’t miss Who Do You Think You Are Live.
Dick now writes all of his Plus content himself. If you haven’t already checked out Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter, you should! Both his free and Plus newsletters are great insider sources on what’s new and great (or not-so-great) in the family history world.
You can order a copy of the application that your ancestor filled out when they applied for a Social Security Number: the SS-5. I have done this, and they really are neat, but they aren’t cheap. So let’s talk about the facts you’re going to find on them so you can determine if it is worth the expense.
The SS-5 has changed slightly over time, but may include the applicant’s name, full address, birth date and place and BOTH parents’ names (the mother’s maiden name is requested). If your ancestor applied prior to 1947 then you will also very likely find the name and address of the company they worked for listed, and possibly even their position title.
Here’s an example of a Social Security application form:
In the 1970s, the Social Security Administration microfilmed all SS-5 application forms, created a computer database of selected information from the forms, and destroyed the originals. So it’s important to order a copy of the microfilmed original, rather than a printout or abstract from the Administration’s database. And luckily now you can request a Social Security Application SS5 Form online under the Freedom of Information Act.
It will help to have your relative’s Social Security Number (SSN) when you apply for a copy of their SS-5. First, it gives you greater confidence that their SS-5 exists. Second, it’s cheaper to order the SS-5 when you have their SSN. Third, the Social Security Death Index, in which you’ll find their SSN, usually has death data that makes your application for their SS-5 stronger. Privacy concerns have caused some genealogy websites to pull the SSDI, but you can still search it (in many instances for free) at the links provided in Episode 3.
Finally, here’s a little background on the Social Security Number itself. The nine-digit SSN is made up of three parts:
The first set of three digits is called the Area Number. This number was assigned geographically. Generally, numbers were assigned beginning in the Northeast and moving westward. So people whose cards were issued in the East Coast states have the lowest numbers and those on the West Coast have the highest numbers.
Prior to 1972, cards were issued in local Social Security offices around the country and the Area Number represented the state in which the card was issued. This wasn’t necessarily the state where the applicant lived, since you could apply for a card at any Social Security office.
Since 1972, when the SSA began assigning social security numbers and issuing cards centrally from Baltimore, Maryland, the area number assigned has been based on the ZIP code of the mailing address provided on the application for the card. And of course, the applicant’s mailing address doesn’t have to be the same as their place of residence. But in general the area number does give you a good lead as where to look for an ancestor.
The next two digits in the number are called the Group Number, and were used to track fraudulent numbers.
The last set of four digits is the Serial Number, and these were randomly assigned.
UPDATE: The website for ordering Social Security applications (SS-5s) has changed since the podcast first aired. For current ordering instructions, including online ordering, click here. The cost is still $27 to order a deceased relative’s SS-5 if you know the Social Security number and $29 if you don’t know it.
Delayed Birth Certificates
After 1937 folks who qualified to apply for social security had to have proof of their age. If they were born prior to official birth certificates being kept in their state, they applied for a delayed birth certificate.
Anytime someone needs a birth certificate for any reason, they have to contact the state—and often the county—in which the birth occurred. If a birth certificate exists, they can simply purchase a certified copy. But if there were no birth certificates issued at the time of the person’s birth, they could have a “delayed birth certificate” issued by that state or county.
In order to obtain a delayed certificate, they had to provide several pieces of evidence of their age. If these are considered satisfactory, the government would issue the certificate and it would be accepted as legal proof of birth by all U.S. government agencies.
Originally people turned to the census for proof of age. But eventually the Social Security Administration began to ask for birth certificates. For folks like my great grandmother who was born at a time and place where birth certificates were not issued, that meant they had to locate documents that could prove their age and allow them to obtain a delayed birth certificate. Delayed just meaning it was issued after the time of the birth.
Delayed birth certificates are not primary sources. (Remember we talked about PrimarySources in Episode 2. Since the delayed certificate was based on other documents, and not issued at the time of the event by an authority, such as the attending physician, then it is not a primary source. This means that while it’s great background information, it is more prone to error. In order to do the most accurate genealogical research you would want to try to find a primary source if possible. Chances are your ancestor used another primary source, such as an entry in the family bible, to obtain the delayed birth certificate.
The process for ordering a delayed birth certificate is likely going to be the same as ordering a regular birth certificate. You would start with the checking with the county courthouse, and then the Department of health for the state you’re looking in. Let them know that the birth record is a delayed birth certificate. Also the Family History Library card catalogue would be a place to look as many were microfilmed. Go to www.familysearch.org and search for delayed birth records by clicking on Search from the home page. Then click Catalog and do the keyword search just as the episode instructs, using “delayed birth” as your keyword. (Within that search, you can also add parameters for the place name.)
So the lesson here is that even though your ancestor may have been born at a time or in a location where births were not officially recorded by the state, they may very well have a delayed birth certificate on file.
Ordering Death Certificates
The Social Security Death Index is just one resource for getting death information. But in the end you’re going to want the primary source for your ancestor’s death, and that’s the death certificate. While many of your ancestor’s born in the 1800s may not have a birth certificate, there is a much better chance that they have a death certificate since they may have died in the 20th century. Each state in the U.S. began mandating death certificates at a different time, so you have to find out the laws in the state, and probably the county, since death certificates were filed at the county level.
As I said before, the death certificate is going to be able to provide you with a wealth of information. Of course you’ll find the name, date of death and place of death, and possibly their age at death and the cause and exact time of death, place of burial, funeral home, name of physician or medical examiner and any witnesses who were present. The certificate is a primary source for this information.
You may also find information such as their date and place of birth, current residence, occupation, parent’s names and birthplaces, spouse’s name, and marriage status. But because this information is provided by someone other than the ancestor themselves it is really hearsay, and the certificate is considered a secondary source for that information.
And lastly you may find a name in the box that says Informant. This is the person who reported the death to officials. Informants are often spouses, children, and sometimes, depending on the person’s circumstances, just a friend or neighbor. But the informant is almost always someone that you want to investigate further because they obviously were close to your ancestor.
Once you think you know the location where your ancestor died, and the approximate if not exact death date, you’re ready to order a certificate. If the person died in the last 50 years you’ll probably have really good luck at the county courthouse Department of Vital Records. The older the record, the more likely it may have been shipped off by the county records department to the state Department of Health. Look for helpful links to death records at Cyndi’s List Death Records.
Here are some tips that will ensure that you don’t get bogged down in bureaucratic red tape:
Get the appropriate request form – this is usually available online.
Print neatly and clearly – if they can’t read it, they will send it back to be redone.
Provide as much information as you have.
Provide a self addressed stamped envelope.
Make one request per envelope.
Include a photocopy of your driver’s license to prove your identity.
Be sure to include your check for the exact amount required.
Make a copy of the request form for your records and follow up.
Lastly, keep in mind that county offices have limited personnel and are often swamped with paper work. So my best advice is that the more courteous and thorough you are the more success you’ll have.
Online Death Indexes
In the case of very old death certificates, as well as birth certificates, some state agencies have opted to hand them over to state Archives and Historical Societies, or at least make them available for digitizing.
And there you have it, lots of different avenues for tracking down your ancestor’s death records providing you with key information for climbing your family tree.
How to Find Early American Ancestors – New England Genealogy
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In this episode: In this episode we head back to 17th century New England with Lindsay Fulton of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. She’s going to share the best resources for finding your early American ancestors. Lindsay Fulton is with American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society where leads the Research and Library Services team as Vice President. She is a frequent contributor to the NEHGS blog and was featured in the Emmy-Winning Program: Finding your Roots: The Seedlings, a web series inspired by the popular PBS series “Finding Your Roots.”
Genealogy Gems Premium Members Exclusive Download:
This interview topic comes from my YouTube video series Elevenses with Lisaepisode 33. You can find all the free Elevenses with Lisa videos and show notes here. Log into your Premium membership and then click here to download the handy PDF show notes that compliment this podcast episode.
To Listen click the media player below (AUDIO ONLY):
The last post in this year’s series of genealogy gift ideas is all about FUN. Laugh and cry with these great entertainment options.
Family Tree Series
Think of this as “Best in Show” meets genealogy.
Family Tree: The Complete First Season (DVD)
This series is brilliantly funny! I loved it! It pokes a bit of fun at genealogists (so get ready to smile at yourself) while capturing what’s in the family historian’s heart. Anyone who loves family history (or has a quirky family or just likes good comedy) will really enjoy this series.
This genealogy-themed TV show isn’t a research-the-celebrity format. In fact, the fiction of it makes it even more fun. Here’s a plot summary:”Written and created by Christopher Guest, Family Tree is a documentary-style comedy series conceived and produced in the manner of Guest’s feature films. The story revolves around the journey of the 30-year-old Tom Chadwick (Chris O’Dowd), an Englishman in his 30s who has few roots, little family, and a somewhat unsure sense of his purpose in life. Having recently lost his job and girlfriend, Tom inherits a mysterious box of belongings from a great-aunt he never met, triggering a passion to investigate his family lineage. As Tom’s interest in genealogy grows, his life expands and evolves in unexpected directions, as he uncovers a world of unusual stories and characters in the U.K. and the U.S., as well a growing sense of who he is and who his real family are.”
Movie: Sweet Land
The director of this film can be heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast.
Here’s the plot summary: “Inge (Elizabeth Reaser) is a feisty German mail-order bride who has come to Minnesota to marry Olaf (Tim Guinee), a young Norwegian immigrant farmer of few words. But in a post-WWI, anti-German climate, the local minister (John Heard) openly forbids the marriage. Inge and Olaf fall in love despite the town’s disapproval. But when the town banker (Ned Beatty) attempts to foreclose on the farm of his friend Frandsen (Alan Cumming), Olaf takes a stand…and the community unites around the young couple, finally accepting Inge as one of their own.”
DVD: Family Name
Family Name (DVD)
A listener tells me this is a must-watch, and I have ordered my copy. This Sundance Film Festival award-winning documentary captures the worlds of genealogy, race relations in the Southern U.S. and a man’s search for his family identity.
Here’s the summary: “What does a name signify, exactly? Growing up in Durham, North Carolina, white filmmaker Macky Alston never questioned why all of the other Alstons at his elementary school were black. Twenty-five years later, Alston decides to unravel this perplexity in the award-winning documentary FAMILY NAME.
Alston’s quest to solve his genealogical mystery takes him from New York to Alabama and then back to North Carolina. He seeks clues at family reunions, graveyards, church services, and, eventually, the original Alston plantations. The people he meets vary markedly in race, age, class and perspective, but they all have two things in common: the family name and a compelling story to tell. The biggest question of this investigation, perhaps, is whether it will provide the Alstons with catharsis or create an even greater sense of division. As the revelations mount, FAMILY NAME unfolds an unforgettable emotional journey that transforms our conceptions of the past.”
Family Tree music by Venice
If you love the song, you’ll love the album Venice Spin Art.
Celebs discover dramas in their family histories in front of the camera, adding their own discovery process to the story. Their family stories trace larger themes in American history and culture and lead them to reflect on the events and people that made them who they are.
The Season One lineup features Lisa Kudrow (one of the show’s producers), Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Brooke Shields, Susan Sarandon, Spike Lee and Emmitt Smith.
In Season 2, you’ll meet Vanessa Williams, Tim McGraw, Rosie O’Donnell, Kim Cattrall, Lionel Richie, Steve Buscemi, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd.
Be a Family Tree Detective
Who Do You Think You Are? book for kids
Who Do You Think You Are? Be a Family Tree Detective by Dan Waddell offers some genealogy sleuthing fun for kids. Inspired by the show, the book helps kids tools, tips, ideas and activities “to investigate, discover, and preserve family secrets and treasures.”
It’s got kid-friendly language and plenty of colorful illustrations make this a great companion for junior genealogists.
Lovers of Who Do You Think You Are! and other genealogy TV favorites will be pleased to know that Genealogy Roadshow is filming for airing this fall on PBS.
This clever show follows a format similar to the popular Antiques Roadshow, in which antiques experts travel to various cities to talk about artifacts brought in by area residents. Residents may lug in tall grandfather clocks, faded letters or other old objects. Experts comment on the historical context, rarity and value of their artifacts. Viewers enjoy watching owners who become overjoyed, stunned, fascinated and occasionally disappointed by what the experts say.
Genealogy Roadshow spins that format in a family history direction. PBS describes it this way: “Participants want to explore unverified genealogical claims passed down through family history, that may (or may not) connect them to an event or a historical figure. Experts in genealogy, history and DNA will use family heirlooms, letters, pictures, historical documents and other clues to hunt down more information. These experts will enlist the help of local historians to add color and context to the investigations, ensuring every artifact and every name becomes a clue in solving the mystery.”
This season, hosts are Kenyatta Barry and D. Joshua Taylor, young but expert and enthusiastic voices in the American genealogy community. The cities hosting Genealogy Roadshow are Nashville, Austin, Detroit and San Francisco. PBS explains that “these cities were chosen as American crossroads of culture, diversity, industry and history, with deep pools of potential participants and stories.”
This has already been a popular series in Ireland, where Genealogy Roadshow is in its second season. The series premieres in the U.S. on KQED on Monday September 23.