German Marriages and More in New and Updated Genealogy Records Online

German marriages, Indexed obituaries for the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, The ultimate photo map of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and UN War Crimes Commission reports from World War II are all in our new and updated genealogy records today!

Germany Marriages: Magdeburg

Ancestry.com has published a new collection of over 600,000 marriages recorded in Magdeburg, a city about 80 miles west of Berlin. According to the collection description, “Beginning on October 1, 1874, local registry offices were made responsible for creating birth, marriage, and death records in the former Prussian provinces. The collected records are arranged chronologically and usually in bound yearbook form which are collectively referred to as ‘civil registers.’ For most of the communities included in the collection, corresponding alphabetical directories of names were also created.” The records date from 1874-1923.

1906 San Francisco Earthquake: The Ultimate Map

A new interactive map plots the likely locations of thousands of photos taken of the “smoke, fire, ruins and refugees” after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The map at OpenSFHistory references stunning images of bewildered survivors amidst their devastated neighborhood, reminders of the brutal and total losses many incurred in a few seconds.

  • Got a disaster story in your family history? Read these tips on researching it.
  • Was London the scene of your family’s disaster–specifically, the London Blitz? Click here to learn about an interactive map of the bombing of London during World War II.

Indexed Obituaries at Ancestry.com

Obituaries such as this one from the Western Christian Advocate (Cincinnati, June 28, 1844) often reveal unique personal and family information.

Ancestry.com recently updated several enormous national obituary indexes:

Thousands of obituaries or death notices are searchable in digitized newspaper collections, but indexes dramatically improve the odds of discovering them. Then the trick becomes tracking down the original paper to see it for yourself. Learn more about finding obituaries (and everything else in newspapers) in How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers by Lisa Louise Cooke.

South Africa Court Records

Over 200,00 records appear in Ancestry.com’s new database, South Africa, Miscellaneous Court Records Index, 1652-2004, 2008-2011. Spanning more than 350 years, the collection indexes records from the Courts of Justice (1652-1956), Cape Town Criminal Records (1854-1855), Official Name Changes (2008-2011), South African Law Reports (1828-2004), and the 1859 Weenan, Natal Jury List.

“The details provided for each person typically include name, record date, record place, collection, and source,” states the collection description. “Depending on the collection, additional details such as occupation, place of residence, names of relatives, or information on a court case or crime may be available as well.”

UN War Crimes Commissions Archive Opened

The Guardian recently reported that the UN War Crimes Commission archives is being opened in London and its catalog is now searchable online. “War crimes files revealing early evidence of Holocaust death camps…are among tens of thousands of files to be made public for the first time this week,” says the story. “The archive, along with the UNWCC, was closed in the late 1940s as West Germany was transformed into a pivotal ally at the start of the cold war and use of the records was effectively suppressed.” The archive contains thousands of pages of evidence collected (much of it in secret) even as the war raged, and includes detailed descriptions of Nazi extermination camps, massacres in Czechoslovakia, and early war crimes tribunals.

Newspapers in the News

North Carolina

Digitized issues of The Franklin Times (weekly, searchable 1909-1924) are now searchable at Digital NC. The paper served Lewisburg, the seat of Franklin County, North Carolina. The paper has a fairly local focus, according to a blog post announcing the collection. “For example, one weekly column, ‘The Moving People,’ tracks ‘those who have visited Louisburg the past week’ and ‘those who have gone elsewhere for business or pleasure.’ The column lists individuals who returned from trips and those who visited from afar….Local meetings, contests, municipal issues, social events, and more are recounted each week.”

Washington

Lisa Louise Cooke just found a little piece of her own history in Washington State University’s student newspaper, now fully searchable online for free. It’s a short snippet that refers to a two-woman play Lisa was in!

According to a Facebook announcement, a new digital archive includes 13,200+ issues of the The Daily Evergreen (1895-2016) and 660 pages of other newspapers, including an early official student paper, the College Record (1892-1893).

Find your own family history in newspapers of all kinds, from local dailies to labor presses or church regionals, or even student papers such as the one Lisa used above. “Read all about it!” in Lisa’s book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers.

Available at http://genealogygems.com

 

Common Surnames: How Unique is Yours?

Common surnames can make genealogy research more challenging. But learning more about your last name (including how common it is) can also enrich your family history. Check out 4 free online tools for learning more about your family’s surnames. Then share what you learn the next time your relatives get together!

common surnames

If you have common surnames on your family tree, you may have become frustrated at times trying to determine whether the “John Williams” or “Elizabeth Smith” you’re looking at in a record belongs to your John or Elizabeth. Would it make a difference if you discovered they lived in an area where there very few folks by those names during that time period? It would. Furthermore, it would probably also be nice to know things like where else in the world–or within England, for example–that surname is found now (or was in the past).

The enormous amount of census, vital records, and family tree data now online is making it easier to answer questions like these. Below, find free online tools for mapping common surnames (and less-common ones, too) across time. They include surname search tools hosted by a couple of our Genealogy Giants, Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com. What can you learn from the following sites? Do they agree with one another? Check them out!

Your surname in the 1990 and 2000 U.S. censuses

common surnamesThe US Census Bureau has created databases of last names that appear in recent censuses. You can look at the results a couple of ways:

  • Click here to search for your surname among the most common 150,000 surnames from the 1990 and 2000 censuses. These surnames cover about 90% of those who participated in the census.
  • Click here to view a list of all surnames that appear 100 or more times in the 2000 census. (Smith, Johnson, Williams, Brown, Jones, Miller and Davis all top a million occurrences!) According to this webpage, the top 15 surnames have remained fairly steady in the most recent three censuses with one exceptional trend: Spanish-origin surnames are starting to make the lists.

common surnames england walesCommon surnames of England and Wales

Find out how common your surname is today in England, Wales, and the Isle of Mann. The Surnames of England and Wales – the ONS List has a searchable database of almost 270,000 surnames shared by 54.4 million people (it excludes surnames occurring fewer than 5 times in the total database of nearly 60 million people). The list compiled between 1998-2002 does have some duplication and misspellings: “experience suggests that multiplying the result for your surname by 0.93 will give a good idea of the living population for your surname.”

What’s in a name? Ancestry.com answers

Ancestry.com hosts this fun and free tool for those with roots in the U.S., England, Scotland, and Wales:

Remember, it’s not a precise genealogy research tool. But it can prove interesting. When I ran this search for the married surname of our Genealogy Gems DNA expert, Diahan Southard, I was shown (among other things) this interesting map illustrating how the Southard family was spread across the United States in 1920:

common surnames

Surname directory at MyHeritage

MyHeritage.com hosts a searchable surname directory taken from data found on its site. To search the surname directory, choose the first letter of the last name from the alphabet shown below the search screen. (If you enter a name in the blue search boxes, you’ll be taken into their record-searching area, which isn’t the same):

common surnames

You won’t find all names surnames here, though you may find variant spellings of yours. (I never knew McClellan could be spelled in so many different ways!) Here’s a map of how they find my husband’s surname, Morton, scattered across the globe:

common surnames

Looking for more surname distribution maps? Click here to find a list organized by country.

Next Steps: Try this with your common surnames

common surnames Google search strategiesIf you’ve taken a DNA test…Thousands of people are compiling their same-surname DNA test results into surname projects. Click here to learn more about how to “social network” your yDNA test results in a surname project.

If you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium subscriber…you can watch Lisa Louise Cooke’s fabulous video tutorial, Common Surname Google Search Strategies. Use her tips to find even your most commonly-named relatives online! (Not a Premium member? Click here to learn more–for one low price, you’ll get a year’s access to hundreds of Premium videos and podcast episodes!)

How to Identify Old Cars in Photographs

Follow these tips to identify old cars in photographs from your family albums. You can often identify the make and model of the automobile; decipher and date the license plates, and even discover additional documents relating to the earliest drivers on your family tree.

how to identify cars in old photos

how to identify old cars in photographs

Image courtesy of Jennifer McCraw

A listener’s mystery photo question

Many of us have mystery photos in our family archives. Jennifer sent me a creative question about identifying hers:

“Have you ever come across any information on searching old license plate tag numbers to find an identity of the registrant? I have old photos that, according to my aunt, are the family of my grandmother’s boyfriend, Max, before [she married] my grandfather. The photos are amazing. Very ‘Great Gatsby-esque.’ Amazing clothes and car, right?! One photo has a smiling man standing in front of an old car with a portion of the license plate showing. I do not know the identity of this man or children. I’m thinking start with searches for plates beginning with 109 in the years before my grandmother was married in the state of Indiana, where she and Max lived.”I didn’t know if I had a ‘lead’ in that or not. I may be pulling at strings. I’d love your advice.”

What a great idea! I haven’t tried Jennifer’s exact approach to researching license plates as a way of identifying owners. But I have a similar story about researching an old car in my own family photo. My story, below, may help Jennifer and anyone else wanting to identify old cars in photographs. Keep reading for tips on researching the make and model of a car; deciphering the license plate to help date the photo and even on finding early drivers’ records. Owning a car was (and still is) a source of pride and excitement for many families, so it’s really worth taking a closer look at their cars in old pictures.

An old car photo in my own family

Here’s a photograph I love of my grandmother Alfreda as a teenager, beaming as she poses beside the newly purchased family automobile. In her diary, she divulges her excitement for the surprise she came home to after church:

Oct. 21, 1929 Sunday. “Went to Sunday school and when I got back there was our new car waiting for me.  Willy’s Knight. I drove it all around, went and gave Evelyn a ride. Made Mama mad.”

This diary entry piques my interest. What year was this? Where did the car come from?  What’s a “Willy’s Knight?” And if Mama got mad, who gave Alfreda the keys? I suspect Alfreda may have been a bit of a Daddy’s girl, but alas, this photo may not be able to reveal that family dynamic. However, the photo does contain important clues that has helped me answer at least a few of these questions.

1. Identify old cars in photographs

Before you start trying to identify an old vehicle in a family photo, it will help to know whether it’s categorized as a veteran, vintage, or classic car. What’s the difference? According to ItStillRuns.com:

“Veteran cars were manufactured before 1903, vintage cars were made between 1903 and 1933, and classic cars are considered to be vehicles manufactured from 1933 until fifteen years ago.”

With these categories in mind, visit websites that can help you identify old cars by providing descriptions and pictures of various makes and models. Two sites I suggest are Hubcap Café.com: Collector Car Resources and a Flickr group called Vintage Car Identification. (This second one is for the truly stumped because you can submit a photo that car enthusiasts from around the world could help you identify.)

I already knew from Grandma’s diary that the car in the above picture was a Willys Knight. But I wondered if I could nail down the make and model. I ran a few Google searches and found some fantastic websites.

Paul Young’s Willys Overland Knight Registry website had just what I was looking for. The site features dozens of photographs of all the different makes and models of Willys Knight automobiles in chronological order. So I scrolled down to the late 20’s and compared each photo to the photo of my great grandfather’s car. Bingo! The 1928 Willys Knight 70A Cabriolet Coupe America matched the car to a T. Everything from the convertible roof, the headlights, bumper, and side view mirrors all matched up.

From there I clicked on the Willys Knight History link, which led to not only a written history of Willys Knight but a chart of Willys Knight Specifications. A quick scroll down led me to the specs for Grandpas 1928 70A series car. I learned that great-grandpa’s car was introduced in August of 1927 for the starter price of $1,295. (Here’s a free online inflation calculator. Try plugging in 1927 and $1,295 to find out what the car would cost in today’s money.)

I also learned that the car was a 6-cylinder, as well as specs on the horsepower, the wheelbase, and even the range of serial numbers that the car would fall within. This website was jammed packed with everything you could ever want to know about the Willys Knight car. (If you’re interested in chatting with others about Willys Knight cars, you could also visit this site’s Facebook page.)

My book The Genealogist’s Google Toolboxwhich is where you’ll find all the tips you need for doing these Google searches–has an entire chapter on finding videos on YouTube. A quick YouTube search on “Willys Knight 1928” brought up this short but cool video uploaded in 2014: “Take a ride in a 1928 Willys Knight made in, owned in and driven in Toledo, Ohio.”

2. Investigate old license plates

Family Photo Detective by Maureen Taylor is your ultimate guide to identifying old objects in pictures to help you learn more about your family history.

In Family Tree Magazine a few years ago, I read an article called “Motor Trends,” written by my friend Maureen Taylor. She said that said that by 1918 all states had adopted license and registration laws. It recommended that you look for a license plate in old photos. License plates often have a year on them and possibly even the owner’s initials.

Unfortunately, the license plate in my photo is so dark I couldn’t read it at all. My guess is that this is probably the situation in many cases when someone has a photo of a car. So here’s what I did to solve this problem:

  • I opened a digital copy of the photo with the basic photograph editing software that came with my computer.
  • I cropped the photo to just show the license plate and then zoomed in to make the image as large as possible.
  • I increased the brightness of the photo and adjusted the contrast. Often when you play with these two features, adjusting first one and then the other, you’ll get pretty good results.
  • The final touch was to apply an auto-sharpening tool which defined the image even more.

As you can see in the “before and after” images below, what once was a blob of darkness now read:  2L 67 24.

There was something printed under the license number, but I still couldn’t quite read it. It looked like CAL 29, which would make sense because they lived in California and the year they bought it was 1929. But I couldn’t be certain. So I ran a Google search for “old California license plates.”

Several websites proved interesting for learning more about old California license plates:

For example, I learned that California has required license plates since 1905. In that year, there were over 17,000 registered vehicles in the state. I found a replica 1929 license plate that read “CAL 29” across the bottom of it. Just what I’d thought mine said! And thanks to WorldLicensePlates.com, I was even able to determine that the license plate in my black and white photo had a black background and orange lettering.

What about the license plate in Jennifer’s photo? Only a partial plate is visible, but it’s enough to compare to images of Indiana license plates at WorldLicensePlates.com:

how to identify old cars in photographs

identifying old license plates

Jennifer can take several important clues from this comparison:

  • It quite a dark plate with very light numbers. Even though it’s a black and white photo, based on the contrast, I think the license probably doesn’t have orange in it. (Eliminate 1929, 1930, 1931, 1935)
  • There is no dash between the first 3 numbers and the next set (eliminate 1929)
  • The style is more of a Sans Serif font (we can eliminate 1929, and 1930)
  • Indiana appears at the bottom (eliminate 1931, 1933, 1935)

From these clues, I’d say that the 1932 plate is certainly the closest match.

3. Find records relating to early drivers

California state statutes of 1901 authorized cities and counties to license bicycles, tricycles, automobile carriages, carts, and similar wheeled vehicles. Owners paid a $2 fee and were issued a circular tag. Later, tags were either octagonal or had scalloped edges.

Registers of Motor Vehicles and Dealers in Motor Vehicles, with Indices 1905-1913

Motor Vehicles Records

So this got me curious. Could I access records associated with my great-grandfather’s license plate and automobile registration? Typically states move records of this age to their state archives. I started by Googling California State Archives. The Online Archives of California has a searchable database that includes the state archive holdings. The online catalog has motor vehicle records (61 volumes!) for the first several years they were issued (1905-1913).

A description in the online finding aid stated: “Motor Vehicle Records, 1913 transferred those functions from the Secretary of State’s office to the Department of Engineering.” There are actually two clues here: 1) the phrase “motor vehicle records” is what I likely want to use when searching for records, and 2) the office that likely kept the records for my time period (1929) was the Department of Engineering. A followup search using these search terms got 13 results. Unfortunately, none of these records included 1929, and an email inquiry to the State Archives wasn’t fruitful, either. But this showed me that driver registration records may exist.

ArchiveGrid

ArchiveGrid

So may other driving-related records. I did several searches in ArchiveGrid, an enormous online catalog for archival collections. No California motor vehicle registrations popped up. But I did find a collection of 1928 maps and guidebooks for the Automobile Club of Southern California, held at the Brigham Young University library in Provo, Utah. There was also a collection of thousands of images collected by the Automobile Club of Southern California (mostly in the 1920s and 1930s) at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA.

If I really wanted to learn more about the early-1900s “sport” of automobile driving in California, I could spend some time with record collections such as those.

Does this discovery change the course of my family history? No. But it was a heck of a lot of fun to learn what I did about the oldest automobile I’m aware of my family owning. It’s exciting to discover these little gems: they connect me to the past in such an interesting way. Even better, it gave me something to share with my husband, Bill, who loves old cars!

Bill

Learn more!

Listen to the free Genealogy Gems Podcast in favorite podcast app.

Hear inspiring stories and learn hands-on, try-it-now strategies for discovering your family history in my free Genealogy Gems Podcast. There are more than 200 episodes to get your genealogy motor running, with a new episode published each month. You’ll find the latest news, try-it-now online search strategies and inspiring stories to keep you on the road to genealogy research success.

We Dig These Gems: New Genealogy Records Online

Here’s our weekly roundup of new genealogy records online. Which ones mention your ancestors? Think Australian, British, Czech, German, Irish and the U.S. (Illinois, New Jersey and Texas).

AUSTRALIA IMMIGRATION. A new collection of passenger lists for Victoria, Australia (1852-1924) is now browsable for free on FamilySearch.org.

BRITISH MILITARY. Findmypast.com has released over 900,000 Royal Navy and Royal Marine service and pension records (1704-1919). Transcripts and images may divulge personal details along with the particulars of a person’s military service, next of kin, payment and more.

CZECHOSLOVAKIA HOLOCAUST. A new database of selected Holocaust records for Prague, Czechoslovakia (1939-1945) is available at Ancestry.com, as is an update to a companion database of Czech Holocaust records for the same time period, both from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

ENGLAND – SURREY. Ancestry.com has posted various new records collections for Sutton, Surrey, England: Church of England vital records spanning 1538-1812; more Church of England births and baptisms (1813-1915), marriages and banns (1754-1940) and deaths and burials (1813-1985); tax collection rate books (1783-1914) and electoral registers (1931-1970).

GERMANY – HESSE CIVIL REGISTRATIONS. Nearly 300,000 indexed names have been added to a free online collection of civil registrations for Frankfurt, Hesse, Germany (1811-1814, 1833-1928).

IRELAND CHURCH. The initial phase of a fantastic new collection of Irish Quaker church records has been published at Findmypast.com. Over 1.3 million Irish Quaker records are there now, including births, marriages, deaths, school and migration records, many dating back to the mid-1600s.

UK VITAL EVENTS. Ancestry.com has added new collections of UK births, marriages and deaths recorded in far-flung places or unusual settings: at sea (1844-1890); with the Army and Navy (1730-1960); and as registered by British consulates (1810-1968).

US – ILLINOIS BIRTHS. About 160,000 indexed names have been added to a collection of Cook County, Illinois birth certificates (1871-1940). Cook County includes the city of Chicago.

US – NEW JERSEY MARRIAGES. Over 100,000 names are newly-indexed in a free online collection of New Jersey marriage records (dating to 1670!) at FamilySearch.org.

US – TEXAS IMMIGRATION. About 860,000 indexed names have been added to a free existing database of Laredo, Texas passenger arrival manifests (1903-1955) at FamilySearch.org.

share celebrate balloonsThere are literally millions of new genealogy records online every week. It’s hard to keep up, so will you help us spread the word? Thanks for sharing this list on your favorite social media site.

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