July 22, 2017

SSDI Search – How to Find Hard to Find Ancestors

Social Security Death Index (SSDI) search is not necessarily as straight forward as you might think. We’re going to explore what SSDI records are, their range of availability, and how they compare across the Genealogy Giants records websites. 

SSDI Search

If you’ve been dabbling in genealogy research for a while, then you are very likely familiar with the Social Security Death Index, more commonly referred to as the SSDI. But even experienced researchers have questions, like the one that Marti sent me recently:

From Marti in Texas:

Hi Lisa!!

Thank you so much for all your helpful resources on your website!! I just listened to the SSDI Working Backwards podcast episode (Family History: Genealogy Made Easy episode 3) and my grandparents passed away in 2012 and 2014. Do you know when the last time the index has been updated, I cannot locate them.

Thank you so much!!

This two-fold question is a good one. While many genealogical record sets have privacy laws that dramatically restrict more recent records from being available, the SSDI is not one of them. But even if the records are available, there may still be times when we have trouble locating our relatives.

Whenever you run into a road block finding ancestors in a record collection, do what good detectives do, and go back to the beginning. In this case, let’s learn more about the collection itself.

Social Security Death Index Background

The Social Security Act was signed into law in 1935 by President Franklin Roosevelt. By 1937, more than 30 million Americans had registered. Today, the Death Master File from the Social Security Administration contains around 90 million records of deaths and they are publicly available online.

Some data goes as far back as 1937, but most of the information included in the SSDI dates from 1962. This is because the Social Security Administration began to use a computer database for processing requests for benefits in 1962. Some of the earlier records back to 1937 have not been added.

It’s important to know that the SSDI does not have a death record for everyone. It’s also very possible that you may occasionally find an error here and there if something was reported incorrectly. But don’t let that stop you from tapping into this major resource! It’s a wonderful alternative source for finding people who were counted in the 1890 census (which was unfortunately mostly destroyed) because they may still appear in the SSDI. Also, those who were born before vital records registration in their home state began, may also show up. Remember, working folks just had to live past 1937 to have been possibly included. That means some people could have been born sometime in the late 1800s.

Now that we have a handle on the history of the SSDI, let’s look at who has it and how recent their records are.

Where to Find the SSDI

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is available on all of the ‘big 4’ genealogy records websites, which we here at Genealogy Gems refer to as the Genealogy Giants.” The links below will take you directly to the SSDI search page for each.

  • FamilySearch
    (Current as of February 28, 2014)
  • Ancestry
    (1935-2014)
  • MyHeritage
    (It is not stated how current the database is, but a search for 2014 did retrieve results)
  • Findmypast
    (No dates or citation provided, but a search for people who died in 2014 did retrieve results)

In Marti’s case, she will want to search every single one of these websites for her ancestors. The good news is that they all appear to be up-to-date, but that doesn’t mean they are all exactly the same. The same collection of genealogy records can appear differently from site to site for a number of reasons such as accidental omissions, variations in the power of their search engine, differences between indexers and scanners, and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) inaccuracies. These may or may not affect the SSDI, but the point is that you can’t go wrong searching each one of the Genealogy Giants just in case. And since SSDI search can be conducted for free at all of the Genealogy Giants, it doesn’t cost you anything to do so.

A quick way to find all of the websites that include the SSDI is to Google SSDI genealogy. Here’s a link to the results.

SSDI Search Head-to-Head Comparison

Genealogy Giants quick reference guide cheat sheet Big 4Another excellent reason to search the SSDI on multiple websites is that each website displays the information a little differently. And as you can see from the chart below, when it comes to the Genealogy Giants, there are definitely differences.

SSDI Search Comparison
It’s interesting to note that Ancestry is the only website that provides information about the year that the Social Security number was issued. It isn’t exact, but it’s more than the others offered in my search for Alfred H. Sporan.
 SSDI search results
genealogy giants quick reference guide cheat sheet

The differences between the 4 major websites can be sometimes subtle or quite dramatic. Understanding their strengths and weaknesses, as well as free versus subscription offerings, is key to successful research that is both efficient and cost effective.

The quick reference guide Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites is a must-have for anyone serious about getting the most out of free and paid subscriptions.

The author of this 4-page full color cheat sheet, Sunny Morton, is Contributing Editor here at Genealogy Gems, and she’s packed this guide with everything you would ever want to know, and many things you probably didn’t know that you needed to know. You can pick up your copy here in our store.

SSDI Search and Beyond

There is another database at Ancestry that is worth keeping your eye on. It’s called the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index and it shouldn’t be missed! Currently this covers 1936-2007, but who knows, they may update it in the future. It includes even more information. It was first released in 2015. Read more about it here at Genealogy Gems.

Gems: Share Your SSDI Search Experience!

I invite you to take a moment to share your SSDI search experience in the comments below.

Have you had any surprises?

Did you find a difference between the records found at different websites?

We want to hear your story, because we all benefit from each other’s experiences.

Finding Living Relatives and Reuniting Lost Treasures

Finding living relatives and reuniting lost family treasures is just one way genealogists do random acts of kindness. Our Gems reader has a passion for reuniting photos from eBay to living relatives, but needs to find them first. I have some tips for finding living relatives using Ancestry family trees.

Finding Living Relatives for photos

Years go by and dust collects on old photos left on shelves. Sadly, some will choose to sell those once treasured photos on e-bay or at a local flea market. But the good news is there are genealogists who are actively searching for living relatives to reconnect with these pictures of the past.

Finding Living Relatives

A Gems reader recently asked:

I love doing random acts of kindness and when I find photos on eBay and other sites, I love trying to find some family members to enjoy the treasure. There was an email from a listener that I wanted to see if you could expand on for me.  She asked who she should contact via Ancestry to ask about a found item. You had great suggestions, but I am hung up on one thing you said.

You said to look at their tree and look at the relationship to the person who created the tree, and the person mentioned in the picture. I would love to do this, but alas, I do not know how.

I have a very specific example right now. I found this listing for Ora Shields barn on eBay this morning. Ora is not my relation, but this would be a neat picture if he were! I looked in Ancestry and found lots of trees for him. I found a couple of people with lots of sources for him, and I always look to see the last time the tree owner logged in.  But, what next. I am not sure how to tell how the tree owner is related to Ora.  Any suggestions?

P.S. Love your show and now I am addicted to Google Earth thanks to listening to the premium video!  Keep the good stuff coming!

Using Ancestry Family Trees for Finding Living Relatives

I’m so glad our Gems are loving Google Earth and our Premium videos! It is wonderful to hear how our Gems Premium Members are using these tools! It is also spectacular that they are seizing the opportunity to help others and I want to help them do that!

I just grabbed a tree on Ancestry that included a person named Ora Shield’s as an example.
Below is the result showing this Ora Shields. If I wanted to find a living relative of this individual, I would take the following steps.
Step 1: Click the down arrow on the name of the tree and click View Tree.
 finding living relatives with Ancestry trees

Step 2: Click the down arrow on Find Person and choose Home Person from the pull-down menu.

 finding living relatives home person

Step 3: Quickly scan the names and find someone with the last name Shields. In this example, this is the Home Person’s great-grandmother.

 finding living relatives click person

Step 4: Click the up arrow above the Home Person’s great-grandma (Cora Shields) to see the Shields’ ancestors.

finding living relatives from list

As you can see, Ora Shields is great-grandma Cora Shield’s brother!

Determine the Relationship

Now, what is the relationship? For this answer, head to the Cousin Calculator at http://www.searchforancestors.com/utility/cousincalculator.html.
Using this calculator, you can’t specify brother. So, we identify who the direct ancestor is that the Home Person and Ora Shields share. That would be Cora’s parents. Ora is their son and Home Person is their great-great grandchild. Enter that into the calculator and it will tell you how they are related.
relationship calculator for finding living relatives

Isn’t this an amazing tool? I wish the best of luck to our reader and others who are finding living relatives to reunite with these treasures. And, I love sharing these feel good stories on in our blog and podcasts so thank you, reader, for letting us share your question with our Genealogy Gems.

More on Finding Living Relatives

“Who Else Has Viewed This Record?” Find Living Relatives

Premium Episode 3 – Seven Strategies That Will Lead You To Living Relatives

Not a Premium Member yet? The Genealogy Gems Premium Membership is the best way to get the most out of Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems! Premium Members get exclusive access to incredible content to help you further your research – all for one low annual price! Click here to subscribe!

Do You Know about Browse-Only Collections at Ancestry and Findmypast

Browse-only collections at Ancestry and other genealogy websites are sometimes viewed as inaccessible, but they are actually a hidden treasure. Learn how to access these browse-only collections at Ancestry and Findmypast and open the lid on your family history research.

browse-only collections at Ancestry

Not long ago, Amie Tennant blogged about how to access browse-only content at FamilySearch.org. Did you know that both Ancestry.com and Findmypast have browse-only collections of digitized records, too? Browse-only collections aren’t indexed yet, so they are not searchable by name, but they are a treasure chest of information. Though it might take some time to locate a record within one of these collections, it’s better than renting microfilm or traveling to a far off location!

Here are a couple of tips for accessing these browse-only collections to whet your appetite.

Browse-only Collections at Ancestry

Unfortunately, Ancestry.com doesn’t make it quite as easy as FamilySearch to find browse-only databases, or others that are partially-indexed.

From the main menu, select Search > Card Catalog. Use the filters along the left side to search for the collections you want by record type, location, and date. When you click on a collection, you will be able to select from the browse options along the right side. If it’s fully or partially indexed, you can also do name searches within just that collection.

Here’s a video tutorial by Crista Cowan from Ancestry.com on how to find and browse their browse-only collections:

A series of digitized photo albums by Canada’s Department of the Interior between 1892 and 1917 is an example of one of these browse-only collections. The collection description includes useful instructions such as: “At the beginning of each album, you will find a table of contents with a brief description of each photograph and the photograph number. Use these tables to help you browse to the photograph of interest.” You can browse through the images like you would if you were using microfilm or leafing through a book.

Browse-Only Collections at Findmypast

I got a tip from a Findmypast rep on how to find the browse-only collections on their website. Just go under Search > A-Z of Record Sets. Enter the search term “browse.” It’s really that easy!

browse-only collections at Ancestry

A portion of a document in the Kindertransport browse-only collection at Findmypast.

A digitized collection of Kindertransport documents is among the browse-only collections at Findmypast. Kindertransport rescued children from Nazi-occupied areas during World War II. There is a lot of information about refugee children in this collection such as who was taking care of them, how much they were being paid, and reports on the medical condition of refugee children from Germany. If Kindertransport was a part of your family’s past, these look like a must-read. Maybe I should have said, a must browse!.

More Tips on Searching Your Favorite Genealogy Websites

Ancestry one stop shoppingSearching Browse-Only Records at FamilySearch.org

4 Tips for Getting the Most from Ancestry.com

Using Ancestry Library Edition and Other Genealogy Databases at Your Public Library (in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 125 (Premium Membership required to listen)

Emigration Records With an E: When Your Ancestors Left the Country

emigration records assist genealogists

Traveling ancestors created records when they left the country of their origin and when they arrived at their new residence. We often talk about immigration, with an I, but have you researched your ancestors emigration records with an E?

When our ancestors traveled from one place to another, they became two types of migrants. First, they were Emigrants with an E, and then, they were Immigrants with an I. Emigration with an E means someone exiting a country and immigration with an I means someone coming into it. Let’s learn more about emigration…with an E.

I live in a country that doesn’t have much in the way of historical emigration records, but other countries do. I have to remember these emigration records when I start looking overseas for my relatives who were crossing the pond to live here.

EXAMPLES OF EMIGRATION RECORDS

Swedish parishes kept emigration records which are now on Ancestry dating back to 1783. According to the database description, this record set is pretty complete, representing about 75% of those who actually left the country. These rich records can provide place of origin, destination, and the date and place of departure.

sweden emigration record

For a time, the U.K. also kept outward passenger lists of those leaving the U.K. ports for destinations outside of Europe. The lists include British citizens and those traveling through the U.K. These passenger lists no longer survive for the years before 1890, but they are on Ancestry for the years of 1890-1960. Of course, while writing this post I just had to take a moment to do a bit of searching myself, and that lead to this genealogy gem: my husband’s grandfather, and his parents embarking at Liverpool in 1912!

UK emigration record

I also spotted this interesting item in the database description. Quoted from the U.K. National Archives website:

“Between 1890 and 1920, among the highest tonnage of ships were leaving British ports bound for North America. Many passengers were emigrants from Britain, Ireland, and Europe. European emigrants bound for America entered the United Kingdom because traveling steerage was less expensive from a British port than from a port in Europe. The shipping companies imposed restrictions on passengers registering; passengers had to have British residency of six weeks to qualify. Many passengers too impatient to qualify for residency changed their names to avoid detection.”

A name change would certainly present a challenge, but it’s very good to know to be on a look out for that situation. This is another example of why it is so important to read the description of the databases you search.

MORE EMIGRATION RECORD COLLECTIONS

A quick search of Ancestry’s card catalog shows emigration collections for Prussia, Switzerland, a few parts of Germany, Jewish refugees from several nations in Europe, and an interesting collection of Dutch emigrants who came to North America with the help of the Canadian and Dutch governments.

Another excellent resource is the FamilySearch Wiki. You can search for the name of the country and the word emigration (with an e) to find out more about your targeted area. I typed in Hungary emigration and found the following information.

FamilySearch Wiki on emigration records

Did your emigrant (or immigrant) ancestor generate records in the country he or she left from as well as the country he or she entered? Remember to check!

MORE GEMS ON IMMIGRATIONFamily History Genealogy Made Easy Podcast

Assisted Immigration to Australia: Queensland Passenger Lists

Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part I

Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part II

 

What Ancestry’s Retirement of Family Tree Maker Software Means for You

I think this is a long post, but this is an extremely important topic. I hope you will invest the time to read it through to the end.

Family Tree Maker Discontinued

I travel the world presenting sessions on a wide range of genealogy topics. One of the presentations that is most near and dear to my heart is called  Future Technology and Genealogy – 5 Strategies You Need. In it I not only outline 5 strategies that genealogists can use to cope and thrive in an ever-changing technological world, but I share 3 major areas that I believe genealogists should be aware of as we move into the future. One of those is the desktop moving to the Cloud.

Certainly Adobe and Microsoft have already moved that direction by discontinuing physical software sales and moving to a Cloud based subscription service. But the desktop moving to the Cloud has been a more subtle transition in the genealogy space. Today, however, our industry was hit between the eyes with this new reality.

retirement pocket watchAncestry has announced the “retirement” of one of the cornerstone products in genealogy, the Family Tree Maker desktop software. 

I couldn’t help but think that Ancestry was striving to paint a picture of Family Tree Maker as Charles Coburn (in black and white of course) in his classic double-breasted suit, gold watch in hand, walking off into the sunset in a Jean Arthur movie. Perhaps it would be more accurate to visualize him being pushed out. Let’s start with the announcment that Ancestry released on their blog late Tuesday December 8, 2015, and then we’ll probe deeper:

Ancestry to Retire Family Tree Maker Software
By Kendall Hulet

Ancestry is proud to have made a significant investment this year to bring valuable new content and records to the Ancestry site. In 2015, we’ve made 220 million searchable historical records from Mexico available, more than 170 million pages from the largest collection of U.S. will and probate records, among others. We’ve also introduced new features such as Ancestry Academy and major advancements for AncestryDNA.

We remain dedicated to helping people gain new levels of understanding about their lives, and who and what led to them, harnessing the information found in family trees, historical records and genetics. As a company, we’re also continually evaluating ways to focus our efforts to provide the most impact and best product experience for our users through our core offerings.

True to this focus, we’ve taken a hard look at the declining desktop software market and the impact this has on being able to continue to provide product enhancements and support that our users need. With that, we’ve made the tough decision to stop selling Family Tree Maker as of December 31, 2015.

Our subscription business and website, on the other hand, continue to grow and we are doubling down our efforts to make that experience even better for our Ancestry community.

Ancestry will continue to support current owners of Family Tree Maker through January 1, 2017. During this time, all features of the software, including TreeSync™, will continue to work, and Member Services will be available to assist with user questions. We will also address major software bugs that may occur, as well as compatibility updates.

These changes are never easy, but by focusing our efforts, we can concentrate on continuing to build great products for our loyal Ancestry community.

If you have inquiries regarding Family Tree Maker, please reach out to our Member Services team. We’ll also provide updates on our blog as needed leading up to January 1, 2017.”

What this Means for Genealogists

In reality, I would wager to guess that this move is a cold, calculated business strategy, not a warm and sentimental retirement. And that’s OK. Business is good. If Ancestry didn’t do well in business, we wouldn’t have such easy and convenient access to all those records.

Discontinuing Family Tree Maker is a strategic move. The goal is it to get everyone from family history “dabblers” to seasoned genealogists to enter their family tree data directly onto a family tree housed on the Ancestry website. This puts them in the drivers seat.

It is keenly important to understand what is really happening so that you can make the wisest decisions possible for the life of your genealogical research. Our family trees are not Ancestry’s responsibility, or anyone elses for that matter. They are our responsibilities, and we need to be as calculated and ruthless in protecting them as any savvy CEO.

We must understand that it is more profitable for Ancestry to quit producing software CDs, and all that packaging to put the CDs in. It’s more profitable to stop employing and paying employees to ship all those CDs. Digital content is more profitable and easier for a company to control. But is that the whole story?

Absolutely not. Information is King, and it is valuable. Your genealogical information is financially valuable to genealogy companies. (Read Ancestry’s Terms of Service to refresh yourself on what they can do with your information.) Think AncestryDNA is only about your ancestry? You must understand that it is not. Aggregated data is sold in the marketplace to other companies. (Read this article at Wired.com about one partnership Ancestry has with the Google-owned biotech company Calico.)

Not to say it is not a worthwhile effort on your part to get your DNA tested – it certainly may be. But that DNA data has dollar signs written all over it. It is valuable. But today isn’t about DNA, so let’s get back to Family Tree Maker and your tree. How do you, the genealogist, retain control in this environment? Take on a “genealogist-protected approach” to your data.

The Genealogist-Protected Approach

Step 1: Purchase a new genealogy software database program and load it on your computer. I recommend and use RootstMagic software. RootsMagic is excellent, reliable and extremely well supported. Click here to read how they are ready to help you in our transition.

Step 2: Back up your entire computer with a Cloud-based backup service. This is critical to protecting and retaining control of your data. I recommend and use Backblaze. (Here’s an article I wrote that will give you a compelling reason not to skip this step.)

Full disclosure: RootsMagic and Backblaze are sponsors  of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast. This is primarily because I use the products myself and have been impressed and satisfied with their products. Regardless of which products you choose, just be sure you put the Genealogist-Protected Approach into action.

I have stated numerous times in presentations, on the podcast, and here on the blog that I view family trees on Ancestry and other websites as “cousin bait” not primary family tree storage. Rather than upload my entire tree, I upload that for which I want to generate “genealogical leads.” My master tree and master database file is on my computer in RootsMagic, backed up by Backblaze.

You might be one of the many genealogists who has thoroughly enjoyed having your entire tree on Ancestry, and wonder now how you can get a software program that fully synchronizes with Ancestry. To address this issue, first go back and read the section above under “What this means for genealogists.” Remember, data is BIG business. The truth is that it is not financially beneficial to Ancestry to allow that to happen. They want to be where you house your master family tree. I don’t blame them. But, in my opinion, that’s not in my family tree’s best interest. Therefore, I follow the steps outlined above, and upload a gedcom of what I want circulating publicly in order to generate “leads”: hints and cousin connections.

whining genealogist protected approach paperI believe it is generally going to get harder and harder to retain control over our privacy and our data. We don’t know what the future holds for computer software. But no matter what happens, we as genealogists will still be 100% responsible for what happens to our family trees and our data. There’s no whining in papergenealogy. And last I heard they still produce paper and pencils.

 

Here It Is! #1 of Top 10 Posts On Our Genealogy Blog

Top Ten Genealogy Coundown #1THIS IS IT! Our #1 blog post of 2015. Not surprisingly, it’s about how to secure your data on Ancestry.com: your trees, photos, sources and even DNA! 

Earlier this year, rumors circulated that Ancestry was up for sale. Our post about that rumor included tips about how to back up everything you’ve put on Ancestry–trees, source citations, images and even DNA results. That post from our genealogy blog circulated among thousands and thousands of Facebook friends! It was definitely our most-read post of 2015, thanks to those of you who helped share its tips with your friends.

keep your family tree secureHere’s the bottom line from that post: if you don’t already have up-to-date copies of everything you’ve put on Ancestry, download it now. From here on out, keep your master family tree not on Ancestry (or any other site) but on your own computer. If you do keep building your tree on Ancestry, download updated GEDCOM files regularly. That way, if Ancestry gets hacked, goes out of business or even dumps your data (it’s happened before), you’ve still got your tree.

Backblaze Genealogy Gems logosIn that same spirit, back up your own computer systems. Many of you have taken our advice to hire Backblaze to do this for you. Backblaze runs in the background of all Genealogy Gems computers, instantly backing up to the cloud every new or revised file we create, 24/7.  Including our master family trees, digital photos and genealogy document images! Lisa loves that their online backup security is second to none and costs just $5 a month. (Click here to learn more about Backblaze.)

top 10 blog posts trophyClick here to see all Top 10 Genealogy Gems blog posts for 2015–and enter to win a great prize! The contest ends TODAY, so click now to enter!

 

 

 

 

Why Use Ancestry for FREE if You’re NOT a Subscriber

Many of us already know that some of Ancestry’s content is free to search for everyone. But did you know that you can use Ancestry’s powerful search interface to search genealogy databases on OTHER websites, too? This includes sites that may be in another language–and sites you may not even know exist!Ancestry Web Indexes 3

 

You may have heard that there’s a lot available on Ancestry for free to anyone. Like the 1940 and 1880 U.S. censuses. Australian and Canadian voter’s lists. A birth index for England and Wales. The SSDI. A few years ago, Ancestry also began incorporating off-site indexes into its search system. These are known as “Ancestry Web Indexes.” There are now more than 220 of these, and they point users to over 100 million records ON OTHER WEBSITES.

“Ancestry Web Indexes pull together a lot of databases that are already online from repositories all over the world, like courthouses and archives,” Matthew Deighton of Ancestry told me. “We index them here because we’ve found that people may not know their ancestor was in a certain region at a certain time. They may not know about that website that has posted those records. What you don’t know about, you can’t find.”

According to an online description, the guiding principles of Ancestry Web Search databases are:

  • “Free access to Web Records – Users do not have to subscribe or even register with Ancestry.com to view these records;
  • Proper attribution of Web Records to content publishers;
  • Easy access to Web Records – Prominent links in search results and the record page make it easy to get to the source website.”

Better yet, you may have a better search experience at Ancestry than you would at the original site. Some sites that host databases or indexes don’t offer very flexible search parameters. They may not recognize “Beth Maddison” or “E. Mattison” as search results for “Elizabeth Madison,” while Ancestry would.

Results from Ancestry Web Indexes point you to the host website to see any additional information, like digitized images and source citations. A subscription to that site may be required to learn all you want from it. But just KNOWING that the data is there gives you the option to pursue it.

Doesn’t Google bring up all those same results if you just do a keyword search on your ancestor’s name? Not necessarily. Not all indexes are Google-searchable. Even if they are, Google may not present them to you until the 534th page of search results–long after you’ve lost interest.

And Ancestry specifically targets genealogically-interesting databases. Your results there won’t include LinkedIn profiles or current high school sports statistics from a young person with your ancestor’s name. (Learn how to weed out Google results like these with The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke.)

Some may be skeptical: isn’t it bad form for Ancestry to reference other sites’ material, especially when they often do so without consulting the host of the databases? They do have an opt-out policy for those who wish their databases to be removed from the search engine. Matthew says a couple of places have opted out–because the increased web traffic was too much for them to handle. That tells me that Ancestry Web Indexes are helping a lot of people find their family history in places they may otherwise never have looked.

Resources

unofficial guide to ancestrycom

4 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Ancestry.com

Use Ancestry for Free at the Public Library: Tips in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #125, available to Genealogy Gems Premium website members

Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com by Nancy Hendrickson, available in paperback and on Kindle!

share celebrate balloonsThank you for sharing this post with others who will want to know what they can do for FREE on Ancestry!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ancestry Publishes HUGE Collection of U.S. Wills and Probate Records

US Wills and Probate Ancestry More than 100 million people are mentioned in Ancestry’s newest database of U.S. wills and probate records, an exclusive collection spanning over 300 years. To celebrate, Ancestry is offering free access through September 7.

This morning, Ancestry launched an enormous–and enormously significant–new online records collection. According to its press release, “More than 170 million pages from the largest collection of wills and probate records in the United States is now available online exclusively on Ancestry. With searchable records included from all 50 states spread over 337 years (1668-2005), this unprecedented collection launches a new category of records for family history research never before available online at this scale the United States.”

Wills and estate records are one of those record types that have been less-accessible online. First, the records themselves are not easy to digitize or even index. They are often thick files, packed with various kinds of documents that may be fragile and of varying sizes. Several people may be mentioned throughout the file, but finding and picking out their names to put in an index is time-consuming.

Furthermore, the U.S. has no central will or probate registry. This happens on a county level, generally. Compiling a centralized database from all those county offices or archives is a huge undertaking.

According to the Ancestry release, “Ancestry spent more than two years bringing this collection online, working with hundreds of different archives from individual state and local courts across the country and making a $10M investment to license and digitize the records.”

Better yet, “the documents cover well over 100 million people, including the deceased as well as their family, friends and others involved in the probate process. Ancestry expects to continue to grow the collection, with additional records available over the next several years.”

Todd Godfrey, VP of Global Content at Ancestry, loves the fact that wills and probate records can reveal not just names, dates and family relationships, but stories. “Wills can offer an incredible view into the lives of your ancestors…providing insight into their personality, character, achievements, relationships, and more,” said Godfrey. “Reading these records you will find a deeper level of understanding about who your ancestors were, who they cared about, what they treasured, and how they lived.”

Learn more about this collection in Finding Your Family in Wills and Probate Records (Ancestry’s new in-depth guide) or click here to search the collection. Great news for those without Ancestry subscriptions: The U.S. Wills and Probates collection is free to access on Ancestry, along with all U.S. birth, marriage and death records, through September 7 (10pm MT).

share celebrate balloonsPlease share the great news! Click on your preferred social media channel on this page or copy the link into an email and send it out to your family and friends!

Resources: More Great U.S. Records Online!

U.S. State Census Records: Capture Your Family History Between Federal Censuses

NEW! U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index

4 Fabulous Ways to Use the Library of Congress for Genealogy 

NEW! Try this now! U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index

Ancestry Publishes U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007

The new U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index 1936 – 2007 is a critical update to our ability to access information in U.S. Social Security applications, and perfect companion to the SSDI.

“This database picks up where the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) leaves off by providing more details than those included in the SSDI,” says the database description. “It includes information filed with the Social Security Administration through the application or claims process, including valuable details such as birth date, birth place, and parents’ names. While you will not find everybody who is listed in the SSDI in this database, data has been extracted for more than 49 million people.” Some data will not appear for newer records; click here to read more about it and access the index.

Let’s take a look at the difference between the SSDI and the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index. (Click here to read a great article by the Legal Genealogist about the limitations of the SSDI.)

First a search on Charles A. Burkett in the SSDI:

Social Security Death Index SSDI

As you can see, the information is fairly limited. And there’s something else very important missing here. In the Suggested Records list on the right, the new U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index is not listed. This is an important reminder that we must not rely solely on the bread crumb trails on any genealogy website to lead us to all online available records.

Now I’ll search for him in the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index:

U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index

And now I have his mother’s and father’s names!

Check back tomorrow (and every Friday) here at the Genealogy Gems blog for our full list of new and updated records from around the web.