Find US Ancestors In These New Online Resources

See if you can find U.S. ancestors using these new online resources (many of them free!): U.S. Supreme Court cases; an African American research guide; newspapers serving Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina and Texas; orphan train riders and Rhode Island burials since 1647. Also, your help is requested to help build an important database of African American soldiers in the Civil War.

Featured collection: U.S. Supreme Court cases

“More than 225 years of Supreme Court decisions acquired by the Library of Congress are now publicly available online – free to access in a page image format for the first time,” reported a recent Library of Congress press release. “The Library has made available more than 35,000 cases that were published in the printed bound editions of United States Reports (U.S. Reports).”

This collection is comprised of “official reports of decisions for the United States Supreme Court dating to the court’s first decision in 1791 and to earlier courts that preceded the Supreme Court in the colonial era,” or in other words, cases originally published in bound volumes 1-542. “This collection of Supreme Court cases is fully searchable. Filters allow users to narrow their searches by date, name of the justice authoring the opinion, subject and by the main legal concepts at issue in each case. PDF versions of individual cases can be viewed and downloaded.” We noticed this in a tweet from The Legal Genealogist Judy Russell, who makes a case for the genealogical value of Supreme Court cases in this article on her blog.

Find US ancestors in more new online resources

A new African American research guide

The Maryland State Archives has published a new guide, Researching African American Families at the Maryland State Archives. (Clicking on the link will take you directly to a PDF version of the guide). The introduction states, “A strong tradition of record keeping from the earliest days of settlement has resulted in the preservation of a vast amount of material relevant to African American history. This material can be found primarily at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, where the permanent public records of state, county, and local agencies are conveniently centralized. Records concerning African Americans, once neglected by professional historians and genealogists alike, provide new insights into the Maryland experience for people of color.”

Even if your African American roots are not in Maryland (or if your Maryland roots are not African American), you can still likely learn about important record types and research tips!

African American Civil War Soldiers Database

The African American Civil War Soldiers project recently launched an effort to build “a comprehensive database of the estimated 200,000 soldiers who formed the United States Colored Troops” during the Civil War. According to the website, this project aims “to improve our knowledge of the African Americans who fought for freedom in the American Civil War, to provide descendants of the soldiers with access to information on their ancestors, and to present students of history with primary documents from a pivotal moment in African American history.”

Volunteers are requested to help transcribe “images of the soldiers’ military service records, which have been photographed and scanned by the National Archives and Records Administration and Fold3. From these, we are collecting detailed individual information such as name, age, height, place of birth and enlistment, as well as evidence of battles fought, injuries and causalities sustained, and honors and promotions won.”

It’s easy to start transcribing: there’s no software to download or learn, and you don’t even need to register. If you click “Get started,” you’ll be taken directly to an image to transcribe (a quick series of pop-up screens will give you a quick orientation about the type of document you’ll be transcribing and how to do it). The example shown below comes from a “Company Descriptive Book, the first card in each soldier’s file. This card contains information on the soldier’s origins and enlistment.”

As an aside, we also noticed that the web host of the African-American Civil War Soldiers Database, Zooniverse.org, also has another volunteer project to transcribe the handwritten conference notes of U.S. Supreme Court justices.

Newspapers across the U.S.

Illinois and Iowa. Subscription site Newspapers.com has published issues of the Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa) dating from 1855-2014. This paper covers southeast Iowa and northwest Illinois. According to an email news release, “Newspapers.com also has a host of papers from the Quad-City Times family tree, including the Daily Leader, the Davenport Weekly Leader, the Davenport Weekly Democrat and LeaderWeekly Davenport Democrat, the Democrat and Times, the Daily Times, the Davenport Weekly Gazette, and the Democratic Banner. Some of these papers go all the way back to the 1850s, giving you more than 160 years of Iowa and Illinois history!

North Carolina. Digital NC continues to post new, free newspaper content on its site. Recent additions include the weekly The Hertford County Herald (Ahoskie, NC) for 1914-1923;  More issues of the Watauga Democrat (Boone, NC, serving the western part of the state; coverage now spans 1923-1963); and the Cherokee Scout (Cherokee County)—now with nearly 2,500 issues from 1923-1971.

Texas. The Portal of Texas History website is adding more free newspaper content: the Cleveland Advocate and its sister publications, Dayton News and Eastex Advocate, and two other defunct newspapers – Illustrated Paperboy and Cleveland Journal.  A news report describes the Portal of Texas History as “a gateway to Texas’s earliest history with newspapers dating back to 1829, seven years before Texas became a republic,” with 5.7 million individual newspaper pages, and “the largest single-state free digital repository in the nation for newspapers.”

Orphan Train riders

A new collection at subscription giant Ancestry.com, New York, Orphans Placed in the New York Foundling Hospital and Children’s Aid Society, 1855-1925, gathers the names of nearly 18,000 poor, abandoned or orphaned children who were placed under the care of New York City orphanages and eventually shipped to families in the western United States to be adopted. These children are popularly known as “orphan train” riders. According to the collection description, “Information as to the identities of a large number of these children has been preserved in federal and state censuses taken between 1855 and 1925, as well as in the 1890 New York City police census, and represents a potential boon to the descendants of these foundlings. This collection contains a two-volume work that encompasses the “Orphan Train Riders” from NYFH.” Tip: Have fun learning the stories of some of these children in Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, a NYT best-selling novel and a Genealogy Gems Book Club pick.

Rhode Island burials

The New England Historic Genealogical Society has announced a new database on its subscription website, AmericanAncestors.org. Rhode Island: Historical Cemeteries, 1647-2000 “includes 450,000 individuals buried in Rhode Island,” states a company email. “More than 900,000 names transcribed from tombstones are included. This database provides tombstone transcriptions, and birth and death records. Some entries include tombstone images and GPS coordinates.” The project is part of a volunteer-driven collaboration with the Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries Transcription Project.

Find US ancestors in more new online collections

Did you miss these recent announcements about US records that are new online? Check them out!

New genealogy record collections from 15 U.S. states

New North American collections include military, passenger lists, yearbooks and more

Totally free US genealogy records from 8 states

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

About the Author: Sunny Morton

About the Author: Sunny Morton

Sunny is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Premium Podcasts. She’s  known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.

A Train Ticket and Popular Novel Solved this Adoption Mystery

Genealogy for adoptees can be a difficult journey. A train ticket from 1856 and one of our most popular Genealogy Gems Book Club titles helped one woman solve an adoption family mystery. Here’s her story.

Genealogy for adoptees

Ben Brooksbank [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Adoption Mystery: Solved

I recently read an article that I just had to share! Julia Park Tracey’s two-times great grandfather, William Lozier, was adopted. She wanted to trace his family history. Her only clue was the receipt for a train fare from New York’s Home for the Friendless to Oberlin, Ohio that William had. The ticket cost $7.50 and was dated 1856.

With a little bit of easy math, Julia realized that William would have been a three-year old at the time. Can you imagine? Julia was intrigued by the finding, but didn’t think much more about it until she read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. This piqued her curiosity about Williams’s story and she started researching. What she found was an astonishing story of family struggling to stay together during the hardships of 19th century life.

Along her research journey, Julia learned that William’s mother was widowed in upstate New York in 1848. Consequently, the woman lost the family farm and needed to give up her two oldest boys to an orphanage. She managed to hold on to her oldest daughter and baby William while she worked as a seamstress. Sadly, she still couldn’t make ends meet and ended up placing her last two children in an orphanage as well.

Julia explains in the article: “Martha was undaunted; she worked and saved, and eventually wrote to ask for her children back. The orphanage did not respond. In those days, a child’s moral and spiritual welfare were tantamount, and a single mother was seen as not fit to parent. Nevertheless, she found her way to her daughter, and at least one of her middle sons, if not both. Martha lived the rest of her life with her married daughter and her grandchildren. She died between 1900 and 1910, [but] she never saw nor heard of what had happened to Will.”

With these new pieces of information, Julia was able to trace the line back through time and generations. She even learned a little more about her unexpected DNA results! I am sure it was very satisfying to finally piece together the story of the old train ticket and William’s family story. Even the smallest clues like the old train ticket can lead to long-forgotten stories that add to our family history tapestry. Genealogy is all about persistence, and much like a detective, the smallest piece of evidence can make all the difference!

More on Genealogy for Adoptees

orphan train Christina Baker Kline genealogy book clubIf you’ve been a Premium member for a while, you’ll recall Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. It was one of our first Genealogy Gems Book Club selections—and based on feedback from you, it’s been one of our most popular choices. If you haven’t listened to Premium episode 121 which includes our interview with Christina, I encourage you to go back and listen. In that conversation, you’ll learn about the history of the orphan train riders in the U.S. and Canada and how the author researched it.

Learn more about the Orphan Train and it’s riders in this post: “Road Trip Anyone? An Orphan Train Museum.

See what else we’ve read by clicking: Genealogy Gems Book Club

Road Trip, Anyone? An Orphan Train Museum

genealogy book clubWe’ve heard from many of you that the best-selling novel Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, featured in our Genealogy Gems Book Club, has piqued your interest in that sad chapter in U.S. and Canadian history. So I thought I’d share this comment from Jenna Mills on our Genealogy Gems Facebook page:

“I’ve become very interested in orphan trains since I heard the interview with the author on your podcast. Fascinating and sad. I’ve since found that that over 250,000 kids are estimated to have been put on a train. 250,000!!!

NOTC-COMPLEXThe National Orphan Train Complex [a museum] is in Concordia, Kansas, so of course a visit there will be forthcoming. I’m halfway through the book and love it. What has really piqued my curiosity is that my great-grandmother adopted a boy while living in Amherst, Nebraska. The railroad doesn’t go through there anymore but did in that time period. I may be taking a trip down a rabbit hole, but this is so fascinating.”

Thanks, Jenna! We’re also aware of an orphan train museum in Louisiana and this lovely summary from an Iowa historical society about riders who landed in their little town. Recently we pinned an image of an old orphan train rider doll on Pinterest.

  Follow Lisa Louise’s board Genealogy Gems Book Club on Pinterest.

genealogy book club genealogy gemsWe invite you to follow the FREE no-commitment, no-fuss Genealogy Gems Book Club. Every quarter we feature our favorite family-history-friendly fiction and nonfiction titles AND exclusive interviews with their authors!

Orphan Train: More Genealogists are Talking About It!

genealogy book clubGuess what? The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania has also been covering Orphan Train as a book club selection!

Their format’s a little different than ours: they have weekly blog posts on the book and members are invited to get together over coffee and chat about it. The blog posts are part plot summary, part personal response, and even part genealogy and history instruction! Check out these posts:

genealogy book club genealogy gemsWhat do you think of Orphan Train? Post your response on our Facebook page or email us with your comments. We’d love to hear them!

Click here to go to our Genealogy Gems Book Club page, with more about Orphan Train and other great titles we have featured on the show.

Here is the New Book for Genealogy Gems Book Club!

The Genealogy Gems Book Club debuted to excellent response from you, our readers and listeners and social media followers! A LOT of you are passionate about books and family history!

Our last title was a memoir by a woman raised in England who told a story about her South African roots. So what’s the new book? Well, we’re going to cross the sea–and genres–to a novel by U.S. author Christina Baker Kline.

orphan train Christina Baker Kline genealogy book clubOrphan Train spent five weeks at the #1 spot  on the New York Times Bestselling list. When you read it you’ll see why. Here’s the storyline:

Vivian is an Irish immigrant child who loses her family in New York City and is forced to ride the ‘orphan train.’ Orphan trains were a common solution in the late 1800s and early 1900s for care of abandoned or orphaned children in New York City and other places. The children were loaded onto trains and paraded in front of locals at various stops across the countryside, where they might be claimed by just about anyone.

After following Vivian’s life through her childhood and young adulthood, we fast-forward. Vivian is 91, and a teenage girl named Molly comes to help her clean out her attic. Molly is a Penobscot Indian who is in the modern foster care system. Gradually they realize they have a lot in common, and you’ll love the ways they each respond to that.

Why did I choose this book for family history lovers to read? To me, the book is about the importance of family identity. Each of us has a family storyline that existed before we were born and brought us into being. Vivian’s and Molly’s experiences remind me how important it is to know and value our family backgrounds. Of course I loved learning more about orphan train riders, too. That chapter of history is now a vivid reality to me.

Click here to order your copy of Orphan Train
When you initiate your purchase here, you are helping support the FREE Genealogy Gems podcast and the Book Club, whether you choose an e-book, or new or used print book on Amazon. Thank you! Then stay tuned–we’ll chat a little more about the book in the February podcast and the author herself will join us in March for an exclusive interview.

genealogy book club genealogy gemsClick here to learn more about the Genealogy Gems Book Club and to see books we’ve featured in the past.

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