FamilySearch.org – Beyond the Search Engine

March 31, 2012 at 1:14 am | Posted in Genealogy Websites | Leave a comment
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Family Search Catalog Results Sample

Family Search Catalog Results Sample

FamilySearch.org is undoubtedly one of the top 3-5 genealogy websites.  But as popular and as terrific as it is, I wonder if most genealogists look beyond the search engine on the first page.  If, indeed, that’s the case, I’m here to say, they – and maybe you – are missing out on a TON of resources.

If you are among those who haven’t ventured past the search engine, stick around.  I’ll give you the tour of a couple unsung repository heroes in this website that can propel your research in ways you couldn’t have imagined. Continue Reading FamilySearch.org – Beyond the Search Engine…

NEW Civil War Union Grave Site Database

March 26, 2012 at 3:44 am | Posted in American Civil War Genealogy Resources, Genealogy Websites | Leave a comment
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Sons of the Union Veterans National Grave Site Database - George Watson

Sons of the Union Veterans National Grave Site Database - George Watson

While at a National Archives workshop on Civil War records recently, I learned of an amazing new project that will help Civil War genealogists find their ancestors’ resting places easier than ever.

After the presentation a gentleman in the audience stood up and identified himself as a member of the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War.  Further, he shared that as part of the sesquetennial

(150th Anniversary) celebration of the Civil War the organization has set out to identify and record the burial site of every one of the Civil War veterans.  Wow.  They are spending their weekends walking cemeteries nationwide to find our fallen heroes resting places.

But wait!  It gets better.  Then they are recording those findings in their online database for everyone to use – for FREE.  You just gotta love these guys.

Now, not to be partial to only one side, the gentlemen said with great authority that the Confederate Veterans organization is working toward the same goal for their fallen heroes.  Both organizations plan to finish their projects by the end of the anniversary period in 2015.  He estimated that they are at about 15% completion right now. Continue Reading NEW Civil War Union Grave Site Database…

Six Search Tips for Ancestry.com

March 25, 2012 at 5:49 am | Posted in Genealogy Research Strategies, Genealogy Websites | 1 Comment
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Improving Search Results By Adding Family Members

Improving Search Results By Adding Family Members

Ancestry.com has become the Goliath of genealogy record repositories in the last decade virtually revolutionizing the way we play the genealogy game.  The same principles of solid research apply, but the means and methods have changed.  To make the most of Ancestry – and for that matter the most online multi-database- sites, you really have to be a “Search Wizard.”

Here are a few tips I’ve discovered in the many late night hours of fuzzy-slipper-I’ll-be-to-be-in-a-minute, honey-searching.  I hope they are helpful for you, too. Continue Reading Six Search Tips for Ancestry.com…

Where to Find Cemetery Records for Genealogy Research

March 17, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Posted in Genealogy Resources | 1 Comment
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Cemetery Transcripts in Periodicals

Cemetery Transcripts in Periodicals

There’s nothing like cemetery records to establish relationships between ancestors, put an ancestor in a place in time, and discover new members for your tree.  They are wonderful tools for genealogy research.  Really, not every record comes to you carved in stone – literally and figuratively.When would a cemetery or headstone record come in handy?

  • Establishing a place and/or date of death
  • Establishing date of birth
  • Learning family ethniticity (if the stone is in another language)
  • Identifying a spouse (spouse birth, marriage, death dates)
  • Identifying children (sometimes listed on a stone or on nearby stones)
  • Identifying correllary lines (in-laws of the decedant, in-laws of the children) all often buried nearby
  • Finding family members that died young (children buried near their parents)
  • Learning of military service (as noted on the headstone)
  • Discovering religious tradition affiliations (buried at a faith-sponsored cemetery)

So, suffice to say there is genealogy “gold buried in them there cemeteries.”  The challenge for genealogists is to find those cemeteries and dig up those golden records.  The obvious choice is to go to the cemetery and look.  And many a genealogist has devoted weekends in the pursuit of cemetery-stomping and picnic lunches with willing, or not-so-willing, spouses in tow.

But! you may be saying, I don’t know what cemetery my ancestors are buried in?  Or the cemetery is at a distance that makes travel prohibitive.  Ah, follow me, and I’ll show you other ways to “steal the gold” and make your tree all the more richer for it.

Four Places to Find Cemetery Records

1. FindaGrave – This online database has quicky become a first-reach source for cemetery records.  When I last looked they tout a mere 77 million records for the digital cemetery sleuth.  I must confess, I have come late to the Find-A-Grave Fan Club, but am now an ardent devotee.  Many wonderful volunteers have uploaded their information on deceased relatives, including headstone pictures, cemetery entrance markers, transcribed headstones, and even obituaries and personal pictures to the site for free and easy access for everyone.  What’s even better is known families are linked or hyperlinked together.  You may be looking for one ancestor and stumble on a whole family – with names, and dates, and so much more.  Wow!

2. Internment.net  – A close cousin to the above is Internment.net.  It’s the same concept, just a different bunch of wonderful volunteers.  That said, this Internet-wonder reaches out to a broader geography and includes cemeteries worldwide.  Just when you were ready to pack your bags and head off to England to check out a cemetery, you can now save the airfare and just go online.

3. Local Genealogy & Historical Societies – One of my genealogy axioms is that the best – being defined as the rarest – genealogy records are frequently found at the local level.  Why? Because only the people in Lone Jack, Missouri (population 3, 309) will take the time and attention to collect and preserve the records closest to home.  So, if you want cemetery records for Lone Jack, Missouri, you go to the Lone Jack Historical Society.  Now, historically, the only means for these hometown heroes to communicate their work has been through periodicals (their newsletter).  As a result, there are a lot of tombstone transcriptions and cemetery records sitting on the shelves amid the genealogy periodicals.

A Word About Genealogy Periodicals – Many regional genealogy or historical societies publish a regular newsletter that may be issued monthly or quarterly.  Commonly you will find transcribed local sources not published elsewhere.  The transcription project isn’t enough to warrant publishing a book; however, it is an ideal length for an article or series of articles in a newsletter.  Cemetery transcriptions – particularly of small family or church cemeteries that can’t be found any place else – are perfect for a newsletter.

Finding Cemetery Transcriptions from Societies in Periodicals – If you’re concerned that finding the cemetery records among the periodicals will be like finding a needle in a haystack (where are the periodicals? which periodical? is there a transcription?), have no fear. The secret to finding anything in periodicals is PERSI.  Started and maintained by the Allen County Public Library, in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, it is the authoritative index for the nearly 10,000 genealogy periodicals.  And now, in the 21st Century, it’s all online as easily accessible as your nearest library’s website.   Free and among your local library’s online databases, turn to Heritage Quest Online available to find PERSI.  Under the “place” search select the state and/or county where you suspect your ancestor to be buried, and select the “type of record” to be “cemeteries.”  The database returns a list of all of the articles in that region that relate to cemeteries.  (See example above for Perry County, Missouri.) Now, the articles with the transcriptins aren’t online, but you can order the article from Allen County Public Library for a small fee, if your regional library doesn’t have a copy of the publication.

4. USGenWeb State Tombstone Transcription Project Not unlike the grassroots, hometown, all-volunteer transcription projects that make their way into genealogy periodicals, the same efforts have found another home online at USGenWeb.  Organized by state and then county or region, independent groups collect and post transcriptions free and and for the benefit of all.  There are some amazing all-state collections and collections with a much smaller scope.  The size and scope of the projects can be very hit and miss, but if you’re lucky enough to be looking for a cemetery where those before you have stomped, you’ve hit a goldmine.  Here’s a perfect example.  The Midwest Historical and Genealogical Society has transcribed many headstones in cemeteries in Sedgwick County, KS and have posted them on their website.  The site and the cemetery listings are part of the KSGenWeb project.  The pages initially were only transcriptions, but over time headstone pictures have been added as collected or submitted.

Would you believe I’ve only scratched the suface?  There are many more online sites that contain trancriptions that time and space don’t allow me to detail here.  Further, as interest in genealogy grows and more volunteers are called into service, I can only imagine these transcription projects exploding.  How exciting for us!  So go forth and dig in to those cemeteries!  The genealogy treasures are waiting.

Happy Researching.

Wonderful County Maps to Tell Your Ancestor’s Story

March 6, 2012 at 2:29 am | Posted in Foundational Genealogy, Genealogy Research Strategies, Genealogy Resources | 1 Comment
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Finding County Relative Proximities with a County MapYou may have noticed that a cousin-discipline to genealogy is geography.  Maybe that’s why the words look alike.  They are related!

You don’t have to be a genealogist for very long before geographic questions of where, how far, and proximity raise their topographic heads.  And the very best method to find these answer is a map, preferably one with county names, because, as we all know, genealogy is all about the counties.

For those looking for county maps, have I got a tool for you!

The Red Book

The Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources (yes, the color of the book is red) edited by Alice Eichholz, published by Ancestry, should be a staple resource in every genealogist’s library.  In sum, it is where to find any resource.  If you’re looking for military, church, vital records, maps, land or probate records, or even some background on the area, this is the source for you.  It is packed full of the best sources and respositories to find anything you’re looking for to answer a genealogy question.  The book is organized alphabetically by state.  If you want information on Missouri resources, you can simply open to Missouri chapter at the end of the “M” states.  Among the many references within each state-chapter, you’ll find a table of counties, when they were founded, if the county is a child of another county, and most importantly – when the county started keeping records by record type.  When did they start keeping birth, death, marriage, land, probate and court records!  It makes quick work of what would otherwise be a painfully tedious process of record discovery.

The County Maps inThe Red Book

One of the best resources within The Red Book are the county maps.  For each state you willl find a clean, clear, black & white, perfect-for-duplication, state map with each county clearly marked.  NOTE: this county map reflects the counties as they are today.  For more on the changing county boundaries, you’ll want to consult the table mentioned above or other resources the breakdown of county (and state) lines over time.  Nonetheless, the contemporary county map affords us a wonderful tool to identify county locations, county proximities to cities, other counties, landmarks, nearby states and much more.  I was recently looking at a family that came from Wayne County, Kentucky, and moved to Tennessee.  What could have seemed like a huge migration from one state to another was put in perspective with the aid of the map.  Wayne County, Kentucky is on the Tennessee border!!  The family could have moved just a couple miles and changed counties and states! (see above)

But wait, it gets better!  Digital maps.

The Red Book, with its wonderful county maps, is available online – for free – on Ancestry.  That’s right, you don’t have to subscribe to Ancestry to have access to this wonderful tool.  Check it out here.  Further, within the digital version of the book are digital versions of the county maps.  You can right click on the map, choose “save as,” name the file whatever you want, and choose a location on you computer to save it, then hit “save.”  You’ve just added a perfect county map to you ancestor’s story to help tell the tale.

For those interested in a map that tells an even more personal story, you can open your new digital map in Microsoft Paint (a free accessory program that comes with any Microsoft Office package), and mark up the map.  You can highlight counties, draw migration routes, color-code families and their locations.  I used a map like this to eliminate possible ancestors based on location.  I had several “John Browns” that could be the ancestor in question, but they were scattered across the state.  Mapping which counties they were in and looking a their locations relative to the rest of the family helped me eliminate options and shorten the research process.

A Quick Note About Copyright

You may be concerned that I’m advocating breaching copyright rules in using these maps.  I’m not a copyright attorney, but I believe the intent of a copyright is to prohibit the profiting off of another’s copyrighted work.  As long as you don’t claim these maps as your own product and publish them in your manifesto for sale on family history, I think you’re fine.  Go ahead and use them for supporting documentation.  I think the authors would be pleased.

In Summary –

It only takes a few minutes to go online or pop open The Red Book to find answers and save yourself countless hours of frustration in knowing where your ancestors were.  So take the time, pull up the map, save it in your family archives.  You’ll be glad you took the extra step to tell their story geographically as well as genealogically.

And you?

Have you used county maps before?  What did they tell you about your ancestors’ lives?

Happy Researching.

Investigating a Family Legend with Ancestor Timelines

March 1, 2012 at 2:19 am | Posted in Genealogy Research Strategies | Leave a comment
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Frank Watson & William Allen White

Do you have a family legend that you’ve always wanted to get to the bottom of?  I think that’s one of the best parts of genealogy.  It’s the detective work unpacking fact from fiction among the family stories that we all carry forward.  Was grandpa a bootlegger?  How did that family make their fortune?  Did our family encounter the Indians on the frontier?  Did we cross paths with a famous person?

We all love shaking the family tree to see what falls out.

One tool I’ve found indispensible in researching my ancestors and even shining light on a family legend is timelines.  The reason timelines prove so helpful is that they can clearly outline – and in my ancestor’s case – contrast time and place for two persons, making the conclusion pretty clear.

Let me show you what I mean.

The Legend of William Allen White

One of the many family stories I heard growing up was that my great grandfather, Frank Watson (b. 1864, MA, d. 1954, KS) worked for, or specifically set type for, William Allen White, the famed newspaper publisher and activist.  Wouldn’t that be neat if ggranpa Frank played a role – no matter how small – in the work of this historic American figure?  The story is all the more exciting because my father was a career printer, maybe following in the footsteps of ggrandpa, Frank.

Research Road Traveled

Step 1. Outline the Ancestor’s Life

Long before resolving the William Allen White legend, I dutifully built a fairly detailed timeline of Frank Watson’s personal history which included: 1)  how and when he came to Kansas, 2) where he married, 3) his employment and birth of children in Atchison, Kansas, 4) the migration to Wichita, Kansas, his employment history, and church involvement there, and finally 5) his death in Wichita.  With his personal story in hand, I could turn to investigating the family legend.

Step 2. Make a Plausible Hypothesis

When Frank Watson’s timeline was complete I knew Frank worked at a newspaper in Atchison, so he was in the right professional field for at least some of his life to make the legend plausible.  He lived in Atchison and Wichita, which although they aren’t Emporia, where William Allen White lived and worked, they were close.  And I had a five year gap in Frank’s story, that made a “layover” in Emporia between Atchison and Wichita possible.  So, with a handful of hope, and a few loosely tied together facts, I had a working theory that my ancestor, Frank, could have worked for William Allen White.  The legend could be true.

Step 3. Paint a Timeline of the Historic Figure

At this point, I have a pretty good handle on my ancestor’s life timeline, but only a vague knowledge of where and when William Allen White lived.  So my next step was to create a timeline of Mr. White’s life, which honestly, was pretty easy. A quick visit to Wikipedia, an online general knowledge encyclopedia, gave me the basic dates and facts about William Allen White.  He was born in Emporia, Kansas, briefly lived in ElDorado, Kansas, then returned to Emporia, where he spent the rest of his life.  So his migration map – and opportunity to encounter my ancestor – was pretty limited to Emporia and/or ElDorado.

The Emporia Gazette, according to the Kansas State Historical Society, was published from 1890 to 1900.  Mr. White purchased the Emporia Gazette in 1895 and owned it for the next five years.  (This would prove to be the critical piece of information in solving the legend.) Beyond the information found in Wikipedia, a quick search on Ancestry, brought up many, many US and state census records, passport records and passenger records (Mr. White sure traveled a lot!).  Combined, these records painted a pretty clear picture of a life primarily spent in Emporia, Kansas.

Here are the highlights of Mr. White’s migration map from these records –

  • Date – Location – Source
  • 1870 – ElDorado – US Census
  • 1880 – ElDorado – US Census
  • 1890 – 1899 – Emporia – Gazette Owner – Wikipedia
  • 1905 – Emporia – KS Census
  • 1910 – Emporia – US Census
  • 1915 – Emporia – KS Census
  • 1918 – Emporia – Passport Application
  • 1920 – Emporia – US Census
  • 1925 – Emporia – Passenger Log
  • 1930 – Emporia – US Census

Step 4. Contrast the Timelines of the Two Key Players

The last step is simply to put the two timelines together and see what they say.  You can see the spreadsheet I crafted with the relevant slice of time for both men’s stories above.  For Frank Watson to have worked for William Allen White, he would have had to do so at the Emporia Gazette.  Mr. White owned the Gazette from 1890 to 1899.  At which time, Frank Watson was married, living in Atchison, and working at the Atchison Globe.  Unless Frank Watson freelanced, moonlighted, or worked on a special assignment for the Emporia Gazette while at the Atchison Globe, that at this point isn’t evident, it is not probable that he worked for William Allen White.  The two timelines simply don’t agree. If you’re wondering about the gap in the Frank Watson timeline between Atchison and Wichita that was a possible basis for this theory, the gap proved to be long after the time in which Mr. White owned the Gazette. 

In Conclusion –

Although I didn’t prove the family legend to be true, I feel assured, that my deduction was based on real historical facts, some sound analysis, and good old fashioned genealogy sleuthing.  Sure, I’m sorry I don’t have the story to add to my tree, but Frank’s story is good enough as it is.  Each of our stories is good enough.

How about you?

Have you used a timeline?  What have you done to chase down a family legend?  Did you prove it or disprove it?  Let me know your stories.

In the meantime, Happy Researching.

Post Script

I shared this story with the Johnson County (KS) Genealogy Society this week.  After the class, an industrious genealogist looked up William Allen White’s biography.  It seems that in 1886, he had “long and extended conversations” with the Atchison Globe.  Humm….

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