Using Alternative Census Databases When Stumped by

August 2, 2012 at 9:25 am | Posted in Genealogy Research Strategies, Genealogy Websites | Leave a comment
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The digital age has been an unquestionable boon to genealogy.  So many records are found so much easier.  However, it has pushed genealogists to learn how to “work” a database to find what we’re looking for.  And it’s not always easy. – the 10 billion record and county genealogy repository – is without question the first reach source for census records.  But as good as it is, there is still the human element in getting the information from household to census taker and from census record to indexer to overcome.  Learning and mastering ways to crack their database of census records can prove quite challenging.

The Alternative

I often talk about the other sources for census records in my classes because they are simply another tool to find those elusive ancestors, when you don’t first succeed with

This truism played out in real time for me recently when looking for Pietro Cevetti.  Pietro Cervetti immigrated from Italy and settled in Polk County, IA.  As may be more familiar to most of us, Polk County is the home of DesMoines.  I knew from other records that Pietro probably was in Polk County, IA in 1920.  He had a child there in 1919 and again in 1922, and registered for the WWI draft in Polk County in 1918.

But try as I might with every trick I had, I could not find him in the 1920 Census on  I was certain the challenge boiled down to a translation or transcription issue.

I turned to Heritage Quest for a solution.  Heritage Quest is a free online database with US Census records up to 1930 (partial for 1930) available exclusively through libraries and other institutions.  (Midwest Genealogy Center has a subscription.)  You can access it if you have a library card to this institution either onsite at the library or remotely at home.

What Makes Heritage Quest Awesome

It uses a different type of database than  Both repositories are good.  Both have their place.  But you can do things in Heritage Quest that you can’t do in Ancestry.  Things like sort the results page by age, location, birthplace or name.  And things like see the count of how many people fit your search criteria by county for that state.  For example, I can search for all Italian born people living in Iowa in 1920.  The results will tell me that there are 911 in Polk County, IA,  and only 126 in the next most dense county of Webster.  All of this to say there are a number of ways you can look at the data to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Pietro Cervetti

I found Pietro not by looking for either his first or last name in the search.  I didn’t even try looking for anyone named “Peter” in Iowa.  Instead I looked for all of the Italian-born residents living in Polk County, IA in 1920.  And as I mentioned there are 911.  To narrow that down I looked at the results list only for those last names that started with “C”.

This is what I saw:

Pietro Cervetti - 1920 US Census for Iowa - Index

Pietro Cervetti – 1920 US Census for Iowa – Index

“Peter Charvich” seemed to fit the description of the person I was looking for.  There is NO way I could have found that name by playing with the spelling variations of “Cervetti.”  And this is exactly why I hit a brick wall searching in for him.  But this was indeed “Pietro Cervetti.”  The listing matched dates, locations, and family members consistent with what I knew about him.

Transcription Error?

You may be wondering how he came to be listed in the census as “Peter Charvich.”  Was it a translation or a transcription error?

Pietro Cervetti - 1920 US Census for Iowa

Pietro Cervetti – 1920 US Census for Iowa

Can you see the name for the head of household in the above image?  The name was written, then written over by the census taker, who was trying to correct the spelling or make the letters clearer.  As a result the name became virtually illegible.  As a transcriber I would have NEVER gotten “Cervetti” out of that.

Fortunately, with a little creative searching and a little known tool like Heritage Quest, the family was found in 1920 in Polk County, IA, just where they were expected.

Here’s to creative search techniques!

Happy Researching.


Revolutionary War Genealogy Websites

August 2, 2012 at 12:57 am | Posted in American Military Genealogy Resources, Genealogy Websites, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Family Tree Magazine has published a wealth of articles on Revolutionary War Genealogy Research.  Now one writer for Family Tree Magazine has compiled a wonderful list of the articles and linked the reader to them.

The articles focus on websites, so many of them are lists of Revolutionary War websites.  Some focus on one group – Loyalists or Hessians.  And some focus on where to find and access the records.

It’s a great list, well worth the time to investigate.

Check it out here.

Happy Researching

How to Access Kansas Historical Newspapers Online

July 7, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Posted in Genealogy Websites | Leave a comment
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Recently I wrote about the amazing newspaper search service that The Historical Society of Missouri offers.  In an attempt to offer equal time to my home state, Kansas, I should let you know about the really cool project they have undertaken to make Kansas newspapers readily accessible.

In 2009 the Kansas State Historical Society (KSHS), Topeka, KS, received a $260,004 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress to digitize their newspaper archives.

What you need to know is that KSHS has the preeminent newspaper collection for the state of Kansas.  They have nearly every page of every paper ever published in the state of Kansas.  It’s amazing.  Their devotion to capturing this archive started with the founder, who was a newspaper man himself, and continues on today.

Now this tremendous archive is being digitized and made available on the Internet through the Chronicling of America Project of the Library of Congress.  Accessible now are a mere 100,000 historic Kansas newspaper pages!  Plenty enough material for a good Sunday morning read with a cup of coffee.

In 2011, KSHS received additional funding to digitize another 100,000 pages.  I know I’ll be watching the website for more good things to come.

For a list of papers already digitized, those scheduled to be digitized, and a spiffy interactive map of towns with digitized newspapers enumerated visit here.

Happy researching…and pass the Danish & coffee.

Found: Missouri Newspaper Article

June 25, 2012 at 2:52 am | Posted in Genealogy Research Strategies, Genealogy Websites | Leave a comment
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Recently, I blogged about How to Obtain Missouri Newspaper Articles.  I stumbled upon this resource when looking for the answers to the untimely deaths of Catherine Vanderstay Gerling and Wilhelm Gerling, her son, in Weston, MO in 1867.

I was hoping the State Archives would find an obituary that would explain the cause of the deaths.  They didn’t find any obituaries, but undaunted they kept searching, and found something just about as good – something I would have never thought to look for.

A News Story

In the Reveillie, the Platte City Newspaper, on August 23rd – the week after their deaths – there was a very brief news story.  It doesn’t mention Catherine and Wilhelm by name, but it says two persons in Weston died the prior week from Cholera.  It must be them.

Reveille Newspaper Article on the Gerlings

Reveille Newspaper Article on the Gerlings

The Lesson Learned

My take-away from this experience is to keep my eyes, ears, and options open in my searches beyond my stated objective.  I don’t know that if I were the one searching I wouldn’t have stopped several times prior to getting this article – first when there wasn’t a paper in Weston available, and second when I didn’t find an obituary.  But the PROs at the State Archives knew better and found this wonderful treasure.

Rest in peace Catherine and Wilhelm.

Happy researching to the rest of us!

How to Obtain Articles from Missouri Newspapers

June 15, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Posted in Genealogy Resources, Genealogy Websites | 5 Comments
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I like to share with you new genealogy resource finds under the self-delusion that I’m the only one that has discovered this resource.  I realize that isn’t true, but I like sharing none the less.

While researching my Platte County, Missouri family, I came across The State Historical Society of Missouri website.  In Columbia, they are the holders of non-government, non-bureaucratic records for the State of Missouri.  This would include manuscripts, artwork, photographs, and newspapers.  This would be contrasted with the State Archives in Jefferson City, which holds the military records and legislative records among other things.

I’m writing today specifically about the newspaper collection for two reasons, 1) newspapers hold a wealth of information – stories, birth, death, and other life-event notices, 2) newspapers are hard to find.  Because of the size of any collection local – even big local – libraries and archives don’t attempt to manage such a collection.

So, the State Historical Society of Missouri has the primary collection of Missouri newspapers for towns big and small and for papers current and extinct.  Like many archives of newspapers the have a growing digitization project and have a very respectable collection online.  You can access the collection of digitized newspapers here, where among other things they have a Missouri county map identifying digitized papers by county.  Isn’t that just too cool?

But the neatest thing I found is their newspaper article request service.  If you, like me, are looking for any article such as an obituary or death notice or maybe your ancestor was involved in a newsworthy event, you can fill out the online form and for $10 the Society will look up the article and mail a copy to you.  Is that too easy or what?  You don’t even need to know the newspaper.  Just a date or date estimate, a location, and some description of the article or type of subject you are researching.  And they can go to town.  The look up service takes about 2 weeks, and they ask that you request one article at a time and wait for your first result before asking for another.  I can see the reasoning there.  It’s kind of like getting stuck behind the person with two filled grocery carts at the store.  You don’t want to be the person “next in line” behind the person who’s asked for 20 articles.  So the service one article at a time.  Seems very fair to me.  You can access the online request form here.

So, next time you’re looking for an ancestor who died, but you can’t find a headstone or funeral record, order the obit from the State of Missouri Historical Society.  Or if you’re wondering if two ancestors really did get married, order the marriage announcement in the local newspaper.  And if you really want to know if the murder-suicide made front page headlines in the town currior, send $10 to the Historical Society.

Your answers are just a mail box away.

Happy researching.

Video on the Bureau of Land Management Website

June 11, 2012 at 3:54 am | Posted in Genealogy Websites | Leave a comment

Did your ancestor make the first purchase of land as he or she moved West?  Were they the first to own land, previously held by the Native Americans?  Did they receive Bounty Land or land through the Homestead Act?  Did they receive a Patent for their land?

If so, you may be able to download for FREE the actual patent (title/deed) for their land from the Bureau of Land Management website.  This organization and website is one of the many unsung heroes of genealogy archives.  Once you have the Patent, you can order the Land Entry Files (their application papers) from the National Archives.

To learn more about the site and how to access the records, watch my new video.  You can access it here.

Happy Researching. – 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 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 – 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
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

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 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…

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