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# Monday, April 16, 2012
Tips From My First Courthouse Research
Posted by Diane

This post would be more exciting if my courthouse research last week (right before I womanned our Family Tree Magazine booth at the Ohio Genealogical Society conference in Cleveland) had panned out.

But it was kind of a bust, genealogically speaking—no new information and some red tape.

I did learn a few things about courthouse research, though. If that’s what’s on your genealogy to-do list, these tips might help:

1. Ask a local. Cleveland genealogist and Family Tree University instructor Diana Crisman Smith gave me the lowdown on the Cuyahoga County courthouse, parking and other details. If you don't know someone knowledgeable about the place you’re headed, see if the local genealogical society has an online message board.

2. Have backup parking plans. The parking garage was full, so I drove around downtown and finally snagged the last space in a surface lot. Smaller towns might not have the same issues.

3. Be as prepared as possible. The Cuyahoga County probate court has an online docket you can search to find the case file numbers you need.

Other ways to be prepared: Call ahead and make sure there isn't a furlough day or special holiday on the day you plan to go. See if there are any restrictions on what you can bring (such as pens or backpacks). Bring cash for parking, copy fees and other expenses.

3. Don't be afraid to ask. I'm sure things work differently in every courthouse, but there was a procedure here. And there was no hand-holding, so I had to ask. I was told to write the case number on a request card for a clerk to retrieve the file. But for my relatively recent probate files (1980s and 90s), I was to use the computers to get microfilm numbers, then pull the film.

I thought all the microfilm readers were equally bad, but I should have asked about that too—a clerk walked by and showed me a better reader. Because the computerized docket didn't extend back as far as my great-grandfather's death, I had to ask about any earlier files, too (and unfortunately, I found out the court didn’t have anything for him).

4. Keep a smile on your face. Even if you think you’re bugging someone with your questions, a smile increases your chances of getting the help you need (as does a succinctly worded question).

5. Bring a camera. There was no place to photocopy the microfilmed records, so I photographed the reader’s screen with my cell phone.

I don't have a tip for this situation: The file I most wanted to look for, a 1924 commitment hearing for my great-grandmother to the Cleveland State Hospital, was confidential—if it exists. Disappointing.

I politely asked enough questions (is it possible to request a search just to see if there’s a file? how long are the records closed? what's the law declaring them closed? what's the procedure for having a file opened?) that I got to speak with a magistrate. He complimented my interest in genealogy, asked about my family history, and said that if the record exists—and chances are slim—the only way to have it opened would be a change in the law.

In the excellent book Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret, journalist Steve Luxenberg describes his quest to uncover 1940s-era institutional records in Michigan for an aunt he’d only recently learned he had. I don't think I want to let this drop quite yet, but I'm also not sure I'm ready for a struggle like Luxenberg's. I'll dig a little and maybe be able to offer tips in the future.

Get Family Tree Magazine's guide to courthouse research, a $4 download, from ShopFamilyTree.com.


court records
Monday, April 16, 2012 1:51:05 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Thursday, April 12, 2012
Free WWII, French Canadian Records
Posted by Diane

Free access is coming to two records collections:

The Fold3 (formerly Footnote) World War II Collection is free through April 30. Records include Old Man's Draft Registrations (so-called because men ages 43 to 62 had to register), Missing Air Crew Reports, European Theater Army Reports, photos and more.

Ancestry.ca, the Canadian sister site to Ancestry.com, is offering free access to French Canadian records from April 17 through 22. Collections include the Drouin database of 37 million names in baptism, marriage and burial recordsfrom Quebec; the Tanguay collection on French-Canadian families; plus church records from Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and New England.

Thursday, April 12, 2012 4:11:09 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Tuesday, April 10, 2012
1940 Census Update
Posted by Diane

  • Ancestry.com: Record images for all US states and territories are available free, as are searchable name indexes for Delaware and Nevada. An index for Washington, DC, is coming soon.
  • FamilySearch: Available record images are Alabama, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington

You can use the map at FamilySearch's 1940 census site to see the indexing progress of the 1940 Census Community Project. The darker the state, the more records volunteers have indexed. The completed indexes will become searchable free on FamilySearch, as well as its commercial partners Archives.com and FindMyPast.com.

The 1940 census record images also are available on FamilyLink.com, which MyHeritage purchased last year. You'll need to register for a free account on the site (if you don't already have an account there) to view the records.

  • National Archives: Records for all states and territories are available here for free.

Ancestry.com | census records | FamilySearch | MyHeritage | NARA
Tuesday, April 10, 2012 4:39:02 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
Titanic 100th Anniversary: Genealogical and Historical Resources
Posted by Diane

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Four days into her maiden Atlantic crossing, at 11:40 pm on April 14, the ship collided with an iceberg. She sank less than three hours later. Of the 2,223 passengers and crew on board, 1,517 died.

The 705 survivors were taken aboard the Carpathia, which docked in New York City April 18. (I've seen sources numbering survivors anywhere from 700 to 710, but I most often found 705.)

Several parts of the world are observing the anniversary: Belfast, where Titanic was constructed; Southampton, England, whence she departed and home to most of her crew; Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the dead were transported and 150 victims rest; and the United States, where the ship was to dock in New York.

This is a great time to learn more about the Titanic and those on board, especially if a passenger or crew member is on your family tree. These are some of our favorite Titanic genealogy and history resources:

  • Encyclopedia Titanica: Find lists of victims and survivors, crew, deck plans, research articles and more.

  • Partial Manifest of Titanic Survivors: These manifests, completed on the Carpathia, name survivors from second- and third-class cabins.

  • Sinking the Myths: Get the truth behind Titanic legends, including the “unsinkable” claim.

  • RMS Titanic: The companion website to traveling artifact exhibitions is from the company that has conducted seven research expeditions to the site of the disaster.

  • Sinking of the RMS Titanic: Get a play-by-play of the disaster, including iceberg warnings that never made it to Titanic’s bridge.

  • Titanic in Nova Scotia: Read about passenger burials in three Halifax cemeteries.

  • Titanic Stories: Learn about the ship’s construction in Belfast.

  • Ancestry.com RMS Titanic records: This subscription sites have added Titanic fatality reports from the Halifax Coroner, a Titanic graves list, Titanic outward passengers, deaths at sea, and crew records. Better yet, the Titanic records are free through April 15.

  • FindMyPast.co.uk Titanic records: This British subscription/pay-per-view site recently published a collection of maritime birth, marriage and death records, which name Titanic crew members and passengers who died at sea. Also new are the White Star Line officers' books containing service records of officers and commanders on the Titanic and other White Star Line vessels.


Ancestry.com | Free Databases | Genealogy Web Sites | immigration records | NARA | Social History | UK and Irish roots
Tuesday, April 10, 2012 8:50:00 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
Direct Me NYC Helps You Find New Yorkers in the 1940 Census
Posted by Diane

The New York Public Library (NYPL) has developed an online tool to help you find New York City relatives in the 1940 census and find out more (or share what you know) about the places they lived.

Reading about it makes me wish I had family in New York City in 1940.

At the Direct Me NYC site, you can look up relatives by last name in digitized 1940 New York City phone books.

Then once you have the person's address, you can enter it into a search field to find the census enumeration district (ED) number. Clicking the ED links you to the census records on the National Archives 1940 Census site.

In addition, Direct Me NYC pins the address to both a 1940 map and a contemporary map, so you can see how the area has changed. You also can attach a note to the pin, such as memories, names of those who lived there, what the neighborhood was like, or questions for other researchers. Such a neat tool!

"As people use the site, we’ll build a cultural map of New York in 1940 that will assist both professional historians and laypeople alike," says NYPL spokesperson Kate Stober.


census records | Libraries and Archives | Research Tips | Social Networking
Tuesday, April 10, 2012 8:38:51 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, April 09, 2012
Ancestry.com to Release AncestryDNA Autosomal DNA Test
Posted by Diane

Before the 1940 census came out, genealogists on Facebook were buzzing about a new DNA test Ancestry.com has been teasing but hasn't yet released.

Blaine Bettinger, who shares his expertise on on using genetic genealogy for family history research on his The Genetic Genealogist blog, tried out the new test for Family Tree Magazine. In this guest post, he explains what it can do for your family tree:

With each year, it seems, genealogists get new tools for examining their family trees. 2012 has already given us the 1940 census to spend countless hours with, and now Ancestry.com plans to launch a new autosomal DNA test, AncestryDNA, later this year.

Autosomal DNA tests examine thousands of locations throughout your genome, and that information is used to estimate the percentage of the genome that's derived from regions around the world (called "admixture"). Test results also can help you identify genetic cousins by comparing your DNA to all other DNA in the company’s database.

AncestryDNA offers both admixture and matching, which they call “Genetic Ethnicity” and “Member DNA Matches:”

  • Genetic Ethnicity: This calculation is based on roughly 22 populations around the world from proprietary and public databases, with more likely to be added.

  • Member DNA Matches: This tool shows the individuals with whom you share DNA through a common ancestor. You also receive an estimate of the predicted relationship range (such as third cousin, fourth cousin). This tool also offers what I believe is the most interesting aspect of the AncestryDNA test: the automatic comparison of matches’ family trees.

    In other words, if John Doe and I share DNA, AncestryDNA will compare my family tree to his (if he has a public tree on Ancestry.com) to determine whether any surnames or even individuals overlap. If there are overlaps, both users will be notified.

    As someone who's spent many hours comparing family trees looking for common ancestors with genetic cousins, I believe this tool will prove to be very useful.

AncestryDNA is currently in beta and isn't yet available for purchase. No pricing information is available yet.

Disclaimer: This information is based on the beta version of the AncestryDNA test. Accordingly, results and features are subject to change before the full launch of the test. Further, I received a complimentary test from Ancestry.com in order to evaluate the product.


Ancestry.com | Genetic Genealogy
Monday, April 09, 2012 9:59:16 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [7]
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Edie Falco
Posted by Diane

Actress Edie Falco straightened out some family stories on Friday's "Who Do You Think You Are?"

Her mom's cousin had made a family tree with Falco's great-grandfather George Megrath born in Wales; it said George's mother left his father there and took her son to America. Megrath was his mother's surname; his father's surname was Brown.

But at the New York Public Library, censuses show George was born in Wisconsin, with his father from England and mother from New York. Falco compares family stories being passed down to a game of telephone, in which the details get altered with every retelling.

Charles Brown was the "shadowy figure" referred to in episode promos. When an archivist at the Milwaukee County Historical Society helps Falco find "CC Brown" in an 1875 Minnesota census, Falco wisely asks "We don't know for sure this is him?" Brown is a common name.

But the archivist had done additional research in local histories to confirm it was the right man. Turned out he was a newspaper man who married and divorced several times.

Charles mother was a "Sister Katherine Brown," born "at sea" to a sea captain father based in Penzance in Cornwall, England. Unless I missed it, the show never did explain whether she became a nun or how the "sister" became part of her name.

My favorite part about this episode was Falco's search to figure out the truth about family stories. Here telephone game analogy is so true. You can watch it online at the "Who DO You Think You Are?" website.

This deleted scene shows more about another ancestral divorce in Falco's family:



Monday, April 09, 2012 9:29:31 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
"Finding Your Roots": Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon
Posted by Diane

On last night's "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr." Gates revealed the roots of Hollywood couple Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick. (You'll be able to catch it online if you missed it.)

I was relieved to learn at the very beginning of that Kevin Bacon's caveman hair is for a movie role. Wondering about it would've been distracting.

Both come from distinguished New England families. A few years back I read the book In My Blood: Six Generations of Madness and Desire in an American Family by Sedgwick's uncle John Sedgwick. I was glad to see him interviewed for this episode, and unsure what work the show's researchers would have left to do.

But they did discover something new: Family patriarch Theodore Sedgwick, a prominent lawyer in Colonial Massachusetts, owned a slave. This was surprising because he took on the case of a slave named Mumbet who sued for her own freedom, claiming that the new Massachusetts constitution made all men free—and she won.

Kevin Bacon's Quaker ancestor also owned slaves, though Gates pointed out that at least his will directed they should learn to read and be freed at age 35.

Gates' visit to a high school classroom demonstrated how little-known it is that slavery was so widespread in the northern colonies. I didn't realize that Quakers hotly debated the issue of slavery before setting themselves against it.

Sedgwick also took a DNA test revealing that she is half Jewish, and she seemed to express relief. But at the beginning of the show, she was described as half Jewish through her mother, so I didn't understand that emotion—perhaps some explanatory scenes were edited out.

And the big drumroll: Gates revealed to the couple that they're ninth cousins once removed (which is very, very distant). Even without the news reports coming out before the show, I would've seen this one coming a mile away, as soon as Sedgwick said at the start of the episode "My biggest fear is that we're cousins."


Celebrity Roots
Monday, April 09, 2012 8:52:53 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, April 06, 2012
ShopFamilyTree.com Maintenance
Posted by Diane

Just a quick housekeeping note to let you know ShopFamilyTree.com is undergoing scheduled maintenance and may be unavailable for a brief period. If you visit ShopFamilyTree.com and aren't able to find the genealogy how-to product you need, please wait a short time and try again. Thank you!


ShopFamilyTree.com Sales
Friday, April 06, 2012 3:30:55 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
1940 Census Status Update: PM Edition
Posted by Diane

Ancestry.com: Record images for all US states and territories are available, as are searchable name indexes for Delaware and Nevada.

FamilySearch: Available record images are:

  • Alabama
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • New Hampshire
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Virginia

MyHeritage: Records for all states and territories are available now, as is an index to Bristol County, RI

National Archives: Records for all states and territories are available.

Check ShopFamilyTree.com for books, article downloads, online classes and CDs on how to research your genealogy in census records. Enjoy looking for your 1940 ancestors this weekend!


Ancestry.com | census records | FamilySearch | MyHeritage | NARA
Friday, April 06, 2012 3:26:37 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]