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<2016 December>

More Links

# Thursday, 01 December 2016
Are You Missing the Best Genealogy Websites for Finding U.S. Ancestors?
Posted by Diane

David Rumsey Historical Maps

We published our annual list of 75 top US state genealogy websites in the December 2016 Family Tree Magazine (you can see the list right here).

These state-focused genealogy websites stand out for their digitized historical records, searchable indexes to vital and other records, and how-to advice.

But our list is just a starting point. There are many more state-focused genealogy websites to mine as you research American ancestors. Nonprofit and government sites don't have a lot of money to market themselves, so it's easy for them to slip under a genealogist's radar. Here are five types of state-focused genealogy websites you should look for in every state where your ancestors lived:

State Archive
Google a state and "state archive" to find the website for the state archive, which usually manages records created by the state (such as state censuses and adjutant general records), may archive old county records, and often collects newspapers, city directories, federal censuses and other records that cover citizens of the state.

On the website, look for:
  • an overview of genealogy-related holdings
  • links to digital collections
  • tips on research topics of interest to you, such as vital records or burned counties
  • a catalog of holdings you can search for your ancestor's town and county, as well as other terms, for a list of records that might cover your clan
  • locations, hours and visitor information
  • a "research services" or similar link to see if you can borrow items through interlibrary loan or pay for an archivist's research time
  • links to genealogy resources for more websites to check or guides to consult
State Historical Society
Search for the name of a state and "historical society." Some historical societies are affiliated with the state government (in Ohio, the state archive is part of the state historical society, called Ohio History Connection), and some are independent membership organizations. Look for the same features as on a state archives website.

State Library
Search for the name of the state and "state library." The state library may or may not be part of the archive (as for the Texas State Library and Archive), and it may or may not hold genealogical materials. Indiana's State Library has a description of its genealogy holdings here. Look for the same features as on a state archives website.

Digital Library or Memory Project
Search for the name of the state and memory or "digital library." Many states have online memory collections with old photos, maps, yearbooks and other digitized records contributed by organizations and individuals around the state. Check out Florida Memory here.

Digitized Newspapers Site
Search for the name of the state and historical (or historic) newspapers. Some state libraries, archives or historical societies run websites where you can search and view digitized newspapers. The Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection is here; Utah Digital Newspapers is here.

Stop in for research guides, webinars and video classes for doing genealogy and discovering your ancestry in every state in the USA.

Genealogy Web Sites | Libraries and Archives | Research Tips
Thursday, 01 December 2016 15:13:01 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, 25 November 2016
What Gift Would You Buy Your Ancestor On Black Friday?
Posted by Diane

Today's prompt for Family Tree Magazine's 30-Day Family History Writing Challenge is:
In honor of Black Friday, review resources like the Sears Catalog and “buy” three Christmas presents for an ancestor. Why did you choose them?
I'm going to cheat and skip the Sears Wish Book and choose one gift, because it's allowed and because I know EXACTLY what I want to buy an ancestor—my grandfather—for Christmas.

A pig.

Library of Congress

To be more specific, a sow.

If you want to know why, you have to promise not to tell my dad what he's getting for Christmas.

Thank you.

Snooping in Dad's papers while putting together a book about his dad, I found an essay my grandfather wrote about going to high school at a Texas children's home.

In Grandpa's sophomore year, the animal husbandry students had to acquire and raise a farm animal.

My grandfather spent $75 on a registered sow. He didn't say whether the school provided funds. That would be quite a sum for a high school student today, let alone for a boy in 1919 with no family support.

Unfortunately, the pig fell victim to hog cholera, also called classic swine fever. This virus (now eradicated in the United States) is usually fatal within 15 days. Grandpa's sow died not long after he bought her.

"In the short space of time," wrote my grandfather, "I had grown to like my sow so much that when she died, I cried as if she were my sister."

Library of Congress

I never met my grandfather. What I know of his personality comes from my research, relatives, and my dad. The same dad, a mechanical engineer, who taught me to sweep the kitchen floor in straight lines, following the pattern in the linoleum to ensure thorough coverage. Other than getting worked up at the occasional soccer game, he's pretty stoic.

I get the feeling Dad comes by it honestly. Another of his dad's essays, titled "Studying," includes the recommendations "Each lesson in every course should be allotted a certain time and studied a certain day," and "In going over your lesson, study each sentence, and do not leave a difficult one until you are convinced you must have help to understand it."

My grandfather eventually became a civil engineer, one you'd be comfortable having build the bridges and large river dams you rely on to not fall over.

The orphanage he entered at age 11 wasn't the stereotypical miserable kind of place in Little Orphan Annie. Newspaper accounts describe a pleasant home, efficiently run, with children engaged in activities. My grandfather had friends and adults who cared about him. His brother and sister lived there for a time. So I could be wrong, but I can't help imagining him as a boy, putting on a brave face despite missing his mother terribly.

Great, now I'm going to cry.

Grandpa wrote that his junior year was when he decided to pursue engineering instead of agriculture. Maybe losing his pet played a role.

I have no idea how to buy someone a pig, but if I could go back a century to East Texas, I would make it happen.
saving and sharing family history | Social History
Friday, 25 November 2016 16:51:21 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, 21 November 2016
Sharing is Caring When It Comes to Family Photos
Posted by Diane

This week's post is from Vanessa Wieland, online editor for Family Tree University, with gratitude and credit to Sandra Mingua Stephens for the photos and the inspiration.

A week or so ago
my mother’s friend, Sandy, posted some pictures on Facebook. The first was of she and my mom and some other kids, arms flung around each other on a sidewalk. The image is quintessential 50s, but while the cars and the clothes have changed, the neighborhood - not so much. 

The second image she shared was of her father, my grandfather, and two of their other friends standing guard in uniforms, holding American and Kentucky state flags.

I grew up not just a few blocks from the street in the photo of my mom. In fact, both my dad and his mother grew up on the same street I did, and that was only a five-minute stroll from my grandparents on my mom’s side. My parents met because she lived next door to my dad’s best friend. 

I’m fortunate to have grown up in a neighborhood where friendships don’t just span decades - they span generations. My father's yearbook contains the same last names as mine and it's sometimes hard to tell the difference between census years. I'm certainly not complaining, though. It means I have a bunch of uncles and aunts, moms and dads, grandparents, siblings, and even a couple of nieces and nephews, even if they won't show up in my DNA matches. While it means that every trip to the grocery store becomes a family reunion of sorts, it also provides a lovely sense of security and community. 

Though they might not show up in my official family tree, they do contribute quite a lot to my family history. 
After all, who better to tell you stories about your mother’s childhood than her childhood best friend? Our parents’ friends can offer a unique perspective and set of memories that we might never get from them - plus, it’s really fun to gather them together and get them talking about the “good old days.” It certainly makes doing cluster searches a lot easier. 

Both images were new to me and they’re both fantastic. I’m grateful to have new sources and looks into the past. Why not take some time this week and share some old photos online? Believe me - you'll make someone's day.

Celebrating your heritage
Monday, 21 November 2016 16:24:25 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Thursday, 17 November 2016
FamilySearch Announces Property Brothers to Keynote 2017 RootsTech Conference
Posted by Diane

Madge Maril, associate editor of Family Tree Magazine, here with some exciting news: If you’re a fan of HGTV’s Property Brothers, you’ll be happy to hear that FamilySearch announced today that the two brothers, Jonathan and Drew Scott, will keynote the 2017 RootsTech conference.

RootsTech is the largest genealogy conferences in the world, aptly held in Salt Lake City, Utah. Organized by FamilySearch, RootsTech is sponsored by Ancestry, Find My Past, MyHeritage and other beloved genealogy websites and organizations. Former First Lady Laura Bush, New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler and many well-known genealogists like Lisa Alzo, Lisa Louise Cooke and Judy Russell have all been speakers at RootsTech.

Jonathan and Drew shot to fame as the stars of the reality TV show Property Brothers. The show consists of the brothers guiding homebuyers through the process of renovating old homes, all while sticking to a budget. Due to the success of Property Brothers, the two have starred in spin-offs like Brother vs Brother, Property Brothers at Home, Buying and Selling and Property Brothers At Home on The Ranch. So… why are they speaking at RootsTech?

RootsTech notes in their press release that “the brothers will talk about their unique family ties, and the can-do attitudes it fostered, their positive outlooks, and childhoods, their careers, their shared passions for buying and renovating property, and for the entertainment industry.”

While it’s possible they can’t tell difference between microfilm and microfiche, hearing about “unique family ties” may prove to be inspirational for many genealogists. After all, half of researching your family history is the family part. The two may also tie in their knowledge of antique and vintage homes, along with the playful rapport that has made them so well known.

Learn more about other speakers and purchase tickets for RootsTech 2017 on the official website.

Thursday, 17 November 2016 16:02:17 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Wednesday, 16 November 2016
30-Day Family History Writing Challenge: Day 15
Posted by Diane

November rolls on! We’re at the halfway point of our 30-Day Family History Writing Challenge, and guest editor Andrew Koch shares his response to today’s prompt in this guest post:

"Pick an ancestor from the 1800s, drop him into today, and (as your ancestor) write a letter to family members still in the 1800s. How would he describe today? What surprises him? What questions would he have?"

In this letter, my third great-grandfather, a 25-year-old clothing repairman named Henry Winter (1853–1926), writes to his wife, Isabella (1857–1894):

My dearest Isabella,

I’m writing to tell you of the most strange and marvelous adventure I’m having. I find myself in a new—and terrifying—world, full of people and inventions I’ve never even imagined.

Our city looks nothing like we know it. The buildings rise high into the sky, and I can hardly see the top without bending over backwards. The noises and smells are overwhelming…so many people, and so much movement. The streets are crowded with horseless coaches in all variety of colors and shapes, and people rush past each other without speaking to each other. Instead, they barely look up from their hands—Many of them carry strange devices that they speak into. I heard them called “sell fowns,” though it seems more than just salesmen carry them.

But what confounds me most are the people’s dress. Such indecency! Such scandal! Men strut through the streets in just a shirt and trousers, with garish ties and unshined shoes. And the women—why, they’re hardly dressed at all! Many wear men’s trousers, and some don only nightdresses as they go from place to place. And citizens of both sexes wear those new-fangled denim trousers—some with holes in them! You can imagine the fit my supervisor would have should he see how they are all dressed. You’d think they had never even heard of a clothing repairman!

I pray I will someday return to you and our familiar life and home.

I have the honor to be yours,


Follow along with our challenge on our website, and share your responses with us on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016 14:24:12 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Thursday, 10 November 2016
Free Online Access To Genealogy Websites for Veteran's Day
Posted by Diane

In honor of Veteran’s day, some genealogy websites grant free access to online military records as well as other genealogy resources.

Image via Library of Congress

This year you can browse Findmypast's military category free in honor of Veteran’s day. Their collection of more than 70 million military records will be available starting 04:00 EST November 10th and ending 18:59 GMT November 13th.

The category on Findmypast is called “Military, Armed Forces and Conflict,” and includes 43 million US and Canadian military records, 89,000 Revolutionary War Pensions, 1.3 US Army enlistment records and more.

Findmypast will also be hosting a free Remembrance Day webinar on November 11th at 11:00 EST. You can register for “Unpicking the past: revealing secrets in old military photographs” now.

FamilySearch is hosting a photo gallery of veterans for the holiday, submitted by users on the site. Reading through the stories of the veterans is a great way to celebrate.

As with any genealogy website that allows free access to honor holidays, may need to create a free basic registration with the site in order to view records, and downloading record images may be restricted.

Madge Maril is the editorial intern at Family Tree Magazine

Thursday, 10 November 2016 12:53:19 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, 07 November 2016
New! in Genetic Genealogy: MyHeritage DNA Autosomal Testing
Posted by Diane

MyHeritage today debuts MyHeritage DNA, an international, mass-market, home-testing autosomal DNA kit it says "is simple, affordable and will offer some of the best ethnicity reports in the world."

The $79 (plus shipping) kit includes a cheek swab to collect cells from the inside of your cheek. Testers mail the sample to the MyHeritage lab (located in the United States) for analysis, wait three to four weeks, and view results on the MyHeritage website.

This post includes a few screenshots of what results look like.

MyHeritage DNA Test Results
Results initially include ethnicity results, which map your ethnic origins, and DNA matches among other testers at MyHeritage DNA. Additional features are planned for the future.

Good news! When I asked whether a chromosome browser would be available, spokesperson Brandon Weinstock answered "Yes, sometime in the future."

DNA Matches & Family Trees

MyHeritage DNA match list

According to the press release, "MyHeritage provides its DNA customers with features not offered by most competing services including 23andMe, such as viewing family trees of the majority of their DNA Matches to pinpoint the connection path, and automatically identifying which surnames and geographical locations they have in common." Viewing family trees of matches will be free.

Until now, Ancestry DNA was the only service that combined DNA test results with test-takers' family trees, and test-takers on that site need an subscription to view their matches' trees.

DNA testers at MyHeritage DNA can add a family tree to the site and link it to their test results. MyHeritage trees are free for a limited size (250 people when I last looked); upgrading to a Premium or Premium Plus subscription lets you add more people and media storage.  

Illustration showing where a matching person might be on your family tree, based on the amount of shared DNA.

Ethnicity Results & Founder Population Project

Ethnicity map of your genetic origins

Ethnicity results currently can include 25 ethnicities, but MyHeritage expects to increase that number with its Founder Population Project, also unveiled today. "More than 5,000 participants have been hand-picked for this project by MyHeritage from its 85 million members, by virtue of their family trees exemplifying consistent ancestry from the same region or ethnicity for many generations."

Once the Founder's Project participants' DNA is analyzed over the next few months, MyHeritage will have a DNA data set for more than 100 ethnicities. By comparing this data to the DNA of new testers, MyHeritage will be able to provide testers with ethnicity results with greater resolution that what's currently available. When available, these improved ethnicity reports will be provided at no additional cost to current MyHeritage DNA customers.

What You Should Know
According to the site's Informed Consent agreement, MyHeritage testers can opt in to allowing their results and family tree data to be used for a study "intended to assist academics or researchers to better understand the human species, learn or confirm certain facts and make predictions about future trends."

MyHeritage DNA is integrated with the site's other services on its DNA and mobile platforms. A new, stand-alone mobile app called MyHeritage DNA also lets you explore your results.

If you've tested autosomal DNA with another service, such as Ancestry DNA, Family Tree DNA or 23andMe, you can add your results to your MyHeritage tree to find matches among the site's other members.

MyHeritage DNA is available in all major countries except France, Poland and Israel. Now that it has its own testing service, MyHeritage will no longer offer DNA tests from third-party companies.

Genetic Genealogy | MyHeritage
Monday, 07 November 2016 13:13:15 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Sunday, 06 November 2016
30-Day Family History Writing Challenge: Day 6
Posted by Diane

We're six days into the NaNoWriMo-inspired 30-Day Family History Writing Challenge.  Today's post is from guest editor, Vanessa Wieland, who writes in response to this prompt:

Select your favorite family photo, and write about the moments just before and/or after the photo was taken. Why was it taken? Was your ancestor happy to be in it?

This is a portrait of my great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Samuels. The occasion of this photo is presumably a happy one. According to the note on the back, it was taken on her 80th birthday. She seems to be listening here, perhaps to the photographer directing her to tilt her head just so and look over his shoulder. Perhaps she’s reflecting on her birthday plans. Was there a party? Perhaps the thought of cake is inspiring that smile.

My grandfather instilled in me an appreciation for my Welsh heritage, but seeing this photo was the first time I felt such a strong connection to an ancestor I’ve never met. As it turns out, I was born on my great-great grandmother’s birthday.

My grandfather mentioned loving her accent as a child, but he didn’t talk about her that much; his family stories tended to revolve far more around his Uncle Dan. Yet it’s her voice that echoes through them both in the strong sense of family she instilled in them - and through them, to my mother, my sister, and myself. 

When we first found this photo, it was as we were cleaning out the house of another of her descendants. The occasion was not a happy one; my mother’s cousin had passed and my grandfather was the closest living relative, so it fell to him - and us - to sift through a near-stranger’s belongings and tie up any loose ends.

Yet within those belongings, we found two items of note that my mother claimed; a cameo brooch and this photo. My mother found the brooch first and recalled seeing it as a child, but could not remember where. It wasn’t until a few days later that we came across this photo, and saw the same brooch pinned to Elizabeth’s blouse. The brooch was surprise enough, but even now, I'm struck by how much my mother looks like her.

I love this photo not just because I was born on her birthday, and a few decades after this photo was taken, but because the smile on her face seems to reflect a genuine contentment along with a sense of anticipation. I imagine her thinking, "I'm really looking forward to celebrating with my family, and a nice piece of cake."

Writing about your family history
Sunday, 06 November 2016 16:50:02 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Tuesday, 01 November 2016
30-Day Family History Writing Challenge: Day 1
Posted by Diane

Inspired by November's National Writing Month (known as NaNoWriMo online), the editors of Family Tree are kicking off the 30-Day Family History Writing Challenge.

Each day in November, we'll share a writing prompt on the front page of that will help you use your research in a new, creative way. We will also post the prompt on this page. Spend as much or as little time on each prompt as you can—after all, it's your family's story! You can also follow along on Facebook and Twitter, where you can share your writing with us and other genealogists.

For Day 1, the prompt is: Write a letter to an ancestor you've never met. Include questions you've always wanted to ask him or her, plus some that reflect what you've already learned about your ancestor (for example, "Do you enjoy your new job?" or "How are you coping with your father's death?").

Madge Maril, genealogy intern at Family Tree Magazine, wrote this letter to her Great-Grandfather:

Dear Harry Aaron Maril,

Your story is the one that began my lifelong interest in my genealogy. You were the Maril that was born in Europe but left in order to pursue a better life in America—or so the story goes. You and your wife Katherine bore one of my favorite people I have ever had the pleasure to know: my grandfather. Grandpa Bill was warm, loving, intelligent, kind, and most of all, absolutely hilarious with a sense of humor so dry it made you need a glass of water after talking to him.

Grandpa was always very shy about his upbringing, so I have so many questions about you. I know that growing up during the Great Depression was extremely hard on our family and that it was Great-Grandma Kate that urged her son to become a doctor in order to make a name for himself and generate some income. I’m still not sure exactly where you are even from, Harry! Where were you born?! In the 1915 Census, it’s marked that you were born in Germany. In the 1920 Census, it’s marked you were born in Russia. In the 1940 Census, it’s marked that you were born in Lithuania. Then, on your registration card, you wrote that you were born in “Alaes Lorine”, France.

The genealogists of the family think you may have been fibbing in order to cover up that you were German during the war. I think you spelled Alsace-Lorraine wrong on purpose, in a way to show you aren’t really from there at all… maybe as a clue to the future generations you knew would look into it. Which answers the question I’ve always had about where Grandpa Bill got his dry sense of humor.

Until you write back, I guess I’ll keep researching. I’m determined to figure out where your hometown is!

Your Great-Granddaughter,

Madge Maril

Genealogy fun
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 15:38:51 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
How to Learn What Your Ancestor's Life Was Really Like
Posted by Diane

Genealogists are increasingly interested in knowing not just their ancestors' names and important dates, but also what they did every day, where they went and what they saw. What their lives were really like

This will do (at least) two things for you:
  • It'll improve your research by helping you form theories about your ancestors' lives and figure out where to look for records. For example, learning about the history of German immigrants to your family's American hometown might help you see that the overwhelming majority came from a particular part of Germany. Maybe that's where your family came from, too.
  • It'll help you understand your family's story and put it together in a way that makes sense. This is an important step for writing your family history, as you'll learn in our Genealogist's Essential Writing Workshop (it starts online Nov. 7!). 
Here are a few ways you can step into the shoes of your ancestors and learn more about their everyday lives.

Go beyond basic records
My great-great-grandfather's 1923 estate inventory lists the contents of the family cigar store and home, helping me picture how the family lived.

The cigar business' 1880 industrial census detailed the number of employees (three men, two women), their wages (.50 to $1 per day) and more.

As I've written about before, newspaper articles have given me great information about my grandfather's youth in an orphanage.

Visit the places
A bunch of years ago, I got to interview author Ian Frazier about writing his family history book Family (MacMillan). He advised going to places important to your ancestors, trying to get as close as possible to they way it was during their lives. Go to family homesteads, neighborhoods, churches and schools. If the places no longer exist or you can't get there, find similar places.  

Research buildings
Another way to virtually visit an ancestor's home is to learn everything you can about it: When it was built, when your family acquired it, who lived there before and after your family, what it looked like, how it changed over the years.

Peruse local histories and guides
Guides to area history help you learn where your family would've gone to church and school, and what they saw each day. I have book with self-guided walking tours of my Cincinnati German families' Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, with pictures of buildings and descriptions of their former functions. Local histories published when your ancestor was alive give you a first-person account of places and events.

Find old photos and maps
Libraries, historical societies and online memory collections are full of historical photos of buildings, streets and neighborhoods. Try searching for a place in the Library of Congress online collections.

Maps also give you details on buildings and neighborhoods. This Sanborn map shows my Cincinnati ancestor's home and cigar business on the corner. You can see it was on the front of the lot, two rooms on the first floor, three stories, with a three-story side porch and two outbuildings in the back.

Gather relatives' memories

My grandma is gone now, but I treasure the times I sat with her and looked at old pictures on my phone. She'd reveal snippets of her life as a girl: How both of her grandmothers had player pianos (but favored different music). How she loved her one dress that wasn't a hand-me-down. How the family dog would ride along on the running board of the car, then walk home when the family got where they were going. 

Even if no relatives are around to ask, you might have home sources—letters, journals, photos—that share family memories of times gone by. 

Write it down
Interested in putting together your family history research into a written narrative?

Follow our 30-Day Family History Writing Challenge daily prompts (Family Tree Magazine editors will be sharing some of our own family stories here on the blog) and take it up a notch with the Genealogist's Essential Writing Workshop at Nov. 7-13.

Research Tips | Social History
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 12:19:16 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]