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# Friday, 30 November 2007
Fun with math and microfilm
Posted by Grace

Yesterday, we Family Tree Magazine editors got to thinking about just how big the Family History Library's collection is. I don't even know what inspired us, but we wondered—would the FHL's microfilm reach to the moon?

We did the calculations—and they won't. But it's still pretty far:

The FHL has 2.4 million rolls of microfilm. A microfilm box is about 4 inches wide. A mile is 63,360 inches, and the FHL's got 9.6 million inches of microfilm boxes, assuming they're all a standard size. Laid end to end, those boxes would stretch about 151.5 miles.

So you could get from Salt Lake City nearly to Pocatello, Idaho, on the FHL's microfilm boxes. Or from Indianapolis to Gary, Ind., or if they were in Texas, from Fort Worth to Abilene.

Photo from The Queen's University Library.

FamilySearch | Genealogy fun
Friday, 30 November 2007 15:49:17 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Thursday, 29 November 2007
Holiday Gift Ideas for Genealogists
Posted by Diane

When it comes to holiday presents, genealogists don’t seem hard to please—anyone who’d crawl around a weedy cemetery in search of a tombstone can’t be that high-maintenance. But if you’re at a loss for what to give the genealogist in your life, try one of these suggestions:
  • a set of Family Tree Magazine CDs: the International Genealogical Passport ($12.95), the 2006 compilation ($24) and 2007 compilation ($20)
  • a GPS, which traveling researchers can use to locate cemeteries, libraries, the old family homestead or a place to eat lunch
  • a prepaid gasoline card to help fund those research trips
  • a cemetery research kit with non-fusible interfacing (for tombstone rubbings), rubbing wax (you can get it from stores such as FunStuffforGenealogists), masking tape, gardener’s shears and knee pads, bug spray, and an “I brake for cemeteries” bumper sticker
  • a genetic genealogy test
  • a research favor, especially if a fellow genealogist has a hard time getting around. Maybe do lookups for her at a Family History Center, drive him to a conference or help scan a load of photos.
If you've gotten a great genealogical present—or are hoping for one this year—click Comment and tell us what it is.

Celebrating your heritage | Genealogy fun
Thursday, 29 November 2007 08:45:21 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Wednesday, 28 November 2007
Family Tree Firsts—Part Two
Posted by Grace

If you remember reading my first post in the Family Tree Firsts series, you may recall I was excited for the next visit with my dad's parents so I could pick their brains. My trip back up to Cleveland for Thanksgiving did not disappoint.

Showing my grandma and grandpa the WWII draft cards, passenger records and census schedules I found were enough to get them talking about their parents and grandparents. I got a lot of names, dates and other interesting information, which I typed as fast as I could on my laptop, and when it ran out of batteries, I switched to a notebook.

My grandma told me her father, Stanley, was sad he couldn't go back home to visit his mother because he had ran away from the Russian army. He had only an elementary school education, so my grandma would teach him spelling and writing and give him tests. My grandmother's grandmother's first husband, whom she had her children with, died while they were still in Europe, and she married again when she got to the US. (Her second husband, Edmund, is on the far right in the picture at right, next to my grandmother during her first communion. Her father, Stanley, is on the left.)

My grandfather never knew his grandparents, but he could tell me a little about his parents. (That's them, Tanka and Wasyl, in the picture at right.) Wasyl's brother came to the US, but he had two sisters who continued on to Argentina and were never heard from again. I'll be interested to see what I can find out about that. I also never knew before last week that my grandfather was a twin; his sister died when she was just a baby.

After my grandmother accused me of using unethical interrogation techniques (totally untrue), she had me help her get some photo albums from the closet. They were in practically pristine condition, and my mom and I took them home so we could scan some into the computer. (For more on scanning, see our January issue's story on photo digitization.)

What I'm most thankful for is having had so much time with my grandparents. Being 25, I'm probably in the minority having all four still around. I'm pretty surprised how much information about my family's past I was able to get in a conversation over Chinese takeout. (Having read our March 2008 issue's story on oral history helped!)

Earlier in Family Tree Firsts:
Part One

Family Tree Firsts
Wednesday, 28 November 2007 15:50:25 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
Family History-Themed Gift Ideas
Posted by Diane

Wondering what to give your son, daughter, brother or mother-in-law for the holidays? Everyone loves a warm-and-fuzzy tribute to family history. Let these present ideas set your gift-giving gears spinning:
  • Digital photo frames are ubiquitous this year, and more affordable than in the past. Load the memory card with images, and keep them coming all year. They start as low as $70, and you can get digital photo keychains and tiny desktop frames for less than that. Check big retailers and electronics stores for these.
  • Make copies of your family’s favorite vintage photos and put them in a mini-album (available from scrapbooking and crafts stores) or a collage frame.
  • Order decorative family tree wall charts from a site such as The Family History Store, or find one free online (Martha Stewart has a nice fan chart). Then polish up your penmanship and fill out a tree for everyone. You also may be able to produce wall-worthy charts using your genealogy software.
  • Put together a family story-and-photo book using AncestryPress. You can print it yourself for free and put it in a binder, or have it spiral-bound at a copy shop. Or, order a hardbound copy through AncestryPress for around $30 and up.
  • For parents or grandparents, how about one of those fill-in-the-blank memory books that encourages them to share thoughts and stories in writing? One is Memories for My Grandchild by Annie Decker and Nicole Stephenson (Chronicle Books, $19.95). The family cook might enjoy a recipe journal such as Cook's Recipe Collection by Iona Hoyle (Ryland Peters & Small, $19.95).
  • If you have a lot of relatives on your list, make a CD of photos and give everyone a copy. You can dress it up (but you don't have to) by designing a nice insert.
Are you giving family history-themed gifts this year? Or have you gotten a great one in the past? Click comment and tell us about it—you just might help someone finish his gift list.

Celebrating your heritage
Wednesday, 28 November 2007 15:27:48 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
Research Your Tree in Just-Updated PERSI
Posted by Diane

The Allen County (Ind.) Public Library genealogy staff has beefed up its Periodical Source Index (PERSI) with references to another 132,000 history and genealogy articles published in journals and magazines during 2006 and 2007.

HeritageQuest Online, the genealogy database you can search free in many public libraries, has included the updates in its searchable version of PERSI.

That brings PERSI's total article citations to more than 2 million. They reference 6,600-plus periodicals published in the United States, Canada and abroad since 1800. It’s the most extensive periodical index available for local history and genealogy research.

You can search the updated PERSI at libraries offering HeritageQuest Online and at Allen County, Ind., public libraries. The subscription site offers an older version of PERSI, dating from 1985.

Search PERSI on a name, place or subject, and you’ll get citations for journal and magazine articles that mention your term. Then, request the full article from your library, borrow it through interlibrary loan or order copies from the Allen County library ($7.50 for up to six articles, plus the cost of photocopies).

Read more about the formation of PERSI and about the Allen County library on

Libraries and Archives | Research Tips
Wednesday, 28 November 2007 09:17:06 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 27 November 2007
NY Times Asks "How Helpful is Ethnic DNA Testing?"
Posted by Diane

Did everyone read the article on ethnic genetic genealogy testing in Sunday’s New York Times?

It was somewhat critical of the industry with regard to DNA tests for African origins. Reporter Ron Nixon said test results are often conflicting and confusing, and testing companies focus more on marketing than on communicating the limitations of ethnic DNA testing.

Nixon sent his own DNA to five companies for a mitochondrial (mt) DNA test and got strikingly different results: Reports named from two to 12 ethnic groups, for a total of 25 possibilities.

Nixon also interviewed representatives of several test companies, as well as Harvard historian and "African-American Lives" host Henry Louis Gates. Gates’ first mtDNA test in 2000 reported Egyptian roots; one from another company in 2005 concluded he had European, not Egyptian, ancestry.

One reason for mixed results is testing companies’ proprietary comparison databases of DNA profiles from modern people. Databases may be skewed toward particular ethnic groups and not represent other groups.

Furthermore, people have been moving around Africa for eons. Your DNA could match someone who lives in a particular area today, but whose ancestors came from elsewhere.

Another issue is that there’s still so much to learn. In our November 2007 Family Tree Magazine African-American research guide, Roots Project director Bruce Jackson, PhD, said “We have a poor understanding of the genetics of African groups ... Identical genetic markers or signatures (called haplotypes) are found among different African ethnic groups for reasons that are not clear.”

Jackson went on to note scientists have studied only 1 percent of African ethnic groups, which doesn’t even include all those who were sources of the slave trade to North America.

Gates is attempting to address these issues by partnering with FamilyTreeDNA on AfricanDNA, a project offering DNA tests paired with genealogy research services for $888 to $1,077.

If that's not in your budget, do this: Research "on paper" as much as you can before turning to DNA. More African-American resources are out there than many people realize. (See our online toolkit and updates on this blog for tips.)

Then decide what you want DNA testing to tell you and carefully research your options to pick the best test. Make sure you understand the limitations of DNA testing: As you see here, results can be inconclusive, and you don’t learn where specific ancestors came from. If you don’t understand your results, ask your testing company for help and consult sources such as Trace Your Roots with DNA by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak and Ann Turner (Rodale, $16.95).

Share your thoughts on the Times' article in the Hot Topics Forum.

African-American roots | Genetic Genealogy
Tuesday, 27 November 2007 12:16:37 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, 26 November 2007
First Retail DNA Paternity Test on Shelves
Posted by Diane

Sorenson Genomics has come out with the first retail DNA paternity kit, and it yields results in three to five days.

The Identigene DNA Paternity Test Kit is on sale at Rite-Aid stores in California, Oregon and Washington for $29.99 plus a $119 lab processing fee. That beats the $245 price tag for a paternity test through Identigene’s Web site.

Customers send in cheek swabs from the alleged father and child with the lab fee, and can get their results online, by fax or mail. It sounds a lot easier than being on one of Maury Povich’s “Who’s your daddy?” shows.

For genealogical purposes, this test could be handy in cases of adoption or “nonpaternity events.” You need DNA samples from both parties, and it can only tell you whether a parent-child relationship exists—not whether the two are related in another way (tests for other relationships are available through Identigene and other labs).

We’re interested in future implications, though: Can a retail genetic genealogy test be far behind?

Genetic Genealogy
Monday, 26 November 2007 12:20:39 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
Museum Displays Hair Mementos
Posted by Diane

Happy Thanksgiving! Over the holiday I got a whole bunch of hair cut off and mailed it to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, which makes wigs for women undergoing chemotherapy.

If I were around a couple of centuries or so ago, I would’ve used the hair to create mementos for loved ones. In this once-popular practice, women wove locks into elaborate wreaths and jewelry, sometimes with beads, embroidery floss and photographs.

You can see more than 400 hair wreaths and 2,000 pieces of hairwork jewelry (rings, bracelets, watch chains, brooches, etc.) at a museum in two rooms of an Independence, Mo., cosmetology school. Read more about it in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Photo Detective blogger Maureen A. Taylor says hair was a common remembrance of friends and deceased relatives. In the August 2002 Family Tree Magazine, she wrote about the 19th-cetury hair clipping-and-autograph album belonging to Helen Marion Adams of Fairhaven, Vt. “Very simply, hair does not decompose; thus the friendship lasts beyond the grave,” Taylor says.

People can get creeped out by the thought of hair locks separated from their owner. The hair museum’s owner says some visitors can’t complete their tours.

I’m not sentimental about my own trimmed ponytails, but keeping hair for a memento doesn’t seem odd to me. As a baby, my dad had beautiful curls my grandma couldn’t bear to cut. When my grandfather finally prodded her into it, she saved every last curl in a shoebox we still have.

Museums | Social History
Monday, 26 November 2007 11:20:30 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, 21 November 2007
Forget Black Friday: Our CDs now on sale!
Posted by Grace

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, you can be sure that we're now barreling towards shopping season. Personally, I avoid malls like the plague on Black Friday. (Though I do indulge in a little Cyber Monday action.)

If you've got some genealogy buffs on your list (or if you've got yourself on your list), you have to check out our new 2006 and 2007 CDs! Every single page of Family Tree Magazine has been turned into a fully searchable, easily navigable and totally hotlinked product that you can take with you wherever you go. You will never have to type another URL again!

The 2007 CD includes all issues from this year, with articles including how to master the US census, the best family history tools ever, and guides to tracing Civil War and WWI ancestors. Also on the 2007 CD are our exclusive state research guides for Indiana, Maine, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming. (We threw in some extras, too!)

The 2006 CD includes articles on 365 ways to trace your roots, 89 family history freebies, five ways to save time online and genetic genealogy explained in plain English. The 2006 issues include our exclusive state research guides for Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Texas.

The files on the CDs are enhanced PDFs, which you can view with the free program Adobe Reader. (If you don't already have Reader, it's available for download here.)

We editors here at Family Tree Magazine put a lot of sweat into making these CDs, and we think you'll find them as handy as we do! Click here to browse our CDs and order online! (If you prefer not to buy online, we do have alternative shopping options.)

Family Tree Magazine articles | Genealogy Software
Wednesday, 21 November 2007 10:27:56 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 20 November 2007
23andMe Profiles Your Genome
Posted by Diane

A new DNA testing Web site with financial backing from Google purports to “help you understand your DNA.” It’s called 23andMe, a name that refers to the 23 pairs of chromosomes making up your genome.

The site’s test examines all your DNA (rather than focusing on the X or Y chromosome) for SNPs (pronounced snips), which are variations that can show relationships between people. You have about 500,000 SNPs linked to everything from health issues to whether you like Brussels sprouts.

To use 23andMe, you order a kit, send in a cheek swab and later log on to get your DNA profile. It provides information on your phenotypes, or observable traits resulting from interactions between your genes and the environment. Your phenotypes can tell you about your ancestry and about how your genes may affect your health.

The site's Gene Journal helps you understand your results with tools including an Odds Calculator (plug in variables such as age, ethnicity and genetic information to see what medical conditions you should be concerned about), a glossary and research article archive.

You can use ancestry tools such as a Global Similarity Map that compares your genome to people around the world, which can shed light on where your ancestors came from. You also can consult a Maternal Ancestry Tree to learn about your family’s ancient roots.

The test is pricey at $999 per kit. What you can learn is more about health than genealogy, and it’s bound to be controversial as non-doctors try to absorb medical information. So of course, after you use all the cool tools, you’ll want share your findings with your doctor.

Genealogy Web Sites | Genetic Genealogy
Tuesday, 20 November 2007 13:33:57 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, 19 November 2007
The FIRST First Thanksgiving
Posted by Diane

We hate to disappoint you, but the very first Thanksgiving in the New World wasn’t the Pilgrims’ legendary feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Nope, the first Thanksgiving was Dec. 4, 1619—a year and 17 days before the Pilgrims even left England—at Berkeley Plantation, when Capt. John Woodlief and 37 other settlers held a short religious service the day they ended their two-and-a-half-month voyage from Bristol, England.

Now, don’t go getting your drumsticks all in a bunch: Not a morsel of food was involved in that first first Thanksgiving. Makes you kinda glad the one we celebrate is the second first one—even though the Pilgrims, lacking sugar and ovens, didn’t have sweet cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. (They didn’t wear those black hats with big buckles, either, rendering inaccurate the Thanksgiving art projects of second-graders everywhere.)

See for more about Berkeley Plantation and the real first Thanksgiving, and for a dash of Thanksgiving genealogy.

Celebrating your heritage
Monday, 19 November 2007 09:37:48 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 16 November 2007
AfricanDNA Testing and Research Service Launches
Posted by Diane

Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard professor who hosted PBS’ “African-American Lives” series, is partnering with genetic genealogy company FamilyTreeDNA to launch AfricanDNA. The new service will provide provide African Americans with family tree research in addition to DNA testing.

The genealogy part is important, says Gates, because of the limits of genetic testing. “The available DNA data are not by any means complete, and these tests will not yield the names of any of the individuals on our distant family trees—just the general geographic areas in which our ancestors lived.  Sometimes the tests yield multiple exact tribal matches, making it necessary for historians to interpret the most plausible result.”  

AfricanDNA offers mitochondrial DNA and Y-DNA tests for $189 each ($378 for both). Results are compared to FamilyTreeDNA’s database of DNA profiles from around the world. A board of scholars from institutions such as Emory University and Boston University will help interpret customers’ results.

Test takers can opt for the Genealogy Package ($888 for one test or $1,077 for both), which includes a documented lineage as far back as records permit.

African-American roots | Genetic Genealogy
Friday, 16 November 2007 16:13:00 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, 15 November 2007
Project to send data to the moon
Posted by Grace

Archivists and tech guys alike recommend using offsite data backup when creating copies of important records. But a new preservation project's storage location takes the cake.

For a donation of $10, Lunar Legacy will send your story and photo to the moon. That's right, they will send pictures of your dog, your Nana or the Grand Canyon to the celestial body orbiting the earth.

The project is backed by the Google Lunar X Prize, which challenges private companies to send a robot rover to the moon. A $20 million prize will go to the first team to complete a set of objectives including sending video, images and data back to Earth by the end of 2012.

The photos and messages uploaded to will be stored on every vehicle that attempts to make the voyage. You can see what people have uploaded so far by clicking here.

Family Heirlooms | Genealogy fun
Thursday, 15 November 2007 13:34:57 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 14 November 2007
Map Chicago Ancestors on Interactive Site
Posted by Diane

Chicago's Newberry Library has created a Web site to help you with place-based research of your Windy City ancestors. is a searchable interactive mapping site. Type in an address, and you’ll get a map showing the location, along with nearby churches, sites of crimes and more. Roll over the map markers for each place to see data such as addresses, date and type of crime, associated library resources or links to online images. (The data come from sites such as Homicide in Chicago and Jazz Age Chicago.)

There's also a keyword search box, Type in St. Thomas, and you’ll see locations of churches with that name.

You’ll want to read the search tips. You need to use address conversion tools for addresses before 1909, and leave off street descriptors such as Ave. or Rd. For example, I entered 137 DeKoven St., which is where Mrs. O’Leary (whose cow did not start the Chicago Fire) lived in 1871, and got nothing. But after downloading the 1909 street number conversion book (under Tools) as a large PDF, I looked up the address, searched on 558 Dekoven, and got my map.

Wondering if Mrs. O’Leary might’ve attended nearby St. Wenceslaus church, I clicked on its name and got its years in organization and a list of its available records at the Family History Library.

Registered users can click to add their own comments to map points or map their own genealogical information and save it to their profile.

Click Tools to get street guides, more maps and other useful links; and click What’s New for updates from the Webmasters.

Here, Mrs. O'Leary's address is the blue star, and the yellow dot is the site of nearby criminal activity.

Genealogy Web Sites | Libraries and Archives
Wednesday, 14 November 2007 17:33:56 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
Just-Discovered Slave Records Go To Pennsylvania Museum
Posted by Diane

A county recorder of deeds discovered historical slavery-era papers in old Allegheny County, Pa., deed books. (Allegheny County is home to Pittsburgh.)

Read in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette how a county employee found the papers.

The office transferred handwritten documents recording the legal status of 56 African-American slaves to the Senator John Heinz History Center. The oldest papers date to 1792, the year Peter Cosco purchased his freedom from John McKee for 100 pounds.

The history center will make the papers available to researchers in its library and online.

You can find tips and resources for researching African-American ancestors in's online toolkit.

African-American roots | Libraries and Archives
Wednesday, 14 November 2007 09:10:40 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
MacFamilyTree 5 Released
Posted by Diane

Synium software has released MacFamilyTree 5, promising a speedier database engine and redesigned user interface. It also integrates a Web hosting service so registered customers can upload their family trees in HTML format for free.

The program is compatible with Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) and 10.5 (Leopard). Download it for $49 or pay $25 to upgrade.

Symium offered MacFamilyTree in beta starting Oct. 1. We review version 4.5, released in July, in the January 2008 Family Tree Magazine.

Genealogy Software
Wednesday, 14 November 2007 09:03:15 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, 12 November 2007
World Vital Records Offers Digitization Services
Posted by Diane

The subscription genealogy database site World Vital Records has expanded its services to include digitally preserving your family mementos. Its new Preservation Packages include
  • converting 8mm, 16mm, miniDVs and VHS tapes to DVD
  • scanning photos and documents
  • digitizing slides and negatives
  • storing digitized images on a secure server
In a World Vital Records user panel survey, 91 percent of members said they were concerned about preserving photos, videos, and/or documents.

Exact pricing isn’t available; Word Vital Records says rates are 50 to 70 percent less than retail value. Call the company toll-free (888) 377-0588 for details.

For information on several batch photo-scanning services and do-it-yourself tips, see the January 2008 Family Tree Magazine and our blog post

Family Heirlooms | Genealogy Web Sites
Monday, 12 November 2007 17:53:44 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
Report Urges Opening Adoptees' Birth Records
Posted by Diane

A report released today could help change how—and whether—adopted people can search for their family trees.

The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute examined whether adopted people, once they become adults, should have access to their original birth information.

The report’s conclusion is "yes," and it urges all states to follow the eight (Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Tennessee) that already allow adults who were adopted to access their original birth records. The institute found that in states with open records, “most birthparents and adoptees handle any contact with maturity and respect.”

You can read the report online and learn about the controversy surrounding opening birth records for adopted individuals at

For many genealogists, an adopted parent or grandparent presents a research brick wall. According to the report, some states have restored access more narrowly, “typically to individuals who were adopted prior to the state's law sealing this information.”

You can get help researching ancestral adoptions in the February 2007 Family Tree Magazine. Also see these links:

Family Tree Magazine articles | Public Records
Monday, 12 November 2007 16:47:54 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 09 November 2007
High School Posts and Preserves WWII Letters
Posted by Diane

Over on the Forum, mdrogers posted a message about a project at Clover Hill High School in Midlothian, Va., to collect WWII letters, photos and diaries. The Research and Technology class transcribes the letters, archivally preserves them, and posts the text online at It Took a War.

Each letter is accompanied by a little background about the writer. You also can view photos from the front and read or watch interviews with service members.

“My father was a very patriotic man,” says Rose Young, an Army nurse who was at the Battle of the Bulge. “My brother enlisted in service first, and [my father] was proud to have a son, but how many men had a daughter that went away? So he puffed his chest all the time about the fact that he had a daughter in service.”

What a great way for students to learn about history and research, and what a great site for you to peruse.

Genealogy Web Sites | Military records
Friday, 09 November 2007 16:43:27 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, 08 November 2007
Research London Children's Hospital Records
Posted by Diane

I learned about this cool resource for British ancestors from the ResearchBuzz newsletter about online search engines and databases:

A new Web site provides historical admission record transcriptions from Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London.

The free Small and Special database contains information on more than 85,000 patient admissions from the hospital’s opening in February 1852, through 1914.

You can do a simple search on a name and birth year (exact or choose a range) on the home page. Or, click Search on the left of the page to search on other parameters such as patient’s address, admission date and disease.

Results show the patient’s name, age and address; illness, outcome (such as “died” or “relieved”), admission and discharge dates, and case notes (if any). You have to register with the site to see details such as case notes.

Under the left-hand Gallery link, you can browse photographs. Click Library to see articles about the hospital, staff, and patients such as little Minnie Ashman, who suffered from empyema.

Genealogy Web Sites | International Genealogy
Thursday, 08 November 2007 09:27:33 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
Pennsylvania Debates "Open" Records Bill
Posted by Diane

Pennsylvanians are debating a public records law that could make their state the least transparent in the country.

HB 443 is an apparent attempt to bring public records law up-to-date, especially with respect to electronic records. This much-amended bill doesn’t, as some have reported, close all records with birth dates and addresses. Section 307, which lists records “deemed inaccessible,” makes an exception for personal information of deceased individuals:
“The exemption under this paragraph relating to the disclosure of an individual's home address shall not apply to … any former address of a deceased person. The exemption under this paragraph relating to the disclosure of an individual's birth date shall not apply to the birth date of a deceased person.”
Read the full text of the law on the Pennsylvania legislature Web site.

Currently, Pennsylvania vital records from the past 100 years, stored at the Division of Vital Records, are off limits to all but immediate family. You can request birth and death records prior to 1906 from the county where the event was recorded.

But open-records advocates are denouncing HB 443 provisions that close much government agency correspondence and all government e-mail. That would make Pennsylvania the only state in the nation to take such a step. Other states are either explicitly opening e-mailed correspondence or they don't distinguish between electronic and paper records.

You can read more about this debate on

Public Records
Thursday, 08 November 2007 08:18:57 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Wednesday, 07 November 2007
Family Tree Firsts—Part One
Posted by Grace

Do you remember the first time you made a records request?

I do—it was yesterday.

When I was growing up, I tagged along on trips to state archives and libraries while my mother and her sisters and mother were researching her family line. But my genealogy experience is limited to that and working here at Family Tree Magazine—which, let's face it, is probably the absolute best way to learn about tracing your family's history.

With every resource at my fingertips (namely, every Family Tree Magazine ever printed and our access), I started to get curious about my Dad's side of the family. I know that most of my great-grandparents emigrated from Eastern Europe, but it gets hazy from there.

My first step (and probably the easiest) was using Steve Morse's One-Step Search tools to see if I could find any of my great-grandparents on any passenger lists. After a brief period of believing my great-grandfather Stanley had changed his name from Wikenty after arriving, I realized that passenger records have two pages and saw that Wikenty was coming to stay with his brother Stanislaw—bingo. (Jumping to conclusions should be the cardinal sin of genealogy.)

I began filling out a printout of our downloadable five-generation pedigree chart with as much information as I knew. Armed with three of my great-grandparents' Social Security numbers (found in the Social Security Death Index) and the requisite forms from the SSA, I mailed off requests for copies of their SS-5 forms, the application for a Social Security number.

And now I wait. With any luck, I'll soon (soon being a relative term) know the real birthdates and birthplaces of my great-grandparents and finally find out their parents' names. In the mean time, I'm really looking forward to the next time I see my grandparents—I have so many questions to ask.

Family Tree Firsts
Wednesday, 07 November 2007 09:47:35 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Tuesday, 06 November 2007 and Peddle Surname Books
Posted by Diane’s BookSurge print-on-demand service is collaborating with to offer the Our Name in History series.

You can pay $29.95 for a book of interesting facts, statistics and commentary about your surname, if it’s one of the 279,000 last names covered in the series. That accounts for nearly 90 percent of US households.

The books' content is based on’s historical records, but don't expect to find information about any particular family.

It's more along the lines of the “Did you know?” tidbits that pop up when you search For example, I’ll look for census records of my great-grandfather and learn “Most Haddad families (47) living in the US in 1920 lived in CT.”

According to the Our Name in History description for a book about my surname (4,872nd most common, says the census bureau), “You'll get a better idea of where people sharing the Haddad name settled and where they may reside today in the United States, Canada, England and other countries.”

If you’re running out of time to pull together those impressive genealogy books you planned on giving relatives for the holidays, one of these surname books could be a somewhat-paler-but-still-sort-of-
related-to-family-history substitute. 

Genealogy Industry
Tuesday, 06 November 2007 12:27:56 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, 05 November 2007
Finding Old High School Yearbooks
Posted by Diane

My high school reunion (I’m not going to tell you which one) was a few weekends ago . I got to page through some old yearbooks and was reminded not only of my lack of skills with a curling iron, but also of yearbooks’ value in genealogical research.

Any descendants I may have, for example, will learn facts such as the name of my high school and the years I attended, and they’ll get a glimpse of my teen-age tendency toward geekiness. Yes, I’m a former member of the newspaper staff, yearbook committee, academic team and drama club set crew. I’m so glad it’s OK to be geeky when you’re a grown-up.

You also can see names of various award winners and, for seniors, the directory with contact information.

Of course, yearbooks show you all those great photos. If you’ve got family pictures of teen-aged relatives with unidentified others, try compare the unknown faces to photos in your ancestor's high school yearbook. Names of friends who signed the book are clues, too.

The yearbooks now available through World Vital Records are from colleges. The following tips for finding high school yearbooks come from the October 2005 Family Tree Magazine. If you know of other yearbook sources, hit Comment and post them:
  • Look up the school online (try a Google search or a site such as Public School Search) to see if it's in operation. Then call the office and ask whether old yearbooks are in the school or alumni office, and ask permission to visit.
  • If you struck out, call libraries and historical societies in the area, which may collect old yearbooks.
  • Next, see if you can find any alumni—even one from your ancestor’s class—through the school’s Web site. (No Web site? Do a Google search such as graduate central high school anytown.) The graduate may be willing to do a lookup. You also can visit genealogical message boards covering that town and ask if anyone has a yearbook.
  • Not many high school yearbooks are online, but sites with collections include the National Yearbook Project and Dead Fred. A Google search may help here, too. Try searching on the high school name plus yearbook genealogy.

Family Tree Magazine articles | Research Tips
Monday, 05 November 2007 10:46:18 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [10]
# Friday, 02 November 2007
History of the Toothpick
Posted by Grace

Here's one before the weekend: A fascinating brief history of the toothpick

Charles Forster, inspired by the hand-carved picks used by Brazilians, saw huge potential in mass-producing wooden toothpicks in the US. He got Boston inventor Benjamin Franklin Sturtevant to create a machine that was capable of producing millions of toothpicks a day by 1870.

The real genius was in Forster's marketing campaign: One of his ploys was to have Harvard men eat at restaurants and demand a toothpick after their meal. They'd make a fuss when none was available, and when the toothpick salesmen came around a few days later, the restaurant managers bought in.

To read the article, click here.

(The Slate article is a kind of condensed version of 's book The Toothpick: Technology and Culture, which can be bought on Amazon.)

Image taken by C R.

Family Heirlooms | Social History
Friday, 02 November 2007 15:36:44 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, 01 November 2007
College Yearbooks on World Vital Records
Posted by Diane

Genealogy database site World Vital Records is partnering with, a company offering online subscription databases of old yearbooks.

That’ll give World Vital Records subscribers access to digitized college yearbook pages from the late 1800s to 1960, containing photos, names, dates and information on school traditions, clubs, Greek life, ROTC, athletics and more.

Yearbooks come from schools such as the University of California, Berkeley, University of Iowa, University of Kansas, University of Michigan, University of Notre Dame, and University of Texas at Austin. Search each school’s yearbook by name, year and other parameters.

World Vital Records is adding yearbook databases one college at a time, and each college's database is available free for 10 days after it's added. After 10 days, it’s available only to subscribers ($49.95 for two years).

To find the free databases, go to the Recently Added Databases page and check the most-recently added content at the very top of the page. Scroll or use your browser’s Find feature (control + F) to find a database of yearbooks from your ancestor’s college.

I searched the University of Texas at Austin yearbooks for my grandfather, who attended during the 20s. My complaint: I couldn’t find where you tell the years of coverage. When matches come up as thumbnail-size page images, you don’t know the publication year until you click to open the page image (the year then appears at the top of your browser). [Update: This has been adjusted so a book's publication year shows up below thumbnail images in your search results.]

Genealogy Web Sites
Thursday, 01 November 2007 08:31:10 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]