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Tuesday, April 21, 2009
When Your Ancestor's Records Are in Another Language
Posted by Diane
. Where can I get help understanding genealogy records written in my ancestors' native language? A
. How to read foreign-language genealogy records is probably in the top 10 topics Family Tree Magazine
readers ask us about. Here are some tips:
First, see if you can puzzle out meanings using the genealogy word lists on FamilySearch
. (Click a letter of the alphabet to find resources for that country, then scroll down until you find the right word list.) You’ll get some background on the language and alphabet, and the words for common genealogy terms such as birth
and names of months. This may be enough to help you read, say, a microfilmed register of baptisms.
An online translator such as Google's
is handy for words or phrases. But online translators aren’t ideal for passages from historical records—languages change quickly, and online translation tools are designed for modern alphabets and usage (and even then, you'll often get pretty rough translations).
If you’re dealing with a complex document or script (Fraktur, a German script, is notoriously difficult to translate), you may need to find a translator. In this FamilyTreeMagazine.com article
, researcher Nick D’Alto offers tips on hiring and working with a genealogy translator. No offense to your niece who got an A in Italian this quarter, but he advises seeking one who’s familiar with historical documents.
The Association for Professional Genealogists has a directory of professional researchers who offer translation services or have access to translators
(click a name for specifics on the person’s services). Many of these folks have earned genealogical certifications and/or have references you can check.
Someone from an ethnic genealogy society (do a Google
search or check Cyndi’s List
to find one) may be able to help you or to recommend a translator, or you can ask members of an online forum focused on your ancestor’s homeland. A university ethnic studies department also might be able to put you in touch with a native speaker.
genealogy basics | international research | migration
Tuesday, April 21, 2009 7:40:47 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
How to Use PERSI for Genealogy
Posted by Diane
. What is PERSI and how do I use it in my family history?A
. PERSI (short for Periodical Source Index) is a database of references to articles in history and genealogy magazines and journals published in the United States and Canada as far back as 1800. (A searchable catalog of periodical titles is here
You can search PERSI for, say, a surname, town or topic, and results will show citations for articles related to your search term.
Examples of resources you might find using PERSI include a historical society journal article that mentions your ancestor, an out-of-print magazine about a family hometown, or a how-to magazine with hints for doing research in the old country.
Note PERSI doesn’t have the articles themselves—rather, it has the title, date and other information that will help you find the article of interest.
The PERSI database is searchable through HeritageQuest Online, a genealogy data service available free through many public libraries (check your library’s Web site or ask at the reference desk) or at Allen County, Ind., public library
location. (The Allen County library’s genealogy staff compiled and updates PERSI.)
Subscription Web site Ancestry.com
also has PERSI, though its version isn’t as up-to-date as the others mentioned.
Once you find a citation for an article you want, see if the publication is available through your library or another library near you. If not, ask if the library can borrow it (or at least get photocopies) through interlibrary loan. Another option: The Allen County Public Library has the periodicals that are indexed in PERSI; you can order photocopies for a fee using the form linked on this page
genealogy basics | printed sources
Wednesday, April 08, 2009 6:31:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Reading Old Documents: The Long S
Posted by Diane
. I noticed that the hornbook pictured on page 12 of the May 2008 Family Tree Magazine
has a 27-letter alphabet, with a unknown letter between r
. What’s the story?A
. The 18th-century English hornbook shown in our May 2008 History Matters column (here’s the hornbook—it's from the Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections division
) features a character called the long s
The long s
, which looks like a lower-case f
, was common in 18th-century England and Colonial New England. It was often used as an s
at the beginning or in the middle of a word (as in fentiment
), or as one or both letters of a double s
The long s
was not generally used as the final letter of a word—for that, people used the familiar short, or terminal, s
The long s
fell out of use around 1800 in England and 1820 in the United States.
For more on the long s
, see Wikipedia's well-illustrated article
and the book Researching Your Colonial New England Ancestors
By Patricia Law Hatcher (Ancestry, $16.95).
The book is available for a limited preview in Google; I've added it to Family Tree Magazine’s Google Library
for your linking convenience.
genealogy basics | printed sources | US roots
Wednesday, March 18, 2009 3:16:42 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Which Genealogy Database Site Is Worth Your Money?
Posted by Diane
. How do subscription genealogy Web sites, such as Ancestry.com, Genealogy.com and Footnote, compare? In today's economy I want to get the most value for my money, and I can only subscribe to one.A
. When people ask us which genealogy data site is the best, our answer is “The one that has the records you need is the right one for you.”
Think about what records you’d use most, and then see which sites have them. If you’re a beginner, you’ll probably want US census and immigration records. WWI draft cards are helpful, since virtually every man born from 1872 to 1900 (and living in the US in 1917 and 1918) registered.
Newspapers and city directories can fill gaps between censuses. Did your ancestors serve in the military? See which sites have records for wars they fought in.
Also check database sites coverage of places your ancestors lived—particularly if you've progressed to international research—as well as nationalities and ethnic groups they belonged to, such as American Indian or African-American records.
Databases in major sites are way too numerous to list them all. Here’s an overview and links to learn more about each site. Make sure you verify whether a collection of interest covers the right area and time period. Sometimes a site has, say, naturalization records from certain areas or years.
- Ancestry.com: This site has the advantage when it comes to amount of content. Major databases include US census images and indexes, passenger and border-crossing lists for US ports, WWI and WWII draft registration cards, passport applications, newspapers, and family and local histories.
To see what might be useful, go to the catalog and run a keyword search on a place your ancestors lived or a type of record. Note that database names vary—a birth index might be called “Smith County Vital Records,” “Birth Certificates, Smith County” or something else. The US deluxe membership costs $155.40 per year, $50.85 for three months or $19.95 for one month
- Genealogy.com: The Generations Network has neglected this site, instead devoting resources to Ancestry.com (which has Genealogy.com records). Subscriptions range from $69.99 to $199.99, but you'll probably get more value elsewhere.
- Footnote: This site focuses on US records, with many records from the National Archives. Civil War content is strong, including Southern Claims Commission records, the 1860 census, and ongoing scanning of Civil War soldiers’ service records and widows’ pension records. You’ll also find Revolutionary War records, naturalizations, small-town newspapers, WWII photos and more.
Subscriptions run $69.95 per year (there’s a $10 off deal this month) or $11.95 per month. Or, for most collections, you can purchase a record for $1.95. Click here to see a content listing.
- World Vital Records: This site excels at partnering with other sites (many of them free) to aggregate content in one place. That includes Ellis Island passenger lists and immigration indexes from the Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild and the National Archives, small-town newspapers, yearbooks, family histories, and UK censuses. Click the green View All Databases button at the top left of the home page, then select a country or record type.
The US subscription is 39.96 per year or 5.95 for a month. The World subscription is 119.40 per year or 14.95 for a month.
- GenealogyBank: This site has a huge collection of searchable historical newspapers, books and documents. Go here to see the titles. If you take advantage of the introductory offer, the price is $69.95 per year or $19.95 for a month.
- FindMyPast.com: Major collections at this UK site include British censuses, military records and outbound passenger lists (many immigrants traveled through British ports, even if they didn’t live in Britain). Click here to see a database list.
Subscriptions range from around $21.50 for 30 days to $129 for a year. You also can pay as you go by purchasing credits (60 for $10 or 280 for $36; they’re good for a limited time) and exchanging them for record views.
For links to even more genealogy database sites, see Cyndi's List
- Genline: Here, you can search virtually all Swedish church records. Its flexibility helps the budget-conscious—subscriptions range from one day ($9) to a year ($245).
If you can’t fulfill all your research needs at one site, consider monthly subscriptions to multiple sites. Need only one or two collections from a site? See if you can get the information free. Many libraries offer HeritageQuest Online (federal censuses, family and local histories), NewsBank (newspapers) and ProQuest Historical Newpapers free to patrons both on-site and remotely from home.
Your library may offer on-site access to Ancestry Library Edition, a version of Ancestry.com. At a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Family History Center
, you can use World Vital Records, Footnote and others. Of course, FamilySearch is adding to its record search pilot
all the time, and that’s free from any computer connected to the Internet.
Readers, what genealogy database(s) would you
recommend? Click Comments to tell us. See the March 2009 Family Tree Magazine
for more money-saving genealogy advice.
genealogy basics | Web tips
Tuesday, February 03, 2009 6:51:00 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Aunts and Uncles: Grand, Not Great
Posted by Allison
Some sources say my brother's grandchildren are my grandniece and grandnephews. If that's the case, why am I called a great-aunt? What is the correct term?A. Great-aunt
is a lot like second cousin
: It’s common practice for people to call their grandparents’ siblings by these terms, just as they often refer to first cousins’ children as second cousins—but neither is technically correct. As you noted, the proper term for your relationship to your brother’s grandchildren is grandaunt
, just like grandparent
means that the relatives in question are two generations removed from one another.
So aunts and uncles follow the same pattern as parents as you tack on generations:
And so on. “It’s a mistake to lump [grandaunts and granduncles] in with the greats,” says Jackie Smith Arnold in Kinship: It’s All Relative
, 2nd edition (Genealogical Publishing Co.). “Mixing the generations causes confusion.” That may be the case, but given the widespread misusage of great-aunt
might not be any clearer to your relatives. Having your grandnephews call you that certainly doesn’t hurt anything—it’s up to you whether you want to correct them.
In case you’re still wondering about cousins: Your first cousins’ children would be your first cousins once removed. See our article "Cousin Confusion
genealogy basics | Relationships
Thursday, August 28, 2008 3:14:33 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Recording Nontraditional Family Trees
Posted by Diane
. A member of FamilyTreeMagazine.com Forum asked
"I'm confused. Do I put the names of divorced relatives on a family tree chart if they have biological children on the chart? If the descendant remarried and had children with another spouse, do I list them separately with the descendant?" A
. The answer depends whether you’re putting together a family tree for research purposes or for another reason, such as a decorative display.
For genealogy research, you’d record all this information, but not on one chart. On your five-generation ancestor chart
, you record only your biological ancestors—parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. No aunts, uncles, cousins or siblings. Spouses or partners who aren’t your ancestors aren’t listed, either.
That means you’d put your mom’s biological parents on a five-generation chart even if they divorced and remarried other people. Also, because no siblings are listed on a five-generation chart, you don’t have to worry about any half- or step siblings your mom may have.
You’ll record siblings and other spouses on a family group sheet (also available on FamilyTreeMagazine.com
) for each family. Here, you write the parents and children of a nuclear family; this form also has spaces to name each parent’s previous or subsequent spouses. If your grandmother was widowed before she met your grandfather, you’d make two family group sheets for her: One for your grandmother with her first husband and their children, and another for your grandmother with your grandfather and their children.
You may be thinking that five-generation charts aren’t very adaptable to blended, adoptive and other nontraditional families. In a purely genealogical sense, ancestors are biological parents, grandparents, etc., whether or not they lived with their children. But if you want to trace your adoptive or step family, you can find charts designed for nontraditional families, such as our adoptive family tree
. You also can record people on a traditional five-generation chart, though we recommend clearly indicating the step or adoptive relationships.
If you’re filling out a decorative family tree for display or a baby book, rather than one for your personal research, how you handle relationships is really up to you. We do recommend that to prevent confusion for future family historians, you indicate relationships clearly and/or also keep a five-generation pedigree chart with biological relationships.
If you’re designing your own tree, you can use dashed or colored lines (similar to those on a type of family map called a genogram
) to indicate various types of relationships.
Thursday, August 07, 2008 1:55:39 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Doing Genealogy Almost From Scratch
Posted by Diane
. Both parents and my grandparents are deceased, and I know little about either parent’s family. I tried to get vital records and was only able to able to find my father’s death certificate in New Jersey. I know the street where the family lived in Philadelphia some time ago and I believe I have an aunt living somewhere in Pennsylvania. Do you have any ideas for how to approach my research?A
. You don’t have a whole lot information to start with, but you can learn more. First, sit down and make a timeline with everything you know about your family, even if it doesn’t seem genealogically important—names, dates and places of birth and death, jobs, high school, residence, vacations, etc. They’re all clues.
Include any of the family members (such as your aunt) you do know of. If you don’t recall the dates associated with an event, make your best guest or create a separate list. Use the information on your timeline to help you find these records:
- Marriage records: Request your parents’ marriage license and certificate from the county clerk where they were married, or look for it on Family History Library microfilm (run a place search of the city or county where they married). Rent the library’s microfilm by visiting a local Family History Center.
- Censuses: Search each family member whose name you know in every available census during his or her lifetime. You can use HeritageQuest Online or Ancestry Library Edition at libraries that offer these services; use Ancestry.com ($155.40 per year) at home; or check microfilm at a National Archives and Records Administration facility, large public libraries or a family history center.
- Old telephone books and city directories: Larger local libraries often have these listings of residents going back years. You may be able to search by name or address, and you’ll see where the person lived and his or her occupation.
- Deeds: If you know a person’s name and address, you can request his deed records (assuming he was a property owner). In general, they’re at county courthouses. You can search Philadelphia historical deeds and other records at the city archives, which has an excellent Web site explaining its holdings.
- Death records: Since you know when and where your father died, look for a will and/or probate records in court archives. (The September 2008 Family Tree Magazine has a guide to finding will and probate records.) Search local newspapers for an obituary, and look for cemetery and funeral home records, too.
- Military records: Was your dad or grandfather the right age to have fought in any wars? Records of 20th century wars aren’t as readily available as prior conflicts, but you can find WWI draft registration cards (which covered virtually every man of age between 1914 and 1917) on Ancestry.com (or use Ancestry Library edition) and WWII enlistment records on the National Archives’ Access to Archival Databases site.
- Newspapers: Run a name search in newspaper indexes such as NewsBank (available through many libraries)or GenealogyBank ($69.95 per year, a monthly rate also is available). You might find birth and marriage announcements, graduation notices, obituaries, articles about school activities—you never know.
- High school yearbooks: If you can find out where a family member went to school, look for yearbooks. Some local libraries have them for the area, or contact the school the person attended.
Research names of people who come up in your search, even if it’s not clear they’re related—you might find clues about your parents.
Explore the collections at state archives in places where your family lived (click here for the Pennsylvania archives’ site
). I’d also suggest reading a how-to genealogy book, such as Unpuzzling Your Past, 4th edition
, by Emily Anne Croom (Family Tree Books, $18.99). It’ll show you where to look for basic records and give you strategies for solving genealogical problems.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008 9:56:19 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
How to Order a Big Family Tree Wall Chart
Posted by Diane
. Where can I get a giant genealogy chart printed to hang on the wall at a family reunion?A
. Plenty of businesses will take your GEDCOM or genealogy software's proprietary file and turn it into a large wall chart. Find links to charting companies on FamilyTreeMagazine.com
and Cyndi's List
Some companies focus more on artistic presentations with photos and illustrations, which are beautiful but may limit the size of the chart; others specialize in, yards-long text charts showing every member of your family. Some do both.
Take a look at photos of finished charts on the company Web site. Narrow your list to companies that offer the type of chart you need, then look at the ones that can work within your time frame and budget.
Some questions to ask each company when you’re deciding which one to go with:
- What are my options (if any) as far as chart size, typeface, text color and size, paper color, etc.?
- Will I get to see a digital proof of the chart before it’s printed? (So you can make sure the information is correct.)
- If I don’t like how the proof looks, are there any charges for making changes to it?
- Do you keep the chart on file in case I want to order additional copies?
- What is the charge for updating the chart with new genealogical information and having it reprinted in the future?
- What special steps should I take to prepare my GEDCOM (or proprietary software file) before sending it to you?
- What are your file specifications for photos? (If you want to include pictures in your chart.)
- What delivery method do you use? How long will shipping take?
For best results, before you export your GEDCOM, go through your genealogy files and standardize date and place formats. For example, if you abbreviate one state name, abbreviate them all; and format your dates as day/month/year, as in 22 April 1907. Also make sure names are spelled correctly and check for typos.
When you tote the chart to your family reunion, remember to bring pens so people can add information or make corrections.
For our reviews of several chart-printing companies, see the April 2006 Family Tree Magazine
family reunions | genealogy basics | Preserving Heirlooms and Photos
Wednesday, July 02, 2008 1:53:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
How to Cite Sources
Posted by Diane
. How do you cite your sources? I know how to fill out a family tree chart, but I don't know how to cite the information. A
. "Source citation" can sound like a technical term, but it’s really just recording where you found each record or piece of genealogical information—that way you or anyone else can go back to recheck the original record.
Different sources are cited different ways. For books, record the title, author, publisher (with the location), year of publication, where you found the book (the name of the library or the person who lent it to you), library call number (if it came from a library) and page numbers containing the referenced information, like so:
Carmack, Sharon Debartolo and Erin Nevius, eds., The Family Tree Resource Book for Genealogists (Cincinnati: Family Tree Books, 2004), 219-220.
For examples of citations for a variety of sources, such as census records, vital records and oral history interviews, download our Source Citation Cheat Sheet
as a PDF. This citation Web tool
will automatically format various types of citations based on what you type in about the source.
ProGenealogists also has a guide to citing online sources
, including databases such as those on Ancestry.com
Where and when to cite your sources is another important issue. As JustJean says in the FamilyTreeMagazine.com Forum
, include a full citation on the front side of every photocopied record or page from a book, so the citation won't get separated from the data.
Most genealogy software lets you type in source details or even link a digitized record when you add information to your tree. If you’re using paper, you can number all your photocopied records and add the numbers to your family group sheets. For example, if Grandma’s birth certificate is record number 17 in your files, you’d write 17
next to her birthdate on a family group sheet. (Most don’t note sources on a five-generation ancestor chart.)
You also might keep a log of the sources you’ve found and what pertinent information they contain.
For an in-depth look at source citation, see Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace
by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Genealogical Publishing Co., $49.95).
Readers, click Comments to add your own source citation advice.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008 6:51:49 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Doing Genealogy With Just a Name and SSN
Posted by Diane
. I’m stuck on my Dad's family tree: I have his father's name, birth and death dates, and Social Security number (SSN). I can’t find anything on him. I have only his mother's first name, and I can’t get a birth certificate without her surname. Where do I go from here? Can I find out information with a Social Security Number alone? A
. Yes—you can request a copy of your grandfather’s application for a Social Security card, called an SS-5, from the Social Security Administration (that's how I found my great-great-grandmother's maiden name). You’ll find how-tos and a link with the address on the Genealogy Insider blog
The fee is $27. In your request, provide your grandfather’s full name and SSN, and state your relationship and the reason for your request. If your grandfather is living, you’ll need his written consent.
Where do you go from here? A lot of people start with about as much information as you have, so it can be done.
First, fill out a pedigree chart with names, and dates and places (including counties) of birth, marriage and death. Then search an online census database, which you can do free at libraries offering Ancestry Library Edition (you also can subscribe to its sister site, Ancestry.com
, for $155.40 per year) or HeritageQuest Online. The 1850, 1860, 1880 and 1900 censuses are free at FamilySearch Labs
. Start with the most recent census during your grandfather's lifetime and work back.
Depending when your grandfather was born, his record might be on microfilm at the Family History Library
. Run a place search on the county name and look for a vital records heading, then see if any films cover the right year. You can rent the film by visiting a local branch Family History Center (see our list for locations
Do you know the year and county where your grandfather died? (If not, look him up in the Social Security Death Index
.) Death records are often easier to get than birth records. They also may be on microfilm, or by request from the state vital records office.
Was your grandfather an adult during any wars? If so, check military records. Look for WWI and WWII draft registrations on Ancestry.com or Ancestry Library Edition. The National Archives and Records Administration keeps military service records—see the research guide on its Web site
This is all just for starters. Details you uncover and resources you learn about will lead you in new directions. You can get advice and stay up to date on new resources by reading Family Tree Magazine
genealogy basics | US roots
Tuesday, May 27, 2008 8:17:29 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
All About Census Enumeration Districts
Posted by Diane
What's an enumeration district?A.
An enumeration district (ED) is an administrative division of a particular county or township for the purposes of census-taking. Each census taker would be assigned one or more EDs, each of which was designated with a number.
At one time, to find your ancestor's census return, you’d have to identify which roll of census microfilm contained the right ED. Now that US censuses have been indexed by name, people don’t have to identify EDs the way they used to.
But you may find EDs handy for a few reasons:
- If you can’t find a household in records for a database site such as Ancestry.com, you can browse by ED (in Ancestry.com, choose a census year, then scroll below the search box to pick a state, county or township; a ward; then an ED).
- Enumerators didn't always proceed through their EDs in orderly
fashion: Rather than go down one side of the street and up the other,
they might cross back and forth or double back to places where
no one was home. But you can compare a census return to a map of the
corresponding ED to plot the neighborhood and see who lived next to
- When the 1940 census comes out on microfilm in 2012, a name index won’t be available right away—but while you wait, you'll be able to find the records using the ED. Update: Good news! Name indexes may be available immediately after all. Click comments (below) for details.
To identify your ancestor's enumeration district, you’ll need to know the state, city and street name, and possibly a street number. Then, try these tools:
- Stephen P. Morse’s Web site has an ED finder for the 1910 to 1940 censuses (mostly for urban areas). Scroll down to the census section of his home page to find it.
Morse’s site also offers a tool for translating among EDs from 1910 through 1940.
- NARA has put ED descriptions for each census on microfilm. Series A3378 has EDs for the 1900 through 1940 censuses; series T1224 goes back to 1830. Update: Click comments for details on ED microfilm, too.
Learn more about EDs from the USGenWeb’s Census Project page
census records | genealogy basics
Wednesday, April 30, 2008 1:41:22 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Finding Birth Dates and Parents' Names
Posted by Diane
My great-great-grandfather Edwin Lemon was born in Chester County, Penn., in 1818. This is all I can find about him. How do I find his parent's names and the month and day of his birth?A
When you boil it down, finding parents’ names is what genealogy research is all about. Make sure you've taken the basic steps to talk to family, search for home sources, and research your more-recent Lemon ancestors.
You don’t say how you know Lemon’s birthplace is Chester County. Family stories and even later records identifying birthplaces sometimes turn out to be wrong. Look into Chester County history and see if boundary changes could have affected where you should look for records on Edwin.
Assuming Chester County is the right place, you’re not likely to find a vital record from 1818, and unfortunately, no magical record is guaranteed to give you the information you need. Instead, search for records on all the members of the Lemon family and create a timeline of their locations and dates. Eventually the clues will add up to answers. Here are some records to search for:
- Baptismal and other religious records. Lutheran, Reformed, Quaker, Moravian and Roman Catholic were common denominations in Pennsylvania. Check the Family History Library (FHL) online catalog for microfilmed records from churches in Chester County. (Run a place search on the county, then click the church records heading.)
- Tax records. Everyone had to pay taxes, so search for Lemons in Chester County tax records (alson on FHL microfilm) when your ancestors lived there.
For more ideas, you'll want to use the Pennsylvania State Archives genealogical records guides
. Here, you can see the types of county records available
and what the archives has on microfilm for each county
. As one of the three original counties William Penn created in 1682, Chester County is the subject of a lot of microfilm.
For more helps researching Pennsylvania ancestors, see the February 2007 Family Tree Magazine
Pennsylvania State Research Guide.
birth/death records | court records | genealogy basics
Wednesday, January 23, 2008 8:44:45 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)