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# Friday, 31 August 2007
How to Find Records of an Accidental Death
Posted by Diane

Q I have a family note that says Robert Samuel Robinson (born Sept. 18, 1877, in Chaffey, Muskoka County, Ontario, Canada), died in "western USA" Aug. 11, 1901, and that it was a work-related death. It had to do with electricity, according to family story. I'd love to get a copy of a death certificate and any newspaper articles about the accident, and then to really push my luck, a photo of his grave marker. (Posted by Tracy on the Forum.)

A You may not be lucky enough to find a death certificate, as most states—particularly those in the then-relatively unsettled US West—didn’t mandate recording of deaths until after 1901. (See our chart of statewide vital-recordkeeping dates.) Occasionally, counties or cities recorded deaths before the state required death certificates, so it’s worth checking with the county clerk where he died.

An accidental death also might have generated other records, including coroner’s reports, coroner’s inquests (if the coroner found negligence or intention),
and, as you mentioned, cemetery records and newspaper articles. Depending whom Robert worked for, his employer might’ve had to fill out paperwork for a work-related accident.

It sounds like your first problem is you don’t know where Robert was at the time of his death. You’ll need that information to find coroner’s records, which are kept at city or county coroner offices (they also may have been transferred to the state archives and/or microfilmed by the Family History Library, which has branch Family History Centers around the world).

Finding historical newspaper articles, in most cases, also requires you to know where he lived. You might get lucky and find Robert by searching a database of digitized, indexed newspapers, such as the subscription sites GenealogyBank and World Vital Records (see our news blog for more information on World Vital Records' newspaper databases). But most newspapers haven’t been indexed and digitized, so you’d need to use a directory such as the Library of CongressChronicling America to find newspapers covering his area. Then you could see if a library near you has the paper on microfilm, or try to borrow it through interlibrary loan.

I’d suggest searching a 1900 US census database to see if you can pin down a location for Robert in that year. Continue your research on his earlier life, which could turn up information on where and when he moved to the United States. You also should examine your research and family papers on his parents, siblings and other relatives—information on them might give clues to Robert’s whereabouts.

Check online cemetery records, such as Find A Grave and Cemetery Junction, just in case he’s in one of them. Likely, though, you won't find his burial place until you can learn where he died.

It also might help to do a little historical research on electricity-related happenings in 1901, such as cities that were getting electric power. This article, for example, discusses the dangers of electricity between 1901 and 1909.

birth/death records
Friday, 31 August 2007 14:53:56 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, 20 August 2007
Make a Resolution: Viewing Online Photos
Posted by Diane

Q Momto3boyz asks this question on the Forum: My cousin put some pictures on a family Web site. When I pull them up, most of them come up in thumbnail sizes. When I try to zoom in or enlarge them so I can see the faces, I lose the sharpness of the pictures. Any suggestions on how I can enlarge these pictures?

A How you can view images on a Web site depends mostly on the person who posted the images.

You could copy the thumbnail images to your desktop by right-clicking on each one, then selecting the Save to Desktop option (on a Mac, you’d control-click the photo or simply drag it onto your desktop). Then you could zoom in by opening the photo in an image viewer such as Picture Viewer (Preview for Macs). But as you've found, you won’t be able to see much detail anyway.

That’s because Web standards call for posting photos at a relatively low resolution of 72 dpi (dots per inch). This reduces a photo’s file size so the Web page won’t take forever to load. So usually, if you try to take an image off most Web sites and enlarge it for your family history book, say, the image looks blurry and pixilated, like this:

Your cousin may have intended to link the thumbnail photos to larger versions of the images (as we did for this Photo Detective column), but forgotten to do so.

Your best bet is to ask your cousin to send you higher-resolution versions of the photos—that means 300 dpi, which is the resolution needed if you want to print out the image with the same dimensions as the original. If you want to print out a larger photo, you'll need an even higher resolution.

When you scan a photo, you can select the resolution in your scanner settings—see the owner's manual for help with this. Likewise, if you have a digital camera, you can set it to take low- or high-resolution photos.

The photo on this Photo Detective blog posting, for example, is high resolution so you can examine its detail. Save it to your desktop, open it an image viewer and zoom in, and you’ll see what I mean.

Preserving Heirlooms and Photos
Monday, 20 August 2007 17:11:49 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 14 August 2007
Immigrants Who Didn't Arrive at Ellis Island
Posted by Diane

Q My grandfather Anthony Borges was an immigrant from the island Sao Jorge in the Azores [Portugal], and I’m looking for records of his arrival in America. I’ve tried Ellis Island and found nothing. (Posted by Mumsy on the Forum.)

A Ellis Island is the best-known US immigration port, so many people assume their ancestors arrived there.

Don't stop your search at Ellis Island. Boston, Baltimore, New Orleans and San Francisco also were major immigration ports, but immigrants could arrive in just about any coastal city.

You didn’t say what year your grandfather came to America. Ellis Island opened in 1892 and closed in 1954. And the passenger database you searched covers only arrivals from 1892 to 1924 (you can find this information in the site's search tips).

Sometimes database creators had a hard time reading the original records, so passengers’ names might be misspelled. If you're sure your grandfather arrived at Ellis Island, search for alternate spellings, or use Stephen P. Morse’s Ellis Island One-Step search form.

If you know your ancestor’s port, you can find his passenger record on microfilm at the National Archives and Records Administration, the Family History Library and most large public libraries.

What if you don’t know the port? You can narrow the possibilities by researching his life in the United States. You also may get lucky with a searchable immigration database. The subscription site has one; a version called Ancestry Library Edition is free at many libraries.

My quick search returned a Canadian border-crossing record (below) for an Anthony Borges born in 1904 in St. Marie in the Azores. This man arrived first in Canada and traveled to Niagara Fall, NY, on Sept. 7, 1933.

This was the first of many matches for people named Antonio Borges, so if the man in this record isn't your grandfather, try an search.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007 20:25:48 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Wednesday, 08 August 2007
How to Find Civil War Records in State Archives
Posted by Diane

Q I have my ancestors’ Civil War service records from the National Archives and Records Administration. Do military records offered by some states contain different information? I’m wondering whether it’s worthwhile to check those records, too.

A State archives’ Civil War collections often differ greatly from the Compiled Military Service Records (CMSRs) and pension files available from NARA.

States may hold soldiers' letters, regimental histories, Civil War-era newspapers, Grand Army of the Republic post records, veterans' cemetery indexes, soldiers' home records and more. (Archives of formerly Confederate states also have pension records. Those aren’t at NARA because the federal government didn’t pay Confederate soldiers’ pensions.)

For example, the Ohio archives has correspondence to the state’s governor and adjutant general dating from 1859 through 1862 (series 147, volume 42). In May and June, 1862, Col. John W. Fuller and Maj. Z.S. Spaulding of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry 27th Regiment wrote Adjutant General C.W. Hill, describing their encampment and recommending various promotions.

Since state Civil War collections are so varied, I can’t say whether the information would be different from what’s in your ancestors’ CMSRs. But even if the state record doesn't have previously unknown details, You'll have new evidence of your ancestor's presence at the place and time the record was created.

If my ancestor were in the Ohio 27th, I’d want to know whether his commanding officers had anything to say about him, and where he was in June, 1862. (You can browse abstracts of these letters, as well an index to Ohio prisoners at Andersonville and a guide to Civil War-related primary source collections, on the archives’ Web site.)

Start by searching your ancestral state archives' online catalog for Civil War-era materials related to your ancestor, his regiment, or the county and town where he lived. Likely, you won’t know from the catalog listing whether the source mentions your ancestor, so you may have to visit the archives or contact an archivist for help.

You might be able to save yourself the trip by borrowing materials through interlibrary loan, ordering photocopies of documents or seeing if the Family History Library has microfilmed copies (which you can rent through a Family History Center).

Check local historical society and university libraries for Civil War collections, too.

And learn nine steps to researching your Civil War ancestors in the July 2007 Family Tree Magazine. You can get bonus information and links to additional resources—including those at the state level—on our Web site.

military records
Wednesday, 08 August 2007 14:55:51 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 27 July 2007
Learning Your Ethnic Heritage Through DNA
Posted by Diane

Q What's the best source for DNA testing for all ethnic groups?

A It sounds like you’re looking for a DNA test that shows your ethnic heritage, rather than whether you’re related to someone. Several types of tests accomplish this to some degree.

Biogeographical tests
Tests such as DNA Print Genomics’ AncestryByDNA evaluate autosomal DNA, which makes up all your genetic material except for what’s on the XX and XY chromosomes.

AncestryByDNA looks for markers that are characteristic of various groups to estimate your percentages of heritage from four populations: Native American, East Asian, Sub-Saharan African (areas south of the Sahara Desert) and Indo-European (Europe, Middle East, North Africa, Western Asia). The EuroDNA 1 and 2 tests further break down Indo-European heritage.

These tests won’t tell you what country your ancestors came from. Also, there’s a margin of error—most show that in the form of a bar graph with your most likely percentages along with other possible percentages.

Haplogroup tests
Most genetic genealogy laboratories, such as Oxford Ancestry, can test your mitochondrial DNA and assign you to a haplogroup—the genetic group your ancient ancestors (10,000 to 60,000 years ago) belonged to. The haplogroup R1b, for example, is common to Western Europeans.

That’s great to know, but not super-helpful for genealogical purposes because records identifying your ancestors don’t go back 10,000 years. Also, haplogroup information comes from a small section of your tree because you get your mitochondrial DNA from your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s (I could go on) mother.

Population comparison tests
Some companies test your DNA and compare certain markers to proprietary databases of DNA results from various populations. You get a report showing which populations your DNA most closely matched. DNAConsulting’s DNA Fingerprint test, for example, compares your sample to a database called Omnipop. You get a list of strongest and "medium-strong" matches, and people with European heritage can get a list of likely country matches.

African Ancestry performs similar comparisons to its database of DNA from African tribes.

Keep in mind the accuracy of these tests is limited by the DNA samples in the comparison database. Not all the world’s diverse populations have been sampled, so your best match may not be a close match at all.

And due to migrations of populations and national boundaries, your DNA could be similar to that of a modern resident of a particular country, but not to that area’s historical population. Since these DNA databases are growing, though, a good match may pop up down the road.

The best genetic genealogy company for you depends on what you want to know, and what you think your ethnicity is (since different companies’ comparison databases may be stronger in different areas). Genetic genealogy experts recognize DNA science is in its infancy, and urge you to back up test results with traditional research. So if a test shows you have DNA markers consistent with American Indians, you wouldn’t consider those results ironclad until you find genealogical records of American Indian ancestors.

For our layperson’s guide to using DNA in your genealogy research, along with DNA testing company contact information, see the October 2006 Family Tree Magazine.

genetic genealogy
Friday, 27 July 2007 14:17:35 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 17 July 2007
Kids' School Projects: Interviewing a Grandparent
Posted by Diane

Q My daughter has to interview her grandparents for a school project. Do you have any suggestions for questions she can ask?

A Not only do assignments such as this one bring families closer, they’re also a great way for kids (and their parents!) to learn about their family history and history in general.

Scott Kelly, who conducts oral histories through his company Oral Family Histories, offers these questions to get you started:
  1. When and where were you born?
  2. What were your parents’ names?
  3. What is your happiest memory of your father? Your mother?
  4. What is the most important lesson your parents taught you?
  5. What are the names of your grandparents?
  6. What is your happiest memory of your grandfather? Grandmother?
  7. Where did you grow up?
  8. What did you do for fun as a child?
  9. How did you like school?
  10. What did you want to be when you grew up?
  11. Tell me about your first date.
  12. How did you meet Grandma/Grandpa?
  13. Tell me about the day my mom/dad was born.
  14. What advice would you give to new parents?
  15. What jobs have you had?
  16. What are your strongest memories from your time in the military?
  17. What would be your recipe for happiness?
You and your daughter can edit the list together based on the length of the interview, what your daughter wants to ask about, and any project requirements (for example, her teacher may want her to focus on a particular topic such as military service).

Your daughter may want to jot down significant historical events that occurred during her grandparents’ lives, such as the Great Depression or the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Then she can ask about them with a question such as, “What’s your most vivid memory of growing up during the Great Depression?”

If she’s been learning about the Great Depression in school, she’ll see how it affected everyday people and maybe even find herself an answer to that perennial question, “Why do we have to learn this?”

She also might be interested in how her grandparents’ childhoods compare to her own: Did they have similar hobbies? What chores did they have to do around the house? How did they like their brothers and sisters?

Kelly suggests interviewers use a question list as a guide, not a rigid framework. It’s OK if the conversation leads your daughter to ask questions not on the list, or her grandparents to tell stories not related to a particular question. Looking at old family photos may spark her grandparents' memories, too. (Find more oral history interviewing tips on

Make sure you record the interview for posterity (and in case your daughter needs it for a report) using a digital voice recorder or a videocamera (get pro’s tips for filming interviews in the October 2006 Family Tree Magazine).

If filling in a family tree chart is part of the homework, use the free downloadable forms on Your daughter's grandparents would probably love to see the finished project.

Oral history interviews | Preserving Heirlooms and Photos
Tuesday, 17 July 2007 17:13:28 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, 09 July 2007
Converting Your Genealogy Files From PC to Mac
Posted by Diane

Q I’ve used Family Tree Maker software for several years on my PC. Now I’m switching over to a Mac. What software can I get that will let my data transfer to the new computer without having to buy new software and re-enter everything?

A Since Family Tree Maker software doesn't come in a Mac-compatible version, you'll need to either download software that lets you run Windows programs on a Mac, or you can get Mac-compatible software.

If your Mac runs on the OSX Tiger operating system, you can download a beta program called Boot Camp 1.3 that lets you install and run Windows alongside OSX Tiger. Then you can install and use Family Tree Maker on your Mac. (Macs with the soon-to-be-released OSX Leopard will come with Boot Camp.)

In that case, you can avoid retyping everything by using the Family Tree Maker on your PC to backup your family file, then installing that version of the program on your Mac and restoring the backup file. Follow the instructions in Family Tree Maker’s Help Center to do this.

If you want to buy new, Mac-compatible genealogy software, learn about your options at MacGenealogy. You still won’t have to retype everything. Transfer your data by exporting a GEDCOM from Family Tree Maker and importing it into the new program.

Family Tree Maker GEDCOMS don't save links to images and multimedia, though, so you'll have to re-link all those on your new computer. (A new version of Family Tree Maker comes out in August—maybe its owner, The Generations Network, will have pity on us and fix this.)

In either case, you might want to keep the old computer around until you can compare the two databases and make sure everything transferred correctly.

Monday, 09 July 2007 17:08:11 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Wednesday, 04 July 2007
July 4th Quiz Answers
Posted by Diane

Here are the correct answers for the quick Fourth of July quiz linked in the July 3, 2008, Family Tree Magazine E-mail Update newsletter. (We back-dated this post so it wouldn't appear on the blog's front page—we're sneaky like that.)

Quick—if you just stumbled upon this post, click here to test your knowledge.

1. When did most Continental Congressional delegates sign the Declaration of Independence?

Aug. 2. The only person to sign July 4 was John Hancock. Most delegates signed the declaration Aug. 2, 1776, and some delegates weren’t present and had to wait even longer. New delegates also were allowed to sign later.

2. How many delegates eventually signed the declaration?

(Learn more about the signers on the National Archives and Records Administration Web site.)

3. The original, handwritten Declaration of Independence survives.

False. The original, document has never been found. The oldest surviving copies are 25 Dunlap Broadsides, copies printer John Dunlap made the night of July 4, 1776.

July 19, 1776, Congress ordered an engrossed (neatly handwritten on parchment) copy, which the delegated signed. The National Archives has this document, now badly faded. In 1823, John Quincy Adams had printer William J. Stone make an engraving of the document, which is the one shown below and most often reproduced today.

4. How many lanterns were hung in the steeple of the Old North Church, April 18, 1775?

Two. Paul Revere told three Boston patriots to hang two lanterns in the steeple, which warned those across the Charles River in Charlestown that the British were arriving by sea.

5. Which other guy rode around the same night as Paul Revere, warning colonists that the British were coming?

Both Dawes and Prescott. William Dawes rode separately from Boston, Mass., to Lexington to tell John Hancock and John Adams they were in danger of arrest by British soldiers marching into the countryside. He and Paul Revere met there and both rode toward Concord; Samuel Prescott joined them along the way. The men were stopped by British soldiers and split up, after which Dawes’ horse bucked him and he had to walk back to Lexington. Revere was detained  and escorted back to Lexington.

Prescott is the only one of the three to reach Concord, and he kept going to warn others. Paul Revere is the one who made the history books, perhaps because his name worked best in Longfellow’s poem.

Wednesday, 04 July 2007 15:46:47 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, 26 June 2007
This Land is Whose Land?
Posted by Allison

Q One of my coworkers told me she’d bought a farm and turned it into a winery, but was having trouble tracing how ownership has changed hands over the years. Any advice?

A In most counties, you can research recent land transfers on the county auditor's or property assessor's Web site. Before that, research deeds, which record land sales between individuals.

“You’ll find deeds in county courthouses, except in New England states, when they’re typically in town halls,” writes Sharon DeBartolo Carmack in her August 2006 Family Tree Magazine article on land records. “Clerks generally recorded copies in huge ledger books, including an index with each volume.”

Each book usually has two types of indexes: grantors (sellers) and grantees (purchasers). You’re working back from the most recent known owner, so you’ll probably want to consult grantee indexes.

The Salt Lake City-based Family History Library (FHL) has microfilmed many counties’ deed records. To see if that includes the records you need, run a place search of its online catalog for the county, then look for a “land and property” heading. You can borrow FHL microfilm through your local Family History Center. If only the index is filmed, use the volume and page number given and request the original deed from the courthouse.

Once you get back to early settlement in the area, you’ll look for an original land purchase from a Colonial proprietor (in a state-land state) or the US government (in a public-land state).

In a state-land state, these records are with the state archives or historical society. In public-land states, you’d look for land patents and related records at the National Archives and Records Administration (read the archives’ guide). You can search most public-land sales at the Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Web site.

Read county histories, too, for information on early settlers—look for them at the local library and historical society, or search online bookstores such as

land records
Tuesday, 26 June 2007 18:36:48 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, 13 June 2007
Finding Your Ancestor in State Hospital Records
Posted by Diane

Q My grandmother died at the Cleveland State Hospital during the Flu Epidemic of 1918 after staying there two months. I’ve learned the hospital was torn down, but I could never find out where the records went. How can I get them?

A We received this question in response to a Family Tree Magazine E-mail Update newsletter editorial about my search for my great-grandmother’s Cleveland (Ohio) State Hospital records. I’d learned from her death certificate that she died there.

To learn the whereabouts of the hospital records, I first did a Google search on “Cleveland State Hospital” and learned some history. The hospital was once called the Newburgh Asylum and was demolished in 1977.

The Google search also led me to a Web page from the Case Western Reserve University archives, which referred me to the Ohio Historical Society for patient records. That made sense: Records of a state institution would probably be in that state's archives.

I searched the Ohio Historical Society library catalog and found (after experimenting with various search terms) entries for patient admission and discharge books. The catalog listing labels these hospital records “restricted” and instructs you to call the archives for more information.

The public can’t access these records because patients named in them may have passed medical conditions to their descendants, who may be living. Instead, I submitted a research request and a $25 fee. A few weeks later, I received a transcription and photocopies of my ancestor’s entries in admission and discharge registers (the archivist had obscured other patients’ names in the photocopy).

A reader e-mailed us a suggestion to examine county court records, too, for documents related to commitment hearings. She’d obtained her great-uncle’s “Inquest of Lunacy 1884, the full medical certificate of the doctor's exam and the application of admission by the probate judge.” Write the court clerk or see if the Family History Library has microfilmed the records, in which case you'd be able to borrow them for a fee through a branch Family History Center.

institutional records
Wednesday, 13 June 2007 13:07:07 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]