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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)
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Plot Ancestors' Lives With Online Mapping Tools
Posted by Diane
. I heard about a site that can help me find places in Chicago where my ancestors lived. What is it and how does it work?A
. You’re thinking about ChicagoAncestors.org
, an interactive online mapping tool, created by the Windy City’s Newberry Library
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, dates, related library resources or links to online images. (The data come from other history-related projects, such as Homicide in Chicago 1870-1930
and the Historic American Buildings Survey
There’s also a keyword search box, so you could type in St. Thomas
, for example, to see locations of churches with that name. Registered ChicagoAncestors.org users can customize maps by adding their own map points, and comment on existing map points. Check the Tools section for documents that help you convert addresses predating the sweeping 1909 street renumbering.
Descendants of Bostonians can take advantage of a similar tool. Tufts University’s Boston Streets
features Cowpaths, a map-based tool named for the cute but false story that Boston streets meander because they trace old bovine trails.
You can use it to plot information from the Boston Streets' databases of street scene photos, city directories and historical atlases. Users can either search those databases first and then click to plot matching places in Cowpaths, or start in Cowpaths by assigning different search criteria to up to four map layers. Use the illustrated Cowpaths primer
for more-detailed instructions.
Those whose families didn’t live in Chicago or Boston can use good old Google to create a map showing a neighborhood over time, and where relatives lived. Start by going to Google maps
and clicking Sign In, then creating a profile (if you don’t already have a Google account). You’ll be able to import images and add text and markers. You also can let others view and/or edit your maps.
A FamilyTreeMagazine.com Forum member used features in Google Maps to find a street-image view of her grandparents' former home. You can see then-and-now shots in her post
land records | Web tips
Thursday, June 19, 2008 3:04:02 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, May 07, 2008
Finding Your Ancestors' Cattle Brand Registrations
Posted by Diane
How would I trace cattle-brand registrations? I have the names and sketches of some brands my great-grandparents used, and I'd like to see if the documentation would provide any genealogically relevant information.A.
Ranchers such as your great-grandparents had their own marks or brands they usually burned into cattle hides to show ownership. Most states have livestock boards that regulate the movement and branding of livestock, says Robert Gant, curator of the Old West Museum
in Cheyenne, Wyo.
It'll help to know when your great-grandparents used the brands, since records of brands are kept in annual brand books. The books are often available in county libraries or state archives; some state livestock boards may search their records for a fee.
If you're lucky, the state will have digitized historical brand books. Search Utah's Division of
Animal Industry's brand books from 1849 to 1930 on the state archives Web site. Records show the brand symbol,
name and county of
residence of the person registering the mark,
location on the body of the animal, and date the brand
A Google search on your ancestors' state name and livestock board
or cattle brand
should point you in the direction of the records. Montana, for example, puts records of 1873-1950 brands in the Montana Historical Society Research Center
. Once you find the repository with the books you need, you can visit or submit a research request.
You also may be able to find a book about brands in the state, such as the 1936 publication Texas Cattle Brands
edited by Gus L. Ford (Cockrell, out of print).
printed sources | US roots
Wednesday, May 07, 2008 10:39:11 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)
Friday, April 11, 2008
No Heirs? How To Save Your Genealogy Research From the Dumpster
Posted by Diane
. What can someone who has no heirs do with photos, birth certificates and other family heirlooms so they won't be thrown away? Is there any organization they could be donated to?A
. Many libraries, historical and genealogical societies, historical museums and state archives accept donations of family papers, genealogical research and heirlooms.
Consider giving your items to a repository in the area that figures most heavily into your research. The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), for example, seeks family diaries, Bibles and other documents related to New England research
A local genealogical or historical society may be interested in your pedigree charts, records, photos or published family history. Or look for a museum or library with a collection—say, WWII ephemera or Italian immigrant photographs—that would make a fitting home for your treasures. Once you have a list of potential recipients, call each one to ask about its donation process.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Family History Library
in Salt Lake City also accepts materials it considers helpful to researchers. See its online donation guide
for information on what the library can use and how to prepare your donation.
No matter which facility you decide on, make your wishes clear in your will and designate a genealogy buddy to help your executor carry out your desires. You can't expect a repository to take everything you've collected over the decades, so include instructions for that person to weed through your papers to separate what can be pitched from what should stay. Or better yet, get organized now, while you have a say in the matter.
A new generation of Web sites gives you another option: Sites including Eternal Star
and Story of My Life
let you digitize and store photos, records and heirlooms forever. You’ll need to consider whether the material will be readily available to researchers (if that’s what you want) and what happens if the site goes out of business, and you’ll still have the originals to deal with.
For more tips on donating your research, see the Society of American Archivists' guide
and Katherine Scott Sturdevant's Organizing and Preserving Your Heirloom Documents
(Betterway Books, out of print).
Preserving Heirlooms and Photos
Friday, April 11, 2008 2:35:33 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Strategies for Finding a Death Date and Place
Posted by Allison
It seems that my great-grandmother is still living! (She was born about 1863!) I can't find where she died and is buried. I know about where and when. I've heard through the family she was cremated and buried with her husband. I've searched the Internet at home and the county library. All I've been able to come up with is seeing her name on the 1910, 1920 and 1930 censuses. She's listed below her husband in the 1910 and 1920 censuses and as widow in 1930. I've even tried to search her by her maiden name and still come up with no matches. Any ideas?A.
If you've done all your searching online thus far, don't worry about being stuck: You still have plenty more avenues to explore.
If your great-grandmother died after 1936 and had a Social Security number, she should appear in the Social Security Death Index, or SSDI (search multiple versions of this database simultaneously from Steve Morse's One-Step
site). The SSDI lists the deceased's last residence, where you can check to see if she died or was buried.
Try to request a death certificate from the vital-records office of the state where you think she died. Every US state was issuing vital records by the 1920s, so you wouldn't need to know the specific town or county to get the record. See the National Center for Health Statistics' Where to Write for Vital Records Web site
to learn the address, fees and ordering information for each US state.
Check Great-grandma's hometown newspapers for obituaries and death notices in the time frame you believe she died. You can identify newspapers published during that time, and which institutions have them on microfilm, at Chronicling America
Research the husband. You know from your census research he died between 1920 and 1930, and I’m guessing you also know where based on where they lived. Use this information to try to get his death certificate. Check newspapers for his obituaries, too. By identifying the husband’s burial location, you can find out if husband and wife are indeed buried together.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008 7:16:32 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
How to Find Your Ancestor's Will
Posted by Diane
I'm not sure if my grandparents ever had a will drawn up. They died 10 years apart. How would I go about checking to see if they ever filed a will? Whose death should I check first?A
We asked Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer, author of Long-Distance Genealogy
(Betterway Books, out of print), to weigh in on this question:
Your grandparents didn’t necessarily have one will in common. While that's possible, a will is usually made for one person. In pre-feminist days, any land probably would've been in your grandfather's name, so he might've been the only one with a will—but your grandmother might've had a separate will. It's also possible neither had a will.
Your ancestor’s will would be in his estate file. An estate file might exist even if neither ancestor left a will. They're often more interesting without a will, because they could include papers listing names and relationships, filed to prove the heirs’ identities.
Estate files may contain many types of documents other than wills, including:
- letters of administration
- list of the deceased's heirs, including their relationship
- list of who bought what at the estate sale
- final account of the estate (who got how much money), which can help you deduce relationships from the differing amounts each person received
- petitions, which may state the relationship of heirs to the deceased
Check for an estate file for each ancestor. If a female ancestor remarried, look for her under her the last surname she used.
To locate estate files, write to the probate court in the county where the ancestor resided at death. Give the name and death date of the ancestor, and ask for photocopies of the estate papers for that person.
Several books list addresses for probate courts, including:
You'll find more on researching wills in the September 2008 Family Tree Magazine
, on newsstands in July.
birth/death records | court records
Tuesday, March 18, 2008 2:56:09 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)