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# Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Finding Incarcerated Ancestors
Posted by Diane

Q. My mother told us repeatedly that she thought our paternal grandfather spent time in various jails and/or prisons in the Deep South. Is there any way to track criminal incarcerations in first quarter of the 20th century without going to each individual district?

A. I don't know of any comprehensive prison indexes, though you can find a few records from individual institutions online. See Ancestor Hunt for a list. (I haven’t clicked all those links—some may go to pay sites.)

Decennial US censuses typically enumerated prisons and other institutions (you’ll see the institution’s name at the top of the return), so search for your ancestor’s name in censuses during his lifetime. Note that not everyone listed in censuses as “inmate” was in prison—people in orphanages and hospitals sometimes were called inmates.

You also could run searches of various online newspaper indexes to see if your grandfather’s name turns up in crime-related coverage.

Do you know the places he lived? If so, you could always run place searches of the Family History Library catalog to see whether it has any microfilmed prison records from those counties or states, then rent the film through a Family History Center near you. Search state archives’ Web sites and catalogs, too, as state prison records would likely be with the archives.

But it sounds like you’re taking a shot in the dark. Without a more-specific idea of when and where your grandfather may have served time, renting all that film will be time-consuming and expensive.

Aside from checking censuses and using the easily accessible online indexes mentioned above on the off chance you'll find something, your best bet is to continue your general research of your great-grandfather and other relatives. Keep your eyes open for clues. Ask cousins whether they've heard anything about your grandfather being incarcerated.

For example, my family had a similar story about my great-grandfather, and only when I got his son’s orphanage application (it mentioned the state penitentiary) did I learn when and where he was imprisoned, and where I needed to look for records.


black sheep ancestors | institutional records
Wednesday, January 14, 2009 4:46:40 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, December 15, 2008
The Tragic Tale of the 1890 Census
Posted by Diane

Q. What happened to the 1890 census? Everyone seems to skip over it when talking about census records.

A. The 1890 census is a bit of a sore subject for genealogists. Bringing it up sparks bad dreams, anguished “if only”s and anxieties over everlasting brick walls.

Why?

More than 99 percent of the records were destroyed Jan. 10, 1921, in a fire in the basement of the Commerce Building.

When the fire broke out, firefighters flooded the basement with water. The flames didn’t spread to upper floors, but the 1890 census records—piled outside a records storage vault—were soaked. (Even some of the census schedules stored inside the supposedly waterproof vault got wet.)

The cause of the blaze couldn’t be determined.

The records sat in storage for awhile, with no restoration efforts made. Rumors circulated that they’d be disposed of; various groups protesting such measures were assured the rumors were unfounded. But sometime between 1933 and 1935, the records were destroyed along with other papers the Census Bureau deemed no longer necessary.

I almost don’t want to tell you how future genealogists almost dodged this bullet: According to a 1996 article in the National Archives’ Prologue magazine  (vol. 28, no. 1), all or part of 1790 through 1880 census schedules had to be filed in county clerks' offices. But this wasn’t required in 1890; all the  schedules were forwarded to Washington, DC.

Fragments of the 1890 census bearing 6,160 names later turned up, and are viewable on microfilm. Also surviving are special 1890 schedules for half of Kentucky and states alphabetically following it, which enumerate Union veterans and their widows.

In a precursor to the 1921 tragedy, an 1896 fire badly damaged 1890 special schedules including mortality, crime, pauperism and “special classes.” They were destroyed by Department of the Interior order.

For help filling the genealogical holes left by the 1890 census, see our article on FamilyTreeMagazine.com.


census records
Monday, December 15, 2008 2:24:04 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Thursday, December 11, 2008
This Brick Wall is Murder
Posted by Diane

Q. I have a great aunt who was murdered in San Francisco, July 18, 1918, at age 30. Her husband had died four months before and she had a 3-year-old son. I was able to find the date of death, but I really want to know the facts behind the case. How did it happen? Was the killer caught?

A. You don’t mention whether you’ve already found a death certificate. If not, look for one. The certificate will confirm details such as the date and cause of death. Contact San Francisco’s Office of Vital Records or the California Department of Public Health for information.

A microfilmed index of California deaths covering 1905 to 1988 is at the Family History Library. You can rent film for viewing through your local FamilySearch Family History Center.

As a FamilyTreeMagazine.com Forum member suggested, coroner’s records (also called medical examiner records) may help. Coroners would investigate suspicious deaths. The San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library has coroner’s reports from 1906 to 1950. Contact the library (415-557-4567) to request a search .

You’re right to search newspapers. You can use a service such as Proquest Historical Newspapers or Newsbank at many libraries; or you could use a site such as the subscription site GenealogyBank at home.

If searching doesn’t produce results, try browsing through newspapers for the days and weeks after your great-aunt’s death. San Francisco being a major city, your local library may have its newspapers on microfilm. Search for titles of San Francisco papers using the directory on the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America site.

The above records should help you determine whether anyone was caught and tried for the crime. The State Archives of California has San Francisco criminal case files from 1850 to 1965. Learn more about researching California court records using the archives' online finding aid.


birth/death records | court records | printed sources
Thursday, December 11, 2008 9:59:06 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Investigating an Ancestor's Presidential Award
Posted by Diane

Q. My grandfather, a lawyer, received a Certificate of Appreciation from President Roosevelt on April 15, 1943, "in grateful recognition of patriotic services rendered in aiding in the administration of the Selective Training and Service Act." The governor of Maryland also signed it.

I'd like to find out what he did to earn this certificate. I can't find anything in Maryland state archive searches. (This question is from the FamilyTreeMagazine.com Forum.)

A. The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 required American men aged 21 to 35 to register beginning in 1940. Those whose names were drawn had to serve 12 months.

In 1941, Congress approved by one vote the President's request to extend the term of service. After the United States entered World War II, a new act made men age 18 to 45 liable for military service; those up to age 65 had to register.

There are any number of ways your grandfather could've participated in administering this legislation, so first dig through attics and closets and quiz relatives for clues that may give you a starting point. Then take these steps:
  • Was he a lawyer for the government or for a firm? If the latter, perhaps his involvement was through his employer. A relative might remember the name, or you could check a city directory.
If he was a government employee, his records would be at the National Personnel Records Center (part of the National Archives and Records Administration) in St. Louis. Records may be restricted for privacy reasons; instructions for making a request are online.
  • If he was prominent enough to get an award from the president, maybe he made the news. Search newspaper databases such as Google's News Archive, the subscription site GenealogyBank, or NewsBank, available through many libraries.
  • Reading a history of the Selective Service System may offer clues to your grandfather’s participation or even mention him.
  • Selective Service System records are in the National Archives' Record Group 147, which includes correspondence, official appointments, conscientious objector case files and more. The mostly paper records, some of which involve state draft boards, are distributed among various National Archives locations. Start with the administrative records at the archives' Washington, DC, and College Park, MD, locations.
These records aren’t indexed, so study a finding aid (the archives recommends two) and enlist the help of an archivist.
You also can hire a researcher; the archives has posted a list of recommended researchers by topic.
You can use the Archival Research Catalog People Search to see if your grandfather’s name appears in any National Archives catalog descriptions. (Note that even if he’s not in the People Search, the records still may mention him.)


occupational records | US roots
Wednesday, December 03, 2008 9:49:46 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, November 20, 2008
Researching a Merchant Mariner's Overseas Death
Posted by Diane

Q. Is there a central repository where the death of a merchant seamen who died abroad would be recorded? My ancestor is rumored to have died in Peru, possibly between 1875 and 1890. (This question comes from the FamilyTreeMagazine.com Forum.)

A. The merchant marine is a civilian auxiliary of the US Navy. Mariners transport cargo and passengers during peacetime; but during war, they may be called upon to deliver troops and supplies.

Until 1985, merchant mariners (also called merchant seamen) weren’t eligible for veteran’s benefits, even if they were killed participating in military action.

First, learn more about your ancestor’s service by requesting a search of Merchant Marine records from the National Personnel Records Center (part of the National Archives and Records Administration, or NARA). In the April 2006 Family Tree Magazine, professional genealogist Emily Anne Croom advises readers to provide the mariner’s full name, birth date and approximate employment dates.

You also can find some merchant crew lists on microfilm at NARA and at the Family History Library, or FHL (run a keyword search of the FHL's online catalog on merchant crew list).

You can rent relevant film through a local Family History Center (See a directory of locations on FamilyTreeMagazine.com.) Crew lists arranged by port, so it’ll be helpful if you know the ports your ancestor sailed into.

These records should tell you about your ancestor’s employment and give you an idea of whether he in fact died while serving as a mariner.

NARA also has seamen’s protection certificates, identification issued to seamen to protect them from being impressed into service by the British.

As far as civilian deaths abroad, US consular officers have been charged with reporting to the Department of State deaths of US citizens in their districts. NARA has an online listing of its resources for overseas death reports.

For deaths from 1870 to 1906, consult Registers of Consular Despatches. It comprises 14 volumes on rolls 19 through 32 of NARA microfilm M17, Registers of Correspondence of the Department of State, 1870-1906.

The FHL has copies of many films from this series, titled by place. To find them, run a keyword search of the online catalog on registers of consular despatches.


birth/death records | occupational records
Thursday, November 20, 2008 1:37:55 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Searching for Early Immigrants
Posted by Diane

Q. I always get discouraged when I read about immigration records, because my ancestors came over sometime before 1790. I’ve checked all the books at my library, and a few have my family’s last name, but none of the first names match my ancestor’s. Is there any other place to look?

A. The government didn’t began requiring ships to keep passenger lists until 1820, so before then, few immigration records exist. Here are some sources you can check:
  • Philadelphia passengers from 1729-1808, listed online, with the originals on microfilm at the Pennsylvania state archives.
  • Though not passenger lists, records of an ancestor’s court case could provide plenty of immigration information. Colonial court records often are in state archives; you also may find some microfilmed by the Family History Library (FHL). Run a place search of the online catalog on your ancestor’s county or town. Visit your local branch Family History Center to rent FHL microfilm.
  • During the British Colonial period, non-English immigrants had to apply for citizenship, often by signing oaths of allegiance upon arrival. Look for these, too, at state archives and on FHL microfilm.
  • Newspapers in port cities such as Philadelphia and Boston may mention arriving ships. The subscription service GenealogyBank has many Colonial-era papers; historical societies in those towns also are likely to have papers on microfilm. You can use the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America site to identify newspaper titles to look for.
  • The Great Migration project, hosted by NewEnglandAncestors.org, publishes a Web site, book series and newsletter with information about early immigrants. A 1620-to-1640 surname index is free; most of the information is by subscription.
Keep in mind that ancestors' names aren't always recorded as we think they should be. Your immigrant relative may have been recorded under his middle name or a nickname rather than his first name; or the name you know him as may be the middle name.

Continue researching your ancestor in whatever records you can find, even those unrelated to his immigration. If a resource helps you pinpoint his place of origin, you can start researching his life in his ancestral homeland—and then maybe you’ll learn when he departed.

Learn about other resources that may provide early immigration information on FamilyTreeMagazine.com and in the July 2007 Family Tree Magazine.


immigration
Wednesday, November 05, 2008 4:20:00 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Finding Ancestors in the Civilian Conservation Corps
Posted by Diane

Q. My relative worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Where can I find more information about his time there?

A. This question was inspired by a post in our Forum.

The CCC—which happens to be celebrating its 75th anniversary this year—was established March 21, 1933, as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. By the time the CCC disbanded in 1942, when Congress ceased its funding, more than 2.5 million workers had participated.

It was a multi-agency effort, with the Army running CCC camps and various federal agencies sponsoring them.

Over 4,500 camps were established in all states. African-Americans were segregated in “colored” camps. Each enrollee earned at least $30 per month, and had to send $25 of it home to family.

It’ll help your search if you know your ancestor’s camp and the dates he worked, so ask your family members and pore over your research for clues.

The Colorado state archives has a statewide CCC enrollment index, which gives the enrollee’s name, county, birth date and camp.

Employment records of CCC workers are in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. You can fill out a research request following these instructions. Provide as much information as possible, and send either a written OK from the person in the record or proof of the person's death.

Most administrative and other records—project reports, correspondence, the CCC’s Happy Days weekly newspaper, publicity materials, meeting minutes, photographs, accident and death reports—are part of Record Group 35 at NARA’s College Park, MD, facility.

Records of the separate Indian Division of the CCC are with Bureau of Indian Affairs records in NARA’s Seattle and Denver regional facilities.

The CCC records aren’t indexed and few are microfilmed, so you’d need to travel to NARA or hire a researcher there to use them. The finding aid Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Civilian Conservation Corps by Douglas Helms should help.

Some of the camps had newspapers, you can learn their titles using the Center for Research Libraries online search.

Learn more about the CCC on these sites:


occupational records | US roots
Wednesday, October 22, 2008 8:38:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Thursday, October 09, 2008
Searching for Y-DNA Matches in Other Companies' Databases
Posted by Diane

Q. I took a 46-marker Y-DNA test through Ancestry.com's DNA testing service. Can I post my test results on other organizations' DNA Web sites to search for matches?

A. Most genetic genealogy companies that host public DNA databases will let you enter results from other companies.

It’s a little more complicated than it sounds, though, because labs don’t always test the same markers, and they might present test results differently.

That means you might have to convert your marker values to the format used by the database you want to search. DNA database sites usually have information to help you with this process.

Family Tree DNA’s Ysearch database, for example, has a page to help you enter marker values from other companies. Depending on the company used, you select a marker submission form (Ancestry.com acquired Relative Genetics, so you'd use the Relative Genetics form). Look for red asterisks next to the labels for marker values you’ll need to convert; conversion instructions also are provided.

Ybase’s results submission form also has asterisks that link to a Conversion page.

See our list of these and other public DNA databases, as well as other genetic genealogy reearch helps, in our online DNA toolkit.


genetic genealogy
Thursday, October 09, 2008 3:47:19 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, September 22, 2008
Don't Get Arrested Doing A Tombstone Rubbing
Posted by Diane

Q. A cemetery-sleuthing FamilyTreeMagazine.com Forum member, surprised to learn tombstone rubbings are prohibited in some areas, asked for more information about where that’s the case.

A. A state, county, municipality or a cemetery itself can set rules regarding tombstone rubbings.

Historic cemeteries and those popular with tourists, such as Boston’s Old Granary (final resting place for many Revolutionary War heroes), often prohibit tombstone rubbings because of the potential damage. Repeated rubbings of a stone, even when done properly, cause deterioration over time.

Similarly, Department of Veterans Affairs national cemeteries also do not authorize gravestone rubbings. (You can search burials in VA cemeteries using the Nationwide Gravesite Locator.)

You also may find rubbings aren’t prohibited, but regulated. In Andover, Mass., for example, Spring Grove Cemetery requires visitors to register with the foreman before doing a rubbing.

New Hampshire law states “No person shall make gravestone rubbings in any municipal cemetery or burial ground without first obtaining the written permission of the town selectmen or the mayor of a city … [who] will ascertain to the best of their ability that the person making the request knows the proper precautions.”

Before you visit a cemetery to do a rubbing, call ahead to see if it's permitted. Most cemetery Web sites I checked didn't address the issue; I’d try to talk to a person just to be safe.

For some cemeteries, it’s not clear whom to call. Try the local municipal government or parks department, which may take over maintenance once the family or oganization that established a cemetery is gone. A local genealogical or historical society might be able to give helpful information, too.

Before visiting a cemetery located on private property—common in rural areas—check cemetery access laws to ensure you’re not trespassing. You may have to go during certain hours or get permission from the landowner to cross his property.

Even when tombstone rubbings are allowed, use common sense: If a stone is unsteady, crumbling or fragile, don’t take a rubbing—take a picture and make a transcription instead.

See more gravestone rubbing dos and don'ts  on the Association for Gravestone Studies Web site.


cemeteries
Monday, September 22, 2008 6:06:22 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Help! My Ancestor's Birth Record Is Restricted
Posted by Diane

Q. I’m having difficulties getting a relative’s birth records because I live in a state that restricts vital records. I’m not an immediate family member, and thus not entitled to the record. Any suggestions?

A. You don’t say about when the ancestor was born, but many states loosen restrictions on records created more than 75 or 100 years ago. So first, double-check the rules where your ancestor was born. If older certificates are unrestricted, you may need to request the record from the state archives. Try these ideas, too:
  • Try to find someone who is a qualified family member of the person in the record, and ask if he or she will request it for you (or perhaps the person already has a copy). A relative may be able to help you connect with the person, or you can post to surname message boards.
  • See if you can get an uncertified copy of the record. Unlike a certified copy, an uncertified copy can’t be used for official purposes such as identification. The uncertified record also may contain a bit less information.
  • Look for a birth index in print, online or on microfilm. It’ll certainly have less information than the full record, but you can confirm the person’s name, place and date of birth, and maybe the parents’ names. To find printed or microfilmed indexes, check with the state archives and a local library. Also, run a place search of the FamilySearch catalog on the county of birth, then look for a vital records heading. You can go to your nearest Family History Center to rent the microfilm.
  • You may need to go to other sources for birth information. The person’s church may have recorded his or her baptism. Maybe there’s a family Bible entry or the newspaper announced the good news (check newspaper databases such as Ancestry.com’s or GenealogyBank’s, or visit the local library for microfilmed papers).
  • Military records, death certificates, cemetery records and the Social Security Death Index can provide birthplaces and dates. Remember that these records, created long after a person’s birth, are more likely to contain errors than a birth certificate.
See the December 2006 Family Tree Magazine for more help finding ancestors’ birth records. If you have more tips, click Comment to post them.


birth/death records | US roots
Wednesday, September 10, 2008 10:09:11 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]