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# Wednesday, April 08, 2009
How to Use PERSI for Genealogy
Posted by Diane

Q. 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)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Reading Old Documents: The Long S
Posted by Diane

Q. 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 and s. 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 (congrefs).

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)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, February 26, 2009
Using WWII Army Enlistment Records
Posted by Diane

Q. How do I use the WWII Army Enlistment information on Footnote? I found my grandfather within seconds. There was no document image, but the source information gave box, card and reel numbers. How do I use those numbers to find the document?

A. The WWII Army enlistment records that are free on Footnote (as part of its WWII Hero Pages collection) and other genealogy database sites come from the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) Access to Archival Databases (AAD) system.

Search the enlistments on AAD here. It has records of approximately 9 million men and women who enlisted in the US Army, including the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, between 1938 and 1946.

The Army used punch cards to record the information. It microfilmed the cards after World War II, then destroyed them.

Normally, we'd advise genealogists to go right from an index or transcription to the microfilmed or paper record. But in this case, if you look at the film (which is what Footnote’s source citation numbers refer to), you’d just see cards with a series of holes in them.

NARA acquired the microfilm in 1959, and later digitized it and ran it through a “reader” to code the meaning of the punches. About 13 percent of the cards couldn’t be read due to poor microfilm quality, and an estimated 35 percent of the remaining records contain a scanning error (though NARA says few of these errors are in the name field).

I compared my own grandfather’s enlistment record on Footnote and in AAD, and both sites had the same information, though Footnote’s version is a bit easier to search and is presented in a more user-friendly format.

So what use is the information when there’s no original record to look at? The serial number, enlistment information and branch of service will help if you want to request military service records.

WWII service records are at the National Archives’ National Personnel Records Center. Due to privacy restrictions, you may need permission from your grandfather or his next of kin, or proof your grandfather is deceased. See this NPRC Web page for more details (scroll to the OMPF—Official Military Personnel Files—section). Note a large number of service records were destroyed in a 1973 fire at the NPRC.

You also can mine the enlistment record for clues to other research avenues and details to put in your grandfather’s life chronology. For example, the enlistment record can help you confirm a birth year and place, marital status, and place of residence at the time of enlistment.

It gives the person’s education level and shows how the government categorized your grandfather’s employment (my grandfather was grouped with “Messengers, errand boys, and office boys and girls”).

If some piece of information seems out of place, remember those scanning errors and look for confirmation in other records.


military records | Web tips
Thursday, February 26, 2009 3:12:41 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, February 18, 2009
How to Convert Old Slides to Digital
Posted by Diane

Q. I have some 35mm slides that I want to put on my computer. Also, the color on these pictures has turned red. What’s the best method to save these slides?

A. If you have a flatbed scanner, you may be able to find a special attachment for scanning slides, but these don’t always produce good results. Nowadays, you can get a slide converter, such as VuPoint’s film and slide converter or the Imagelab Instant Slide Scanner, for around $100 to $150.

See a demo of a converter here.

Alternatively, your local photo lab may be able to convert the slides for you, or you can use a service (great for large quantities) such as ScanDigital or ScanMyPhotos.

Color shifting in slides is common, says photo expert Maureen A. Taylor. “To slow the process, store color photographic materials such as prints and slides in a dark, cool place that is not subject to fluctuations in temperature and humidity. Large archives actually store their color materials in refrigerated vaults.”

Though it may not be possible to return the images to their brand-new appearance, most professional services can correct the color and remove scratch marks. Do-it-yourselfers can use photo-editing software such as Adobe PhotoShop Express (free online).

Make sure you save the unedited scans as TIF files, a format that does the best job of preserving image quality. Make copies of the images to edit. Store the edited copies as high-resolution TIFs, too. For sharing or posting online, copy the edited files as JPGs (which reduces file size).

Finally, be sure to back up your digitized images. The best way is with an online storage service.  Mozy is one; see more back-up services in PC Magazine’s online review. You also can save the files to an external hard drive kept in a location away from your home. Give copies to family, too.


Preserving Heirlooms and Photos
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 4:58:33 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Which Genealogy Database Site Is Worth Your Money?
Posted by Diane

Q. 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.
  • 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).
For links to even more genealogy database sites, see Cyndi's List.

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)  #  Comments [7]
# 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]