Author Archives: Rebecca

Your Genealogical Wish List for the Holidays

As much as we like to give during the holiday season – admit it – we like to receive too.  And as it is possible that the ones you love don’t quite understand how much you love working on your family history, you may just have to give yourself a genealogical gift this year.

What is your wish-list?  I will share mine, and perhaps it will give you some ideas for what you may need or gift ideas for our significant others.  Please know that the following are not endorsements for these products, just a few of my personal preferences.

  1. Subscriptions.  So many business are feeding our need for records.  I have a lot (don’t tell my husband!) of subscriptions to companies online including Ancestry, GenealogyBank, NewspaperArchive, and various genealogical societies whose websites offer more digitized records.  This year I’m planning to give myself a subscription to a new society, one I have been meaning to join.  Maybe it will be the Federation of Genealogical Societies or the Genealogical Speaker’s Guild.
  2. Conferences.  I could attend every genealogical conference in the country this year and still not be satisfied.  I love the feel of conferences, the commraderie, the vendors!  If I had to pick this year (and I really can’t), I think that I would enjoy the National Genealogical Society’s conference in May 2013.  On a personal note, it is located near some family and I could make the most of my visit by seeing them as well.  But let’s face it – its in VEGAS!  I am not a gambler at all, but I love the shows and the buffets.
  3. Books.  I think I would have to dedicate an entire website to the books I love on genealogy. I did an inventory once of all the books I have at Library Thing, but I had to stop once I reached 100 genealogy books, out of sheer exhaustion. Among my long list of published resources, one has been on my list for too long, and I think I just have to get it.  Its Joan L. Sevra’s Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840 – 1900, available at many stores.
  4. Stories.  It is crucial to keep stories alive.  Names and dates are well and good, but where’s the personality?  Where’s the voice?  My gift to myself will be a way to pass the story along to my siblings, my children, and all my relatives.  I can start small right now by deciding which family I want to highlight, collecting their information, and then choosing a media that best suits my story.  Of course, a Reel Tributes documentary is my first choice!  Talk about giving my ancestors their voices back. For something quicker and less expensive, ReelGenie promises to be an amazing tool. If only it were ready for this holiday season!
  5. Time.  My family thinks I am crazy (for many reasons).   This is mostly because I think a valuable family vacation should be spent in a state and local archives in New York where my ancestors came from.  What’s wrong with having family time in the cemetery, or the court house?  So I think one thing I would really like is my own ”vacation” to work on my family history.   I have taken some serious time this year writing about my ancestors.  Now I want to walk where they walked.  This year: New York.  Next year: Scotland!
  6. Answers.  I would like to ask a favor of the universe.  Please send me the names of my fifth great-grandfather’s parents.  I am stuck!  Have you felt this way?  I often say that I am the only person to prove my ancestors were actually dropped by aliens, because there is no other evidence to refute it.  In all seriousness, I have taken to keeping an 8×10 framed photo of great grandpa James Wescott Whitman (1794 – 1878) in my office to inspire me.  So, if the universe is listening, that’s what I want most of all.  More family.

What genealogical treats would you like in you holiday celebrations this year?  I’d love to hear your ideas.  Inspire us with what genealogical gifts you are giving to yourself.  The trick is that when you continue to search out and celebrate your family, it becomes a gift to everyone in your family.  Happy Holidays!

Newspapers: They’re still worth reading!

We hear all the time how newspapers are dying. But don’t let that fool you. Their value to researchers remains high.  News items, especially in small towns, are a glimpse not only into our ancestor’s lives, but into the world they lived in.  How much would it have cost for shoes or for that new Model T that Grandpa was so proud of?  What were the political feelings of the time, and how do they differ from ours today?

Researching in local newspapers can also help answer many of the questions we have about our family.  Look for:

- Marriages, anniversaries, and births

- Obituaries

- Probate and Estate settlement announcements

- Visits from out of town

- Military troop movements for soldiers from the town

- Accidents and tragedies that would have affected your family

Where can I find newspapers?  First, contact the local library, historical society, or county historian in the area your ancestor lived.  Ask about indexes to newspapers, and if they are online, on microfilm, or in paper only.  Occasionally, if they are on microfilm, you can request an inter-library loan through your own county library for a small fee.  I have found unpublished index books created by local historical societies that cannot be found anywhere else.

Are newspapers online?  Many newspapers are online, but not necessarily the ones you need.  Some are indexed and some are not.  Some of the popular places to check for the paper you are interested in are:

- Library of Congress Chronicling America Project  (free)

- Newspaper Archive ($, free to use at LDS Family History Centers)

- The United States Newspaper Program

- Fold3.com ($, free to use at LDS Family History Centers and in many local libraries)

- Ancestry.com ($, free to use at LDS Family History Centers and in many local libraries)

- Genealogy Bank ($)

- Check your local library.  They often subscribe to historic newspaper sites that may be associated with surrounding areas.

What is OCR?  Online newspaper projects often use a system known as Optical Character Recognition software.  It allows newspapers to be word-by-word indexed and searchable.  It isn’t perfect, especially since the type face or copy quality of the newspaper may cause words and letters to be mis-identified.  When looking for my 5th Great-grandfather’s obituary at a site for Western New York papers, I had a hard time.  His name, James Whitman, finally came out as “Jamas” before I could identify it.  Be creative and patient in your search.

Don’t give up.  Newspaper research can be time-consuming, and is dreaded by avid genealogists.  However, it is also one of the most richest sources of information.  I finally found where James Whitman was buried.  No, not in his own obituary.  I found it in the third of FOUR obituaries for his daughter, Anna.  I knew that people often had multiple obituaries, but Anna was apparently very popular.  The third obit stated that she was being buried next to her parents.  That was the key.  Anna has a headstone, but two plots lie unmarked beside her.  Now we know.  What will you find out, with some research into the newspapers of your ancestors’ times?

Digitizing History: The War of 1812

Preservationists often encounter fragile historical records. When they do, the key is to flatten them and archivally conserve the documents to prevent further damage.

But what if they are still in use and popular with the public? How much damage can they take? Unfortunately, this is a major concern for a specific group of records: the War of 1812 Pensions.

Currently, the genealogical and historical community – people like you and me – are taking on a massive effort to digitize fragile records and make those precious original records available online. And you can help…

Who is leading this effort?

Led by President Pat Oxley, the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) is spearheading the fundraising for conserving and digitizing 180,000 War of 1812 Patriot Pensions.  She says, “…this is the first time in history that the entire genealogy community is coming together to see a project of this magnitude to completion.”  For people researching their ancestors from the “Second Revolution”, the idea that these records could be available online is of untold value.  In collaboration with the National Archives, FGS has hired a professional archival team to photograph and index the over seven million pages contained in the War of 1812 Federal Pensions.

What might a War of 1812 Pension contain?

If you are looking for information about a solider or his family from the War of 1812, you may find such gems as:

  • The soldier’s name, age, and residence
  • Widow’s first and maiden names
  • Marriage date and place
  • Children’s names
  • Other family names
  • Service information and dates
  • Bounty land granted
  • Death dates of family members

How can I help?

Due to the fragile nature of the pensions, no volunteers are currently needed.  To keep the project running, FGS is asking for your contributions.  Each page costs about $0.45 to digitize.  For each dollar you contribute, two pages can be preserved.  However, right now, Ancestry.com has generously offered to match every contribution dollar-for-dollar. Now, each of your dollars contributed will digitize four precious pages.

Many have asked if this means that the pensions will only be available for a fee through Ancestry.com?  The answer is no.  The pensions are already becoming available for free, indefinitely.  To see the progress of Preserve the Pensions project, go to http://go.fold3.com/1812pensions/.   To contribute to this worthy project, go to www.fgs.org/1812.

As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, let us not allow the patriots of that crucial time in our history to be forgotten.  Encourage your genealogical society to discuss and contribute to the Preserve the Pensions project and others like it.

Equity and Chancery Court Records: Valuable Genealogical Sources

If you have never looked into Equity Court Records (also called Chancery Records) for your family history research project, you’re in for a big surprise! There’s a wealth of information available in this little-used source. People often ask me “What do equity court records contain, and how can I use them to research my history?”

Equity records are what we often think of as small-claims court (rather than criminal court). In some early state records, they were used even more broadly.   You may be able to find records that cover such cases as:

- Divorce proceedings

- Probate disputes

- Adoptions

- Business/Partnership disputes and dissolutions

- Property complaints

Your ancestor could have been a defendant, plaintiff, or witness in any such cases.

Like in any court case, you can often find some personal details about the lives of your ancestors and their neighbors.  Recently I found a name change for a man in 1906.  The case was not about his name change, it was about his pending divorce, but in the course of the legal paperwork that followed (which stretched over four years), he was identified with his alias and signed his name with both names, allowing me to later find his parents and siblings.  Some of the most valuable things I love to collect in researching any family are their signatures, to help sort out identifications of men of the same name in a geographic area.

Where can I find Equity Records?

First, look at the county or counties your ancestor lived in.  Check the Equity Docket books for a short synopsis of the cases taken in a period of time.  The docket books work like an index, but beware that your ancestor may be involved in other cases (say, to witness for a neighbor’s claim) and not be listed by name in the docket.  If you recognize names of your ancestor’s neighbors or relatives, check for their cases as well.  These docket books are rarely online, but a few of them may be microfilmed.  Check the FHL catalog at www.familysearch.org to have the film sent (for a small fee) to your local Family History Center.

After I find something in the Equity Docket…

Don’t stop there.  Now look for the original case files.  If the microfilms are not at the FHL catalog, ask the county circuit clerk (you might call them if you live far away) if the original case files are still at the county court house or if they have been transferred to the State Archive.  You can visit the archive and view the original documents or microfilmed copies, or contact them to order photocopies.  Go to www.statearchivists.org/states.htm for a full list of State Archive websites.

More information on Equity Records

Check out the chapter on “Court Records” by Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, FUGA, Loretto Dennis Szucs, FUGA, and Arlene H. Eakle, Ph.D. in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy. 

Have you ever used Equity Court records?  Tell us how it helped or changed your genealogical research.  Did you find anything surprising or new?  Let us know!

Rebecca’s Reel Hints: Online Tutorials for Genealogy

When it comes to finding education and inspiration in the field of genealogy, it is hard to know where to start.  The choices we have these days are impressive. Luckily, there’s always so much to learn.

To that end, I spend hours reading books and genealogical publications, especially the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ).  However, I would be naive not to look to online resources as well. I admit there are so many more websites than I will list below, but here are a few I’d like you to try. Best of all, they’re free!

- Handwriting and Script Tutorials at http://script.byu.edu/.  There are early samples and helps to read English, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Italian.

- RootsWeb’s Guide to Family History at http://rwguide.rootsweb.ancestry.com/, a subject-based site organized by respected genealogists Julia M. Case, Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG, and Rhonda McClure.  Scroll down past the dancing skeleton to start at the section “Numerical Index to Guides.”

- The FamilySearch Learning Center at https://familysearch.org/learningcenter/home.html.  In the long text box on the left you can choose from different localities, subjects, and classes/tutorials at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels.

- Podcasts downloadable to your PC or IPod.  There are genealogy-based ones, but don’t miss out on building your social history knowledge as well.  Some of my historically-based favorites are “Stuff You Missed in History Class” by How Stuff Works.com and “HIST 1301″ by Professor Gretchen Ann Reilly.  Use your search feature to find what you like.

- Cyndi’s List. If you haven’t heard of Cyndi, you’re in for a treat. Go to http://www.cyndislist.com/categories/ for links to other sites, educational articles, and more.

Know of any more?  We’d love to learn from you.  Tell us about your genealogical educational journey.  When looking to my own genealogical researching future, I hold to the old axiom, “Information is Inspiration.”