Author Archives: Rebecca

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  I have found unpublished index books created by local historical societies that cannot be found anywhere else.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.”

Rebecca’s Reel Hints: Indexing – Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness

I love working on my genealogy and researching for clients.  I research just about every single day, and some of that research is done online.  Every time I find something helpful, I congratulate myself and celebrate a little.  Too often though, I don’t think how that information was made available for free online.  The answer is that many volunteers all over the genealogical community are offering their time reading old documents and creating indexes to make it easier for me to search.  Many websites offer these volunteer services, such as www.findagrave.com, www.deadfred.com, and www.usgenweb.org.  Untold thousands of hours are contributed by volunteers.

In this post, I’d like to suggest a site that gives all of us a chance to contribute to the online indexing of historical records.  It’s fun, easy to use, and worth every minute of time you can give:  It’s the program spear-headed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) at https://familysearch.org/volunteer/indexing.  This program takes on the herculean job of making an online-searchable database for almost all of the microfilms created and housed at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City – the genealogist mecca.

Any person (preferably over age 12) can download the simple software, watch a five-minute video on how to index, and get started.  Participants download a “batch” from which to extract information.  Each batch consists of a page or two of a record, such as death certificates, passenger arrival records, and censuses.  The screen will show the record at the top and a set of data-entry fields at the bottom, requesting parts of the record to be filled in.  If you have trouble, the program offers lots of help from handwriting samples to more tutorials, and even hands-on help from a live trained volunteer online or over the phone.  Each batch is reviewed at least three times for accuracy, unlike some earlier indexing projects.  The scale of this project is impressive!

My favorite of the indexing projects right now is the indexing of the 1940 census.  In a joint effort between the LDS Church and the National Archives, each page of the census is becoming every-name searchable.  The images are relatively easy to read and so incredibly valuable to genealogists, historians, and statisticians.  The “greatest generation” of the 1940s is being honored again.  Go to https://familysearch.org/1940census/ to see an interactive map of how much indexing has been completed in each state to date.

My daughters are in high school and middle school respectively, and their school counselors have approved any hours spent in indexing the 1940 census as part of their required Student Service Learning Hours (students in many states must complete 70 – 80 hours of volunteer service to qualify for graduation).  I woke up the other morning to the most wonderful thing:  my girls arguing.  What were they arguing about?  Who got to index first, and who was the best at it.  Made me so proud…

I love to index.  It isn’t something I do for myself or my clients.  Offering an hour or even a few minutes a day just to make some record more accessable to someone doesn’t do a thing for me.  But I get that warm-fuzzy feeling all the same.  I am a busy mom, and I work too, but taking a little time for this little random act of genealogical kindness is certainly a valuable endeavor!