Friday, January 30, 2009

Illinois State Archives On-Line Databases

The Illinois State Archives (ISA) provides free on-line access to databases of state-wide marriage (1763-1900), pre-1916 deaths, 1916-1950 deaths, and misc. veteran records, plus wills, poor house, coroner, probate and birth records for a variety of Illinois counties. The records are indexed, and can be searched by name and county.

Illinois Digital Archives (IDA) includes digital images of a variety of Illinois records, including cemetery records, historic newspapers, and photo collections. To search records indexed from the State Archive, enter the bride or groom's last name. If the name is a common one, select the county (if you know it) from the list.

The system returns only exact matches, so if you search for Hartrick and that name was transcribed as Hartrich, you won't find a record. However, if you search for Hart, the system will list all the records that begin with Hart, including Harter, Hartford, Hartrich and Hartrick. Enter few details when you first begin searching (e.g., last name only), then add complexity in order to reduce the number of "hits."

Once you find an entry for your ancestor, you have several options for obtaining the original record. Contact the County Clerk of the county where the event took place, or use Interlibrary loan to order microfilm from the Illinois State Archives. The ISA web page gives details of how to order copies. Birth, marriage, and death certificates can be ordered on-line for some Illinois counties (e.g., Champaign county).

Search the Digital Archives by entering your ancestor's name in the [All of the Words] search field. If your ancestor's name is not extremely common, search the entire collection. To limit the number of hits, limit the collections to be searched by removing the check mark from the box next to [Search all collections] and then selecting a few collections to search.

Take a few minutes to browse through collections by clicking [Browse] on the gray menu bar beneath the words "Illinois State Archive." See if you can find the Abraham Lincoln burial record in the Oak Ridge Cemetery interment records:

Because the collections are digital images, you can print copies of documents, save them to your hard drive, or add them to a Google Notebook.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Family History Library Catalog

The Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City is the largest library of its kind in the world. Many of the 2.4 million rolls of microfilm and 727,000 microfiche can be ordered through a local Family History Center so you can view them without making a trip to SLC (fun as that would be!). Learning to use the FHL Catalog is critical to finding out what resources are available that might have information about your family.

The FamilySearch team has recently released brief on-line
training videos that can help you learn to search the catalog quickly and effectively. To view the list of available lessons, go to the Family History Library Catalog page. You can search the catalog directly from there, or select one of the training videos to view.

Friday, January 16, 2009

British Isles Census, Parish, and Vital Records Index Sites

If you have British Isles ancestry, you’ll want to check out these great resources:

  • FreeCEN (census - 1841, 1851, … 1891)
  • FreeREG (parish registers, some as early as 1600’s)
  • FreeBMD (Birth, Marriage, Death – 1837-1987)
FreeREG and FreeBMD are also available through, which co-sponsors the sites.

As their names imply, these are free resources, made accessible to us through the efforts of volunteer transcribers. While you won’t find digital images of original records, what you will find are millions of names, dates, places and other information transcribed from records dating back hundreds of years.

The library edition of includes most of the census years indexed at FreeCEN. If you find something and want to see more than just the index, you can see the original image on at the public library.
To obtain copies of birth, marriage, death, or parish registry records, follow the links on the respective FreeCEN/BMD/REG pages. Some are available on microfilm at your local Family History Center. Others can be ordered on-line through the appropriate General Register Office.

Remember that these sites are on-going projects. If you don't find your ancestor today, that doesn't mean you won't find him/her tomorrow. Check the
Coverage Chart page (FreeBMD) or Database Coverage (FreeCEN) or the County Parish list (FreeREG) to check the progress of transcription projects for your area of interest.

It's always polite to say "Thank you" and that still applies to on-line projects whose volunteers you will never meet. Consider leaving a "bouquet" on the FreeREG page, or sending a thank you message to the county coordinator for the location you search. (Volunteering to transcribe is a great idea, too!)

Friday, January 9, 2009

RootsWeb - still free, still worth a look

RootsWeb has been around for more than twelve years now! One of the early volunteer-based genealogy sites, RootsWeb is now sponsored by Unlike the full-blown host site, the content on RootsWeb remains free. Some great resources to check out at

US Town/County database – to find the county when you know the town/city. Important because many vital records are kept at the county level.

WorldConnect – to find others researching your lines, and to share your research by uploading a GEDCOM from your personal database.

Message boards – to post an inquiry about your family.

FreeBMD – to search volunteer-indexed birth, marriage, and death records for England and Wales from 1837-1983.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Searching Digitized Books

Searching published genealogies is a good way to find out what research has already been done on your family line. Published county and town histories often include biographical information about early settlers, prominent families and community leaders. But how do you know if your ancestor was mentioned in a book? How would you go about finding out what books had information about your family's county or society?

County histories and published genealogies were generally printed in small quantities, so finding a copy available today could be challenging.
If you were fortunate enough to find a book about your family or your family's county, it was fairly tedious to search for information about one particular individual: many such books did not include an every-name index.

When books are digitized, not only are they more accessible, searching them also becomes far easier and more effective. Then when you do find something, you can print a copy for your records, or save the image to your computer. Research has never been more convenient, effective, and inexpensive. (It’s hard to beat FREE!) now includes a digital collection of more than 25,000 family, society, county and town histories. Some of these histories are one-of-a-kind typescripts that were once only available on microfilm. Google Book Search is a digital collection that includes thousands of college alumni publications, legal reviews, county histories, and more. Some books with no preview available on Google Book Search are available fully digitized on

To see a state-by-state, county-by-county listing of what published histories are available, check out P. William Filby’s A Bibliography of American County Histories. In the "view inside this book" Google Book search box, type the county and state where your ancestor lived. Filby's Bibliography "opens" to the page listing publications available for that county.

Armed with that information, open a new browser window and check to see if the book is available at either Google Book Search or The search mechanisms and collections differ, so your search strategies will be different depending on which site you're searching.

  • With Google Book Search, enter your ancestor's name and the county and state as a single search criteria, for example "Lorenzo Bird Atchison Kansas" (without the quotes).

  • At, click on [Search Records], then [Historical Books]. Enter the county and state in the Title field. If you find a book that you're interested in searching, click to select it, then enter your ancestor's name within the "Search this object" box.
Good luck, and happy hunting!