Sunday, December 15, 2013

Using a census for family history research

Censuses were not created for family history research but can be an invaluable resource. Find out what censuses exist for the area where your family lived, then learn what information was collected, what instructions the census-takers were given, how dates and ages were recorded, etc.
  • Always record information about a woman using her maiden name, but search a census using the name the woman would have been known by at the time of the census.
  • A family's name may have been misspelled.  Expect variations from census to census, particularly if the name was complicated and "foreign".
  • The census-taker's penmanship may make it difficult to decipher (and index) the name. Keep searching if you can't find someone that should be found. If you can't find the person by last name, search by first name, location and birth year, search for someone else that should be in the household, or by some other combination of criteria.
  • The search results you get when you use,, or any other web site are an index designed to point you to the actual census record.  Don't stop with the index! Look at the image, and learn what every field means. has a variety of census records for the US, Canada, England, Wales, Scotland, Mexico, Argentina, Germany, Ivory Coast, Spain, Switzerland, and more.  Click on [Search]. then [Browse All Record Collections] and narrow your search to "Census and Lists."  See the FamilySearch wiki for more information about using census records, or stop by the Family History Center.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Christmas Cards as Family History Clues

Published by J. Hoover, Philadelphia [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons
Do you have a box of old Christmas cards? Letters and Christmas cards can help you learn more about your family.  Do you recognize the handwriting?  Is it signed?  Is the address familiar? 

If the card is undated but includes a stamp, you can calculate an approximate date by determining the historical cost of postage.  Learn more about historical postage rates and mailing practices at the United States Postal Service page Our History: About Stamps and Postcards.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Finding Your mid-1800's Ancestors in a Published Local History

If your ancestors lived in a small community in the US in the late 1800's, it is possible they may have been mentioned in a local history book.  County histories tell the story of the formation of the county, list local churches and civic organizations, and include biographies and photos of prominent citizens.  Learning more about the county where your ancestors lived can help you better understand how they lived, and can give you clues about what records might exist.

 Even better than having an index in the back of a hard-bound book, many county histories are now available online, which means they are fully text-searchable. Some of the largest collections of digital family history books are at FamilySearch Family History Books, Internet Archive, and Google Books

Public libraries, university libraries or historical societies may have digital content unique to their area. Look for a "Local History" link, or search their catalog for your ancestor's surname, plus the county (or community) and state, e.g., Wunderlich Cole County Missouri or the surname and "local history".

If you do find your ancestor mentioned in a digitized local history that is no longer under copyright, you may be able to download the page, or the entire book.

So-called "mug books" may contain inaccuracies.  Use a published biography to point you to official records.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Digital Collections - State Archives of North Carolina

State Archives of North Carolina Landing Page
Do you have family ties to North Carolina? Early North Carolina records are available digitally at the State Archives of North Carolina web site. Digital collections include early newspapers, family Bible records, War of 1812 pay vouchers, cemetery transcriptions, marriage records, estates, guardianships, and more.

 To search North Carolina Family Records Online, start at the State Archives of North Carolina and click on the link to Digital Collections and Publications in the green "For the Public" box.  (Or bookmark the page!)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Use your smart phone and a blog to capture your family story!

If you've got a smart phone, use it to help you capture your family story as it unfolds. Blogger and Wordpress are free blogging sites, and both have smart phone apps that can combine text, photos, and videos on-the-spot blog to create blog posts. Blogs can have multiple contributors, so family members who live far away can tell part of the story, too. Make your blog private, if you'd like, so only those you invite can view it.

Because those blog posts are stored in the "cloud", they won't disappear if you lose your phone or accidentally delete everything when you upgrade to your next phone.

Waiting until you have "more time" to begin recording memories means that you're losing precious moments along the way! To get started, go to or

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Church of Ireland - Anglican Records Project

St Luran, (Derryloran) Cookstown 
(one of the parishes currently available)
Baptism, marriage and burial registers of the Church of Ireland are being made available in digital format on the church's website. While only a handful of parishes are fully transcribed, the number is growing steadily. The records are in searchable PDF book format (not images of the actual registers), and each parish includes a table that lists churches individually, along with the years covered. 

 To see the list of parishes currently available, go to Church of Ireland - Anglican Records Project. Also check out "Genealogy" under [Pages of Interest] on the Welcome page to read Church of Ireland research policies, and to learn more about records destroyed in the 1922 fire at the Public Record Office, as well as records that might be effective replacements for burned records. 

Contact information and details about how to request information through local clergy are also provided.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

West Virginia Vital Records Online

Marriage Record Search - West Virginia Division of Culture and History Website
If you have West Virginia ancestors, try searching West Virginia vital records using the West Virginia Division of Culture and History Website at Their collections are easy to search, and results are displayed in chronological order by county name, making it easy to quickly scan search results.

Index entries are linked directly to JPG images that you can view and download. Each collection (birth, marriage, and death records) has its own search page that includes a county-by-county listing of what years are included. Since there are often gaps in record coverage, this information may be particularly helpful if you do not find a record for your ancestor.

For help finding your West Virginia ancestors, stop by the Family History Center soon!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"LIfe Sketch" at FamilySearch Family Tree

There's something new in the Family Tree at A feature announced this week is called "Life Sketch," and it's found at the top of the Person Record. It's a place for a narrative of your ancestor's life, to go along with Photos, Documents, Stories and historical records (Sources).

The photos and stories that you add to your ancestors' records at show up in Google searches now, too. When you digitize your photos and add them to the FamilySearch Family Tree, you not only protect them from being lost or destroyed, but you also make it possible for relatives you've never met to discover and treasure them, too.

For help with Photos, Stories, and the Life Sketch feature at, stop by the Family History Center!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Italian Genealogical Group's Index to NYC births, marriages and deaths - much more than Italian names!

Volunteers from the Italian Genealogical Group have indexed millions of New York City births, marriages and deaths (and they didn't limit their efforts to Italian names!). Not all records have been indexed for all years, and the project is on-going, so check back if you don't find what you're looking for.  Each record type has its own search page that explains what that particular database covers (years, boroughs, etc.).  

Italian Genealogical Group - Database Search Screen
Go to the Italian Genealogical Group website at, click on [+] Database Searches, then select a collection and enter basic search criteria.  If it's a unique surname, start there. If you find your ancestor listed, then request the original certificate using Family History Library microfilm or the Photoduplication Request process. Remember that many immigrant families paused briefly in New York City on their way to other parts of the United States.

To learn more about locating New York City vital records using the Italian Genealogical Group web site in combination with, stop by the Family History Center.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

State (US) Digital Archives

Websites like and are not the only ones to offer digital content helpful in family history research. Many US states have their own digital collections of old newspapers, vital records, historic photos, military records, voter registrations, probate files, and more.

The Library of Congress published a comprehensive list of state digital archives last week in the article 71 Digital Portals to State History on their digital preservation blog, (keep scrolling down until you see the title).

Whether your ancestors were from Alaska or Florida or somewhere in between, there may be records about their lives in a state digital archive. And you can search them for free, from home!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Three kinds of collections at

There are three kinds of Historical Record Collections at
  • Index with image 
  • Index only 
  • Image only
Collections with images have a camera icon to the left of the collection title. Indexed collections have a number in the column titled "Records." Image only collections say "Browse images" in the column titled "Records."

Key pieces of information like names, dates, and places are usually indexed – just enough information to help you find the record. When you discover a record for your ancestor, be sure to look at the actual image. It will likely contain more information than what is available in the index.

If the index listing shows that the image is "Not available" but does provide a film number, you can request the image from FamilySearch using a Photoduplication Request. The process is easy and it's free. 

To see the list of collections, go to and click on [Search] and then [Records].  Scroll down to find the link to "Browse All Published Collections".  New collections are added every few days, so check back often.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Using the Resources of the DAR

If you have an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War, you might find genealogical information about your family in a DAR Application File at the DAR Library in Washington, D.C. To join the Daughters of the American Revolution, applicants must trace their lineage to a Patriot one generation at a time, providing birth, marriage and death information on each generation.

A free index to those Application Files is available online at There is a $10 fee to view the actual Application File, which can include documentation of sources provided at the time of the application. If you can visit the DAR Library in person, you can view Application Files at no cost, and print copies for $.25/page.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sharing Family Heirlooms using FamilySearch Memories

Family heirlooms like jewelry, furniture, china, books and quilts help us remember and cherish our ancestors. Many people may have ties to an object and its owner, but only one can possess it. Using FamilySearch Memories, you can "share" priceless heirlooms, and ensure that the next generation knows each object's history and significance.

 To share your family treasures, take a photo (your smart phone will work!), upload the photo to, write a paragraph or two describing the object and how you came to own it, and then connect the story to the record of the person (or persons) who owned the object. Anyone related to you will be able to easily find your story by going to and clicking on [Memories] and then [Stories].  Cousins you don't even know will be able to see the photos and stories you share, and they'll be preserved no matter what happens to the object.

For help loading photos of your heirlooms to, stop by the Family History Center. We're here to help, so stop by soon!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Family Tree Magazine's free Vital Records chart

Family Tree Magazine Vital Records Chart
Vital records are records of life events kept by the authority of a government. Birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates are all considered vital records, and are excellent sources of information about our ancestors' lives. Each US state has laws governing the way vital records are collected and preserved.

Family Tree Magazine recently published a handy chart listing the beginning dates for official records in all 50 US states. The differences by state can be important to understand. For example, New Jersey began keeping official birth records in 1848, but Mississippi didn't begin until 1912. Indiana didn't begin recording marriages officially until 1958. If your ancestor was born in Mississippi in 1902 and married in Indiana in 1930, you will not be able to locate either a birth certificate or a marriage certificate. If she was born in New Jersey in 1850 and married in 1868, you should be able to get copies of both. Some (but not all) vital records for 48 of the 50 states are available digitally at

Family Tree Magazine's Vital Records chart is available for free at Copies are also available in the Williamsburg (VA) Family History Center.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Google for Family History Research

Google is a powerful tool for family history research. By using a combination of simple search criteria, you can locate information about your ancestor that you might never discover in any other way. 

Search for a specific name, along with a city and/or state and "~genealogy" or "~history". 

Putting the name in quotes limits the search to that name exactly (“Lorenzo Bird”).  Putting an asterisk between the first name and last name (“Lorenzo * Bird”) would find that name with any middle initial or middle name (Lorenzo Dow Bird, Lorenzo F. Bird, Lorenzo Bird). The tilde (~) looks for the word and any synonyms.

Add the names of other family members (for example, a wife's maiden name). Try adding a county name to focus on a particular surname in a specific location. 

For more information and examples using Google to search for family history information, check out Daniel Lynch’s web site:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Millions and millions of images - finding what's new

A million is a big number, but it's becoming an ordinary number in family history research.  On an almost daily basis, FamilySearch is adding millions of images and names to the Historical Record Collections already available at  Information you have been unable to find may become available today or next week or next month! 

To see what's new, go to, scroll down and click on All Record Collections The list of collections will be arranged in alphabetical order. 

Member's Guide to Temple and Family History Work

Along with all the new features and databases at, the church has prepared a booklet to help families get started with family history research.  If you haven't already got your copy of the Member's Guide to Temple and Family History Work, stop by the Family History Center soon and pick one up. 

The Member's Guide is organized into seven chapters that parallel the seven lessons taught in the Family History Sunday School course. You don't have to take the class to benefit from the guide. In additional to providing information on the basics of family history research, the guide explains the doctrine of temple and family history work, and outlines the church's policies for submitting names for ordinance work on behalf of your deceased ancestors. You can also download a copy of the guide to your smart phone using the LDS Gospel Library app under the category Manuals àSunday School.

Christmas letters

Does your family send an annual Christmas letter? Have you been doing it for years?  Did your parents and grandparents send Christmas letters?  If you've got a pile of old family Christmas letters, bring them into the Family History Center.  We'll help you scan them so that you can preserve them and share them.  Annual letters give a great snapshot view of life.  If you don't already write an annual letter, consider adding that to your holiday traditions!  Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Yearbooks and Alumni Publications

Image from
1915  Lansing High School Yearbook
Lansing, Michigan
Yearbooks and alumni publications can be a great resource for learning more about a family member. Many free websites include yearbook photos and/or biographical information, including, Google Books, and Internet Archive

Yearbooks for the College of William and Mary are available for the years 1899 to 1995 on WorldVitalRecords, a premium content website that is available for free in Family History Centers

Try searching first for the name of the school plus the word "yearbook." 

Men in the US born 1872-1900 - WWI Draft Cards

All men living in the US in 1917 and 1918 (aliens as well as citizens) who were born between September 1872 and September 1900 were required by law to register for the draft unless they were already serving in the military. If you ancestor was born in that timeframe, check for a draft registration card. The cards include details like current residence, date and place of birth, name and address of nearest relative, and more.

Alabama, Washington county; Roll: U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005.

Until recently, the only way to find a draft registration card was to look at every card filed (either on microfilm or at the National Archives at Atlanta) by the Draft Board in the county and state where your ancestor lived. Thanks to digitization and indexing efforts, you can now quickly search by a person's name.

Draft registration collections are available on several genealogy web sites including and More than 24 million men registered, so you are likely to find a relation among them.