Monday, January 23, 2017

Latvia Vital Records of the Late 19th, Early 20th Centuries



Raduraksti:  Pick a language, any language!


Here's something you don't see every day.


The Latvian State Historical Archives has created Raduraksti, a new online feature housing millions of vital records -- births, deaths, marriages and baptisms -- from a period that seems to cover the late 1800's and early 1900's.

This is not a database of names, towns, and so on. Instead, it is a collection of scans of the actual town registers used to collect the original information. As such, this is information to be browsed by town/date/event (birth, death, etc), rather than the usual name lookup that is so familiar (and so easy!).  All told, there are more than 4.6 million pages of original records available at Raduraksti.

The records themselves are a hodgepodge of eastern Europe languages...you'll find hand-written scripts in German, Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish (for the Jewish enclaves), and (I suppose) Latvian.

However, the site interface and instructions are available in English (well-written English, too, which isn't always the case!). Once you register at the site, browsing the actual records is not at all difficult, though the page images themselves are sometimes slow to load.


JewishGen, the Jewish family history site (and a fantastic resource in it's own right...I'll have to profile them one day soon) has created a small dataset of births and deaths in Goldingen, a Latvia town currently named Kuldigas (or Kuldiga), if I have my provenance correct.

The Latvia Archives are worth a look, even if you don't think you have any family history in the area. More and more archive sites are making these sorts of original records available, and providing search interfaces that can be used by English-only miscreants like myself. It's worth becoming familiar with this type of resource, so you can best take advantage of vital records archives when they become available in your ancestral neck of the woods.


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Don't forget to also check for your family history at NewspaperArchive and Newspapers.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots. And visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

Free Newspaper Archives




One of the amazing things about diving in to family history research is discovering how often family members get mentioned in old newspaper articles.


Back in the days before the internet....heck! before the telephone!...newspapers reported everything about everyone! Small town publications, in particular, covered local news in great depth. Vital statistics like births, deaths and marriages were routinely reported. So were events like a new store opening, a job promotion, a noteworthy society party, a community picnic, a local ball game, or some darker family moments -- a barroom brawl, an arrest for public drunkenness, or even a murder or two somewhere deep in the family closet.

Happily, there are tons of online newspaper archives where you can poke around and find out what great-grandma and grandpa were up to back in the day. The US has done an especially impressive drop of moving historical archives online, but there are also sources in pretty much every corner of the globe, and in many different languages.

Free newspaper archives from the
US and around the world

NewspaperArchive.com and Newspapers.com both have wonderful and deep collections of historical newspapers with easy and powerful search tools to help find family members from long ago. These are both subscription services, but they offer free trials and worth a visit, even if you aren't inclined to subscribe (I subscribe to both, by the way...I think they're essential).

But there are also a ton of true free newspaper archives out there. FreeNewspaperArchives covers the US region by region, while XooxleAnswers has links to free historical newspapers listed by state. There are some wild and wonderful vintage newspapers listed at these sites, like the Civil War collections from Gettysburg, or if you prefer, South Carolina. There are even Revolutionary War era papers from New Hampshire and Virginia. But no need to venture back hundreds of years...many archives take you right up to modern times

Another XooxleAnswers page covers international newspaper archives from Europe, Africa, Asia, North and South America, some in English and some in other languages. There are also pages of special collections, such as college newspaper archives, and free magazine archives.

Also check out online state archives. Almost all state collections have at least a smattering of news articles, and many of them offer deep newspaper archive collections that won't be found elsewhere.

No matter where your ancestors hailed from, and where they travelled to, there are hundreds of free newspaper archives available where you can search for their stories at no charge.




Sunday, January 22, 2017

Free Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly



Sanborn maps have a certain elegance, no?


I have a lot of links for you today, with just a little background, and a little diatribe.


Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps were drawn up for many cities and towns in the late 1800's and early to mid-1900's.  They are wonderful sources of insight and detail on how and where your ancestors lived and worked.

The maps list almost all buildings, streets, places of work, parks, schools, many residences, and town/city layouts.  Maps from different years show changing street names, boundaries, and land use.  You even get to find out if a factory had sprinkler systems, elevators, and was made of brick, wood, or stone...the maps are that detailed.

A fair number of Sanborn maps have been digitized, and are available in free online collections.  That's the good.  The collections are sometimes infuriatingly difficult to browse, with very large maps being made available a small window at a time, with limited panning and zoom tools; that's the bad.  The maps are never ugly, however...quite the opposite (I just wanted to throw ugly in the title).  So without further ado, here are some links to online, free collections of Sanborn insurance maps (and maps from a few other sources, as well).


There are many more such maps in hardcopy and microfilm collections; check with your community library or town/county historical society for local resources.

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Don't forget to also check for your family history at NewspaperArchive and Newspapers.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots. And visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.