Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bit by Bit: Slavery and Family History


There are so few online resources available for African-American family history research, that even a fairly small-scale online lookup deserves attention.

Johnston County, home to Smithfield, North Carolina, has a very handsome and user-friendly collection of online archives.

The county has a rich agricultural history that was made possible, in large measure, by slave labor.  Included in the online collection are two important resources for African-American genealogy.

Slave Name Index for Johnston County, NC.  Aptly described as "one of the first of its kind", this name database compiles information from a few dozen primary sources -- deeds, wills, court records, tax rolls, and estate papers.  The result is a lookup list of slave names.

Slavery being what it was, pinning down particular individuals and families is tricky going.  Most slave records are first names only, and spelling is highly variable.  Details on the slaves, and slave owners are provided, which can help facilitate research.

The Johnston County Heritage Center also offers to provide copies of original records, to those who request them.


Slave Marriage and Cohabitation Index.  Emancipated slaves were offered the opportunity to officially record the fact of their marriage, and these records too, are available online.  Full names are generally included, and you can search on either the first name or last name of the groom or the bride.


The Virginia Memory project  has some similar slave and ex-slave records available online (click on African-American Resources to access them).  The Register of Colored Persons Cohabiting Together as Man and Wife collection is not very extensive, but there is a great deal of information available for each of the families listed...full name for the husband and wife as well as former owners, age, birthplace, occupation, children's names and age, and more.  This will be a goldmine for the fortunate researchers who find their families included here.


A few other African-American genealogy resources to note have been written up in earlier posts:

African American Family History 

Slaves and Slavery 

Filling in Michelle Obama's Family Tree 


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at NewspaperArchive.com and Ancestry.com.
These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Your Mom or Dad's (Grandma, Grandpa's) Social Security Application as a Family History Resource


First, a confession.  Today's post at FreeGenealogyTools is about a resource that isn't actually free.  Mea culpa!  But it doesn't cost much, and it's so @*$&#! useful, that it's worth knowing about and maybe even worth forking out some cash.

At one time or another, just about everyone living in the US -- and many who have passed on -- have filled out an application for a Social Security number.

Two generations ago, these were largely being filled out by adults.  As the Social Security system matured, parents began filling them out for their children as well.  But regardless, an application was filed for just about everyone.

These can be family history goldmines.  Though the application has changed over the years, the earlier ones contained details such as:
  • Full name
  • Maiden name (where applicable, of course)
  • Complete address
  • Current employer
  • Date of employment
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Father's full name
  • Mother's full name and maiden name
  • Race

The form required a signature, which is also part of the application record.

Like I said, a real genealogy goldmine.

You can get a copy of the original application form directly from Social Security.  There is a modest fee, which varies depending on the nature of your request.  A family member who is living will have to make the request themselves, but if they've passed on, then you can request a copy.

Worth the effort...worth the cost.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Xmas...I Found Santa's Grave


Happy Holidays everyone, and please....forgive me...but I've located Santa's grave.

Actually, Ol' Saint Nick has a number of ancestral death records.  Using the Best Genealogy Tools for 2010 that I highlighted a few days ago, here's what turns up with a search on the name, Santa Claus.

FamilySearch uncovers two records in the Social Security Death Index, complete with Santa's SSN:

Santa CLAUS
    Birth Date: 10 Jun 1930
    Death Date: 10 Sep 2008
    Social Security Number:  428-48-5735
    State or Territory Where Number Was Issued:  Mississippi

Santa CLAUS
    Birth Date: 15 Jan 1944
    Death Date: 26 Aug 2003
    Social Security Number:  326-34-2714
    State or Territory Where Number Was Issued:  Illinois


Stephen Morse's wonderful site  uncovers an Italian immigrant to the US in the Castle Garden database, one Santo Clausi, who arrived in New York on October 1, 1902.

Morse also has a search interface to Ancestry.com, where we find 20 Santa's, including Santa M. Claus, Santa Elf Claus, and even Santa Hohoho Claus (with an odd attached note of Other Possible Names: Kris Hohoho Kringle).

And alas, at FindAGrave we have photographic proof of the final resting place of Santa "Nick" Claus.

Santa's demise notwithstanding, I suspect folks will have a very Merry Christmas and assorted other solstice-inspired celebrations this holiday season.

Here's hoping for a prosperous, peaceful new year for all.

David




Santa Claus, his wife Mabel, and the six kids, from the 1930 Census.  No Rudolph, though!


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Best Free Family History Lookups for 2010


We've covered a lot of territory since the Free Genealogy Tools blog first started up.  But what, you may ask, are the absolute best FGTs out there?

Here's my list of the Top Five Free Genealogy Tools for 2010.

Say Howdy Doody to the new year, folks.


  1. FamilySearch.  You just can't beat this one.  It covers almost as much territory as the genealogy motherlode at Ancestry.com, but without the need for a subscription.

  2. Stephen Morse.  I love this guy, whoever he is.  He created easy-access tools to search millions of records from Ellis Island, Castle Island, and other immigration points of entry to the US.  One of the real online genealogical gems.

  3. Social Security Death Index (SSDI).  With more than 80 million records, this database covers almost all deaths in the US for the past 50 years or so...an essential tool for recent family history.

  4. Google News Archives.  Old newspapers are a favorite resource of mine, and these archives span the past 250 years.  Also check out NewspaperArchive.com, a subscription service, but one of the best resources there is.

  5. Find A Grave.  Over 35 million records...need I say more?


Conspicuously absent from the above list are the millions of military records available in online lookups.  Problem is, it's hard to choose the best from among some excellent resources, mostly from the US and UK.  Have a look at the best military lookup sites I know of.

Is there a Top FGT that you think belongs on the list?  Let me know in the Comments, and we'll take a look

And as we head into 2010, a happy, healthy, meaningful and  peaceful new year to all.

David

NewspaperArchive.com

Saturday, December 19, 2009

People Who Need Pipl



There are many, many, many tools on the internet that specialize in searching for people, both living and dead. I've covered some of the best people-search sites in an earlier post.

But a site called Pipl.com warrants a separate write-up. This is partly because of what it does for you now, but also, partly, for what it might do in the future. Sort of like Obama's Nobel Peace Prize!

Fanny Brice, an original People person

Pipl does a very nice job of searching on a name, and organizing the results...telephone book listings in one section, Facebook and other social networks in another, business results in yet another, and so on.

But Pipl also has some good access to the so-called invisible web...that vast, dark, mysterious repository of information that doesn't show up on ordinary searches. These are sources that require a subscription, disallow search engines, require dynamic lookups, or are otherwise out of view from the googlebots and search spiders that scour the internet for information.

And that's where Pipl's future potential lies. Right now, it's more a lookup for friends, acquaintances and family members of fairly recent vintage (and be sure to Pipl your own name as well...might as well see what shows up!).

But as Pipl search adds more and more deep content, it will grow in value as a genealogical tool as well, revealing ever-more information about your ancestors and your own family's history.

So take a look, and even if nothing of major import shows up for now, this is a site worth bookmarking, and coming back to from time to time.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Using the Future to Find the Past



Nothing like a mysteriously ambiguous blog title to capture some viewers, eh?

Actually, though, this really is about using future tools to peer back in time at your family history. You're probably already familiar with the venerable FamilySearch site -- one of the premier genealogy sites on the web.

But did you know FamilySearch also has a Labs page? This is where they post their up-and-coming tools that are in development, and are made available for a test run. That's right...you can be the first one on your block to try out the latest genealogical power tools. 

Marie Curie in The Lab


The current listings at FamilySearch Labs include some intriguing possibilities for new ways to explore your family history:



  • FamilySearch Beta -- a major renovation to the familysearch.org web site
  • Record Search -- a quick and easy way to search millions of historical records for clues about your ancestors.
  • Research Wiki -- a community of research experts and interested genealogists that share up to date information on how to research sources for information about your ancestors.
  • Community Trees -- Ever wish you could reconstruct the families that lived in your ancestral village in the 1750s? Now you can.

I highlighted one of the Lab success stories -- the Pilot Search for Ancestors -- in an earlier post.

There's much more than this available, so be sure to check out the FamilySearch Labs page (and while you're there, check out their motto as well!).


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

NewspaperArchive.com

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Family Trees in Wikipedia


Today's entry is just a link, but it's a link worth knowing about.

Wikipedia's List of Family Trees is exactly what it says...a compilation of notable family trees, including nobility and royalty, rich and famous families, important religious and historical figures, and many more.

An Ahnentafel-style family tree from Wikimedia.

They even have family trees for fictional families. If you've ever wanted to map out the familial relations for Scrooge McDuck, Luke Skywalker or Marge Simpson (and who wouldn't?), then this is the place.

Among the more intriguing family names you'll find here are:

Lady Astor and her brood, along with the Roosevelt family, from the US.

Dynasties from Egypt, Persia, Japan, China, Korea, Mongolia and the Aztec Empire.

The Nehru and Gandhi families from India, and Bhutto from Pakistan.

Family trees from the Bible, Islam, Babylonia, and the Greek Gods (an essential item for you Percy Jackson fans).

And lest we forget, there's the wonderful, recent work done on Michelle Obabma's family tree.

There's nothing in this whole collection that ties these historical figures (real or imagined) in any way to my own family. I imagine that's true for most folks.  Still, it's a wonderful and interesting overview of who's who, and of how family trees get put together. Wikipedia also has a general article on Family Trees that is worth a read.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.




NewspaperArchive.com

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Googling Your Family History


Let's face it. When it comes to search tools of both the plain and fancy variety, nobody even comes close to Google.

But a company that started life as the soul of simplicity -- a nearly blank page and an I'm feeling lucky option -- has grown to ginormous size, and taken on a fair bit of complexity in the process. That's not a bad thing, because some of their more obscure internet search tools can really lend a lot of depth and power to your family history research, starting with...

Thanks, Google

Plain Old Google,  but use it wisely, as in this ...kaff...kaff... insightful article on how to power search your ancestors.

Google News Archives, a very rich newspaper resource that extends back hundreds of years (at least to the 1750's, maybe further), reaches around the world, and grows by leaps and bounds. Visit it often.

Google Books lets you search the text of millions of books in the space of a few heartbeats...it still amazes me that such searches are even possible. There's also Google Scholar,  which searches through tons of legal court cases and university journals.

Google Patents makes it easy to search through a few centuries worth of patents, looking for the inventors in your family history.

Google is also getting more and more sophisticated at handling non-English languages. They offer several tools that can be incredibly useful in getting a handle on what an obscure foreign-language webpage or document is all about. Google Translate  can handle (reasonably well, too) about 50 languages, everything from Afrikaans to Yiddish. Their transliteration  and scripting tools make it easier (I didn't say easy) to work with foreign alphabets.

Lastly (for now) I'll mention Google Alerts,  a very valuable tool for setting up automatic searches to look for new information on your family as it appears on the web.


Don't make the mistake of thinking your family never got written up in old newspapers, books, patents or other historical resources. They did! And it's up to you to find them. Google helps in that search, more than I would have thought possible just a few short years ago.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Immigration Records From Harvard University



Harvard University has made available a digital collection, Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930.

There's a lot here.  As the collection notes say, they have about "...1,800 books and pamphlets as well as 9,000 photographs, 200 maps, and 13,000 pages from manuscript and archival collections."  There's a strong Massachusetts focus, not surprisingly, but a good deal of other materials as well.

Off on the left-hand side of their page, you'll find several search options:  a Keyword search box, along with links to Search the Collection and Browse the Collection.  I'd suggest giving them all a try, as they access the records in different ways, and turn up different results, even for the same search.

Italian immigrants at work in New York City, ca 1909

The Immigration collection is part of Harvard's larger Open Collections Program.  It's worth a look around here at some of their other materials, which include materials of both general interest, as well documents of value to family history researchers.  Their Women Working collection is of particular note.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Advertising as a Family History Resource



Finding your ancestors is one thing.  Finding out how they lived their day to day lives is another thing entirely.

Some interesting and often overlooked resources for getting a sense of everyday life are the advertisements of a given time and place.  What did your great grandparents see when they opened a local newspaper or magazine, or rode a horse and buggy past an early billboard or an ad-painted barn? 

Mmmm. Ox-tail soup!  Everyone's favorite. 

Turns out, Duke University has a deep collection of early advertisements.  Several collections, actually:


  • AdAccess includes images of over 7,000 U.S. and Canadian advertisements covering five product categories - Beauty and Hygiene, Radio, Television, Transportation, and World War II propaganda - dated between 1911 and 1955.

  • AdViews contains thousands of early television commercials from the 1950's through the 1980's.
    Emergence of Advertising in America contains images of 9,000 advertising items and publications dating from 1850 to 1920.

    Protestant Images.  An odd collection of articles and advertising images of Protestant children and families in the U.S. from Protestant-supported or targeted magazines.

  • Medicine and Madison Avenue. Images of over 600 health-realted advertisements and historical documents dated between 1911 and 1958.

Some historical advertising sources worth exploring outside the Duke collection:

Adflip bills itself as the world's largest searchable database of classic print ads from 1940-2001.  It's a subscription site, but many of the ads can be viewed for free at medium resolution.

Ivory Project.  From the Smithsonian, 1,600 advertisements about soap, mostly Ivory Soap...1838-1998.  Imagaine that! 

HardToFindAds.  A motley assortment of print ads covering most of the 20th century.  Some good stuff, here, but I wish the ads all had dates and sources!

FullTable is one of the, ahem, more unusual sites you're likely to come across, but it has an intriguing collection of historical images, ads and otherwise.  Not really a site for research, this is more a place for some fascinating browsing.  It's worth a look!

Magazine-Ads.  1410 new and old ads in 108 catagories   Ads are for sale, but can be previewed online.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And you can't beat old newspapers for old ads, so don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

What's In A (Place) Name?



So, you've finally filled in the blanks of your family's history, and tracked your ancestors in Pie Town, New Mexico; Spuyten Duyvil, NY; or Trinchinopoly in India.  Where do those names come from?

What's the connection between Kentucky in the US, and Quinté in Canada?  Is Palermo, in Italy, really derived from Greek?

Questions like these can be explored -- and quite possibly answered -- with dozens of online place name dictionaries.  Here are some of the best that you should know about.

School kids (some shoeless) in Pie Town, 
but how did it get that name, exactly?

US:
The origin of certain place names in the United States

The book of place-names (US focus, but with lots of international information)

Scotland:
Place-names of Scotland

Scottish land-names: their origin and meaning

Ireland:
The origin and history of Irish names of places

UK:
Geographical etymology: a dictionary of place-names giving their derivations

The place-names of England and Wales

South America:
Aztec place-names: their meaning and mode of composition

Canada:
 Place-names of Canada

Worldwide:
Names and their histories: a handbook of historical geography and topographical nomenclature

Bibliotheca classica: or, A dictionary of all the principal names and terms relating to the geography, topography, history, literature, and mythology of antiquity and of the ancients

Glossary of geographical and topographical terms and of words of frequent occurrences in the composition of such terms and of place-names


There are hundreds of place names dictionaries and gazetteers for more local areas, like a particular state, county or city.  To find them, try searching at Google Books and HathiTrust.

And Pie Town?  Sure enough, guy opens a shop at some crossroads, sells homemade pies that everyone likes, and the rest, as they say, is history.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Translating Family Papers and Records

The story is told of one of the early machine translation systems that was asked to translate the phrase The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak from English, into Russian, and then back into English again.  When the final results appeared, the computer came up with The wine is good, but the meat is rotten.

Online computer translations have gotten better since then, and can generally handle The spirit is willing test.  I often use Google Translate to help out with foreign language websites, as I did with my French Revolution post.  Still, machine translation will only get you so far.  My post on Arab genealogy, where I Google-translated some book titles, led to some pretty strange results.

The Eiffel Tower at the Paris Exposition of 1900

Sometimes, you just need a human translator to help you work through grandpa's birth records from the old country, or a letter in your family files in Hebrew, or Estonian, or wherever it is your family's roots have led.

A full-fledged translation service can be a big expense, but happily, there are some kind folks out there who will translate reasonable-sized passages (usually no more than a few paragraphs) at no charge.  Here are a few good ones.
  • Freelang.  Email a translator directly, with a polite request for some help, and they will usually oblige.
  • Cucumis.  A free human translation system based on points.  You can earn points if you translate something for someone else.  But even if you're a one-language moron (like me), you still get points to use just for signing up.
  • Linguanaut.  Click on Free Translation to get started, and they'll put you in touch with a translator.
  • WikiTranslation.  Simply enter the text to have translated, the from and to languages, and hopefully, a kind and resourceful human being will soon do your bidding (thanks to commenter Bob for pointing this one out).

Isn't the internet grand?


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.


NewspaperArchive.com

Monday, November 23, 2009

Vive La Revolution! Vive La France!



Here's a...ahem....head's up on an unusual site.

If you had an ancestor who lost his or her head during the French Revolution, now you can find them. A site named Les Guillotinés de la Révolution Française asks the crucial question:


Avez-vous eu un ancêtre


DECAPITE


Pendant la Révolution ?

and answers it with a large list of many of the tens of thousands of people who were executed during The Reign of Terror.

The last moments of Marie 'Let Them Eat Cake' Antoinette.

Here is the English version of Les Guillotines homepage, courtesy of Google Translate.

This is a quick and easy lookup, handled by clicking on a letter of the alphabet.

A small number of the resulting names are hyperlinked, leading to additional information about the person beheaded, generally including their age, the charges brought against them, and the date and site of their execution.

The story of the French Revolution isn't pretty, but then again, family history often isn't, ne c'est pas?

Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The 1911 Census of Ireland


For some reason, it's taken me a while to get around to writing up one of the jewels of online family history research.

The 1911 Irish Census is online, absolutely free, and fully searchable for all 4.4 million Irish men, women and children of the time.

You can search by first or last name, of course.  You can also focus searches on a given county, address or DED (election district).  You can also specify gender and approximate age to help narrow down results...especially useful when searching on a name like, Oh, say....Fitzpatrick!

Saints be praised, it's Michael Fitzpatrick and family.

The search results make it very easy to quickly scan all members of a household, and even pull up an image of the original census forms.  And let me emphasize forms...there are a number of different forms use to record details not only of people, but of structures and neighborhoods.  Make sure to give them all a good looking-over.

There is also a very lovely section titled What was Ireland like in 1911?  It's very much worth spending some time here (even if you don't have a single drop of Irish blood in your family line).

And whatever you do, don't overlook the fantastic picture of The Titanic under construction in Belfast.

See an earlier post for more UK Census and vital records.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Going To The Country



Here are a few odds and ends name lookups from a number of countries you don't often hear from in family history circles.  Enjoy!


INDIA

Search through more than 600,000 records in FIBIS, the Families in British India database.


HOLLAND/NETHERLANDS

Genlias, the Dutch Civil Register, lists more than 12 million vital records (birth, death, marriage) back to 1811.

Tresoar (Dutch for 'treasure'...I Google-translated it) allows extensive searching of family history and vital records in Friesland, courtesy of the Frisian Historical and Literary Centre.  Click on the UK flag for the English version of the site, and then click on Genealogy for links to family history searches both before and after the 1811 creation of a Civil Register.


POLAND

The Polish Order of the Virtuti Militari and its Cavaliers 1792-1992.  This military award, Poland's equivalent of the Medal of Honor, includes 26,500 records.  The site is free, but registration is required.


SOUTH AFRICA

Ancestry24 in South Africa  is the equivalent of Ancestry.com.  This is a fee-based service, but much of the preliminary information on name search results can be viewed for free.


GUAM

That's right...how often to you get to search through vital records from Guam.  Here you'll find thousands of  records published in local newspapers, the Guam Newsletter and the Guam Recorder.


LATVIA

Vital records from Latvia from the 1800's.


MIDDLE EAST

Not quite name lookups, but some interesting materials on Arab family history in the Middle East.



Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Monday, November 16, 2009

More Military Record Lookups



The history of bureaucracy (now there's a fascinating topic for you) can probably best be traced by studying war.  Military operations are huge undertakings, and have been for millennia.  Armies need to keep records for logistics management, operational planning, awarding honors, and most importantly -- for the soldiers! -- to distribute pay.

Happily, for family researchers, many records from these military bureaucracies are finding their way online.  We've covered many free Military Lookups here at Free Genealogy Tools, but there are always more coming to our attention.  

ANZACS with pipes, during the Great War

Here are some of the latest that, due to their size or sheer interestingness, are well worth a look.

Australian ANZACS in the Great War, 1914-1918.  These cover the Australian half of the WWI records of the Australian-New Zealand Army Corps Service (ANZACS), and include about  330,000 service records from the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).

Moving ahead a generation, Australia's Nominal Roll for WWII includes over a million service records.

Bet you never thought you'd find military records from Cuba online, but here they are!  The Cuba Database of Officers of the Ten Years War 1868-1878 (several thousand records), and almost 70,000 records of the Cuban Liberation Army ('Mambi' Army) 1895-1898.

There are, sadly, millions of records in the German War Graves lookups. (Grabernachweis des Volksbundes).  You can view the site more or less in English thanks to Google Translate.

Lastly, two pretty unusual finds for military medals and honors.

The Medals of Saint Helena (Les medailles de Sainte-Helene) include about 200,000 records awarded in 1857 by Napoleon III, to soldiers who served under Napoleon I, 1792-1815.  Mostly French, but there are records from all over Europe as well.

The Polish Order of the Virtuti Militari and its Cavaliers 1792-1992, Poland's version of the Medal of Honor, includes 26,500 records.  The site is free to search, but registration is required.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

African American Family History


Little by little...ever so slowly, it seems...resources for researching African American genealogy are making their way to the internet.

Here are the best free tools that I know of for exploring black family history.


The National Archives African-American Research page is important to note, even though very few of their records are actually online (come on, NARA...what's taking so long?).  Still, their holdings from the Freedmen's Bureau, military records, and slave trade files are essential records for African-American history and family research.

George Washington Williams, author, legislator, jurist

A list of large slaveholders in the South, and African American surnames has been compiled for the period 1860-1870.  It's a bit cumbersome to use, but a good resource just the same.

A small but notable list:  1790 Census: Slave Holders, Other Free Persons and Slaves - Cheshire County - New Hampshire

Afrigeneas is probably the best source of overall information on African American genealogy.  There are several good name lookup indexes at the site under the Records heading, including Census, Deaths, Slaves, and a growing Surnames database.

The Harlem Hellfighters were the first black regiment to fight in World War I, and their muster records are online.  You can read more about the collection.

Alabama State Archives also has military records online in their WWI Gold Star database...enter African in the Race field to pull up African American records.  These are occasionally amazing file, with photos, full biographies, family history, and more.

There is also the Alabama Archives database of 1867 Voter Registrations, which also includes race information.  This is a pretty sizable collection, and well worth a visit.

A very nice blog of one black family's history.

An online ebook, History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880 Vol 1. Written in 1885 by George Washington Williams, "first colored member of the Ohio legislature..."  Vol II is online as well.

North American Slave Narratives.  Several hundred written records from the Digital Library of Georgia.

The Digital Library on American Slavery at UNC is a pretty new, hopefully growing resource that looks to have some excellent materials online, chiefly from petitions to state legislatures and county courts regarding slaves.  These records are fully searchable.

There are a number of historical black newspapers that can be searched online, and at no cost.

I covered some additional resources on African American family history in two earlier posts on Slave Records, and on Michelle Obama's Family Tree,  so be sure to visit them as well.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for African-American family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Arab Genealogy


I usually highlight family history resources that are especially useful.

Today, I have to highlight a resource with a twist, and ask:  Is this useful?

I can't tell!

The resource is the Digital Assets Repository at the New Library of Alexandria in Egypt (Bibliotheca Alexandrina).

An Arabian family tree, perhaps?

Under their Categories listing, if you click on the Geography and History category, you'll get these intriguing results:

  • Genealogy, names insignia (307)
  • Biography, genealogy, insignia (882)

In other words, there are at least several hundred books here...possibly close to a thousand...that touch on genealogy and family history.  In perusing the book lists, it's clear that the focus of these works is on family history in Arabia, and often on the particular family history of descendants from Mohammed.

Unfortunately, my exploration of the site pretty much had to end there.  All the resources appear to be in Arabic, which effectively closes the door to my English-only brain.

In addition, the site...and I hate to say this...is only minimally functional in terms of actually letting users sort through and pull up available materials.  Nothing is working quite right yet, though they hopefully will fix this down the road (it is a beta site, after all).

Using Google Translate, I can see that some of the resources have very useful-sounding names like:
  • Tombstones Muslim cemetery Sa'ada, Yemen
  • Dictionary of Arab Tribes of Old and Modern

Other translations are suggestive, but not terribly revealing, like:

  • Exciting existence, the descent, we find kings

while others are simply ???????

  • Sentences from the book flowed supervision

Anyway, if anyone can shed some light on this collection, and its value (or lack thereof) to those exploring Arabic family history, please post your remarks in the Comments.

Much appreciated.

David

Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.


NewspaperArchive.com

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Meaning and Origin of Family Names


An earlier post described how to get free access to a wonderful look-up resource, the Dictionary of American Family Names.

There are plenty of other first name and surname dictionaries that offer free lookup of the meaning and origins of names.  Most of them are not quite as US-centric as the well-known DAFN.

Woodhouse, a surname meaning the wild man of the woods

Have a look at:


An etymological dictionary of family and Christian names. With an essay on their derivation and import 

Patronymica Britannica: a dictionary of the family names of the United Kingdom

Personal and family names

Family names and their story

The Teutonic name-system applied to the family names of France, England and Germany

British family names: their origin and meaning, with lists of Scandinavian, Frisian, Anglo-Saxon and Norman names

A dictionary of English and Welsh surnames: with special American instances

English surnames: An essay on family nomenclature, historical, etymological, and humorous; with several illustrative appendices

Each book is can be searched online for names of interest, or you can download the entire book to your own PC or e-book reader.

There are some good tidbits in these sources:


  • Peabody means Mountain Man, and is connected to a story about one Queen Boadicea.

  • Hanks is cryptically described as a 'nurse name'.

  • Clinton means the town on the hill.

  • Percy, derived from a story of a king who was killed with a lance through the eye, evermore to be known as Pierce-eye, which, "by the omission of several useless vowels" eventually becomes Percy.



And Rebecca's the world over will be pleased, I'm certain, to learn that their name means fat and full.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Stars and Stripes, World War I


We usually go for the big databases here at Free Genealogy Tools.  Today's entry is a small one, but it represents a big event.  Even if your ancestors aren't specifically mentioned herein (and chances are, they won't be), this is still something that touched their lives.

During World War I, the Stars and Stripes newspaper (1918-1919) was printed for a total run of 71 weeks...71 issues aimed at the doughboys of what was officially called the American Expeditionary Forces, or simply the AEF.

The entire set of newspaper archives is available online at the Library of Congress.  It's worth a look.  Issues can be fully searched, or you can simply browse by date.  In typical LOC fashion, accessing the newspapers is a bit on the clumsy side, but if you just pull up the pdf of the page (or the full newspaper) of interest, you can easily peruse the whole thing.

There's also a nicely-done Closer Look at the Stars and Stripes, which tells some of the back story of the newspaper itself.

If you're fortunate, you might find mention of one of your ancestors who was sent to fight the huns in WWI.  But even if you don't, you'll get an exquisitely detailed rendering of the language and tenor of the times, right down to the inaguaral issue message from General Pershing, declaring that the soldiers were the lucky Americans, given the honor to serve their country in a way that few will ever experience.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Get Paid for Genealogy Writing



Usually here at Free Genealogy Tools, we're doing exactly what the blog-title says:  offering up useful family history tools that you can use absolutely free.

Today, we're doing free one better, and showing you how you can get paid for your genealogy work.

There's a revolution taking place here on the internet, right under our noses.  All manner of sites are making money (in some cases, lots of it) by attracting internet traffic...visitors like you and me.  In order to be successful, though, the sites need good quality, compelling content on just about any topic imaginable.

Could be me, one day!

And that's where you, and your knowledge of genealogy, comes in.  If you can write about your experience in family history research, you can earn some money with the content you've created.  In fact, it doesn't even have to be writing.  You can post photos, images of old records, podcasts of interviews, or a video of a local graveyard.  All manner of content is welcome.

One of my favorite sites for posting is at eHow, where brief how-to articles can, with a bit of luck, earn a surprising income.  One article of mine (took me about an hour to write) has earned $2,000 so far, and it's still going strong, bringing in new income every month.

That's the exception to the rule, but even my mainstream genealogy articles which pay far less are still doing very well, thank you:



You get the idea.

But if how-to's aren't your cup of tea, there are plenty of other sites where you can contribute more free-form content, such as Xomba, Examiner, and Google Knol.

Or of course, you can just build your own website, like my newspaper archives site, or even your own blog, like the one you're reading right now.  These sites won't make me rich, necessarily, but they do bring in a steady (and steadily growing) income while I'm doing some family history writing that I love to do, anyway.

It's not a bad set-up.  You can do it too.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Genealogy Power Search


Cyndi Howell, she of Cyndi's List fame, is fond of saying -- heck, is insistent on saying -- that there's no such thing as Internet Genealogy.

She's right, of course.  The resources on the internet (including the wonderful Cyndi's List itself) are simply tools for getting genealogy done.  Just as there's no such thing as Screwdriver Carpentry, there's no real discipline called Internet Genealogy.  There are just tools that can make the job easier.

The right tools (used the right way) for the right job.

But what tools they are!  Sites like Ancestry.com or FamilySearch are the power tools of family history research.  But like any power tool, you have to be careful how you use them, or they'll whirr out of control, wreck your whole project, and possibly slice your nose off in the process.

Yep.  Genealogy can be that perilous!

So, I just want to talk a bit today about some do's and dont's and tricks of the trade for searching, starting with searching for a person's name.

In Google-based tools, there are several different ways to search on an individual's name.  Let's take my name, David Sarokin, as an example:


  • Free Form Search:  David Sarokin  Google comes up with 200,000 results (am I popular, or what?)

  • Exact Phrase (in quotes): "David Sarokin"  18,000 results (er, not so popular after all).

  • Exact Phrase with asterisk wildcard: "David * Sarokin"  50 results, including the odd times when I've used my middle name or initial.

  • Reverse Exact Search: "Sarokin David"  2,600 results, especially good for bibliographic references where my last name is listed first.

  • 'OR' Searching: "David OR Dave OR Davey Sarokin" 5,000 results (no one calls me Davey, though).



You can see there are wildly different numbers of results for each search (though don't put too much stock in Google's search result numbers...they don't make a heck of a lot of sense).   The important thing about the searches is that each variation picks up different results that are either missed completely by other searches, or buried too far down to be readily findable.

So whether you're searching plain old Google, or the amazing family history resource, Google News Archives, try varying your searches to see what nuggets turn up.

And be careful not to slice off your nose!


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Group Genealogy



If you recognize the name Usenet, you've probably been on the internet for a l-o-o-o-o-n-g time.  Usenet has been around since 1979, tying people together in little (or not so little) electronic clubhouses.

But even if the name doesn't ring a bell, Usenet gave rise to what are now known more generally as Groups.  Groups are sort of like forums (which you're probably familiar with) and sort of different.  A key thing about Groups, though, is that they're in a separate corner of the internet, and they don't show up in ordinary searches, unless you specifically look for them.

Blue circle for the topic of the Group, red circle for a full text search.

There are groups for just about every topic imaginable (and quite a few that are unimaginable, but we won't go there...).  Of course, there are groups for genealogy and family history.  Tons of them.  Groups in the US, and  Groups in the UK.  Groups in English, and Groups in Slovak.  Groups for medieval genealogy, genealogy in the Azores, and family histories of individual surnames or geographical areas.

But if you want to see what these Groups have to offer, you have to make it a point to go visit them.

So go ahead an explore.  Try Google Groups for starters (which includes the Usenet archives way back to the 1980's!).  Note that there are two types of searches here -- one on the main topic of the group (the blue circle in the picture to the right) and one that searches the actual content of the posts (red circle). Try them both.

Then take a look at Yahoo Groups, which also has some surprisingly rich content in the family history arena.

By the way, with a quick registration at either Google or Yahoo, you can easily start your own genealogy clubhouse, er, Group on the internet.

Enjoy your exploring.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Finding the Artists in Your Family Tree


Given the importance that cultures throughout history have placed on art, artists and the process of artistic creation, you'd think there would be some giant database somewhere that lists a few bazilion artists.  You know...the type of lookup where you could poke around and search for any family members from generations past (or present) with an artistic streak of their own.

Well, think again.  I can find you datasets with millions of soldiers...or inventors...or immigrants...or gravesites.  But artists only seem to trickle out a few thousand at a time.  I'm not sure why this is, but don't despair.  There are still some good artists-as-family-history look-ups out there, starting with:

Drop what you're doing, go to Sienna, and see 
this Simone Martini fresco...it's glorious.

ULAN...the Union List of Artist Names.  This is the motherlode, with more than 375,000 names listed covering much of history, and much of the world, though there's certainly a preponderance of Western artists.  As a nice touch, you can narrow your search by nationality.  ULAN is part of the Getty Thesaurus collection (yes...that Getty!).  There's a lot of cool stuff at the Getty site, so you may want to have a look around.

Artprice is probably the web's largest source of art auction-house information.  It actually lists more artists than ULAN, but searching isn't as sophisticated and results (without subscribing to the site) are a bit limited.  Still, a terrific free resource, overall, for searching for painters, sculptors, photographers and other artists in your family history.  Another auction site, Find Art Info has another nice, big database to search on.

Two other sites have smaller listings, but might be worth a try:  Artnet  and, believe it or not,  All Posters.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.


NewspaperArchive.com

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Alert: Mad Scientist on the Loose!



On this All Hallows Eve, it seems fair to ask: Is there a mad scientist in your family tree? Or perhaps even a very sane scientist or inventor, making the world a better place one discovery at a time.

There are two wonderful databases that cover hundreds of years of patents from around the world. Search them to see if one of your ancestors is included.

Google Patents covers seven million US patents (and a million more patent applications) that go back to 1790.  Even if there are no relatives of yours listed here, this a fun and amazing resource to poke around in.

A not-so-mad scientist, perhaps.

The European Patent Office boasts one of the largest online databases in existence. They cover patents from all over Europe, of course, but they also have a global reach, with millions of patents from Albania to Zimbabwe, and scores of countries in between.   Patent giants like China, Japan, Israel, Germany and Great Britain are here, along with patents from Kenya, El Salvador, and Viet Nam, just to name a few.  Here, too, records go back several centuries. You may find an unheralded Edison or Einstein in your ancestry, with a bit of looking.

While you're at it, also pay a visit to WorldCat.  If your creative ancestors ever wrote a science book (or any other sort of book, for that matter) they're likely to be listed here, in this massive online catalog of holdings from libraries around the world.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Genealogical Acts of Kindness



Let's say you've been a good little genealogist.  You've interviewed your living family members, been to the library poring through old records and microfilm, and been all over the internet accessing all the cool data sources featured here at the Free Genealogy Tools blog.

And now you want to know more.  You want a photo of great-grandma's gravesite in Indiana.  A copy of a birth certificate from a small town in Arizona.  A baptismal record from back in the old country.

You can plan one heck of a road trip to begin gathering up these old records (which is pretty much what Alex Haley did in writing Roots!).

Let a volunteer help you track down your family's roots

Or...you can ask for help.  A site called Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness is built around a lovely concept:  volunteer family historians agree to devote one day a month as volunteers, and offer free assistance to anyone in need in acquiring local records.

There are thousands of RAOGK volunteers all over the US and in many places around the world.  Ask, and ye may well receive.  Volunteers have been known to comb through courthouse records, visit graveyards and photograph the headstones, unearth local library records, and so on.

There is no fee for this wonderful service.  However, protocol requires that volunteers are reimbursed for any out of pocket expenses, like copying fees, postage, and so on.  Also, keep your request short and sweet... one person, one record.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

European Jews and the Holocaust



It's hard to write about this latest family history database, as it's such a grim and awful reminder of humanity at its worst.  Still, the Shoah Victims' Names Database at Yad Vashem is an incredible source of information on the millions of people who died at the hands of the Nazis during the holocaust.

The database contains about 3 million names, and hopes to one day have a fuller accounting of all the victims of Hitler's attempted genocide. The database is almost exclusively focused on Jewish names from all over Europe, though I understand there are records of non-Jews included as well.


Read the story of how Rozel and Kayla were identified from their photo.


The search interface looks to be very well designed, and will pull up records of closely related spellings and pronounciations for the name you search on.  The information in the records varies, but the designers have bent over backwards to include as much information as they possibly can, including parents, siblings, relatives, and information on where and how people lived.

There is a substantial and poignant photo archive at the site.

You can also search the Related Lists Database.  This resource is not searchable by individual names, but can be browsed by place name, group identity, or general keyword search.  There are probably hundreds of thousands of individuals named on these lists that haven't yet been entered into the master Shoah Victims' Names Database.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.