Friday, July 31, 2009

Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System

I love family history databases with millions of names in them. They make research so rewarding! One such data source is CWSS -- the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System, maintained by the National Park Service. With more than six million names in the system, CWSS gives you an immediate sense of the vast scope of the Civil War. The entire population of the US at the time (North and South) only came to about 32 million or so.

CWSS shows the information on the General Index information source prepared from unit and regiment musters as a soldier or sailors service record.

The cards were also used after the war to figure pensions for Union Soldiers. Once you identify the microfilm role with a record of interest, an actual copy of the General Index Card can be ordered from the National Park Service.

Don't forget to check for your family history at and Yes, these are subscription databases, but they are also among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Social Security Death Index (SSDI)

I see dead people.

Well, sort of. With the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), I can quickly and easily pull up records of pretty much anyone with a Social Security number who has died in the past 50 years or so.

2012 Update: Rootsweb, long-time keeper of free SSDI lookups, has suddenly decided they need to charge for the privilege. What a shame. However, you can also access the Social Security Death Index at GenealogyBank's SSDI pageThank you GenealogyBank.

There are more than 80 million records in SSDI. Each record provides a full name, date of birth and death, geographical information, and even the deceased's Social Security number. Searching is very flexible and powerful, with an Advanced Search feature that can do even more. As with all resources at FreeGenealogyTools, searching SSDI is absolutely free.

When searching, be sure to use the actual SSDI search fields, and not the First Name / Last Name fields of the advertisements that usually appear on the site.

SSDI should be your first stop for researching anyone who has died since about 1960 (there are scattered earlier records in the system as well, but it is not complete).

Social Security Death Index Search Results

The King is Dead!

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 and These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Immigration and Passenger Records

Thanks, Stephen P. Morse, whoever you are.

Morse's family history websites are one of the internet's real treasures. Users can search through the vast immigration and arrival records of all major US ports, including Ellis Island (1892-1924) and Castle Garden (1855-1891) in NY, and ports in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Galveston, San Francisco and elsewhere. There are also records for crossings at the US-Canadian border.

If your ancestors arrived in the US by ship during the 19th or early 20th centuries, chances are good that you can find them on one of Morse's websites. Some flexible and powerful search tools allow you to search on a full or partial name, or even on a 'sounds-like' name, if you're not sure of the spelling. Searches can also focus on particular villages, towns, shtetls, cities or countries of origin, as well as ports of arrival or departure, within specified date ranges.

Search results include summary records, as well as actual images of ship manifests, immigration entry forms, and even pictures of many of the ships that carried passengers to the US.

All in all, an amazing resource that any genealogy researcher should become familiar with.

The Corinthian, steaming into port.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Google News Archives

Pretty much everyone knows about Google News. For many of us, it's the first stop for finding a news story from earlier in the day or week.

But did you know there is a deep (and I mean deep) Google News Archive here as well? Newspapers and other digitized materials going back to the 1700's. And Google has been adding new archives at a furious pace, so this is a resource tool to return to on a regular basis.

The Google search is free, of course. Most of the material that is archived is also free to access, but there are also links to materials, like articles from, Proquest, Lexis, or, that you have to pay a fee to access.

Use the advanced search feature to fine tune your search by zeroing on a particular date range, geographical area, or even a particular newspaper. You can choose to see all results, or only results that are available at no charge.

From Google News Archives: NY Times, June 1, 1911