Wednesday, September 30, 2009

State Vital Record Lookups


A few states have taken their vital records online.  These are mostly births and deaths, but sometimes marriages and divorces as well.  Diligent state bureaucrats or dedicated volunteers from historical societies and the like have entered millions of records into online databases or better yet, scanned actual images of birth or death certificates, and all the wonderful information they contain.

And they've done all this for your benefit, just so you can look up vital records online, and fill in more of your family history.

The best of what the states have to offer are listed here, in reverse alphabetical order (because why should WV always be last?):


West Virginia Death Index 1917-1958.  Coverage here varies by county; also includes some birth and marriage indexes.  Actual images of certificates available.

Washington State Digital Archives.  There are birth, death and marriage records here, along with census information, military records, and a host of other information.  Coverage is very variable.

Utah Death Index, 1905-1956.  Database includes digitized images of the death certificates.  Also check out the Utah Burials Search.

Oregon Death Index, 1903-1930.  Basic information here:  Name, date of death, county, and certificate number.

Ohio Death Index, 1913-1944.  Just the basics here.  Lookup is free, the certificate will cost you.

North Dakota Department of Health's Death Index from 1881-one year before present.  You must specify date of death within a ten year period in order to get search results (why oh why did you do that, NDDOH?).


And big enough that I'm counting it as a state, even though it's only a city, here is the New York City Death Index for 1891-1948


Missouri Death Certificates, 1910-1958 (with images).  Also check out pre-1910 birth (including stillbirths) and death records.

Minnesota Death Certificates, 1904-2001, from the Minnesota Historical Society.  Search and results are free, but there is a charge for an actual copy of the death certificate.  You can also search the Minnesota state census for 1849-1905.

The Maryland State Archives Death Index (1898-1951) offers county by county lookups of death records.  There are also separate databases for Baltimore covering death records from 1875-1972.  The set-up here is cumbersome, but worth playing around with if you have family history in Md.

Kentucky's online vital records include a death index (1911-1992) and a marriage and divorce index for 1973-1993.  Information is largely limited to name, place and date, with pointers to the original off-line files.

Illinois State Archives has a pretty incredible collection of not only birth and death records, by poorhouse records, court case, probates, and much more.   Their Global Search allows name-searching of all databases at once.

Idaho's digital archives include death records, though these appear to be excerpts from the freely available SSDI database.

Delaware's online Probate Records Database offers up a hodge-podge of personal history usually having to do with a person's death, and the disposition of their estate.  Click on Preface for an explanation of the database

The Arizona Genealogy Birth and Death Certificates site is very nice, very fast, and includes actual images of birth and death certificates for births that occurred at least 75 years ago, and deaths that occurred at least 50 years ago.  In addition to including individual names, the database lookup includes parents' names as well.



Most online vital record lookups are organized at city or county, rather than state level.  Here's a good list of local death records online.

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, September 29, 2009

One-Name Studies


Most people researching their family history are hoping to find out more about...well...about their family history.


But a select group of researchers want to take it even further, and find out everything there is to know about their surname.  Doesn't make a difference how distantly related someone with the surname is to you.  In fact, makes no difference if they're related at all.  If they have the same name, you want to know about them.


Thus was born GONS -- the Guild of One-Name Studies.    Yes, that really is what they're called, and yes, the guild members are devoted (fanatical?) researchers learning everything there is to know about a single name.


And if that name happens to be your name, then you've hit a goldmine.  Contact the appropriate guild member, swap names, and soon you'll be learning more than you ever thought possible about the clan Clulee, the far-flung Fantrop's or Farrissey's, the world of the Welbelove's, or the guild of Gubben's.


Just don't go looking for Smith's.  The GONS-people tend to focus on unusual surnames, which makes good practical sense.  It would take several lifetimes to compile a list of all Smith's, but Smythesonne's can be handled with a reasonable commitment of time and effort.


Here is the master lookup list of one-name study surnames.  


The site has a definite UK focus, but surnames will go where they will, eh wot?  There are some intriguing resources here, so do some exploring when you visit GONS.


Happy hunting.


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

Also take a look 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, September 28, 2009

Online Genealogy in Your Local Library



If you are digging into your family history, then you're a researcher at heart, which means -- almost by definition -- that you love libraries.  But many old-fashioned library-lovers haven't yet fully explored all the free online resources that libraries make available these days.  There are some great online library tools for family history research, starting with...

WorldCat.   True to it's name, this is an enormous catalogue of 1.4 billion items from more than 10,000 libraries around the world.

WorldCat is a useful family history database in its own right -- a search on your family surname, or on a particular individual, may well turn up new information.  Beyond just author, illustrator, editor names, this enormous database includes millions of names of people mentioned as subjects in books.  You may be surprised at what you find.

Reading Room, NY Public Library

And of course, WorldCat is also a book-finder, showing you which libraries carry a particular item you're looking for, and even sorting them by distance from your hometown (but if you don't want to make the trip, ask your local library to arrange for an interlibrary loan).

Your public library is another fantastic online resource.  Most libraries subscribe to numerous databases, including history, newspaper archives, and genealogy services, that patrons can use for free.  My local library, for instance, offers links to Heritage Quest, Historic Newspapers, several Whos Who, and people-find service like Reference USA.   All for free!

And if your local library doesn't have the database you need, there are ways to access the subscription resources at other libraries, across the state, or across the country.  Check out this article on remote access to subscription services at public libraries.


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

See if your library has free access to 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

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The 10 Million Club: Genealogy's Largest Databases


The following family history databases share a few things in common:
  • They're huge, with no less than 10 million names on record

  • They're absolutely free

  • They're easy to use, so you can visit, look up a name, and either find it or not, all in the space of a minute or so.

I guess they really did ride these things!


Social Security Death Index (80 million)

Ellis Island (22.5 million plus millions more from related records)

FamilySearch (325 million)

World War II Enlistment Records (9 million, but I included it anyway)

Washington Archives (26 million), one of the best digital state archives

Pilot Project from FamilySearch (many millions, though actual number not published)

Grave and Burial Records (35 million)

Jewish records at Ancestry.com (26 million -- this subset of Ancestry's collection is available at no charge)

WorldConnect (over 575 million)

GenCircles (12 million)

Genealogical Records Committee (GRC) at the DAR (35 million)

UK Census and Vital Records (over 200 million)

Obituaries (over 20 million) -- preliminary search is free


And not free, but so big that I have to mention it anyway:

Ancestry.com (8 billion-with-a-b!)


The above databases, besides being enormous, are also organized for name lookup.  That is, you can enter a first-name and last-name in the appropriate search boxes, and pull up records precisely for that name.

Some important family history databases also have name information, but not exclusively.  For instance, a search on Black or Francisco or Carpenter will pull up people with that name, but also thousands of other mentions of the word in other contexts. Still, these are huge databases containing millions of names, and should not be overlooked. They include:

Google News Archives

Google Books

And again, not a free service, but so big that it warrants mention:

NewspaperArchive.com


If anyone knows of other data sets that should be included here, please mention it in comments, and I'll look it over. Thanks.


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

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Family and Cultural Heritage in Europe



Is your family history tied to Europe at all?  Even if you consider yourself Chinese, African, Indian, Palestinian or any other very non-European heritage, odds are there's a bit of European history mixed in with your family somewhere along the line.

A very extensive collection of Europeana can be found at...Europeana!

There is a lot of material here from several hundred sources throughout Europe.  Museums, libraries, universities, governments and cultural institutions have all collaborated to create an easy-to-use single point of access to a vast swath of European history and culture.

Sayid Mahid, back in the day

Truth be told, the odds of actually finding a family connection in the Europeana collection are slim...the emphasis here is on the famous people, artifacts and icons of the ages.  But searching is easy and quick, so the archives here are definitely worth a look.

And if you're at all like me, you'll enjoy getting sidetracked in history, even if your great great grandma isn't anywhere in sight.

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, September 25, 2009

The Genealogy Research Process


Here at the Free Genealogy Tools blog, we're usually seeking out large databases where you can search family history online, for free.

But today, something a little different... a nicely organized and sort of lovely visual aid to effective genealogical research.

Mark Tucker, who runs a nice site over at ThinkGenealogy.com  has put together a visual chart that lays out the research process to use as you try to discover family relations in the past, and just as importantly, as you document your discoveries and insure that you have credible information.

Visit ThinkGenealogy.com for the full-sized version of the chart

The chart itself, the Genealogy Research Process is based on concepts laid out by professional genealogical certification programs.  At 9+ MB, it's a sizable download, so be prepared.  But this is a PDF worth having, and maybe even printing out and sticking up on the wall.

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, September 24, 2009

The Searching Beauty of Odd Names


I had to get in touch with an acquaintance, and all I knew was his first name. I hoped I could find him on the internet.  Impossible, you say, to Google someone just knowing their first name?  Actually, I found him in about five minutes, and pulled up his full name, mailing address, email, place of work, and several phone numbers.

It helped immensely that his first name is Bezad.  Had he been a William or Michael or David, all would be lost.

But that's the beauty of rare names.  They are very, very easy to search on.  Whether you're looking for a modern day associate, or a long-ago ancestor in your family history, try zeroing in on the ones with the most unusual first or last names.  An oddly named great-great grandfather, grandmother, uncle, or 19th-cousin-thrice-removed (whatever that means) might turn up in a flash from a simple internet search, leading to other family members with more pedestrian monikers.

There's a Bezad in there somewhere!

Here are some good search tools for the odd ducklings in your family tree, if I may mix a metaphor or two.

Google, Google Books, and Google News Archives should all be searched independently.  Try searching the first and last name with and without quotes around it...the quotes tell Google to look for an exact phrase, rather than for pages that have both names anywhere on the page (if that doesn't make sense, don't worry about it...just try the searches).   If you're looking for an amazingly unusual name, then just a single name -- first or last -- may be enough.

Searching on that single name, Bezad, turns up about 6,000 hits in Google, 300 in Google Books, and almost 100 in Google News Archives.  Although there's certainly overlap between the lists, each search has its own potential for important revelations.  The searches in books and old newspapers, in particular, can uncover materials hundreds of years old.

If your oddly-named ancestor lived somewhere other than the US, you might want to try exploring newspaper archives from other areas of the world.  Head to the excellent list of International Newspaper Archives at XooxleAnswers, and start exploring.  Each newspaper listed there is different, in terms of how to search, what time periods are covered, and whether or not there is an English version of the search interface.  You'll just have to poke around, and see what turns up.  There are archives in places you might not imagine, like Iceland and Estonia, and records, in a few countries (take a look at France!) that go back to the 1600's!

You can search even more newspaper archives (both US and international) at NewspaperArchive and Ancestry. These are commercial sites, but still, there is so much excellent content at each, that they are worth exploring, even if you never actually subscribe.

Lastly, don't forget to look through current sources, like phone books and such.  Here's a great list of free people-find tools for just such a search.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Revolutionary Genealogy Research



The Daughters of the American Revolution -- the venerable D.A.R -- has one of the most comprehensive and well-respected collections of genealogical resources in the United States.  Just about all of it is hard-copy or microfilm, meaning you'll have to visit the main DAR library in Washington, DC to take full advantage of their resources.

However...there are two free, online resources from the DAR that you should definitely take a look at.

The first is the DAR Online Library Catalog.   A search here on an exact name or surname will quickly show any library holdings that are by, or about, the name in question.  If you're familiar with my Bourne Test, I turned up 50 Bourne's in the catalog.

Molly Pitcher, famous Revolutionary War gal

Just as easy to search, but a seemingly much larger dataset, is that of the GRC -- the Genealogical Records Committee of the DAR.  There are more than 35 million names recorded here, including 607 Bourne's in New York, alone (and thousands in the US, though the search results max out at 1,000).

From what I can tell, other libraries (such as FamilySearch.org) have copies of the GRC records, but do not have the full index that is available at the DAR GRC lookup page.

The DAR library also has special collections devoted to African-American, Native American, and Jewish family history resources.  Might be worth a visit, if your heritage lies along those lines.

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, September 22, 2009

More English, Irish, Scottish, UK-ish Family History Tools, for Free



Here are some more very useful and free genealogy resources in the UK.  I bet you didn't know about some of these:

British History Online is one of those half-free, half-not-free services.  There are a ton of historical resources here, and you can get preliminary results at no cost.  Searches routinely turn up church records, local government surveys and reports, legal documents, and so on.  In good British fashion, records go back about 1,000 years!  Do a general search on a family name, or an exact search (use the Advanced Search feature) to fine-tune your results.


The Great Fire of London, 1666 (click to enlarge)

Similarly, the UK National Archives also offers quasi-free access to birth-marriage-death records, wills, citizenship information, passenger lists, etc.  Searches will turn up a detailed description of each document, but there's a fee to see and download the actual document itself.

You can search through a century's worth of The Guardian newspaper (1899-1999), and it's totally free.  Results are full text-only, rather than actual page images.

Drop back another century with more newspapers, semi-free, at the British Library British Newspapers collection (1800-1900).  Some of the content here is totally free, but most of it will show only a snippet with your search term.  There's a charge for the full image, though.  This is an extensive resource with two million pages from dozens of publications, from the Aberdeen Journal to the Western Mail (Wales).  It is well-worth a visit.

Irish Newspaper archives (1846-present) are also online, though you see only a tiny snippet of search results, unless you pay for the full article.   

UK Gazettes, from London, Edinburgh and Belfast report on official government activities going back to 1665.  There are an endless number of bankruptcies recorded here, among other events.  From the looks of things, millions of individuals are named in these documents.

Whatever English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh roots your family history has, they're probably mentioned in these resources, somewhere.

Isn't the internet wonderful?


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, September 21, 2009

Bring Out Your Dead



Sorry for the morbid headline.  I know Monty Python fans will forgive me, though.

Every now and then a new website comes along that seems worth keeping an eye on.  Deceased Online is one such site.

As the name suggests, this is a lookup service for the names of the dead, in this case, the deceased from UK and Irish death records.  As Deceased Online puts it, the site is a "central database for UK burials and cremations"".

Records don't go back to the Black Death, 
but you can get 19th century information

This is a growing site, that currently houses a bit under half a million records from 1837 onward.  They are adding new records regularly, from more than 3,000 burial authorities and almost 250 crematoria in the UK and Ireland.

Searching here is free, and results will give you a name, date and place of passing, the final disposition of the body (whether buried or cremated, and at which authority).  For a fee, additional information is available, including scans of the actual register pages and remembrance pages, and more precise information about the actual gravesite.

This is a pretty rich resource, and one worth checking out.

Also 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.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Free Genealogy Tools: Our Story So Far


Every few weeks, we do a quick recap.

The Free Genealogy Tools blog is devoted to discovering genealogy resources that are free, high-quality, and not always well-known, even to aficionados of family history research.


Here's what we've highlighted so far:



SSDI -- More than 80 million death records

Free Civil War Military Records

FamilySearch.org from the Mormons

Free Newspaper Archives and Historical Articles

Free World War II Military Records

Buffalo Bill, 1875
Medieval Soldier Military Records (That's right...Knights!)

Millions of Family History Records from Canada

Immigrants from Europe

New York City Family History

National Gravesite Locator for Veterans

World War I and World War II British Commonwealth Deaths

Search Millions of Ancestor Records in an Instant (with free Census info, to boot)

Search 35 Million Grave, Burial, and Cemetery Records for Free

Half a *billion* free records from Ancestry.com, at WorldConnect

Five Centuries of British Family History Records

Proceedings of the Old Bailey Criminal Court in London

Finding Free Obituaries

Finding People Who Are Still Living

Searching for Family History in Old Books, Online and For Free

Some Civil War Genealogy Resources You May Not Know About

Family History in Free Online Photo and Film Archives: Part I

What's In a Name? More Than You Think!

Some Military Family History Resources That You May Not Know About

Family History Grab Bag!

The Painful-Yet-Worthwhile Making of America

Family History Research at the National Archives: More Online Than You Know

Free Lexis-Nexis for Family History Research

Anacleto Ebooks: Worth a Look for a Quick Family History Search

How Popular Are You? (In a Family History Sense, That Is)

What the Bourne Identity Can Tell You About Your Family History (Really!)

Happy Birthday, Ancestors

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

The Family History Archives at BYU

Searching Ships Passenger Lists

Forces Reunited: Searching UK Military Records



Geographical Origins of a Million Surnames










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, September 19, 2009

Family History in Free Online Photo and Film Archives: Part II



Finding mention of your ancestors as you search for family history is always a thrill.  But it's hard to beat the excitement of finding actual photographs of long-gone relatives.  In Part I of this post, I covered searching old film and video (moving images).  Now it's time to look at resources for still photography.

Corbis is one of the largest commercial sources of modern and historical photos, and includes the fabulous Bettmann Archives among other collections.  There is an enormous amount of historical material here, mostly of the rich and famous, but with a surprising amount of the everyday mixed in.

A bountiful bevy of Bournes (click to enlarge)

You can search Corbis at no cost, and see watermarked versions of the photos available.  Use the More Search Options to limit results to particular dates, locations or collections (such as Archival photos).

A search on Bourne, for instance (see my earlier post for the importance of the Jason Bourne test in genealogy) turns up a few shots of actor Matt Damon, certainly (he plays Bourne in the movies).  But there are also many hundreds of other Bourne's including:

  • 1953: Young Linda Bourne helps her mother (Ivy Bourne) hang nappies...
  • Historical engraving by Herbert Bourne
  • Francis Alphonsus Cardinal Bourne, Archbiship of Westminster in 1903
  • Colonel Bourne, 1936 Oxford rowing coach
  • A portrait of an unheralded Frederick Bourne, mid-19th century
  • An 1860's photo of the Himalayas by Samuel Bourne
  • Dale Bourne, 1930's golfer

Other photo sources to explore are:

Getty Images, similar to Corbis, and good for a few hundred more Bournes

Genealogy Images of History  is an odd collection, chiefly from the US, but there's actually quite a bit here, making it well worth a search.  You can see a watermarked version of images, mostly from old newspapers, and can, of course, purchase the full image.

The NY Public Library's digital images collection  contains more than 700,000 images, including close to a hundred Bournes.

And don't forget a search at Google Images and Flickr.  These are vast repositories of images, and are easy to search.  Each has many thousands of Bournes, mostly contemporary, but you never know what might turn up!


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, September 18, 2009

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


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.

Raduraksti:  Pick a language, any language!

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.


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

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

(Almost) Free Obituaries


Finding old obituaries should be easier than it is.  The information is all out there, and a great deal of it is digitized (and much of that is even free).  The problem, though, is that it's often hard to tease out obituaries from other newspaper articles.  The Washington Post archives, for instance, allow you to restrict searches to editorials, the sports section, etc...but there's no obituaries-only search.  For some fairly unusual family names, this may not be much of an obstacle, but for more common names, it can be a real P.I.T.A., if you know what I'm saying.

A good resource to know about is the Obituary Archives.  This isn't a deep historical resource, but for deaths that occurred from about the late 1970's on, it's a good, quick way to identify available online obituaries.



As is the case at many search sites, the initial search is free.  Enter a name and other related information, like a range of dates, or a place, and you'll quickly get results that show you the name of the deceased, the date of the obituary, the newspaper in which it appeared, and often, a headline with a bit more information (Robert Smith, Inventor of Bubble Gum, or some such headline).

Obits are fascinating, but not always pretty

You'll have to pay to see the actual article, of course.  You can view individual articles at $2.95 a pop, or get a monthly subscription to the site.  These are text-only articles, so don't expect any photos, or actual page images.

One nice feature of ObitsArchive deserves mention.  They include useful examples of searches you can enter in each field, like this...Name of Deceased: (William OR Bill) Smith.  These are so incredibly helpful to first-time users of a site.  I'm amazed (and a bit appalled!) at how many search sites don't manage to offer this simple assistance.

Give ObitsArchive a visit for death notices from the past few decades.


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 finding obituaries and looking into family roots.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Peek Through European History


Here's an interesting place to do some family history research, and one that you may not have thought of before.

The European Library is an online portal and search engine that accesses the collections of libraries throughout Europe.

There are over 150 collections to search here, including four in Latvia, alone.  There are books, of course, but so much more as well.  Postcards, academic theses, maps, photographs, portraits, posters, cartoons, newspapers, magazines music, manuscripts, movies, tv shows, and even puppets.

Because each library (and each collection) is catalogued differently, there's a real hit-or-miss quality to the searches.  Some items return only the most basic description...the item's name, date, and when known, its author.

Any Olympians in the family line?

Other search results will include a wealth of details, with in-depth descriptions of contents, including the names of key people mentioned.

Best of all, some results will link directly to a full, online digitized version of the material, so that you can look through an old book online, or browse old maps, photos or paintings.

One of your ancestors may have authored some of the materials here.  But even if they didn't, they may show up in search results because they were included, in some fashion, in a book, photograph, or whatever.

Searching isn't as easy as it might be, but it's not too bad either.  The real trick, here, is to ignore the big results box in the center of the page (which often shows zero results, because one of the libraries has a hung connection, and the results fields never gets completed).

Instead, scan the list of all 150+ collections on the left side of the page, to see the number of results in each collection for your search.  Click on an individual collection to access more details.

The European Library turns up some unusual threads to family history, and ones that might otherwise remain hidden from view.  As I'm fond of saying, it's well worth a look.

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

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Immigrants and Visitors to Australia


If someone in your family tree moved to Australia, or even if they simply visited, there may be an online record of their journey in the Index to Passenger Arrivals at the National Archives of Australia. From the main page of the Archives, click on Record Search (in the upper right hand corner of their website), then Search Now as a Guest, and finally, Passenger Index (again, upper right), to conduct a search.

The Index, which includes almost a million names, covers arrivals in Australis by ship between 1921 and 1950, and arrivals by air between 1944 and 1950.  These include immigrants, business trips, tourists, and so on.  You can search on first names with or without last names, and narrow down your searches by date, ship or aircraft names, or points of embarkation and disembarkation.

The Australian Archives site also offers a Photo Search, and specific Name Search tool, and a generalized search of the entire website, all of which can be useful in exploring your family connections to the land down under.

Grandma in Australia?  National Archives of Australia, Image 11697818

You may not be aware of any connection that your family history has to Australia, but that doesn't mean the connection doesn't exist. The National Archives site is certainly worth a quick search, to see what turns up.




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.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Are You Royalty?


Could I be the Duke of Downtown?  The Earl of East Flatbush?  The Blue-Blooded Baron of Brooklyn?  Maybe even the Prince of Park Slope?

Probably not.  But it can be fun to cruise through European nobility, looking for familiar family names. A great site for just this purpose is thePeerage.com

A labor of love (or eccentricity, as the site's author puts it), thePeerage is put together by a nice looking fellow named Darryl, who has amassed a whole lot of information on British peerage, European nobility, Lords and Ladies of the Manor, and royalty in general.

The Surname Index includes more than 40,000 surnames of more or less royal families, and hundreds of thousands of individuals, with lineages going back many generations, and many hundreds of years.  There are wonderful names and titles here, like the Rt. Hon. Sir Spencer Cecil Brabazon Ponsonby-Fane.

Many names even come with a Consanguinity Index, which I suppose indicates just how noble they really are.

Grand Duke Alexander Michaelovitch.  A distant relative, perhaps?  

So, if you've ever wondered how closely connected you may be to the 11th Viscount of Crowhurst, this is the site for you.

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, September 11, 2009

Finding the Book(s) on Your Family History


Somewhere, at sometime, someone has published a book that mentions your family.

It might be a book from hundreds of years ago, when any one of your thousands of ancestors was featured in a write-up of an important event of the time, a description of a town or county or industry, some noteworthy (or notorious) achievement, or simply some good gossip.  Or it might be a book of more recent vintage, and perhaps even cover relatives still living.

The best place to explore books online is at Google Books.  Google is hell-bent on scanning everything ever written, and though beset with legal problems around the globe, they are managing to amass quite a huge online library.  Your family is in there somewhere, in all likelihood.  And even if they're not directly mentioned, there are bound to be accounts of towns and villages where they lived, worked, and explored in years past (or even the price of a gallon of wine in 1729).

From the Massachusetts Gazetteer (1847) at Google Books

The trick (as always) is finding them.  Here are some tips for making the best of the vast resource that is Google Books.


  • Start with a broad, simple search on either the name of a particular person, a family name (if it's not overly common), or a town, county, village, etc. that is of interest to you.

  • Use the Google Books Advanced Search page to focus your results on a given date range.

  • Search just on a book title with the intitle: command.  It works this way: a search on intitle:history returns books with the word History in the title.  Other title words, such as gazetteer, directory, journal, memoir, genealogy, family, and so on, can help zero in on historical accounts.  For instance, a search on Jeremiah Woodward intitle:history will find books that have History in the title, and the name(s) Jeremiah Woodward in the text of the book.

  • Use quotes and wildcards to simultaneously expand and focus your search.  A search (in quotes) on "Jeremiah Woodward" will find that exact name in a book, while "Jeremiah * Woodward" will find names that begin with Jeremiah, and end with Woodward, but have a third name in the middle.  Go ahead and try these actual searches to see how they work.

  • Use the same strategies to search on items other than family names.  This is particularly useful for exploring information on the towns and villages where your ancestors lived.  


There are other online collections of books, notably at Amazon (register to search inside books and view results) and Questia (a subscription service).  And of course, NewspaperArchives and Ancestry also have enormous volumes of text that are easily searched. You can use many of the same search strategies to zero in on your family history.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

African-American Family History: Slaves and Slavery


For reasons disturbingly easy to understand, African-American family history research can be extremely difficult, especially as one ventures back more than just a few generations.   Researching slave history is a special challenge.  But there are a few online resources available that allow one to at least begin the quest.

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database includes more than 67,000 Africans brought (or should I say bought!) to America aboard slave ships.  There are various searches possible here, focusing on individuals, identified by name, gender, place of origin, and so on, as well as on particular voyages or slaving expeditions.

The online database, Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy: 1719-1820, is a remarkable piece of work, essentially put together by a single researcher, Dr. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, a professor of history at Rutgers University.  There are records here of about 100,000 slaves brought to (or through) Louisiana in the 18th and early 19th centuries.  The French and Spanish slave traders and owners apparently kept far more meticulous records than did their counterparts in the East, leaving a wealth of information for historians.

The entire dataset can be searched online, but if you're handy with databases, SQL, SPSS, and things of that sort, you can download two large files to work with on your own:  a Slaves Database, and a Free (ex-slaves) Database.

The Illinois Servitude and Emancipation Records Database, 1722–1863 is a small but significant collection dating back to colonial Illinois.  About 3,400 slaves and slave holders are listed here, and the state will provide copies of original records, if requested.

Indiana's Digital Archives include countywide Negro and Mulatto Registers from 1853, and the Clark County Slave Register of 1805.   At the site, click on Misc Historical Records for more details about these collections.

Maryland's Online Archives include several slavery-related lookups, including general and slave censuses, records of runaways, slave jail records, and pardons issued.   

I also want to mention the very worthwhile, but very frustrating African-American collections at the Archival Research Catalog (ARC), a division of the National Archives.  There is a lot of material here.  But, it is a difficult site to search and make sense of results, and more often than not, you will be pointed to off-line sources of information, rather than being able to access materials online.  Still, it is a rich resource, and worth the effort.  Make sure to do a general search of ARC in addition to browsing the African American collection.  Try a search on slaves, and another on slavery, to see what turns up.

You can find free online newspaper archives at the Special Collections page of FreeNewspaperArchives, related to slavery, the Civil War, and abolition.

Lastly, I recommend this excellent article on Why Retracing Our African Roots is So Difficult.


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, September 9, 2009

Connecting to Ancestors at GenCircles


There are a number of very large genealogical datasets on the internet, FamilySearch and Ancestry.com being the two largest and well known.

GenCircles, though less well-known, is another biggie. I'm not sure just how big, but by my calculations, there are more than 12 million individuals listed just under the letter "A".  It's pretty big.

A visit to the homepage has the usual, familiar-looking search boxes:  enter a first name, last name, year of birth or death, and so on.  Why bother?,  you ask.  What makes GenCircles different?

Infuriatingly, the site doesn't tell you!  Nowhere is there any description of what GenCircles is, what makes it stand out from other data sources, and why you might want to spend any time there.  Their "About GenCircles" page is singularly uninformative.  I can't believe that people still design websites this way.  Why, oh why, oh why?

He might be in your Gen Circle, perhaps.

Still, I've come across records on GenCircles that haven't shown up in other databases, so it seems worth a search right there.  Any source that can connect genealogists with new leads on family history is one to explore, especially when it's easy and quick to use.

If you work with GEDCOM files (standardized genealogical files), you can upload them to GenCircles and their special SmartMatching software will look through millions of files to try and match your closest ancestors.    (However, see the insightful comment on some drawbacks of GenCircles added by reader, Dee D'Errico....Thanks, Dee. ) 

As with other datasets, GenCircles makes it possible for those with an interest in the same family history to contact one another, and share additional information.

These types of one-on-one communications can sometimes reveal more than a host of data sources ever will.


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, September 8, 2009

Geographical Origins of a Million Surnames


At the risk of repeating myself, I'll emphasize once again that the Free Genealogy Tools blog loves large family history databases, especially ones that are powerful, easy to use, and best of all, free. That's why today's feature is such a good fit for the site: the RootsWeb Surname List.

RSL, as they like to call it, is a collection of more than a million surnames, along with two important types of information:
  • migration information: where the particular family originated from, where they migrated to, and the relevant dates, and
  • contact information of a person interested in learning as much as possible about the family name.

You can read more about the details of how this site works, and what's in it, at their RSL Overview page.

The odds of finding a particular surname in RSL are pretty good.

Origins information can be a big help for your family tree

The odds of finding precise information on your family's lineage and ancestry is only modestly so. After all, some names are fairly common, and sharing a surname doesn't necessarily mean much overlap in one's family tree.

However, the RootsWeb Surname List is a quick and easy search, and worth having a look to see if there's someone you should be in touch with who may know more about your family's history (or with whom you can trade notes).


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, September 7, 2009

Free Genealogy Tools: Our Story So Far



A quick recap. 


The Free Genealogy Tools blog is devoted to discovering genealogy resources that are free, high-quality, and not always well-known, even to aficionados of family history research. Here's what we've highlighted so far:

Google News Archives -- 300 Years of Free Newspaper Articles

Immigration Records from Ellis Island, Castle Garden, etc.

SSDI -- More than 80 million death records

Free Civil War Military Records

FamilySearch.org from the Mormons

Free Newspaper Archives and Historical Articles

Free World War II Military Records

Medieval Soldier Military Records (That's right...Knights!)

Millions of Family History Records from Canada

Immigrants from Europe

New York City Family History

National Gravesite Locator for Veterans

World War I and World War II British Commonwealth Deaths

Search Millions of Ancestor Records in an Instant (with free Census info, to boot)

Search 35 Million Grave, Burial, and Cemetery Records for Free

Half a *billion* free records from Ancestry.com, at WorldConnect

Five Centuries of British Family History Records

Proceedings of the Old Bailey Criminal Court in London

Finding Free Obituaries

Finding People Who Are Still Living

Searching for Family History in Old Books, Online and For Free

Some Civil War Genealogy Resources You May Not Know About

Family History in Free Online Photo and Film Archives: Part I

What's In a Name? More Than You Think!

Some Military Family History Resources That You May Not Know About

Family History Grab Bag!

The Painful-Yet-Worthwhile Making of America

Family History Research at the National Archives: More Online Than You Know

Free Lexis-Nexis for Family History Research

Anacleto Ebooks: Worth a Look for a Quick Family History Search

How Popular Are You? (In a Family History Sense, That Is)

What the Bourne Identity Can Tell You About Your Family History (Really!)

Happy Birthday, Ancestors

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

The Family History Archives at BYU

Searching Ships Passenger Lists

Forces Reunited: Searching UK Military 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.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Forces Reunited: Searching UK Military Records


There are two things I like to find in a family history research tool: (1) a large set of names to search on, ideally, a million or more, and (2) a price tag of absolute zero! You just can't beat free family history searches.

The Military Records Search at Forces Reunited does the job on both counts, though it just squeaks by on #2...you can search for free, and get preliminary results on members of the UK military, both present and past.  But if you want the full record, you'll need to subscribe to the Forces Reunited site.

Still, a million-plus records makes for a pretty good, powerful search, and the free results are enough to let you know if there's more information in the dataset that makes it worthwhile to sign up for the full service.

Masters of the Hound ca WWI

The records themselves are a combination of publicly available information, along with information voluntarily submitted directly by members of the Forces Reunited website.  These latter records are a large set of data in their own right, and are not going to be found anywhere else.

There are also good military history search tools at the site for information on different services (Army, Air Force, Marines, etc), or individual corps, regiments, units, or conflicts.

Earlier posts here at Free Genealogy Tools have covered other military databases in the UK that are good family history resources, including the Debt of Honour Register (WWI and WWII deaths), and, stepping back a few centuries, Soldiers and Knights from the 14th and 15th centuries.



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