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.

Monday, October 26, 2009

On the Qui Vive for Family History



I'm surprised at how many people still don't know how easy it is to set up internet alerts.

An alert scans through new content on the web, looking for keywords that you specify.  For instance, if you set an alert for the name of your great-grandfather, Shmoyim Strudlepfieffer, then any time Shmoyim's name is added to new content on the internet, you'll get an email alerting you to the link.  An alert can be designed to search web pages, news stories, blog content, forums, or all of the above.

One of them might be great-granddaddy Strudlepfieffer


If your family name is an unusual one (like, for instance, Strudlepfieffer), then an alert simply on your family name might be enough to provide valuable genelogical information.

On the other hand, if grandpappy's name is John Smith, then your email inbox will wind up swamped with alerts about the thousands of people with that name that show up every day in new web postings.  If that's the case, then include some keywords in your alert to help narrow things down -- an unusual middle name, perhaps, or the name of the small town that John Smith called home.

I like using Google Alerts myself.  They are easy to set up and easy to modify if you end up with too many or too few results.

So keep on the alert, or on the qui vive, as they say, for any new family history information.

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, October 23, 2009

Coats of Arms


In 1905, a fellow by the name of Arthur Charles Fox-Davies published an encyclopedic tome called Armorial Families: a directory of gentlemen of coat-armour.  

In its more than 1,500 pages, it covers a very large number of heraldy coats of arms in Britain, with illustrations and brief descriptions of the family histories and heads of family for each crest.

There's even a section devoted to the particular gentlemen's club to which the family head belonged.

As you may have surmised by now, the book is fully available online (for free, of course).  It is a massive download, at more than 200 MB, so unless you're really keen on having this as your own file, you may want to use the Read Online ebook viewer offered at the Internet Archive. The Table of Contents can be found on page n31, while page n33 starts a list of the many splendid colored plates in the book.

Tally ho!


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, October 22, 2009

Federal Land Records


The US government has given away a lot, a lot, a lot of land in its day.  Uncle Sam is just generous that way.

Much of the land has gone to homesteaders settling the West, of course.  But a lot of other land grants (land patents, as they're often called) have happened as well...to veterans as a reward for military service; to Indian tribes as territory for reservations; to local jurisdictions as parks, townships, mineral rights transfers, just to name a few.

All told, there are millions of land records available online through the Bureau of Land Management.  Most of these are actual images of land patents, though there's also a lot of index information, along with maps, and even an occasional census or two of the inhabitants of a jurisdiction being transferred.

David Crockett's land grant.  Is that you, Davy?

You can search federal land patents at BLM.  Use the Standard tab to search all states at once (the all states option is at the bottom of the pull-down list).

You can also search BLM records for land survey plats.  There's more information here than you might suspect.  Survey maps, of course, but also voluminous reports about the area under survey, including, sometimes, the inhabitants.  Search and retrieval is awkward, but there's a lot here that might make it worthwhile.

Land Status Records are available for several Western states -- Colorado, Idaho, Montana and the Dakotas.  These are official recordings of who has what rights when federal and local jurisdictions overlap.  Of limited genealogy value, but there is some interesting history here, for those with family in the areas covered by the 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.


NewspaperArchive.com

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Search Multiple Censuses...About 30,000 of Them



When someone mentions The Census to you, it probably brings to mind the national census in the US (if that's where you happen to live) or in whatever other country you call home.  There is pretty familiar online access to old national census records in the US, Britain, and Canada, to name a few.

But there are literally thousands of historical censuses that occurred at a less-than-national level.  These should not be overlooked in your search for family history, even if you've already found good information in national census records.

Brooklyn Birdseye tea, anyone?

State and local census records may well identify people who were not included in national headcounts, or can provide additional details about family members, including some deep dark secrets.  Local censuses may also identify short-lived individuals who weren't alive for the last federal census, and didn't survive long enough for the next.

At a wonderful site called CensusFinder you can access thousands upon thousands of censuses with millions upon millions of records.     Most of what you'll find here is from the big three in online census records -- the US, Canada and the UK -- though there are also links to records in Norway and Sweden.  There's also a specialty section devoted to Native American census records.

The many different censuses are organized geographically, usually down to the state and county level (or the equivalent, such as province and shire).  Some of these are pretty intriguing, like these from my hometown of Brooklyn (Kings County) NY:

  • 1796 Directory of Brooklyn
  • 1865 State Census of United States Naval Hospital at Brooklyn
  • 1875 State Census of Brooklyn Industrial School
  • 1875 State Census of Graham Home for Old Ladies
  • 1880 Census of Howard Colored Home for Boys
  • 1905 State Census of the Salvation Army Rescue Mission


As you can see, there are records here that you're not likely to find elsewhere.

The records themselves are quite a mixed bag.  Some are simple text transcripts of historical records, while others provide actual page images of the original census.  They come with varying degrees of explanation and context, as well.  Most of the links appear to be free, though a few lead to sites where a fee is charged for full access.

Definitely worth some exploration time.


Also explore 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, October 18, 2009

Free Online Courses in Family History


Everyone who's doing anything in genealogy and family history research really owes it to themselves to get to know the Mormons a bit better. The resources that they have available at FamilySearch, Ancestor Search,  and at their academic arm, Brigham Young University, are a genealogist's best friend.

Of particular note are the online free genealogy courses at BYU.

Their free Family History course offerings include:


  • Finding Your Ancestors
  • Introduction to Family History Research
  • Vital Records
  • Military Records
  • France: Vital Records (ditto for several other countries)
  • Germany: Immigrant Origins (again, a ditto for elsewhere)
  • Scandinavia: Jurisdictions, Gazetteers, and Maps


You get the idea.  There's a lot here, both for general interest, as well as for specialty areas that might just help you burst through the brick wall on your own family's history.

A few courses are immediately accessible online, while others require a simple registration, which basically involves providing an email address.

These are wonderful offerings, and are absolutely free.  Take advantage of them.

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.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Free Genealogy Resources in the UK and Europe



Hope you don't mind a quick recap of some geography-based family history resources from Britain (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the whole friggin' Empire thing they had going on), along with those from the rest of Europe:


Europe

A Peek Through European History  The European Library is an instant connection to dozens of wonderful library collections throughout Europe.

Are You Royalty?  Is there a Duke, Earl or Princess in your family tree.  This is the place to check

Family and Cultural Heritage in Europe  Europeana is another wonderful source of information on personal and cultural heritage and history,  

Immigrants from Europe  Search millions of immigration records, with particular emphasis on Russian, German, Irish and Italian immigrants to the US

Latvia Vital Records of the Late 19th, Early 20th Centuries  Actual images of birth, marriage and death records from Latvia towns and churches.


UK

Forces Reunited: Searching UK Military Records  More than a million military records from England, etc.

Medieval Soldier Military Records (That's right...Knights!)  How often do you get to search records from the 14th century?

World War I and World War II British Commonwealth Deaths  Over a million records from the Great Wars of the 20th century, and from the entire British Empire.

Bring Out Your Dead  With apologies to Monty Python, English and Irish death records. 

Five Centuries of British Family History Records  FreeUKGen hooks you up to millions of vital records spanning hundreds of years.

More English, Irish, Scottish, UK-ish Family History  A hodge-podge of some pretty interesting and valuable research tools.

Proceedings of the Old Bailey Criminal Court in London  This one is great...hundreds of years of trial transcripts from London's central courthouse.

One-Name Studies  And this one's what you call off-beat, but well-worth a visit just the same.

Searching Free Online Historical Directories  Before there were phone books, there were town and county directories, including many from the UK.




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, October 15, 2009

Public Records

Looking for ancestors and family means looking through public records. Sure, they may be public records from 300 years ago, but they also may be public records from last month.

A lot of sites compile links to different sources of public records that can be searched online. One of the best of these that I know of is the Public Records and Public Information page at Virtual Chase.

Though the site is geared to legal researchers, there's no reason we family history researchers can't make use of it as well. There is some interesting materials to be found here, like:

I hope there are no family members listed here.
  • Canadian bankruptcy (insolvency) filings back to 1978
  • INTERPOL wanted ciminals
  • Car Crash Reports in various states
  • Political Donors in federal and state elections
  • Inmate lookups
  • Court Case lookups
  • Workplace Accident Reports
  • Sex Offenders
  • Aircraft Owners

There's even a Lost and Stolen jewelry website.

And mixed in with all these modern-day records, you'll find a few oldies as well, such as state genealogy sites with birth certificates and death records back to the 1800's.

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.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Free Military Record Lookups

Time for a review!

I've covered a few top-notch resources for looking up military records.  The resources are all from either the US or UK.  US lookups go back to the Revolutionary War, through the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam.  English records extend back centuries, all the way to the medieval times of knights and crusades.

Here's what we've got so far:

Forces Reunited: Searching UK Military Records.  More than a million records available here.

The original G.I. Joe.

Free Civil War Military Records.  This is one of the great internet resources for US military history.


Free World War II Military Records.  Another great resource with millions of US enlistment records.

Medieval Soldier Military Records (That's right...Knights!).  It's always amazing to find how well records were kept, even centuries ago, and how they've managed to find their way online.

National Gravesite Locator for Veterans.  Find the burial locations of millions of US soldiers.

Revolutionary Era Genealogy Research.  These tools from the Daughters of the American Revolution mix military and non-military records.


Some Civil War Genealogy Resources You May Not Know About.  Pensioners lists, Confederate war reports, slavery records...a lot here to explore.

Some Military Family History Resources That You May Not Know About.  Official US Army history sites can turn up a lot of useful genealogical information.  


World War I and World War II British Commonwealth Deaths.   A resource as vast as the British Empire itself, with records spanning the world.

Good hunting!


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.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Your Ancestors' Daily Life: Putting It In Context



All right, you've been researching your family history and uncovering information on your ancestors from one, two or three generations back...maybe even more.

You have their names, dates, and hometowns, but now what? What was their life like? How did they live? Where did they do they shopping? What did a loaf of bread cost, or a pair of shoes?

Of course, the real details will come from personal records...journals, family bibles, house accounts, wills and estate records, and so on. But you can also get a feel for day-to-day living from several sources, including:

This is just an image, folks.  Click on the text link to get to the real thing

The Inflation Calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows the value of a dollar in current terms, going back to 1913.

For an even broader perspective on daily finances, a site called Measuring Worth shows how the cost of living and the value of money has changed over decades, generations, and centuries. There are a lot of different data soruces here, and careful explanations of how to use (and not use) the data...take a look at this comparative record of gold prices from 1257-2008.

This collection of Historic Prices in Morris County, NJ (1900-2009) shows prices of goods advertised in the local newspaper, and how they changed over the decades.

If you (well, your ancestors, actually) were heading west in the mid-1800's, here's a detailed breakout of the costs of provisions for the Oregon Trail. The trip west could easily take six months, and require close to 2,000 pounds of cargo costing about $1,000.

From one of my new favorite online resources, Hathi Trust, here's some typical diner prices from 1910.

The Home Economics Archive -- Research, Tradition and History (HEARTH) is exactly what it sounds like,  a digital collection at Cornell covering daily life and keeping a home during the years 1850 to 1925.

A good window on the life of new arrivals in the US can be found at Harvard University's Immigration Collection. Some beautiful materials here, both text and visual.

You can also learn a good deal from historical maps, like these detailed topographical maps covering much of the east part of the US.

And of course, you can get one of the most detailed views of daily life from the local newspapers of a given time and place. Check out the massive collection at NewspaperArchive.com, look into Google News Archives, and if you want to explore overseas, here's a terrific site for free international newspaper archives.

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 a subscription database, and one of the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.


NewspaperArchive.com

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hathi Trust: A New and Important Genealogy Resource


Every now and then a new resource comes along that just makes you go Wow!


The Hathi Trust Digital Library is just such a critter.  The combined effort of dozens of universities around the US, the Hathi Trust boasts (and yeah...they're boasting!) of: 

  • 4,189,581 volumes

  • 1,466,353,350 pages 
  • 156 terabytes 
  • 50 miles of materials weighing in at 3,404 tons.
Just one of the small treasures from Hathi Trust.

For family history researchers, this is an online goldmine...almost.  Hathi Trust is still brand new, and not even formally launched yet.  Think of it as a very powerful beta test.

To begin searching, go to the homepage and use the Catalog Search box.  Search for anything (even the word anything)...it doesn't matter yet.

On their results page, upper right, you'll see text that says Try our experimental full-text search.  That's the ticket! Click on that to get searching.

In searching for your family history at Hathi Trust, you can use both wildcards (? for a single character, * for multiple characters) and typical AND/OR Boolean searching.  Thank the gods!

Like I said, a real gold mine, with presumably, much more to come.  Start searching.


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, October 9, 2009

Get Thousands of Free Books on Genealogy


Face it...you don't really want thousands of free books, journals and magazines on genealogy.  But it's nice to know they are available online. And in that rich collection, there are likely to be a few real gems that are especially pertinent to your family's history, and that can shed light on who your ancestors were, and how they lived.

Here are some places to check out:

Google Books has a large collection of genealogy titles -- several thousand of them -- all available for immediate download and absolutely free.


From the "Genealogical history of the Quinby (Quimby) family 
in England and America" at Google Books.


If you don't feel like scrolling through thousands of texts (who would?), tinker with the search terms to narrow down the results.  For instance, here's a list of a few hundred free books on Pennsylvania genealogy that I created just by adding the state name to the search terms.  Using Google's intitle: syntax narrows the list even further by looking for terms only in the books' title, like these 26 books on family history in PA.

The Internet Archives, with several thousand free genealogy texts, is another great resource.  You even get little thumbnails of the books flashing through the pages.  Be aware, though, that searching here is much more clumsy than at Google Books, and there is a lot of duplication in the overall content.  Still...there are some treasures here you're not going to find elsewhere.

Speaking of clumsy searching, we now come to the 150+ collection of free family history books at the Making of America.  Lots of duplicates in the results list, and it takes time to browse through the resulting publications, but hopefully, you'll spot something useful here.

Lastly, there is the global search at Digital Book Index with about 100 free genealogy texts.  Enter genealogy in the 1st Word box, and genealogical as the 2nd Word and then Search to get results.


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, October 8, 2009

Filling in Michelle Obama's Family Tree


If you didn't see the article the other day on Michelle Obama's family history, it's worth a look.

The First Lady's roots are a fascinating glimpse into the challenges (and rewards) of African-American genealogy and reconstructing a past rooted in slavery.  They present a story both ordinary and amazing, with it's end (so far) in the White House.

The NY Times, who pieced together the family tree with the aid of Megan Smolenyak, a professional genealogist, is hoping to fill in the blanks.  And that's where you can help.

Anything you can add?  The NY Times wants to hear from you.

Have a look at Michelle Obama's family tree, and see if you think you might have information on the places, people, and events that mark her heritage, both African American and Caucasian.  The family tree is interactive...hovering over an item will pop-up additional information, and often has links to images of original documents.  The Times will  review any new information submitted to them, for possible inclusion in a future update to Ms. Obama's family history.

Perhaps you can add to this wonderful piece of work.


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 7, 2009

Searching Free Online Historical Directories



Someone (are you listening out there) should build a website with a comprehensive collection of free online historical directories.

Update: Well, whaddya know. Someone is building a directories website, both free and subscription. Thanks, Miriam.

These directories -- early versions of the Yellow Pages -- are wonderful sources for genealogy research.  They include not only names and addresses, but typically focus on businesses and occupations.  One of your ancestors may even have placed a 19th century advertisement for their feed store, stationery supplies, or their services as a surgeon or lawyer.  There is good family history stuff in the pages of these directories, which also went by the name of Registers, Gazettes, and a few other assorted titles.

Who wants to contact non-living alumni, after all?

Happily, quite a number of historical directories have been digitized, and can be accessed online.  But they're also scattered all over the place on the internet, so finding the directory or directories relevant to your family history is no easy task.

Here are a few resources to know about, though.

First, is the aptly-named UK Historical Directories website. These cover England and Wales for the period 1750 to 1919.  The so-called Kelly's Directories are here, and are probably the most well-known British directory of the day.  The site is a rich resource, but actual document search and retrieval is, unfortunately, on the slow and clumsy side.  Still...awkward access is way better than no online access at all.  If any branch of your family hails from the UK, you should have a look here.

On the other side of the Atlantic, you can find a good 19th century (1845-1875) collection of historical directories from Boston.   Again, the overall usability of the site is less than ideal, but definitely worth wrestling with.

A collection of historical directories for Brooklyn, NY, but also including Manhattan, Queens and Long Island, span a broad period from 1796 to 1955.      I did not see any actual page images at this site.  Instead, you'll find text excerpts from old directories throughout the NYC area, along with some links to similar listings at other sites.


There are a ton of historical directories at Google Books, like this copy of the UK Medical Register of 1868    or the 1911 Directory of Alumni of Princeton University. Or have a look at the 400-plus-page New England historical and genealogical register of 1921, just below.  You can search or scroll through it right here (but don't scroll fast or it won't load...you're better off using pg dn)

You'll have to search the Google Books site for other examples of directories.  Try using Advanced Search to look for terms like Directory or Register or Gazette in the title of the book, and set dates to focus on historical publications. You might want to try a similar search at the Making of America site, as there are many directories there also.  




The Genealogy Indexer  has a surprisingly robust collection of directories, mostly from East Europe (Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Galicia (Spain), Lithuania, etc) though there are also a few from other countries.  The time span is broad as well, from the early 1800's to the 1950's.  And I'm happy to say, I like the search tool here. By the way, there are some good non-directory resources at the site as well, especially for those with Jewish ancestors.

Ancestry.com (of course) has the largest collection of online directories, with more than 4,000 digital documents to speak of.  They're not free, but worth noting just the same.


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, a subscription database, but one of the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Finding Ancestors and Relatives in the World of Business and Finance



Now don't get me wrong.  There's no easy way to find out if one of your ancestors invested in the Dutch Tulip Bubble of 1637, or how much your family lost in the Great Panic of 1893.  But there are ways to search millions of more recent records from business and finance, with the possibility of finding out something about one of your ancestors or relatives.

Here are the best sources I know of:

EDGAR.  The Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval system at the SEC is a huge (and I don't use that word loosely) source of information on companies, and the people in them, especially executives and major investors.  The EDGAR Full Text Search covers just the past four years of business reports, but includes the names of millions of people from both US and foreign companies.  You can retrieve company reports going back to the 1990's, but there's no easy way at EDGAR to search through text older than four years.

Famous rich guy, J.P. Morgan, and no, that's not a knife he's holding.

NARA Business and Financial Archives.  There are some big honkin' business databases at the National Archives as well, but not all of them contain names of individuals.  Take a look in particular at:

  • Records of Prime Contracts Awarded by the Military (8 million records, 1975-2003)
  • Records on Trading of Securities by Corporate Insiders (5.5 million records, 1978-2001)
  • Records of Contracts Awarded by Federal Agencies (8 million records, 1978-1997)  

Jigsaw.  The service at jigsaw.com is the best business contacts database I know of, with more than 16 million records.  Since these are up-to-date records, you won't find anything on ancestors here, but you certainly might find distant, still-living family members.  A name search is free, and returns useful information.  For instance, a search on Jason Bourne turns up a listing at the CIA (for real!).  But to get a full listing, you'll have to subscribe to the Jigsaw service.

MissingMoney.  For a wide variety of reasons (including passing on), people sometimes leave behind unclaimed assets -- bank accounts, insurance policies, pensions, and so on.  Your relatives might be on the list here.  Enter their name in the search box, and enter ZZ for the state to conduct a national search. (And as long as you're here, search on your own name as well...something 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.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Free Lookups in the Dictionary of American Family Names


The Dictionary of American Family Names, from Oxford University Press, is one of those must-have resources for serious genealogists.  Each entry gives a detailed origin of a family's surname, describing its various meanings, geographical origins, and the context in which it arose. 

In fact, the venerable Genealogy Bulletin says "it belongs in every library in America , particularly those who cater to genealogists".

Too bad the danged thing cost hundreds of dollars for the three-volume hard copy set.

Happily though, you can get online access to DAFN absolutely free, using the Surname Lookups at Ancestry.com
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Getting there is a mite tricky.  From the Ancestry.com homepage, just click on the tab labeled Search (or click on Search All Records from the pull-down menu).  Once on the Search page, scroll down.  Near the bottom, on the right hand side, is Other Resources, and just under that is Surname Distribution.  That's the one you want...click there, and search on your surname.

As far as I can tell, the lookup includes all 70,000+ surnames from DAFN.  Even more, you can also look up the etymology of first names...still at no charge.  A pretty good deal!


For those having trouble finding the right page at Ancestry, here's an alternative link you can try.  

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.

NewspaperArchive.com

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Searching Your Musical Heritage


Is there anyone in your family tree with musical talent?  Here are a few places to check for ancestors and relatives who left their legacy as musicians.


Copyright records.  The US Copyright Office keeps an online catalog of all materials registered for copyright since 1978, including, of course, lots of musical compositions.  Don't be fooled by the 1978 date  -- registrations cover much older materials, and involve people from the 19th and 20th centuries.  Use the Set Search Limits feature if you want to search only on Music.  Otherwise, your search will be for copyright-holders of any sort of materials.

Shake the family tree, and a fiddler may fall out.

ASCAP -- The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.  This is a very large database of songs licensed by ASCAP.  Try several searches for Writers, then Performers, and finally, for Publishers, to cover all your bases.  Try a test search on Jolson to see results for Al Jolson.

BMI. Another music licensing organization with more than 400,000 artists represented.  Search the Repertoire for musicians in your family tree.

HFA -- Harry Fox Agency.  Yet another large licensing database for musicians.

SESAC -- License search, mostly for songwriters and publishers.

WorldCat.  The online catalog of more than a billion holdings from libraries around the world can be searched for specific types of items, such as Sound Recordings, or Musical Scores.  Use the Format option to select the type of items you want to search for.



Collectively, these data sources include many millions of names from around the world, spanning centuries of musical creativity.  Your family might be in there, and searching is pretty easy, so why not take 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.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A World of Free Newspaper Archives



One very, very hot summer day years ago, a news reporter approached me, asked me how I was coping with the heat, and had her photographer snap a few photos.  Next day, I was on the front page of the local newspaper!

Things like that happen, and they may well have happened to your family members and your ancestors.  I'm a huge fan of searching through newspaper archives for information and stories about one's family history.  Online newspaper archives are even better, since it's possible to search through millions of old articles in mere seconds, and free online archives are the best resource of all.

But searching millions of old newspaper articles is not without its challenges, and that's what today's post is about...making the most of free online newspaper archives.

My relatives made the Atlanta Constitution in 1913

The first challenge is where to search.  I've covered Google News Archives, which is the most comprehensive collection available of free newspaper archives.

NewspaperArchive.com is another huge resource with tremendous coverage in the US and the UK back to the 1700's, and a smattering of items from elsewhere in the world, including some really unusual resources from places you might not expect, like China or Jamaica.  This is a subscription service, but searching is free, as is a good deal of their content (front pages, for instance).

But regardless of how widespread these sources are, the truth is, there are thousands of discrete online archives that cover a particular geography or time period.  Locating and using these to research your family history is much more of a challenge.  But if you identify the right archives to research, they can be much more rewarding as well.  Here are some important resources for free newspaper archives:




While it's great to have such widespread access to old newspaper articles, this diversity has its price.  Each archive is different in terms of its interface, ease of use, searching protocol, and the types of materials retrieved.  Some archives include images, for instance, while others are text-only.

Still, these are well worth exploring.  Your ancestors and relatives are bound to be in there, somewhere.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Searching Cemetery Records at Interment.net


Can you believe it's October already!

Time does fly, life is finite, and we all end up facing our maker, sooner or later.

And that's where Interment.net comes in.  This site lists records from thousands of cemeteries around the world. Transcripts of cemetery records can be uploaded by anyone, so you never know quite what you might find at the site.

A typical cemetery record will include a brief description of the cemetery itself (often with driving directions), along with the actual inscriptions from gravestones.  Since these are user-submitted transcripts, there's a lot of variability in the records.

The big storm of 1905!

It's difficult to say how large a dataset is here at Interment.net, but searching is easy, so it's certainly worth a look.

Most of the records appear to be from cemeteries in the US and Britain, although coverage is truly worldwide, and includes Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, Belgium, Poland, Mexico, Carribean, France, Japan and Cyprus, among others.

There are other important sites that allow searches of cemetery records, including Find a Grave, Deceased Online, and the Veteran's Gravesite Locator.


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.