Wednesday, January 25, 2017

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



A piece of George Washington's family history

Talk about large databases!


Forget millions, WorldConnect gets you more than three-quarters of a billion records. Just about everyone's family history is reflected here, to some degree, so certainly pay a visit to this powerful and free genealogical search tool.

WorldConnect is a collection of family tree information that follow the GEDCOM format -- Genealogical Data Communications. GEDCOM allows family tree data from different systems to 'talk' to one another through a common format.

The format was developed by the Mormon Church (the folks who brought you FamilySearch), and WorldConnect is housed at Rootsweb, which is run by Ancestry.com. This may well be Ancestry's largest database, but unlike its other, subscription-based resources, you can access this data at no charge.

Searching is easy. Just be sure to use the actual WorldConnect search boxes, rather than searching at the advertised sites on the page, which also have First Name/Last Name search boxes.




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

Monday, January 23, 2017

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



Raduraksti:  Pick a language, any language!


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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Free Newspaper Archives




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


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

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

Free newspaper archives from the
US and around the world

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

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

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

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

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




Sunday, January 22, 2017

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



Sanborn maps have a certain elegance, no?


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


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

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

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


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

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

World War I and World War II British Commonwealth Deaths




WWI Australian infantryman--a favorite photo!



The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains the Debt of Honour Register, with 1.7 million names of Commonwealth soldiers killed during WWI and WWII. The Register includes some civilian casualties from the Second World War as well.


The scope of the database is as vast as the British Empire itself. Most of the names are from major Commonwealth countries -- UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and India.

But the actual burial sites of the dead can be found pretty much worldwide: 15,000 names in Israel and Palestine, 52,000 in Egypt, 7,000 in Libya, 38,000 in Burma (Myanmar), 29,000 in Singapore, 55,000 in Tanzania, 37,000 in Turkey, 6,000 in China, 62,000 in India.

If you have family history with any English, UK or Commonwealth roots, this easy-to-use site is certainly a database to explore.



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

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Some Military Family History Resources That You May Not Know About



1st LT Tom Holland, Vietnam


The US Military has some huge databases online. 


A few of them contain extensive historical records of military actions, and reports by, or about, individual soldiers, platoons, units, companies and every other category used by the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines (and the Reserves, Coast Guard, etc). These are available to the public, and they're free.

Perhaps it's no surprise that these datasets are also rather bureaucratic and not the most user-friendly. Maybe that's why they're not often used by genealogists or those casually searching for family history records. But still...they contain so much information that they are definitely worth a look. So, without further ado...

The Army Heritage Collection Online is a military history website that is both a pointer system to offline records, as well as a large library of digitized information that is fully searchable. There's an incredible assortment here: oral histories, field reports, letters and diaries, memoirs, along with a large body of photos and artifacts. Poke around this site, as there are other resources here as well.

The Combined Arms Research Library (CARL) is another useful resource that includes many soldiers by name, such as the collection of yearbooks from the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy. Click on the Digital Library tab to restrict your search to online content.

I've covered a number of other terrific sources of military information in earlier posts. Have a look at:


Good luck, everybody.


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


Some Civil War Genealogy Resources You May Not Know About



Civil War soldiers of the Sixth Maine Infantry


The Civil War. War Between the States. War of Northern Agression. The Southern Rebellion. War for Southern Independence.


Whatever you call it, this was one of the great conflicts in history. It was also the beginning of modern military record-keeping, so that there are deep family history resources available from this era, regardless of whether your ancestors wore Blue or Gray. Some mid-19th century resources that you should be aware of include:

The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS), which I wrote up in an earlier blog post.


The Making of America collection (a joint project of Cornell University, and the University of Michigan) has a number of important collections from the Civil War era that are useful for family history. The War of the Rebellion reports are comprehensive records of the Union and Confederate actions, including prisoners, correspondence, field actions, etc. Note than many first names tend to be abbreviated (eg Danl for Daniel). Civil War Naval Records also are a deep resource.

Cornell also houses an important Anti-Slavery collection. The materials here can be especially useful in researching African-American family history.

You can view, or download, the official List of pensioners on the roll January 1, 1883: giving the names of each pensioner, the cause for which pensioned, the post-office address, the rate of pension per month, and the date of original allowance (whew!). These records can be easily searched for your family names; just use the "Search in this book" feature on the left hand side of the page when you visit the above link. This is only one of several volumes; see the "Other editions" links at Google Books for additional volumes in this series.

Also from Google Books, here's a listing of fully-searchable Directories from the Civil War era. Think of them as phone books for the days before the phone was invented! There are directories here for Boston, Rochester, Hartford, Madison, Doniphan County (Kansas), and many other places. There's even a directory of clergymen.

And take a look at the Special Collections page of Free Newspaper Archives, where you'll find several online newspaper archives focused on the Civil War from both a North and South perspective.

Happy exploring.


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

Revolutionary Genealogy Research



Molly Pitcher, famous Revolutionary War gal


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.

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 785 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.

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

National Gravesite Locator for Veterans




The US Department of Veterans Affairs has amassed an online database of the burial sites for more than five million veterans.


The Nationwide Gravesite Locator can help families, friends, and fellow veterans locate the cemeteries and plots for veterans from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and any other military service.

Records can be searched on last name (full name, or a 'begins with' search). You can search the US as a whole, or specific cemeteries.

Search results include name, rank, date of birth and death, war service, and burial location.

For overseas burials, use the databases maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission, which include foreign burial records for the Mexican and Spanish-American Wars, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the War in Vietnam. 



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

English Soldiers of the 14th and 15th Centuries






Sure, anyone can search back in time a hundred years or so. But how often do you get the chance to search family history dating to the 1300's?


A wonderful online genealogy resource, The Soldier in Later Medieval England, lets you do exactly that. The system, covering the years 1369-1453, currently has almost 250,000 records in three distinct databases: historic muster rolls, garrison database, and something known as the protection database. The whole thing is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in the UK.

The records, from the UK National Archives, include military campaigns and duties like the King's Remembrancer Expedition to Brittany in 1375, or the Standing Force of the King's Bodyguard, in 1398. You remember those....right?


Searching here is easy, by first or last name, or with other parameters such as year, military rank, commanding officer, and so on. Just remember that things weren't spelled quite the same way back then as we might expect today, so be creative. Still, if your family has any roots in England, and perhaps a knight or two in the woodwork, this is a database to have fun with.

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

Forces Reunited: Searching UK Military Records



Masters of the Hound, ca WWI

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 but as numerous comments note, they try pretty hard to get you to subscribe for the full service. 

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 (click on Advanced Search) 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.

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

Free Military Record Lookups



The original GI Joe

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. Searching is free, though they'll try hard to get you to subscribe.


Free Civil War Military Records.  This is one of the great internet resources for US military history...worth a visit even if your family has no connection to the War Between the States.


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

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.

Online State Archives. Individual states often have deep records of their own, both military and otherwise. Spend some time getting familiar with what's available in the states where you and your ancestors lived.

Good hunting!

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

Friday, January 20, 2017

Search 150+ Million Grave, Burial, and Cemetery Records for Free


Find A Grave includes photos of many gravesites and stones. 



With more than 157 million records on hand, Find A Grave is not only a BIG genealogical database, , it's also a pretty interesting one. 

Users can (and do) submit their own records to the data set. Some submit individual gravesites of one or two family members, while others consolidate masses of information from old graveyards and cemeteries, and create a database where none would otherwise exist.

It's a wonderful tool, and should be a frequent stopping point for family history research in the US. There is an impressive but scattered collection of records from other countries as well...take a look.

Searching is easy, and results will quickly give you the deceased's full name, dates of birth and death, and the cemetery name and location. There may also be a photograph of the grave or the cemetery (or of the person themselves!). Importantly, you'll also learn the name of the person who contributed the listing to the database, as they can often be a very informative source of additional information.

Everything a Find a Grave is free. Register to get full access to all the site has to offer. And if you've finished searching for your own acquaintances, you may want to give their Famous Graves search a try for to find out about your favorite no-longer-with-us celebrities!



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

Free Lookups in the Dictionary of American Family Names



The Dictionary of American Family Names is a classic


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. You can also use the look-inside-the-book feature at Amazon to search on your name.
.
It pays to check both sources, as the presentations at Ancestry and Amazon are somewhat different. As far as I can tell, the lookups 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!  


And if that's not enough, you can download an old (circa 1950s) version of the book from FamilySearch, absolutely free. 

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

World War II (WWII) Enlistment Records


Some of the everyday heroes of World War II

I like large databases, ones with millions of records. Plug in a family name, and you're almost bound to find some relative or other. That's one of the allures of the WWII Enlistment Records from the National Archives (NARA)


There are more than 9 million records here of just about every man and woman who enlisted in the Army in World War II (1938-1946). My dad's in here, along with a host of uncles, great-uncles, some aunts and a few in-laws.

Along with a name, the records include rank, serial number, state and county of residence, date and place of enlistment, Army branch, term of enlistment, date and place of birth, race, education, civilian occupation, marital status, height and weight, military occupational specialty (1945 and later), and box and reel number of the original records on microfilm.



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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Find Your Jewish Ancestors







Avotaynu is a Hebrew word meaning Our Ancestors. It's no surprise that Avotaynu.com is a rich source of information and tools for Jewish family history research.

Many Jewish families have roots in Eastern Europe

The Jewish Surname Index is home to more than 7 million records of names with some link to Jewish ancestry. That is, names on the list appear on indexes of Jewish villages, registries, concentration camps, etc. However, finding a name in the database does not necessarily mean the name is exclusively Jewish.

The Surname Index uses Soundex to provide a list of all "sound alike" names -- those that are phonetically similar to the name you searched. A search on Kohn, for example, returns several hundred names, including Cayn, Cohen and Kean.

Put one or more letters in brackets to force them in the results. For example, search [Ko]hn to see only names that begin with "KO".

The index points you to other databases, most of them online, where you can explore the origins of the name further.

Also worth a look is the site's Five Minute Guide to Jewish Genealogical Research.


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