Wednesday, October 7

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

Tuesday, October 6

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

Sunday, October 4

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

Saturday, October 3

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. 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

Searching Cemetery Records at

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