Friday, January 29

State Archives


With little fanfare, state governments have been digitizing their historical archives and putting mountains of new information online.

A new website called, logically enough, Digital State Archives, is beginning to sort through this newly-available content, and highlight the crème de la crème.  Happily, a good deal of state archive materials are valuable resources for genealogists.

Here are just a few examples to whet your family-history appetites:

  • Alabama's Archives include online records of Civil War and World War I soldiers, as well as an 1867 Voter Registration database including thousands of newly-registered ex-slaves.

  • Alaska's archive collections include probate records, an index to pioneers, and a large collection of obituaries from historical newspapers and magazines.

  • Over at the Illinois Archives, you'll find cemetery internment records, online newspaper archives, and a scary clown!

  • The good folks at the Minnesota Archives, bless their archival hearts, have consolidated many of their historical name lookups into a single Minnesota People Find search page.

  • New York has a wonderful collection of the Harlem Hellfighters WWI Muster Rolls, and a huge Civil War database, while their archiving neighbors in Pennsylvania have their own collection of military records dating back to the Revolutionary War.  

These links just skim the surface, of course.  So much online material is available, and so much is continually being added, that state archives should be a regular internet stopping point for anyone serious about family history research.


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.


Monday, January 25

Some Good European Resources, With Soundex


One branch of my family harks back to the Sarotchkin clan.  Or maybe it was the Sarochkin's.  Or Sorotchkin.  Sarotzkin?  Who knows?

Localized spelling of family names, non-Latin alphabets like Hebrew, Cyrillic, Arabic or Greek, and the whimsical nature of official papers like passenger manifests and immigration forms all contrive to make family history research even more complex than it otherwise is.

Which is why I'm writing today to suggest a visit to the slightly oddly-named Genealogy Indexer.  This site (currently in beta) does two very interesting and very useful things.

One, it compiles some primary European resources that you don't see all the time, like historical directories, military records, and Yizkor books (memorials to the Jewish dead).  The focus is primarily Eastern Europe, though there are resources here from France and the UK, among other countries.

Secondly, it incorporates three search functions:

  • exact search on a name or keyword (as spelled)
  • a Soundex search, which returns a wide variety of phonetic spelling variations
  • an OCR-adjusted search.  This last also returns word variations, though I'm not very clear on what its underlying logic might be.  


Try all three search types to compare results.  And if the Soundex results are a bit overwhelming, you can use the Advanced Search features to narrow things down a bit.


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..

Thursday, January 21

African American Newspaper Archives


There are a few free newspaper archives available online that focus on the African American community, or on anti-slavery, or both. These are valuable resources for black history in general, and for black family history in particular. I hope to one day see more materials like this available online (Google News Archives, are you listening?).

 But for now, the key materials are:

Freedom's Journal (1827-1829), a weekly publication from New York City, and widely regarded as the first major African-American newspaper in the country.

The Friend of Man (1836-1842), an anti-slavery publication from upstate New York.

The Colored American (1893-early 1900s),  a Washington DC newspaper with a national focus, made available through the Library of Congress.

Muncie Times Newspaper (1991-current). A contemporary African American newspaper serving communities in Indiana, and one of the few I've found with an appreciable archive.

Google News Archives includes several black newspapers, including the Washington Afro-American, and similar publications from Baltimore and Richmond.   To search include source:afro along with your search terms. 


Two other archives of note are subscription services, but have rich collections just the same:

African-American Newspapers: The 19th Century collection, from Accessible Archives

NewspaperArchive.com, is the world's largest online newspaper archive. They haven't yet made clear which of their publications are African American, but with billions of articles to search, they are certainly worth a visit for any serious genealogy researcher.

And lest we forget, a few earlier posts on black family history resources:  African American Genealogy, Michelle Obama's Family Tree, and  Slaves and Slavery.

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.

Friday, January 15

FGT Challenge: Round I


Whew!  You folks don't fool around with your brick walls, do you.

Thanks to everyone who responded to the FGT Challenge of a few days ago.  There are some terrific (frustrating, I know...but terrific just the same) family history roadblocks presented there.  Feel free to continue adding comments there.  I hope to be able to get to a few more of the challenges myself, but even if I don't, the commenters themselves have been offering some valuable insights and leads to help others out.

The proverbial brick wall!

One challenging situation provided in a comment from GenealSue Renzo was:



Joseph Henery Hyland was born in Nov 1863 somewhere in Ireland. According to the 1900 census he emigrated to Manhattan NY in 1885. Also according to this census he married Anna Keegan in 1892. He and Anna had four children, one daughter (my grandmother) and three sons. He appears again on the 1910 Manhattan census, but that's it. By 1920 his wife had re-married. I cannot locate bmd records,other family, immigration records or naturalization records.

Here's what I came up with from some of my favorite FGT resources:

CastleGarden.org shows a Joseph Hyland, age 21, arriving in NYC on December 16, 1885 on the ship, Lake Superior, from Liverpool.  He is listed as a 'Laborer', but his nationality is not clearly stated.

Ancestry.com has a passenger list with a Hyland arriving in NY on May 16, 1885 from Queenstown, Ireland and Liverpool, England.  First name is not totally clear, but seems to be an abbreviation: Jno, who is a 21 year old male from Ireland (ie, born 1863-64).  He arrived on the ship, City of Richmond.

The NYC Death Index includes dozens of Joseph Hyland's.  There doesn't seem to be quite the right combination of death year and age, except for one entry, where the date of death is February 19, 1919, and the age is unknown (actually, it's shown as 999 years!).

There are also NYC birth records online, with numerous Hyland births in the right date range.  However, the online records provide the child's -- but not the parents' -- names, so it can't be pinned down with any certainty.  Still...you might want to have a look:

FYI, you can request a search of NYC vital records (births, deaths, marriages) from the NYC Municipal Archives for a very reasonable fee:

That's it for now, but stay tuned for more FGT Challenge results



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..

Monday, January 11

The FGT Challenge


Know why I call this blog Free Genealogy Tools? Go on...guess!

Today we're offering a free tool for you family history buffs that's a bit different from the usual name look-ups, databases, archives and such...the 2010 FGT Challenge:

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Post a personal genealogy challenge in the Comments here. I'll pick one for some in depth research, to see what FGT can find.  
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So...tell us about your great grandfather, who seems to have disappeared without a trace, or your ancestors who immigrated to America, even though you can't find any record of their journey.

Who knows what mysteries will be revealed?

Don't be afraid to go way back, to your beknighted relatives in medieval England, perhaps.

Toss down the genealogical gauntlet...we'll see what we can find.  So Comment away.  Remember, though, this is a public webpage, so all material will be visible to my millions, er thousands umm scores of FGT readers.


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.