Monday, September 9

Connecting to Ancestors at GenCircles


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

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

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

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

He might be in your Gen Circle, perhaps.

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

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

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

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


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


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

Thursday, August 1

FamilySearch.org


I don't know much about the Mormons, so I can't say what prompted them to put together their FamilySearch website. But this is a wonderful tool for digging fast and deep into family history, especially for those with European roots.


FamilySearch is largely a pointer system and resource center. By typing in your ancestor's name along with other known information -- year of birth or death, country or region where they lived, parents or siblings -- you can begin to unearth family history information, and build a family tree.


Try both the basic search and the advanced search to get a feel for the site.


Your best bet is to simply play around at the site and explore their many resources. Enter a family name and see what pops up. Check out the Research Helps articles and guides. Take note of the free Personal Ancestral File (PAF) software that you can use to organize your family genealogical information.


Thank you Latter Day Saints. Thank you.

Non-Mormons, I'm Guessing, Coming into Ellis Island


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

NewspaperArchive.com

Tuesday, July 31

Social Security Death Index (SSDI)



I see dead people.

Well, sort of. With the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), I can quickly and easily pull up records of pretty much anyone with a Social Security number who has died in the past 50 years or so.

2012 Update: Rootsweb, long-time keeper of free SSDI lookups, has suddenly decided they need to charge for the privilege. What a shame. However, you can also access the Social Security Death Index at GenealogyBank's SSDI pageThank you GenealogyBank.

There are more than 80 million records in SSDI. Each record provides a full name, date of birth and death, geographical information, and even the deceased's Social Security number. Searching is very flexible and powerful, with an Advanced Search feature that can do even more. As with all resources at FreeGenealogyTools, searching SSDI is absolutely free.

When searching, be sure to use the actual SSDI search fields, and not the First Name / Last Name fields of the advertisements that usually appear on the site.

SSDI should be your first stop for researching anyone who has died since about 1960 (there are scattered earlier records in the system as well, but it is not complete).


Social Security Death Index Search Results








The King is Dead!



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, January 14

Free Help for the National Archives -- Know Your Records


The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington, DC

Usually, here at FreeGenealogyTools, we're highlighting digital resources you can access for free.

Today, we (and I'm using the royal we...it's really just me) are turning the tables a bit. The Know Your Records (KYR) program at the National Archives is asking for some free help from you.

KYR is a pretty cool program of seminars, newsletters and other outreach activities designed to introduce history researchers to the amazing collections at the National Archives. Most of KYR's activities have only been available in the Washington DC area. Now, KYR wants to put some of its videos online. Their genealogy lectures -- they've hosted hundreds over the years -- have covered topics like:
  • Access to Archival Databases (AAD) for Genealogists
  • Passport Applications, 1795–1925
  • Alien Files (A-Files) for Genealogy Research
  • The Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company: A Gold Mine for Black and White Genealogists
  • World War II Finding Aid
  • Documenting Death in the Civil War
Good stuff! They even have specialty sessions on using Ancestry.com and other commercial family history resources that include NARA records.

Anyway, KYR wants your vote! Let NARA know which presentations you'd most like to see posted online at YouTube and iTunes U. Your votes will determine what new videos get posted...but you don't have to wait to get the flavor of what's available. A few KYR videos are already online at YouTube:
Have fun.


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, December 6

Get Ready For the 1940 Census


Pie Town, New Mexico in the 1940s
The Wells Fargo wagon isn't the only thing that's a'coming.

The National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) will publicly release the 1940 Census records on April 2, 2012.

The 1940 Census will be available online. But it won't be searchable by name, at least not at the outset. Scuttlebutt has it that the National Archives will eventually provide name search capability. Even if they don't, I'm sure Ancestry.com will have it up and running in fairly short order.

But for starters, the only online option is to browse the 1940 Census according to what the Census Bureau calls enumeration districts, which are essentially the territory covered by a single census taker. If you know a person's address in 1940, you can figure out their enumeration district and peruse the relevant Census forms.

It's not necessarily easy, but it's not too difficult either. NARA has a detailed set of instructions for locating the 1940 enumeration district using Archive records. They also offer a description of the information available from 1940 Census forms, along with a page of FAQs about the 1940 Census.

Steve Morse, one of the gurus of online genealogy, has created several helpful online tools for tracking down the proper enumeration district.

I hope your breath is appropriately bated, as this will be one huge new data source for family history researchers.

Have fun.


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.