Friday, January 20

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.
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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

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.

Wednesday, April 13

History Unfolded: Nazis, Jews and You




While you're poking around in historical archives to unearth your family history, you have a real opportunity to contribute to our understanding of an important facet of modern history.


The Holocaust Museum has launched History Unfolded, an intriguing crowd-sourced research project. It aims to build a more complete picture of how the rise of Nazi Germany was perceived in the United States. As the museum puts it:

Help tell America's story. 
Together, we can uncover what ordinary people around the country could have known about the Holocaust from reading their local newspapers in the years 1933–1945. We need you to join our team of citizen historians uncovering new knowledge that will be shared with scholars, curators, and the public.

In other words, as you're digging through old newspapers from the 1930s and 1940s to find tidbits of family history, you can also be on the lookout for stories about Hitler, Nazis, the treatment of the Jews and the reactions here in America. Find an article, clip it (literally or digitally) and send it the museum to be added to their collection.

History Unfolded targets specific events, such as:

  • Nazi Olympics
  • German Race Laws
  • Kristallnacht
  • Warsaw Ghetto 
  • Concentration Camps


All submissions become part of the collection of the Holocaust Museum and will be available online for all to see.

This is an unusual and valuable opportunity to contribute to the historical record. Let us know in the comments below what you've discovered.


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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.