FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

Maps for research and documentation.

Several folks asked about finding cemetery locations, old homesteads, etc. this week. There are a number of very good mapping websites available at no cost. Here are some of my favorites:

Topozone — If you are familiar with USGS or topographic maps, you’ll love this site

ACME Mapper — You can easily find the longitude and latitude of a location using ACME … also note that you can view aerial photos of the area with both a Google maps overlay or with DOQ and NEXTRAD which are aerial photos used by many other mapping sites. ACME also has topo maps available with one click. Unfortunately, you can’t search by cemetery name or feature name, but rather by town / city names, but once in the area, you can switch to a topo or street map and usually find the cemetery. Take a few minutes and search for a home or location that you know out of the area. You’ll soon be an expert user of ACME.

USGS — This site is more difficult to use for mapping (surprise – it is ‘The’ government mapping site)… but you can search for Lat /Long values by Feature Name…. So, if you want to know where the ‘Dolittle’ cemetery is in Kentucky, search for it as a feature…

National Geographic— You expect a lot from National Geographic and you get it on this site. Not only can you find the location in question, but if it is in the U.S., you can chose various other themes by pushing a button and see congressional districts, earthquake faults, vegetation types, etc. You need to be patient when you first go to the site… It takes quite a while to load, but it is worth it..

Google Maps — You are probably a user of this site already, but just in case…. Enjoy!

Multimap — This site is especially useful for Europe and locations outside the U.S., although it also displays U.S. maps..

Tiger Maps — This site is owned by the U. S. Census Bureau. It is also a little slow loading, but if you spend a little time working on it and learn the rich feature set, you’ll be very happy that it is in your research quiver.

UK Street Map— If you have ancestral ties in England and Scotland, look at this site first. When you search, push the radio button called “GB Place” and then type in a place name. As an example, if I want to find my ancestral Featherstone Castle, the search is that simple…. Just type in its name…

Terra Server — more aerial photos

Yahoo Maps and MapQuest … the old standby’s

ZABA– here’s a bonus link not related to Maps… This site is spooky in its ability to find living folks… Use the free search features unless you really want to find out about someone and are willing to pay for the results…

30 April 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | Leave a comment

Libraries on the web

As we explore the vast family history resources now available on the Internet, let’s look at state and federal government and public library websites. These websites are often full of links to digitized records both in their own facility and in other public libraries.

The list below is just a sampling of family history library sites you can find on the Internet. They are not in any special order but all contain family history resources. Make sure you look through the section headings on the web pages to find the genealogy sections. Many of not all of the state library sites will cross-link to each other, so you can go from library to library with the click of your mouse. Don’t forget to drop bread crumbs along the way or you many never find that ‘great’ site again… i.e. Bookmark a ‘great’ site in your browser when you find it… you may never pass that way again otherwise…

1. Family Genealogy and History Internet Education Directory — this is a long page of links — click on the categories listed at the top of the page to save time, but be sure to scan through the entire page to get a flavor of the offerings..

2. Utah – Historical — This site is full of records that will help you if you are researching ancestors in Utah.

3. Utah Digital Libraries — A collection of digitized Utah Newspapers spanning 100 years in some cases.

4. U.S. Veteran Grave site Locator

5. State Family History ArchivesGoogle

Do a Google Search with these words on the search line…. ‘state family history archives ‘ (just the words)

While on Google … also search for library family history archives I just found the burial record of a family member in Australia while writing this…. Try various combinations of words in your Google searches to narrow down the results, but be a little creative in your searches too… A year ago, I knocked down one of my ‘brick walls’ when I found a little library in Missouri that had the exact obituaries I needed … on their web site.. Don’t give up too early in reviewing the results of a Google or Altavista search… Remember to search by state or university name too.. i.e. USC family history genealogy..

6. BLM Land Patents — I’ve found a lot of info about my homesteading ancestors here…

7. Google Books

I consider Google to be a big library. Thousands of books that are out of copyright have been scanned and are shown on Google. The books are often a gold mine for us family history researchers… Search for vital records by town, state… i.e. ‘ vital records of Salt Lake City, Utah ‘ also search for your ancestral name(s).. i.e. Campbell genealogy … Print the pages that pertain to your family…

8. BRB Publications – Free links …

This is a commercial documents company, but they have a very good links page that lists all state government websites related to public records.

29 April 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | Leave a comment

New views – new tools

There were several new resources published on the web recently…

Pedigree Resource File – Pedigree View

The LDS Church has made a needed update to the Pedigree Resource Files viewed on FamilySearch. As you recall, the Pedigree Resource Files replaced the older Ancestral File program. Unfortunately, even though the data in these files was easy to find on FamilySearch, you had to ‘climb’ the related family tree by clicking on the parents name, one at at time.. On Tuesday, 13 March, the church announced that they have now added a pedigree view for these records, so you can now see the associated pedigree for anyone in that specific file. The names are all hot linked, so you can click on them directly rather than having to click, click, click up and back to navigate the data.

See the announcement on the church’s website.

Indentured Immigrant Servant Database

A commercial research site has added an index of indentured servants who came to America. I can’t tell how complete the data is, but it is a great resource. Visit the Immigrant Servants site to search for your family. Look at the bottom of the search results screen for more info on your ‘hits’. Be aware that any additional information will only be supplied by the company who hosts the site on a fee basis.

Female Ancestors – Dating Photos by Clothing Styles

Do you have old family photos but don’t have any idea what year they were taken? Here are three articles on the Family Tree Magazine website that will help you date them by looking at the style of the dresses worn in your photos…


28 April 2007 Posted by | FamilySearch | Leave a comment

Find-a-grave and other fun

A tale … a cemetery tale…

There is a wonderful way to do cemetery research for your own family and repay others who kindly help you in that quest…

If you haven’t visited find-a-grave yet, do so. See if you can find a burial listing and maybe even a headstone photo of <your ancestors / family…. Find-a-grave has been around for about 8 years and its popularity is increasing by leaps and bounds… Contributors take photos of headstones in the cemeteries they visit and post the information on the find-a-grave website to help other researchers. They also post cemetery records even if they don’t have photos of the graves / headstones. (Free)

Why would anyone want to take the time make this effort? It all boils down to the need to share your time and efforts by helping others if you expect to get any help back …. and that help is almost always greater than your down payment….

I’ve made postings to the Find-a-grave site for over 6 years. Until recently, I had never made a request for anyone to take photos of headstones in cemeteries that I’ll probably never visit. I posted requests for 10 headstone photos in northern California a few weeks ago, and kind volunteers have taken the photos for me. They are now posted both on the Find-a-grave site and on my own website (with permission). Now anyone else can find these headstones with a simple search… The photos mean a lot to me because I’ve spent considerable time finding and documenting my family in the Calaveras area of California… The headstone photos are helping me put the final touches on their unique and interesting life histories…

If you haven’t taken your kids to a cemetery for a picnic lunch and story telling expedition while locating the graves of your family, do it. You’ll be happy you did… We have taken our children and now grandchildren to the graves of our family since they were wee tots. The outings are always enjoyable and memorable. Our children have repeatedly told us that some of their favorite memories are of eating their favorite brand of cookies (anyone remember our favorite cookies… HeyDays that you can’t buy any longer? Our kids certainly remember these ‘cemetery’ cookies..) and drinking sodas under the shade of the big tree by the graves. They loved the stories I told them …. stories of the buried Indian baby rescued by their gggreat grandfather… of his interaction with Indians whose pack saddles were full of gold as they returned from their secret mines, etc….

The tradition continues with our grandchildren…. I think your families will enjoy cemetery ‘picnics’ too…

Here is an example of a headstone photo that I just received from a Find-a-grave volunteer…. showing the headstone of a great grandaunt with whom I have a special affinity even though she died long before I was born…

Bottom line… here’s a great way to have fun with your family, do some research on your family and ‘pay forward’ the help you have received and will receive from others in your own ancestral quest…. So, remember to pack a camera, notebook and pen when you start making your own ‘memory excursions’ to cemeteries…

PS … A hint to Mothers … kids running through a cemeteries will burn more energy off than you’d imagine, so only take them when you want a little peace and quiet for an hour or two afterward….. And … Remember to leave the cemetery as clean or cleaner than you found it…

27 April 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | Leave a comment

Tools and Digital Newspapers

Here are a few tools and sites that I’ve found to be extremely useful.

If you haven’t previously downloaded the free ‘Family Searcher‘ program, try it. I think you’ll like this tool written by Kevin Owen. The screen is split top and bottom… the top half will look at a GEDCOM file of your choice on your computer and the bottom half of the screen shows IGI page on Family Search. It is a great tool if you decide to save your file as a GEDCOM or are checking out IGI information on a GEDCOM file given to you by someone else.

And, while we are talking about split screens, remember to download the Free Transcript 2.1 program that I’ve mentioned earlier. You’ll love this tool when you start transcribing Census Records, Birth / Marriage / etc. certificates.

Here’s a great site for old Utah / Idaho newspapers, photos, old books, etc. Digital Collections. I’ve found a ton of info on my families here including letters to editors, histories, photos, etc. Free access…

And while talking about digital historic newspapers, many of the old newspapers that were printed in Utah are found on the Utah Digital Newspapers site.

Do you have family who came to America from 1830 – 1892? Odds are they went through Castle Garden which was the immigrant processing facility before Ellis Island.

The BYU Family History Resources web site offers a ton of information, but most of it is only accessible through a BYU library card / student card. However, there are links to some good info here that don’t require a card..

And lastly, click here to see my genealogy links page….

26 April 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | Leave a comment

Weblinks – Sources and Danish Census

Here are the family history website links for the day.

Source examples from Legacy Family Tree

Search Engines: In my experience, both AltaVista and Clusty seem to find the most relevant family history links.

While you are looking for Primary Sources in England, be sure to check out FreeBMD.... Birth / Marriage / Death – England

Danish ancestry? Look here for free access to Danish Census records. They have helped me find many of my Danish ancestors…

If you don’t read Danish, then try these two links (part of the above site, but you won’t have to hunt for them in a language you can’t read)…. http://www.ddd.dda.dk/soeg_amter.asp and http://www.ddd.dda.dk/soeg_person.asp

When searching for your ancestors in non-English speaking countries, you may not be able to read the language. However, there are many ‘key’ words used in family history research… i.e… Mother, Father, Uncle, Aunt, etc… To find the translation of English words to other languages, go to AltaVista and click on the Babel Fish Translation link below the search field. Put your word in the field on the new page and then choose which language translation you want from the drop down list and hit the ‘Translate’ button. Write down the key words on a ‘cheat sheet’ …. you’ll use them in the future whenever you perform another search in the foreign language or read records that you find… The translations aren’t perfect, but will serve your research efforts in most cases…

And lastly, Steve Morse has one of the best genealogical portal pages on the web. Take a look at the various sites he has either written or links to on his site….

26 April 2007 Posted by | FreeBMD | Leave a comment

Death Certificates on line

Several states have death certificates on line with no associated cost. Check them out if you have family / ancestors who died in the range of years covered by the certificates. Note that many states have birth / marriage and death indexes for free too….

I’ve printed death certificates from U.S. State websites for a year or more and have saved thousands of dollars by not needing to order an ‘official’ certificate from the state(s). Typically the images will need to be resized and cropped to fit an 8 1/2 x 11″ sheet of paper.

If you don’t already have graphics editing software on your PC, Faststone Image Viewer is a FREE application. I use it all of the time even though I have the pro version of Adobe Photoshop. Get your copy while it is still free. (no strings attached .. including no ads, etc.) *Just remember that the menus in Faststone are found by pointing your mouse at the top / bottom and sides of your screen*

A birth or death certificate is a primary source for your family history records, so take a few minutes and find the certificates that relate to your family and print them at home. They typically cost $14 to $60 when ordered from the state archives. (Remember these are ‘primary’ sources — you want a copy for your family history source files).

Here are the states that currently have free on line certificates:


Births 1887 – 1930

Deaths 1878 – 1955


Deaths 1910 – 1956


Deaths 1904 – 1954

West Virgina

Birth … Range of years – check the site

Marriage … Range of years – check the site

Death … Range of years – check the site

Additionally, many states have death indexes on line at no cost. See this site for the related links by state:

While some of the states require payment (typically a subscription to Ancestry.com), you can avoid this cost by checking for other free sites that contain the data. I’ll post links to some of them in future posts..

Be sure to also check the free family history vital records available on RootsWeb and the huge number of cemetery inscriptions and other family history resources available on USGenweb.

The Internet is now bringing huge libraries of family history related information to our homes. Take advantage of these resources and save your research travel expenses for that special family history vacation that you never thought would happen.

26 April 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | Leave a comment