FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

A Matter of Perspective

I found this information some time ago and can’t confirm the original publisher other than those noted in the article below. As we read census, personal historical records and other personal artifacts about our ancestors, we ‘think’ we understand the context of most of the categories on the documents.

Earlier this year, I started employment with a company that uses specialized software tools. I’ve been involved with and certified in computer hardware, software and networking tools for many years and thought I understood the terms used in that field. That assumption wasn’t true in the new job. Many of the terms they use have radically different meanings than the common usage assigned to them in other industries. Similar issues exist in historical records and documents. Be sure you research the true intent of line and column headings, frequently used terms and other idioms used at the time the document was created before you ‘assume’ you understand what the document is truly saying.

Here’s a great example of a current day assumption being wrong.

“Remember when our grandparents, great-grandparents

30 August 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | | 1 Comment

Free Tools To Help In Your Quest

As you start using the Internet to communicate with extended family as part of your ancestral research, there are a few free tools that you should consider using. The tools will make your Internet research life easier.

If you haven’t used the search engine hakia yet, give it a try. You can phrase your search questions as sentences. I think you’ll be surprised at the results you get ‘right from the get-go’

Sharing photos and document images with family members and other researchers has never been easier. Just sign up for a free Zooomr account. This site doesn’t look like most sites you are used to seeing, so read the Zooomr FAQ page before you create your free account. You’ll note with interest that Zooomr clearly states that “Zooomr is free. There is no upload limit, bandwidth limit, download limit, file size limit, set limit, or number of photo limits.” How can you beat that price and service level? …. and it is Free!

Do you need to send a really big file? ….A file so large that it won’t pass through an e-mail server? No problem. Just get a free account with yousendit. Yousendit’s free account allows you to send a 100 MB file to their servers where family or members of your research group can download it for seven days before it is deleted. If you have a fast Internet connection, all the better, because the free account also allows you to send and download files at 1 MB per second. Good stuff!

Are you looking for good online videos? You know, the good genealogy related help files, stories, etc. Well, look no farther than the Blinkx site. This site isn’t a portal to teens dropping Mentos in a bottle of Diet Coke, but was rather designed for serious web video patrons. Just search for the topic you are researching and enjoy the vids….

Do you have a half dozen IM accounts that you use to talk to your family, friends and fellow researchers? Don’t you hate their bloated Adware riddled clients that try to take over your computer? Well, set them to not start when you boot up and use meebo instead. Meebo is accessed from any web browser and doesn’t install all the junk on your computer. You can open all your favorite IM accounts at the same time while you merrily use hakia to search for your ancestors.

Lastly, from time to time, we all find ourselves in a library somewhere in the world and find an unexpected treasure trove of information. Some of it can’t be copied on a photocopier, so what are we to do? Sit down and hand write all the information in long hand? No. There is a better solution. Just sit down at one of the computers in the library and log in to your free Ajax13 account. You’ll see a full suite of office tools from a word processor to a presentation program. The next time Micro$oft tries to sell you another bloated version of Office, tell them, “No Thanks. I use Ajax13 and it goes where I go.” Of course, you have already downloaded and installed the very comprehensive free OpenOffice suite to your computer anyway, but Ajax13 fills the bill very nicely when you don’t have your laptop with you.

Try ’em. You’ll like ’em.

Now sit back and enjoy ‘Heir Jordan’ as he describes “Extreme Genealogy”

23 August 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | Leave a comment

Immigration Records

It seems like most of us are looking for immigration records in the quest for our ancestors. Fortunately, there are many resources available to assist us in this quest.

Here are a few sites that I’ve used with success.

  • Ellis Island Records
  • Castle Garden Records
  • Immigrant Ancestors Project – BYU
  • Immigration and Ship Passenger List Research Guide
  • ISTO – Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild
  • NARA (US National Archives & Records Administration)
  • TheShipsList
  • Naturalization Records
  • Olive Tree Genealogy Ship Records
  • Migration Helps – FamilySearch
  • If you haven’t looked at all of these sites in your ancestral search, give them a try. Each has provides records that you may not find on any other site.

    Free Genealogy Resources – Web Search is another tool for your research quiver. You might as well bookmark it on your first visit because once you’ve looked at it and used its tools, you’ll keep coming back.

    19 August 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | Leave a comment

    Find Locations — Create Your Own Wiki

    In the course of our family history research, we often find location names that we don’t think we’ll ever find. The locations are often just wide spots in the road, a cemetery name or a very small community. How do we find where they are located? Here are some good websites to help in our location quest.

    Do you want to see a small map, the latitude, longitude and similar info on nearby features in U.S. locations? Try Lat-Long.com Choose a state, then type in the location name. I just searched for a tiny old cemetery in Elgin, Utah. I’ve visited the location and viewed the few remaining headstones several times over the years. Surely, the Elgin Cemetery wouldn’t show up on my search. But, much to my delight, there it was, mapped on my screen.

    Next, I decided to look at Placenames.com to test its ability to find unique locations. A search for Moore, Utah wasn’t quite difficult as the search for the cemetery, but there are only two or three homes left in Moore. You could say that current day Moore is Less. Again, I was pleasantly surprised with the results of my search. Links to maps, latitude, longitude, elevation and many other links were associated with the results of my search. “Hey, this is great! Two sites that really work!”

    Could there be a site that gives locations in Germany, family history resources there and other valuable research links and data? You bet. It is located at gov. genealogy.net

    Another great Danish records site is fully functional now. It does have time constraints on its operating hours, but the results of your search is usually fruitful. Try Arkivalieronline if you are researching in Denmark. Click on the ‘English’ button on the left side of the screen if you can’t read Danish for help in creating a free login and the typical words that we look for in our ancestral quest.

    If you still haven’t found your Danish Ancestry, try the Danish Parish Registers site on rootsweb. It even gives you a street guide by census year.

    If you are like me, you wish you knew what research resources are available in libraries near you and in locations where you may be doing research. To find them, be sure to visit the WorldCat site. I looked for information on the small town of Copperopolis, California. My search results were surprising. There are books about Copperopolis in libraries all over the country about this little town and all were listed as results to my search.

    Lastly, if you have wished that you had a handy place to record hints, how to’s, detailed instructions, etc., on your computer using an easily accessible tool, here’s the answer. We’re all familiar with Wikipedia and know how easy it is to use, so why not write our own Wiki? It’s easy. Write your own Wiki that contains your hints, tips, or anything else. Put a link to it on your desktop and you access it anytime by pressing the Windows key and ‘D’ at the same time.

    Does that sound hard? Actually,it is easy to do — in fact it is no harder than writing notes in your notebook. Just download Wixi, (for PC’s it’s the file with Win-32 in the name), create a folder on your computer and unzip the file in it. If you want a shortcut on your desktop, open Windows Explorer, find the folder you just created, and point at the Wixi.exe file. Right click on it and choose ‘Send to Desktop’ from the list. A shortcut has just been created on your desktop. Double click on the new shortcut icon and then on the word ‘Index’ in your new Wiki.

    Congratulations! You now have a your own personal, albeit blank Wiki. You can add as many pages as you want. Read the simple instructions on the first page and soon you’ll find that you have written hundreds of pages containing the information you always wanted at your fingertips. Oh, by the way, a second congratulations is in order. You are also now a mini ‘geek’. Wear the title with pride.

    9 August 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | Leave a comment

    Writing About Ancestors

    This past week, I visited with Chris Willis, one of the vice presidents at work about the content users are creating on our website. They are writing about all types of historical information ranging from love letters written in World War II, to the hanging of witches in Salem.

    I am particularly interested in the latter topic because one of the ‘witches’ was my direct ancestor and two others are 9th great aunts.

    Why do people write about their ancestors and historical events? It is because we are fascinated with the events in their lives both within their families and in the society and world where and when they lived.

    Twelve years ago, my wife and I spent several days in Salem, Massachusetts great grandmother, Susanna North Martin’strial for being a ‘witch’.

    We toured the city and surrounding area locating the homes and headstones of our ancestors. We continued north to Stewartstown, New Hampshire where another of my ancestral families lived for over 100 years and fell in love with the location and the scenery.

    While in Stewartstown, we found the old family cemetery and took photos of all of the headstones and copied the inscriptions on them knowing that most of them wouldn’t be readable in the photos. A favorite memory was driving the 100 feet across the Connecticut ‘River’ into Vermont for a dinner that was every bit as good as those that ‘Mom’ cooked. Of course it was good; the chef was a ‘young’ lady with a dozen grandchildren and everyone in the place called her ‘Mom’.

    We drove south the next morning to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where my ancestral families had lived for almost 300 years, since 18 of my grandparents stepped off the Mayflower. We found headstones for so many of my ancestors on Burial Hill in Plymouth, that it felt like a family reunion. Connie took a photo of me standing on the front steps of the Drew home at 51 Pleasant Street which was built by my 3rd great grandfather and housed the family for four generations thereafter. When we got home I looked through some photos that I’d found in the Calaveras County Historical Society in California that showed my great grandaunt standing just a few feet away from the location where I had stood on the steps of the house. The only differences were minor cosmetics on the fascia of the home, over 100 years time and the ugly hat she wore. Well, maybe her black dress was a little different too.

    It felt like I was ‘home’ …. Home in Salem, home in Stewartstown, home in Plymouth and all of the the other cities and towns we visited where our ancestors lived. Can I write about those ancestors now that I’ve seen where they lived, worked and died? Yes, indeed and yes, I have and I do. Now, when I see their names in my databases, sights, sounds and smells are associated with them in my mind. I remember the feel of the texture of their headstones, the grass stains on my knees from clearing the grass back so I could take photos of the stones, the large red barn across the street, the color of the mud, the moose standing outside our motel room door,

    We found the hill in Salem that was used when they hung grandma Susanna. We drank water from the spring Seth and Azuba Tirrill used for their water supply in Stewartstown. We walked to the homes, business locations and graves of hundreds of my ancestors in and around Plymouth. We stood on the hill where many of my Mayflower ancestors were buried during that first winter and looked out over Plymouth harbor. We felt our ancestors with us at every stop …. at every ancestral home …. in every cemetery …. in every village green that we visited.

    Again, do I write about them? Yes, I do. I now ‘know’ them much more than ever before. I love them.

    Do you write about your ancestors? Sure you do. If not on paper then in your minds and hearts. Take the time to go and visit old family homesteads, towns, and burial grounds soon. Keep your minds, eyes and ears open and let the spirits of your ancestors take you on a tour of where they lived in the world. You’ll always be happy you made the trip.

    For now, start writing about growing up at your parents house. Write about grandma, grandpa and all your crazy aunts and uncles. Find the stories, events, photos and documents associated with their lives. They will become ‘real’ people to your children and grandchildren as seen through your eyes and in the records of their lives.

    Maybe you’ll be ‘real’ to your great grandchildren one day too …. because someone wrote about you and your life, walked where you walked and smelled the apple blossoms there in the spring.


    4 August 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | Leave a comment