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Family Tree Research, How?
March 7, 2010 6:14 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend has been doing a family history...

And this is what she gave me to put out to the MetaMind:

"I have been doing some genealogy via ancestry.com

What other internet sources might I use to obtain data from the 1600 - 1800s?

Are there specific historical sites that anyone recommends?

I'm interested in newspaper clippings, historical accounts and the like.

Your advice is much appreciated. Thank you."

I would add, how do you verify the sources that you find? I don't know anything about Ancestry .com.

But I know she's paying for it and a lot of the stuff that she finds looks wonky to me.

But then, I'm no expert on copies of old papers, signatures and articles from old newspapers. This is what she sees on her screen. My problem is that she is using a single source. How does she verify sources? Has anyone else done this?

I'm worried that shes wasting time and money on something that she cares deeply about but can't be verified. OTOH, maybe I'm overthinking a very old and dry plate of beans.

BTW, In case anyone is curious, I read this entire post to her and she agrees that, while I'm overthinking it, she doesn't mind that I post it.
posted by Splunge to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Mormon church is well known for being interested in human genealogy.

Accordingly, check out this link, but be aware it's run by the Mormons, and, for some people, that can cause issues.
posted by dfriedman at 6:19 PM on March 7, 2010


Which country/countries is she researching? The available material is going to vary a lot depending on that factor.
posted by Paragon at 6:19 PM on March 7, 2010


dfriedman: "The Mormon church is well known for being interested in human genealogy.

Accordingly, check out this link, but be aware it's run by the Mormons, and, for some people, that can cause issues.
"

She's says she's done enough research to know that the Mormon link won't help her.

Paragon: "Which country/countries is she researching? The available material is going to vary a lot depending on that factor."

The USA, mainly the Midwest. But she has family in Washington State and California. But she wouldn't limit herself to thoase areas.
posted by Splunge at 6:26 PM on March 7, 2010


Other major records sites for genealogy are:
FamilySearch.org (free)
Heritage Quest Online (not free, but you can likely use it through your local library)
Footnote.com (subscription site)

Regarding the stuff she is finding on Ancestry.com, if it is images of original records, that's likely as close to "verifying the source" that you can get. But she take with a grain of salt any information that she is getting from family trees uploaded to Ancestry, especially if original records are not attached.

If she's interested in learning how to do proper genealogy, beyond Ancestry.com, she should find out if there is a genealogical society near where she lives (whether or not her ancestors are from there, too). My local genealogical society taught me proper genealogical methods, which does include documenting and verifying sources.

If she's looking for an online how-to, well, there's a lot of sites out there, but the National Archives is one of the best for both learning how to do genealogy and how to find records.
posted by donajo at 6:31 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've had great success on Ancestry.com, personally. I have family history from another source and it usually matches up. Sometimes I get false matches, but it mostly requires either a little knowledge of one's family history or logic (e.g.: he couldn't be this war veteran because he was only 5 during the war.)

How to verify? Does she have any family members she can ask about their parents, cousins, etc.?
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:48 PM on March 7, 2010


From what I've found internet genealogy will only get you so far. She may have to actually do some footwork. For the time she's looking at the best source of information is going to be church records: Christenings and Baptisms, sometimes Weddings. She may have to go to these places and ask to see their records. She needs to look for town and county Historical Societies and then contact them to see what information they have.

The way to verify the sources is to actually see them: copy of the census record, a copy of the page in the church records, a rubbing of an ancestors headstone. Finding the names is only part of doing the genealogy, finding the sources is the other.

The LDS Church (Mormon) has a bunch of Family History Centers all over, your girlfriend can go in and get help. From your profile it looks like you're in NYC, I did a Google Search for LDS Family History Center NYC and it looks like there is one in the Bronx and one in Queens. The people who work there are all Mormon, but they won't try to convert your girlfriend if she goes in for help. They'll just help. She should print out her pedigree chart and go in.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:49 PM on March 7, 2010


She should check out Cyndislist.com, Findagrave.com, deadfred.com, USGenweb, Rootsweb (especially the message forums). If she knows what area, she should google historical societies in the area (xyzcity historical society).

I use Ancestry, but unless what you are pulling down actual documents, the information can be very questionable. As in, the first person who posted information about a person or family is the accepted source, even if he/she was wrong.

The DAR has a lot of information dating to that time. She should contact a local DAR chapter, especially if she has any interest in lineage societies. She's welcome to memail for more information.
posted by clarkstonian at 6:50 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


'Newspaper clippings and historical accounts' for doing 1600-1800 genealogy doesn't sound like a good idea You're not going to find very many people making it into 18th century and earlier newspapers, and again you'll get a very low hit rate by looking for whether an ancestor is mentioned in some historical account of an event (unless you have very famous ancestors). Generally you'd need to be looking for records like baptism, marriage and burial registers, records of land holding, wills, tax records, court records, church court records etc. for whichever country you are interested in. If any of the ancestors happen to be Scottish, the site she needs to look at is Scotland's People

Thirdly though other people may differ, I had very poor results with ancestry.com. I looked at them for some of my Scottish family members who'd been abroad or in the services and had very disappointing results. The searches brought up all kinds of irrelevant stuff.

When you say 'how does she verify sources' I'm not sure what you mean. The key to genealogy is to work from solid sources such as the baptism, marriage and burial registers so you build up a picture of the family, you know who and where and when they are, and then you can identify them if you see them in other sources eg. a newspaper clipping. But without that scaffolding being able to tell whether Joe Bloggs in a clipping from The Evening Dispatch of 1792 is your great great (however-many greats) Uncle Joe Bloggs is a pretty forlorn hope (unless you have an incredibly distinctive or famous name)
posted by Flitcraft at 6:51 PM on March 7, 2010


You're unlikely to find much in the way of newspaper clippings and that sort of thing from before the 1800s. Very little scanned stuff and very poorly indexed. I use Heritage Quest for census stuff [useful to find family members and their ages and maybe knowing their neighbors and roughly where they were living] and also for searching history books. If you're lucky, you'll find a printed book that is something like "the history of the NAME family" and if you find a relative in there, you're golden. That said, agree with donajo, other people's trees are suspect.

I've also found some interesting stuff, including a photograph of my great great grandfather, just using Google Books. Really depends on how notable your family was [that relative was a local physician in a well-to-do town in the 1850's, sort of a big deal] and what sort of record keeping people did. Honestly she's really best off going to the local big library and asking around. Depending on the library, they may point her towards digital resources or show her how to use their historical collections [or point her towards other ones nearby]. Despite people saying "it's all on the internet" a lot of historical stuff like this just plain isn't and local history buffs are often your best go-to people.

One more aside: I've had a lot of fun using the vaguely 2.0-ish Geni to map out family trees and add data in a painless way. Depending on how serious she is and what software she's using, this may be something she enjoys, even if it's not perfect for actually doing "serious" genealogy.
posted by jessamyn at 6:53 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are two distinct sections of Ancestry.com. One is all of the original sources, include copies of the census records for every decade for every town where they still exist. These historical sources will have note as to their proper citation - you are looking at a copy of the original - that is as good as it gets. The other half is the family tree side - those are up-loaded by random people and should only be used as starting place for the real research.

The Mormons have paper copies of many family trees and historical records that were published over the years. If one of them hooks into your family, it can be a treasure trove (although only as good as the research behind it.)

I assume she has already told everyone in her family that she is doing this. In my own case, the best information came from family genealogists that were of my grandparents or great-grandparents generation.
posted by metahawk at 7:04 PM on March 7, 2010


I am very experienced in online genealogy. I think a lot of people here don't really know much about it, and their information is a little flawed.
1. Ancestry gets a great deal of their records from the Mormon church. You'll notice when you look at census records that LDS is credited.
2. On Ancestry, most of the records have actual images you can look at. Most people use census records a lot, and all of these have been scanned in and you can look at them. I really doubt they are going through the effort of falsifying old census records.
3. Even when looking at legitimate records, you have to remember that they aren't always accurate. Way less people were literate back in the day, and just didn't keep up with information as well in general. This means names could be spelled wrong, people may have given the census taker the wrong birthplace for themselves or on the census years they asked for people's parents' birthplaces, a lot of people didn't actually know what state their parents were born in. Also, census takers didn't necessarily take down verbatim what the people they were dealing with said.
4. Newspaper records from anytime before the mid-20th century are basically useless unless your ancestor was someone notable. Sometimes you can get obits, but I have never had any luck finding an obituary for any relative who died before 1970.
5. Historical accounts have the same problem as above. Unless your ancestor was a prominent person or played an important part in, say, a military battle or something, you aren't likely going to find much.
6. It is very important to get as much information from relatives as possible before embarking on a search. They can give you better names, dates, and places to start with than if you have to start from scratch.
7. Ancestry.com is very good for census records. Census records are very helpful. The way I do this is to start with the furthest back ancestor I know the name, approximate birthdate, and where they lived. I find them in the census, if possible. I try to find them on a census when they are a child so I can find out the names of their parents (really only father, because the mother's maiden name is not going to be there). Then I do the same for the father, and so on and so forth.
posted by ishotjr at 7:12 PM on March 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


A friend does a lot of genealogy research, and has provided me with the information below:

Search Engines for Genealogy Sites (searches free and subscriptions sites):

Free Family Pages, http://www.freefamilypages.com Site searches ten major genealogy sites in one search, including a specialized Google search.

Genealogy Place, http://www.genealogyplace.com Site uses a Google search to find genealogy resources and names on the Internet.

The Family Tree Searcher, http://www.familytreesearcher.com Finds Family trees at 9 sites.

The Genealogy Toolbox, http://www.genealogytoolbox.com Site is a collection of tools to assist those interested in researching their genealogy or family history.


General Genealogy Sites

Free:

US Gen Web Project, http://www.usgenweb.org Provides internet websites for genealogical research in every county and every state of the United States.

Cyndi's List, http://www.cyndislist.com Site searches US newspapers from 1690 to today.

BYU Idaho Special Collections, http://abish.byui.edu/specialCollections/famhist/index.cfm Includes various resources that explore special collections in Idaho and the US.

Access Genealogy, http://www.accessgenealogy.com Offers genealogy records for all 50 states and specializes in Native American records.

National Archives, http://www.archives.gov/research_room/genealogy/index.html Site is arranged by research topics, or types of records available to search. The research topics link to pages throughout the website with articles, finding aids, and other information.
Distant Cousin, http://distantcousin.com Online archive of genealogy records and scanned images of historical documents from a wide variety of sources, including newspaper obituaries, city directories, census records, ship lists, school yearbooks, and military records.

Family Search, http://www.familysearch.org Provides access to free family history, family tree, and genealogy records and resources from around the world.

Genealogy Forum, http://genforum.genealogy.com Site has multiple forums, divided up by surname or general topics.

RootsWeb, http://www.rootsweb.com Designed to facilitate connections between people in order to share genealogical research. Provides access to tools such as the WorldConnect Project (a family tree database) and the RootsWeb Surname List (a registry of surnames).

Gene Search Professional Genealogy (German roots), http://www.germanroots.com Contains many search engines that help Americans of German decent research genealogy.

Barrel of Genealogy Links, http://www.genalogytoday.com/barrel Provides numerous links to genealogical websites.

Subscription Sites:

Ancestry, http://www.ancestry.com Site provides access to an online family tree, as well as census, voter list, birth, marriage, death, military, immigration, emigration records, and many other documents.

Heritage Quest online, http://www.heritagequestonline.com Searches print records such as books, articles, and censuses using various databases.

Footnote, http://www.footnote.com Site has thousands of digitized records that allow for easy access to never-before-seen historic documents.

Genealogy Bank, http://www.genealogybank.com This site has lots of newspapers, digitized books, and historical documents.

Genealogy, http://www.genealogy.com/index_r.html Site includes some primary documents including census records, international and passenger records, but is more focused on Family Tree information sharing.

Genealogy Archives, http://www.genealogyarchives.com Site helps the research locate birth, death, marriage, divorce, vital, and other records through a search interface.

Kindred Connections, http://www.kindredkonnections.com This genealogy, pedigree-linked database searches various historical records and other members’ family trees.

World Vital Records, http://www.worldvitalrecords.com Searches many historical records and collections for specific ancestors. Site also provides an online family tree.

New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), www.newenglandancestors.org One of the nation’s largest genealogical organizations.

Newspapers

Free:

Chronicling America, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov Site allows search and view of newspaper pages from 1880-1922 and find information about American newspapers published between 1690-present. The project is ongoing and while, at this point, some states are well covered, others have no available newspapers.

Fulton History, http://www.fultonhistory.com This website is a searchable repository of many of the old Newspapers published in New York State.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle Archive, http://eagle.brooklynpubliclibrary.org Contains approximately 147,000 pages of newspaper in various digital formats. Access can be gained either by date of issue or by keyword searching.

Colorado Historical Newspapers Collection, http://www.coloradohistoricnewspapers.org/Default/Skins/Colorado/Client.asp?Skin=Colorado&AW=1262640403282&AppName=2 Site currently includes 147 newspapers published in Colorado from 1859 to 1923.

Subscription:

Proquest, http://www.proquest.com Includes eight major newspapers including the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. The dates range from mid-1800’s to present.

Gale Database, http://www.gale.cengage.com Contains hundreds of US and UK newspapers and periodicals from the 19th century.

Newspaper Archives, http://www.newspaperarchives.com Site aids in family history research by searching over 4,000 newspapers for ancestors.

Ancestry, http://www.ancestry.com Ancestry’s Historical Newspaper Collections provides access to headlines, articles, letters to the editor, obituaries, marriage announcements, and advertisements from as early as 1850.

Footnote, http://www.footnote.com Site searches newspapers from large cities around the world as well as small towns in the US to provide an in-depth look important events as well as individual people.


Census Records

General Information Links:

Gene Search Professional Genealogy (German roots), http://home.att.net/~wee-monster/censuslinks.html Site contains clues and tips about how to use the census as a research tool. Also lists a few complete censuses.

BYU-Idaho Special Collections, http://abish.byui.edu/specialCollections/fhc/census.htm Provides links to all available US censuses and information on how to approach research using a census.
Free:

Census Links, http://www.censuslinks.com Includes a catalog of links to transcriptions of census, tax lists, birth, death, marriage and military records.

Census Online, http://www.census-online.com Includes links to federal censuses and indexes, state and territorial censuses, tax lists, voter lists, military pensioner lists, etc.”

US GenWeb, http://www.usgwcensus.org/index.htm Volunteer project to transcribe census records in a standard format.

Family Search, http://www.familysearch.org/eng/search/frameset_search.asp?PAGE=census/search_census.asp
1880 census records from the US, the British Isles, and Canada.


Vital Records (Birth, Marriage, Death)

Birth:

Family Search, http://search.labs.familysearch.org/recordsearch/start.html#start Site contains millions of indexed records for ancestors using name, birth/marriage/death date, and location.

Gene Search Professional Genealogy (German roots), http://home.att.net/~wee-monster/vitalrecords.html A genealogy guide for finding vital records, including birth records.

Marriage:

USGenWeb, http://www.usgenweb.org/index.shtml Provides links to free sites with marriage information for all 50 states.

Ancestry, http://www.ancestry.com/search/rectype/default.aspx?rt=34 Site includes numerous national, state, and local birth, marriage, and death records.

BYU-Idaho Special Collections, http://abish.byui.edu/specialCollections/westernStates/search.cfm Search western states marriage index.

Death:

Gene Search Professional Genealogy (German roots), http://home.att.net/~wee-monster/deathrecords.html A genealogy guide for finding vital records including death records.

Genealogy Roots Blog, http://genrootsblog.blogspot.com/2008/06/online-death-certificates-updated.html Includes a list of some collections of online digitized death certificates or death ledgers (some are free, some fee-based). Note that some death certificate images at these websites may be unavailable because of errors or other reasons.

Online Death Indexes, Records & Obituaries, http://www.deathindexes.com Directory of links to websites with online death indexes, listed by state and county. Included are death records, death certificate indexes, death notices & registers, obituaries, probate indexes, and cemetery and burial records. Also contains information about searching the Social Security Death Index online.

Cemeteries:

Cemetery Junction http://www.daddezio.com/cemetery/ . Includes links to cemetery sites and obituaries.

Find a Grave, http://www.findagrave.com Excellent source for locating cemeteries and tombstone transcriptions. Site is continually growing due to genealogists posting their ancestors birth, death, and burial records, as well as images of tombstones.

Utah State History Cemetery and Burial Database http://history.utah.gov/research_and_collections/cemeteries/index.html Includes images of death certificates for Utah. This data is fully searchable, with links from the index to the digital image of the actual certificates.

USGenWeb, http://www.usgwtombstones.org/index.html Many tombstone transcriptions are available online and more are added daily. The site also provides links to cemetery transcriptions that are not archived in The USGenWeb Archives. These include transcriptions on County web sites and on independent web sites.

Interment Net, http://www.interment.net Free online library of cemetery records from thousands of cemeteries across the world.

Access Genealogy, http://www.accessgenealogy.com/cemetery/index.htm Site includes databases that search AccessGenealogy’s historical cemeteries, National cemeteries, and WPA cemeteries and cemetery records organized by state.

Obituaries:

Obituary Depot, http://www.daddezio.com/obituary/depot/index.html Site lists obituary citations that are searchable by name and state.

Ancestry, http://www.ancestry.com/search/obit Database is a compilation of obituaries published in U.S. newspapers, collected from various online sources. The obituaries vary in the amount of information they contain, but many include information such as names, dates, places of birth and death, marriage information, and family relationships.

ObitsArchive, http://www.obitsarchive.com Site has a comprehensive collection of newspaper obituaries and death notices in the United States. The obituaries or death notices are indexed by the name of the deceased person, to make searching easier and more precise. In addition, the text of each obituary or death notice is searchable.

Military Records

Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants, www.genealogy.com/24_land.html Rank, date, and acres.

Army Museum Websites, http://www.history.army.mil/html/museums/links.html Links to various army museums.

Online Library of Selected Images, http://www.history.navy.mil

National Park Service, http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System is a computerized database containing very basic facts about servicemen who served on both sides during the Civil War.

New York Civil War Units NY State Unit History Project, http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/civil/CWN.htm Makes the text of newspaper clippings from the Civil War on 219 New York units available. These range in length from 1 to 140 pages.
New York State Civil War Soldier Database, http://www.archives.nysed.gov/a/research/res_topics_mi_civilwar_dbintro.shtml Information includes more than 360,000 men who served in New York State Volunteer and the United States Sharpshooter units and the state's three regiments of United States Colored Troops during the Civil War.
Revolutionary War Soldiers Genealogy, http://colonialancestors.com/revolutionary/soldiers.htm Information about individual soldiers and battles of the American Revolutionary War. While not official military records, they do provide information about the soldiers.

Index of Continental Army Enlisted Men’s Diaries, http://www.revwar75.com/library/bob/diaries.pdf Includes an index of the diaries of enlisted, “rank and file” members of the Continental army during the Revolutionary War.

Gene Search Professional Genealogy (German roots), http://home.att.net/~wee-monster/military.html Great site listing online sources (free and subscription) for all over the US from Revolutionary War to Vietnam.

Ancestry, http://www.ancestry.com Covers more than three centuries of American wars and conflicts. More than 100 million names and 700 titles and databases in military records from all 50 U.S. states. Also includes a database from U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938. The registers in this collection can include information on military service, injuries and disabilities, age, birthplace, physical description, residence, and the name and address of the nearest relative, among other things.

Footnote, http://www.footnote.com Contains thousands of records from the Civil War, WWI, and WWII including muster rolls, photos, JAG case files, widow’s pensions, and much more.

Rootsweb, www.rootsweb.ancestry.com Search for information, including military records, about ancestors using a simple name-oriented search engine.

City Directories
Distant Cousin, http://www.distantcousin.com Contains more than one hundred directories from about 40 different states. Although there is seldom more than one or two per city, the dates often come well into the 20th century.

City Directories Online, http://www.citydirectoryrecords.com Site is a guide to finding city directory records on the Internet. Refers users to other sites, such as Ancestry.com and DistantCousin.

Ancestry.com, http://www.ancestry.com One of the most comprehensive city directory sites on the web. For their “1890 Federal Census Substitute Project,” Ancestry digitized and uploaded directories for hundreds of cities covering a few years on either side of 1890. Ancestry has recently expanded their city directory collection by adding more than 1,000 new directories. Many of them are for eastern states, and only a few per city.
Cyndi’s List, http://www.cyndislist.com/citydir.htm Includes links to articles about using city directories and many transcribed directories.

Genealogy Today, http://dir.genealogytoday.com/city_directories.html Brief articles and links to some transcribed directories.

City Directories of the United States of America, http://www.uscitydirectories.com/index.html An attempt to identify and “catalog” all known city directories, in any format, throughout the country. Useful site to learn of the existence of directories for even the smallest of cities.

Library of Congress, U.S. City Directories on Microfilm in the Microform Reading Room, http://www.loc.gov/rr/microform/uscity Summarizes the film holdings of the library, and is based on the Primary Source Microfilm collections. There is a page for each state, which lists cities and available years.

Naturalization, Passenger Lists, Immigration
Ancestry, http://www.ancestry.com Site includes New York passenger lists, selected naturalization records, Irish immigrants: New York port arrival records, and many other immigration and emigration records.

Footnote, http://www.footnote.com Naturalization records and indexes from many states.
Cyndi’s List of Immigration and Naturalization, http://www.cyndislist.com/immigrat.htm Includes links to many sites that have immigration and naturalization records.

Gene Search Professional Genealogy (German Roots), http://home.att.net/~wee-monster/naturalization.html Includes links to naturalization indexes and records

NaturalizationRecords (part of Olive Tree Genealogy), http://naturalizationrecords.com/index.shtml Naturalization Records in U.S.A. and Canada. Includes Declarations of Intent, First Papers, Alien Registrations, Passport Applications, Naturalization Petitions and Citizenship Certificates. Also, substitute naturalization records such as ships passenger lists, census records, oaths of allegiance, and voters registration lists.

Castle Garden New York, http://castlegarden.org Site offers access to a database of information on 12 million immigrants from 1820 through 1892, the year Ellis Island opened.
Gene Search Professional Genealogy (German Roots), http://home.att.net/~wee-monster/1820.html Includes online databases, bibliography of books and cd-roms to assist in finding passenger lists before 1820.

Immigrant Ships Transcriber Guild, http://www.immigrantships.net Includes sites to research emigration, immigration and naturalization, 100+ passenger list sites, ethnic research, libraries and archives, passenger ship types, descriptions and images, and additional worldwide maritime information available both on-line and off-line.
Ellis Island Home Page, http://www.ellisisland.org Official homepage of the Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation. Includes Ellis Island passenger arrivals.

Other
Family Search, http://labs.familysearch.org Site showcases new family history technologies.

Library of Congress, http://catalog.loc.gov A comprehensive search engine containing an index of all of the Library of Congress’ texts.

Land Records, www.glorecords.blm.gov Provides live access to Federal land conveyance records for the Public Land States. Also provides image access to more than three million Federal land title records for Eastern Public Land States, issued between 1820 and 1908.

Death Penalty Information Center, http://www.h-net.org/~africa/citation.html Site contains extensive information and news about the death penalty, including a searchable execution database.
posted by gudrun at 9:23 PM on March 7, 2010 [27 favorites]


I've had some fairly good luck researching Irish genealogy on sites that are very area-specific. For instance, someone wrote down the inscription for every single grave stone in one cemetery. Another person copied out the whole baptism records for one church. Knowing the location in Ireland and using Google helped me to find them, and they were amazing old records from the early 1800s. The trick is finding the location in a foreign country, since the average records you find just say Birthplace: Ireland or such.

Ancestry.com IS the best though for getting those US census records. You don't really need to subscribe for a long time though: a month is $20 and you can cancel after one. The main thing to beware is that it's really easy to type in a name and a birthdate and find a census record, with no proof it's the right person. If you then build off that record, you could be wasting a lot of time. Also, ancestry.com has so much data you can start to think that it has everything and get disappointed if your searches don't find anything. It does not have everything.
posted by smackfu at 9:32 PM on March 7, 2010


You can get a free trial at Ancestry.com for 14 days -- I did that and blitzed my way through the records.

ProQuest has newspapers scanned online, but not all of them. In California, you only need a library card to view them for free via the library's site.

Also, the Library of Congress has scanned a lot of newspaper archives (looks like it's 1880-1922 only at the moment) which you can search for free. I've found a few interesting family tidbits this way.
posted by vickyverky at 11:05 AM on March 8, 2010


Long-time genealogist myself! I absolutely LOATHE ancestry.com, despite the ability to find great resources there. Frankly, they *sell* you data you can find for free from other sources, but they also post things like user submitted family trees that have little to no verification! When I was trained in genealogical research by professionals, we were given the mantra "you can't just go to a book and look up your family tree" - I fear the way ancestry.com markets themselves IS just that ... they create the illusion that your family tree is just a few clicks away. I can't tell you how much it upsets me that my own family history is misrepresented and horribly wrong. I *could* submit my own research, but then ancestry.com would make money from my hard work without me seeing any compensation. (I don't want to make money, I want to freely share information as information is freely shared with me).

the important rules for successful research is to work from the present and work one's way backwards through linear time. the other important key is to determine geographically where one's ancestors come from. resources vary wildly by where one's ancestors were located. i've had more success in home countries which have had little upheaval, and nearly zero success in countries blasted off the map because of war.

and lastly, the Mormons. While I applaud their microfilming efforts and record preservation, their actual family tree data, with obvious exceptions for those who DO document their work, is pretty awful, and exists simply as a form of retroactive baptism to save their souls. I don't mind people saving their own souls, but many years ago, I learned that a very far flung member of my grandparents' family had converted to Mormonism, and had "sealed" my grandparents, who were very firm on their religious beliefs, and were baptized in accordance with their religion. I find it abhorrent, but other folks will simply shrug their shoulders and say "what's the harm? they're dead."

i apologize for a meandering, and seemingly random set of answers...
posted by kuppajava at 11:35 AM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I realize your girlfriend wants "internet sources." As a historian and a genealogist who is employed in the public history field, I advise people every day regarding historical and genealogical research, and I have to say that she needs to look beyond the Internet. My colleagues and I repeatedly get phone calls or office visits from folks who unfortunately believe everything about their ancestors is accessible via a computer. While I value ancestry.com in that I can quickly and easily access the US federal census, it does not even scratch the surface when it comes to family history. There is also a lot of junk in those "member trees" that you can access on Ancestry. People copy research without fact-checking.

City directories; town, county, and church histories; plat maps and atlases; cemetery transcriptions; marriage indexes; slave schedules; manuscripts; diaries; newspapers; obituaries; prison records; military records; death and birth certificates are all incredibly useful tools in establishing facts about one's ancestor. The vast majority of these resources are not available online. She can contact state and local historical societies, local archival collections, etc.

Just a quick overview:

As far as newspapers go, they're one of my favorite sources. Most small town papers, if her folks were from small towns, would have community columns, i.e. Mrs. Jane Smith was visited today by her cousins from Albuquerque, Joseph and Jeremiah Smith. Items like this help establish familial relationships. Newspapers often printed detailed obits that list where a person was born, if they did anything neat or noteworthy, and who their family members were.

Military records are really neat, especially if an ancestor received a pension for serving in the Union Army (only a handful of former Confederate states handed out pensions), because they often listed family members, have detailed affidavits, and describe how great-great-great grandfather got shot.

Your girlfriend may just want to sketch out her family tree. That's perfectly okay. If she's looking to truly understand her ancestors, it may help if she branches out into the sources listed above.

Good luck!
posted by Coyote at the Dog Show at 4:24 PM on March 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's some fantastic advice here, but I think it needs to be tempered.

Don't ignore other people's research. No, you shouldn't uncritically adopt part of someone else's family tree. I've seen lots of data on ancestry.com that started out as a single mistranscribed record and migrated to a whole lot of family trees. That site makes it especially easy to copy information, because it gives you "hints". On the other hand, that research may well be right. So look at it, examine the sources, and try to confirm it for yourself. Or adopt it but flag it for a second look later.

There are two free sites that I use: www.geni.com and www.myheritage.com. Each of these matches data and helps you get in contact with distant relatives. This can be a major help. Try using Google - it's surprising how often you come across obituaries or family information that have been put online by a more-or-less distant relative. As before, verify before adopting it. Become familiar with advanced Google techniques, particularly the site: keyword. For instance, this Google search will find references to the USA's President on a very good genealogy site:
site:usgwarchives.org "barack obama"

Build up a list of sources, and then ask for help in finding them. For instance, I found a reference to a relative mentioned in an obscure book written by a Cincinnati librarian. There's no way I could get a copy of that in Australia, but the public library in Hamilton has several copies - and a librarian there was kind enough to scan the relevant pages and email them to me. Yay, librarians!

I found a reference to some relatives on Amazon, of all places. It turned out that someone's memoirs had a reference to his uncle Bela, who was my father's second cousin. You never know.

Basically, think outside the box, be sceptical, and be ready to backtrack. If you've got the right mindset it's a whole lot of fun.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:50 AM on March 9, 2010


Sorry I haven't been back here for a while but I wanted the girlfriend to read the thread and tell me what she thought of it.

She is overwhelmed by the responses and didn't realize that it would get the response that it did.

Well, she doesn't know MeFi.

I marked one post that she thought was the best answer for her. And I will now mark the question answered. But don't let me stop the conversation that may be going on.

This is not my personal interest, but the girlfriend is blown away by the replies.

Thank you all for your interest.
posted by Splunge at 7:36 PM on March 11, 2010


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