Tuesday, July 23, 2019

German & Prussian Genealogy

German and Prussian Genealogy
Plus websites for other European Countries

Prior to 1871 there was not a single unified Germany. The German empire consisted of a series of kingdoms, duchies, principalities, individual cities and an imperial territory. At this time, Germany was larger than it is today. At the end of both World Wars, the boundaries of Germany changed dramatically. Regions of Germany were distributed to France, Belgium, Poland, Russia and Lithuania.

There is no single, overall central German archive or repository that contains all of the genealogical records. The records can be found in the archives of different regions (states) or cities.

#1 -  Begin your Search

In order to begin your search for German genealogical records, you MUST know the NAME of the city and REGION where your ancestor was born in.

Why is this important? - For example, there are two cities in Germany named Rothenberg. One is in the region of Hesse and the other in Bavaria (Bayern). If you don’t know the city and region, you might be researching the wrong family line.

There are 16 Regions (States) in Germany: Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt), Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) Saxony (Sachsen), Bremen, North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen), Hesse (Hessen), Thuringia (Thuringen), Rhineland-Palitinate (Rheinland-Pfalz), Saarland, Baden-Wurttemberg, Bavaria (Bayern).

Note: Tips for discovering the city and region your ancestor was born in can be found at www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Germany._Finding_Town_of_Origin

#2 – German Records

The churches in Germany kept family records dating back to the 1500s and more in depth records beginning in the 1800s.  There are millions of German records, for various regions, on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, especially for the Lutheran churches. However, most of the records, especially those for Catholic churches, are contained in various archives located throughout Germany, and are not available online.

Once you have discovered your ancestor’s town and region of origin, it will be important to know if they were Catholic or Protestant, as the records are kept in separate archives.

A Google search can be done on the town and region to find the names of the parishes in your ancestors’ town of origin, and to determine the location and name of the archive where the records are kept.

#3 – Online Records

Ancestry.com – contains church records, as well as WW1 and WW2 records which list the names of parents and town of residence.
Family Search.org
Genealogy.net (compgen.de) – German site
My Heritage.com – Appears to be the choice of German people for conducting research and building family trees.

#4 – German Archive Records

If you haven’t been able to find records for your German ancestors online there are various ways to continue your search. The majority of German genealogical records are located in the many local and regional archives across Germany. There are two ways to access these records:

*The first would be to locate the archive where your ancestors’ records are located. To obtain those records send an email with a written request for baptism, marriage and death records for a specific ancestor. There will be a fee for the research and a copy of the record. This will be a slow process but a workable solution for finding the records that are not online.

Keep in mind that, depending on where your ancestor is from, records might be found in archives in France, Belgium, Poland, Russia or Lithuania as areas of Germany were distributed to these countries throughout history.  (For instance, I have found my ancestor’s records in the archives for the Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin in Alsace, France which are online.

*The second option would be to hire a professional genealogist, who is located in Germany, to perform the research and obtain the records for you. To locate a professional genealogist refer to the Association of German-speaking Professional Genealogists (https://berufsgenealogie.net.) Locate the area where you ancestor lived on the ‘map’ (https://berufsgenealogie.net/english/map.html) and choose a genealogist who lives near that archive.

#5 – Family History Books

Another alternative would be to search for a Orsfamilienbucher (OFB) loosely translated as a community genealogical history book which contains records for a specific town or city. Many towns have listed the history and records for their area which might contain several generations for a family who lived in that particular town. Genealogy.net contains more than 600 searchable OFB’s. Search FamilySearch.org’s catalog via ‘place-names’ for their collection of OFB’s at: https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog. An additional listing can be found here: Kirchenbuch Portal: www.kirchenbuchportal.findbuch.net.

Articles on “how to” search for German Genealogical Records:

Family Search ‘German Genealogy Wiki’ - https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Germany_Genealogy

Family Tree ‘Tips for Tracing German Ancestors’ - https://www.familytreemagazine.com/premium/tips-for-tracing-german-ancestors/

Legacy Tree ‘3 Essential Websites for German Family History  Research’ - https://www.legacytree.com/blog/3-essential-websites-german-ancestors

YouTube videos on German Genealogy:

Crista Cowan (Ancestry.com) ‘Top Tips for Beginning German Family History Research’ - https://youtu.be/5G7quTs_zno

James M. Beidler – ‘Finding German Villages for Genealogy and Family History’ - https://youtu.be/lj_nACJZt94

James M. Beidler – ‘Finding German Ancestors: Tips’ - https://youtu.be/1FfS7XS5EZI

James M. Beidler – ‘Step-By-Step Guide to MeyersGaz.org for German Genealogy’ - https://youtu.be/h2aLSvE_upY

Compgen.de – ‘German Genealogy’ - https://youtu.be/7r-p55scBOc

The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide ‘How to Trace your Germanic Ancestry in Europe’ - https://youtu.be/FZy_SS2Ht28

Additional Germany Genealogy Resources:

Google Translation to decipher words or sentences on German records (http://googletranslation.com)
Facebook – German Genealogy Records Transcription - https://www.facebook.com/groups/1454015278205406/
Facebook – The German Genealogist - https://www.facebook.com/GermanGenealogy/

Genealogy Websites for other Countries:

These websites may not be in English. To read them look for the English translation (either EN, English or a British flag) or download the Google Translate app in Chrome.

A comprehensive listing of archives around the world: www.archivschule.de/DE/service/archive-im-internet

A master search engine of European Archives: www.archivesportaleurope.net

French Archives (more than half of the French vital records on available on FamilySearch.org): The National Archives: www.archives-nationales.culture.gouv.fr

German Archives: FamilySearch.org has partnered with German Archives. You can find an index of the records available on FamilySearch.org and then go to the specific Archive to find the record.
Baden-Wurttemburg: www.landesarchiv-bw.de
Rheinland-Pfalz: www.landeshauptarchiv.de
Nordrhein-Westfalen: www.archive.nrw.de
German Center for Genealogy: www.staatsarchiv.sachsen.de/index.html

Poland Archives:

Church Parish Registers:
Archion: www.archion.de – Protestant
Matricula: www.data.matricula.info – Catholic

Netherlands Archives:
Wie Was Wie: www.wiewaswie.nl
Amsterdam Archives: www.archief.amsterdam
Open Archive: www.openarch.nl

Austrian Archives: www.archivnet.at

Ireland Archives:
Partial census from 1821 to 1851 and the 1901 and 1911 Census: www.census.nationalarchives.ie
Birth, Marriage and Death (church records): www.irishgenealogy.ie

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Holiday Traditions brought to America by Immigrants

Our December 18th meeting was a fun get together in which we enjoyed some European holiday treats while taking a look at American holiday traditions started by immigrants. The following is the handout for that meeting:
Most of what constitutes a “traditional” American Christmas was brought over to us by immigrants, beginning with the Germans. The Moravians and Protestant Germans were the first to do so in America in the 1700’s with a Christmas tree and gifts. By 1856, the practice of “Christmas trees” had become so commonplace in the United States that President Franklin Pierce erected one in the White House for the first time. 
During the 19th century, a torrent of German immigrants were streaming across the Atlantic and into New York. These immigrants brought with them more traditions that we associate with Christmas today, from songs (“Stille Nacht,” written in 1820 in Germany, and translated to english in 1859 as “Silent Night,” to the sending of Christmas cards, popularized by German immigrant Louis Prang who printed the first card with Christmas greetings on it in the U.S. in 1875.
The Germans would soon be displaced on the Lower East Side in New York by a flood of Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe, who would also contribute mightily to our common observances of Christmas — a holiday they did not themselves celebrate. 
If you’re dreaming of a White Christmas, you might thank Irving Berlin, who penned the famous song. Berlin, born in Russia in 1898 of Jewish parents, came to New York as a child and began a prolific songwriting career that generated many of the standards we still hum today, including “God Bless America” and “White Christmas.” 
Berlin was hardly the only Jewish songwriter to pen a Christmas classic: in fact, when the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers posted its list of the best 30 Christmas songs ever written in 2014, half of them (including seven of the top 10) had either a Jewish composer or lyricist. Another Russian emigrant, George Balanchine, would create one of our most cherished Christmas traditions, The Nutcracker ballet, in 1954.
The Dutch popularized the legend of St. Nicholas around this time, and Washington Irving introduced him to a more national audience. Through the imaginations of a few different writers and poets, St. Nicholas was slowly transformed into the jolly modern American Santa Claus with sleigh and reindeer.

Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first nativity scene in central Italy. Today, many churches and homes display a nativity scene during the holiday season.

The Answers are in the Details

Our November 27th meeting was about finding the answers you're seeking in the many details you've collected for an ancestor.  There's not always that "one" definitive record that provides you with the answer you're seeking. It's a matter of collecting each and every detail possible, and then using them to build a case of proof. 

All of us have run up against a brick wall in some way or another in our genealogy research. A brick wall provides us with an opportunity to enhance our research skills. It’s the time to dig deeper into Ancestry and Family Search OR search for information on other websites OR get out into the field to dig up clues the old-fashion way.

Following are 8 tips for finding information in the details of your research:

#1 - Review and study the details in the ‘actual image’ of a record. It’s quick and easy to look at the transcribed record to determine if it’s your ancestor, but there are many more details to be gleaned by looking at the actual record. Don’t be in a hurry! Look the record over well.

#2 - Add all the details you find to your ancestor’s page. Include even the mundane details that you don’t think are important such as: godparents, witnesses at a wedding, the names of all people listed on the census record living with your family such as a grandparent, nieces, nephews, a boarder that a daughter might eventually marry, etc.

#3 - Expand your tree out to include siblings and their spouses. By adding siblings you will eventually begin to find information about your own family through the families that they married into. This is a suggestion that most people will not do! Yet, it is one of the best way to collect more information about your own family and to create a larger picture of their lives.

#4 - Study other people’s family trees. Note, that I said “study” and not “copy” what other people have on their family tree. Lots of hints can be found on other’s trees and then you can research the information yourself, or file it away until you’ve collected more information that might substantiate or disprove it.

#5 - Seek outside help. Communicate with the individuals who share some of the same ancestors as you, as well as your DNA matches. You might look at their trees and think that they don’t have the information you’re seeking but keep in mind that people do not put all of their information on their trees. They might have one record or a small bit of history that helps connect the dots for you.

If you’re frustrated or don’t know how to interpret a new piece of information, bring it to our Genealogy Help Desk on Wednesdays between 10 and 2, or post it on a FaceBook Group page. A fresh set of eyes just might pick up on some small detail you’ve missed.

#6 - Learn how to search in the area where your ancestor is from. Google the Internet for a genealogy wiki page (generally a FamilySearch.org page) that will provide information on how to do genealogy research in a county, city, state or foreign country. The more you know about the records available, the more successful you will be.

#7 - Be open to a different family story. Too many people stick hard and fast to the stories that have been handed down through the generation. I’ve seen the records prove these stories wrong many, many times. There’s usually some grain of truth in the stories but the details and many of the big events are not fully accurate. Remember, people kept family secrets - - a secret!

#8 - And, most important - - Review, Review, Review. If you’ve listed all the small details you’ve discovered in your research on your ancestor’s page it will make it easy for you to continue to review it over and over again. Look at the individual details and then sit back and look at the ‘big picture.’ Does it all work together? Does it make sense? Is something out of place?

We’re all looking for that one record that will provide us with the one piece of evidence we’re seeking. In actuality, we might need to take the small details and build a case to find the answers we seek.

November 2018

The following is a case study of how I found the hometown of my ancestor in Alsace, France without actually finding a record that provided me with the name:

Case Study of the Search for Alois and Regina (Meyer) Walter’s town of origin in Alsace, France

Background: Alois (Aloysius) and Regina were a quiet, hardworking German farm family that arrived in New York in 1840, stayed briefly in Buffalo, NY and then settled in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. I searched high and low for a U.S. or Canadian record that listed the name of their town of origin in Alsace without success.

I feared I would not be able to find the “one” document that listed their town of origin, so I decided I would expand the family tree out to include all of their children and the families they married into. At least if I could not find their town of origin, I would write their history in Canada and eventually, the United States.

The Details leading to their hometown in Alsace, France

Detail #1 – Reviewed the Records & Documented the Details: I reviewed all of the records I had found on them looking for every little detail and added it to their ancestry page.

Detail #2 – Expanded the family lines of Alois & Regina’s children: When expanding their lines, I came across a lot of information on the Walter Family from books written by families they married into. A review of these family trees indicated they came from Eberbach-Seltz in Alsace, but there were no records listed proving this. I was reluctant to accept this without any substantiating documentation. I contacted some of the people and asked where they found this information. Unfortunately, they had copied it from another family tree. I never did find the tree they copied it from.

Detail #3 – Searched the Internet for other sources of information: While searching the Internet for any bit of information about this family, I came across an individual whose family history blog had the names of the cities his Alsatian ancestors originated from. We did not share any common ancestors, but I was interested to know how he had found the names of his ancestors’ towns of origin. I contacted him via email and he told me that the Alsace records for the Bas-Rhin area were online. He even located a birth, census and marriage record for Alois and Regina, from Eberbach-Seltz, for me. I was excited that this could be my family but without more proof I was hesitant to just accept it.

I looked at the Bas-Rhin, Alsace records website and discovered they were in French. I was able to use Google translate and view them in English but soon became frustrated with trying to figure out how the website worked, so I procrastinated on learning how to use it.

Detail #4 – Received an email from a distant relative: Two months ago, a distant relative, Mike Walter, discovered my tree and contacted me via Ancestry. He wanted to tell me that I have the wrong passenger list record for Alois. The one I found had him arriving in 1938. He sent me a copy of the record he found on EllisIsland.org for Alois & Regina Walter, as well as Regina’s brother Martin Meyer with an arrival date in New York, NY of January 1, 1840.

Detail #5 – Searched the Bas-Rhin Website: With this new information, I figured out how to search the Bas-Rhin website (www.archives.bas-rhim.fr) for the town of Eberbach-Seltz. I located Alois’ birth record and their marriage record dated Sunday, January 5, 1840. Now I had a new dilemma. The passenger ship record indicated an arrival date of January 1, 1840. The Bas-Rhin Archive indicated a marriage date of January 5, 1840.
Detail #6 – Reached out for help: Not knowing where to go from there, I posted my dilemma on the Facebook group page for “Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness” asking “how do I know which record is accurate?” One individual found the same record and the entire ship’s passenger list on the Ancestry website. It never showed up as a hint or in any searches for me because Alois’ (Aloysius, Aloys) name was listed backwards as being: Walter Aloys.

She flipped back through the pages to the first page of the passenger list and discovered that the three of them had arrived on June 18, 1840, and not the January 1, 1840 date as specified on the Ellis Island website. That dilemma was now resolved. They married January 5, 1840 in Alsace and arrived in New York harbor, five months later, on June 18, 1840.

Detail #7 – Searched the Bas-Rhin Website:  I continued to search through the Bas-Rhin website (www.archives.bas-rhim.fr) for the town of Eberbach-Seltz. As I browsed through the birth and marriage records, I started to recognize some familiar names that I had come across on other people’s Walter family trees: Arth, Stoltz, Meyer, Walter and Illig. My plan was to see if any of these or other Eberbach-Seltz families had traveled on the same ship with Alois and Regina, or had lived near them in Canada. The ‘illig’ name stood out because I remember it was such an unusual surname. At first, I thought it was an abbreviation for ‘illegitimate’ but realized that didn’t make sense. I knew the exact record I had seen that name on. It was the baptism record for Alois and Regina’s first born child Bernard born in Buffalo, NY shortly after their arrival. Upon reviewing that baptismal record, it was confirmed that Bernard Illig and Marguerite Lorentz were his sponsors.

I searched the Alsace records for them and found birth records for both of them. At this point, I was feeling very confident that both Alois and Regina were from Eberbach-Seltz. When I jotted down the names of the parents of Bernard Illig, I discovered that he and Alois’ mothers have the same surname. At this point, it is unknown to me if they are sisters or cousins.  These records also reflect that the families mentioned above have inter-married many times in Alsace. Bernard Illig also immigrated from Buffalo, NY to Ontario, Canada and lived in the same area as Alois and Regina.

The records also revealed that Alois & Regina are from the district (Arrondissement) of Wissenbourgh located in the town (Commune) of Eberbach-Seltz in the region (Department)of the Bas-Rhin (lower Rhine) area in Alsace, France.

Ending Note: Hopefully, this case study and the ‘eight tips handout’ will open your mind to the possibilities of ways you can find missing pieces of information in your own family tree. It NEVER occurred to me that I might be able to locate their home town by putting details together and asking strangers for help. Your unanswered questions might be different from mine but I do believe the same tips will be beneficial in any situation.

Using Google to Enhance your Genealogy Research

Our September 25th meeting was an introduction to:

Using Google to Enhance your Genealogy Research

Google has many features that a family genealogist can use to find genealogical records, assist with organization or enhance their family tree and history. Today, we’ll take a basic look at 7 of their top features.

#1 - Google Search Engine

We all know that Google has a powerful search engine. You can harness that power by knowing a few tips to maximize and streamline your results.

* Start by searching for information on “how-to” search for genealogy records in county, state or country.

Examples:        Ontario Canada genealogy records
                        Waterloo, Ontario, Canada genealogy records
                        How to search for genealogy records for Ontario, Canada
                        Genealogy records for Westmoreland, Pennsylvania
                        Bas-Rhin Alsace genealogy records

* Create some basic search phrases to help find information on your ancestors:

Examples:        Sebastian Phillips Family Tree
Alois & Regina Walter in Ontario in the late 1800’s
Walter Family Genealogy in Ontario 1840-1950
Alois Walter Family genealogy in Ontario
Alois Walter Alsace early 1800’s

If you’re not getting the results you want:

Tip #1 - Add the county where they lived.

For instance, instead of: Alois & Regina Walter in Ontario in the late 1800’s  
Change it to:                  Alois & Regina Walter in Waterloo Ontario Canada in the late 1800’s  

By adding the name of the county “waterloo” you will streamline the results to a specific area.

Tip #2 - Shift the order of the words.

For instance, instead of:          Genealogy records for the Bas-Rhin area of Alsace
Change it to:                           Bas-Rhin Alsace genealogy records

Tip #3 – To search a specific time period type your phrase like this:

Alois Walter in Waterloo Ontario Canada 1840..1915

Tip #4 – Search for ‘family genealogy or history’ blogs with these phrases:
Alois Walter family genealogy blog
Walter Family history blog
Alsace France genealogy blog

When you use the phrases listed above, with targeted or unique words such as “Alois” or “Ontario,  you can expect better results.

Note: There are many ‘genealogy’ blogs that provide educational benefits for all of us who are learning new tools and tips for researching our family trees. A brief list of some can be found on our webpage, or you can search for some in the towns, states and/or countries where your family research takes you.

Tip #5 – If you use quotation marks around your search phrase, the search will produce information with that exact phrase in its contents. For instance, if I Googled for “Alois & Regina Walter” then the search results will only produce websites, blogs or documents with that exact phrase in it.

Tip #6 – If you find a particular website or blog that contains information relevant to your family history, you can find more relevant websites by using the following phrases in the Google search engine box:


For a definition of a word, or in this case an occupation, enter the following phrase:

Examples of other types of search phrases:

Look for specific records - If you know your family’s religion, you can search for churches in the area where they lived in hopes of finding records that aren’t on Ancestry.com. A typical search phrase might be: Catholic Churches in Alpena Michigan in the late 1800’s

Broaden your search  - The search phrase - Tanguay families in Michigan early 1900’s – found a lot of old message boards. While these boards aren’t in use that much these days, the information contained in the string of messages can prove quite helpful.

Additional suggestions for creating ‘search phrases’

*      Keep your search phrases simple, use focused key words
*      Tweak your search phrases by eliminating words or rephrasing them
*      No results? Get creative and use your imagination when creating a search phrase
#2 - Images

After looking at the website results that your search produced, click on ‘Images” on the Google Toolbar. Some helpful information under ‘Images’ might be:

1.      Photos of your ancestors, their cities of origin or residence, maps of towns, states and countries where your ancestors lived.
2.      Drawings (i.e. a sketch of the old European city that your ancestor hailed from)
3.      Old Postcards of the town your ancestor emigrated from or lived in within the U.S.
4.      Clip Art to use when writing your family history or your family tree (i.e. I use flags of countries my ancestor immigrated from in my Ancestry.com tree)

#3 - Google Books

There are 3 types of books under the Google Books section:

1 – Public domain books show full text and are downloadable to a PDF file
2 – Out-of-copyright books show a preview and some full text
3 – Copyrighted books sometimes show partial text. It might be enough to know if it warrants making a trip to your local genealogy library in search of the book or purchasing a copy online.

To locate information in a book about your pioneer ancestor, search for county, town and state histories of the area where your ancestor lived. Even if your ancestor wasn’t a pioneer ancestor,  his or her name might be mentioned in another book, such as a centennial book of a town.

#4 - Google Alerts

Google provides you the ability to set up an ‘alert’ of names or phrases of information you’re interested in. When a new item is posted online that contains the name or phrase of your choice, Google will send you an email of that item. This allows you to keep current with new information that might help in your genealogy research.

1 - To set up a Google Alert, sign into your Google account or go to ‘http://www.google.com/alerts’

Type in the names of your ancestors and/or a search phrase such as:
            “Alois * Walter”   
    “Alois * Walter” Waterloo “Ontario” 1840..1914

*      The ‘quotation marks’ for Alois Walter or Ontario will produce results that have these three words in them.
*      The asterisk * will produce results with a middle initial or without a middle initial.
*      The ‘1840..1893’ will produce results for anything with a time period between 1840 and 1893.

2 - Click the ‘Show Options’ box to select certain variables for your search.

3 - Click the ‘Create Alert’ button to finalize your Google alert.

Additional suggestions for ‘Google Alerts’ –
*      Google Alerts can always be edited or terminated
*      Establish an alert for each of your surnames

“Cooke” “Waterloo Ontario” 1840..1893
“Cooke” “Wilmot Ontario” 1840..1893

#5 - Gmail

Use your current Gmail account as a filing system for any emails you send or receive regarding your genealogy inquiries or communications. Simply, create a label for each surname that you’re researching. File all pertinent emails in your labeled files.

Use the ‘search feature’ in Gmail to quickly find a past correspondence that you’ve filed away.

#6 - Google Translate

Google offers a service that will translate a document or a webpage for the reader. To translate a document just enter “Google translate” in the Google search engine box. Two text boxes will be provided and you will be able to choose which language you want to translate from and to. Either type in the information in a foreign language or cut and paste it into the first text box. Google will automatically translate the foreign words for you.

To translate a website into English, such as the www.Bas-rhin.fr website (which is the French archives for the Bas-Rhin area of Alsace, France), simply click on the two boxes located on the far right of the search engine box area where the web address is shown (one box is black with a ‘G’ in it, while the other box is white with an ‘R’ in it) and select ‘translate.’ The webpage will automatically translate to English and you’ll be able to maneuver around it in search of records.

#7 - YouTube

Yes, YouTube is not only owned by Google, but it’s a GREAT resource for locating “how-to” videos on everything related to genealogy. When you get stuck in your genealogy research, it’s important to enhance your knowledge on how to search for records in specific states or countries. YouTube videos are a great way to learn more. You’ll find videos on a number of genealogy topics: DNA, chain migration, finding female surnames, courthouse records, searching oversees, etc. The list is endless, and the more you know the more successful your research will be!

Genealogical Record Sources 'Evaluating Primary & Secondary Sources'

Group member Chris Bailey kindly agreed to speak at our August meeting and share his 52 years of genealogy research experience. The following is the handout that Chris wrote and shared:

               Genealogical Record Sources

Some Tips & Oddities I’ve Found in 52 Years of Research
By Chris Bailey

Primary sources or data is information which was given by the person himself, or herself or a patent and near the time of an event. A good example is the name of parents as recorded when a person applied for a marriage license.
Secondary sources are those of a second or third-hand nature or given by the person in question at a time far removed from the event. Old handwritten family histories are usually secondary sources.

         Note: Family traditions rarely have more than a fragment of truth, if any. Some records contain both primary and secondary information. For example, a death certification has primary data for the death date, death place, burial place and cause of death, but the birth date, birthplace, names of parents of the deceased is secondary and may be inaccurate, depending on the informant's knowledge. Following are the types of records one will encounter in searching their ancestors:

         Census recordsCensus records are extremely important to trace the movements, occupations, names and nativity of individuals, but they must be used with some caution. Their accuracy depends on who gave the information, how accurate their knowledge was, and how carefully the census taker recorded the data on his worksheets and transcribed it onto his final record. Also realize that some census takers were poor spellers and may have recorded names as he heard them. Be aware that some people never had an accurate record of their birth or birth place and never knew exactly how old they were. For this reason you will often find inconsistencies in birth dates given in census and death records. Also, if a family was not at home when the census taker arrived, the data on the family may have been given by a neighbor. How accurately could you give the names, ages and birth places of your neighbors and their children? Census records have limited value from the first federal census in 1790 to 1840 as only the head of household was named and other household residents were unnamed and indicated only by sex and age group.
         Census records 1850 and after became more valuable that those taken 1790-1840 in tracing ancestors, as all household residents were listed, however, from 1850 to 1870 no actual relationships were noted, so relatives and non-relatives may be living in a household. Finally the 1880 census added relationships to the head of the household as well as the birth place of the parents of each individual.
                        The 1900 census is particularly important as it gave not only the age, but also the month and year the person was born. However, this compiler has found that people’s year of birth was often incorrect by one or more years. In most instances when comparing several census enumerations, the earliest one often is the more accurate. If a child was enumerated as two years of age when the census was taken on June 1, 1850, but claims in the 1900 census that he or she was age 50 and born in November, 1849, one can be certain that child was in fact born in November, 1847, not November, 1849. The 1900 census is also important as it asks for the number of years a couple had been married and the number of children a woman has had and how many of those were still living – often indicating unknown children who had died young and not recorded in other records. The 1910 census asks this same important data, but additionally tells how many marriages the husband and the wife have had, often indicating unknown previous marriages. Of course, keep in mind that people are not always honest about this, particularly if they were divorced and wanted to forget about an unhappy marriage or had not told their later spouse. The 1930 census has an oddity in that it asks the person’s age the first time they were married. This can also indicate an earlier marriage.

         Birth CertificatesData on birth certificates is usually accurate as to birth date, birth place and the names of parents as a parent, grandparent or close relative usually supplied the data. However, doctors often recorded this data on forms they eventually registered at a vital records office, so errors or omissions can be made. Birth certificates may also tell the number of birth of the mother and how many are still living. Except in New England, birth records do not start to be kept, or kept consistently, until the latter part of the 19th century.

         Marriage Certificates, Licenses or BondsThe data on these are usually correct as to date and place. If the names of parents are given it is usually reliable as the parties being married normally supplied the data. Be aware that dates given in marriage licenses or bonds are usually not the actual date of marriage. Marriages often occurred the same day, but may be days or weeks after a bond or license was issued. Sometimes the certificates asked if the parties have been married before and are widowed or divorced. Again, divorces are not always admitted to. Marrying parties under age, usually 21 for men and 18 for women, were generally required to have consent of a parent to obtain a license. Ages were often recorded on the marriage license and sometimes the actual date and place, but it will be found that some parties lied about their ages when one or both were under age. In most states marriages were kept by a county recorder and began to be recorded about the time a county was formed. Sadly, in Pennsylvania, New York and some other states, marriage records were not commenced until the latter part of the 19th century making maiden names of wives difficult to prove.

         Tombstones The accuracy of these depends on whether or not the stone was erected near the time of death (many were not) and the correct knowledge of the person giving the data to the stone cutter. Birth dates or ages on tombstones are often hearsay and less likely to be accurate. Errors are occasionally made by the stone cutter and may not have been corrected because of cost. Often when a husband or wife died, a tombstone was erected, but the surviving spouse lived a number of years longer and perhaps with children. By the time the remaining spouse died, there was no money left for a tombstone and none was erected. Children may have intended to erect a stone, but it never got done. In some instances a tombstone was erected long after the party or parties were dead. In those instances one must verify even the death dates for correctness. Another great problem with tombstones is that the elements (particularly acid rain) wear the inscriptions or they have been damaged, sometimes to the point of being illegible. Errors can be easily made in transcribing them and printed books of tombstone inscriptions and even data on findagrave.com often contains errors.

         Probate, Estate, Guardianship, Court recordsThese legal records are extremely important and are usually accurate for relationships and the other data they may contain. Many of these records, if extant, are available only in court houses although some are now being digitized and available on Ancestry.com or the LDS Family Search websites.

         Land Records – Records of the transfer of land from one party to another can give proof, clues, or evidence to relationships, particularly when there is no will and the deceased owned property which must be either passed to, or sold, for the benefit of heirs. In some instances land may be passed to children without deeds and can pass by inheritance for several generations, but when finally sold outside of the family, land transfer deeds are required. If your ancestor sold land and there is no record of him buying the land or acquiring it from the government, he probably received it by inheritance.

         Church recordsChurch records are usually accurate if events (christening, marriage, burial) were recorded. Church records were kept well by some denominations (Catholics, Quakers) and poorly by others (Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians), though there are exceptions. Many denominations do not have centralized repositories for their records, so are often difficult to find, if they survive or were ever kept.

         Military recordsMilitary draft registrations, service records and pension records often contain valuable primary data about an ancestor. U. S. Pension records, in particular, may contain detailed family data and personal information not found elsewhere. Abstracts of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 pensions are available in book form. Unfortunately, because of the volume of Civil War pensions, these are not available except at the National Archives. You go to Washington, DC and search the original records or order copies through the mail. Sadly, the price has gone from $7 a record when I was first doing research to $75 a record now.

         Bible recordsUnless births, marriages and deaths were recorded in a bible near to the time of the event, they are a secondary source. Many bible records were recorded years after the events when memories had faded. However, prior to 1900 a bible was often the only record persons had of their birth date. Bibles may also be the only record of complete births, marriages and deaths of early family members. However, since bible records may have been recorded from memory years after an event, if dates in a bible conflict with dates from primary sources, the latter should be used.

Newspaper obituariesThough valuable and informative, data in them must be used carefully and are only as accurate as the knowledge of the person who related and recorded the data. Death and burial information is usually accurate, but birth data and listings of relatives may contain errors or omissions.

         Printed genealogiesCompiled genealogies vary greatly in value and correctness. If they are not well documented, which is often the case with many poorly researched genealogies of the early 20th century, they should be used with caution and considered secondary sources. Data taken from compiled genealogies usually need to be verified with primary sources.

         Internet Sources – In recent years many of the above sources have become available on internet sites. Here are some of the popular sites:

Family Searchwww.familysearch.org. This important site is the Latter-day Saint’s Family History site and particularly valuable for their historical records collection. You have to register and chose a password, but this site is FREE! Worldwide records are available. The U. S. section of this collection is arranged by states and birth, marriage and death records are often given for certain time periods for most states. Although many records are abstracted from records by volunteers (thus errors do occur), in many cases the original record has been digitized and one can view the document for additional data and accuracy. Other areas of this site have family group records compiled by individuals and should be used with caution. This site also has the card catalog of items in the LDS genealogical library in Salt Lake City. Their microfilms have many original records and some have been digitized and available on the site or at an LDS branch library.

Ancestrywww.Ancestry.com is a very important site for U. S. and worldwide records. This site is not free and subscriptions can get costly. One does not have to purchase a worldwide subscription if you are interested only in U. S. records. Monthly or annual subscriptions are available. In spite of cost, it is much less expensive than traveling to record repositories. For U. S. records many state birth, baptism, marriage, divorce and death records have been indexed. In some instances the original record can be viewed. Some newspaper obituaries have been abstracted and digital images can be seen for some, but often the websites which originally posted them no longer have them available. Some land, court, probate, and tax records, and city directories, are available. Important collections include all indexed U. S. census records, military draft, enlistment and service records, and immigration records. One plus of this site is that their computers search many indexed records and try to match up records of persons. However, one must be very cautious as it may match a person with a same or similar name and birth date and place, but they may not be the same person. A plus and negative of this site is the many family trees that are listed. They can be very helpful if the researcher who compiled the records was careful and correct – and many are not. They should be used as a guide to be confirmed by more research. Often few sources are listed and it is obvious that many people copy other’s research with no checking of original sources, thus erroneous data is often copied over and over.

Find A Grave - www.findagrave.com has become a very important site for U. S. and some foreign tombstones and burial records. This site is being added onto daily and many monuments have photographs. Often newspaper obituaries or other family data has been added to the site, but remember these are secondary sources and should be double-checked. Death dates on tombstones are usually correct, but birth dates and ages may be in error as those who erected the stones (sometimes years later) may not have known the correct data. If the tombstone is pictured on the site, check it to make sure it was copied correctly as copying errors are found. It is my personal belief that a person should not be entered on this website if there is no tombstone or burial record, but occasionally data has been entered when someone who thinks their ancestor was buried there, but probably has no proof. Note: Many cemeteries were not located within town boundaries, but in rural areas. Locations listed for rural cemeteries found on www.findagrave.com five the a close town near the cemetery, but not rural or township location. Exact locations can often be found on the internet. It is also noted that many burying grounds have changed their name in recent years from “Cemetery” to a more flowery name – “Memorial Park”. 

Historical Newspapers – There are a few sites for historical U. S. newspapers are available, but almost all charge a fee. There are few 18th century newspapers and many are late 19th or 20th century papers. Some of these newspapers are indexed by optical scanning which is sometimes very poor. However, if you want to pay the price of subscription you may find an obituary or some other information about an ancestor. Some newspapers have been digitized and indexed, such as the Brooklyn Eagle or a series of Western New York newspapers, so it is good to check the internet.

Other Websites - There are other websites that can be found on the internet. Some have data submitted by individuals and may not have been well researched. These have little value. Others offer you a free searches, but then try to charge you for copies of birth, marriage, death certificates or other data. Your research may incur some costs, but try to use your funds wisely.  



         Surnames: Keep in mind that the general population adopted surnames in the 15th century. Except for ancient some Royal lineages (many of which are probably phony), you are not likely to trace an ancestral surname earlier than the late 1400s or early 1500s, at best.
         Given names: You will find instances during your research when persons switched their given and middle names if they preferred the latter. In some instances they even adopted a different name or nickname. Generally the earliest record of a name was the name the person was originally given by the parents. People often switch their given and middle names or adopt nicknames during their lives.


         In the 19th century and earlier, infant mortality was a serious issue and as many as 20% of infants died at birth or in their very early years. The mortality of young mothers was also very high, explaining why you will find some of your ancestors had multiple wives. Occasionally an indication can be for young, named or unnamed, children before the days of birth registrations through census or other records such as a bible record or tombstone inscription. In many instances, however, there is no existing record for infant children. Children are often born about two years apart, so if one finds family with children whose births are widely spread apart, there were likely infant children who were born and died between them.
         Widowed husbands often remarried very quickly if they he very small children as it was extremely difficult to be a single parent and take care of young children. Widows often remarried and occasionally the later husband would refuse to support another man’s child. In both cases some or all of the children might be relatives of adopted out.
         Due to a high percentage of infant deaths and deaths of wives in childbirth before the 20th century, statistics claiming the average age of our ancestors was only in the 40s are misleading. If a woman survived child bearing years and a man did not die of a vocational accident, they often lived into their 60s, 70s or older.


         Some birth dates are calculated from tombstones which do not give the birth date, but do give the death date and the age of the deceased in years, months and days. If you don’t want to struggle calculating the birth date yourself, put “calculate birth from age at death” in Google and a program will appear which will calculate it for you. In some instances the day of death was counted as a day, in other instances the day of death was not counted. Since we cannot know which method was used, presuming the age was correct, a calculated birth date may be off by one day. Calculate birth dates only when no better record of birth can be found for an individual as many older people did not know their exact age and birth date. Also note that some tombstones were erected many years after a person died, so the birth dates, ages (and even, occasionally, the death dates) given on tombstones may be incorrect.


                        Birth places: Prior to the 20th century, many people did not know their actual birth place. Often they claimed a place of birth where they remembered living as a child, but it may not have been where they were born. Many families lived on farms, not in towns and may claim (as some do today) their birth place was a town or city close to their actual rural birth place. Be specific - list actual birth places, including township and county, if they were not born in a village or city.
         Marriage places: Towns, counties and states are listed for marriage places when records were found. If the marriage record did not state the actual town of marriage, only the county and state should be recorded.
         Death places: Some people incorrectly assume that a person died in the town in which they lived, but this is not often the case. Many people died in the homes of one of their children or siblings or in a hospital or nursing home in another town other than their home town. A record, such as a death certificate will probably indicate the actual death place. Some statewide death indexes, such as those for California and Oregon, list the county of death, but rarely the actual town.
         Note: The Social Security Index does NOT list actual death places, but instead lists the last town in which a deceased resided, which may or may not be the death place, and also lists the place the Social Security death benefit was sent which may be that of a surviving spouse, a child or a relative.


         Not unlike today, many of our ancestors and relatives had multiple marriages during their lives. In some instances there are available divorce records or a record, such as a census, which indicated an individual was divorced. One will find that some divorcees, even living persons, try to disclaim an unhappy marriage.
         In instances where a person remarried and records were found indicating an earlier spouse later remarried or was not deceased, a divorce was assumed. In some states, if a spouse abandoned a partner, after a certain period of time (often 8 years), the marriage was considered null even if no legal divorce was ever filed and granted. Those persons were legally allowed to remarry.

         Footnotes should be used for two main purposes - (1) comments, cautions or explanations by the compiler about the person or data, and (2) detailed references and information about your sources.
         We probably all wish our relatives were prominent, wealthy or even Royalty, but in reality most were poor tenant farmers who may not have even owned land. If so, they may have left meager records of their existence and often no estate and no probate documents.

         Data on living families can be included in your research if: (1) information was sent by a close family member, or (2) data was found in public records posted on the internet, thus is public domain.
         Finding information on modern families is often more difficult than finding data on 19th century families. Many post-1940 records are not publicly available, so in many instances marriages, divorces, re-marriages, as well as births, or deaths, of your family members that have taken place in the last 50 to 75 years may need to be updated and verified by YOU.