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5 Things to Do Before the NGS Family History Conference

Thursday April 24, 2014

I'm excited to be attending the 2014 National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference next month in Richmond, Virginia. It's hard to believe it is less than two weeks away! For those of you who will also be attending, I've highlighted a few tools to help you plan and make the most of your experience:

1) The 2014 NGS Conference Syllabus is now available online for registered attendees. I encourage you to browse through it now so you can start thinking about which sessions you most want to attend, and either print pages for the sessions you wish to attend, or download a copy to your tablet, computer or other device if you desire. To view and download the syllabus, log in to the NGS website at NGS 2014 Conference Syllabus. Please allow up to 10 minutes for the download to complete as the file is very large. Attendees will also receive a digital copy of the syllabus on a thumbdrive at conference check in. You can prepare for the conference before you leave home by viewing and printing syllabi for the sessions you would like to attend. If you're bringing a tablet, then you may want to download the syllabus there while still at home with access to fast wifi.


Searching the New FindMyPast

Tuesday April 22, 2014

Count me among the thousands of frustrated users of subscription genealogy website, FindMyPast, who woke up one day last month to find their search experience turned upside down. For those of you who were already using FindMyPast.com, this probably hasn't been a blip on your radar as the search features on the US .com site have been in place for over a year. However, those of us who preferred the search features of the original UK version of the site have some serious changes to get used to. Here are a few resources to get you started:

FindMyPast Responds to Website Criticism - An informative Q&A from Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine published on 8 April 2014.

ReviewCentre.com: FindMyPast.co.uk - Upset reviews from customers, some valid and some just griping. But if you want to learn more about what the fuss is all about...

How to Search FindMyPast - This recent blog post from FindMyPast provides some basic tips for navigating their new search features. The goal of the new interface seems to be to make it easier to search across multiple record sets, but also seems to cause additional scrolling and refining if you (like me) generally prefer to search within a particular record set or location.

My suggestion would be to always begin a search by selecting a particular record set from the "Search" tab at the top of each page (e.g. Birth, Marriage, Death & Parish Records), or use the "A-Z of record sets" link to search a particular collection (this will take you to the most detailed search form specific to that record set so you don't have to wade through so many irrelevant results). On the A-Z page, first select your country/region of interest, and then use the search box to narrow to the specific type of record you are looking for. For example, selecting "United Kingdom" and then entering "marriage" in the search box, brings up this list of Marriage Records. Alternatively, you can rank the complete list by category and sub-category.

FindMyPast: What's New -- Keep up with all of the search features and tree features as they are added, including some of the search options that were previously available on the UK site and are now being added to the new search (such as the ability to filter UK census search results by gender).

A Handy Video Guide to FindMyPast's New Features - There are still a lot of search features missing for long dedicated users, but if you are only an occasional user of FindMyPast this video will help you become familiar with their new search features.

Findmypast's new site - mismanaged or misunderstood? - Peter Calver shares some great FindMyPast search suggestions in his Lost Cousins newsletter.

The new search does represent a few improvements. There is the option to search census records with a combination of different fields such as occupation and relationship to the head of househhold, for example, but other features are still in "refinement" mode such as the popular ability to search by street address. While they may not have handled the new search rollout as well as they could have, FindMyPast seems to be responding to user suggestions and making changes.

Did You Turn the Page?

Tuesday April 15, 2014

You've found your ancestor's name in an online database, and better yet you can even view the actual digitized record, possibly packed with more details than you were hoping to discover. It's so easy to stop right there and celebrate! Yet, no matter where you find that "ah ha!" clue to your ancestor, take a deep breath and calm yourself down long enough to turn the page. Browse the index at the back of the book. Turn over that marriage record and look at the back. Click the "previous" and "next" buttons to view additional pages in an online record collection. Flip to the beginning and end of the record set to learn more about the records, or view addendums.

Just because your answer isn't found in alphabetical or chronological order doesn't mean it's not there. And finding an answer doesn't mean there isn't even more to see. Here are just a few of many, many examples where turning the page, whether physically or virtually, may yield additional information on your ancestors. Read More...

Researching French-Canadian Ancestors

Tuesday April 15, 2014

Even if you can't read French, tracing French-Canadian and Acadian ancestors can be easier than many people expect due to the excellent record keeping of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada and the remarkable level of French-Canadian records preservation. Generally, all you need to begin a search are the names of the couple married in Quebec, or the Maritime Provinces of Canada (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island), and parts of Maine (U.S.), and an approximate marriage date. From there you can often extend the family line back many generations, in some cases to the village or parish of origin in France. It's also not uncommon to find ancestors in the border states such as Vermont and New Hampshire living in the United States, but marrying or baptizing children in Canada...or just moving back and forth across the border.
Researching French-Canadian Ancestors

Using DNA to Solve Adoption Mysteries

Tuesday April 1, 2014

DNA adoption. Photo by Getty Images/Cultura/Liam NorrisStories of DNA being used to help solve an adoption mystery have been in the news quite a bit in recent months, inspiring many adoptees to look into using DNA as a tool in their adoption search. Case in point, a recent article by Erin Alberty in the Salt Lake City Tribune tells the heartwarming story of two parents and the son they gave away for adoption almost 50 years ago recently reuniting because they both happened to have their DNA tested with AncestryDNA. Ken Drake took the test out of curiosity about his ethnicity, while Richard Larsen, the biological uncle of Ken Drake, received the test as a Christmas present from one of his daughters. Both families were surprised but excited when the DNA test turned up a "close match" between the two men.

Now before you adoptees out there get your hopes up, most DNA searches aren't quite this easy. As a matter of fact, this wasn't exactly a search at all --- more luck than anything. However, some of you will get lucky and may find a close biological family member has also tested. The rest of you still have hope as well, as genetic genealogists and adoption groups have worked hard to formulate tools and methodologies for using DNA to help connect adoptees with their birth families. It can be an interesting, but emotional ride, and you may find you happen to match some genealogists out there who--like me--don't mind taking out a few hours to investigate our shared matches and what that might tell you about your biological family. If you don't have the time or interest in learning how to use the technology yourself, you can hire a genetic genealogy expert who specializes in this type of research.

All of those who are not adopted benefit as well, as these same methodologies and tools can be applied to any number of our own tough genealogical mysteries...

Learn how in Using DNA in Your Adoption Search.

Exploring Sanborn & Other Fire Insurance Maps Online

Monday March 31, 2014

Noblestown, PA, Train Depot, c. 1908Fire insurance maps, produced by Sanborn® and a number of other companies, are large-scale historical city/town maps that document the size and shape of buildings, locations of windows and doors, and construction materials, as well as street names, and property boundaries. Dating back to the mid-1800's, fire insurance maps were originally created to assist fire insurance agents in assessing potential fire risk, and setting insurance premiums, therefore they also include details such as the direction of prevailing winds, fire department locations and equipment, and the location of fire hydrants and other water supplies.

While big cities were a large target for fire insurance plans, small towns were mapped more frequently than you might expect. In many cases, fire insurance maps document structures and even towns that no longer exist. The small village of Noblestown, Pennsylvania, falls into this category.Downham Real Photo Post Card RPPC, c. 1908 The location where this small community once bustled around booming oil wells and coal mines is now occupied by forest, a few homes and churches, and the trail head on Mill Street where I often begin bike rides on my local rail trail--a crushed limestone trail that follows the path of the former Panhandle Division--Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago (P.C.C.) & St Louis--of the Pennsylvania Railroad.  If not for old maps, histories, and photographs like the one depicted here, I would never know that a railroad station, two hotels, several general and feed stores, and multiple railroad tracks existed in the spot less than a century ago. Read More...

Timeline of Major U.S. Immigration & Citizenship Laws

Monday March 31, 2014

From the Naturalization Act of 1790 through the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, a large number of laws placed restrictions on naturalization and immigration in and to the United States. A knowledge of the laws that regulated immigration and citizenship is important for understanding the conditions under which your ancestors may have been granted or lost their citizenship, or records which may have been created based on their alien or citizenship status.

This Timeline of Major U.S. Immigration & Citizenship Laws is not exhaustive, and does not include all acts that temporarily extended the provisions of earlier acts, or affected a small segment of the population.

Related Content:
Timeline of Major U.S. Public Land Acts
United States Statutes at Large: A Researcher's Guide


The Second (or Third or...) Wife

Monday March 31, 2014

One of my favorite female ancestors, Henrietta Meares, left little behind to mark her time on this earth. She was the second of three wives of Mack Crisp in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, but only for a short time. Henrietta died of typhoid fever at the tender age of 24, along with a new infant child, only a few short years after her marriage. She left behind two children, born before vital records were enacted in North Carolina, along with several step-children from Mack's previous marriage. She wasn't really married long enough to end up mentioned in land and court records. Her tombstone only reads "Henrietta, wife of M. M. Crisp."

Despite few records, Henrietta was easy to identify as a second wife. I was lucky in that regard. I had her first name (although not her maiden name) from my great grandmother (her daughter). She married in 1897 and the county has a record of that marriage. She died in 1901 so she appears with her husband, daughter, and step-children in the 1900 U.S. federal census. She is buried in the Crisp family cemetery among other Crisp family members, although her husband is buried elsewhere - and her tombstone gives her dates of birth and death.

Whenever you uncover a wife's name in your research, it is prudent to question whether she was the only wife - not all are as easy to identify and document as Henrietta. The wife that you have discovered may or may not be the mother of any or all of your ancestor's children. This is especially true in the time before census records listed family members by name, or identified family relationships.

Census records, especially, are full of clues to a potential second (or third) marriage: Read More...

French Actes d'Etat Civil — How to Find & Use Them Online

Monday March 31, 2014

Civil registration of births, deaths, and marriages in France began in 1792. Because these records cover the entire population, are easily accessible and indexed, and include people of all denominations, they are a vital resource for French genealogy research. The information presented varies by locality and time period, but often includes the individual's date and place of birth and the names of the parents and/or spouse.

One additional bonus of French civil records, is that birth records often include what is known as "margin entries," which can lead to additional records. From 1897, these margin entries will often include marriage information (date and location). Divorces are generally noted from 1939, deaths from 1945, and legal separations from 1958.

The best part of French civil registration records in my opinion, however, is that so many of them are now available online. Records of civil registration are typically held in registries in local mairie (town hall), with copies deposited each year with the local magistrate's court. Records over 100 years old are placed in the Archives Départementales (series E) and are available for public consultation. It is possible to obtain access to the more recent records, but they are not usually not available online due to privacy restrictions, and you will generally be required to prove, through the use of birth certificates, your direct descent from the person in question. Many Departmental Archives have placed portions of their holdings online, often beginning with the actes d'etat civils. Unfortunately, online access to the indexes and digital images has been restricted to 120 years by the Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés (CNIL).

So how to find and access them?

Finding Female Ancestors in the Newspaper

Tuesday March 25, 2014

<i>The Indiana Gazette</i>, Indiana, Pennsylvania, 27 June 1940, page 13, col. 2It isn't a notice of birth, death, or marriage, but this brief newspaper notice under the heading "Miscellaneous" includes the maiden names of two Pennsylvania women from personal notices posted by their respective "abandoned" husbands--Effie Adamson Burkett, wife of James Burkett, and Annie Holmes Shultz, wife of W. R. Shultz.1 And this is just one of many great examples of the types of information we can learn about our female ancestors in old newspaper notices. Search for them in society columns, school and church news, lists of letters left at the post office, and in just about every other area of the newspaper. Their maiden name might be gleaned from Read More...

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