Technology makes it fun these days to compare maps of the past with their modern-day equivalents to learn just where the nearest cemetery or church may have been or why your ancestors went to the next county to record their family's deeds and vital events. Historical overlay maps, which have been available for Google Maps and Google Earth since 2006, make this type of cartographic research very fun and easy. The premise behind a historic overlay map is that it can be layered directly on top of current road maps and/or satellite images. By adjusting the transparency of the historic maps, you can "see through" to the modern-day map behind to compare the similarities and differences between old and new maps, and study the changes in your selected location over time. A great tool for genealogists!
Hundreds, and more likely thousands, of organizations, developers, and even individuals like you and me have created historic overlap maps for the online tool Google Maps (nice for people who don't want to download the Google Earth software). 120 historical maps from the David Rumsey Map Collection, for example, were integrated into Google Maps last year. Additional historic map overlays you might want to explore include North Carolina Historic Overlay Maps, Scotland Historical Map Overlays, Henry Hudson 400, Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network, and Singapore Historical Maps - This isn't an overlay, but combines a map with historic photos of Singapore places in an interesting way.
If you really love these historic overlay maps, you may want to download the free Google Earth software. There are many more historic map overlays available through Google Earth, than through Google Maps, including many posted directly by Google. You can find the historical maps in the sidebar section titled "layers. Here are some tips to help you get started working with historic overlay maps.
The online photo management and sharing application Flickr hosts a wide variety of historic photo collections contributed by library, archive and historical society collections. Most of these institutions are continually adding collections, and welcome your contribution of names, descriptions, locations, and tags to help increase the usability and access of the photographs. Just make sure you have some time to spare--these collections could keep you busy browsing for hours!
HathiTrust Digital Library, one of my favorite sources for digitized historical books, is also a great source for historical county atlases and other sources of historic landowner maps. A simple search for county atlas, for example, returns thousands of full-text results, including this 1914 Atlas of Wexford County, Michigan. You can also search by location and name of publisher, such as F. W. Beers, a popular map publisher of the mid to late 19th century, known for creating state and county atlases and maps of much of the northeastern United States.
Or use Google to search Internet Archive by restricting your search to return results only from that website. For some reason it often works better than searching the site directly! Try a search such as site:archive.org "county atlas" plus the name of your state or county of interest and see what turns up (the site:archive.org part of the search tells Google to return results only from that website). Without a locality name, my search returned over 2,800 results (I'm sure some were probably not relevant) from both the U.S. and Canada.
Google Books and FamilySearch Books have historical landowner maps as well. See what you can find!
Since Google deprecated their Google News Archive a few years ago, many genealogists have forgotten about this valuable resource. The great search features are gone, and Google is no longer digitizing and adding new newspaper content. Google News Archive is still a wonderful resource, however, with digitized historical newspaper pages from hundreds of various newspaper titles from around the world including such titles as The Montreal Gazette, The Sydney Morning Herald, St. Petersburg Times and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But old newspaper print is not very conducive to OCR (Optical Character Recognition), and in my opinion Google didn't do as good a job with the digitization to text as some of the other online newspaper archives. Small print, such as is often found in Death Notices and similar columns, is very often not recognized at all, so a search for those names will come up empty. I've also encountered a number of pages that were scanned in "sideways" (landscape format) which apparently caused the text on those pages to not be recognized at all by OCR. Google has also removed the separate News Archive search, so the only way to search these newspapers at all is through Google Web search, which is nowhere near as effective as the old search used to be.
What does this mean for individuals searching for bits of their family history in Google News Archive? The only way you're going to find it all is to browse every page of every edition (and even then, all editions might not be included...or are lumped together under a single date). Since that's not very practical, the next best thing is to Read More...
Civil War pension records offer a rich source of details for anyone researching U.S. Civil War soldiers and their wives. Unlike Union pensions which were awarded by the U.S. government, Confederate pension records were issued by the states in which the veteran lived at the time of his application. Some states only offered pensions to maimed (lost a limb), wounded or indigent soldiers, while others eventually extended pension rights to veterans' widows as well. Some states did eventually open up pensions to all Confederate veterans for old age, etc. I wonder how many Confederate veterans may have moved to a nearby state for better pension benefits?
In 1958, the U.S. government opened up federal pensions to surviving Confederate veterans and their widows even though they or their husbands had fought against the government. Given that this was almost 100 years after the start of the Civil War, more people took advantage of this mostly symbolic gesture than you might think; two Confederate veterans and more than one thousand Confederate widows were added to the federal Civil War pension rolls in 1958.1
Many southern states have indexes to the Confederate pensions available online, and some Read More...
Most of us can't claim notorious criminals such as John Dillinger, Al Capone or Bonnie & Clyde in our family tree, but our ancestors may have been convicted and imprisoned for hundreds of lesser reasons just the same. State and federal penitentiaries and prisons, state archives and other repositories have put a wealth of records and databases online that may put you hot on your ancestor's trail. These online indices often include extra details from descriptions of the offense, to the inmate's place and year of birth. Mug shots, interviews and other interesting records may also be found in these databases of Historic U.S. Prison Records Online or Researching Criminal Ancestors in Britain.
While having these prison and inmate databases available online is a great starting point, most of the records beg that you dig further Read More...
Genealogy records and documents are easy to find online, but it is not uncommon for genealogists to overlook unknown resources in favor of sites they use on a regular basis. Even if you keep good notes and try to stay on top of new sites and databases, there are new resources coming online every day -- and not all of them are advertised to the genealogical community (every few weeks I seem to find a new U.S. county has put its current and sometimes historic deed records online). This is why your search for ancestors should always include a review of known resources and a search for new ones (i.e. explore the website for each of the suggestions on this list!).
Many findmypast customers in the UK are still very upset over the company's recent switch from its prior version of the UK site to a new web platform, which has completely turned the site's search functionality and ability to access certain records upside down.
findmypast's customer feedback forum has received thousands of comments, complaints, and suggestions over the past few weeks, and the company responded this past week by removing certain suggestions such as "Improve Communication with Your Customers" and placing the forum on moderator status. At least some new suggestions are being posted, but only if first approved as "actionable." The announcement from findmypast on the forum's home page states "This Feedback Forum is for constructive feedback and proposals for future improvements to findmypast. With that in mind, we've removed some comments or ideas which do not present actionable ideas which other users can vote on."
I'm of the mind that concerns over the company using Facebook as their primary method of communication, and alternate user suggestions for improving customer communication, is an actionable idea, but apparently the company disagrees since they removed the post (along with many others, including a post titled "Improve features to bring in line with the old site" which had amassed over 2,300 comments). Read More...
Fifty-one years ago today, James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and Rosalind Franklin published landmark papers in the journal Nature on the structure of DNA. In honor of their work and to commemorate the near completion of the Human Genome Project in April 2003, April 25th is recognized as DNA Day.
2014 Y-DNA Haplotree Launch
FamilyTreeDNA is launching the anticipated 2014 Y-DNA Haplotree today at 9:00 a.m. Central, and even hosting a free webinar @ 12:00 p.m. Central to help with the transition. Elise Friedman will provide a demonstration of the new tree and more details about the update. If you can't make the live webinar, all FamilyTreeDNA webinars are recorded and posted on their website within 24 hours.
Not sure what the big deal is about? The 2014 Y-DNA Haplotree was created in conjunction with the National Geographic Genographic Project using the proprietary GenoChip 2.o which tests approximately 10,000 Y-DNA SNPs that had not, at the time, been phylogenetically classified. According to FamilyTreeDNA, the team used the first 50,000 male samples with the highest quality results to determine SNP positions, along with additional data. As a result, the 2014 Haplotree is said to have expanded from 400 to 1000 terminal branches, as well as getting a new design.
DNA Test Sales!
Ancestry has discounted their AncestryDNA test (autosomal) from $99 to $79 through April 27. Combine this with the FREESHIPDNA coupon and save on the $9.95 shipping fee as well. If you miss the sale deadline, you can also purchase the AncestryDNA test through their Mother's Day gifts for $89 through May 11.
FamilyTreeDNA is offering a 20% discount sale on the Y-DNA 37 test and Y-DNA SNPs (only) through April 29th at 1:59 p.m. Central. If you do order a Y-DNA test, look for a surname project or geographical project to benefit from an additional project discount.
More DNA Day Fun
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.