Sunday, June 24, 2012

Finding Birth, Marriage, and Death Records Online

Finding supporting documents online is easier if you know some dates and use them. I have spent many hours online looking for birth, marriage, and death records (BMD.) I know that they aren’t all online but I am surprised at how many are and by combining three particular websites I’ve been filling in gaps in my documentation this week.

I use Family Tree Maker 2012 for my genealogy software but this hint works with any of the products. The three websites I use are: – and make sure you sign-in because there is a new feature – the source records – that is like’s shoebox. – I know it’s not free but it’s cheaper than lots of road trips and they have so much. – also not free but less than a premium cable channel and often on sale.

OK, now that you’ve done this.

Go into your records in your genealogy software and for each BMD you are missing do specific date range and place searches with the given and surnames at each of the above sites. In fact, now that I think of it, try LAST. You will often find what you need at the other two sites before you get to Surprised? I sure was but does not have 6100 newspapers and has digitized records in addition to the indexes.

I even found that I could leave out the given name and just use the surname, state, and date range and find whole families at these sites. This works best on US records since Genealogy bank only has US papers and records. has a new interface for members and it is much nicer and for some reason faster than the old interface. If you go to and are not sure which interface you are looking at, there is a link at the top of the page. If it says “go to old site,” then you are using the new interface. If it says something along the lines of ‘try new site;' DO THAT. Also, be aware of a quirk with, the surname is FIRST and then the given name.

So, sometimes, genealogy is like using a dictionary. If you know some specific information first, it’s easier to find more information.

Happy Hunting!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

May All Your Ancestors Live in Small Towns

I am blessed that some of my ancestors stayed in small towns! When I look at the meager death notices from papers like the NY Times and even the Brooklyn Eagle I am envious of those researchers whose ancestors hailed from little burgs like Mount Carmel, PA.

I recently started reviewing an old file folder of information that had various copies from over the years. I needed to see what information I already had on some of my ancestors. I’ve mentioned this technique previously when referring to the depth of information available in census records.

It’s not that I’m not observant; it’s just that when I obtained the obituaries, originally, I was looking only for my direct line ancestors. Now, that I have some “brick walls,” I’m spreading out into collateral lines to work around the walls. I also find that I’m becoming more interested in what the family structure was and who these people were.

Don’t forget while doing your family history research that your experience grows at the same time your tree grows. Information may be buried in your own archives.

Here is what I discovered in some obituaries that I already had from a small town paper’s obituary.

Mrs. Thomas Magee (not McGee, like I had) was formerly Helen (not Ellen) Fairley (I had this) from Scotland (I had this.) She settled in Branchdale and stayed there for 40 years (not quite accurate but confirmation of what I had) and resided in Mount Carmel for ten years (news to me.) They’d recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary (handy to know.)

Now, here comes the good stuff:

“The deceased is survived by one daughter, Mrs. Lewis Gottschall of this city, and an adopted son Robert Magee, of Rhode Island. There are fourteen grandchildren. Her brother John resides in the West, and brother Alexander in town. She was a sister of the late Mrs. Thomas Wardrop.”


First, I was not sure how the girls in the family were related. Now, I see that one might well have been a sister and not a daughter. I’ve since found some additional evidence of this.

Second, I have confirmation that Robert was not her biological son and the information that I had saying he was in Rhode Island was not erroneous.

Third, she had additional siblings here in this country! I had no idea! I even have the name of a spouse.

Now, to be fair, obituaries are also not primary sources of information and some of it is wrong. “Shortly after her marriage to Thomas Magee the couple came to this country” – WRONG!

She married in 1854 in Pottsville, PA.

Had she died in New York City, I would have had a death date (maybe) and some idea of funeral arrangements but because she died in a small town I have so much more.

May all your ancestors live in small towns.

Happy Hunting!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

There is no time like the Present!

As I was looking at my own family tree this morning I realized that I had not completed the family tree information for my own generation. I have my information in but not the information for my first cousins. This information will be very difficult for the next two generations to complete unless they have genealogist or packrats in their immediate families.

More and more libraries are closing, more records are online only, more families are moving away from hometowns earlier and more often. When you combine these trends with privacy concerns; the chances of obtaining accurate information for the current generations, in the years to come, becomes less likely.

Take time NOW to complete the vital records sections for your generation and for those who came after you. Include pictures, notes, and remembrances. It’s likely that anyone in your family who knows you ‘do genealogy’ assumes you already have all of this information “filled in” and also expect that you will provide it to them whenever they or their children need it.

I did not fill this information in, yet, because it’s all in my head. Well, the older I get, the more I realize that that’s not as reliable as I would wish.

So – now is the time to fill in the current events. Your descendants will thank you. (keep in mind that you should not post information on living individuals. and Family Tree Maker will privatize any posted trees to help prevent your accidentally posting this private data.)

Happy Hunting!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Helping others while helping yourself

I’m working with some other genealogy club members on a local figure’s family history project. I did not think I had enough time to do my own research to make time for yet someone else’s genealogy but I was wrong!

Working on another family’s genealogy has already (in two weeks) taught me a lot about my own family research. First – I assume too much when doing my own research. Second – I need more maps. {I will include other observations in future BLOGs.}

Specifically – I found that in my own family research I’m too quick to assume that a family with the same surname and many of the same givennames in the same colonial town is mine. When I am working on the project’s family: I want PROOF! I should be as picky with my own family.

In my own family I know where the places are that are in my line. In the project’s family – I did not know the counties. I went to a few places in addition to Google Maps to find historic county lines. Don’t forget that many, many records are only available at the county level so knowing which county someone lived in at the time they lived there is critical. I also went to some other sites to find historical county lines.

Boy was I surprised to find the reason I could not find some records was because the county did not even exist for the time period I was researching. I should have checked this information FIRST!

Here are some of the resources I used:

And the most fascinating was:

I started with then “interactive map” for the area we are researching. You need to spend some time with the interface and make sure you refresh the map after you change selections. There is supposedly a way to download the shape file of the historical boundaries for a specific year and overlay a Google Earth Map with the data but I’ve not figured that out, yet.

I found the files – I’m just not certain how to use them.

This site also has county chronologies and historical boundary dates for existing and extinct counties.

In the meantime, though, helping on this project has given me insights into my own family research so the time I thought I had given to the project actually was time well invested – not spent!

Happy Hunting!