Category: Free Genealogy Resources

July 30th, 2013

I’ve Been Working on the Railroad! Finding Your Ancestor in Railway Company Records

Millions of Americans have been involved in the construction and operation of the massive rail system that transverses the country; from the time construction began in the early nineteenth century to present day. The period from 1900-1945 was known as “The Golden Age of Railroads”, and during that time railroads were the premier mode of long-distance transportation. By the early 20th century, it is said that 5% of all Americans were employed by the railway industry in some capacity. It is no wonder then that railway records can reveal valuable information about our ancestors.

I began researching one of my own ancestors in the area in which they lived at the time of their employment. I found out what lines operated in the area at that time by consulting some historical maps and local histories. From that point I began digging through the histories of specific railway companies to find out if they were still in operation, who the present owners were, and then what records they had for the time period of my ancestor and where I could find them. I discovered that the individual records of many railway workers have not survived, but the historical collections of many railway companies still retain some. There are also various archives scattered across the country that contain databases of various sizes, including: railway museums, university libraries, and state archives.

I didn’t find much information on my ancestor unfortunately, and am now looking in a different direction. I did come across many resources that could lead you to yours however, and so I thought I’d share them here. They are extremely interesting records, especially if you are a history buff, and you may even find your ancestor in them. What’s more, they are free genealogy resources, so why not take advantage of them!

The National Archives

This section of the National Archives provides excellent advice on researching railway records in the National Archives, including annual reports of railroad companies, railroad valuation records, patent application files, railroad accident reports, and other railroad-related records.

United States Railroad Retirement Board

The United States Railroad Retirement Board oversees a Federal retirement benefits schedule for the nation’s railroad workers which is essentially the Social Security Administration for railway employees. They can provide copies of records for deceased persons who were employed in the railroad industry from 1936 to present.

Railroads in North America -Their Evolution and Family Structure by Milton C. Hallberg

The database available through Milton Hallberg’s web page is designed as a compilation of all existing mainline, switching, and terminal railroads, as well as of all operational railways that have existed in the United States and Canada since the Granite Railway – the first railroad – was authorized in Massachusetts in 1826. Presently the database includes over 6,900 railroads and is specifically constructed so that genealogists can generate informative railroad family histories.

Erie Railroad Internet Employee Archives

This is an excellent online resource for anyone researching ancestors who were employed by the Erie Railroad. The Erie Railroad linked Chicago with Jersey City and New York. The Archive contains employee rosters, historical news articles, photographs, reports and other related data. The information dates back to circa 1851, and additional information has been submitted by former Erie Railroad workers, the Salamanca, NY Railroad Museum and fellow researchers.

Department of Transportation Historical Railroad Investigation Reports

This is part of the Online Special Digital Collections of the U.S. Department of Transportation and includes detailed transcriptions of investigations into railroad accidents that occurred between 1911 and 1994. It can be viewed as both text and PDF.

These are some of the best free genealogy resources for tracing ancestors who worked for the railroad companies. Railway records are just one of the secondary resources that can lead us to primary records of our ancestors. They are well worth looking through, especially if your ancestor lived in areas where railways were built during the nineteenth century.

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July 23rd, 2013

How to Research Genealogy at the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress maintains one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of national and foreign genealogical and local historical publications. Although the primary purpose of the Library of Congress is to serve Congress and help them to execute their Congressional responsibilities, the library also has many resources for researchers, both on-site and online.

The Library of Congress contains over 141 million items in its collections, including over 21 million catalogued books in its classification system, and over 100 million items in their special collections. Their special collections include over 62 million manuscripts, 16 million plus microforms, and over 14 million visual materials. Their 5 million plus maps can be of invaluable help to genealogical researchers. Of special significance are their more than 15 million files which are available to researchers online.

The Library’s genealogy collection was started in 1815 with the purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library of between nine and ten thousand volumes. Jefferson’s library replaced much material that was destroyed or vandalized by the British, and he allowed Congress to pay whatever they thought was fair and affordable. Today family historians can best take advantage of these wonderful resources in the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room.

The Reading Room was opened in August of 1935, and is housed in what is appropriately named the Thomas Jefferson Building. The Reading Room was developed to make it simple and easy for genealogists to conduct research in what is literally a mountainous stockpile of genealogical and historical resources. You can familiarize yourself with their collections and procedures on the Reading Room Webpage. In addition to information about their own resources, the library also provides a wealth of links to other genealogy resources.

Library Genealogy Record Collection 

The genealogy record collection at the Library of congress is compiled of over 60,000 genealogies from around the world, and over 100,000 local histories. The collections are particularly strong in North American, British Isles, Irish, German, and Scandinavian sources. Keep in mind that the Library of Congress is not an archive, so does not house records such as census records or BDM certificates and such. The Local History and Genealogy Reading Room is one of nine such rooms throughout the Library of Congress, but it is a small, specialized room with a staff of around nine or ten.

The staff at the Library of congress are well-trained are happy to answer questions about Heraldry, Biography, Naval or Maritime History, and any other genealogy-related subject. Staff are not researchers, you should not expect them to do research for you, but they are well versed in instruction and are happy to oversee your efforts and to instruct you in strategies that will help you to find your family members.

The Library also offers a wealth of webcasts that are designed to guide you through your research and to familiarize you with accessing and using their resources.  One such example is their Amish Resources Webcast.

The Reading Room for genealogists also offers online Orientation classes, generally on every other Wednesday morning. The classes are taught by reference librarians and are designed to familiarize genealogical researchers with the Library of Congress collections. Each class includes an introduction to genealogical research and how to use the resources and facilities of the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room.

The sessions in the Genealogy reading Room are well organized and extremely comprehensive. They cover a huge amount of genealogical ground such as; compiled family histories, city directories, local histories, telephone books, how to search the Library’s online catalog, locating published census schedules and indexes, military lists and registers, military service and pension records, ship passenger lists, church records and registers, cemetery records, land records, court records, and registers of births.

The Library of congress is a goldmine of genealogical resources. If you are currently researching your family tree or thinking about doing so, it is well worth taking a trip to Washington D.C to avail yourself of their expertise. It’s a great way to begin your genealogical quest, and to take in a bit of the nation’s capitol at the same time.

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May 14th, 2013

Don’t Let Opportunity Pass You By – Take Advantage of These Free Genealogy Courses!

There’s no reason anyone should struggle with genealogy issues anymore. I recently decided to put one of my New Year’s Resolutions into practice and take a genealogy course. I jumped on Google, and as frugal as I am typed “free genealogy courses” into the search window. You wouldn’t believe how many courses I found, many of them taught by college professors and professional genealogists! I couldn’t believe that such quality instruction was for free, so I started investigating! Lo and behold, they deliver what they advertise. I found so many that I thought I had to share the ones I thought best with you. It would really be a shame not to take advantage of these excellent free genealogy resources.

It is no surprise that the LDS-run Brigham Young University offers a variety of genealogy courses. The courses are courtesy of their Independent Study department, a non-profit branch of the school. The study department’s courses range from beginning genealogy to courses specializing in individual record types (military, vital, and family records), and also regional and ethnic focused courses such as French and German research. The University has its own Center for Family History and Genealogy which hosts links to a number of online tutorials and helpful websites.

MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology doesn’t offer genealogy-specific courses, but some such as American History to 1865, The Places of Migration in United States History, and the Economic History of Work and Family can be very useful to family historians.

Similarly, Yale University offers genealogy-relevant courses covering topics such as; The American Revolution,  African American History: From Emancipation to Present, and European Civilization, 1648-1945 can all be of immense value to genealogical researchers. The courses are offered through the Yale Open Courses program, which provides materials and lectures from variousYaleCollege courses to anyone with a computer and internet access for free.

There is a group known as Coursera which is a conglomerate of 62 Universities which offers a huge amount of course that are of interest to genealogists. Many of the courses are led by qualified instructors that are scheduled to begin and end at specific times, so you’ll have to sign it on time to “attend” them. There is plenty of pre-recorded material however, and many of the courses are graded and offer certification. Some of the genealogy related courses on offer are Immigration and US Citizenship, Useful Genetics, Women and The Civil Rights Movement, and The Camera Never Lies.

Another site that also offers excellent, high-calibre learning resources is Evidence Explained, developed by Elizabeth Shown Mills to assist researchers and historians of every kind. In the Quick Lessons section of the website you can find tutorials on a number of relevant topics such as; Census Instructions, Who Needs Instructions?, Chasing an Online Record into its Rabbit Hole, and What Constitutes Proof? All of the subjects are presented in tutorial form, so can be taken at your leisure.

At the Canvas Network website you will find a catalogue of free online courses that cover a number of topics. Many of them are of little use to the genealogist, but there are courses such as U.S. History: First Peoples to the Civil War and Reconstruction, and US History which may be of benefit to historical researchers.

There are definitely many additional free online learning opportunities out there, but I thought these were some of the highest quality. You can even tell your friends and family you’re taking a college course! Have a look for yourself at each of them, browse through the courses, and if you decide to take one, come back and tell us your thoughts and how you made out in our comments section!

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February 12th, 2013

The Polish Genealogical Society of America

For those with Polish ancestors, there is no better place to begin your research than the Polish Genealogical Society of America (PGSA). The society was founded in 1978 and is based in Chicago. They are completely dedicated to the preservation and sharing of Polish and Polish-American ancestral history, and in helping its members to apply that information in their research. If you are researching ancestors from the old Commonwealth of Poland, the society has a plethora of books, bulletins, newsletters, workshops, and a variety of printed information that can help. This is a genuine genealogical society that perpetuates a genealogical attitude of sharing resources, leads, and communication among members.

Although the society provides information to help with research, they hold no repositories of records other than the ones published in their own books and periodicals, and in the databases of their members. The staff are all volunteers who are not able to research for you, but are only too happy to assist with pointing you in the right direction or pairing you with someone who can. Keep in mind that the society has no permanent address; they use the main offices of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America as their mailing address and telephone contact point. There are PGSA volunteers available one day per week to answer phone calls and enquiries. The best way to contact them is via post or email.

The Rodziny

The Rodziny is the quarterly publication produced by the PGSA. It provides a wealth of information designed to help those researching their Polish ancestors. There is an extensive amount of material covered in the publication, but its emphasis is on items not usually available to researchers and well written and researched articles. Some of those items include:

  • Translations of rare materials by European experts
  • An information Exchange where members can post inquiries and have them answered for free by other members or volunteers
  • Book reviews on important polish genealogical publications and tips on how to get the most out of them
  • Articles on specific Polish research related subjects written by professional and expert amateur genealogists

Additionally the society hosts translated historical documents on their website. One section I found most interesting and could have spent hours reading was the one regarding Polish life in the late 1800’s. There is also a searchable database of Polish troops who served in France during WWI and many links to other databases and important resources for Polish genealogical research.

The PGSA also has an online store which is used to support the efforts of the volunteers. Some of what you can purchase online from them is:

  • Books and CD’s
  • Research Services
  • Obituary Indexes
  • Military Record Indexes
  • Insurance Records Index
  • Instructions on Requesting Polish Records From Specific Towns

The web page of the PGSA is well maintained and updated on a regular basis. You can find information on events, workshops, research advice and instruction, Polish history, heraldry, Polish culture, and there are even some Polish songs if you’re feeling especially celebratory! The PSGA is closely affiliated with The Polish Museum of America Library, also in Chicago, which houses over 60,000 books of Polish interest, including genealogical research and reference materials. If you’d like to join the PSGA, you can fill out their online membership application.

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October 22nd, 2012

The New National Archives of Ireland Website

One of the most important free genealogy resources – the Irish National Archives – has recently updated and improved their website. The improvements have made the site a genealogists dream. I was really excited to visit it and noticed that it is especially designed to make genealogy research faster, easier, and more comprehensive. The new layout is exceptionally clear and concise, navigation is painless, and there are especially written guides to help researchers with their expanded records collections and genealogy research in general. If you have Irish ancestors, your research can be now taken to another level.

Some of the new features are the document of the Month, and an entire section on Women’s History and Transportation resources. The women’s history section consists of two major databases – the Directory of Sources for Women’s History inIreland, and Women in Twentieth centuryIreland. They are accompanied by the Ireland-Australia database, all of which are searchable online. In addition they have provided a link to the Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers website which contains records for the years 1818-1822. The records contain a variety of information on people and places inIrelandfor the years listed with plans to extend the collection up until 1852.

Irish Archives Online Catalogue 

The real heart of the new website is their updated online catalogue. An online catalogue is the nucleus of any archival website, as even if entries are limited to scraps of information such as descriptions and titles of records, users can search more widely and accurately. The search criteria for the catalogue have been expanded so that full text searches can be executed, and adjusted to just about any theme or category.

Most of the records are of the twentieth century, and though the website stipulates that many may be unsuitable for genealogy research, they have underestimated in my opinion the tenacity of genealogists! We don’t discard any type of records, and as an experiment I did a search of my surname. Lo and behold, I found several will papers and a dispute with the early Irish Department of Finance with one of my ancestors over land annuities. My advice would be to ignore the warning and continue to search everything as a good ancestor detective does!

Record Holdings of the Irish Archives 

The Irish National Archives actually hold a wealth of records that may prove valuable to your ancestors search. If you are looking to find Irish ancestors, the archives are a great place to start. The departmental records they manage are a supreme source on their own.

They include; Agricultural records, Records of the Attorney General’s Office, Department of education records, Finance records, Social welfare records, Judicial records and more. The other governmental records amount to archives of early governmental agencies that existed in the nineteenth centuries and twentieth, but some go back as far as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. There are also court and probate records maintained by the archives, some dating back to the fourteenth century.

Besides government records you will also find:

  • ChurchofIrelandrecords
  • Trade Union records
  • Business records
  • School records
  • Hospital records
  • Estate Records

Irish Census Records

Some of the most popular records held by the Irish National Archives and used by genealogists are the Census records from 1901 and 1911. These records are a valuable part of the Irish heritage, and are currently being digitized in conjunction with Library and Archives Canada.

The1901 and 1911 returns are organized by townland in rural areas or by street in cities. Every member of a household is listed according to their name, sex, sex, religion, marital status, occupation, and their relationship to the head of the household at the time. Also recorded are whether or not an individual could read and/or write, and if they spoke the Irish language. The 1911 census contains the same information with the important addition that married women needed to state how long they had been married, how many of their children were born alive, and how many were still living at the time of the census.

In addition to households, asylums, prisons, military barracks, hospitals, colleges, workhouses, and trade schools were all enumerated, so the chances of finding your Irish ancestor are accordingly increased. As a bonus, descriptions of houses are given in both census returns. The descriptions include the overall condition of the dwelling, the number of rooms it had, how many windows, and even the type of roof they had, all making for additional interesting genealogical data. These census reports are an excellent source for those seeking their Irish family, and serve as a principal source for understanding the Irish economic and social structure in the early twentieth century.

The Irish National Archives obviously appreciate the importance and the popularity of genealogy today. The valuable records they are making available online show their dedication to the promotion and preservation of Irish heritage and history. If you find information on your Irish ancestors in any of their valuable genealogical sources, make sure you record it in one of our Free Downloadable Genealogy Forms. Doing so will ensure your family history is preserved in an accurate and organized way that will benefit your relatives and other genealogists for years to come.

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November 20th, 2010

Ethnic Cleansing (Traditional Genealogy Source #2)

One of the ‘forgotten’ aspects of recent world history involves the Ethnic Cleansing of Eastern Europe by the Allies after World War 2.  Reports and numbers vary with regards to the numbers of people impacted by this horrific, involuntary expulsion.  Generally, it is believed that more than 10 million people were involved and as many as 4 million people were lost, killed, or died through the process of ethnic expulsion.european-expulsion

If your family is of East or West Prussian, Silesian, Pommeranian, Russian ethnic German or Polish ethnic German descent, and if they were living in what eventually became the Soviet Bloc, then they likely experienced some aspect of this Expulsion.

In an effort to share information regarding the Expulsions, the European Community has established a group intended to serve as a platform to enhance communication and interaction between European refugees, expellees and people who support their rightful aims.

You may learn more about this subject here:

copyright 2010 Mark F. Rabideau – ManyRoads

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November 15th, 2010

Now You Don’t Have To Be a Professional Genealogist to Access Free Ancestry Records

This has been a long time coming, but finally, the first pages of Free Ancestry Records and Resources are online with more to come in the next few days!

We all know what it’s like, you buy a subscription to an ancestry website with the hope that you will find every document you need to prove your genealogy.  But a few hours or days into it, all you have is a pile of printouts that may or may not be proof positive of your ancestry.

I suspected there was a better way when I first started my own genealogy research.  I mean, really think about it for a minute and ask yourself, how did the subscription site get all those records?  Someone had to have found it, transcribed it, or scanned it and uploaded it to their digital database or website, therefore all of those ancestry records have to be free somewhere.

So I did a lot of digging into the depths of the Internet and spoke to professional genealogists.

Turns out, I was right…there are free ancestry records online!


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October 5th, 2010

How to Put a Face to the Names on Your Family Tree Using Newspaper Obituaries

A while ago, I told you about Google News Timeline to help you with your genealogy research.  You can research specific events in history and all the related information in a timeline.  While the Google News Timeline is an excellent tool, sometimes you just have to go to the source itself.  Newspapers are valuable tools for filling in your family tree. Here’s how they help:


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