Archive for July, 2013

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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July 16th, 2013

How to Research Jewish Genealogy

Researching any family history is a challenge. There are so many variables involved in genealogical research that it can be overwhelming at times, especially for beginners. Researching a specific ethnicity can be even more of a challenge, as resources may be limited or even in a different language from your own. There are some basic things you can do though, to make tracing your family lineage much easier, even fun. Though inevitably you will have to knuckle down to some hardcore research, you can lay down a firm foundation for when that time comes by getting to grips with some genealogy basics, and taking advantage of the abundance of help that is available.

There are many records available online that are invaluable for individuals who with to research their Jewish heritage. JewishGen for example has over 20 million records in their collection. Before beginning a records search however, there is a goldmine of information right in front of and all around you – your family. Interview any family members you think might know a bit about your ancestors. Older relatives such as grandparents and great aunts and uncles (aunts and uncles of your parents) can surprise you with the stories they can tell. Make sure you take a recording device you can just listen and then write out any facts and figures later.

It is also a good idea to take a basic genealogy course, many of which are available online. If you’d rather not spend the time involved in taking a course, you can download our Free Family Tree Research Guide. It provides step-by-step instruction on tracing your family tree, including how to locate and understand the various record types, filling in family tree charts, and much more. Having such a guide at your disposal will ensure that you stay on course during your research, which is a critical aspect of how to research Jewish genealogy.

You may also benefit from joining a discussion group on how to research Jewish genealogy. The most popular one on the internet is the one at JewishGen, but there is also one at soc.genealogy.jewish in Google Groups. In a discussion group you can post messages about what surnames or ancestral towns you are researching. Other genealogists who are researching the same items can contact you, and will, especially if you ask nicely for help. You don’t have to worry about your privacy being violated, as everything happens on the JewishGen website, and you can submit your information or requests anonymously.

Thousands of people have discovered family members in discussion groups, and you can benefit from the knowledge of experienced researchers by joining one. The above tips can help you to get going in your genealogy research, and acquaint you with various research techniques. Though you won’t become an expert in how to research Jewish genealogy by following them, you will meet people who are!

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July 9th, 2013

How to Research Genealogy Online and Find Records Fast

Finding records is the goal of every genealogist, and locating them online is the initial preferred method. Once you know a record exists, you can order it from the repository that holds the original, but first it must be found. There are many websites that offer free records searches and free this and free that, but is what they offer really free, or real for that matter? Yes, it is true that many of the returns you get when searching for free genealogy records are from websites offering free trials of a subscription, but there are free records available and also sites to help you to learn how to research genealogy online.

Finding Records fast

You can begin finding ancestry records online in no time at They maintain the largest collection of ancestral records in the world. Their collection currently holds over 6 billion records and is growing daily. FamilySearch is run by the Mormon Church (LDS), and is an excellent starting point for anyone tracing their family history. In addition to their massive record collection, they also give excellent advice on how to access them, interpret them, and request copies of them from the various repositories. Their collection is of the highest calibre, and it is recommended you register with them to take full advantage of the superb resources they offer – all for free!

Pick an Ancestor to Search 

The first step to even finding an ancestor is to select one to search for. If you know the name of any relatives who are deceased, choose one that passed away before 1940, as they are the easiest records to find. Some records after that date have not been added to the online databases yet. If you don’t know the name of any ancestors ask other family members to choose one for you. If you can, ask for their date and place of birth or death as well, but don’t worry if you they don’t have that information. A name is enough to start off with, as discovering those other things about your ancestor such as their place of birth, where they lived, or when and where they died, is all part of the fun and challenge of genealogy.

Learn More About How to Search Genealogy Online at

The genealogy section right here at has tons of information and advice about how to research genealogy online. Our genealogy pages are chock full of resources with everything from Free Printable Blank Family Trees and Genealogy Forms, to instructional and informative articles about how to research every type of genealogy record.

The best thing about the genealogy resources at is that they are genuinely free. There is no registration involved, no hidden fees, and absolutely no obligation of any kind. We pride ourselves on being a genuinely free provider of quality genealogy resources, though if you like you can subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to find out about any new free resources we discover, and regularly access award winning content from experts in the field of genealogy.

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July 2nd, 2013

Where to Find German Ancestry Records

Finding ancestry records in foreign countries can be difficult: there is of course the language barrier, but also there is the issue of where to find the records we need. Not every society stores vital and state records the same way, and if you do manage to locate a repository, it can be hard to understand the technical terminology of records. For instance church records are called Kirchenbucher, or church “books” as opposed to records. Where we can we’ll include the German terminology in this article, but keep in mind that this is not an in-depth piece that completely explains the German language. Related matters to that subject will be addressed separately in another article. The purpose of this section is to first show you where to find German ancestry records.

German Archives and Libraries with Ancestry Records

German archives like any others collect and preserve ancestry records. Libraries in Germany usually contain published sources such as maps, microfilm and books. They are valuable resources for accessing ancestry records, but if intending to visit one of these establishments it is wise to first ask about any possible fees, and also who may access the records, as privacy laws in Germany can be quite strict regarding ancestry records.

The major types of repositories where you will find German genealogical records are; State and Town Archives, Civil Registration Offices, Church Parish Offices, and Historical and Genealogical Societies such as the German Center for Genealogy. The Federal Archives of Germany have very few ancestry records that are useful to genealogists, however the state archives are much more modern, and preserve many valuable ancestor records such as court records, church records, military records, civil registration records, emigration lists, and land records. State archives are also generally more accessible to the general public.

Civil registration of births, deaths, and marriages began in Germany in the early to mid-nineteenth century, but some records can be found dating from 1792. Some have been given over to state archives, but most are kept in local and regional offices. The populations of smaller communities usually registered in the closest town or city, which in turn are divided into civil registration districts. You must be a direct descendant of the person whose records you seek to receive an abstract or photocopy of these ancestor records, but usually the staffs are very helpful, and if they don’t have the ancestry records you require, will direct you to where you can find them.

There are many locally based and national genealogical and historical societies in Germany that collect and archive ancestry records. One such organization is the German Center for Genealogy. It was especially founded as an archive for genealogical records, and has an extensive collection of German church records, as well as records of German settlements throughout Eastern Europe. Generally genealogical research must be conducted at their facility in Leipzig, but for a fee staff will attempt to locate documents for you.

Archives Outside Germany that Contain German Ancestry Records

Because of Germany’s expansion prior to and during the Second World War, many German ancestry records can be found in the archives of other European countries. The State Archives of Poland has records from the areas of Pommern, Schleisen, Ostpreiussen, Westpreussen, and Posen, as these areas were returned to Poland after the war. As an added benefit, there are certain parts of the website that are available in English. If you are searching ancestors from the Lubeck, Oldenburg, or Schleswig-Holstein areas of Germany, you may find ancestry records in the State Archives of Denmark. Their website is in English, and for a small fee you can receive help from a staff researcher.

Although this is merely a basic summary of where to find ancestry records in Germany, it has hopefully provided you with a foundation from which to begin your search. Remember that you should generally know the name of the town where your German ancestor was born, married, or died, as most records are kept at a local level. Ask your family members for any information they might have, especially older ones, as they may able to pinpoint the location in which to search for the ancestry records you seek.

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