Archive for November, 2013

November 27th, 2013

Basic Research Steps for Beginners

I thought I would take the opportunity to review some basic research techniques to help those beginning the search for their family history. More and more people are becoming involved in genealogy projects everyday; for those just beginning the initial concept of tracing their lineage back through the centuries can be quite overwhelming. The following steps however can help you to get a jump-start on your research and simplify the process. The key to a successful search for your ancestors is as simple as selecting a key starting point. Once you select a particular individual to begin with, the rest will follow; as long as you stick to the following basic set of steps.

  1. Decide What You Want to Find Out First - Once you have gathered some basic family data; review it to determine what you already know and what you need to find out. Once that is sorted, pick a particular fact that you want to uncover and begin researching it.
  2. Identify a Possible Source of the Information You Seek – Different genealogical records reveal particular information about relatives. If you are seeking a birth date, search for birth certificates, if it’s the name of the children of an individual, try census records.
  3. Locate the Record or Source – Once you decide on the type of record or other source you need, find out where and how it can be found. Can you search it online, or do you need to visit an archive or library? Once you locate the record or database, search for your ancestor within it.
  4. Record What You Find or Don’t Find – It’s as important to record what you don’t find as what you do. If you do find important information, make a copy of it if possible, if not write the information down yourself in a notebook. If it’s a photo you find, try to print or download a copy. If you don’t find any info on your relative, take note of that as well so you don’t forget to pursue that information in the future.
  5. Assess Your Position – If you found the information you were looking for, continue onto the next step. If not, go back to step 2 and try to find another possible source of it. You may need to go back and forth between these two steps a few times, as you don’t always uncover information on the first attempt.
  6. Analyze the Information You Found – Did the information you found match the facts you already have about your ancestor? Is the record a primary source that can be validated, or is it a secondary source that needs to be verified. Asking such questions will help you to determine what you need to do next.
  7. Organize, Organize, Organize – It is critical that you record everything you find in a manner that you can easily refer to later. If you don’t keep track of your data in an organized manner, you will become confused and frustrated later in your research. If you need help with organization, have a look through our Free Genealogy Forms, there is one for every stage of research, and they are completely free and easy to download.

These are basic research steps that even professional genealogists use. Following this basic format throughout your research will ensure you maximize your chances of a successful ancestors search. Happy Ancestor Hunting!

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November 20th, 2013

Library and Archives Canada Places 1861 Canadian Census Online

Recently Library and Archives Canada has made the 1861 Canadian Census available online. I must say that it is a welcomed and valuable addition to their collection, and to anyone researching their Canadian ancestry, like me! The census is searchable through an on-site search engine, and the criteria are very simple – surname, given or first name, age, and province.

As with most genealogical search screens, you can search a record by name or place, but be aware that some records from sub-districts have not survived, though they are minimal. The Library and Archives Canada website provides a link on their Search Help Page, where you can find out exactly what records are missing and for where.

The 1861 census was the third such collection of population data in the Province of Canada’s history. The Province of Canada at that time included Canada East (modern day Quebec), and Canada West (now Ontario). Data was also collected at that time for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, and consists of information on 3,112,269 individuals.

Agricultural returns are also included in the 1861 census report, and information such as acreage, number of livestock, what products were produced, and the concession or lot number are provided. They are listed by the name of the head of household, and you can find them after the county personal returns. You may find that the name of the head of household is listed for both personal and agricultural returns, so there may be more than one entry for some individuals. Check and double check so that you neither miss any information, nor overlook any. Don’t assume that just because two people have the same name that it is a double listing.

Before being digitized, the 1861 census existed only on microfilm in the archives. This was due to a decree by the Dominion Bureau of Statistics in 1955, which authorized the Public Records Committee to place the original records on microfilm, and then to destroy the original. Unfortunately the microfilming was not always of the highest quality, and some records are very hard to make out. Additionally, the pages were not scanned in any particular order, so pagination is not always accurate, and some times they are even written in by hand.

As always, the transfer of one record format to another is susceptible to human error. We as genealogists however, are aware of that, and equipped with the tools to deal with it. The bottom line is that we have yet another database of valuable genealogical records at our disposal, and we can access them from the comfort of our homes. Never forget that tireless and dedicated volunteers give their time and energy freely so that we can search our ancestors at our convenience. We can forgive them for making a mistake or two!

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November 13th, 2013

5 Common Genealogy Mistakes not to Make

It’s hard enough when we make our own mistakes, but sometimes the mistakes of others can impede our genealogical research. This is especially true with older documentation, especially transcriptions and the like. Often a person’s handwriting or spelling is responsible, and occasionally completely erroneous information is supplied. Once a mistake is in print, it often carries on throughout the research of others, continually frustrating researchers or bringing them face to face with a brick wall. There are some effective strategies that I have used to overcome these unavoidable mistakes, and of course, it is my genealogical duty to share them with you!

  1. Spelling MistakesUnfortunately with genealogy records, spelling mistakes are the rule rather than the exception. This is often due to transcribers being overloaded with work, the differences between old English and the new, and sometimes because of a simple misspelling. It is always wise to check alternate spellings. Even common names such as Smith may have alternate spellings such as Smythe, Smithe, or Smit. An excellent way to include alternate spellings in a search is to use wildcard characters like a question mark (?) or asterisk (*). Search engines interpret the question mark as taking the place of a single letter, the asterisk as taking the place of several letters. Your search will thus return possible alternate spellings of the surname you are searching.
  2. Abbreviations are not Always Accurate. – It is common for abbreviations to be written or entered into records incorrectly. Mr. could be Mrs. And vice-versa. Some abbreviations have a variety of meanings that can easily be misinterpreted. NA for example can mean naturalized, not applicable, Navy, or Native American. Never guess what an abbreviation means or take it at face value. Do a little more research to make sure it means what you think it does.
  3. Age Mistakes – Common age-related mistakes are; women who are listed as mothers but are too young or too old to be one, and persons whose age is too young to have been in the military. There are exceptions to both however, but never assume the age or information with an individual is correct in these circumstances. In the case of a woman who has been recorded as giving birth to several children at a late age (40-50), it is possible the information is correct. Always examine the relationship of an older mother/child relationship though, as it is possible an adoption or orphaned child is involved. In the case of military service, some who enlisted did lie about their age, but any records of individuals under the age of 14 should be investigated.
  4. Don’t Assume that Records Don’t Exist – Although we now have more genealogical records than ever before at our disposal, believe it or not, not every genealogical record has been uncovered. Just because you can’t find a record for an individual doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Look at other record types to see if you can connect to lost or missing data. You could be the first to uncover the information you’re looking for. Family diaries and church records may have evidence of other existing records, and census records can provide clues to vital records.
  5. Secondary Records are Not Always Accurate – secondary records are notorious for containing genealogical records. The primary reason is human error – they are generally composed of second hand information provided by an informant, usually a family member, friend, or neighbor. A good example is a death certificate. Though the date of death is most likely correct as it is recorded at the time of the event, the secondary information such as the date of birth or name of the next of kin may not. Parents have been listed as the natural parents, when in fact the deceased child was adopted.

These are just a handful of genealogical mistakes and errors that I have come across. If you know of any, or have encountered some yourself, please feel free to comment about it in the box below. Happy Ancestor hunting!

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November 6th, 2013

Use Ethnic and Foreign Language Newspapers to Uncover Ancestors

Newspapers are a source of pride and a means of bonding for every community. This is especially true for ethnic communities who may be feeling a little alienated form their homeland. A newspaper written in their own language and relaying news from their native land can help them to stay in touch with their former community, and connect them with others of their culture in their current one. Until the advent of the internet it was almost impossible to access these valuable resources, but that is changing, and ethnic newspapers can now much more easily be a part of any genealogist’s tool kit.

Thanks again to many volunteers, ethnic newspaper collections are being made easily accessible to researchers. One such collection is the African American Newspapers and Periodicals Bibliography initiated by James Danky, long time newspaper and periodical librarian at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The publication features a listing of over 6,500 publications and where you can find them. Many of the items in African-American Newspapers & Periodicals : A Bibliography have been placed on microfilm and can be found at the Wisconsin Historical Society Library. The full publication can be purchased form for $174.80, or you can order it at your local bookstore. Links to many of the publications in the listing can be found at the History of African-American Newspapers website.

The particular value of ethnic newspapers is their capacity to deliver detailed information on members of their community. While a local newspaper may just mention someone by name in a death notice, the ethnic paper would have a detailed obituary. Of course there is the problem of a language barrier, but software like Google Translate, though it shouldn’t be relied on for grammatical accuracy, can give you a general idea of what was said. You will be able to recognize names of individuals and locations and dates however, and that is the information that is important to you as a genealogist.

You can still find many ethnic organizations throughout the United States today, and many publish their own newspapers. The Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota has a huge collection, while others can be found on a local level at libraries, state archives, and at genealogical and historical societies. There are also very specialized collections available to researchers held by organizations such as the Polish Genealogical Society of America, the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center at Augustana College in Illinois, and the Czech and Slovak American Genealogical Society of Illinois.

If you are researching an ancestor who immigrated, an ethnic newspaper could be an excellent source of information on them. Even if you don’t find your ancestor, you will still get an excellent idea of their culture, and how they might have lived. That is really what genealogy is all about; painting our family portrait. Always remember, it’s not just about facts and figures, but real people and how they lived.

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