Archive for December, 2013

December 25th, 2013

Internet Sleuths Use Genealogy research Techniques to Track Down Next of Kin for Coroners

I thought this was a really cool story that really emphasizes the value of genealogical research. Imagine the number of homeless people who die alone each year in America, alienated from their families and friends. Sometimes bodies are damaged so badly in an accident that they are unidentifiable. Though efforts are made to contact next of kin, it is not always possible.

Even when a body is not claimed within a 72 hour period, a concentrated effort is made to locate a family member or friend who can take responsibility for the body. The end result is not always a happy one however, and after a certain time period, the burial and funeral arrangements become the responsibility of the county in which the body was found. In certain circumstances the body is donated to science.

Previously these bodies lay unclaimed in a morgue, their fate a cremation by the state and a burial, often as a Jane or John Doe in a potter’s field. That is changing however, due to the wonderful efforts of a group of volunteers around the United States who are using genealogical research techniques and resources to track down the next of kin of unclaimed individuals.

The volunteers work tirelessly for an organization known as Unclaimed Persons. They specialize in using genealogy techniques and resources such as vital records, obituaries, immigration records, and large genealogy databases such as the Family Search collections and National Archives to find those who may want to lay their loved ones to rest.

Investigators in local and county coroners’ offices often spend months trying to track down surviving relatives, often with little success. Unclaimed persons however, have taken on almost 600 cases over the last 5 years, successfully closing 355. Needless to say, the family is always grateful, even though the news is sad.

One such example is that of James Fuller, a homeless individual who passed away in Stanton, California. Mr. Fuller was the responsibility of the Orange County coroner’s office, and spent months trying to track down his next of kin. After handing the investigation over to Unclaimed Persons, they located his son, Justin Alexander in a matter of weeks.

They found Justin living in Ohio; the last time he had seen his father (which was also the only time he ever met him) was when he was only five years old. Now 32, Justin was grateful that he could oversee his estranged father’s internment and ensure he was laid to rest with the dignity he deserved, though saddened that he now knew he would not get to meet with his father again.

There is a case manager assigned to every unclaimed persons file, who in turn oversees around fifteen researchers assigned to every case. There are approximately 500 volunteers currently working for Unclaimed Persons, and they have investigated cases in 20 states, and in more than 40 counties. They are currently involved in pursuing upwards of 90 cases.

Locating and contacting surviving family members of unclaimed bodies is a great challenge for medical examiners across the nation, especially when the deceased have no identification papers. Unclaimed Persons is a prime example of the passion, dedication, and generosity of volunteer genealogical researchers who use their skills and knowledge to help others to unite with their family members, whatever the circumstances might be.

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December 18th, 2013

Genealogy Giants Hit Family History Home Run!

It was recently announced that and will be pairing up to place over one billion new genealogy records online. The records that are to be digitized and made available to researchers via the internet are currently part of’s microfilm collection held by their Family History Library network.

Currently researchers must visit one of the worldwide Family History Centers or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah to access the wonderful collection of records, the largest collection of genealogical data in the world. What an exciting project for genealogists, especially researchers who are limited in their capacity to travel, or confined to their homes.

The two giants of genealogy are currently in the process of working out the details, though sources reveal that more than $60 million has been allocated to the project. and are considered by the majority of genealogists to be the two most important such organizations in the world; their unification in this huge project is a fantastic development that will allow many more budding genealogists to trace their family trees.

The partnership is indeed an intriguing one. is owned and managed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), and is the largest genealogy organization in the world. Access to their records is free to anyone. is the largest commercial genealogy organization in the world, with nearly 3 million paid subscribers. One might think they make somewhat of an odd couple,

The senior vice-president of’s patron and partners branch, Don Anderson, however, views the partnership as an opportunity to expand its mission of making genealogy research materials available to everyone. “I think from a FamilySearch perspective, what we’re trying to do is work with a variety of partners where we can make the records the most accessible to individuals to use them,” he said. currently operates primarily in English-speaking countries with the exception of Sweden, but CEO Tim Sullivan sees the alliance as an opportunity for to expand both its record collection and customer base. “We’re really excited about the chance to potentially open up new businesses in new international markets,” he said, “but as important, give Americans access to records from some of the nations of their homelands.”

The two giants of genealogy have collaborated on projects before, but by and large this is their greatest undertaking ever. It is indeed an exciting prospect for every genealogist; we just hope that we won’t have to now pay for material that was previously free to access. We’ll see, so stay tuned to this genealogy channel!

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December 11th, 2013

Fancy a Cruise to Visit Your Caribbean Cousins?

If you have family members in the Caribbean, there is no better time to meet or visit them than now. This year from December 7-14, Cruise Everything, a Fritz Travel Company, will be hosting an Eastern Caribbean Genealogy Cruise on board the Celebrity Silhouette, one of Celebrity Cruise Line’s fantastic new Solstice Class ships. The especially great part of this cruise is that there will be three professional genealogists on board who will be available by private appointment to consult with you about your Caribbean heritage.

On board the Celebrity Silhouette you’ll be able to partake of all the amenities and bathe in the splendor of a luxury 5 star hotel. The ports of call are of the most interesting in the Caribbean, and you’ll be able to indulge in five course gourmet meals, revel in top notch nightly entertainment, and explore the uniqueness of destination when ashore.

Some of the fantastic genealogy based activities that will be on offer while on board the Silhouette and ashore are:

  • Welcome Cocktail Party (Open Bar!)
  • Daily Private Genealogy Events
  • Access to Speakers and Hosts Throughout the Trip
  • Meeting Rooms for Private Discussions
  • Surprise Events and Activities
  • Selected Shore Excursions with an Escort for purchase

The cruise will be departing from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (you’ll have to make your own way there) at 4:30 EST on December 7. The first port of call will be San Juan, Puerto Rico, where you will spend an entire afternoon. From San Juan the Silhouette sails to Basseterre, St. Kitts where you have an entire day to explore or meet with family members. St. Maarten is next where you will again spend an entire day before returning to Ft. Lauderdale. The three days that you will spend at sea will feature genbealogy events that include talks, instruction, and insights into Caribbean family tree research.

The genealogists who will be accompanying you on the cruise are professional genealogists Gary and Diana Smith, Certified Genealogist (CG) Jana Sloan Broglin, and renowned genealogy blogger and expert Dick Eastman of Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter. All are nationally recognized speakers who will give discourses on a variety of subjects related to Eastern Caribbean genealogy.

Each of the genealogists will also make themselves available for a private 20 minute session with anyone who wishes. Spaces are limited however, so you’ll need to get your request in early. This is an excellent opportunity to get some free coaching from some very experienced and knowledgeable genealogists, while having some fun and enjoying the Caribbean sun!

It is estimated that at least between fifteen and twenty percent of Americans have roots in the Caribbean. If you’re one of them, this is a great opportunity to get some first-class instruction and to visit the land of your ancestors, maybe even meet some relatives for the first time. You can find out more about the Eastern Caribbean Genealogy Cruise on its Cruise Everything webpage.

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December 4th, 2013

Digging Into Death Records

As the research for your family tree begins with the present and then moves into the past, death records are an excellent source with which to begin your research. Death certificates can contain a wealth of information, depending on the country of origin, and they can help you to determine whether or not you are researching the right person. It is also quite easy to find death records online, and consequently they are the starting point for many genealogists.

You might wonder why you should care when your great-grandfather died, when what you really want to know is who your great-great grandparents were. Well, death records can provide exactly the information you are looking for, as your great-grandfather’s death certificate may reveal the maiden name of your great-great grandmother. That particular information may not be known by living relatives, so finding it is a genealogical coup! Death records also include funeral home records, obituaries, and tombstone inscriptions, and none of these sources should be overlooked when tracing an ancestor.

Obituaries often mention a number of relatives, and can include cousins, aunts, uncles, step-children or step-parents, foster children and parents and much more. They may reveal relatives that you didn’t know existed, and can mention friends who may be able to tell you more about your relative. Tombstone inscriptions can lead you to organizations or clubs they may have been a member of such as Sons of the American Revolution, who may be able to provide you with military records. Funeral home records often record the exact date, time, and location of death.

As I mentioned, death records are also one of the most easily accessible records for genealogists. Because the individual is dead, there is not so much concern over privacy as there might be with other documentation. All of this is not to say that you should begin a search with death records, only that they are an excellent starting point if you have no other documents or records concerning your ancestor. You can just as easily begin with a marriage certificate or census report. Once you have gathered as much information from your own home and your living relatives however, it generally makes sense to make death records the next place you go to to continue your genealogical quest.

If you’re unsure of where to look for death records, the Social Security Death Index is a good place to begin. It is compiled by the United States Social Security Administration, and contains vital data on approximately 90 million individuals. If you are searching an individual from the United Kingdom or whose death record is there, the UK National Archives, or the UKBMD (United Kingdom Birth, Deaths, and Marriages) websites are good places to begin. In Canada, Library and Archives Canada can help you.

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