Archive for March, 2014

March 26th, 2014

Where to Find Free Civil Registration Indexes on the Internet

Some of the first records we need to find in our genealogical research are vital records. Before spending any money on Civil Registration certificates, check out these two websites that have a massive collection of vital records that you can view online for free.
Founded in 1996 by Lorine McGinnis Schulze, was one of the first websites to make primary sources available on the Web with its Ship Passengers lists. Lorine was encouraged by her father to research her family genealogy at an early age, and accelerated her efforts after he passed away. Genealogy has become a life long love of hers, which is reflected in the impressive collection of databases she now hosts on her website.

The Native American indexes are only a fraction of what has to offer, other indexes include:

  • Huguenot Resources
  • Mennonite resources
  • Quaker resources
  • Immigration and Ship’s Passenger lists
  • Almshouse records
  • Orphan records
  • Canadian Naturalization records and Census reports
  • Military records

The website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints (Mormon Church) houses the largest database of genealogical records in the world, the collection containing over one billion records. The database is known as the International Genealogical Index (IGI), and it has been compiled by dedicate volunteers consisting of genealogists and church members who over the years continue to add vital records of people from around the world. There are too many indexes held in the IGI mention them all here, but following is a summary of the records you can access online according to geographical location.

1. Birth, Death, Burial and Marriage registrations from 1661-1910
2. Baptismal records from 1661-1900
3. Census reports – 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891
4. Parish records form 1621-1905

1. Civil Registration from 1860-1950
2. Marriages from 1570-1950
3. Deaths from 1680-1940
4. Baptisms from 1560-1940
5. Census 1930
6. Church records from 1886-1933

United States
1. Alabama – Births, Deaths, Burials, Baptisms and Marriages 1816-1974
2. Arizona – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings 1870-1994
3. Arkansas – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings 1837-1963
4. Connecticut – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings 1649-1934
5. Delaware – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings 1710-1955
6. District of Columbia – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings 1830-1964
7. Florida – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings 1837-1974, Census reports 1885, 1935,1945
8. Georgia – Deaths and Marriages from 1808-1967
9. Hawaii – Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Christenings 1826-1933
10. Idaho – Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Christenings from 1826-1965
11. Louisiana – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings 1804-1954
12. Maine – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings from 1739-1907
13. Massachusetts – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings 1639-1915, Census reports 1855, 1865
14. Michigan – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings from 1775-1995
15. Minnesota – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings 1840-1990, Census reports 1885, 1895
16. New Hampshire – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings pre-1654 – 1920
17. New Mexico – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings 1726-1955
18. New York – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings from 1640-1962, Ellis Island Passenger Lists 1892-1924, Census reports 1865, 1892, 1905
19. North Carolina – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings 1759-1994
20. Texas – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings 1796-1973
21. Utah – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings from 1887-1956
22. Vermont – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings from 1769-1965, Enrolled Militia records 1861-1867
23. West Virginia – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings 1853-1970
24. Wisconsin – Births, Deaths, Marriages, Burials and Christenings from 1826-1930, Census reports 1855, 1875, 1885, 1895, 1905
25. United States Census reports – 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 11920

The above are merely the top twenty five databases for United States vital records contained on the website. There are also worldwide databases, and other state databases, including the Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files and Civil War Pension Index cards, and the Freedmans Bank records 1865-1874,. The international databases are as extensive and detailed as those of the united States, and one has to appreciate the work done by the Latter Day Saints and the thousands of non-member volunteers who have worked tirelessly to create this genealogical goldmine.

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March 19th, 2014

Don’t Just Find Genealogical Facts – Analyze Them!

Of course when we’re researching our ancestors, our initial goal is to find fact about them and their life. Unfortunately, many beginning genealogists stop with those facts. They write them down into their family tree or family group records and file them away, never learning much about their ancestor except their vital statistics. There is so much underlying information in any facts we find however, we just need to understand how to analyze the data so that it unveils the story beneath.

For example, let’s say your great-grandfather was a cattle rancher in the early days of Wyoming. Rather than simply write that down as “occupation” beside his name in your family group sheet, why not dig a little deeper and research what was involved in cattle ranching in Wyoming in the 19th century. Were there licenses to be applied for, brand registration of some sort? Maybe your great-grandfather took out a loan to finance his business. In that case, there may be bank records that exist.

Such documents can not only help you to find other documents that may lead to other ancestors, but help to paint a picture of the type of man your relative was, and some of the challenges he or she may have faced in their lifetime. Thus, when you are telling someone about your ancestor, or writing about them, you can do so in much more detail, bringing them alive with that extra information.

  • Build a Timeline. A really effective method of putting your ancestor’s life into context is to create a timeline for their life alongside a parallel timeline for local, national, and world history. Understanding that your ancestor survived the Great Famine of Ireland, or struggled through the Great Depression, not only provides you with a deeper knowledge of them, but of the time period as well.
  • Make Use of Maps. Maps can be both useful and fun to incorporate into a genealogy project. Not only can they provide you with an appreciation of the area in which your ancestor lived, but you can also map out their travels if they were immigrants. Pay attention to where they may have stopped during their journey, as they may have stayed with other relatives. One way to find out for sure is to check census records in the area for the time period that your ancestors were there.
  • Use Historical Photographs. Whenever you are researching an ancestor in a particular area it is a good idea to at least have a look at a few historical photographs of the area, and the era. Sometimes the only clue you might have will be a photograph. In such a case, look closely at the clothes they wear, as fashion can indicate what era the photograph was taken in, and can give you a date range in which to search for records.

Finding genealogical facts is fun, but expanding on those facts to explore your ancestor’s personality and life circumstances is what genealogy is really all about. After all, we set out to find where and who we came from in order to better understand who we are. A book full of data won’t do much to answer that, but sifting through that data to uncover the person behind it most certainly will. Happy ancestor hunting!

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March 12th, 2014

Digitizing America’s Oldest Documents

A collection of centuries old papers filed away in the basement of a Catholic convent in St. Augustine, Florida have turned out to be America’s oldest written historical and genealogical documents. The documents date from 1594 till the mid-18th century, and are actually vital records (birth, death, and marriage records) and baptismal records of residents of St. Augustine. They are written in Spanish, and are now being digitized by a team from the University of South Florida headed by Michael Francis, professor of history.

The students and Professor Francis have spent many months digitizing the 6,000 plus pages so that the records survive beyond the life of the paper they are currently printed on. The documents have a historical value as well as a genealogical one. “The documents shed light on aspects of Florida history that are very difficult to reconstruct,” Francis said. Florida was discovered in 1523 by Juan Ponce de Leon after Spanish monarchy sent him on a mission to find another island off Cuba rumored to have vast riches.

It is moist likely that De Leon wasn’t the first European to land in Florida, and it is uncertain whether or not he visited St. Augustine or cities more to the north and south. St. Augustine is however America’s oldest European settlement, settled nearly a century before Jamestown, Virginia and Plymouth, Massachusetts. Because America is an English speaking country, historians believe that emphasis is placed on the accomplishments of English speakers rather than those of foreign nations.

The documents discovered in St. Augustine however hold the key to the forgotten history of 16th century Florida. They are written in a beautiful, flowing script, and for genealogists and historians researching early Florida inhabitants, they are a treasure trove of information. They have even revealed that early Florida life was quite comfortable, and not the terrible struggle that it was in the colonies further north. “People’s daily lives here weren’t the difficult struggle that was often represented,” said Professor Francis, “most homes had gardens and fruit trees.”

Although the documents are worn and yellowed as expected, they are not as well preserved as they could have been, as someone in the past had attempted to preserve them by enclosing them in shrink wrap. The acids in the plastic have damaged the paper, though it is generally around the outer edges of the pages, so most of the text is intact.

The parish where the documents were found was established inn 1565, but parish records from the first 25 years are missing. They are however continuous from 1594 through 1763 (the year the British took control of the city), giving researchers nearly 200 years of historical records that were previously unavailable. Initially the records were sent to Cuba, but were returned to St. Augustine in 1906.

The documents reveal that 16th century St. Augustine was a very diverse place, as the records contain accounts by and references to Spanish missionaries, Irish priests, Native Americans, and freed slaves. Francis was particularly amazed at the accounts of slaves who had escaped plantations from other southern states and as far north as New York.

“Many accounts are of slaves who escaped plantations in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, slaves in fact who had come all the way from New York City, to come to St. Augustine,” he said. “And when you read those, one immediately begins to imagine a situation in which they’re in these plantations, and they decide, one day, to try to escape and make their way to St. Augustine.”

The documents will eventually be made available online for anyone to view; they are currently hosted by the Archives of the Diocese of St. Augustine.

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March 5th, 2014

Is Your Family a Branch on the World’s Biggest Family Tree?

Yaniv Erlich is a computational biologist, but he is also the world’s most renowned “genome hacker.” He has conducted many experiments over the years to prove that the identities of those who participate in genetic research can be uncovered by cross-referencing the DNA data with that available in the public domain. He has now constructed the world’s largest family tree containing information on thirteen million individuals. Scientists will use the data to analyze how genetic traits such as facial features and longevity are inherited.

There is no danger of anyone in the family tree having their identity revealed however, as Erlich and his team will conceal the identities of those involved. Unfortunately that means you won’t know if you and your family line are among those included, but if you have ever participated in genetic research, and that includes having had a DNA test to trace your ancestry, there is a good chance that you are.

Fortunately all of that information will be put to good use, even providing valuable information on population expansion and demographics. The best part of course if that the data may one day be able to provide important medical information.

Digging Deep

Your pedigree can provide valuable clues about your genetic inheritance. The farther down your family line your DNA is compared to that of one of your ancestors, the more accurately scientists can determine just how deeply rooted in your DNA your genetic traits are based. They can even determine whether those traits are dictated by a few genes that are extremely influential, or by many smaller genes that have a minor influence.

Because it would take decades to assemble so much data from so many individuals, Erlich and his team “borrowed” the data from over forty million profiles on the website. All of the information they gathered was in individual profiles, and included birth and death dates, event locations, and even the occasional photograph. That data was then formed into family trees, some only containing a few thousand individuals, the largest thirteen million.

The exact use of all of this genetic and genealogical information has not yet been determined, though it is enthusiastically supported by members of the scientific community. The marriage of genealogy and genetics is still in the infant stage, but as more and more people become willing to share their genealogical data and their DNA, the possibilities are tremendous!

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