Showing posts with label Family Search. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Family Search. Show all posts

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Family History Month: My Favorite FREE Genealogy Sites

I admit to playing favorites! My three favorite free genealogy sites are Family Search, Heritage Quest, and Find a Grave. I use all three nearly every day. Especially if I'm researching someone new to my tree, I'll check all three to see what I can find. 
  • FamilySearch.org - Not only does this comprehensive site have an incredible amount of information available for free (registration is required to view some images), the scanned images are also different quality than on other sites. If I look at the scanned Census on some other genealogy site and it's too light to be read, for instance, I can click to Family Search and see a different scan of that same Census. Even vital records scanned and posted on Family Search are often of different quality than from other sources. Case in point is the marriage license of hubby's maternal grandparents, Floyda Mabel Steiner (1878-1948) and Brice Larimer McClure (1878-1970). I paid for a copy nearly four years ago--then it turned up, for free, on Family Search three years ago. And the free copy was better quality than the paid copy! Plus Family Search's indexers may transcribe a name or place differently than the indexers used by other sites. This means I might find someone on this site after striking out on another site.
  • Heritage Quest - Many libraries offer cardholders free access to Heritage Quest from home. And it's a gold mine, not just for US Census data (including special schedules like the veterans schedule) but also for Revolutionary War pension and bounty-land records, Freedman's Bank Records, some immigration and naturalization records (newly added), Social Security Death Index, and much more. Ancestry "powers" Heritage Quest, so I suspect we'll see even more content available in the future. Remember, the scanned images and indexing is not the same as on other sites. No wonder I check here when I can't find someone or an image elsewhere isn't clear enough for me to decipher all the details.
  • Find a Grave - So many volunteers who create memorials and post grave photos on this site go above and beyond. It's always worth checking for an ancestor on Find a Grave because we may get lucky enough to see a death cert along with a memorial, or a transcribed census record, or a photo. I've been on a mission to indicate relationships on all of my ancestors on Find a Grave, linking parents to their children, for instance, as well as spouses to each other. Although I always double-check anything I find on this site, it's very helpful to see the relationship links and any additional details posted by volunteers. Gives me clues when I begin researching someone I don't know!
For more posts in my Genealogy, Free or Fee series, see here.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Genealogy, Free or Fee: Search for Clues in Family Hands

Some of the best free sources of clues to elusive ancestors are in the hands of your family. Several times during my Genealogy Go-Over, I've smashed brick walls because of something that was in the possession of a cousin--a letter/envelope, an address book, a photo, a funeral notice--that pointed me in the direction of solving the mystery.

Today's "free or fee" tip is a reminder to ask siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles (plus, of course, grandparents, if they're alive!) to look for photos and documents. Something as seemingly insignificant as an address book or a letter in an envelope can be an incredible source of information to confirm a name or reveal a relationship. Even if we've asked before, we should ask again.

For example, Mom's address book (unearthed barely a week ago) has proven to be an absolute gold mine of clues to elusive ancestors. It turned up in a box in the attic of a relative, filed with lots of other things from decades ago. This address book was one of two clues I used yesterday to demolish yet another brick wall in my father's Burk family.

A Burk cousin very kindly let me see a handwritten letter to his mother from "Aunt Jenny Salkowitz" in Lakeland, Florida. Wait, the name and return address looked familiar. Yes, they matched a name and address in Mom's address book. So who, exactly, were Aunt Jenny and her husband Paul?

Five years ago, I noticed a "Jenny Birk" living with Grandpa Isaac Burk's in-laws in the 1910 Census. After that, no trace of her. Now I suspected that "Aunt Jenny" was actually Jenny Burk or Birk, sister to my Grandpa Isaac Burk. How to prove it?

Using the Census, I found Jenny and Paul Salkowitz in New York City from 1920 through 1940. At one point, this couple was living in the same apartment building as Isaac Burk's in-laws--the same building where "Jenny Birk" lived as a boarder in 1910! So far, so good.

What about Jenny Salkowitz's maiden name? I tried the free ItalianGen.org site, and there I found "Jenie Burk" in the bride's index for 1919. Clicking to see the groom's name, I found "Paul Salkofsky." Names were close enough, and the marriage year fit what they told the Census takers. (Remember, we have to be creative and flexible about names and dates when searching.)

I plugged this info into Family Search, and up popped a transcribed summary of their marriage record, showing that Jennie Burk's father was Elias Burk (the name of Isaac Burk's father). Quicker than you can say, "Jackpot," I sent $15 to the NYC Municipal Archives to request the three-page marriage application, affidavit, and license with much more detail.

So the proof will cost me $15 but the rest of the research was free--and it all began with Mom's address book and a letter held by my cousin for more than 50 years. The clues were in family hands all along! I just needed to get the clues into my hands.

This is part of my ongoing series, Genealogy, Free or Fee. Links to other entries are here.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: Free or Fee Genealogy, Part 4--Learn to Record-Strip

Do you record-strip?

Record-strip is a term used by the historians on a recent Backstory podcast about American history. They were referring to the practice of gleaning as much info as possible from each document and using those insights to develop a more nuanced view of an individual in historical context.

There's a difference between collecting documents for genealogy and actually record-stripping them. And doing a Genealogy Do-Over is forcing me to go back and reexamine my collection.

Years ago, when I was taking my first baby steps in genealogy, I was given a checklist of personal sources to use in researching my ancestors. Many were documents that an ancestor would have during the course of his or her life and many were documents to be obtained from authorities (for a fee) or to be created in the course of my research.

You can see an excellent checklist of suggested sources (free and fee) on Family Search. And these checklists are extremely valuable!

But as a baby genealogist, I didn't really know how to use the list. I enthusiastically set off in search of these documents and checked off each item for each ancestor, as you can see on the actual list excerpt here.

In other words, I was playing genealogy bingo, acquiring or creating the documents without understanding exactly why. When a document wasn't readily available, I thought about who in the family might have it or how I might acquire it, free or fee.

It didn't take long for me to realize that the point wasn't to acquire as many of those items as possible and check them off when I filed them away.

I didn't have the terminology or experience then, but now I can say the point is to record-strip the documents for specific details. What can each document tell me about my ancestor?


For example, "library cards" are on the list. What can those records show, apart from a love of learning or books? Maybe a nickname, maybe a clue to a neighborhood I didn't know my ancestor lived in. What about "funeral home receipts"? A hint about who had the money to pay for a certain ancestor's funeral, or the name of "next of kin" being a relative I didn't know about . . . you get the idea.

Before I can determine what is worth paying for, I need to step back and think: What will that record tell me? Do I have the info on another document or can I get it fairly easily from another source? Is the info "nice to know" or truly "need to know"?

So Tuesday's Tip is: Learn to record-strip each document and get full value from it, don't just play genealogy bingo.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Thrifty Thursday: Free or Fee Genealogy?

During my Genealogy Go-Over, I'm carefully checking what I know and don't know, looking at my evidence, and filling in the gaps by obtaining vital records and other documents.

Since money doesn't happen to grow on my family tree, I have to pick and choose what I will pay for. Fee or free genealogy? It's not always a straightforward decision.

Increasingly, documents that I purchased even a year or two ago are showing up on free genealogy sites like Family Search and on fee-based genealogy sites like Ancestry.


A case in point is the above marriage document for hubby's grandparents, Brice Larimer McClure and Floyda Mabel Steiner. I sent a check to buy a copy two years ago, when doing the original "Do-Over" program. I considered it to be a good investment because it revealed that Grandma Floyda had been married once before. That sent me to the newspaper archives to learn more...and I fleshed out this ancestor's life a bit.

Since that time, more Ohio vital records have been made available through Family Search. And in fact, the very clear image above is not from the copy I purchased but the free version available on Family Search.


I'm still collecting documents for my Go-Over. Being a long-time Ancestry subscriber, I always check there first. But if it's not on Ancestry, where would it be? Here's my thought process on deciding what to pay for (and I'd be interested in yours, readers).

In general:
  1. Try Family Search. Best free site to start looking for most documents! Two years ago, this license wasn't available through a Family Search name/date search. I checked the wiki to see what documents are available from the time and place. I learned from the Wyandot county part of the Ohio wiki that marriage documents weren't always filed as required by law before 1908. I knew Grandma Floyda was married in 1903. I called the county clerk first and she kindly checked in the database. Once I knew the document was available, I was almost ready to send money but first I checked a few more sites.
  2. Try Cyndi's List. This will point to fee-based and free sites that might have a document or information. I looked at "Ohio" but no luck with a Wyandot county site for a freebie on Floyda's marriage or divorce docs.
  3. Try Linkpendium.com. This will tell me whether some other local source might be holding certain documents. In this case, no luck on holdings that would include Grandma Floyda's marriage or divorce paperwork for free.
In the end, I decided to spend the money for Grandma Floyda's marriage document. I had no way of knowing when or if Family Search would have that document available, either online or via microfilm.

Now, with Reclaim the Records, there are more ways to obtain documents than even a couple of years ago.