Showing posts with label free genealogy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label free genealogy. Show all posts

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.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: Genealogy--Free or Fee, part 3

Sending for a Social Security application is not cheap. And yet I've sent for several, during my Genealogy Go-Over and earlier.

Here's an example from 2009. I wanted to confirm my maternal grandfather's home town and parents' names. At the time, these applications weren't indexed or available anywhere else. Today, you can often see some application info on Ancestry or other sites.

Above is what I received for my money eight years ago. Yes, Theodore (Teddy) Schwartz (1887-1965) was born in Ungvar, Hungary, on May 21, 1887. His parents were Herman and Hanna. And the address is where my grandparents lived for a few years, before selling their dairy store and moving around the corner from Tremont Ave. in the Bronx, NY.

In 2009, there was no electronic way to request these forms, and the wait seemed interminable (about 2 months). Today, just click to the website and have your plastic payment ready, which cuts a little time off the wait.

A better example is what I learned when I started the Gen Go-Over. I finally bought a copy of the application of my paternal grandfather, Isaac Burk (1882-1943). It revealed his mother's maiden name and his hometown. It also told me he was working for his brother-in-law, which I didn't know. Looking at the application, I suspect Isaac didn't write it himself but did sign it (I've seen his laborious signature on other documents).

The bottom line is: Try all the free possibilities first, including free access to the big genealogy websites through your public library or family history library. But if you absolutely, positively cannot get the details or the confirmation in any other way, and this information is critical to your research, do consider paying for this document, which contains info personally provided by your ancestor (even if he or she didn't actually write the information but only signed the paperwork).

My reasoning:
  • This is a good place to see an ancestor's parents' names. I needed to confirm Grandpa Isaac's parents' names, which were indistinct on his marriage license.
  • This is a good (sometimes the only) way to see a maiden name. That's what happened with Grandpa Isaac, among other ancestors. I fought hard to see the full SSA details of a cousin's ancestor, showing the maiden name of his mother, because without it, I couldn't get the final piece of the puzzle in place and prove the family relationship. Patience and perseverance will pay off if you have to fight to see redacted details.* It took me two appeals, but I won. And solved the puzzle!
  • This is sometimes a good way to learn or confirm hometown or homeland info. Grandpa Teddy and Grandpa Isaac show this in action. I appreciated using their SSA info to confirm other documentation.
  • This will give you a clue to home and work addresses that you can research in more depth. Suppose you can't find someone in the Census but you do know that person had a Social Security number, which you located via the Social Security Death Index or through another method. At least you'll have an address as of the date of this application. My 2d cousin found Teddy's address in a note her mother had squirreled away decades ago. Now that I knew when Teddy lived at that address, I could be more certain of when the young lady was in touch with Teddy. It helped us understand the close relationship between Teddy and his niece. 
  • Other details. Maybe, like me, you'll learn something surprising about the person's occupation or employer. I'm always hoping to flesh out my ancestors' lives so they're more than a name and a few dates.
I've written two other posts about Genealogy, Free or fee: Part 1 and Part 2 (more are in the works).

Please feel free to comment about your "free genealogy" experiences or what you believe is worth paying for! Thank you.

*The appeal is one way to see what has been blocked from view on a person's SSA. I don't think there's an appeal process for requesting a record that the authorities say doesn't exist or they can't find. But if you receive an application with names blocked from view, it's worth rereading the privacy rules and trying to appeal by sending documents to prove that the dates are beyond when any of these people would be living. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: Free or Fee Genealogy, Part 2

Birth, marriage, death records really are vital records, since they have vital details for genealogical research. But they're not the only records I feel are vital for my Genealogy Go-Over and for ongoing discoveries about ancestors in my family tree.

Naturalization papers are a treasure trove of info, really important when I don't know someone's home town or birth date, and of course the names of witnesses can be the icing on the cake. When an ancestor is in my direct line, I usually do my best to get his or her naturalization, even if I have to pay for it, so I can double-check against other documents in my possession. Still, ordering from NARA takes time, not just money.

My favorite free source is Family Search, and even if I have to order a low-cost microfilm of naturalizations, it's a bargain and doesn't take much time. Many naturalizations are currently available through my Ancestry subscription, but not all. I used to have Fold3 access, which put many naturalizations at my finger tips.

Since many of my ancestors (maybe yours too) came through Ellis Island or Castle Garden and stayed in the New York/New Jersey area, I use Italiangen.org to see what naturalization documents are available before I make up my mind about paying.

Naturalizations in other countries aren't as easy to obtain from a distance. I was elated to discover last year that my great-uncle Abraham Berk's naturalization file could be requested from the Canadian authorities for the princely sum of $5 . . . until I realized that only Canadian residents could make the request. May I say how lucky I am that a friendly genealogy blogger in Canada graciously volunteered to place the order? Only a few weeks later, she scanned and sent me pages and pages of fascinating details from his file, including the document shown here, confirming his home town and other key details. Wow.

BONUS: After sharing my previous post on this subject with the Genealogy Do-Over community on Facebook, commenters there and on my blog offered more ideas about ways to save money on vital records and other genealogical documents. Here are some of their ideas:

  • Check to see if there's a Facebook genealogy page for the locality where your ancestor was living or born/married/died. A volunteer might know of a local source for the document you're seeking or be willing to get it for you.
  • Consider a "road trip" to get multiple documents from local authorities, if feasible.
  • Check with the local genealogical society or historical society about whether some documents are in their files. (It works: I've saved some money this way, paying the local society for photocopies and a small donation.)
  • Do a thorough online search--some places have put parish records and census records online, for example.
  • Request help from the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness folks, paying for copies etc.

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.