Friday, July 30, 2021

Prep for Browsing the 1950 US Census in Three Steps

If you haven't started prepping for the release of the 1950 US Census (scheduled for April 1, 2022), you still have time. But do plan ahead.

Browse 7.8 million pages?

When the Census documents are released on that first day, there will be no index and no transcriptions. The public will be able to click through images of every page of the population schedule, with names and details handwritten by enumerators. This genealogical gold mine will be browse-only, in other words.

Who has time to browse all 7,800,000 pages of the population schedule in search of our ancestors?

Three steps to prep for browsing

Getting ready to find ancestors in the unindexed 1950 Census is a three-step process, shown at the top. In recent months, I've posted blog entries about all three steps. Here are the links.

  1. List key ancestors (post is here). This is how you set priorities for who you want to find when the Census is initially released.
  2. Find each ancestor's 1950 residence (post is here). You'll need this to locate your ancestor in the correct Enumeration District.   
  3. Find each ancestor's 1950 Enumeration District (post is here). Turn the address into an ED, thanks to Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub's powerful ED-finder tool.
More about the 1950 US Census

For more about the 1950 US Census, please see my summary page here.

If your genealogy group is seeking a speaker to discuss the 1950 Census release and demonstrate how to look for ancestors, please keep me in mind!


Monday, July 26, 2021

1950 US Census: How Do My Ancestors Compare?


When the 1950 U.S. Census is released on April 1, 2022, I'll have to browse for my ancestors by Enumeration District. No index, no transcriptions, just page-by-page browsing when the Census is initially made public.

After I find ancestors, I'll want to interpret their answers to Census questions in the context of the time and place.

Census number-crunching

The government has already crunched many numbers from the 1950 Census and released analyses (now online).

For instance, one of the Census questions is about 1949 income. I expect my middle-class ancestors will be above the national average of $3,100 in annual family income. The Census Bureau table at top right summarizes the number of families in each income bracket during 1949.

The Census Bureau also released reports about general population characteristics, based on analyses of 1950 Census data. 

As shown at left, the number of college graduates increased dramatically from 1940 to 1950, according to Census data.

Many in my mother's and father's generation were the first in the family to attend or graduate college, being the children of immigrants. A good number of these ancestors served during World War II and went to college on the G.I. Bill.

In my husband's family, ancestors were long-established in their communities and some represented the third generation to go to college. Being aware of these trends and each family's history will help me understand the answers I see in the 1950 Census.

Census by region

For comparison purposes, the Census Bureau also reported statistics by region. Many of my hubby's ancestors lived in the North Central region, while many of my ancestors lived in the Northeast region. As I interpret the answers of our ancestors, I'll try to compare them with their counterparts in the same region, as well as with national trends for that era. 

Read up in advance and be ready for the 1950 U.S. Census release in 2022.

For more about the 1950 US Census release in 2022, see my summary page here.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Surprise: Great-Grandpa Had a First Wife!

Who knew? My great-grandfather, Meyer Elias Mahler (1855?-1910) was married and divorced before he married my great-grandmother, Tillie Rose Jacobs (185x?-1952). I was really surprised to learn about the first marriage when my kind gen friend Lara Diamond discovered this 1877 divorce document in the unindexed but browsable Riga records on Family Search.

The records are in Russian and Hebrew, and not yet transcribed. In the red rectangle above is my great-grandfather's name in Russian handwriting: Meer Eliyash, son of Dovid Akiva Mahler. The record indicates he was 21 at the time of the divorce, and his first wife Gita was 26. They were granted a divorce on the grounds of quarreling.

I'm not the only descendant who never heard this story. It only whetted my appetite to learn more about this branch of my family tree.

Siauliai or Sabile?

Meyer's town is shown as "Shavlin" on the Hebrew side of the document and "Shavel" on the Russian side, Lara told me. Using the "Town Finder" database, I found two possibilities. One is Sabile, Latvia and the other is Siauliai, Lithuania. NOTE: A reader suggested possibly Siaulenai, Lithuania.

Looking through the records for these two towns, I found entries for a David Mahler (or a surname variation like Meller) in both towns. The various entries didn't mention Meyer, only David, but there may be additional names and details on the documents that aren't listed in the extracts. I need both names on one document to determine whether any of these entries is my family and to confirm a hometown.

This research will focus on Lithuania and Latvia, so naturally I'm studying Lara Diamond's strategies for finding genealogical records in Eastern Europe.

In search of Meyer, David, Hinde, and more

I'll be on the lookout for Meyer's mother (Hinde Luria) on a birth record or on a document describing her marriage to David Akiva Mahler. This would be a real long-shot, but it's a possibility.

Meanwhile, I'm also going to browse the unindexed Riga records in search of entries that mention Meyer and/or his second wife and/or his two Latvian-born children. I have a rough idea of which years to search. Although Hebrew and Russian are definitely not my strength, I'm lucky enough to have some help!

My good friend "Is" enlarged the Russian handwriting on Meyer's divorce document and suggested hints for spotting names on these Riga documents. Also, I'm consulting the Family Search Russian genealogical word list as I search. And, given that I could be looking at Lithuanian records on Family Search, I'm reading the LitvakSIG guide to Family History Library films. 

Another important item on my to-do list is to find Meyer Elias Mahler on a ship manifest with an arrival in New York City on or around May 27, 1885. That's the date and port listed on his naturalization index and paperwork, but no ship is named. I've previously browsed passenger manifests for that date and the days before and after, with no success. Time for another look with fresh eyes.

Meyer and family won't be found in a day, but they're on my research list now, with sources to examine. A good start.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Negatives are time capsule of 1919 fashion

My late father-in-law Edgar James Wood (1903-1986) was a photo buff. After receiving a camera for his 14th birthday, he took it on family road trips with his father, James Edgar Wood (1871-1939) and his mother, Mary Slatter Wood (1869-1925). 

Ed saved hundreds of negatives (and a few prints) from 1917 through the 1940s, marking dates on the negatives and notes on the envelopes. I used the "scan, invert, enhance" process to turn the old negatives into clearer positives.

Visit to the Baker family in Toledo, Ohio

Thanks to Ed's notation that these negatives are of the Baker family of Toledo, I can identify the two young ladies shown at left as Dorothy L. Baker (1897-1981) and Edith E. Baker (1901-1989). I don't which young lady is which, unfortunately. The photographer didn't write an exact date on the negatives, but others in the envelope were taken in 1919.

These two ladies were Ed's first cousins, and he was in touch with them for the next 50 years. How fashionable they were, fur collar, hats, and all!

Fashion of the time

I did an online search for "ladies coat fashion 1919" and found similar outfits for that year. As a result, I do think the negatives were from late that year or perhaps the following year.

At right is Mary Slatter Wood, Ed's mother, in the warm coat and hat she wore during that same trip. 

Her husband James drove the family from their home in Cleveland, Ohio to Toledo, Ohio, stopping along the way to picnic and to fix flat tires. Mary and everyone else in the car were smart to bundle up against the elements, because their 1917 Ford probably had no built-in heater!


"Fashion" is this week's #52Ancestors prompt from Amy Johnson Crow.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Prepping for 1950 US Census: Address Details Matter!

As I prep for the release of the 1950 U.S. Census on April 1, 2022, I'm listing  ancestors and researching their 1950 addresses. This helps me find the correct ED (Enumeration District) for browsing Census images before indexing and transcription are completed.

A fair number of ancestors in my tree and hubby's tree are listed in directories. This makes it easy to take the street address and look up the enumeration district (ED) using Steve Morse & Joel Weintraub's fantastic "Unified Census ED Finder" tool. 

North, south, east, or west?

When I was looking for the ED of one of my husband's Larimer ancestors, I used the drop-down menus on the ED Finder tool to specify state (Indiana), county (Elkhart), and and town (Goshen). See image at bottom of post.

Next, I entered the exact number of the residence, which is 205 North 8th Street.

However, the street name on the drop-down menu is shown only as "8th" with no provision for north or south. See the green oval on the image below.

Without specifying north or south, the finder gives me 6 possible EDs (see image at bottom). Yikes, too many!

I mapped both 205 S. 8th (not where the ancestor lived) and 205 N. 8th (star shows correct location). As image at top shows, these two addresses are nowhere near each other and would not be in the same ED! I need to narrow things down.

Use map and cross streets 

The ED Finder can get me much closer to the actual street address. It instructs me to click to look at the map (see purple arrow pointing to "Google map" on image below). 

The next step is to locate a cross street and/or a back street. Those are boundaries for enumerators, and will reduce the number of EDs in which an address might be located. 

Tracing 205 N. 8th, I saw a prominent back street on the same block: Crescent. When I entered that into the ED Finder tool, only a single ED showed up: 20-69.

Paying attention to this address detail will spare me a lot of unnecessary browsing when the Census is made public next year.

Try the Unified Census ED Finder and see how easy it is to locate your ancestor's Enumeration District.

For more posts about prepping for the 1950 Census, please see my summary page.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

1950 Census Occupations: Special Care!


As part of my prep for the release of the 1950 Census on April 1, 2022, I'm making notes about items to check when I browse the images for key ancestors. The 1950 Census has so much detail for genealogy purposes...including occupation. 

How will the 1950 US Census show the occupation of my ancestors? Some worked in "occupations for which special care is necessary" according to the instructions in the Enumerator's Reference Manual, which can be read and downloaded for free. But there are distinctions, and I'm not sure exactly how the enumerator will have captured the exact nature of these occupations.

Dad = travel agent or business owner?

Will the 1950 enumerator specify that my father, Harold Burk (1909-1978) was not just an agent but a travel agent? Or will the enumerator show him as a business owner (of the Burk Travel Service in Manhattan)?

My uncle, Sidney Burk (1914-1995), also worked in the business. Will he be shown as a travel agent, specifically? 

Uncle = teacher?

Will the 1950 enumerator specify that my uncle, Fred Shaw (1912-1991), was an economics or history teacher at a high school in New York City? The enumerator is supposed to identify the main subject taught by teachers. I'm going to see which subject was considered my uncle's main subject, since he taught both.

When is a clerk not a clerk?

The instructions say that a clerk who sells items in a store is to be enumerated as a salesman. A few of my ancestors worked in retailing. Will the Census show their occupations as clerk or as salesman or saleswoman?? I can't wait to find out.


Think about what you expect to see as your ancestors' occupations on the 1950 Census, and whether any special rules for enumerators apply. You may be surprised to see just how the occupations are described--and in how much detail.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Anatomy of a Bite-Sized Ancestor Bio

For the past year, I've been writing bite-sized biographies of ancestors to share publicly on My Heritage, WikiTree, Find a Grave, Family Search, and other genealogy sites. Apart from listing basic facts (birth, marriage, death), I also like to provide context and family connections, making each ancestor three-dimensional. 

Above is an excerpt of a bite-sized bio I wrote for my paternal grandmother, Henrietta Mahler Burk (1881-1954), and posted on her Find a Grave memorial page. Previously, I had posted a photo of her gravestone, as well as a photo showing her in 1937 (not visible in this excerpt). Also, I linked Henrietta to her parents and siblings, her husband, and one of her children on Find a Grave.*

Headline summarizes the story

My preference is to add a headline summarizing the highlights of each bio. In the case of my paternal grandmother, the headline shows she was an immigrant ancestor, mother of four, grandmother of five. 

The bio mentions her work as a stenographer before her marriage, but I didn't list a career in the headline because she didn't hold that occupation for very long. If Henrietta had been known for a particular skill or talent (needlework, music, rocket science, etc.) I would have noted it in the story and the headline. 

Cradle to grave

My bite-sized bio includes the ancestor's birth date, place, and parents, plus siblings where it's natural to weave in that info. Exact dates are shown for key facts (BMD for instance).

Sometimes there are special circumstances to note. I can't prove Henrietta was born in Riga, even though her husband's naturalization petition lists that as her birth place. Knowing that many immigrants in my family took the easy way out when asked about home town and named a nearby city instead of the tiny town where they were actually born, I used the wording "in or near." 

Next, my bio follows the major moves in Henrietta's life--literally a number of moves between her birth place, her residences, and then back and forth to Canada with her husband and children. Covering the key instances in her husband's life that affected her life creates a bit of overlap between the two ancestor bios, but that's OK. 

Sources noted (briefly)

To avoid interrupting the narrative flow of the bio, I note sources briefly in brackets. This signals to readers that the bio is based on solid sources beyond "family lore." Now or in the future, people can retrace my research with the aid of these brief sources. 

I also posted a version of this bio on WikiTree, Family Search, and My Heritage. This keeps Henrietta "alive" in multiple places online, and it also serves as cousin bait! 


* Ancestry recently changed its terms of use (August, 2021). The changes mean that when we upload a photo or other content, we are giving Ancestry "a perpetual, sublicensable, worldwide, non-revocable, royalty-free license to host, store, copy, publish, distribute, provide access to, create derivative works of, and otherwise use such User Provided Content..." 

This applies across Ancestry-owned platforms, such as Find a Grave. Read more about the changes at Judy Russell's blog post here. I don't agree with what Ancestry is doing, and am currently deleting many (but not all) family photos from my public trees. Please consider carefully before posting to these sites.

There's more about bite-sized bios and other fun projects in my popular webinar or live presentation, "Bring Family History Alive in Bite-Sized Projects."

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Organizing and Storing Family History

In an informal poll on Twitter this week, I asked how people organize and store #Genealogy and #FamilyHistory materials. Here are the results, with 109 answers recorded.

Most used method: file folders

File folders took first place, with nearly 39% of the votes. Additional tweets noted that some people use color-coded files and folders. (Color-coding doesn't work for everyone, as Janine Adams wrote in a blog post this week.)

A lot of people said they use file folders in combination with other storage. Me too! See below.


In second place: binders. I really admire how Paul Chiddicks organized his genealogical records, which he blogged about last year here. Do take a minute to see how he uses binders, with color-coded labels. Plus a table of contents in each binder. Great organization.

Digital storage

Several participants noted their use of multiple digital storage methods to supplement or replace physical storage. New to me was the concept of network attached storage, high-capacity digital storage that allows you to access files on the network from multiple locations (at home, at work, etc.). PC Magazine has a recent review of these devices, in case you want to see capacity and pricing.

One comment mentioned rotating two different hard drives; another comment mentioned off-site storage, such as keeping a hard drive backup at a second location. I have two hard drives plus cloud storage. I back up automatically every day at the same time, and also back up manually when I'm working on a particular file. 

My fave: archival boxes 

Although I use file folders extensively, my originals (including old photos, certificates, albums, yearbooks, and more) are stored in archival boxes, keeping the contents safe yet easily accessed.

As shown at right, these have reinforced corners and can be stacked without crushing the contents. With my trusty label maker, I write surnames and contents on two sides so I can see at a glance what's stored where.

The key is to experiment and find out what works best for you. 

Monday, July 5, 2021

Free: Finding Capt. Slatter in the Internet Archive

After watching Thomas MacEntee's talk on the Internet Archive during THE Genealogy Show, I returned to this data-rich resource with fresh ideas of what was available and how to search. 

Not only is the Internet Archive entirely free, it has some scanned resources from places that I would otherwise have to visit and research in person. See for yourself at

Searching for John D. Slatter

Because Canadian collections are well represented on the Internet Archive, I began with a new search for Capt. John Daniel Slatter (1864-1954), my husband's great uncle. At the turn of the 20th century, Capt. Slatter was renowned as the leader of the internationally-known Kiltie Band, the 48th Highlanders of Toronto. 

From previous searches, I knew this ancestor was often mentioned in news items and in city directories as John D. Slatter. That's how I searched for him in text contents (see above) of Internet Archive. I didn't limit my search by date or by collection, but I did put his name in quotes to search only for that phrase. Some searches take a few moments longer but it's worth the wait.

New finds for free! 

On the first page of results, I found John D. Slatter in the text of a calendar from the Toronto Conservatory of Music for the 1914-1915 term. 

He was listed as Bandmaster, 48th Highlanders, and a teacher of cornet, French horn, slide trombone, euphonium, and tuba. Our family never knew this ancestor played tuba, and we never knew he was on the faculty of this institution.

Also I found calendars for the University of Toronto, for the period 1913-1917. John D. Slatter was listed in the university materials as being on the faculty for the Conservatory of Music in those years. The Conservatory had an affiliation with the university, listing faculty for both institutions. It's a small thing, but we didn't know about it.

Next, I'll plug in more Slatter names, because Capt. Slatter had two bandmaster brothers also in Canada. With luck, one or both will be in the Internet Archive.

UPDATE: I found new results for Captain Albert Slatter and more results for Capt. John D. Slatter! Nearly all out of copyright (check rights document by document) and available to post here and on my family trees. Below, Capt. John Slatter at center of front row, leading the U of Toronto band in 1937.


"Free" is this week's #52Ancestors prompt from Amy Johnson Crow.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Fourth of July Greeting from Last Century


More than a century ago, this colorful Fourth of July penny postcard was sent to my hubby's Wood family in Cleveland, Ohio.

Aunts, uncles, and cousins in the family took advantage of every opportunity to exchange penny postcards and stay in touch with a few words. 

Still in the family are cards they sent for Christmas, the New Year, and Thanksgiving. 

We also have postal greetings from holidays like July 4th, President Lincoln's birthday, and President Washington's birthday. 

Have a happy, healthy, and safe Independence Day.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Hashtags + Family History = Fun

Many weeks, I have fun participating in Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors blogging challenge, writing something that loosely fits the week's theme. Each theme encourages me to look at my family's history through a slightly different lens. Theme-related posts are on her Generations Cafe FB page and also tagged as #52Ancestors on Twitter (find her at 

In addition to that hashtag, I watch Twitter for #Genealogy and #FamilyHistory tags, not to mention the regularly-scheduled chats tagged as #AncestryHour on Tuesdays and #GenChat on alternate Fridays (including tonight, July 2, 10 pm Eastern). This is NOT a complete list--many other fun chats can be found on Twitter.

# Hash Tag Party 

Today happens to be the monthly #ArchivesHashTagParty, when archives near and far post photos and commentary based on the month's theme. 

For July, the theme is #ArchivesSignature. I've had fun reading tweets and seeing signatures held by archives including the Danbury (CT) Museum (Marian Anderson's signature), Connecticut State Library (Civil War enlistment signed by X), the History Center in Tompkins County (George Washington), the Smithsonian Archives (James Smithson, who else?), and many more. 

My post was the signature shown at top. On June 22, 1906, my immigrant great grandfather Moritz Farkas (1857-1936) signed the oath to become a U.S. citizen. It was a proud moment in his life and I am so delighted to have his signature on the naturalization document from 115 years ago. 

Great-grandpa's signature is part of my personal family history archive. By sharing his signature on Twitter, I'm honoring his memory and joining the fun.