Showing posts with label how-to. Show all posts
Showing posts with label how-to. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

FREE: City Directories on HeritageQuest

Did you know you can access US city directories via HeritageQuest Online, for free? In Vermont, Los Angeles, New York City, and in many other areas, all you need to access the free HeritageQuest genealogy databases from home is a public library card.

In my previous post, I discussed how I used city directories to solve a family mystery. HeritageQuest has lots of town and city directories . . . ready to be searched or browsed from your own keyboard, in your bunny slippers, at any hour.

Does your local library offer HeritageQuest?

Check your local or state library's website or ask your friendly neighborhood librarian about how to access HeritageQuest from home. Usually all you need is a library card number.

Once you log in, go to the "Search" section of the HeritageQuest site (as shown at left).

There you'll see several choices of databases to search--including, as shown at top, the many city directories.

Now you'll have three choices of databases: "people," "publications," and "city directories" (see image at right).

Search name and family member

Click on "city directories" to search by name, with a family member (which sometimes helps), indicate gender, and indicate residence year.

Dates can be approximate--the results usually cover a range of years. Go ahead and click, it's free with your library card. You never know who you will find (or, as in the case of the family mystery I was researching, who you will not find).


This is a brief excerpt from my how-to presentation, Getting the Most Out of HeritageQuest Online. For more about my talks, please click here.

HeritageQuest is only available in Connecticut with a free state library card, by the way, due to budget limitations.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Real Clues on Other People's Trees

Example tree -- I'm not related to Martha or George!
Lately I've been browsing other people's trees in search of real clues to help research elusive ancestors and maybe even break down brick walls.

Of course I'm NOT going to copy anything without confirming for myself, but I do want to see whether other trees have something I don't have.

For example, when I buy a birth cert or a marriage license or some other record, I scan it and post on my Ancestry tree. Sure, I paid for it, but why keep it to myself? After all, I'm sharing with folks who are researching my family. Stands to reason that others might post their purchased documents, too (and I've been lucky enough to find some, thank you).

The same goes for scanning and posting family photos, sometimes with visible dates or other original captions. I add these to my trees and I really appreciate when others are generous enough to share with the rest of us.

So the first thing I do is check the sources on any tree I'm browsing. If the source is only another family tree (X marks the spot on the sample at top), I ignore. I'm looking for a substantive source.

If I see something like the SAR application in the source list above, I gladly click to see what I can learn. I want to actually view the document for myself, because indexing and transcriptions aren't always accurate, let alone complete.

Also I check the "facts" to see whether there is a scan of a document added as media for, say, a marriage, as in the example at top. Maybe I've never seen that media before and it's worth examining...

If so, I download the scan, blow it up to read if necessary, and scrutinize. Credible sources I follow up on and add to my tree once I've verified that the ancestor mentioned belongs to my family.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Beyond "Google Your Family Tree"

I was lucky enough to be in the audience when Dan Lynch talked about the 6 most important search commands needed to "Google Your Family Tree." Having seen Dan speak a number of years ago, and having read his book cover to cover (it's now out of print), it was very educational to hear him update this important topic.

One of the Google "operators" (commands for searching) was new to me, not even mentioned in his book. (BTW, a command he used to advocate using, the tilde, is no longer a Google operator, so he suggested we not bother using it.)

Dan showed how to filter the millions of search results to focus on the most relevant genealogy results by using these key search commands, alone or in combination:
"" (quotation marks)
- (minus sign)
* (wild card)
AROUND(insert number here).

Here's what was new to me: AROUND(#) instructs Google to search for a word or phrase in proximity to another word or phrase by defining the number of words between them. 

To try this kind of search yourself, first do a search for "Google" and go to the Google search home page of your choice. I usually use the US home page, but if you want to search in another country or language, start on that home page (such as Google Canada).

The point is to go fishing in the Google ocean closest to where you would like Google results. Of course, Google often presents results from many countries and in many languages. But by starting on the home page of the nation you particularly want to search, it's more likely that results from that nation will be closer to the top of the list.

Next, choose two phrases (such as names or a name and a place) and choose how many words should separate those names or phrases. Above, my search executed on the Google Canada home page. I'm looking for hubby's great uncle, Captain John Daniel Slatter, who was the long-serving bandmaster of the 48th Highlanders regiment of Toronto.

This search is very restrictive because I'm telling Google to look for highly specific results--only results that have the exact phrase "John D. Slatter" within 4 words (no more than that) of the exact phrase "48th Highlanders." If the words or phrases are 5 words apart, they won't appear in my results. If the words or phrases are 3 or 2 words apart, they will be in my results.

Doing this search, Google tells me I have "around 2,150 results" which sounds more reasonable to check out than, say, 150,000 results or 1,500,000 results. Of course, I already know enough about Capt. Slatter to know he was part of the 48th Highlanders. In this search, I'm trying to locate new material about his role in that regiment.

In reality, Google filtered my actual results even further, omitting results that were very similar to the ones presented on the two pages of results I actually saw. This is typical, and I'm sure you often see that as well. We always have the option to click and repeat with duplicate or similar entries included in the results. Dan hammered home the point that we should always, always click beyond the first page of results. You just never know when an important nugget will be at the bottom of page 2 or even page 5.

In my example, the entire first page of results consisted of entries in my own blog, plus two "we found John Slatter" entries trying to get me to click for his phone number, etc.
However, the second page of results had an entry I'd never seen! It was for the Toronto Conservatory of Music year book of 1914-15, posted for free on the Internet Archive (

I clicked and then, to save time scrolling and scrolling for the highlighted text, I searched within the book. Capt. Slatter appeared twice. The first appearance was in a listing of lessons being offered to students. Here it is, in the wording and typeface as it appeared in the year book:

         TUBA— John D. Slatter, Bandmaster 48th Highlanders 15.00 

This is how AROUND(#) works. It found me something I hadn't found in the past. I'm going to experiment with different versions of Capt. Slatter's name and different number of words for proximity with his regiment, his wife's name, and other family members.

Have you tried searching the Internet for your ancestors using the AROUND(#) operator? If not, go ahead and give it a try!

PS: Don't forget to look at image results. Maybe you'll get really lucky and find an ancestor's photo.

PPS: This post is the most popular of all-time on my genealogy blog, as of 2019!