Monday, February 2, 2015

10 Unexpected Places to Find Family History Online


Genealogy researchers usually look online for the usual website for vital records, probate records, deeds and land records, census, immigration records, historical societies, church records, compiled genealogies, genealogical journals, military records, newspapers, county and town histories.   But what are the unusual places to look? Here is a list of places I've found very helpful:

1.  Blogs – If you are reading this you are either a regular blog reader, or you found this blog post via Google or some other search engine.  There is an easier way to search blogs for surnames, lineages, locales, ethnicities, religions, technical help, societies, or any other search parameter.  These two links will help you search all the genealogy blogs with ease:

Genealogy Blog Finder   http://blogfinder.genealogue.com/  searches almost 1,800 genealogy blogs
GeneaBloggers http://www.geneabloggers.com/search-geneablogger-member-blogs/  this link searches over 3,000 member genealogy and family history related blogs

2.  Poverty Records – Sometimes you have an ancestor who left no will, owned no land, had no occupation... perhaps it is time to look in the poverty records.  Links to asylums, poor farms, workhouses, sanitariums and other institutions, warnings out, Social Security records can be found online through Google and other search engines.  Some of these websites will have databases, but most will just have contact information.  Be prepared to do some paperwork to release records from some state and country institutions, including court orders, due to privacy issues.  If your ancestor shows up as a “pauper” in town records, it will be worth pursuing more information to find out the full story.

Poorhouse records by State   http://www.poorhousestory.com/records.htm
Check the extensive list at Cyndi’s List http://www.cyndislist.com/poor/  for more links

3. Lineage Societies – Most lineage societies are not “secret” nor are their records.  The DAR library http://www.dar.org/library in Washington, DC is a top destination for genealogists, but they also have some records online at this website.  The General Society of Mayflower Descendants has a website https://www.themayflowersociety.org/ but most of their available records are in the Mayflower Families in Progress books (available in libraries, but not online) or at their library in Plymouth, Massachusetts.   Check Cyndi’s List for links to societies with online resources http://www.cyndislist.com/societies/lineage/   Be prepared to ask for records rather than finding extensive databases, since most of these organizations are fun by volunteers, not professional staff.

4. Facebook (believe it or not!)  This link has two PDF files http://socialmediagenealogy.com/genealogy-on-facebook-list/  The first one “Genealogy on Facebook”  by Katherine R. Wilson has over 120 pages with over 4,000 links to international English speaking groups on Facebook- including states, countries, surnames, adoptions, DNA, societies, clubs, etc.  The second link by Gail Dever is a specifically Canadian list that includes French speaking groups and pages. UPDATE:  Gail just told me the day that this posted, she will be updating the Facebook list this week. 
     What I like about Facebook Is that you can join in on the conversations, ask questions, and contribute answers.  You can even start your own page or group! It’s nice to know that your queries about brickwall ancestors will be seen by hundreds of other genealogists, and that your questions about archives, websites and technical issues will be seen by hundreds of other people who have already  experienced  and solved the same technical issues you might be facing right now.

5. eBay-   Did you know that you can search eBay with the surnames from your family tree, or try a search with your ancestor’s full name?  You may find all sorts of items up for sale at eBay including bibles, compiled genealogy books, photographs, letters, engraved items like silverware or jewelry, postcards, and other items.  You can also use location names to find local history books, photographs, postcards and ephemera from where your ancestors lived.   If you don't find anything interesting, try setting up an eBay alert which will notify you by email if anything comes up for sale with the names from your family tree.   There is even an eBay alert app for mobile devices.    http://ebay.about.com/od/searchingeffectivel1/a/se_monitor.htm

6. Art Museums- Look for local and regional museums which may hold the furniture, samplers, clothing, folk art (weathervanes, figureheads, painted furniture), jewelry, or musical instruments of your ancestors.  You can also search the museum records for donations, contributions, building plans and construction crews, boards of trustees and volunteer committees.  If your ancestors didn’t own anything of value to give their local museum, perhaps they gave of their time to support it?  If the museum doesn’t have a searchable website, look for a contact person (archivist, librarian) to email on the homepage.

7. Academic Archives – Contact the school or school district for alumni directories, school censuses, school histories, yearbooks, (check the local library or historical society if the school hasn’t its own library or archive)  OR contact the college or university archives which may include alumni records as well as donated items from people in the region.  Even if your ancestors did not attend the college, perhaps they donated (or family members donated) their personal or business papers and letters to a local college or university.  Again, if the university doesn’t have a searchable website, look for a contact person (archivist, librarian) to email on the homepage or library page.

8. Religious Archives (not just individual churches or institutions, but regional or denomination wide archives such as The Congregational Library in Boston (see the database of digital collections at this link: http://www.congregationallibrary.org/digital-collections ),  The Quaker Information Center http://www.quakerinfo.org/resources/genealogy , Diocesan Catholic Offices, religious newspapers and journals.  If you don’t find online databases, you might at least find online contact information such as email, phone numbers, websites and even social media links on the web pages of the religious organizations. 

9.  Cemetery offices – The majority of cemeteries do not have offices, but the ones that do can hold treasures in their records.  Often the office will be part of the municipal public works for town or city cemeteries, and private organizations might run their cemeteries “off campus”.  Do the legwork on line to find out first who runs the cemetery and if they have a website or contact information.  Some private cemeteries, such as the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts run an online database for burials http://mountauburn.org/map/  Some of these records include entire folders with obituaries, news clippings, genealogies, contact information on visitors to the family plot and a wealth of other valuable data. 

10.  Fraternal or Civic Organizations – Was your ancestor a Mason? A member of the Grange? Part of the Women’s auxiliary of the Elks or some other organization? Some of these societies had their own insurance companies, nursing homes, cemeteries, and even museums and archives.  Via the internet you can search for your ancestor’s home lodge, or even contact the offices or archives for records and genealogical ephemera such as photographs, programs, certificates and insignia. The New England Historic Genealogical Society (members only) has a database of Massachusetts Masonic registration cards www.americanancestors.  The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Massachusetts has an online catalog http://www.nationalheritagemuseum.org/   An internet search can help you pull up explanations of acronyms you might find on tombstones, insignia, jewelry or fraternal paperwork.

What other unusual records have you used to dig up family history?  Leave a comment here and share your story!

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The URL for this post is
http://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2015/02/10-unexpected-places-to-find-family.html
Copyright ©2015, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


24 comments:

  1. Some of the best material is not (and never will be) online - specifically, the original records and compiled data held in Local Studies collections in many small public libraries. This applies in Australia and presumably some other countries too.

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    1. Judy, I believe MOST of the best material is offline. There are small repositories everywhere that will never have the money or resources to digitize their wonderful collections. I definitely believe that everyone should visit their ancestor's geographic origins and dig through all the local civic, religious and social archives.

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    2. I agree, Heather. I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to the other side of the world and visit many of the areas in Yorkshire where my ancestors lived. I found magnificent records in the County Record Office, of course, but I also found extra information in local libraries, cemeteries, churches and chapels.

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    3. Judy,

      I agree completely. Most do not know that 85% of the material is offline in local historical societies.

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    4. Luke, in the days before the Internet, we always contacted local historical societies as part of our family history research. A shame more people don't do that now.

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    5. Judy, my ancestors also came from Yorkshire. Any chance you have Walker, Harper, Holmes, Richardson, Bland or Colbert in your tree?

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    6. Hello 'T'. (I wish your profile included a given name!) Thanks for your question. At this stage of my research, my Yorkshire families do not include Bland, Colbert, Harper, Holmes, Richardson or Walker - but there are still many spouses and siblings that need to be identified. My family tree is accessible via www.judywebster.com.au/family-tree.html.

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    7. Hello Judy and "T", I'm spending this snowy day to day taking advantage of the Ancestry.com FREE access to UK records to trace my Yorkshire ancestors. My grandmother came from Leeds. Her surname was ROBERTS, and some of the other Yorkshire names I am researching are POGSON, STOTT, HESELTINE, WESTERMAN, BRUNYET and FEAMLEY.

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    8. Well, shucks! It doesn't look like I'm related to either one of you. My ancestors all lived in East Riding, Yorkshire. I also have Bailey on one side and Cooke on the other but they aren't related to yours. At least not yet!

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    9. Hello Heather and 'T'. Apart from when I visited the UK and did Yorkshire research on the spot, my greatest successes have been with the Yorkshire collection on FindMyPast (http://bit.ly/2yorksh), to which more records will be added this year; the British Newspaper Archive (http://bit.ly/BNAnew), which is growing all the time; and the National Probate Calendar (http://bit.ly/AncNatProb) where I found many wills or administrations for my Yorkshire folk. There is so much detail in the latter that I made a lot of progress with side branches and tracing descendants even before I actually ordered any wills and grants! And as so often happens, the vital clue I needed to break down a genealogy brick wall was in the probate entry for a sibling.

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    10. Thanks for those sites. I was going to take a break. It has always helped to leave it and come back in a couple of months. Things that were not there no matter how many times I looked popped up right in front of me when I looked again later. I need to win the lottery so I can subscribe everywhere!

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    11. I just found my previously unknown 3rd great grandmother in Pontefract, Yorkshire, and with a quick message to "Curious Fox" some UK researchers led me to her parents and siblings. Too bad the Ancestry UK access is gone, I might just need to buy a month to keep looking!

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    12. It will be back again. In the meantime, look elsewhere, make a list of what you need to know and where you want to look for it. One reason (among many) that I don't keep my ancestry subscription current is that it forces me to look elsewhere. And I almost always find something I've been looking for/need to know. I might pay again in 6 months. Or not. I really need a break. This has taken over my life but I feel that I can walk away from it some days. In fact, the only reason I reinvestigated this line was because of the free weekend at ancestry.

      I did contact a researcher in Canada for one of my brick walls. That's where the money's going for a while. Need that winning lottery ticket!

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    13. When I hear that FindMyPast, Ancestry etc are offering discounts or 'free access' days, I mention it on http://twitter.com/JudyQld (but I usually delete those tweets after the offer ends.) As for CuriousFox - I too have had great success there, and I shared my tips on http://bit.ly/WWGcurious.

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  2. Loved this list, Heather-- eBay is indeed awesome, and am glad you included it. It's amazing what you can find there.

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  3. With the exception of ebay and art museums, I have actually used all of these resources at least once to locate records for estate cases, to identify or locate heirs.

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  4. Hi, Heather,

    Just wanted to let you know that this post was mentioned in my Friday Finds and Follows post at AnceStories: The Stories of My Ancestors.

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  5. Good post Heather.

    One source I keep looking at hoping I will find a lost family heirloom or artifact is Heirlooms Reunited by Pam Beveridge. I have not found one yet, but I am fascinated by the things Pam has accumulated and I know she has items that will connect to folks out there. I recommend folks have a look at Pam's blog on a regular basis. You never know what you might find. http://heirloomsreunited.blogspot.com

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    1. Good one, John! I regularly go there, too, but I forgot to put it on this list. Also the DeadFred.com for photographs website is worth checking

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    2. Thanks, John! Many of the things I've collected came via eBay, but it's also worth checking ABE and Alibris and other online booksellers, as they carry some manuscript items in addition to books. Definitely worth setting up Google alerts and eBay alerts - the latter is how I found my great grandmother's childhood Bible, which had gone to Connecticut with her younger sister - didn't even know it existed. For Mainers and those visiting Maine: Taconnett Falls Genealogy Library in Winslow. Nothing online, even the card catalog, but there is a physical one, which is no mean feat as this place (in a former public library bldg) is loaded to the gills with donations and bequests - and has helpful and knowledgeable volunteers, including an expert with well over 40 years research into Quebecois and Acadian ancestry. Check first for hours as they're open only Sat afternoons in winter and Wed and Sat afternoons in warmer weather. (Become a member for $10 and help heat the place!) http://www.facebook.com/pages/Taconnett-Falls-Genealogical-Library/168467003234582

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  6. Thanks for including my Genealogy on Facebook list! A more current revision (as of 11 Feb 2015) has been uploaded at http://socialmediagenealogy.com/genealogy-on-facebook-list - thanks again! :-)

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  7. My husbands Aunt left her genealogy research unclaimed when she died and it ended up with me (thank goodness) by default. She started her work in 1969 and put ads in the back of magazines and newsletters, wrote and requested information from local registrar offices and corresponded with would be relatives. I cannot tell you how much fun I have had following the paper trail she left. I have to admit though I scanned over 5000 pieces of paper and that was not fun, but now everyone in the family who is interested (and a few who are merely polite) have a copy. I do love having a row of notebooks with paper copies in them on my shelf! Probably just gave away my age!! Thanks for all the good ideas!

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  8. Heather,
    I am going to feature a link to your post on my own blog, later this afternoon. This is a valuable article and has very helpful information. Thank you.

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