Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Database Transcription Policy at Illinois State Archives

Users of databases are reliant upon transcribers to enter information. The Illinois State Archives website has an interesting page entitled "ISA Database Transcription Policy." Give it a look.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Google Advanced Search

Are you using Google's advanced search?


It allows you to craft better searches than just the main page. You can combine exact phrase searches with "all these words," specific domain searches, don't show pages with certain words, etc.

These things can be done from the main Google page (usually) but the advanced search makes it easier.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Searching on Footnote.com

Footnote.com is not always the easiest site to search in my opinion. I usually browse using the main page until I get to the era I want for the database I'm searching. Then when I'm on that specific database, I search just that database. Personally I rarely search the entire database because I am not happy with the ways to refine searches. 

If you've had difficulty using Footnote.com you might want to try searching specific databases instead of the whole site. Even that has problems, but I've generally had better luck tackling specific databases. 

Casefile Clues Memorial Day Offer

Over the Memorial Day Holiday, you can take advantage of our Casefile Clues subscription offer--$25.50 for the first 35 issues of Year 2--plus another year of issues. A list of topics from year 2 can be viewed here.

Orders can be processed here with a credit card (PayPal account not necessary although PayPal processes our payments).

Subscribe now before you forget--this post will be pulled when the offer is over.

You can request samples by emailing samples@casefileclues.com.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Are You Searching Randomly?

Are you tracking your online searches? Are you thinking systematically about how you enter search terms to query databases?

Making a list of what you have tried is a good idea also.

It is difficult to troubleshoot your searches if you are not tracking what you are doing. This is especially true if you are not successful in the first few minutes of your search.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Do You Estimate a Year of Birth for Everyone?

There are many reasons to estimate  a year of birth for an ancestor. One of the best ones is that it is difficult to filter your database if you do not. Searching the Bureau of Land Management website for ancestors and relatives of the right age to be in the War of 1812 is an excellent idea.

But you cannot search your database for men born during the right time if you have not entered at least an approximate year of birth for them.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Search for More than Names

Downloaded that history of the county where your ancestor settled? Besides searching it for names, search it for the county where the ancestor was from--there may be others mentioned in the county history who were from the same place and full-text searches are a great way to make those discoveries.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Is there a site you are having difficulty using? Is there a database that you can't be certain if you searching correctly or not. Consider posting a query to a genealogy message board, mailing list, etc. You can also post to our Fan Page on Facebook. The main thing is to ask. Someone else might have the same search problem as you.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Read Before You Type in That Box

Don't just start entering names in search boxes. Read about what you are searching. This database on the New Brunswick Provincial Archives site is a great index. However, it makes it clear that the query is only for selected articles.


Read before you search.

Join Michael in Salt Lake City in 2012

We've set the dates for my 2012 group trip to Salt Lake.
Never too early to get started. More details on our blog site at http://rootdig.blogspot.com/2011/05/2012-family-history-library-trip.html

Monday, May 23, 2011

Casefile Clues for Beginners

For those who missed it, we're starting a "lite" version of Casefile Clues in June--Casefile Clues for Beginners. It will be less in-depth than Casefile Clues and geared to those who have not been researching a long time or feel they've missed the basics. I'll be writing some of the content, but will be including writing from others as well.

We'll talk about the basics of sources and we'll also look at ways to carefully interact with compiled information others have submitted. Hopefully we can help you to avoid some of those brick walls that we all face--it's impossible to avoid every brick wall. We won't tell you to avoid the online trees altogether--that's unrealistic. But we will tell you how not to confuse yourself even more with them.

Casefile Clues for Beginners will be distributed twice a month--in PDF format. For more information see our blog post

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Are You Getting It All?

If you find an ancestor's entry in an online database or index, are you making certain there isn't more out there somewhere? Database and index entries come from somewhere, particularly if no digital image is included in the search results.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Youngest Child With the Simplest Name

When searching any everyname database to a census, start with the youngest child who has the "easiest" name. Children's ages tend to be closer in census enumerations and names like John and Sarah, while they may have some variants are not nearly so bad as names like Henrietta and Permelia.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Are You Doing Keyword Searches of Library Catalogs?

Are you performing key word searches of library card catalogs if the search interface supports it? This can be a way to search several fields at once (usually) and may bring results you have not located previously. Don't limit your catalog searches to names, places, and subjects.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What Variants It Does Not Include

Keep an open mind to variants that some computer databases aren't set to "pick up," particularly with first names. My search for Arvin Butler has grown to include Irvin and Ervin. Ancestry.com and Familysearch do not always catch all first name variants, even when a "fuzzy" or "non-exact" search is conducted.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Does A Library Have Databases You Could Use?

Your local public library, university library, or Family History Library may have access to databases or subscription services that could be helpful in your genealogy research. Besides Ancestry.com, GenealogyBank, Footnote.com, consider academic journal indexes and databases, Sanborn Fire Insurance maps (often through Proquest), and other "non-genealogy" materials. You might be surprised at what you find.

And learn how to search effectively--search for not just names, but places and locations where your ancestor lived. It might be that someone has done doctoral research on an area where your ancestor lived, an ethnic group of which your ancestor was a member, etc.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Flip Flop Those Names

When searching first and last names in a database, consider interchanging the first and last names. It can easily happen in the creation of a database or in the taking of the census. The chance is slightly higher if the first and last names are ones that could "go either way."

If your ancestor was named Johnson Gibson, is there a chance he is listed somewhere as Gibson Johnson?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Google Every Ancestor and Their County

If you're stuck or if it has been a while since you're searched on an ancestor or relative, consider googling their name and their county or town of residence. These searches today turned up several things I was totally unaware of:
  • thomas chaney bedford pennsylvania
  • alfred butler mendon michigan

Friday, May 13, 2011

Is a Hyphen Causing Your Problem?

If you are preforming text searches of material that has been digitized, consider that the last name might have been hyphenated.

I searched for dingman in a digital version of the Sargent genealogy on Google Books. The only reference was in the index, not the book itself. That's because the actual reference in the book had the word Dingman split across two lines--hyphenated in the middle.

A search for ding located the reference.

Is a hyphenated name giving you problems?

Some search sites may have taken hyphens into account when creating the OCR index.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

No Names for Those Passport Applications

When searching the US Passport Applications 1795-1925 at Ancestry.com, try leaving the names blank and putting in a location for keyword, such as:

  • carthage illinois
  • hastings nebraska
  • mystic connecticut
These searches should be done more than once for variations on the state's known abbreviations. Some of the handwriting on these applications was difficult to read and not all include locations, particularly earlier ones. But I have found a few just experimenting with locations and leaving the name fields blank. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Getting Demographics At Ancestry.com

The census indexes at Ancestry.com can give you perspective that you can't always get without it.

Searching on Ancestry.com with no names and a residence of Knox County, Illinois, in 1900, gave me 44,064 residents.

Searching on Ancestry.com with no names, a residence of Knox County, Illinois, and father and mother born in Sweden in 1900 gave me 8,712 matches.

Ancestry.com hence told me that 19.77% of the county had both parents born in Sweden. Now that's a figure a genealogist might need to know.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Newspapers Out of Area for Some Events

The Library of Congress' Chronicling America project has free searchable digital images of newspapers from across the United States http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/. If your town is not there, is it possible that some event in your ancestor's life might have warranted mention in other newspapers?

Some deaths, crimes, etc. might easily have been reported in newspapers a distance from where your ancestor lived.

And remember that OCR has limitations when searching.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Are There Browse Options?

Sometimes all the clever search tips, wildcards, Soundex options, etc. just do not help you find that person. Is it possible to somehow browse the database so you can manually look at entries. The Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives has a Confederate Pension Index on its site that allows you to browse if searching does not work for you.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Like the Old Family Search?

If you liked the old Family Search screen and interface, at https://www.familysearch.org/, go to the very bottom. In the right hand corner, you should see

"Use the previous version of FamilySearch.org"

Click on that.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Born Where Your Ancestor Lived

In trying to find associates of an ancestor, I searched the 1860 census for the township where he lived for other men born in the same place (out of state) as he, at about the same time.

Sometimes it is helpful to search for things in indexes other than names.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Never Put the Exact Year or the Exact Age

Even if I'm searching for someone born in 1860 in the 1860 census, I always put an age range of at least two years when performing census searches or any search where age is a parameter. 

No matter how "right" you think the age is, there is always room for error. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

When You Think You Don't Need to be Wild

I've been converted to using wildcards on just about every name I can, on every site I can, in every search box when I can. It does not always work, but sometimes it does.

My aunt Emma Sargent is occasionally listed in various records as Emma, Emmar, or Emmer. I started searching for her as Emm* whenever a site allowed the use of the wildcard operator.

My own ancestor Ira Sargent is listed in one record as Iran. Do not ask me why, but he is. Even on his first name I have started using wildcard searches.

If you are looking for a John, consider searching for Joh*.

If you are stuck on a name and a wildcard search won't increase your hits to the point you cannot view them, consider reformulating your search using wildcards---even when you don't think you really have to. You just never know what you may find.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Watch It With Those "Prefilled In" Boxes

Some search sites, Ancestry.com in particular but there are others, tries to help you by filling in the place name after you have typed in a few letters. Make certain that the one you actually need comes up. Otherwise you may be searching the 1930 census for Belgium when you want Texas.

And if the precise location you want does not come up on the list, you may have to search for the next largest location. I never did find Prairie Township, Hancock County, Illinois, in Ancestry.com's list of suggested locations when searching the 1870 census.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Land Patents at Library of Virginia

For those with an interest in land patents in Virginia, the Library of Virginia has an index on their site. The nice thing about this index is that searches also pull up references to the name in the metes and bounds description, not just the name of the person receiving the patent.

Monday, May 2, 2011

State Statutes, Probate Guides, etc. on WorldCat

Need to find old state statutes, legal guides, etc.? If Google books (http://books.google.com) doesn't have it, try Worldcat.org. Performing an advanced search on Worldcat at http://www.worldcat.org/advancedsearch, set your years of publication to the time period of interest and use such search terms as:
  • kansas state statute
  • vermont probate guide
Experiment as needed, but you may find print or microfilm copies of old statutes, legal guides, etc. to help you in interpreting early documents. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Searching Land Plats at Maryland State Archives

I'll admit I had a little difficulty navigating this site. When searching for land patents on the Maryland State Archives website, I found it easier to do an "advanced" search and enter in the last name I was looking for. Not the easiest way, but I did find entries for people for whom I was looking.

This link takes you to the Harford County section--just click on "advanced search" to perform a search or scroll to the bottom and click on the county you need.

We'll try and keep incorporating new sites into our tips--chances are that not every one will apply to you, but we'll try and keep them varied.