Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 1: Google

I have been working on my family history for 50 years now. So much has changed—family researchers today have a much different task then we had decades ago.

Looking at the online genealogy tools available today, I would like to focus on the top 13 websites that will save you time and money so that your family research is preserved, well documented and readily available to the rising generation of your extended family tree.

Over the next several blog posts in our ongoing content series I will show which genealogy websites are the best and why you need to be using them to trace and document your family tree. All of these genealogy websites are world-class, the crème de la crème.

a Google logo

Credit: Google.com

Top Genealogy Website #1 – Google

Yes, there are millions of genealogy-relevant items on the open Internet. Beginners and advanced researchers can quickly find valuable records about their target ancestors online—and doing a search on Google’s search engine is an excellent way to find these ancestry records.

screenshot of a Google search for Willard Henry Kemp

Credit: Google.com

A Google search for my grandfather, Willard Henry Kemp, pulls up 22.3 million search results.

I can see that the first few results have accurately pointed me to online records that I can use. But—there are 22.3 million of these suggested matches! There must be a way to cut through this huge amount and get to the family records I really want to use.

Let’s try that Google search for my grandfather again.

Helpful Genealogy Search Tool: the Phrase “~genealogy”

Use this handy tool ~genealogy to fine-tune your Google searches.

This tool tells the Google search engine that you want to focus on genealogy records and resources, narrowing your search results to those records. Use it in your Google searches to save time and get the most useful records for your family tree research.

This time I will search for information about my grandfather in Google by putting his name in quotation marks (to exactly match his name) and I will add: ~genealogy.

screenshot of Google search for Willard Henry Kemp adding phrase "~genealogy"

Credit: Google.com

This time the Google search engine returned 35 targeted search results. That is a lot easier to review than 22.3 million.

I can quickly open and evaluate these records and then try alternate Google searches to expand my search results, such as:

  • “Willard Kemp” ~genealogy
  • Kemp and Stamford ~genealogy
  • etc.

I highly recommend you try a Google search to get an idea of what information might be out there on the web about your target ancestor—and then use the phrase ~genealogy to make the search results more manageable. Using Google is a great way to start exploring your family history.

Next article: #2 The Online Digital Book Sites

Using Historical Newspapers to Research My Civil War Ancestry

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches old newspapers to find stories about his Civil War cousin, Captain James Ham, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Five Forks just as the war was drawing to a close.

 Earlier this month (July 1-3) our nation commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. I well recall the awe I felt when, as a youngster, my family and I visited those hallowed grounds during the centennial of the Civil War back in 1963. That experience was the one that sparked my deep interest in American Civil War history, which continues to this day.

As pure luck would have it, while I was enjoying all the recent publicity regarding the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, I happened to make the discovery of a cousin in my ancestry, James Ham, who was a veteran of the Civil War.

Gravestone of James Ham - A Civil War Veteran

Photo: gravestone of Captain James Ham in Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Pennsylvania. Credit: Patricia Bittner.

James was born in Launceston, Cornwall, in the United Kingdom. I discovered that after running into trouble with the law for “assaulting an officer in the execution of his duties” and receiving a 12-month sentence, he emigrated from Cornwall. It wasn’t long before I found that he established himself in Wayne County, Pennsylvania.

As I was following his listing from the 1860 U.S. Census, I also came upon the fact that James Ham served in the Civil War. He rose to the rank of captain in the Pennsylvania 17th Cavalry, in their M Company. It was very enjoyable to find, while searching the historical newspapers in GenealogyBank.com, an article from an 1889 Maryland newspaper reporting on the dedication of a monument at Gettysburg to “my” Captain Ham’s regiment, with a description of the huge crowds that attended this event.

Pennsylvania Veterans' Day Newspaper Article - Sun 1889

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 12 September 1889, page Supplement 2.

Monument 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry Civil War

Photo: Civil War monument at Gettysburg dedicated to the Pennsylvania 17th Cavalry. Credit: from the author’s collection.

The more I followed my leads, the more I was able to improve my understanding of the life, and unfortunate death, of my Civil War ancestor. It wasn’t long before I came upon the fact that Captain Ham was wounded in Virginia at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865, and died from those battle wounds on April 5, 1865. Now, as much as I like to think I know a lot about the Civil War, I was not familiar with the Battle of Five Forks—so I turned again to research the historical newspapers in GenealogyBank.com.

This time there were hundreds of old newspaper articles for me to pick from. My knowledge was really expanded by reading an impressive article from an 1865 Wisconsin newspaper. This was a very detailed account of the battle, and the reporter wrote paragraph after paragraph that put me right in the action of many of the cavalry charges.

Civil War Battle of Five Forks Newspaper Article - Milwaukee Sentinel

Milwaukee Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 7 April 1865, page 1.

Shortly thereafter I found an article in a 1908 Idaho newspaper that would make any genealogist’s and/or historian’s heart jump. This old news article contains a story of family letters, history, a dash of good luck, and perseverance in the discovery of the fate of the battle flag carried for a time by Union General Sheridan during the battle.

Old Battle Flag Sheridan Carried at Five Forks Is Found Newspaper Article - Idaho Statesman

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 23 March 1908, page 4.

Then my attention was captured by an article published in an 1880 New York newspaper which reported that General Sheridan was being called to court in order to explain why he relieved General Warren of his command after the Battle of Five Forks. The subheading really caught my eye: “Eight Days Previous to the Surrender at Appomattox.” I had read the date of death of my ancestor but I had not, until that point, realized that he was killed in action only days before the Civil War ended.

Sheridan Warren Civil War Battle of Five Forks Newspaper Article - NY Herald

New York Herald (New York, New York), 27 October 1880, page 8.

I am now in the second phase of seeking even more information about this Civil War ancestor as I have placed a research request with the Wayne County (Pennsylvania) Historical Society (http://waynehistorypa.org). One of their researchers is hard at work hopefully finding more clues, data, and details about Captain James Ham and his family. Plus after my very first conversation with the researcher, I have been “forced” to place Wayne County, Pennsylvania, on my “Genealogy Must-Visit List” since the researcher casually mentioned to me that the Museum holds dozens of personal letters written from Captain Ham back to his wife and family during the Civil War!

I think I better start packing right now. I figure at least two days reading for sure! Can you imagine what those letters might hold?

Do you have comparable success stories about researching your Civil War ancestor? Tell us about them in the comments section.

FamilySearch Family Tree Adds Important New ‘Attach Record’ Feature

FamilySearch.org has released a new “Search & Attach Record” feature this week that lets you easily search and attach genealogy records to each person on your family tree.

For example, let’s look at Allen Pierce Richmond (1826-1912) on the FamilySearch Family Tree.

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Here he is on the Family Tree.

By clicking on his name, we can pull up his page of information on the Family Tree.

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Here is how the new Search and Attach Records feature works.

First, notice the Search Records button on the right side.

screen shot of the new "Search and Attach Records" feature on FamilySearch

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Clicking on that button will pull up a list of possible genealogy record matches—much like Ancestry’s “shaky leaves.”

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

You then select the genealogy records that pertain to your target ancestor. You are able to open and see each of these documents to confirm that they are your ancestor’s records.

For example, if we click on the reference for the 1910 Census that page immediately opens up.

screenshot of 1910 Census from FamilySearch

Credit: FamilySearch.org

After confirming that this is the correct Allen P. Richmond, we can immediately add this census record as a hyperlinked source to his page on the FamilySearch Family Tree.

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

With a click we can switch from the digital image of the 1910 Census to the index page for that household in the 1910 Census.

Click on the bright blue “Attach to Family Tree” button.

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

This will pull up a decision box that lets you select the correct person to attach this 1910 Census page to.

Notice that this box has two options:

  • Possible Matches—where FamilySearch suggests matches
  • History List—where you can see the drop-down list of persons you recently viewed in your family tree

By selecting our target Allen Pierce Richmond (1826-1912) a confirmation screen will appear asking: “Is This Your Person?”

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

This step gives you the opportunity to review and confirm that you are accurately attaching this 1910 Census page to the correct Allen Pierce Richmond.

It also gives you the opportunity to add an explanation why you are attaching this document—perfect for those difficult-to-read old genealogy records. This space lets you explain how you reached your conclusion that this was his census record.

Click the blue attach button.

Now this census record has been attached as a source on Allen Pierce Richmond’s page on the FamilySearch Family Tree.

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

The 1910 Census attached to Allen Pierce Richmond on your Family Tree is permanently hyperlinked there in the list of “Sources” on his page in the tree. With one click the digital copy of the 1910 Census page will open right up.

Now you or any genealogist can see the sources you used to document your Family Tree on FamilySearch.

If you don’t agree with the conclusions and documentation that a genealogist adds to your ancestor, you can easily add the additional documentation that you find so that all of the genealogy records are attached to the person on the tree.

Quick, easy and permanent.

This new FamilySearch Family Tree feature will be heavily used and relied upon by genealogists.

Case Study Part 3: Finding Old Newspaper Articles about Family

Continuing my search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for the history of the Crofoot family (see: “Case Study: Using Old Newspaper Articles to Learn about Your Ancestors” & “Case Study Part 2: How to Find Old Newspaper Articles about Family”) I found  information about the death of Ephraim Crofoot.

When we found the obituary of Thomas S. Crofoot published in August 1852, the newspaper article referred to his father as “the late Ephraim Crofoot, Esq.”

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 25 August 1852, page 3 Thomas Crofoot Death Notice

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 25 August 1852, page 3.

This clue told us that Ephraim Crofoot had died before August 1852.

Digging deeper into the archives I found Ephraim Crofoot’s obituary that stated he died on 24 February 1852 at the age of 51.

Constitution Newspaper March 3, 1852 Ephraim Crofoot Death Notice

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 3 March 1852, page 3.

A week later a notice appeared in the same newspaper alerting everyone that probate proceedings for Ephraim Crofoot’s estate had begun on 28 February 1852.

Constitution Newspaper 1852 Ephraim Crofoot Probate Notice

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 10 March 1852, page 4.

So far we have found quite a bit of genealogical information and clues about Ephraim Crofoot and his family in the newspaper archives including information about his marriages, children and death. It takes time to piece together the clues and facts that document a family tree.

In the weeks ahead I will continue to report on my findings about the Crofoot family and provide similar examples from other typical families to help you better understand the kinds of information that you can discover about your family history in old newspaper articles.

Case Study Part 2: How to Find Old Newspaper Articles about Family

As I continued to look in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for the history of the Crofoot family (see: “Case Study: Using Old Newspaper Articles to Learn about Your Ancestors”) I found another clue.

Connecticut Journal Newspaper Esther Crofoot Death Notice 1829

Connecticut Journal (New Haven, Connecticut), 10 March 1829, page 3.

Another wife?

This historical obituary was for Mrs. Esther Crofoot who was the “wife of Ephraim C.”

Notice the newspaper editor simply gave his name as “Ephraim C.,” not repeating the surname Crofoot. The context was clear to the reader in this death notice, but these on-the-fly abbreviations can make it difficult to find every article about our target family.

So—we have an Ephraim Crofoot with a wife Esther, most likely married in the 1820s.

Earlier we found that an Ephraim Crofoot married Elizabeth W. Winship in 1830 and Betsey Sampson in 1850.

Is it the same Ephraim Crofoot in all three marriages?

It takes time to piece together the genealogical clues and facts that document a family tree.

In the weeks ahead I will continue to report on my newspaper findings about the Crofoot family and provide similar examples from other typical families.

Civil War Music Makers: Finding Drummer Boys in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena researches old newspaper articles to find stories about the young boys that served a crucial role in the American Civil War: drummer boys.

With the recent commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, your family history research time may be focused on learning more about your Civil War ancestry. Reading history sources and American Civil War period newspapers online, you can immerse yourself in the battles, the politics surrounding the war, and even the movement of the troops. While most soldiers in the Civil War were adult men, some women, disguised as men, were involved in the combat as well. We also know that young boys suited up for battle, often filling the crucial role of drummer boy.

photo of Civil War drummer boy John Clem

Photo: Civil War drummer boy John Clem. Credit: Morris Gallery of the Cumberland, Nashville, Tennessee; Library of Congress; Wikipedia.

Whether they added years to their age in order to enlist or recruiters looked the other way, teenagers and even boys served and died for their respective sides during the Civil War.

Boys the Backbone of the Civil War, Oregonian newspaper article 30 May 1915

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 30 May 1915, page 3

Yes, boys served and died in battle in the Civil War. According to the PBS American Experience webpage “Kids in the Civil War,” as many as 20% of Civil War soldiers were under the age of 18 years. This is an amazing number of children participating in battle considering that over 3.2 million soldiers fought in the conflict, according to the Civil War Trust.

Many of these young boys played the battlefield music during the Civil War that stirred the troops and relayed important messages from the commanding officers. These young musicians bravely played their instruments as the opposing sides charged into battle. Looking through historical newspapers online in GenealogyBank, one can read various claims long after the Civil War ended about men said to be the youngest drummer boy during the war.

Youngest Drummer Boy in Union Army during the Civil War Is 62, Evening News newspaper article 9 November 1915

Evening News (San Jose, California), 9 November 1915, page 5

While some of the youngest Civil War drummer boys were 11 years old, there are even accounts of boys as young as 8 years of age joining on both sides of the conflict.

Youngest Civil War Drummer Boy Dies, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 6 February 1930

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 6 February 1930, page 14

What did these boys do during the Civil War? Some served as musicians for their respective companies. While it was thought this would have been the “safest” place for them, I don’t know of anyone who would want to go into battle with only a drum to defend yourself!

Civil War drummer boys like Johnny Clem, who went on to be the youngest non-commissioned officer in army history, sometimes dropped their drums and grabbed a gun during a battle to defend themselves and those around them. In an 1879 newspaper article Clem reportedly replied “Because I did not like to stand and be shot at without shooting back!” when asked about his shooting a Confederate colonel during the Battle of Shiloh.* According to his military service file index card, Clem was a musician in Company C of the 22nd Michigan Infantry.**

These boys, sometimes adopted by soldiers as “mascots,” played an important role on the battlefield during the Civil War. When the roar of fighting was too loud to hear a commanding officer’s orders, the drummer boys relayed those order via their drums. And just like their adult counterparts they suffered sickness, injury and even death during their military service.

Pvt. Clarence McKenzie was a 12-year-old drummer boy for the Brooklyn 13th Regiment when he was killed in June 1861 by friendly fire from a soldier in his own company. A statue of a drummer boy sits upon his final resting place at Green-Wood Cemetery. It is said that 3,000 people attended his funeral. You can read more about Pvt. McKenzie on the webpage “Brooklyn in the Civil War” found on the Brooklyn Public Library website.

Do you have any Civil War ancestors on your family tree? Dig into GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives and see what stories you can find about their military service during that great and terrible American conflict. And please share your Civil War genealogy discoveries with us in the comments. We love to hear your personal family stories!

________________________________

*Johnny Clem, “the Drummer-Boy of Chickamauga.” Grand Forks Weekly Herald (Grand Forks, ND). Thursday, October 16, 1879 .Volume: I . Issue: 17 Page: 2 . Available on GenealogyBank.

**Available at Fold 3, http://www.fold3.com/image/295053556/

Search Revolutionary War Records Online & Share Your Finds

With Memorial Day, Flag Day and July 4th fresh in our memory, genealogists often think about their Revolutionary War ancestors.

American Revolutionary War Newspapers Collage

Revolutionary War Newspaper Articles from GenealogyBank.com

Remember that GenealogyBank has a strong collection of historical newspapers and records from the 1700s and 1800s. Discover your early American ancestry in millions of records from the Revolutionary period.

Let’s honor the lives of each one of our Revolutionary War ancestors.

Between now and the end of the year we will be posting articles and obituaries about Revolutionary War soldiers. The American Revolutionary War started 238 years ago.

Write in and tell us about your Revolutionary War ancestor. Let’s recognize and remember 238 Revolutionary War soldiers in the days ahead. Let’s all do our part in making sure the memories of these brave Revolutionary War heroes are not lost.

Please post your genealogy research finds here in the blog’s comments section.

Celebrate Independence Day by Honoring Our American Ancestors

Cheers to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—and to our brave American ancestors who fought for our freedom! Amidst the festivities and fireworks of this 4th of July holiday, take time to remember those heroic American revolutionaries that came before us, boldly paving the paths for our futures.

To The People of the United 13 Colonies - July 6, 1776

Freeman’s Journal (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 6 July 1776, page 2.

GenealogyBank is one of the best online resources available to trace your family history back to your American Colonial and Revolutionary roots. Our historical archives contain hundreds of thousands of articles from the Colonial and Revolutionary periods. Many of these records from the 1600s and 1700s are exclusive to our online collections, making GenealogyBank a prime location to explore your early American ancestry.

Happy 4th of July, 2013, to all our fellow Americans! Raise your head, your flag, your glass and salute each other and our ancestors. Dig into GenealogyBank’s genealogy records and discover the early American heroes in your family tree.

To read the above historical newspaper article about the Declaration of Independence in full, visit To The People of the Thirteen Colonies.

How Is Your Local Genealogical Society Doing?

photo of a presentation made during the 2013 RootsTech genealogical conference

Credit: RootsTech

The Reading Eagle (Reading, Pennsylvania) ran an interesting article about the dropping membership of the Berks County Genealogical Society.

According to the article this local genealogical society is feeling the impact of dropping memberships at the same time interest in genealogy is soaring. Instead of joining local genealogical societies, new genealogists seem to be going directly to the Internet to ask questions, learn the basics of genealogical research and search for their ancestors.

The national genealogical conferences like the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the National Genealogical Society annual conferences have seen a drop-off in attendance since 11 September 2001. Meanwhile the annual RootsTech conferences have seen a surge in attendance during the three years this family history conference has been held.

At the same time, online weekly webinars like the Legacy Family Tree Webinars have 1,000 people attending, and podcasts like the Genealogy Guys Podcast are seeing each episode downloaded over 4,000 times. That is way more than the number of genealogists attending the annual meeting of a large city or state genealogical society…and they are pulling that many of us every week.

How is your local genealogical society doing?

Is it growing?

Is there excitement?

Is it fresh?

Is there a buzz?

When I attended my first genealogical society meetings 50 years ago in the early 1960s—the meetings of the Stamford Genealogical Society (now called the Connecticut Ancestry Society)—the focus was on outreach and training. Their chief projects were having the genealogical society members submit their family tree charts (which were put in binders and cross indexed), and producing the quarterly journal. They were good, effective meetings. We all looked forward to them. It was like an extended family.

The genealogy world changed in 1976 with the publication of Alex Haley’s Roots and the launch of the companion television series in 1977. Genealogy has not been the same since. We went from 200 genealogical societies in the United States to over 4,000 societies.

FamilySearch Indexing has well over 100,000 indexers, all volunteers, who are creating over 1 million indexed genealogy records every day.

How is your local genealogical society doing?

What is your society doing to keep itself fresh and exciting?

Share your ideas and best practices.

Post them here today in the comments.

Does GenealogyBank Have Newspapers from Non-U.S. Countries?

We are often asked if GenealogyBank includes newspapers published in other countries, such as Canada, various countries in Europe, or in the Americas. No, we don’t.

But, there is a bright side.

U.S. newspapers routinely published news of marriages and deaths from overseas that they felt were of high interest to their U.S.-based readers. These were selective, so look to see if there were any news articles that targeted your relatives.

For example, look at this 1766 obituary from a Rhode Island newspaper.

Margaret Pullen obituary, Newport Mercury newspaper article 1 September 1766

Newport Mercury (Newport, Rhode Island), 1 September 1766, page 1

Newport, Rhode Island, is a seaport town that had many people involved in the sea. Because of this maritime involvement, news from the Caribbean islands was of high interest to the readers of Rhode Island newspapers like the Newport Mercury. This obituary of Mrs. Margaret Pullen, who died at age 100 in Antigua, would have been of interest in the Newport, RI, area—not only for her longevity and good health, but also because she was from the Caribbean, and for her family’s support of Queen Anne (1665-1714) who had been popular in the colonies.

Here is another obituary from the island of Antigua that was published in a U.S. newspaper.

James Hutchison obituary, Maryland Journal newspaper article 25 April 1788

Maryland Journal (Baltimore, Maryland), 25 April 1788, page 2

James Hutchison died 28 February 1788 a wealthy man. The obituary mentions that his sister Margaret of Paisley, Scotland, is the sole executrix of his will.

Publishing genealogy records from overseas is also common with ethnic U.S. newspapers like the Irish American Weekly (New York City, New York).

collage of marriage and death notices from Irish American newspapers

Collage of marriage and death notices from Irish American newspapers

The Irish American Weekly routinely published news of marriages and deaths from back in Ireland. Did it capture every Irish marriage? No—but it did publish tens of thousands of Irish marriage announcements and death notices. It is essential that you look there and in the other Irish American newspapers in our online archives to discover the marriage and death records of your Irish ancestors.

There is also a wealth of genealogical material to research your Hispanic ancestry in our Hispanic American newspapers. Dig in and trace your family tree around the world now!