Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 6: Search Cemeteries Online

A few weeks ago I wrote about online cemetery records (See: Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records). In that article I wrote about the U.S. Veterans Administration’s Nationwide Gravesite Locator, Find-A-Grave, and BillionGraves.

Now I want to show how you can help your family history research by using information from these three websites: Find-A-Grave, GenealogyBank and Nationwide Gravesite Locator.

As shown in my earlier blog article, I gave Find-A-Grave a try by registering and adding the tombstone photo of my great-grandfather John Henry Kemp (1866-1944).

Registering with Find-A-Grave triggered a mini-avalanche of requests by family members and genealogists from around the country asking if I could take photos of their relatives’ tombstones at cemeteries in my local area. In the past week I’ve received almost 20 requests so far and they are still coming in: requests for me to take photos of gravestones in cemeteries all around my county.

Find-A-Grave has a “Request A Photo” feature that lets you ask nearby genealogists to take a photo of your target ancestor’s tombstone and post it to Find-A-Grave.

screenshot of the "Request A Photo" page from the website Find-A-Grave

Credit: Find-A-Grave

So I decided to give it a try and volunteered to be a gravesite photographer.

I received a request to photograph the tombstone of Daniel J. Clifford. They said that he was buried at the Connecticut State Veterans Cemetery in Middletown, Connecticut, in 1997.

First, I did a quick search on GenealogyBank and immediately pulled up Clifford’s obituary, giving me more details about him. He was 86 years old when he died and yes, he was buried in the Connecticut State Veterans Cemetery.

obituary for Daniel Clifford, Hartford Courant newspaper article 25 October 1997

Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 25 October 1997, page B3

Next, I searched Nationwide Gravesite Locator to get a quick summary of Clifford’s military service and burial site.

screenshot of record for Daniel Clifford from website Nationwide Gravesite Locator

Credit: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

It shows that he was a Tec 5 in the U.S. Army and served in WWII. It also tells us that he was buried in Section 81-G, Site 02 in the State Veterans Cemetery.

That is a great feature of the network of military cemeteries: service members are not buried randomly—they are buried in neat, orderly rows. With that section and site number it is easy to go directly to Daniel Clifford’s grave.

So—I headed out this morning to do just that. Armed with my iPad, I went to see if I could actually do this. As you drive into the cemetery you can see the small markers indicating the sections. There was Section 81-G.

Walking the rows I was able to quickly find tombstone 02 in Section 81-G. Notice that the stones have the location code engraved on the back of the tombstone.

photo of the rear of Daniel Clifford's tombstone

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp

Simple.

Here is his gravestone.

photo of the front of Daniel Clifford's tombstone

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp

Sharp, clear and easy to read.

Find-A-Grave, Nationwide Gravesite Locator and GenealogyBank are essential tools genealogists rely on to get details of the lives of every member of their family.

Now—another word. I took these tombstone photos for Find-A-Grave with my iPad.

Imagine that.

When I first looked at an iPad I could see no practical value in having one. I could do everything I needed with my laptop—why would I need this extra tool? I quickly found that its always-on Apple software lets me check e-mail anytime, without having to wait for the laptop to crank up.

Now I see that it can actually take photos. Good ones, too.

It was easy to work with. When using it at the cemetery I could easily see the tombstone in the full screen image. It was even easier to frame the photo and to take the picture.

Wow. That was simple.

I have been working on my family history for the past 50 years. There’s always something new to learn.

Last year I learned how to text, to keep in touch with the kids—and now I have an iPad.

Couple this technology with such core tools as Find-A-Grave, Nationwide Gravesite Locator and GenealogyBank, and it’s clearly “A Great Day for Genealogy!”

Read these other blog articles about top genealogy websites:

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 1: Google

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 2: Google Books & Internet Archive

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 4: BillionGraves Smartphone App for Finding Graves

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 5: State Vital Records in the U.S.

How to Do Genealogy Research with German-Language Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about resources and techniques to help you find family history information in foreign-language newspapers, even if you’re not familiar with that language.

GenealogyBank’s recent announcement that it is adding Italian American newspapers in 2013 is a welcome addition—but it may also concern family history researchers who are nervous about navigating foreign languages.

However, there are certain resources and techniques you can use to find valuable genealogical information in foreign-language newspapers, even if you have limited—or no—familiarity with the language, as this article explains.

My roots include a number of German immigrants who settled in various parts of Pennsylvania. By using specific techniques, I have been able to locate information about these ancestors from the German American newspapers in GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives.

Some of these German-language newspapers include:

  • Cincinnati Volksfreund (Cincinnati, Ohio)
  • Der Wahre Amerikaner (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
  • Der Zeitgeist (Egg Harbor City, New Jersey)
  • Deutsche Porcupein (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
  • Egg Harbor Pilot (Egg Harbor City, New Jersey)
  • Highland Union (Highland, Illinois)
  • New Jersey Deutsche Zeitung (Newark, New Jersey)
  • Nordwestliche Post (Sunbury, Pennsylvania)
  • Reading Adler (Reading, Pennsylvania)
  • New Yorker Volkszeitung (New York, New York)
  • Northumberland Republicaner (Sunbury, Pennsylvania)
  • Unparteyische Harrisburg Morgenroethe Zeitung (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania)

When presented with a language hurdle in your genealogy research, try not to be intimidated.

By employing a free language translator such as Google Translate and consulting foreign genealogical word lists, you may be able to determine the gist of a notice, such as the two death notices shown in the following illustration. They report that the decedents died (“starb”) on last Sunday night (“Sontag Nacht”), and on last Monday morning (“Montag Morgen”), respectively.

death notices from German-language newspapers

Death notices from German-language newspapers

Some of my family’s notices were published in the Reading Adler (Reading, Pennsylvania), which published alternately in both English and German.

Daniel Miesse obituary, Reading Adler newspaper article 14 April 1818

Reading Adler (Reading, Pennsylvania), 14 April 1818, page 2

This particular German-language obituary relates to my ancestor Daniel Miesse (28 January 1743, Elsoff, Germany to 1 April 1818, Berks County, Pennsylvania), who died in Bern Township in the 76th year of his age. This death notice was a bit more challenging to understand, since several German terms did not translate directly. For example, the first word (“Berstarb”) stumped me, but I was able to figure out that it corresponded to the term “verstarb” (died).

An interesting explanation of the interchangeability of Germanic letters can be found in Family Search’s German Word List.

Its explanation notes that “spelling rules were not standardized in earlier centuries,” so variations are common. It is best to substitute letters, if you cannot make a definitive translation, or to do a reverse look-up by querying obvious terms. For example, choose a word in English that you might assume to be in a foreign notice. Then, translate it into your target language (e.g., German).

This blog article would not be complete without noting that search engines are often type-face-challenged; being persistent and varying your queries is central to finding ancestral notices in foreign-language newspapers.

While researching my genealogy, I sometimes query with German terms whose meanings I have learned over the years: “taufe” or “taufen” helps locate christenings; “heiraten” finds marriages; and husband or wife can be found by searching on the terms “mann,” “ehermann” and “gatte,” or “ehegattin,” “frau” and “gattin.”

Generally, search software does a fine job in responding to queries, by employing sophisticated “optical character recognition” (OCR) techniques—which is the process by which the computer makes an electronic conversion of scanned images.

However, it sometimes does not produce the desired results. Reasons vary, but foreign publications often used different type styles, such as German Fraktur, Blackletter and Gothic type, and foreign languages may include letters of the alphabet which do not exist in English.

And even old English presents a unique situation—since archaic spellings changed over time. The classic example is the interchangeable use of ff and ss, as seen in this 18th century spelling of possessed.

the word "possessed" as spelled in an 18th century newspaper

The word “possessed” as spelled in an 18th century newspaper

Hopefully, by employing these techniques, you will be able to successfully navigate a variety of foreign-language newspapers. Don’t be intimidated! Plunge right in—you may be agreeably surprised by what you find out about your family history.

Genealogy Tools & Resources Review: Best Bang for Your Buck!

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows the method he uses at the end of each year to evaluate all the genealogy tools and resources he used, to help him prepare his genealogy budget for the new year.

About this time of year I go through my annual exercise of evaluating the benefits, or “bang-for-my-bucks,” that I derived from the money I spent on genealogy tools and resources during the past year to indulge all my family history pursuits. I do this as the first step toward building my genealogy tool budget for the upcoming year.

More Bang for Your Buck, Greensboro News and Record newpaper headline 5 August 1984

Greensboro News and Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 5 August 1984, page 144

2013 is no exception and, due to a variety of reasons, I decided that I was going to adhere to the “brutally honest” approach in my genealogy tools and resources review.

Each year I make up a simple table and list all the genealogy software and website subscriptions I spent money on for family history research and write them down in the far left-hand column. Then I begin to take stock of each of them. If you’d like to do a similar analysis for your genealogy tools and resources, feel free to use my spreadsheet as a model for your own evaluation.

Download the Genealogy Tools Evaluation Spreadsheet.

My evaluation criteria are simple and few. The following are the four I used for this year’s review:

  1. How often have I used the genealogy resource or tool in the past year?
  2. How successful have I been at finding useful genealogical information for my family tree from this genealogy resource or tool?
  3. How many times have I had an “AH-HA” moment of discovery using the genealogy resource or tool? And, of course,
  4. How much did I spend on this genealogy tool or resource?

I proceed to place a value of 0, 1, or 3 points for each of the first three evaluation criteria for each item in my list and the dollar amount in the fourth. Then just in case of a tie, I have a column on the far right-hand side that asks: Is this genealogy resource or tool fun to use? I really like to have fun with my family history, so I place a premium on those genealogy research tools and resources that offer me not only useful information, but some enjoyment as well. This column, since it is a tie-breaker, simply gets a “-” or a “+” sign.

When all was said and done, after this exercise my genealogy tools budget for 2013 was remarkably easy to assemble.

My review includes every subscription and membership that I purchased during the year for any genealogy or history society, museum, software program, database, or association. In my case (simply for example) I have such diverse line items as MyHeritage.com (the software I use for my family tree and our family social network website), the British Newspaper Archive, Ohio Genealogical Society, Ancestry.com, Ohio History Society, Cornwall Family History Society, Minnesota Historical Society, Association of Professional Genealogists, National Genealogical Society, Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, Ontario, Canada Genealogical Society, and almost two dozen additional state and local societies—in addition to GenealogyBank. I include them all from my largest individual annual outlay of $299 for Ancestry to my smallest for a local genealogical society that still only charges $10 a year. (I do not enter the costs I incur each year for experts, long distance assistants, translators, and genealogy tourism/travel in this evaluation spreadsheet because I have a different analysis I use for these outlays.)

You might find it interesting to know that GenealogyBank.com was one of the very top-rated genealogy resources in my analysis.

screenshot of an Excel spreadsheet

The following are the answers from the table I constructed:

  1. I used GenealogyBank.com at least every week and some weeks every day: 3 points.
  2. Over and over, on almost every log-in, I discovered extremely useful, critical, and unique information for my family tree: 3 points.
  3. My “AH-HA” moments were numerous, ranging from articles that provided needed background, obituaries that listed previously missing family members (especially married names of daughters and nieces), and the intensely precious newspaper photos that in several cases make up the only family photo we have of a particular family member: 3 points.
  4. I pay for my GenealogyBank.com subscription on the annual plan, so I notice when I have to part with the fee of $55.95—but I actually do it with a smile because if I divide this total by month, day, article found, or “AH-HA” moment, it works out to pennies a discovery. Well worth it!

Oh, and one of my favorite parts is that GenealogyBank.com also gets a “+” in the “fun column.” I have had more fun finding my family history discoveries and learning new and exciting aspects of the times of my ancestors through GenealogyBank’s newspaper collections than I have had on any other genealogy-oriented site. In fact I always find myself looking forward to logging in, ready for another session.

So GenealogyBank came out of my analysis with a score of 9+, the highest possible score. Renewal for sure!

We all know that genealogy can be an expensive hobby, but in this case there is no second-guessing my use of GenealogyBank.com as one of my premier, must-have sites.

I hope you found my genealogy resource and tool review method helpful. Good luck with your own family history searching in 2013!

New Year’s Genealogy Resolutions for Genealogists in 2013

It’s the start of a new year, a time when many people think about making some changes. Here are four suggestions I have; I hope that genealogists take to heart these New Year’s resolutions for 2013.

Use Newspapers for Genealogy Research

Search through historical newspaper archives for each of your ancestors and find those old stories that over time have been lost to the family.

Family stories like the one in this obituary, containing the riveting recollection of Hannah (Clark) Lyman (1734-1832), who recalled the earthquake of 1755 so vividly all her life that it was referenced in her obituary when she died—77 years after the earthquake struck!

Hannah Lyman's Obituary in the Hampshire Gazette March 21, 1832

Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Massachusetts), 21 March 1832, page 3.

Resolve this year to find your family stories in old newspapers: document these stories, preserve them and pass them down.

Scan Your Family Photos and Documents

Every day we read about storms that destroy homes and wash away treasured family photos and papers. Don’t let that happen to you. Resolve this year to scan your family’s documentation and put it online. Secure it so that the information is there regardless of tomorrow’s storms or other disasters. Set up a reasonable schedule that you can stick to, such as putting up five documents/photos every week. Keep plugging away, and at the end of the year you’ll have over 250 items preserved for future generations online. Start now.

Put Your Family History Online

As a dedicated genealogist you’ve likely spent years researching your family—you don’t want all that hard work to be lost. Preserve your genealogy research by resolving to put it online. There are lots of terrific websites where you can post your family history. It’s a good idea to put your family history on multiple sites. I strongly recommend that you create a family tree on Ancestry.com and on FamilySearch.org; these are both good genealogy websites for hosting family trees.

Upload your family tree onto the genealogy sites you’ve chosen, setting the upload so that it excludes the current, living members of the family. Then add scans of your family photos and documents.

Make sure that as you add new genealogical data, you update the information on all your online family trees.

Resolve to do this today to preserve and pass down your family’s heritage.

Print Your Family History and Put a Copy of the Printed Document Online

To accomplish this, use Scribd.com, a handy, free online site for publishing and distributing your family history.

You probably have your family history on one of the many excellent family history software programs like: Legacy, RootsMagic or PAF.

Simply use the report function on these family tree software programs to print out your family history, being careful to not include the current, living members of the family.

By putting these reports online, every name becomes easily searchable via Google, Bing, etc. I have had many breakthroughs on my family tree by using Scribd.com.

Resolve to use Scribd.com to preserve and pass down your family’s history—that’s a New Year’s resolution you won’t regret.

edward and mary rutledge genealogy records on Scribd.com

Edward & Mary Rutledge’s Genealogy Records on Scribd.com

Genealogy Records Storage: Tips & Software to Preserve Your Family History

After doing family history research for awhile, genealogists reach the point where they ask themselves: I have gathered all this information—now, what do I do with it?

Genealogists are the family hunter/gatherers, sifting through family obituaries, photographs and birth certificates. We take that information and organize it on our home computers in family tree software programs like PersonalAncestralFilePAF, LegacyFamilyTree and RootsMagic.

These family tree software programs designed for personal use at home are excellent ways to manage and organize your genealogical data.

But, at the end of the day, they are only the first step in compiling and sharing your family history.

As genealogists we want to share the family’s information with the rest of the family, to preserve it for the rising generation. We must find a way to make this family history information “permanent” with today’s tools and resources.

What are the storage options open to us?

Storing Genealogy Records at Home

We can protect and keep our genealogical data on a home computer, being careful to make back-up disks and giving copies of those disks to relatives near and far. I have done that for over a decade. The downside is that right now my relatives just are not interested enough in our family history to upload that data. They simply—on a good day—take the disks I sent them and put them in a drawer. The family data is preserved but it is still at the one-off level: it is preserved but only accessible to a few people.

We have seen genealogists spend 40+ years gathering family data, carefully managing it in their paper or computer files—only to have it all discarded as the person dies and the family downsizes, consolidates and moves to warmer climates. The pattern has been that the genealogy records gathered by each generation are known only to a few and are seldom preserved.

It is urgent that genealogists use the report function on their genealogy software programs to print and share their research. These reports can be targeted to report on all descendants of specific parts of the family and can even be personalized so that each person has a copy of their family tree—starting with themselves and going back in time.

Storing Family Records in the Online Cloud

Are there ways that we can preserve our family history information and at the same time widely disseminate it?

Yes.

This is important. Now that we all live in an interconnected world we can easily share and preserve our information with family members we have never met.

Genealogy Tip: For security reasons, only put information about deceased members of your family online. Make that information “public” so that it seamlessly becomes a part of the global family tree being built by millions of genealogists worldwide. If you add what you know—and I add what I have discovered—a much stronger and accurate family tree is built, permanently available online.

Where do I plant my tree online?

You want to use the standard “family tree” websites: FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com

FamilySearch.org. This free site has multiple options for uploading family trees. Their “new” family tree site is still in limited release but is expected to be fully open to the public later this year. Register now to get an invitation. Users can personalize and view this information in multiple languages, including all of the expected European, Scandinavian and Asian languages.

Ancestry.com. This commercial site has millions of family trees with documentation and photographs. It is essential that you make your tree “public,” making the information easily findable by genealogists worldwide.

What about using Facebook, a blog, or other sites?

Earlier I noted that you can print a family tree report from your home-based family tree software—but notice that you can also print these as PDF reports.

Be careful to adjust your settings so that none of the current, living generation of your family is printed in the report.

Then you can easily upload a copy to your Facebook page, blog or similar sites.

Scribd.com

One terrific online resource is Scribd.com.

This free website encourages everyone to publish their reports online. I regularly post copies of my genealogical reports here, and this has paid off. I have heard back from relatives in the United Kingdom and around the world who never would have found me on a “genealogy” site.

Genealogy Record Storage Online with Scribd

Scribd.com for Online Genealogy Record Preservation

How did they find me on Scribd.com? Easy—that site makes every word, every name fully searchable on Google and the other search engines. So—when my cousins decided to start looking at our family tree they searched using Google and Bingo!—they found my family tree report.

One nice feature of Scribd is that I can update my family history information, then upload and overlay the original version of my report. So all links are preserved and the information available will be the most accurate version of my research data.

Take time this summer to find ways to permanently preserve and disseminate your genealogy research. Doing so will inform and entertain your family members—and help your own family history research by getting others involved.

I can’t find my ancestor – what am I doing wrong?

For most searches on GenealogyBank it is easy to find your ancestor. You type in their name and in an instant you spot them in the search results list.

So - what do you do when your ancestor’s name doesn’t come right up in the search hits?
Just like any other genealogical resource you need to step back and see what your options are and try various ways to search on the site.

Consider your search strategy.
1. Sometimes less is more.
Be careful how you type in your ancestor’s name.
His full name might have been: Willard Jacob Teskey …. but the newspaper article may have simply called him:

Willard Teskey
Willard J. Teskey
W.J. Teskey
Bill Teskey
or only: Teskey

Try typing in variations of the person’s name.
I have found that typing in only the surname can quickly get you the best results.

Tip: You almost never want to type in a person’s “middle” name. Newspapers rarely use a person’s full name.

Be Careful How You Limit Your Search
It is tempting to limit your search to only one state or even to one newspaper. That can often be the most appropriate search strategy. However, if your searches did not locate the obituary or article about your ancestor – try your search again and this time do not limit your search geographically.

If that produces too many hits – then repeat your search and limit it by the likely starting and ending years when your ancestor. Be sure add a few years in both directions so you will bring up the most possible hits.

Tip: Newspapers often published brief biographies and articles years after a person died. So be careful how you limit your search or you might miss the articles you are looking for.

GenealogyBank brings together newspapers, books, reports and documents from over 300 years. During that time printers had access to varying qualities of newsprint; pieces of type and printing presses.

1. Newspapers have been printed on newsprint paper of varying quality. Some are smooth and some pages are rough.

2. Printers had only so many pieces of type and the newspaper had a deadline. It would be easy when they set the type for the day’s newspaper to swap in an “m” for a “w” or switch a “d” and a “p” or a “1″ and a “l”. The reader in 1843 would hardly notice the difference. But a modern computer might struggle to interpret each word if the piece of type was a different letter or had been damaged.

Let me give you a similar example that has circulated on the Internet for years:

Cna yuo raed tihs?
i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotui t a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

This is an extreme example that shows the problems that computers have reading the old newspapers and documents. Individuals reading an old newspaper quickly adjust to the look, feel of the newspaper and learn how to read it. GenealogyBank has been working on these issues for years and improved and enhanced our OCR capability.

GenealogyBank uses state of the art OCR software and we have teams of indexers that review and tag each item – focusing on names, obituaries, births, marriages and other data of high importance to genealogists.

3. Still can’t find your ancestor? Then, its time to dig in and search the target newspapers, page by page. GenealogyBank makes it easy to bookmark a specific newspaper, combination of newspapers or locations. You could then go through the newspapers – month by month – clicking from page to page to quicly see if your ancestors were mentioned.

.

FamilySearch Indexing now available in Spanish

FamilySearch’s indexing system is now available in the Spanish language, giving Spanish speakers easier access to an enormous collection of family history resources.

Familysearch, a nonprofit organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, contains the world’s largest repository of genealogical records.

For longtime family history buffs, making the indexing process accessible in Spanish will make more of the Spanish language microfilm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City available to genealogists.

Having the indexing system available in Spanish also gives volunteers who speak Spanish the opportunity to add indexing information to the Internet, opening up this opportunity to genealogists in Spanish-speaking countries.

Even a novice genealogist can register at familysearch.org and, after completing a simple tutorial, participate in the indexing process.

Designed for ease and efficiency, the indexing software allows indexing to be processed on a personal computer at home or any other location. Indexing projects are downloaded on the computer, and the significant data is entered in a tabbed format.

And because all of the information and instructions are now in Spanish, users are not required to speak English.

Numerous Spanish projects, including the 1930 Mexican Census, the 1869 Argentina Census and some church records from Spain and Venezuela, are currently available for online indexing.



Illustration: A page from the 1869 census of Argentina being indexed by Spanish-speaking volunteers at FamilySearch indexing. © 2008 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

According to Paul Nauta, manager of public affairs for FamilySearch, the time commitment to work on indexing is not significant. “A seasoned indexer could complete a census page in about 15 minutes, while a newcomer may take twice that long,” Nauta explained. “Volunteers may also work in short segments, saving their work online as they go. If they are unable to finish, the work is automatically assigned to another indexer, so not even 10 minutes of work would be wasted. We’ll take any and every effort,” he concluded.