Monday, March 26, 2012

Indexing: Becoming a Volunteer

As I discussed last week, the 1940 Census will be made available to the public on April 2, 2012. Unfortunately, when it is released, the data has not been indexed so there won’t be a way to search the information for the records you need.

However, there are many volunteer opportunities for people who enjoy family history and historical documents to help catalog this data.  All you need is a computer and the time. The two sites that I know of that does this type of volunteer indexing provides you with the software to download and easy instruction on how to start processing your first record.

You don’t have to commit to a specific number of hours, a certain time of the day or a number of records you’ll index. Just sign on, copy the information you see, and then submit the information once you’ve completed the record. And don’t worry if you are afraid you might index something wrong. There will be at least two people looking at every record so just do your best.

Image Copyright © 2011 IRI
If you want to help out, check out these sites:

They always have projects they are working on so you can go ahead and get some practice before April 2nd. Then on Monday we can all work together to get the 1940 Census processed for everyone to enjoy.

Post any questions you have about these sites and I’ll help answer them. Happy indexing!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Countdown to 1940 Census Release

Anyone following genealogy closely knows the 1940 Census Release is scheduled for April 2, 2012. This is something we've known for a while and really look forward to it because it's supposed to hold the most comprehensive look at US Demographics free and open to the public, though not immediately searchable. Here's what the Associated Press printed this morning on the topic:
NEW YORK — The federal government plans to release intimate details about 132 million people in the United States who participated in the 1940 census when it makes the data available to the public on April 2 for the first time after 72 years of being kept confidential. Access to the records will be free and open to anyone on the Internet — but they will not be immediately name searchable.
For genealogists and family historians, the 1940 census release is the most important disclosure of ancestral secrets in a decade and could shake the branches of many family trees. Scholars expect the records to help draw a more pointillistic portrait of a transformative decade in American life.
Researchers might be able to follow the movement of refugees from war-torn Europe in the latter half of the 1930s; sketch out in more detail where 100,000 Japanese Americans interned during World War II were living before they were removed; and more fully trace the decades-long migration of blacks from the rural South to cities. More than 120,000 enumerators surveyed 132 million people for the Sixteenth Decennial Census — 21 million of whom are alive today in the United States and Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The survey contained 34 questions directed at all households, plus 16 supplemental questions asked of 5 percent of the population. New questions reflected the government's intent on documenting the turbulent decade, by generating data on homelessness, migration, widespread unemployment, irregular salaries and fertility decline.
In a first for the National Archives and Records Administration, the nation's recordkeeper plans to post the entire census on the Internet — its biggest digitization effort to date. That might be unsurprising given that increasingly popular online ancestry services make vast amounts of genealogical data available. In previous census releases, researchers had to crank through microfilm machines.
For me this is still a little before my parents' births in the 1940s but it will give me more information on my grandparents on both sides. My maternal grandparents already had at least four kids by this time but information on a fifth buried with them is still sketchy. Maybe this will clear that up.

For my paternal grandparents, both would have been about 14 by this time and still four years away from giving birth to my father, but I'm more curious about her grandparents. Some information shows my great-great-grandfather died in 1936 while others show he was still living in 1960. This Census should help me clear up that question and I can't wait!

What about you? What are you looking forward to finding in the 1940 Census?

NOTE: Next week, I'll be sharing about how you can help index these records (and others) so the information can be searchable to you and everyone else looking for their family in the 1940 Census. It's a great service to others in the genealogy community and not that hard to do.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reader Question: Locating extremely old historical documents

Image: Simon Howden /
A friend and reader posed a question that I thought would be beneficial for everyone. She and her father are researching their family history and managed to get to 1764 but can’t find his birth certificate or who his parents were and the Census in the UK didn’t start until 1841 so they are at a loss for what to do.

Normally, for me that’s where I’d stop because living in the US I can’t really go any farther without traveling to the UK (or whatever country I’m researching) and that’s too cost-prohibitive right now. However, since my friend and her father live in the UK and I’m assuming their 1764 ancestor was also from the UK I have a few suggestions.

The first is to call and/or visit the older churches in the area where this ancestor lived. In my experience during this time period most of the documentation on births (or at least baptisms) were kept on file at the church. If you can locate the church documentation, you can search for his baptism and with that would include his parents’ names and possible other information related to that ancestor. Also using the parents’ names you can locate other siblings and possibly learn more about your family history through them.

Second, if you can’t find the church documentation, consider visiting the government offices of the county (or shire) this individual lived in. You might have to go to those surrounding in case the county lines are different now than in the past but the one he lived in will be a start. Ask them how far back their records for land purchases (deeds) and wills go back. You might be able to find the individual’s own will as well as his father’s or maybe his father transferred property to him when he came of age and that deed transfer is on file. Also remember that back then, the first born son was (generally) named after his parents’ fathers so you might be able to find out your ancestor’s father’s name through trial and error by using the son’s name.

If you can't afford to travel but can afford a phone call or two you might be able to contact these places as well. Often they will research and copy any documents found for you. Of course there is normally a cost for this so make sure you ask before you commit to anything.

I hope this helps you in your search. Let me know what you find!

Happy hunting!

Monday, March 5, 2012

How did I start researching my family tree?

Now that I’ve researched several different family lines, I can tell you there is no specific way to start. For me, starting involved getting as much information about family names, birth dates, death dates, spouses, children, etc., anything I could get family members to remember as far back as they could. Parents’ names, grandparents’, great-grandparents, etc. Don’t forget to ask about aunts and uncles too because sometimes uncovering things on them can uncover information on the people you are looking for.

Also, if they can remember neighbors’ names, where they lived, etc., write that down. You never know when that’ll help.

For me, knowing the neighbors’ names helped when I couldn’t find my great-grandparents in the 1900 or later Census. My great-grandmother was still living with her parents in the 1890 Census and my great-grandfather was a laborer on a neighboring farm. I knew they married sometime in the 1890s because my grandfather was born in 1893 but they didn’t show up in any searches in the 1900 Census.

Fortunately, my aunt remembered some of her grandparent’s neighbors and a search on them proved successful. When I looked further on the pages before and after where the neighbors appeared, I found my great-grandparents, grandfather, and four of his siblings born in the 1890s. The Census takers handwriting had been transcribed wrong so the search engine skipped right over it. Yes, I could have gone through all the pages of the 1900 Census for the area I knew they were in and would have if using the neighbors hadn’t worked but this was a lot less time consuming and tedious.

Therefore, in my opinion, getting as much information as you can before you start can help prevent some of the major roadblocks you might experience. The information can help you confirm you found the right person as well as eliminate individuals that don’t belong. (i.e., that Martin Bishop born in 1875 was probably not the father of Andrew Bishop born in the early 1880s, etc.)

It won’t eliminate everything, but it does help in the long run. And don’t forget about taking information you learn back to those people who helped you start. It might jog some of their memories so they can give you more information to help you with your journey.

So what about you? How did you get started? What pointers can you give to others?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How did I get started in genealogy?

My actual first journey into genealogy started in 1998 thanks to my in-laws. At the time I started researching I didn’t even know there was a world of amateur and professional genealogists out there. I was just looking for some general family history and encountered a fabulous community of sleuths.

Several members of my mother-in-law’s family did (A LOT) of research and traced their paternal heritage back several generations. When they shared the information with the family, my brother-in-law expressed his curiosity about his father’s family history. He’d heard about an interesting legend related to his surname but didn’t know if it was true or even if his family descended from that legendary individual.

Intrigued, I started looking and caught the bug. I was never able to prove or disprove the legend but was able to share with my brother-in-law he was descended from that line. I also found connections to some historical figures, past and present, so the more I look the more I want to look for more.

What got you started? Do you have that bug too?