Learning from Others


I recently graduated from Boston University’s Genealogy Certificate program. It was LOTS of hard work, but I can tell you that if you are a serious researcher and you can afford to pay the $2,695 tuition fee, take this online class: http://professional.bu.edu/cpe/Genealogy.asp

Not only will you learn more than you ever imagined (the professors were terrific), but you will make some great new genealogy contacts  –  My classmates all seem to know so much more than I do!! – they are terrific resources and more than willing to share their knowledge.  We have kept in touch via Google Groups, meet up at conferences and bounce ideas off one another.

I thought I would share just a few of the things that I learned from my classmates.  I can’t remember who gave me which tidbits, so unfortunately I can’t give them each proper credit. 

1. My favorite is “The Way Back Machine” which will actually let you choose from archived images for a website for the past 10 years or more. The Wayback Machine is located at www.archive.org  This is really helpful when a website disappears. The Internet Archive is a non-profit organization and they are building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. About 75% of the time it will “find” the missing website.  Note that if you are searching in Google, many times there is a “cache” button under the listing.  The “cache” button works just like the Wayback Machine.

2. Google is an enormously powerful tool and it’s constantly being improved.  The “Google Your Family Tree Book” is an excellent resource. See if you can find a copy at your local library or you can get it here: http://www.googleyourfamilytree.com/  I learned ALOT from this book.  It was worth every penny! (Note that I am in no way affiliated with the author, nor do I get any kickback if you purchase a copy)  Here are a few tips:

 – Try using the timeline (under Show Options). It shows your search results stretched across a timeline so you can zoom in the time you’re looking for.

 – Adding a tilde before a word, like ~genealogy basically tells google to search using all synonyms of genealogy. You can use the ~ with any Google search and it will find synonyms of that word. See http://google.about.com/od/googlebasics/qt/synonyms.htm

– When searching for your ancestor in Google, use the OR command and quotes.  For example:  “Brian Hall” OR “Hall, Brian”  you can also use a * as a wild card:  “Brian * Hall” OR “Hall * Brian”, that way if he is listed with a middle name your search will pick it up. 

–  Search with the (numrange) feature.  “Brian Hall” 1727..1789 will limit your search results to “Brian Hall” with dates between 1727 and 1789.

– If you search state then city instead of city and state … this will give you different results (not sure why!)

 – If you want to locate information on a specific type of site say .gov or .edu you can search like this. Go to google.com and type the following in the search box: genealogy +site:gov. This will give you result only about genealogy on governmental websites.

– Another Google search operator is the command “related:” If you find a Website that is particularly helpful this search feature will help you locate other similar websites. For example related:www.genealogybank.com would return a list of other similar websites.

3. Cemetery  records are most helpful in  family history research. First located the cemetery in which your ancestor is buried (it’s usually listed on their death certificate), then contact the cemetery office for any burial records they may have. You can collect various burial records from cemetery offices including general burial records, burial permits (sometimes called an application for burial), burial plot maps (with diagrams for where each ancestor is buried within a plot), grave purchase receipts, gravestone orders, death certificates, and obituaries. Some of these records provide a variety of information that are not available from other sources.  Be sure to add the listing to FindAGrave.com and “Request A Photo”. Often within a week, a volunteer will email you the image.

The cemetery records or death certificate may list a funeral home. Funeral homes also may have helped write the obituary. Funeral programs may also be available from the funeral home. Funeral programs include a short biography of the deceased. They often contain (1) birth date, (2) death date, (3) place of birth and death, (4) Surviving relatives, (5) parents’ names, (6) siblings’ names, (7) wives’ names, (8) occupations, (9) military service, (10) place of employment, (11) married names of daughters, (12) maiden names, and (13) burial site. 

4. The easiest path to online death certificate images (and a lot of other death info) is www.deathindexes.com

5. Let  me give you my two favorite free sites:

http://pilot.familysearch.org  (free site and they continue to add records)  and

 To see a list of the collections available, go to http://fsbeta.familysearch.org/s/collection/list  To search the records, go to http://beta.familysearch.org

Check out my blogroll for more of my favorites (and feel free to suggest your own).

6. Stuck on finding the names of your g-grandparents?  If your grandparents died after 1962, chances are that they had a Social Security number.  In order to get a Social Security card, they needed to complete an application form (known as an SS-5) .

It generally includes the following:

Full name
Full name at birth, including maiden name
Present mailing address
Age at last birthday
Date of birth
Place of birth (city, county, State)
Father’s full name
Mother’s full name, including maiden name
Sex
Race as indicated by the applicant
Whether the applicant ever applied for Social Security or Railroad Retirement before
Current employer’s name and address
Date signed
Applicant’s signature

The easiest way to request a copy of the SS-5 form for your ancestor is to apply online through the Social Security Administration:

If you supply the Social Security Number, the fee is $27.00. If the SSN is not known, the fee is $29.00,

https://secure.ssa.gov/apps9/eFOIA-FEWeb/internet/main.jsp
The usual wait time for receiving a copy of a Social Security Application Form is 6-8 weeks.

Here is the link on ancestry to the SSDI (Social Security Death Index) database, so you can first search to see if you can find the social security number: http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=3693

There is a free index on Rootsweb: http://ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/ssdi.cgi?cj=1&o_xid=0000584978&o_lid=0000584978

And also on Genealogy Bank: http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/ssdi/?kbid=9064&m=9

A small number of deaths are listed before 1962 some back to 1935 and not everyone who died from 1962 to the present is listed, but it does list most of the deaths after 1962, even more in recent years (especially from the late 1980s to the present). 400,000 railroad retirees are also included in the SSDI.

7. And last, here is a link to my favorite genealogy related video: https://fch.ldschurch.org/WWSupport/Courses/FGS_2009/The_Bachelor__Reconstructing_a_Solitary_Life_Using/Player.html

That’s all for today!  I am sure your head is spinning and I can’t give away all of my tips in one blog, I’ll have nothing left to write about!

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Hi there! Great blog and thanks for the information. 🙂 I saw your site link on Facebook

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  2. Thanks for the great Google tips – and I love the Way Back Machine! Look forward to reading more of your posts. Jo

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  3. I have been using these sites that you listed for about 5 years. They are NOT free and you can only go so far. Everytime I go back to any of the sites, it is still a monthly fee and I find the same results. I followed the “Who do you think you are” and I believe you have to have money and travel to the state archives where the ancestors have been found. But, I could only get so far. I get so frustrated because I want to find out more and go further back with my ellisons, but I am stuck!

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