3 Search Strategies for Military Records on FamilySearch.org

What’s the key to finding military records on FamilySearch.org for your ancestors? Begin with these three search strategies.

Start with the big picture

Start broadly, then narrow your options by adding filters or additional search criteria. If you know your ancestor served in a specific conflict and he doesn’t turn up in a broad search, review the list of Historical Records collections for specific collections to search. In some cases, the records for a certain conflict may not yet be searchable, so you may come across collections to browse.

military records search

Military records search example on FamilySearch.org

Include residence in search criteria

Including a residence will help you determine whether the John Smith listed is your ancestor John Smith. In addition, many military records were recorded or arranged by state, and most military records typically include the soldier’s residence location. Combining the name with the residence will help yield more relevant results.

Add a family relationship

Particularly when searching for pension records, try adding a family relationship. Why? Pensions in particular included family members such as the soldier’s widow or children. Other military records may include family members’ names, too, since soldiers often had to provide information on their next of kin or a contact person back home.

For more search strategies, as well as a step-by-step example that employs these strategies, check out the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org.

(Excerpted adapted from Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org, on sale now at Amazon.com and ShopFamilyTree.com.)


ABOUT DANA MCCULLOUGH

Dana McCullough is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes, edits, copy-edits, and proofreads content for magazines, blogs, websites, books, and more. She is the owner of Dana’s Creative Services and author of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. Twitter:@DanasCreative

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What to Do When You Find a Genealogy Record on FamilySearch.org

After you’ve determined a record truly is for your ancestor, you’ve got several options for what to do with that record in FamilySearch.org and in your personal family history record files.

saving records

When you find a genealogy record on FamilySearch.org, you can save it, copy it, print it, download it, and more.

Save it to your Source Box

FamilySearch.org’s Source Box is a great tool that lets you keep all the records you find in one place. It provides citation information so you can always remember where you found the record—and that you even found the record in the first place.

Attach it to your tree

Add this source to a person in your FamilySearch Family Tree by clicking the Attach to Family Tree button (you’ll see this on the records window when you view your search results). FamilySearch.org will automatically match the record to a relative in your tree, if you’ve already created a family tree on the site.

Print a hard copy

If you keep hard-copy files of your ancestor finds, you can click on the Print icon at the top of the record detail window to print a copy.

Copy the data

The Copy icon at the top of the record detail window copies the text from the record result page and allows you to paste it in a document. For example, you would click the Copy icon, open a new word processor document or Evernote note, then paste the text. This is helpful when no record image is available, or you want the record contents to be searchable in your research notes.

Download the image

If your record result includes a record image, you’ll want to download a copy for your personal files. Record images may be directly on FamilySearch.org, or may be accessible through a partner site such as Ancestry.com. If it’s on FamilySearch.org, simply click on the Camera icon in the search results, then click the Download link to download the current record shown on your screen. A JPG image of the record will download to your computer; you can move it to the appropriate folder where you keep genealogy record images.

Share your find

You can share your record finds via social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, as well as via e-mail. To access these sharing options on FamilySearch.org, click the down arrow next to the Share icon on the record results page.

Examine the record for clues

Take closer look at the information provided in the record. Does a death record list the street address of your ancestor or of the person providing information for the record? Does a census record include the year your ancestor immigrated to America? Does a marriage license include the religious affiliation or church name where the wedding ceremony occurred? These bits of information could be valuable clues as you continue your research.

(Excerpted adapted from Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org, on sale now at Amazon.com and ShopFamilyTree.com.)


ABOUT DANA MCCULLOUGH

Dana McCullough is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes, edits, copy-edits, and proofreads content for magazines, blogs, websites, books, and more. She is the owner of Dana’s Creative Services and author of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. Twitter:@DanasCreative

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History Lesson: Details to Know Before Doing Online Genealogy Searches

Knowing some background information on genealogy records and their historical context can help you search more efficiently for records on websites such as FamilySearch.org. What information should you know before starting your online genealogy record searches?

Ancestor birth and death dates

Even if you don’t know an exact date for your ancestor’s birth, death, or other life events, it’s good to estimate the years. Knowing the years an ancestor lived will help you narrow your searches to focus only on the years the ancestor was alive.

It also can help you determine which records to look in. For example, if your ancestor died in 1909, he won’t appear in the 1910 U.S. census and if he born in 1875 and a vital records collection contains records from 1900 to 1950, he won’t be in there either. Likewise, if your male ancestor was born in the 1890s, it’s possible he could have served in World War I, so you’ll want to look for his record in draft registration card collections.

Dates records were originally created

Record-keeping dates vary by location. For example, some U.S. states began keeping statewide vital records information as early as 1848, while others waited until 1907 to begin keeping those records. Knowing when record-keepers began tracking the information you’re searching will help you focus your searches and not waste valuable research time.

A great free resource for knowing vital-records-keeping began is Family Tree Magazine’s Vital Records Chart (PDF). The FamilySearch Wiki also has helpful information about various record types. Consult the United States Genealogy entry in the Wiki to get some background on the available record types.

Information contained in records

A death date won’t be included in a birth or marriage records. A woman’s maiden name is used in her birth record, but likely not in her death record or on her gravestone. Censuses prior to 1850 listed only the name of a head-of-household, not everyone who lived at the residence.

Knowing the types of information included in certain types of record can help you choose appropriate search terms or criteria. For example, when searching for a birth record on FamilySearch.org, don’t include a death date range in your criteria. When searching a pre-1850 census, don’t search on a woman’s name (unless she was a widow and head-of-household); instead, search on the name of her husband or father that she lived with.

Again, for help learning the information available in various record types, consult the United States Genealogy Wiki entry, or a Wiki entry for the location where you’re researching, on FamilySearch.org.

Historical events and boundary changes

Knowing about various historical events during your ancestor’s day can help you focus your online searches, too. For example, if you know the dates of military conflicts that American military personnel were involved in, you can determine if any of those conflicts occurred during your ancestor’s lifetime and then search the appropriate records.

In addition, knowing some historical background on the locations where your ancestors lived can help. Boundaries of cities, counties, and even states changed overtime. So, the present-day name of the county where your ancestor lived could have been different when he lived there, meaning his records could be in an entirely different county than you originally thought.

And if he lived near a state border, his records could be in an entirely different state if the borders changed since he lived there. Use historical maps resources such as the Perry Castañeda Library Map Collection and the Newberry Library’s Atlas of Historical County Boundaries online tool to help identify boundaries at various times in history.


ABOUT DANA MCCULLOUGH

Dana McCullough is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes, edits, copy-edits, and proofreads content for magazines, blogs, websites, books, and more. She is the owner of Dana’s Creative Services and author of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. Twitter:@DanasCreative

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7 Tips for Interviewing Sources Via Email

No matter what writing project I work on—an article for magazine, a blog post for a university website, or even researching to write a book—some sources just prefer to answer interview questions via email. While interviews in person or via the phone are usually preferable, you can still glean some great information from an interviewee’s email.

Use these tips to get the information you need from sources when interviewing via email:

1. Keep it short and simple. The cardinal rule of journalistic writing is important when interviewing via email. Keep the questions you email direct and concise so your source can easily understand what is being asked and doesn’t get confused.

2. Add simple prompts. To make sure you get some specifics, you can add a few prompts in parentheses after the questions to direct the source to provide the relevant details you need. So a question may look like this:

Tell me about your background (such as education history, past jobs, etc.)

or

Tell me about your childhood (your parents’ occupations, siblings, lifestyle)

3. Ask the same question in different ways. Sometimes the way you ask a question can make a huge impact on an interviewee’s response. A source may write a one-sentence (or one-word) response to one question, and write three paragraphs in response to another. If there’s key information you need from a source and you’re concerned he may be hesitant to share it, altering the way you frame a question when you ask it could yield better results.

4. Limit the number of questions. Focus your questions on the key information you need. Do research before you talk to the person (search for the source on Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) so you know the basics of his background. That way you can simply confirm the factual info you find quickly, and focus more of your questions on the meat of the interview topic. Also, make sure you don’t have such a long list of questions that it intimidates the source.

5. Always end with an open-ended question. Some of the best information I’ve gotten from email interviews comes when I ask this question: Is there anything else about X topic or your experience that you’d like to share? This is a great catchall question, so if you didn’t ask something specifically, but the person has more she wants to share, she has an opportunity to share it.

6. Follow up. Once you receive the interviewee’s responses, reply via email to thank her and let her know if you have any additional follow-up questions, you’ll be in touch. This is important because sometime a source may provide a short or incomplete response to an important question. You can send an email to follow up and ask for more specific details. For example, if he mentions an event he participated in, you could follow up and ask him what his role was in the event, where the event was held, the event’s official title, and when the event took place.

7. Give the interviewee a deadline. This may be the most important thing you can do. Everyone is busy, and your source is, too. If you give a source a deadline to reply, it gets your email on her schedule so she can plan her time accordingly. And if you don’t hear back from the source by the deadline, it gives you a good opportunity to follow up without sounding too pushy.

Remember, sometimes email interviews can be a really great thing—like when you’re working on deadline and the source has no appointment times in his schedule, but can write responses while waiting at the airport. Other times, it can create challenges—like when working on a profile of a person that requires a lot of background detail and personal stories to showcase the person or topic.

Use your best judgment on which story types or interviewees would provide good information via email versus stories or interviewees that may be best to speak directly to via phone or in person.

(Reposted from Dana’s Creative Services.)


ABOUT DANA MCCULLOUGH

Dana McCullough is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes, edits, copy-edits, and proofreads content for magazines, blogs, websites, books, and more. She is the owner of Dana’s Creative Services and author of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. Twitter:@DanasCreative

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The Two Ways to Search FamilySearch.org’s International Genealogical Index

Since early 2015, FamilySearch.org has offered two different ways to search its International Genealogical Index (IGI), a collection that contains more than 400 million entries of vital events such as births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths collected since the IGI was first available on microfiche in 1973.

Search Option 1

The first way to search the IGI is using the Genealogies search form: Before you hit the Search button, click on the All button (with a down arrow), and select just the IGI. You’ll want to select the tab to Search With a Relationship, since AF numbers don’t apply to the IGI records. For information on viewing search results using this search form, see the Viewing Genealogies Search Results section earlier in this chapter.

Search Option 2

The second way to search the IGI is to go to www.familysearch.org/search/collection/igi. This search form allows you to get a little more detailed with your IGI search because here, you can select whether or not to include both parts of the collection, just the Community Contributed IGI, or just the Community Indexed IGI. The form also has fields for searching

  • on first and last names
  • with a life event (such as a birth, marriage, residence, or death place and year range)
  • with a relationship (such as spouse, parents, or other person)
  • by batch number, film number, or serial/sheet number
IGI search result

Notice the Contributed IGI and Indexed IGI tabs on the search results page

When using this second option for searching, the results window separates the results into two tabs: one for the Contributed IGI and one for the Indexed IGI (see image at right). Each tab has columns for Name, Events, and Relationships.

Under the person’s name in each entry in the Name column, it lists what records collection the information originated in. This could be the IGI (for Community Contributed IGI results) or a vital-records or church collection (for Community Indexed IGI results).

The Events column includes any combination of birth, marriage, or death dates and locations. The Relationship column typically lists any spouse, children, or parents associated with the IGI entry.

To view a full entry from your search results, you can click on the person’s name linked in the Name column in either results tab. For results under the Indexed IGI tab, there’s one additional column: Preview, where you can click the down arrow to preview the record without having to jump to an entirely new viewing window.

Pedigree view IGI

A detailed view of a record in the IGI on FamilySearch.org

If you click the person’s name to view an entry in the Community Contributed IGI results, you’ll see a portion of a pedigree chart with vital-records information and family connections. It also shows the submitter’s name and/or number. To save this record, the only option available is to print a hard copy.

Under the Indexed IGI tab, results windows will show a record transcription, as you would see for other historical records you find. You can then copy the information, print it, add it to your FamilySearch.org Source Box, share it via social media or e-mail, or attach it to your family tree.

With any information you find in the IGI, it’s important to verify it in the original records or other primary sources.

(Excerpted adapted from Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org, on sale now at Amazon.com and ShopFamilyTree.com.)


ABOUT DANA MCCULLOUGH

Dana McCullough is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes, edits, copy-edits, and proofreads content for magazines, blogs, websites, books, and more. She is the owner of Dana’s Creative Services and author of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. Twitter:@DanasCreative

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The Value of FamilySearch Family Tree Record Hints

Record Hint

Record hint on FamilySearch Family Tree

Earlier this year, FamilySearch.org added Record Hints to its FamilySearch Family Tree. If you’re familiar with Ancestry.com, then think of these new Record Hints in FamilySearch.org as sort of the equivalent to Ancestry.com’s shaky leaf icons.

If hints are available and you’re using Landscape view for your tree, you’ll see a brown icon with a laptop and magnifying class. To see the hint(s), click on the icon. A pop-up window will show potential record matches for your ancestor that aren’t already connected to the person on your family tree.

Pretty cool, huh?

Record Hint Details

Details of a Record Hint in FamilySearch Family Tree

You can examine the record(s) more closely by clicking on the Show Details link. It will take you to a page of hints for that person, where you can review the record, and decide if it’s a match. If it’s a match, you can attach it as a source to that person’s family tree entry. If not, you can select Not a Match.

So why are these hints a great addition to the FamilySearch Family Tree?

Simply put, it makes your research easier and may save you time. Instead of having to do several searches on the site for historical records, you’ve got potential record matches right at your fingertips. It also makes it convenient to cite sources for ancestors on your family tree because the record is right there for you to attach to the tree.

Of course, not all records for each ancestor on FamilySearch.org will show up in the Record Hints. You’ll still want to do record searches for any records you’re missing, but it’s a great step forward to saving genealogists research time.

Learn more about how to create and manage your family tree on FamilySearch.org in the new book, Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org.


ABOUT DANA MCCULLOUGH

Dana McCullough is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes, edits, copy-edits, and proofreads content for magazines, blogs, websites, books, and more. She is the owner of Dana’s Creative Services and author of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. Twitter:@DanasCreative

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How to Use Wildcards in FamilySearch.org Searches

Decades or centuries ago, when many of the historical records on FamilySearch.org were originally created, the clerks and record keepers weren’t perfect. The volunteer indexers who transcribe records for FamilySearch.org aren’t infallible, either. That means spelling errors will almost certainly appear in your ancestors’ records. For example, I’ve seen my ancestor Blasius Schwer’s first name appear in records as Bliss, Bloes, and Blassius.

To account for spelling errors or other variations of names, you can use wildcards. Wildcards are special characters you enter in a search box in place of certain letters.

On FamilySearch.org, you can use a question mark (?) to represent one missing letter. An asterisk (*) can replace zero or more characters. You can use both wildcards in the same search if desired. You must have at least one letter in the search box, and you can place the wildcard at the beginning, middle, or end of a search field.

Sample wildcard search

Sample search using a wildcard character on FamilySearch.org

For example, if I want to account for all of the different first name spellings I’ve seen for Blasius, I might enter his name as Bl*s Schwer. This pulls up results for people with the last name Schwer who have the first name spellings I’ve seen, plus several more, including Blazius and Blausis. Apparently he had a difficult name to spell!

Even if your ancestors had easy-to-spell names, expect spelling discrepancies. For example, if your ancestor’s last name was Henderson, it could appear in records as Hendersen. To account for this difference, you could enter Henders?n in the Last Names search box.

Many search engines, including Google, support Boolean search techniques to help you focus searches, such as enclosing terms in quotation marks or using the word and between terms. Unfortunately, FamilySearch.org does not support Boolean techniques, so don’t worry about using quotation marks or operators (and, or) in your FamilySearch.org searches.

(Excerpted from Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org, on sale now at Amazon.com and ShopFamilyTree.com.)


ABOUT DANA MCCULLOUGH

Dana McCullough is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes, edits, copy-edits, and proofreads content for magazines, blogs, websites, books, and more. She is the owner of Dana’s Creative Services and author of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. Twitter:@DanasCreative

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Uploading Content to FamilySearch.org: What Happens to It?

When you upload a photo, document, story, audio file, or ancestor information to FamilySearch.org, you agree to FamilySearch’s Content Submission Agreement. You also agree that you have the appropriate copyright and/or permission to submit a photo, document, or audio recording.

Any photos, documents, or audio you upload or stories you add are made publicly viewable by anyone online. FamilySearch does allow you to remove photos or documents you’ve contributed, but others could have already copied and posted your photos in their trees or for their own use, and FamilySearch is not obligated to remove links or references to your deleted content.

In addition, by submitting content to the website you grant FamilySearch

“an unrestricted, fully paid-up, royalty-free, worldwide, and perpetual license to use any and all information, content, and other materials … for any and all purposes in any and all manners, and in any and all forms of media that we, in our sole discretion, deem appropriate for the furtherance of our mission to promote family history and genealogical research.”

FamilySearch agreement

Example of content agreement when uploading photos to FamilySearch.org

Essentially, you are giving FamilySearch the materials to use in any way it wants, without limitation. That means the photos, stories, documents, and other information you provide could become part of an advertisement or brochure, or part of product that FamilySearch may sell at a later date, or it may remain linked to on the site forever.

Read the full Content Submission Agreement before you submit information or other materials. And heed the advice in the agreement, which says, “Do not submit any content which you do not want to be accessed or used by others.”

(Excerpted from Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org, on sale now at Amazon.com and ShopFamilyTree.com.)


ABOUT DANA MCCULLOUGH

Dana McCullough is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes, edits, copy-edits, and proofreads content for magazines, blogs, websites, books, and more. She is the owner of Dana’s Creative Services and author of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. Twitter:@DanasCreative

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Top 10 Websites With Free Genealogy Records

Although my new book, Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org, covers the records and resources available on only one genealogy website, there are certainly other genealogy websites that have tons of free historical records, too. Here are the sites I consider the best of the best for free genealogical records (in alphabetical order).

afrigeneasAfriGeneas
www.afrigeneas.com
This is an excellent site dedicated to African-American genealogy. It includes great information for beginners as well as databases for death records, library records, marriage records, and surnames.

Billion GravesBillionGraves
www.billiongraves.com
Search millions of geo-tagged headstone photos and transcriptions. You can contribute, too, by taking photos with your smartphone when you visit cemeteries.

Castle GardenCastle Garden
www.castlegarden.org
If your ancestors arrived in the 1800s before Ellis Island was opened, search this website. Castle Garden welcomes 11 million immigrants from 1820 to 1892. Search the site’s database by passenger first and/or last name, port of departure, ship name, country or place of last residence and date range.

Ellis IslandEllis Island
www.libertyellisfoundation.org
Search for ancestors who arrived in New York from 1892 to 1957 in this database of more than 51 million passenger records.

Find A GraveFind A Grave
www.findagrave.com
Search more than 120 million volunteer-contributed tombstone records and images on this site. (Note: Subscription-site Ancestry.com now owns this website, but Find A Grave remains free.)

JewishGenJewishGen
www.jewishgen.org
Especially if you’re researching Jewish roots, you’ll want to tap into this site’s databases of Holocaust records, Yizkor books, given names, and more.

MocavoMocavo
www.mocavo.com
Searching individual databases on this site it free. You can find a wide range of records including school yearbooks, church and local histories, newspapers, military records, court records, immigration and naturalization records, city and professional directories, and parish registers.

USGenWebUSGenWeb Project
usgenweb.org
Volunteers run USGenWeb sites for each U.S. state. Depending on the state, you may find transcriptions of census records, vital records, obituaries, military records, and other genealogy records.

land records websiteU.S. Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records
www.glorecords.blm.gov
Look for land patents and deeds for your ancestors who became landowners in public land states.

WorldGenWebWorldGenWeb Project
www.worldgenweb.org
This is the global counterpart to USGenWeb. You can find volunteer-transcribed genealogy records for the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland, the Mediterranean, Oceania, and South America.


ABOUT DANA MCCULLOUGH

Dana McCullough is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes, edits, copy-edits, and proofreads content for magazines, blogs, websites, books, and more. She is the owner of Dana’s Creative Services and author of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. Twitter:@DanasCreative

 

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All About the FamilySearch.org Digital Books Collection

Numerous books compiling town, county, and church vital records have been published over the years—and they are increasingly being digitized. You can search about 150,000 of these digitized books through the FamilySearch Books collection.

Among the books you can search include digitized genealogies, family histories, county and local histories, genealogy periodicals, gazetteers, and school yearbooks.

The Family History Books collection contains digitized publications from the Family History Library and other libraries and historical societies, including

  • Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana
  • Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library in Provo, Utah
  • Brigham Young University Idaho David O. McKay Library
  • Brigham Young University Hawaii Joseph F. Smith Library
  • Church History Library for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
  • Historical Society of Pennsylvania
  • Houston Public Library’s Clayton Center for Genealogical Research in Texas
  • Mid-Continent Public Library’s Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri
  • Onondaga County Public Library in Syracuse, New York

When searching for digital books on FamilySearch.org, make use of the Advanced Search form (see image below) and use these helpful strategies:

Digitized family history books

FamilySearch.org’s Family History Books search form

Start Broadly. It’s usually best to start your search broadly, then narrow if you get too many results. Having too narrow of a search to begin with could make you miss out on relevant resources.

Try Different Search Terms. You can enter any word or phrase as a search term. Try searching for a surname only, or a surname and a location where an ancestor lived to find genealogies. Experiment with spelling variations of surnames. Search for a location to find local and country histories. Additionally, try putting both the first and last name in one search field, or search on just the surname.

Use Wildcards. The same wildcards that work for searching Historical Records collections work for Family History Books. An asterisk (*) will replace multiple characters, and a question mark (?) will replace a single character. For example, a search for the surname John*n finds publications with the name Johnson, Johnsen, and Johnston.

Refine Search Results. Currently, there are limited ways to refine your search results, but as FamilySearch.org and its searching capabilities evolve, that could change. To the left of the search results, you’ll see a column with several options for refining your search. Click the down arrow next to a category to check the appropriate boxes to narrow your search.

(Excerpt adapted from the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org.)


ABOUT DANA MCCULLOUGH

Dana McCullough is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes, edits, copy-edits, and proofreads content for magazines, blogs, websites, books, and more. She is the owner of Dana’s Creative Services and author of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. Twitter:@DanasCreative

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