How to Decipher Handwriting on Digital Genealogy Record Images

When you find a genealogy record for your ancestor (especially one from across the pond), it’s exciting. But it also can be frustrating if you can’t read the language it’s written in or if you can’t read the fancy script handwriting.

FamilySearch.org has a couple of resources to help you when you encounter these frustrations.

FamilySearch.org’s Genealogical Word Lists cover about 20 different languages. The Word Lists provide translations of common terms you’ll see in genealogical documents, such as dates, family relationships, numbers, and more.

Genealogy Handwriting

Handwriting Helps on FamilySearch.org

FamilySearch.org also has Handwriting Helps. Although this information is provided mostly for volunteer indexers who assist FamilySearch.org, it also can help the average Joe genealogist. This resource offers handwriting examples with how different letters may look in one of 10 languages.

Once you choose a language from the Handwriting Helps, look at the left for links to video lessons with tips on the language’s alphabet, phrases, and reading the handwriting. You also can download or print a list of variations for each alphabet letter.

If you get stuck trying to read one of your ancestor’s records, turn to these two resources for free help.


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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Demystifying Genealogies and Family Trees on FamilySearch.org

To beginning FamilySearch.org users and even to the more experienced, it can be confusing to grasp the differences between the various types of user-submitted pedigree information on FamilySearch.org. So what’s the difference between the Genealogies and Family Tree sections of the site?

FamilySearch Genealogies

Genealogies search form

The Genealogies section of the site is sort of like a final resting place for family trees. It’s made up of the Ancestral File, Pedigree Resources File, the International Genealogical Index, and Community Trees. The only one of these collections you can still submit data to is the Pedigree Resource File, a searchable database with more than 200 million records submitted by FamilySearch.org website users and LDS members, and other genealogies.

When you submit a GEDCOM file (the universal genealogy computer file format) of your family tree to the Pedigree Resource File, it is preserved forever by FamilySearch. You can’t change any of the information you submitted in your GEDCOM file. It’s an archival copy. But you can submit a new, updated GEDCOM file in the future.

After you submit your GEDCOM file, it becomes searchable in the Genealogies section of FamilySearch.org.

FamilySearch Family Tree is a separate feature from the user-submitted genealogies that contain the Pedigree Resource File. Think of FamilySearch Family Tree as your evolving family

FamilySearch Family Trees

FamilySearch Family Trees Landscape (pedigree) view

tree. It’s a living, breathing organism. You can add to it as you find new records. You can make changes to the information if the documents you find indicate a different place or time than you originally had entered for a life event.

To search the information you and others have posted online to FamilySearch Family Trees, you must use the Family Tree Find tool (under the Family Tree tab, select the Find option from the drop-down menu).

FamilySearch Family Tree and the Pedigree Resource File are connected in only one way: After you submit your GEDCOM file to the Pedigree Resource File, you have the option of importing that information to your FamilySearch Family Tree.

(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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The Different Camera Icons on FamilySearch.org

Did you know that FamilySearch.org now uses two different camera icons to indicate if a digital record image is available for a particular record?

You can see the two different images in the screenshot below, showing a list of some Historical Records collections available on FamilySearch.org.

Camera Icons

So what do the differences in these icons mean?

  • The camera icon with the box around it indicates that the digital record images available are on a FamilySearch partner site (such as Ancestry.com or Fold3.com).
  • The camera icon by itself (no box) indicates that the digital record images for that collection are available directly on FamilySearch.org.

These icons are helpful, so that you know upfront before you search a collection if you’ll be able to actually view the images, particularly if you don’t have a subscription to one of the FamilySearch.org partner sites that requires a paid subscription.

See more tips and strategies for using FamilySearch.org in my book, Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org, published by F+W Media. Order your copy now!


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 5 Reasons I Love FamilySearch.org

As I’ve mentioned on my blog before, FamilySearch.org is one of my favorite genealogy websites. In fact, it’s a site I like so much that I just wrote a book about it, the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. So what is so great about this website? Here’s the top five reasons I love FamilySearch.org.

1. It’s free. Need I say more?

2. It’s got lots of records (and images). FamilySearch.org has millions of historical records. Some are transcriptions, while others have actual digitized images of original records. Records cover everything from U.S. censuses and vital records, to military records and local probate and court records.

3. It’s easy to use. The site is pretty easy to search, which makes it’s pretty easy to find records for your ancestors. Of course, there are many strategies to improve your searches to get better results (like using wildcards to find alternate spellings of names), but it’s easy to do an initial search for ancestors.

4. Family trees. The Family Tree section of the site lets you put your family tree online for free. As a bonus, FamilySearch.org recently added research hints to family tree entries, which helps you find records for your ancestors you may not have found already (or may not have thought to search for yet).

5. Source box. When you actually do find a record for your ancestors, FamilySearch.org makes it easy to keep track of the records you find via its Source Box tool. You can even organize your Source Box with folders (such as a folder for each surname you’re researching).

Guide to FamilySearch.orgThere are many, many more reasons I enjoy using FamilySearch.org.

To find out more about how to use the FamilySearch.org website to find your ancestors, check out my new book Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch: How to Find Your Family History on the World’s Largest Free Genealogy Website, which is available now for pre-order on Amazon.com.

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Alumni Magazine Writing: The Value of a Liberal Arts Education

magazine coverIn the latest Mount Mary Magazine, the alumnae magazine for Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, I was asked to seek out research about the value of a liberal arts education and showcase in a magazine feature article how this particular institution uniquely lives out the liberal arts aspect of its mission and truly prepares today’s students for an ever-changing world and job market.

From the Spring/Summer issue of the Mount Mary Magazine:

“The value of an education in the liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think.” –Albert Einstein

Parents visiting college campuses with their high school students ask “What job can my child get with this degree?” Politicians and pundits debate the value (or perceived lack of value) of a well-rounded college education and suggest reforms to change the purpose of education from educating the thinkers of tomorrow to preparing students for specific jobs. And for many, there’s a perception that a liberal arts education is a luxury, not something available to students of all socio-economic levels.magazine spread

As the value of the liberal arts is increasingly questioned and debated, it is good to revisit Einstein’s words and to remind ourselves of the purpose and value of the liberal arts.

So what is the value of a liberal arts education in today’s world?

Read the rest of the story here.

(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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Summertime Fun at Living History Destinations

One of the most memorable summer vacations from my childhood was a family trip to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.

We got to see battle re-enactments and learn about bayonets. We played 1700s-era children’s games. We tried to churn butter. We talked with costumed interpreters. We went on an evening ghost tour.

It’s trips like that one that helped spark my interest in history and visiting historical sites.

Living in the PastIn my new article, “Living in the Past” in Family Tree Magazine’s July/August 2015 issue, I feature 10 excellent living history destinations around the country, including Colonial Williamsburg. Of course, there’s more than just 10 great living history destinations in the country, so here are a few other top living history destinations:

Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, Grand Island, NE
www.stuhrmuseum.org
A newly renovated Stuhr Building opens at this museum July 19, 2015. Explore the Railroad Town to learn about life in 1895. The museum is working on putting several genealogy databases online, including marriage licenses and death records, so check back on its site if you have Nebraska ancestors—even if you can’t visit the museum in-person.

Living History Farms, Des Moines, IA
www.lhf.org
As a kid growing up in Iowa, visiting this living history museum was part of the school curriculum and a great field trip. There’s an 1850 Pioneer Farm, 1700 Ioway Indian Farm, 1900 Horse-Powered Farm, and an 1875 town with a blacksmith shop, general store, print shop, mansion, and more. You can get your hands dirty by helping with chores on the farms.

Pioneer Living History Museum, Phoenix, AZ
www.pioneeraz.org
This 1800s town is located on more than 90 acres. See an Opera House, a cabine, dress shop, blacksmith shop, and sheriff’s office and jail. Costumed interpreters include cowboys, lawmen, and Victorian ladies.

Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, MA
www.osv.org
This museum depicts life in the 1830s. The destination includes a working farm, costumed historians, and water-powered mills. Plus, see a bake shop, firearms and textiles exhibit, bank, houses, tin shop, and more. Visitors also can make crafts at the Hands-On Crafts Center.

Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT
www.mysticseaport.org
Highlights here include the Charles W. Morgan whaleship (built in 1841), the James Driggs Shipsmith Shop, and the Henry B. DuPont Preservation Shipyard. Kids can learn to tie knots, build a toy boat souvenir, and more.

Hancock Shaker Village, Hancock, MA
www.hancockshakervillage.org
Explore 20 historic buildings full of Shaker artifacts. Costumed interpreters showcase various aspects of Shaker life, like cooking, woodworking, and weaving. You can join in the daily Shaker music sing-a-long, and kids can dress up like a Shaker child, milk a (replica) cow, and make crafts.


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 Writing of the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org

Guide to FamilySearch.orgI’m excited to announce that the book I’ve been working on for the past few months, the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com and ShopFamilyTree.com.

Writing this book has been an amazing process. FamilySearch.org has always been my go-to website for researching my family history—it’s the world’s largest free genealogy website. Through my research for the book, I’ve not only honed my searching skills on FamilySearch.org, but I’ve also found new genealogy records for my family that I didn’t have before.

Through my research and writing step-by-step examples for readers to follow I found:

  • the World War I draft registration card for my great-grandfather, Ferdinand Schmidt
  • marriage records for two sets of great-great-grandparents in Italy
  • a death record for my great-great-grandfather, Massimino Remedi
  • a marriage index listing my great-grandfather and great-grandmother in Italy
  • a death record for my great-grandfather’s sister

It also opened up new research avenues. For example, when I input individuals on my family tree, research hints suggested additional records on FamilySearch.org that may list each of those people.

In addition, many individuals at FamilySearch patiently and thoroughly answered the many questions I sent to them, and helped give me great information on the functions and features they’re working on to continually improve the website. I’d like to thank all of those individuals for their help to ensure the book is as accurate and up-to-date as possible.

To be honest, I never imagined that I would write a book. Today, I am thankful for this wonderful opportunity. It has been a great learning experience to see the book through the whole process as a writer, and not only from the perspective of an editor (as I usually do in my freelance editing work).

I hope that readers enjoy the book, and learn some new searching and record-browsing strategies to use so they, too, can find success researching their ancestors on 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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Why Browsing Images on FamilySearch Pays Off

When many of us think about our favorite genealogy websites, we think about the ones that allow us to search records easily—sites like FamilySearch and Ancestry.com that have great search tools.

What we often (me included) overlook, are the records on genealogy sites that aren’t searchable. For example, did you know that FamilySearch has hundreds of collections that haven’t been indexed yet, and therefore aren’t searchable?

When you use the site’s nifty search tool, it doesn’t include records in those unindexed collections. So, if you don’t want to miss an important record mentioning your ancestors, it’s best to browse the collections on FamilySearch, too.

I recently came across some genealogy gold when I dove in to browsing some Italian records on FamilySearch. I found the collections by going to the Historical Records Collections list on FamilySearch.

To give you some background, my family hails from the Lucca region of Italy, in a town called Bargecchia. I really hadn’t had any luck finding vital records in Italy for my Italian ancestors. That all changed after I found a collection of civil registration records from 1866 to 1929 for the Lucca region on FamilySearch.

Italian marriage record

Marriage record for Luigi Gemignani and Lucia Cortopassi

After a few hours browsing through record images on one weekend, I found:

  • marriage records for two sets of great-great-grandparents
  • a death record for my great-great-grandfather
  • a marriage index listing my great-grandfather and great-grandmother
  • a death record for my great-grandfather’s sister

I never would have found these records if I hadn’t had a little patience to page through the online record images. In fact, finding these records didn’t take me nearly as much time as I anticipated. FamilySearch often breaks down the record images by smaller groups (such as by location, year, and/or record type) to help you narrow the amount of images to browse.

You can read more about how I found these records and tips for browsing record collections on FamilySearch in my forthcoming book, Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org, which will be published by F+W Media in August 2015.


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. Twitter: @DanasCreative

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3 Things I Learned While Editing the Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com

Ancestry.comLast year, I had the wonderful opportunity to edit Nancy Hendrickson’s Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com. Before editing the book, I thought I knew Ancestry.com pretty well, especially since I often used it in my freelance work for Family Tree Magazine articles. But this book truly provides an in-depth look at the website and strategies for searching it.

Here are a few of the favorite things I learned about Ancestry.com while editing the book.

The Card Catalog is awesome. Sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly where to search or what databases are available for a certain location where your ancestors lived. The Card Catalog is a great tool to help you find databases relevant to your research. Nancy goes into detail about the filtering options you can choose to focus in on finding relevant databases.

Posting a family tree is really helpful. I’m normally a pretty private person. In fact, writing a blog for the public to see is a little out of my comfort zone. So, the idea of posting my family tree online is a little scary to me, but after reading about all the ways having a family tree on Ancestry.com makes research easier, it’s made me want to post my tree online, just to get the record hints that are available by doing so.

DNA for genealogy is super cool. After reading about AncestryDNA, how it works, and how it can connect you to relatives, I’m now very interested in trying this in my own research.

The Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com went on sale last November, and is currently available through many book retailers including ShopFamilyTree.com and Amazon.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. Twitter: @DanasCreative

 

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Wonderfully Unexpected Finds on FamilySearch.org

I think FamilySearch is my official favorite genealogy research website. It seems like every time I visit their site I end up staying up way past my bedtime and finding new information about my family.

Last year, I was taking advantage of Ancestry.com‘s free access to immigration and passenger lists, when I came to a road block researching my mother’s side. I briefly switched to FamilySearch to see if I could find any clues there, but didn’t, so I decided to change gears to look for immigration or passenger list records for my dad’s family.

The challenge with researching my dad’s side is that I didn’t really know when they came to America. It was likely long before my mom’s family did in the 1920s. I knew my great-great grandparents’ kids were born in America, but they were born in Germany. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the names or birthplaces of their parents. I had tried finding naturalization records to see if that could pinpoint their immigration year from those records, but didn’t have success.

So, I plugged in the information I new about my great-great-grandfather, Frank H. Rolfes: he lived in Le Mars, Iowa, was born in 1852 and married Mary Meinen.

After seeing several birth records for Frank and Mary’s children, I saw a transcription of Frank’s death record. The death record included the names of his parents (including his mother’s maiden name!), which I previously did not know.

Next, I looked at the census records that came up in my search. The 1900 U.S. census found Frank, his wife, and six kids in Iowa. Scrolling to the right, I noticed columns for the year they immigrated to America and number of years they’ve been in the United States. Guess what? The year Frank and his wife Mary immigrated to America was included: Mary in 1868 and Frank in 1870.

Rolfes Census

Frank H. Rolfes and Mary Meinen 1900 U.S. census record

Since Mary was born in 1866, it likely means her parents came to America, too. Unfortunately, the clock on free access to Ancestry.com’s records ran out before I could start searching Frank’s and Mary’s immigration records. I hope the free access returns soon, because now I have a much better idea what I’m looking for and my family history curiosity is growing.


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. Twitter: @DanasCreative

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