Posted by on October 9, 2013 in Family History Month

Last week, we provided the ‘Genealogist’s Toolkit’ to help get you started as a family history researcher. We went back to our genealogy expert, Juliana Smith, and asked her to provide additional resources that you should consider, and love the list she came back with. While these may not be considered your typical genealogy tools, you’d be surprised how these resources can help you track down that elusive ancestor!

Looking for more information about a battle in which your ancestor fought during the Civil War? Or perhaps your ancestor was a Philadelphia policeman and you’d like to learn more about the history of that police force. What were the working conditions of the industry in which your ancestors were engaged? The answers to these and many other questions can often be found in publications that might not be in your local bookstore. WorldCat will not only alert you to their existence, but when you enter your zip code it will give you a list of libraries that have those publications in their collection.

Census Enumerator Instructions (IPUMS)
Census enumerators were given very specific instructions when it came to recording the answers your ancestors gave. Reading these instructions can be very helpful in more fully understanding the records. This site includes the original instructions for the years 1850-1950.

Ever wondered whether a historic event prompted your ancestors to pick up and leave the country they had called home for generations? Wikipedia can give you some ideas. Search for a year and you’ll get a chronology of world events from that time. This free online encyclopedia is a great first step, but you should verify your findings. Although much of what you see will be correct, you will encounter some errors so use it as a launching point to learn more about historic events that may have impacted your ancestors.

Census Abbreviations
Have you ever found a census record written by a guy who clearly had writers’ cramp? Beyond really messy handwriting, you may find that enumerators used confusing abbreviations. This website will help you sort out some of the more common abbreviations you’ll find.

Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)
Ever wondered in what county a town was located? Or what cemeteries were in the county in which your ancestors lived? The Geographic Names Information System can help. Enter a town name and its state, and you’ll be presented with a list of features associated with that town and the name of the county it falls within. Click on a name for geographic coordinates and links to various maps and satellite views of the area. Note: Due to the current government shutdown, this website is not available. Just bookmark the website right now and come back when things are back up and running. 

Google Maps
Another cool mapping site, Google Maps, allows you to view a standard map view, a satellite view or a view of the terrain. How tall was that mountain that great-grandpa had to traverse to visit the nearest town? Zoom in on the terrain view and it will tell you. Going to visit a library or courthouse for the first time? Google Maps has street view available for a growing number of cities. You can zoom in on an address and see the actual building. Using the rotation arrows you can turn around and look at the other side of the street, move down the street and see landmarks you will be able to use as you navigate your way to the repository. Street view can also enable you to see buildings in your ancestors’ neighborhoods that are still standing.

Google Translate
Your ancestor’s non-English records don’t need to be a brick wall. Use tools like this one to decipher words and create a template of the record form.

Manifest Markings:  A Guide to Interpreting Passenger List Annotations
Ever wonder about the scribblings on passenger lists? This is your guide to deciphering them. Sometimes passenger lists seems to raise more questions than they answer, but with Manifest Markings, you can find out how to get the most out of your relative’s passenger list.

Cyndi’s List
Still looking for more resources? Cyndi’s List has been the genealogist’s guide to all things family history.


We hope some of these resources caused a light bulb to go off or a mild genealogical epiphany – who knew Google Maps could be used for more than driving directions? We hope you’ll explore some of these valuable tools across the web to help you solve your family puzzle.

1 Comment

November 22, 2013 at 8:28 am