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  • Michigan Death Records, 1897–1920
  • Washington Death Records, 1891–1907.
  • 1890–Era City Directories
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Weekly Planner: Check for Events during Family History Month

October is Family History Month and many libraries and organizations are hosting celebratory events. For example, the State Library and Indiana State Archives will offer several free programs on a variety of family history topics. Check libraries and archives in your area, as well as historical and genealogical societies. Try searching Google for “family history month” in quotes, along with the name of your state or city. You can also seek out societies on the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ Society Hall, which includes a calendar of upcoming events.

Avoid Detours with Historical Maps, by Juliana Smith

14th st. Brooklyn 1929 copy.gifHere in the Midwestern United States, we’re thoroughly convinced that construction season was invented to make us appreciate winter. This morning I took my daughter to school and by the time I picked her up, my alternate route was closed off, forcing me to find an alternate alternate route. In the afternoon I have to take an alternate alternate alternate route lest I risk driving through a neighborhood at precisely the time that an elementary school is being dismissed. (I made that mistake once. Never again.)

To top it off, I cannot figure out what they are doing in some of these places. I am convinced that no work is being done whatsoever except that every night some gremlin gleefully rearranges the cones and hides somewhere so that he can watch as confused commuters try to guess which lane they’re supposed to be in–and I’m a terrible guesser!

As we work on tracing our ancestors, we may find ourselves facing similar challenges. In determining what route our ancestors took in immigrating to a new country, or moving to a new destination, we may find that they too took some detours. In last week’s column, we talked about how some immigrants to the U.S. detoured through Canada. I also alluded to multiple names that have been given to the town where my great-grandmother’s family lived. That provides another geographical challenge. Changing borders, county lines, street names and numbering, and population expansion into new territories have made some of the places in which our ancestors lived all but unrecognizable.

Fortunately, historical maps are becoming increasingly available online. Ancestry has a fantastic collection of historical maps, gazetteers, and atlases that we can use to get a better view of the landscape as it was in the days of our ancestors. Here are a few of my favorites:

U.S. Land Ownership Maps and Atlases
There are two databases that feature land ownership maps and atlases for the U.S.

Both databases are browsable by state and then by city or county. I found several New York City and Brooklyn maps that I didn’t even know were available. For example, there is an 1850 Map of New York City. On it you’ll find lists of hotels, including the infamous Tammany Hall (which I just realized happens to be very close to where my Irish Kellys were living in 1850), public buildings, squares and markets, cemeteries, charitable institutions, schools, parks, and churches. Continue reading

Starting with Meyers Orts and the Germany Topographic Maps, by Michael John Neill

Aurich and Wiesens - German Topographic MapsKnowledge about the places in which your ancestors lived is key to genealogy research. With it you can fit the ancestor in appropriate historical context and search for the correct locations for additional records. Ancestry has two guides that will assist researchers with Germanic origins, particularly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although clues found in the materials will also help researchers of other time periods. The guides, available to Ancestry members with World Deluxe or memberships, are:

Getting the Most from the Databases
Getting the most from any database requires the user to become more familiar with the database, particularly the purpose and organization of the original record.

Meyers Orts
Let’s start with Meyers Gazetteer, or Meyers Orts as it is commonly called. Gazetteers are geographical directories, and you won’t find a map in Meyers Orts. Read its description on the database to help you to use the gazetteer. A more detailed usage guide is also available through This reference provides information on the gazetteer’s original format and assistance in reading the Gothic script.

Meyers Orts on Ancestry can be searched for place names appearing in the book and some of the names in its place descriptions. I searched for the village of Wiesens, which is in the north of Germany. A keyword search for “wiesens” quickly located the entry. There is only one matching result that appears to be the village of interest. Continue reading

Tips from the Pros: Who Served in the Civil War? from Mary Penner

Are you trying to discover if your relatives served in the Civil War? First, check the index on the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors website sponsored by the National Park Service. This index, compiled from the general index cards of Compiled Military Service Records, lists more than 6 million names of Union and Confederate servicemen. Why 6 million names when roughly 3 million served? Because separate CMSRs were created if the soldier served in more than one unit or if his name was spelled differently on different records. Each CMSR merits a separate entry in the database.

Then, surf to the Civil War Collection on Ancestry to search various Civil War related databases including the General Index to Pension Files. More than 2 million pension applications are indexed in this database.

You can also spot veterans on census records. The 1890 Special Veteran’s census schedule still exists for states beginning with the letters K through W. Actually, only half of the Kentucky records are still available. For your long-lived veterans, check the 1910 census. Look under column 30. Here you might find a check, indicating the person served in the Civil War, or a scribbled “ua” for Union army or “ca” for Confederate army. For really long-lived veterans, scan the 1930 census. Columns 30 and 31 posed questions about military service. You’ll see “Civ” written for Civil War veterans.

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Your Quick Tips, 06 October 2008

Days and Dates on Clippings
In addition to keeping the dates on newspaper clippings, I always try to also keep the day of the week the newspaper was printed. Many articles, especially obituaries, will read something like “so-and-so died Tuesday….”, but give no date. If you know that the article appeared on Thursday and the date, you can figure out the actual date the event occurred.

Kathy Parker
Los Gatos, CA

Juliana’s Note: Good point, Kathy. And if you run across an item that has the date, but no day of the newspaper–only a reference to the day of the event, you can use a perpetual calendar to determine the date. An example of one is at  Continue reading

The Year Was 1788

The year was 1788 and in France, there was an unusual uprising in the city of Grenoble in France that was the first rumbling of the French Revolution. The lower classes in France were taxed heavily, while the nobility and clergy enjoyed the fruits of their labors–free of taxes. That and the lack of a voice in government made for an angry working class. On 7 June 1788, after the King tried to limit the powers of the Parliament and refused to let members meet, the residents of Grenoble attacked the King’s troops hurling tiles from the roofs of buildings in what is now known as “The Day of the Tiles.”

In the Southern Hemisphere, eleven ships arrived in Botany Bay in Australia. Known as the First Fleet, these ships carried 759 convicts and guard troops, some with their families, who would be the first European settlers in Australia. Following the American Revolution, Britain had to look elsewhere to transport convicts out of England. That along with overcrowding in British jails led to the creation of the Australian convict settlement. The convicts and the military personnel charged with guarding them endured two very difficult years, with food rationed and scarce, until the arrival of the Second Fleet in 1790.

In the U.S., the new country’s Constitution had been only been ratified by the states of Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. In 1788 another eight would follow, and with the ratification of the ninth state (New Hampshire) it went into effect. North Carolina followed in 1789 and Rhode Island became the last state to ratify the Constitution in 1790. 

On Good Friday morning in New Orleans (March 21), a fire began that would destroy more than eight hundred homes and businesses. It began in the home of the Spanish Treasurer and gale force winds fed it for five hours until it burnt itself out after leaving 80% of the city in ruins. 

In New York, some young boys playing near the New York Hospital looked into a window and saw a medical student wielding the arm of a corpse who taunted him, saying that it was his mother’s. The distraught child whose mother had coincidentally just died ran home to tell his father. When his father found his wife’s grave had been emptied, a mob gathered and ransacked the hospital. Most of the doctors and students escaped and the few that remained were escorted to jail by the authorities.

The mob continued to search through the night for the doctors and medical students and Governor George Clinton called in the militia, led by Baron Friedrich von Stueben.  Founding Fathers, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton were also on hand to try to calm the crowd. They were stoned and John Jay was knocked out with a rock. When von Stueben was hit with a brick, he gave the order to fire and eight of the rioters were killed. The Doctors’ Riot was the first riot in American history, and it didn’t do much to solve the problem. Graverobbing continued to be a lucrative industry in New York and elsewhere until the mid-1800s.

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Photo Corner

Oma Elizabeth Roark York (1880-1938), Odus William York (1878-1950) and daughter, Gladys Marie York. Contributed by Deborah Bonas Kearney
This is a picture of my mom’s parents and her oldest sibling in 1901 taken in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Standing is my grandmother, Oma Elizabeth Roark York (1880-1938). Seated is my grandfather, Odus William York (1878-1950). Their infant daughter, Gladys Marie York, is on his lap. Gladys was the first of their five children. The family migrated from Harrison, Boone County, Arkansas, to Oklahoma shortly before this picture was taken in late 1901. Odus later ran for governor of Oklahoma Territory. Both Oma and Odus died in Los Angeles, California.

Click on an image to enlarge it.

John William Hilbert and Blanche Hilbert, St. Louis, Missour, ca. 1895Contributed by Carol Hailey Crow, Bend, Oregon
This is a photo of my grandfather, John William Hilbert, and his older sister Blanche. He was born in May 1894 so I imagine this picture was taken in 1895. They lived in St. Louis, Missouri.

Saving Family Treasures Free Webinar with Maureen Taylor, 15 October 2008

maureen100x100 copy.gifI’ve just been asked to moderate a new webinar at Ancestry with our friend Maureen Taylor on how to save family treasures. Her presentation will teach you how to preserve clothing, jewelry, photographs, paper based family history documents, and more.  Participants in the webinar will be able to submit questions to Maureen and we’ll be answering as many as we can through the webinar.  Once you register, you will receive an email confirmation of the registration with a link to join the webinar, and a 24-hour reminder for the event as well.

What’s a Webinar?
Basically a webinar is an online presentation with sound. You’ll see slides similar to a Powerpoint presentation and you can just sit back and listen. There is no fee for the presentation, although you will need to register beforehand.

So if you have questions about preserving your family heirlooms, please join us on Wednesday, 15 September October 2008. The webinar will begin at 8:00 p.m. (Eastern Time).

Click here to register now. (After you register you will receive an e-mail from, the company that hosts the webinars. It will include the link and information necessary to access the webinar.)

If you’d like to check out some of the past webinars, click here. 

Family History Article on Angie’s List

I found quite a few familiar names in this article from Angie’s List Magazine. Of course there was the requisite link to Barack Obama, but hey, anything that puts family history in the spotlight and generates positive interest is a good thing, right?  One point I found particularly interesting was that, “According to a recent Angie’s List poll, 71 percent of members say they’re somewhat or very interested in their family history.” The article goes well beyond the basic “connection to a politician” and has stories from several researchers, with hints for beginners scattered throughout. I’d like to see more articles like this one in the media.