Websites Can Now Be Made Public

MyFamily.JPGMyFamily 2.0 users now have the ability to make their websites publicly viewable to anyone. For family historians looking to make their site accessible to other family members who don’t want to worry about passwords (providing, of course, the site doesn’t contain sensitive personal information that you don’t want in the public domain), this is an easy way to put your family history out there without the hassles of html. MyFamily is also a great forum for groups and organizations that want an easy way for members to collaborate and communicate, or for bloggers that want an easy-to-use site to express themselves.

To make your MyFamily site public, just click on the Site Settings tab on the far right of the website, and check the box that is marked Public.

Click here to start your website.

Rochester, New York Local Histories Online

This afternoon I spent a little time browsing some digital materials online courtesy the Local History Department of the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (New York) and found they’ve added quite a bit.

There are now city directories available spanning the period between 1820 and 1930,  birth, death, and marriage indexes from City of Rochester newspapers,  an index to articles that appeared in the Rochester newspapers during the period 1818-1897,  images, Rochester History (a historical journal), and some fragile books that include several local histories.

I spent a little time browsing through those histories and found an image of the church that is affiliated with the orphanage where I found my great-great-grandmother, Emma Tobin, and her sister Ann Eliza in the 1850 census. From a city directory, I learned that the orphanage was run by the Sisters of Charity–the order that Ann Eliza would later join. Earlier this year, I also found an image of that orphanage. (You can read more about that in this post.)

I think I may have even found an image of the building in which their father had his hat shop, but I’ll need to confirm the address on that.

At any rate, if you have ancestors in Rochester, you will want to check out the library’s Local History and Genealogy page. 

Military Historian Simon Fowler joins Pharos

Pharos Tutors.jpgI received the following press release from Pharos Tutors: 

Top military historian Simon Fowler joins Pharos’ roster of family history experts to lead a Pharos online course on researching military ancestors. Starting on 20 January 2009, the five-week course will look at the major resources available online and in record offices, such as The National Archives and the Imperial War Museum.

“I’m looking to forward to working with Pharos. Their courses and tutors are highly regarded,” said Simon, “Military genealogy is something which has really started to appear on the web over the past couple of years. And I think students on the course will be surprised by what they find.”

Simon has published many guides to researching military history, particularly on Army genealogy and the First World War, for The National Archives, Pen & Sword and Countryside Books: “In researching these books I have found many great resources which I have enjoyed sharing with readers.”  
He is also an experienced lecturer and tutor. “I’ve always enjoyed the interaction with students in lecture rooms, but it will be a fascinating challenge to recreate this buzz through chatrooms and forums.” Continue reading

New at Ancestry

Ancestry____logo1.gifPosted This Week

Weekly Planner: Inventory an Ancestor

If you haven’t already, go through your files on an ancestor and begin an inventory of the records you have found for him or her. You can easily create your own custom form in a spreadsheet or word processor, including all applicable census years (federal, state, and otherwise), vital records, directories (list years), probate records, church records, correspondence, printed sources, online databases, obituaries, tax and voting lists, court records, military records, immigration and naturalization records, and anything else you have collected. Check for what’s missing and formulate a plan to fill in those blanks.

Anatomy of a City Directory, by Juliana Smith

Taggart's Storage Warehouses ad, Brooklyn, New York 1879 City DirectoryAs I was winterizing the house and wrestling with a particularly stubborn storm window, it came crashing down and, of course, broke. With snow and frigid temps in the weather forecast, the hubby peeked in my office today and asked me where the phone book was so he could call the hardware store and see about getting the glass replaced. Phone book? I gave him that blank stare that told him I had absolutely no clue and turned back to my computer to Google the name of the hardware store.

Years ago, even before the telephone became widely used, directories were the way to go when it came to locating people and businesses. For family historians, they’re also the way to go when you want to locate your ancestors. As I mentioned in last week’s column, I have been anxious to dive into the new collection of U.S. city directories that were posted last week, and last night I finally got my chance. I spent quite a bit of time browsing through an 1879 directory of Brooklyn, New York, and was quickly reminded of just how much directories have to offer–and how much we may miss if we only focus on that one little line that gives our ancestor’s name, occupation, and address. While this article will use the Brooklyn directory as an example, others typically followed a similar format and you may find comparable content in other areas of the U.S. and around the world.

The Joys of Online Access
When I’ve been in libraries looking through city directories on microfilm, I have to really discipline myself because my time is limited. I need to pull as many of my family names and addresses as I can in the short time I have before closing time.

As I spin through the film, my eye catches sight of advertisements for local businesses. “Ooh, is the Tobin’s hat shop advertised in this one?” It’s like dangling something shiny in front of a child. Next thing you know I’m completely distracted from my purpose and reading the directory page by page. With these directories now available online, I can sit here in my jammies and browse to my heart’s content–page by page, or skipping ahead by changing the image number.

These directories are searchable, so you can put in your ancestors surname and jump right to that page, but it can be worthwhile to take the time to browse. Because the index was created by OCR (which means a computer reads the print), unusual fonts (especially those used in advertisements) or heavy print and smudges can cause you to miss some references.

The first thing I look for is the title page in the front of the directory. This tells me the publisher and typically what kinds of things I can find in the directory. In the 1879 directory I looked at, the title page reads, “The Brooklyn City and Business Directory for the year ending May 1st, 1880, containing also A Street and Avenue Directory, A Municipal Register, and a New Map of Brooklyn.” Yeah!

Some directories will also include a table of contents with page numbers. This directory didn’t have one for the entire book, but there were indexes for some of the sections that gave page numbers. For example, on image 21 of 774, I found an index to all the advertisements. Alas, I quickly found that the Tobins didn’t advertise here.

Although the pages of the directory won’t match up with the image numbers, with a little bit of math, you can estimate how far ahead you need to jump to get from the index to the desired page. Just bear in mind that there are two directory pages on each image when you’re doing your calculations.

Introductory Information
The 1879 directory of Brooklyn included a preface from the publisher, who strongly recommended that owners of his guide attach it to their counters with chains to deter those who might “borrow” the book, rather than purchase one. The preface also often includes tidbits on what is going on in the city and this volume mentions the long-awaited Brooklyn Bridge, which would open in 1883. Look for this section to learn what was happening in your ancestor’s city.

Other introductory material I found included a page of “Names too late for insertion in regular order,” and a list of abbreviations used in the directory.  Continue reading

Last Minute Holiday Gifts without Joining the Crowds, by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG

gifts.jpgChristmas is too few days away. Is the tree decorated? Baking done? Presents wrapped? Still can’t find anything for your father or grandaunt Susie? Your budget is probably like that of so many others this holiday season. Maybe your nephew or children have asked what you want for Christmas. Many things related to family history can truly be last minute and budget-conscious gifts.

You First
The family historian just doesn’t pay enough attention to the family historian! Is there a conference such as the National Genealogical Society or Federation of Genealogical Societies that you want to attend this year? Maybe it is one of the week-long institutes including the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy or the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research. Is your or some other subscription about to expire? Or perhaps you have decided that 2009 is the year you want to begin your subscription. 

Send your relatives the suggestion of a check to help cover your subscription, membership, conference registration, or hotel costs. Maybe a relative would give you some airline miles or redeem hotel points for coupons for you to use in 2009. Going to Salt Lake City? Several national chain restaurants are within a few blocks of the Family History Library. A gift card for one of these might be a great idea for you.

For the Family Members Who Don’t Need Anything
This year you said you would have early ideas for those “difficult to buy for” family members. Like you, they don’t want or need more knick-knacks. Today you are still thinking about possible gift ideas. How about some last-minute genealogy?

Print out a stack of census records that relate to parts of the family. Look for obituaries that might be in the newspapers on Ancestry. Check for family members in county histories, city directories, or locate the record of a birth, death, passport application, or passenger arrival. Add notes to records in the margins that explain what the record shows. Purchase a big white envelope and put a big red or green bow on it after putting the record copies inside. Not only will the recipient begin reading, but will soon be surrounded by others eager to see and read the gift. Continue reading

Tips from the Pros: Are You Missing Messages? from Michael John Neill

I do not have too much of my own ancestry posted in the public trees at because I do not have time to answer all potential inquiries. However, I do have information posted in two public trees on two of my more problematic families. My hope is that the automatic search at Ancestry will locate something I have overlooked, or that a relative crawls out of the woodwork and contacts me. I’ve already had two relatives send me e-mail messages.

The problem is that my responses are apparently not getting back to them. I have had three messages from different relatives in response to one of my trees. I sent return e-mails almost immediately. No response. Two replied to my tree again a few months later. Again I immediately replied. No response to my reply.

The likely problem? My replies are getting caught in their junk-mail filter. Messages sent in response to trees and messages sent in reply to these responses are not sent directly from the user’s email. They are instead sent a Connection Service at If you have public trees posted or have responded to any trees you can’t just sit and wait for a response and assume that it will automatically get to you. These messages are “automatic” and could get caught in many junk-mail filters.

Messages in response to trees typically come from and replies to a connection request would come from the domain Make certain you have allowed these addresses in any filters you have. If not, you may miss replies to your trees or replies to your inquiries–and we wouldn’t want that to happen!

And if you e-mailed me about William Ira Sargent or Heinrich Trautvetter, please contact me again—I’d love to share information with you!

Your Quick Tips, 08 December 2008

Another Item for Your To-Do List
I use the notification service at Ancestry, and this morning I received two notifications of additions to my site. This means I have placed the information in my online tree, but I know I did not also put it in my genealogy software. I can print out the notification and can use it to make sure I enter the information where it needs to be. Then I can file the completed page in my family folder and it gives me an approximate date of my entries/research as well.
Gay Continue reading