Ancestry continues to be my very favorite online genealogy website. With more than 26,000 databases, it is chock full of materials that have helped me with my research over the years. Iâ€™ve just finished the second edition of â€œThe Official Guide to Ancestry.comâ€ and it should be released for sale very soon. As I worked on the new edition, I kept finding new and exciting databases Iâ€™d never before seen. This was a problem for my writing schedule because I kept getting distracted by wanting to do more and more research. I do seem to turn most often to a few tried and true databases that give me the most help. Iâ€™d like to share a list of my favorites with you.
The most-used research materials for genealogists are census records. There are no better records for establishing the location of a family or individual than census records. The U.S. federal census population schedules from 1790 to 1930 have been a boon to my personal research. However, with ancestors and collateral family from England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, Iâ€™ve been using the England censuses (1841-1901), the Wales censuses (1841-91), the Scotland censuses (1841-1901), and various available censuses and abstracts for Ireland. More recently, I have been looking through the census records for Canada, even though I am unaware of any Canadian ancestry in my family. There is no better census collection anywhere on the Web and I find myself in these great databases at Ancestry many times each week.
World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918
Americaâ€™s involvement in World War I was critical to the defeat of the Germans. The federal government called for the registration of American men for military conscription. There were three registrations and the draft registration cards were thankfully preserved. They provide a wealth of information about each registrant, including name, date of birth, current place of residence, occupation and employer, next of kin, and physical characteristics. Some but not all of this information may be available elsewhere. This is my one of my favorite databases because the information included on the card for my great-uncle, Brisco Washington Holder, helped me locate his whereabouts in 1918, thirteen years after he left his home. (Those of you who have been reading this newsletter for a while, doubtless remember my excitement when I finally located him.) Before Ancestry completed the indexing and digitization of these records, no index existed, and a trip to the NARA branch outside Atlanta, Georgia, where the original cards are held was not possible. Since I found Brisco, I have used this database many times to locate records for grandfathers, great-uncles, and many cousins. The information is invaluable.
Historic Image Collections
Context is important to my research, and I am interested in what the places my ancestors and their families lived looked like. Vintage postcards and historical photographs provide an excellent way to see images of the places and ways of life at the time and possibly in the same place. My favorite databases for great contextual photos are the Library of Congress Photo Collection, 1840-2000Â and the Historical Postcards Collection, ca. 1893-1963. The Library of Congress collection consists of a whopping 340,000 public domain photographs, searchable in many ways. Also included are stereographic cards, and these provide a wealth of location photographs. (I search for locations using the Keyword field first, and then search using the location field second so that I catch all of the images.) The postcards collection includes 50,000 picture postcards and these also give me a glimpse into the historical context of my ancestorsâ€™ lives.
England and Wales Birth, Marriage, and Death Indexes, 1837-1983
(births, marriages, and deaths)
Civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths was instituted at the beginning of Queen Victoriaâ€™s reign. The records have been indexed by event, and then by year and quarter. The registers include the surname and forename of each individual, the District, the volume and page number of the actual registration document. In the case of marriages, there also is the surname of the spouse. These registers/indexes are essential to determine the exact original document that you wish to obtain. The General Register Office (GRO) holds the original records. Once you have identified the correct volume and page number, you can order a copy of the record online through the GRO. I have done this numerous times but the database of these indexes and the images of the pages are a tremendous tool for locating and obtaining the documents.
Social Security Death Index
The SSDI remains one of my favorite database resources of all times. It can be used to obtain an exact birth date or the approximate (or exact) date of death and location. The latter has repeatedly helped me locate obituaries, death certificates, locations of interments, copies of wills and probate packets, land and property records, and other documents. The SSDI is one of my favorite databases because it provides the keys to locating many additional documentary resources. It also helps me locate the SS# in order to order the least expensive copy of SS-5 applications from the Social Security Administration.
Your list of favorite Ancestry databases and mine will probably differ. It certainly depends on the type of research and the geographical area that you are conducting. One thing is sure, however, and thatâ€™s the fact that there are literally thousands of databases representing almost every record type imaginable. If you havenâ€™t explored what is available, start checking the Card Catalog. Browse the lists of databases and explore inside them. You may just find a new set of tools to extend your research.
Julianaâ€™s two cents: Had to weigh in and share my favorite Ancestry databaseâ€”
The New York Emigrant Savings Bank, 1850-1883
Though not one of the largest databases on Ancestry, if your ancestors lived or stayed for a time in New York before moving on after immigration, check this database out. Although most of the data is on Irish immigrants, you will find other nationalities in it as well. And the richness of the information if you find someone in the â€œTransfer, Signature, and Test Booksâ€ is fantastic. For years I had worked on my New York City Kelly family and really had resigned myself that this was one nut that might not crack. When this database rolled, I found the patriarch James Kelly, and in one fell swoop, learned the name of the town and county in Ireland where he was from, his wifeâ€™s maiden name and that she had pre-deceased him, the name of the street in New York City on which he lived, and that he had come to the U.S. through Halifax–and when! Sweet! Yes, while George has named some good ones, this one will always hold a special place in my heart.
So what’s your favorite Ancestry database? We’d like to hear about it. Please let us know aboutÂ your favorites in the comments section below.
Listen to â€œThe Genealogy Guys Podcastâ€ each week at http://genealogyguys.com. George is available for speaking engagements. Check his website at http://ahaseminars.com to view his catalog for genealogical seminars and his upcoming schedule of appearances.