Looking Back at 2008, by Juliana Smith

As I look out my office window, I can see the snow falling, and I’m grateful to be bundled up in a warm blanket, rather than outside in the frigid temps. I can’t believe we’re just a week away from Christmas and two weeks from a new year. Where does the time go?

A lot has changed in the world since we looked hopefully at a new 2008, and while the news reports will probably focus on the more negative aspects of the year, I want to focus on the good. While we’ve certainly had some rough patches in our family, we also have much to be grateful for and that is what we will be celebrating this holiday season.

I’ve also had some good news in my family history, and as a community, we’ve seen some great new resources added to the collections at Ancestry. I browsed past newsletters to select some of the highlights to include in this article, and after going through the entire year I found that I had copied seven pages of URLs. I was going to either have to scale down a bit or this was going to be a VERY long article.

All told, Ancestry added 1.3 billion names to its collections and 52.9 million images. Wow! That’s a whole lot of scanning going on! Since this will be the last newsletter of the year, let’s look back at just a few of the collections that had us doing the happy dance this year.

Naturalization Records
Because of the nature of the naturalization process, locating naturalization records can be challenging. An immigrant ancestor may have begun the process in one location and completed it in an entirely different location, perhaps even another state. And for many years, they had various options when it came to the courts in their area. They may have naturalized in a criminal court, federal court, circuit court, or marine court, among other options. Because of the scattered nature of the records, the search can be challenging and some records might never be found.

In May, Ancestry posted nearly 2.5 million in the U.S. Naturalization Records, 1794-1995 database. On September 7th, I wrote about how the index to post-27 September 1906 records could be used to order the naturalization records through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) new genealogy program. The following month, access to some actual naturalization records got even easier when Ancestry posted the images of more than 490,000 naturalizations to its Immigration and Emigration Collection.

And the news gets better–naturalization index records from New England, New York, and Southern California are currently being converted to searchable databases as part of the Ancestry World Archive Project. As more and more of these records are centralized in the Immigration Collection, the odds are getting better and better for millions of family historians seeking these valuable records.

Canadian Passenger Arrivals
The addition of Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935 had researchers all over North America jumping for joy. While it’s obvious why this is good news for Canadians, many others who emigrated to the U.S. did so via Canada. For much of the nineteenth century, travel to Canada from Europe was cheaper than the trip to U.S. ports. Many chose the cheaper route and later moved on to the U.S., while others may have stayed. You may found that some families split, leaving siblings or cousins in Canada.

Additionally, in 1921 the United States began imposing quotas on immigrants based on nationality, so many eastern Europeans turned their eyes toward Canada. Again some remained in Canada, while others moved on. For those that moved onto the U.S., you may find them entering the U.S. in the database of Canadian Border Crossings, 1895-1956, which was also updated this year.

U.S. City Directories
Since we just talked about the 1,100 new city directories that were recently added to Ancestry, I won’t dwell on it here, but for those who missed it, I dissected a directory from Brooklyn in a recent column that can be found on the blog. City directories give you an up close look at your ancestor’s neighborhood, with insights into the people and businesses that populated it. Because they’re listed alphabetically, it’s a great way to find other family members, some of whom may have lived in close proximity to your ancestors.

Newspapers Doubled in Size
Until historical newspapers made their way to the Internet, family historians searching for mentions of their ancestors typically had to spend hours going through microfilms of their ancestor’s hometown paper. Access was limited to library or archive hours of operation. This year Ancestry doubled the size of its newspaper collection, giving us the ability to browse newspapers into the wee hours of the night. Newspapers give us a real sense of the times in which our ancestors lived, and even if our ancestor’s hometown paper isn’t available yet, we can still read about the events in the world the year they were born, married, or died. We can read about weather events like droughts that might have forced our agrarian ancestors to move on to greener pastures. Or an epidemic that may have made them flee the city for a time—or for good. Take the time to browse through papers for the years when your ancestor seems to be missing from records. You may find the answer right there in the pages of history.

Mortality Schedules
Just this month, Wisconsin mortality schedules were added to the collection of U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules, 1850-1880. While this might not seem to be of interest to many, I’m including it here because it is the first database made available through the Ancestry World Archives Project, and there are more to follow. So far contributors have preserved more than 8 million records. To learn more about the project and how you can join more than 9,000 other contributors, click here. 

Around the World
For our readers in other parts of the world, I haven’t forgotten you. I compiled a list with some of the more significant U.S. and international databases that were posted this year. To review more titles from 2008, you can see my list on the blog.

What’s Your Favorite?
I’m curious. What was your favorite database or tool launched at Ancestry this year? Please share your favorite addition of 2008—or any year for that matter—with all of us in the comments below.

Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for ten years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at Juliana@Ancestry.com, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.

13 thoughts on “Looking Back at 2008, by Juliana Smith

  1. My favorite addition has been the Drouin Collection (French-Canadian) in 2007 with the searchable index in 2008. I spent years searching through hundreds of microfilms of the French Canadian Church records, locating over 2,000 Grandparents. Each baptism and marriage record lists parents’ names and all females are listed by their maiden name. The records are written in French, but are not difficult to read. What a blessing for the thousands of descendants, both Canadian and U.S., who can now sit in the comfort of their home and discover their French Canadian ancestors!

  2. I like the draft registrations from World War I. In some cases they list physical descriptions and next of kin.
    I like the Iowa state census records. The records for 1895 help make up for the missing 1890 federal census.
    I recently found some records (19th century) from the Latvian archives in Ancestry. That was great!
    I am looking forward to more old newspapers being online so that I can find some more obituaries!

  3. My favorite database for 2008 was the Tennessee State Marriage Records. Now if ancestry will complete the records for counties and years missing to catch it completely up, it will be more exciting.

    I hope ancestry will add more Southern United States records to their collection. I am looking forward to the Alabama State census records.

  4. Juliana, I have several favorites — hard to choose #1. The City Directories are near the top. But I wanted to comment on the Wisconsin Mortality Scheude recently added. Who would think in a million years that I would find even one, much less three missing children! I couldn’t believe it. All three died in late 1849-early 1850 so were listed on the schedule. Two were little siblings in our Marsh line and one was an infant in our Campbell line. I now have their names, ages, and causes of death. We had no other way to find them without the Mortality lists. A sad but very helpful discovery.

  5. Ancestry has become a real leader in genealogical research and I have learned to rely greatly on your resources.

  6. I gleaned many records of lost relatives from FamilySearch.org when it was put on for beta testing. These were death certificates which gave mother,father, wife, cause of death, location of death & burial,date of birth, etc. I did the happy dance!!!

  7. My favorite database that Ancestry.com has added this year is the Tennessee Marriage Records. I am hoping that 2009 will bring more Tennessee and Kentucky records to Ancestry.com.

  8. Can’t choose just one. The top two are the MO State Marriages and the TN State Marriages. If only we could get Oklahoma vitals, I’d pretty much be set. 😀

  9. I don’t have a full subscription so I was happy when all the US Censuses were every-name indexed. Now I wish they would expand our sub to include state censuses. (Some of them WERE available for a time.) After all–they ARE US Censuses!

  10. I don’t have a favorite database, but I do have a favorite article in your newsletter (sent to me by a friend) I love the
    “Year that was…” When I am looking for something (a baptisim, marriage, etc) I like to read about what was happening in that particular year and imagine what my ancestor might have been enduring or how fortunate they were for the time. Knowing a little of what was happening at the time, sometimes gives insite as to why they might have acted the way they did. Please do not stop this feature..

  11. North Carolina Death Certificates 1909-1975 has been the most helpful to me this year. Most of the certificates I have found include birth date, birth place, death date, death place, cause of death, name of spouse,name of parents, burial site and name of informant. What a mine of information!

  12. The NC Death Certificates have been a great help in my research. I would never be able to go to all of the locations to search for information.
    Another is the WWI registration cards. Seeing an ancestors signature is amazing.
    I am also enjoying the on line family trees. I’ve really started getting my information together.

  13. My favorite sites are the Iowa State Census series( it has been so useful to my research) and I also frequently use the WWI Draft Registration records. I am so thankful to Ancestry for gathering & posting new databases. Who would have thought 20 years ago that we would be able to search records in our home.

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