Welcome to week five of the series “Why Genealogy”. I’m sharing the voices of my fellow genealogists and family history enthusiast who were all were bit by the genealogy bug at a young age. Genealogy isn’t something you have to wait to do! There is no age limit to who can learn about their family’s past.
This week, meet Kathryn!
It was a rainy Sunday afternoon and my father decided to get the old family cinefilms out for us to all watch. He dusted off the projector and put up the big white screen and drew the curtains and suddenly all of his yesteryears were being shown. People that had come long before me, were suddenly animated once again and that’s where my fascination with family history started. As a child, I’ve always been interested in history so naturally, a progression to family history was perhaps a given!
By the late 2000s with the use of the internet and home computers becoming more commonplace, I joined Ancestry in 2006 aged 13, and started to build my family tree. 15 years later I’m still building that tree!
I think what puts people off researching their family history is they believe their family isn’t that interesting, but it’s the stories of the ordinary folk that keep me hooked. The stories of bigamous marriages, murders, accidental poisonings, industrial accidents, and more are what I consider the most fascinating. I love sharing these stories and discoveries with my family whether they want to hear them or not! Joining the social media side of genealogy and sharing my knowledge and stories was something I had always wanted to do so I threw myself into it this year and was so pleased to discover a growing group of young genealogists already present.
Kathryn Archer is a 28-year-old genealogist based in Yorkshire. With familial links to Yorkshire, Warwickshire, and Cheshire. When she is not researching family trees or going through DNA matches you can find her digitising old cinefilm or scanning family photos. Her other hobbies include stamp collecting and coin collecting. You can follow her on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok @that90sgenealogist.
Make sure to check out the other voices featured in the “Why Genealogy” series!
Welcome to week four of the series “Why Genealogy”. I’m sharing the voices of my fellow genealogists and family history enthusiast who were all were bit by the genealogy bug at a young age. Genealogy isn’t something you have to wait to do! There is no age limit to who can learn about their family’s past.
This week, meet Sophie!
A seed of curiosity is where my genealogy interest originates. My paternal grandmother is a many-cousined woman, and she would return from the funerals of her numerous aunts and uncles naming reams of people I was related to but didn’t know. She kept their names up her sleeve like a Magician’s never-ending hanky. The fact that my Nan held all the knowledge about these people and their relation to us began to worry me. One day she wouldn’t be here, and then who will remember their names, or how we’re related? I decided I needed to take on the job myself to preserve the information. So in 2012, at the age of 16, I began building out my known family tree online, pulling out the never-ending handkerchief from Nan’s sleeve, and laying out each square to untangle the list of cousins she’d preserved. Soon I was able to document everything we knew about her side of the family.
Moving on to my paternal grandfather, I asked about his extended family but he didn’t really know anything. How can my Nan know so much about her family, but my Grandad know so little about his? My nosey nature sent me digging to find out more. This led to me uncovering that his parents had moved to Derbyshire from Gloucestershire after they married. My Grandad’s mother, Dorothy, was from Somerset and hadn’t always lived with her parents and siblings, instead living with a different family nearby. Perhaps this was why my Grandad never met his maternal grandparents, despite the fact that his grandmother lived until he was 15. Then on my Grandad’s father’s side – James was his name – he’d been born in Leicestershire, then moved to Lincolnshire, to Gloucestershire before finally settling in Derbyshire. Both James’ parents died before my Grandad was born, and his three siblings lived in Yorkshire and the Isle of Wight, which is likely why my grandad never knew a cousin on that side.
As to why I love genealogy is a layered answer. I’ve mostly grown up with one side of the family, and have never known my aunt, uncles, and cousins on the other side. It’s a shame, but it’s hard to navigate a mountainous landscape of relationships without a guide. I find genealogy is a great way to feel more connected to these people, even though we don’t have contact in daily life. If we ever do get the chance to meet, I’ll have plenty to tell them about our shared history.
A lot has happened in my life since that seed of curiosity first sprouted in 2012. Genealogy has grown roots deep into the foundations of my identity. Having struggled with mental health issues, the process of researching is a logical and organised task that’s been a great distraction at times. Each time I’ve found stories about my ancestors has felt like lighting a candle in a dark room, over and over until the whole room’s illuminated and you can finally see what’s around you. Having a clearer picture of my family history has helped me understand more about my living family. Knowing I come from generations of working-class families and who sometimes worked and worked in difficult and dangerous conditions has helped me understand my family’s background and attitudes more. The process of learning more about the hardships and events that my ancestors lived through in order for me to be here has given my life a renewed sense of meaning, and has made me feel happier and more appreciative for the life that I have.
It’s been empowering to learn where I come from, after feeling so lost anddisconnected from myself. I feel emotionally and spiritually closer to family, and connected to some of the places they’ve lived, especially Derby. It’s the city where I grew into myself as a person; where I lived and worked, studied and struggled. Knowing that for multiple generations, this city shared the same importance and was home to similar life experiences for my ancestors, which makes it feel like such a special place. Being able to walk through the city reminiscing my own memories, whilst envisioning their lives among the same street names, buildings, and monuments is a magical feeling that I am so fortunate to experience.
Sophie Haire is a 25-year-old genealogist based in the UK. Her research interests are in the East Midlands, Somerset, and Aberdeenshire, and in the use of DNA. She is a member of The Hidden Branch and enjoys encouraging genealogy among younger generations. Alongside genealogy, she enjoys writing and psychology. In 2020 Sophie graduated with an MSc in Psychology, and also holds a BA in Creative Writing. Sophie is passionate about researching the intersection of these three areas. You can find her on social media @DerbyGenes.
Check out the previous voices featured in the “Why Genealogy” series!
Welcome to week three of the series “Why Genealogy”. I’m sharing the voices of my fellow genealogists and family history enthusiast who were all were bit by the genealogy bug at a young age. Genealogy isn’t something you have to wait to do! There is no age limit to who can learn about their family’s past.
This week, meet Jennifer!
What is genealogy if not the search for something missing? It is the search for a missing piece of us, or of our identity. Even if the researcher is not cognizant of what they’re looking for, genealogy is, at its very core, the act of searching for those who came before. My path to genealogy was driven by such a search, and since establishing genealogy as a hobby, my search has at times taken on seemingly mythical proportions, like one of Hercules’ labors or Perseus’ quest.
In my earliest years, until I was 7, I lived upstairs from my great-aunts, my grandmother’s two spinster sisters, lovingly referred to by everyone as “The Aunts.” My grandmother and her siblings were first-generation Americans, with both of their parents having come to the United States from the south of Italy around the turn of the 20th century. Well, though I didn’t know it then, The Aunts were a genealogical goldmine, and their love of family history was passed to me.
Edie, the older of the two sisters, and Clara, the youngest of the family, spent many hours with me as a child. They had a small chalkboard, and would dictate words for me to spell, or math problems for me to figure out. They also talked, and talked, about their parents, and the towns – villages, really – where they came from in Italy. Beautiful placenames like Montefusco and Montemiletto and Montefredane, places I have not yet seen with my own eyes, but which I hope to see one day. Neither of The Aunts ever made it to Italy themselves, a fact that will always make me sad for them, but based on what filtered down to me, their knowledge of family connections throughout the mountains and countryside of Campania and Benevento was quite extensive.
When I was 21, Aunt Clara passed away, and I moved in with Aunt Edie to help her out. She wasn’t in good health, and with some knowledge of actual world history at that point in my life, and desperately wanting to figure out who I was as a person, I talked to her in the evenings about her own youth, her education, trips, vacations and jobs and suitors… her history. She remembered a lot. Place names, names of cousins (were her parents actually distant cousins?!), how old were they when they came here? Did they ever get to see their parents again? I kept a notebook of answers to these questions, now long since lost, but it remains indelibly inscribed on my heart.
This was right around the time that the internet was really experiencing explosive growth, and Ancestry.com was new on the market. I signed up, plugged in what I could, and began to build my tree. Sounds pretty simple, right? Wrong.
I didn’t remotely comprehend how a website like Ancestry worked, only knew that I could build a family tree on it. I would get frustrated when I couldn’t find what I was looking for, only to realize years later as I studied actual historical records what actually goes into building such databases And let’s not discuss how many “hints” I accepted that were for completely different people and families! I can laugh now at my own foolishness, but it was tough at the time, and in those early days, I did a lot of revising on that tree!
As I mentioned, I was at a point in my young adulthood where I was trying to figure out who I was, other than the typical elder-millennial/late gen-x mess! I wanted to know why we didn’t know my mother’s family well, why we weren’t raised with her extended family in the same way we knew my dad’s myriad cousins. The reasons for that are not mine to share, but suffice to say, I thought that if I could build Mom’s tree and trace the family patterns, I might find where I fit into it, and that might help my search for identity.
It’s been 25 years since then. I’ve taken trips to the archives, have spent countless hours searching databases online, I’ve looked up things for others, and have had others find records for me. Genealogy goes in fits and starts for me, but when I’m on a hot streak, whew, look out! Even the advent of genetic genealogy has been amazing, enlightening, and a quagmire of questions and discoveries. Have I found who I am? Well….
I have found facts about my grandparents (who I knew) and my great-grandparents (who I didn’t know), and even my great-great-grandparents. I spent years tracing names and dates and newspaper clippings and church bulletins and military records… and I’ve put together some pretty comprehensive pictures of these people who formed the people who formed me. Through genetic testing, I have found “family” in unexpected places, with people I never knew I was related to, but who are so similar to me it’s as if we grew up in the same family unit, and that has been an incredible gift!
After decades, genealogy remains one of my favorite habits. I don’t do it every day anymore, because life, amiright? But at least once a week I give a once-over on everything and sometimes do a little digging. Thus far, nobody in the next generation of my family is interested in carrying the mantle, but they all call me when they have a question about the tree, our history, and our collective past. That’s become a large part of the identity I worked so hard to find!
About the Author: Jennifer wears many hats including wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend. She has a Master’s Degree in History with a specialization in modern Irish history. She is also in training to become a Licensed Professional Counselor. When not studying or running the house or raising her sons, Jennifer volunteers with JDRF, mentoring local families who are newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, as well as raising awareness and encouraging radical acceptance of those living with autism and ADHD.
Welcome to week two of the series “Why Genealogy”. I’ll be sharing the voices of my fellow genealogists and family history enthusiast who were all were bit by the genealogy bug at a young age. Genealogy isn’t something you have to wait to do! There is no age limit to who can learn about their family’s past.
This week, meet Katty!
I sat my Dad down. The burden of my news weighed heavily on my five year old shoulders. “Daddy, did you know that you are not my real Daddy?” No-one knows who told me. My biological father had left before I was born and the divorce finalized before my first birthday. I was almost two when my mother married my Dad. I grew up with parents who loved me and loved each other. It wasn’t a family secret, there had just been no reason to talk about it. “Yes.” “But you still love me don’t you?” “Of course! You will always be my daughter!” Content with that answer I merrily trotted off and carried on doing the things five year olds do. Dad says I did not mention it again for years.
I don’t look like my Mum, Dad or younger brother. They are tanned and dark, products of generations of English agricultural labourers on both sides. I am fair skinned and blonde, like my Irish biological father. Ireland was a place I owed half my heritage and clearly a lot of my genetics to, but had no link. This missing piece of my history laid the foundations for my interest in genealogy.
At eleven years old, I sat at the family computer listening to the whirs, beeps and whistles of the dial up modem. The birth of the internet had opened up the possibility of researching from your own home. I Asked Jeeves how to find my family, and then posted in all the family history forums and genealogy message boards I could find to try and locate my biological family. Alas the internet was too young, and there were not enough people to connect with to get any real answers.
Three years later my biological father made contact, and my parents welcomed him into our lives. He has now been in my life for longer than he was absent. My children have a huge loving family and no idea that 3 sets of grandparents is not the norm.
The way I was raised has given me the strong belief that family and genealogy are not the same. It is why I am interested in the stories and relationships behind the names. I look at next door neighbours on census records and trace the lives of the witnesses on marriage certificates. A third of my family are no blood relation to me at all, yet I research my Dad’s family as thoroughly as my other branches. I may not share their blood, but I am part of their story. I share their name.
I was pregnant with my daughter when I started researching my family history seriously. There was something about preparing for a descendant that made me feel linked to my ancestors.
I signed up for a free 2 week trial with Ancestry, and bothered all my relatives for names of great aunts and uncles and any other tidbits that could help me in the right direction. After 2 weeks I wasn’t finished, so I bought a month, then a year. I learned that a family tree is never finished. That is the addiction. As my tree grew, so did my fascination. Finding more sources, and documents. WWI records with my Great Grandfather’s height and eye colour. Newspaper articles of unpaid bastardy payments. Plans of an avenue of tree’s planted by a landscape gardener 5 generations back that can still be visited today. People who lived and loved, drank and fought, won and lost. People who raised children, who raised children, who raised children, who raised me. Forgotten people, remembered.
I recently discovered that my beloved Grandad had an illegitimate Aunt that no-one knew about. Census records show that she was raised by her grandparents. I wonder if she ever knew her biological father? Or if she was able to find that sense of belonging and family that I am so fortunate to have. That sense of family that is nothing to do with bloodlines. I hope so.
Welcome to week one of my new series “Why Genealogy”. I’ll be sharing the voices of my fellow genealogists and family history enthusiast who were all were bit by the genealogy bug at a young age. Genealogy isn’t something you have to wait to do! There is no age limit to who can learn about their family’s past.
This week, meet Daniel Loftus of Daniel’s Genealogy.
My Genealogy Journey
Now, while it seems that the question “What’s the best way of getting young people interested in genealogy?” seems like it should have a definitive answer – it doesn’t! There are a number of ways that the Next Gen of genealogists can pick up the genealogy bug. They could be curious about the story behind an old family heirloom that’s been passed down for generations. Some might even want to find more out about themselves to be able to see where they come from. Or you could even be like me, someone who had a long car journey back home and you had 2-3 hours to kill so you decided to quiz your parents on what they knew about their family. Guilty as charged! So while I’ve listed at least three different scenarios, that doesn’t mean that these are the only three ways to engage and even inspire young people to look into their past and those that walked the Earth before us.
So before I give some tips, I figure I may as well continue my story – so after I drove my parents nuts (no parents were irritated in this story!) asking them about their family history, I was just processing what I was hearing and I couldn’t believe some of the stories (good and bad, truth or rumour) that I was hearing. So nothing really happened for a few days until fast forward to January 7th 2017 [5 days later after the funeral] and I’m sitting flicking through Google on free family tree builders until I discovered Family Echo (I was not aware of Ancestry, FindMyPast or MyHeritage like I am now) and I thought brilliant, I can start adding my family to it and I did. Although it was just me filling it in to start and it only showed me how little about my own family, my own personal history. I showed my mother and asked if we could start filling more in but we left it until tomorrow and the following evening my mother dug out a dark green book with a gold ornate frame on the cover with the words “The History of our Family”. I asked her about the book and she said for my father’s side of the family, she sat down with my grandmother who was alive at the time and wrote down all the info that my nana was telling her about her family and a bit about my grandad’s family. Now for my mother’s side of the family – we were not so lucky when it came to info. Her mother’s side, she had no living aunts or uncles still alive (last one died in 1995) so she only had limited info. Her father’s side we didn’t have a clue about. I would sadly lose my grandfather that year as well but he was able to tell me his parents’ names and I’m grateful for just that piece of info (as small as it may seem it helped me to push back a number of generations.) and spent that evening inputting all of the info in that book and working back! I had a bit of help from cousins who knew bits that corroborated with what I was hearing. And from then on there isn’t much more to tell from then on – I just kept building my tree more and more.
I think the main thing to keep in mind with all of this is it’s not going to be a quick task– I’ve been doing this for 4 years now (at time of writing) and while I may not have gotten any new leads or bits and pieces from family, who’s to say tomorrow won’t be the day that a brick wall could be broken? But what I’ll finish with is the answer to this question “What made me want to delve into my own history?” Well it was a combination of things, I love history as a subject in school (am better in that compared to some subjects!) I also wanted to know more about my family and where I came from and I’m so happy at the amount I’ve been able to discover about my past. And most importantly, I thought it’d be fun to try (and can happily say it was one of my best decisions!) And trust me, if you don’t think genealogy is for young people, then stick around with me on Twitter, [am on Facebook and Instagram if you’re not a Twitter user] I might be able to change that opinion. And most importantly – if any younggenealogist does see this and is on the fence about doing this – it’s so much fun and a great hobby and if you’re a young genealogist reading this, please get in contact with me, I’d love to hear from you.
[Editor’s note: Thank you Amanda for the opportunity!]
Are you ready to get started on your genealogy journey? Check out my post on getting back to the basics!
It is a new month which means an opportunity to reset my genealogy goals and make plans for new content. As I was doing so, I realized that during the month of July I had unknowingly put all my genealogy work on the back burner. It wasn’t something that I had done intentionally. When I looked back at my weekends, I realized that most of them were spent just looking at my computer and making up excuses of why I couldn’t research or write. That’s when I realized that I was deep in genealogy burnout.
Just like anything else you are passionate about, at some point you have spent all the energy you have. The things you loved to do, like chasing down a DNA match, seem more like a chore than an adventure. Genealogy is such a time consuming and emotionally investing hobby, that sometimes we need to take a break. The question then becomes, how do we get back to this journey that we love so much?
Go Back to Where You Started
When I say go back to where you started, I don’t mean that you should start over. Just go back to the basics. Find that family line that you researched when you first started and see if maybe you can extend/expand that part of your tree. Sometimes going back to the line that first hooked you into doing genealogy will be the cure for your burnout.
For me, this means going back to my Miller line. If you’re familiar with my story, you know that John “Raccoon” Miller is my gateway ancestor. He is the one that helped me find my genealogy passion and is now the cure for my genealogy burnout. Luckily for me, he had a bunch of kids who had a bunch of kids. Whenever I’m struggling with finding my groove, I go back to this line and start searching for cousins. It usually does that trick!
Talk to Other Genealogist
You may be surprised how many of us find ourselves in some kind of genealogy burnout. The upside is, we don’t all experience it at the same time. This means that while you’re in a funk, your genealogist friends may not be. Talk to them about what they are researching. Find out what they are excited about. Sometimes when you talk to someone who is passionate about what they are doing, their passion is contagious.
Get Out of Your Head
Get out and experience genealogy. If you’re like me, you have a designated area in your house, or maybe at the library, where you always go to do research. That is great when you are focused and able to concentrate on researching. On the other hand, the routine can feed your genealogy burnout. When that happens, get out of there! That could look like going to visit a cemetery or going to a new research facility. One of my favorite things to do is to visit a local historic site. Even if it doesn’t relate to my ancestors, something about walking in history gets my genealogy soul moving!
Be Kind to Yourself
The most important thing you can do when you find yourself with genealogy burnout, is to be kind. Don’t force the research. Don’t force the connections. I guarantee when you do, you will find yourself dreading doing any kind of genealogy activities. You and I both don’t want that! It is okay to take a break. Life is happening now and sometimes we have to set the past aside and deal with the present. Your ancestors understand that better than anyone else. Give yourself grace. The passion and desire for genealogy will come back…I promise you.
When I first started researching my family’s history, death records were not high on my priority list. While I knew it was important to know when my ancestors died, it just seemed a bit depressing to spend my days reading obituaries and causes of death. It wasn’t until I came across an obituary that vividly painted my ancestor’s life, that I realized this subject wasn’t all doom and gloom. I changed my way of thinking from this is an ending to this is something I can use to celebrate my family member. Now, I love finding obituaries and walking though cemeteries. My friends still think I’m a bit strange, but they just don’t know what they are missing.
Death is inevitable. All of our ancestors have done it, so why can it be so hard to find death records? Also, when we find them, what other information can we gather? I hope the following tid-bits can help you on your journey.
The most obvious place to find your ancestor’s death information is on a death certificate. Even the most basic certificate will give you a name, date of death, place of death, and cause of death. While that is all great information, it’s the other gems that may really help you break through a brick wall.
Let’s take a look at Anderson Carpenter’s death certificate. Anderson is my paternal 2x Great Grandfather. On his death certificate, we are able to gain basic information such as his birth and death date and location of death (including the hospital). Now, look at all the genealogy information that is included. We learn that he is a widower and that his wife was Lillie Lacy (actually, her name is Lizzie Lacy). The death certificate lists his parents as John Carpenter and Linda Tanner, who were both born in Ohio. If we look at the informant, it gives the name Marvin Carpenter. It’s easy to assume that Marvin is related in some way, which he is. Marvin is Anderson’s son. We are also given the name of the funeral home who handled the arrangements and the name/location of the cemetery. With just this one death certificate, we are able to go back another generation and fill in some holes such as Anderson’s wife’s name.
Funeral cards, also known as memorial cards or prayer cards, are an excellent source of information. The cards are designed as an easy keepsake to remember the deceased. At the very least, a funeral card will include your ancestor’s birth and death date. Some cards are a bit more detailed and may include a short memory of the deceased. Also, there a good chance that the funeral card may include a picture of your ancestor. These cards are not to be missed when you are collecting death records.
Below is my maternal Great Grandfather’s (William Howard Taft Price) funeral card. This card tells me that he obviously went by the name Taft, which could help me find him on other documents. It also states his birth and death date. While it doesn’t give me the locations of those events, the dates alone will help me to narrow down my search. Lastly, it gives me where the funeral was held, where he was buried, and the funeral home in charge of the arrangements. If nothing else, this information points me in the direction of finding more sources that I can use to find out more information.
Probably everyone’s favorite death record is an obituary. After all, no two obituaries are the same and they can sometimes be full of all kinds of genealogy information. Websites like Newspapers.com https://www.newspapers.com/ and Genealogy Bank https://www.genealogybank.com/ have made finding an obituary a little easier.
More recent obituaries tend to give a clearer genealogy picture. When looking at obits from the mid-1900s back leave a bit more puzzle pieces to be solved. Remember the time period and the fact that women were known more as someone’s husband than an individual. Take the obituary below as an example. This belongs to my paternal 4th Great Uncle, Hiram Goodwin. Hiram passed away in 1936 in Kanawha County, West Virginia. If you notice, his daughters are listed as Mrs. “insert husband’s name”. While this can be frustrating, it does as least give you names of spouses. All you have to do is play the match game and figure out who goes with who!
Find-A-Grave and Headstones
When all else fails, there is always (well…almost always) a headstone to be found. Families tended to be buried in the same area, so if you can find one, you may be able to find more. If you’re not able to get out to the actual cemetery, check out Find-A-Grave https://www.findagrave.com/
Find-A-Grave is a great resource for information. By searching your ancestor’s name, you may find their birth/death dates, their obituary, and if you’re lucky, a picture! The Find-A-Grave community is pretty awesome too in the fact that you can put in a request for a particular cemetery. The only issue is that because the information is entered by volunteer individuals, you should also double check the dates, locations, ect. I’m not saying that the information is always wrong or anything like that. It just like when you’re looking at someone else’s family tree. It’s a great starting point, but you should always verify the information.
Now that we’ve covered all the actual vital records, birth, marriage, and death, it’s time to dig into census records! The new series will cover all the basics of how to search for census records and what you should be looking for!
If you need a refresher, check out the marriage records post!
At some point, if you have Jewish ancestors, you are going to have to take a look into Holocaust records. History is full of horrible moments, and when we realize that our ancestors were victims of such events, it just hits you different. Researching isn’t easy, especially when you are tackling a subject like the Holocaust. Give yourself time and grace. Remember, genealogy isn’t a race. We should take our time and give our ancestors the moments they deserve.
Just like any other area of genealogy research, start with what you know. If you only have names of potential ancestors, that is okay. There are several databases (which I’ll go into later) that will allow you to search with only that information. It will take patience, but don’t be discouraged if you feel like you don’t have a lot of information to go on.
If you are able to locate the town they may have lived in during this time period that can help you narrow down your search range. By knowing the town, or even the area where they lived, will help you in following the path they may have taken. Gary Mokotoff’s book, How to Document Victims and Locate Survivors of the Holocaust is a wealth of information that can help you trace your ancestors’ steps. (For the record, Amazon only had one copy available. However, check with your library as this is a popular book for Jewish research).
Yizkor books, or memorial books, were written after the Holocaust in order to memorialize Jewish communities that were destroyed during the Holocaust. Many Jewish genealogy specific organizations, such as JewishGen, are working to translate Yizkor books. Since they were written with a specific community in mind, the majority of them are not in English. However, the books that have been translated have also been digitized and are available online.
When looking at Yizkor books, remember to look not just for your ancestor, but also for general information about the community. This will help you to get a sense of what life was like for those who lived there. Also, each book includes a section called “Remembrance of Souls”. This section may include photographs and other specific information of those who lived in the community.
If you know the particular Yizkor book that you are looking for, it may be available for purchase. Both Amazon and JewishGen have Yizkor books that you may purchase.
If, unfortunately, you have an ancestor that was a victim of the Holocaust, they may be listed in one of the online databases. The most extensive database is Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims. https://www.yadvashem In the database, you may search by surname, first name, or place. Even if your ancestor’s name is not in the database, try searching for the place that they lived. If you can find other victims information, it may give you a nugget to use for your own ancestor.
For the most extensive survivor database, look no futher than JewishGen https://www.jewishgen.org/ This website contains a search engine that covers over 190 databases and 2.5 million records. While JewishGen can point you in the right direction to find your Holocaust victim, this particular database only deals with survivors.
When searching on JewishGen, make sure to look at all the Holocaust collections. There are so many areas that may have your ancestor’s information. Again, be patient and remember that persistence pays off!
More Holocaust Research
There are many different libraries and archives that have dedicated Holocaust sources. So many, in fact, that it is not possible to include them in this one post. If you are looking for more ways to search, I suggest using this guide that was assembled by The Ackman and Ziff Family Genealogy Institute. This 10 page “cheat sheet” is a great resource to have on hand whenever doing Holocaust research.
First comes love, then comes marriage, and then comes someone years later looking for proof! Marriage is such a hot topic when it comes to genealogy research. Figuring out if your ancestors were married, and when they were married, can be a challenge. Luckily, there are a few options for finding this much needed information.
Types of Marriage Records
When trying to find an ancestor’s marriage, keep in mind the different records. If you’re looking for an actual marriage record, you will be looking for either a marriage register or a marriage license. If you can’t find either one of those, there is always the 1900 U.S. Census that may point you in the right direction. Last, but certainly not least, you should dig around in newspapers.
You can usually find marriage registers in county books. Many of these have been digitized and are easily accessible online. A basic marriage register gives limited information. At the very least, it will give you the date/place of the marriage, the names of the couple, and who performed the ceremony. Other marriage registers, like the one below, actually gives significant genealogy information. This marriage register belongs to my paternal Great Grandparents, James Anderson Hanna and Inez March Carpenter.
In the first line, we find the date of the marriage, their names, and their ages. We also see that they are both listed as single which means, unless one is fibbing, neither have been married before. In the second line, the marriage registers shows where they both live (Chapmanville, West Virginia). Next, it states James’ parents and then Inez’s parents. Yay! That’s another generation back! In the last two sections, it shows that James is a farmer and the name of the minister who performed the ceremony.
A basic marriage license usually has more information than a marriage register. A license tends to go into more detail, including the date it was applied for and the date of the actual marriage. When looking at the information included in a marriage license, make sure to pay attention to the details. You will often find potential family members, or at the very least family friends, listed as witnesses or even the person performing the ceremony.
For example, take the marriage license below for my maternal 2nd Great Uncle and Aunt, Royal Augustus Martin and Geneva Louise Hensley. If you look at the name of the minister who performed the ceremony, you will see the name J. W. Baker. I know that Royal’s mother was Stella Alice Baker. That leads me to believe that J. W. Baker must be related in some way. Spoiler alert, J. W. Baker is John William Baker who is Stella’s father. This means that Royal’s grandfather is the person who presided over the marriage ceremony!
1900 Census Records
An often overlooked source for marriage information is the 1900 U.S. Census. This census asks the head of household the number of years they have been married. While this gives you the number of years, keep in mind that people tended to lose track of time. Just like how ages fluctuate from census to census, the amount of years married is not always accurate. However, even if the number of years do not add up to the exact year, it will give you at least a ballpark.
The example below is from my paternal 2x Great Grandfather, James Benjamin Arthur. He actually nailed the number of years married. He states that he has been married 13 years which would put his marriage year in 1887. I have a marriage record for James and he was indeed married on July 21, 1887!
For more recent marriages, newspaper are the way to go. With the combination of engagement announcements and wedding articles, you can get a pretty accurate picture of what life was like for your betrothed ancestors.
The engagement announcement below is for my maternal Great Uncle and Aunt, Carl Edward Price and Alice Dianne Flannigan. Look at how much information is included!
Next is an example of a wedding announcement. While not as detailed as the above engagement announcement, there is still valuable information included. This article is in reference to the marriage of my paternal 2nd cousin 3x removed, Anna Riley.
Also, don’t discount articles regarding anniversaries! Like engagement and wedding announcements, these articles contain all kinds of good information. In a perfect genealogy world, these articles contain at least one picture of the couple and usually a list of family members who attended. Look for anniversary articles around milestone dates such as a 50th anniversary.
Marriage Records Tips
When researching marriage records, there are a few things to keep in mind. Watch out if dates fit. This means that if you known when your ancestor was born, do the math and see if the ages are appropriate for being married. Yes, marriages tended to happen to those younger in previous centuries, but unless we are in medieval times, a six year old did not get married. Also, pay attention to the place where the marriage occurred. If your ancestor did not get married in their hometown, did it make sense for them to travel to the marriage location? On occasion, couples had to travel to a minister or a town where the marriage ceremony could be held, but did it make sense to travel to a place days away?
Many marriage records are on the major research sites. If you happen to be doing research in West Virginia, I highly recommend the West Virginia Archives and History Vital Records search. Their database includes birth, marriage, and death records.
If you have been following along with the Intro to Jewish Genealogy series, you should now have a good idea of how to figure out your ancestors’ name and how to find their immigration records. Now, it’s time to dig deeper into their life. There is nothing better than connecting to your ancestor though one of their stories. It is much easier to find a piece of yourself if you have a better understanding of who they were.
Today’s blog post is going to go deeper into Jewish life and how the documents generated can be valuable to your family history research. Not just in Jewish life, but think about all the documents you touch every day. We are leaving a trail for our descends to find out without even realizing it! Your Jewish ancestors did the same thing.
If you know the synagogue that your ancestor attended, you are in luck! Synagogues are full of documents with vital genealogy information. The most relevant documents include naming ceremony records, Bar/Bat Mitzvah records, marriage records, and burial records. If you are researching a synagogue in a small town/city, then ask for their member lists. This will give you a time frame of when your ancestor lived in the area. If they stayed in that particular town for a while, you may be able to trace the growth of their family. One of the lesser known, but no less important, is synagogue newsletters. They are full of Jewish life stories! You may find a personal story of one of your ancestors. At the very least, you will get an idea of the area they lived in and they people they knew.
If you not so lucky to know the synagogue that your ancestors attended, don’t give up just yet. Ask the older members of your family if they remember where relatives attended. If that doesn’t work, do not be afraid to reach out to a synagogue directly. This is especially true if you know the general vicinity of where your ancestor lived.
If you need a little extra help, The Center for Jewish History has a quick guide for finding synagogue records.
The obvious place to look for your ancestors when researching Hebrew schools is the yearbook. Especially during your ancestors’ senior year, a yearbook gives a perfect snapshot of what their school life was like. Much like researching synagogues, Hebrew schools tended to have their own newsletters. Both yearbooks and newsletters are a great place to find a more personal side of you ancestor.
If you are having trouble locating the school your ancestor may have attended there are a few options. Ancestry has a yearbooks database for all schools, not just Hebrew schools. If you select “card catalog” in the search menu, then search “yearbooks” in the title box, you should see “U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999”. Click there and then you have multiple ways to search. You can type in your ancestors name and any additional information you have. If that doesn’t work, on the right side of the page, you can browse by state, city, school name, and year.
In case Ancestry doesn’t have what you are looking for, and you know the school that your ancestor attended, reach out to the school directly. Some schools have their own archives and will be more than happy to help you. For schools that don’t have an archive, many will be able to point you in the direction that you will need to go in order to find more about your ancestor. Either way, there is always someone to help you discover more about your ancestor’s school days.
Researching Jewish Newspapers
Newspapers are one of my favorite places to discover the lives of my ancestors. When researching, and I’ve hit a dead end, I turn to newspapers. All aspects of life are represented from birth to death and the same is true for Jewish life.
There are two websites that have an extensive collections of newspapers. I use both Newspapers.com and Genealogybank.com to search for stories. Both are subscription based search engines that you can search either a name, location, or a specific newspaper.
In my research, I was not able to find a Jewish specific database for newspapers. Like other aspects of research, Google seems to be your friend on this one. However, I did come across a project by the German-language newspaper, Aufbau. It’s not very user friendly, and the paper itself is in German, but you are able to search names and see where they appear in the paper. The paper did publish lists of Jewish holocaust survivors from September 1944 to September 27, 1946.
If all else fails, reach out to Jewish Societies. These organization are a wealth of information regarding Jewish life. If they don’t have what you are looking for, I can almost guarantee that they will know someone who does! There are several genealogical/historical societies that may be of help, including;
Federation of East European Family History Societies
Jewish Genealogical Society of New York
International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies
American Jewish Historical Society
Landsmannschaften (Societies of Fellow Immigrants)
When looking for a society, you should also look local. Many small town and counties have their own genealogical/historical societies. If you know where your ancestor lived, and especially if they lived in a predominantly Jewish area, it’s a good chance that they will have something to help you on your journey.