The census can offer you an intimate look at your ancestors’ lives in ten year increments. Typically, researchers focus on getting to know specific ancestors through their birth records, death records, and marriage certificates. While these details are excellent for putting a boundary around a person’s lifespan, they don’t tell you as much about their day to day lives. In contrast, the census can tell you where your ancestors lived, what they did for work, whether they were veterans, and more. Here’s a closer look at what the census is, the kinds of information that it contains, and how to use it in your genealogical research project.
The History of the Census
Many governments have used a census to help count their citizens and learn more information about them, including demographics, economics, and health data. The United States implemented its first formal, national census in 1790. The objective was simple: to understand who lived in the newly formed nation and how best to organize the nation’s services. From there, a new Federal census has been conducted every ten years. While the information that’s been collected has changed somewhat, the census offers a fair number of insights. By Federal law, the census can’t be released for 72 years after it has been completed to protect respondent privacy. The most recent census details available are from 1940, which were released in 2012.
The Types of Census Information Researchers Gather
Individual event records, such as a birth certificate, marriage information, or wills are often the best information that researchers can access. But a census collects additional information about their lives including job status, whether they could read and write, and whether they owned their homes. The census also provides context by allowing you to see that information for all of the members of a family, to put trends into perspective.
In the 1930s, for example, the census was influenced by the Depression. Questionnaires began to ask about income levels and whether people were seeking work. It’s also possible to look at factors such as where respondents were born, where their parents were born, how long they were married and so forth. Often, you can garner dates and locations of birth or a general timeframe for marriage that makes it possible to find other supporting records that otherwise prove elusive.
Seeing the Trends in the Census
Using the census to track your family’s evolution in ten year increments can provide valuable insights. Did your ancestors put down roots in one area, or move around a lot? Did family units remain the same, with children moving out on a schedule that makes sense or did families live together in multi-generational homes? Can you see an ancestor’s wealth grow or career progress, or their fortunes take a downturn by following them through the census? In many cases, it’s possible to “check in” on each ancestor via the census between their birth and their death. One note, however: if your ancestor lived in 1890, with the exception of around 6000 records, you’ll be unable to view their entry. The records from that census were lost in a natural disaster, tragically.
Do you need assistance with a genealogical research project? Contact us today to learn more about how Price & Associates’ experienced team can help you find your relatives through the census and other records.
Genealogical records are the lifeblood of most research efforts. As researchers, we rely on everything from birth certificates to ship manifests to track down the life stories of the people that came before us. Thanks to the proliferation of technology and the growing interest in genealogical digitization, a large number of collections and records are available with a search and a click. But in many cases, not everything is available online. Small towns, older records, and remote locations haven’t come online yet. If you’re trying to track down a record that falls into a non-digitized category, what steps should you take to track them down?
Prepare your information before you reach out
The more specific the information that you can provide, the better chance you have of finding the records that you seek. If you know from other sources that you’re looking for the birth certificate of a “Robert Jones Smith, born in Boston on May 7th, 1850 to Robert Sr. and Mary (formerly Jones)” you’re much more likely to track down the record. That’s, of course, the ideal scenario. In other cases, you may not have all the information at the ready. But the more details you have regarding names, dates, locations, other families, occupation and religion, the more effective you’ll be.
Determine where the records are held
Your next step is going to be determining where the records are held. It’s hard to give a list of resources on this topic, as it varies widely by record type, region, country, time period, and more. However, start your search in the following way. If you know that there are national level records, investigate the archives and available indexes to see what’s held at that level. Then work your way down to the state, province or equivalent level. Next, try the county level. Many records, especially land and probate records, are kept on the county level. Finally, determine if the records would have been kept locally.
It’s also helpful to differentiate if you’re looking for records that would typically be recorded by the state or by the local church. Remember that local records may have been moved if towns consolidated or parishes merged. But this gives you a framework to understand how records are organized, and a starting point to plan your outreach to see what’s available.
Send your request in writing if at all possible
At a recent genealogy conference, an accomplished professional gave excellent advice to an eager attendee. Her recommendation was to send her request for assistance and records in writing, either by email or by post. When the younger woman pressed and said that using the phone would be faster, the genealogist shared an experience tracking down some records in Wales. They were held at the local church. The church had no staff except a clergyman who ministered to several congregations in the area. He was happy to help, but needed to prioritize accordingly.
Send a brief but clear note that explains who you are, what you’re looking for, whatever background information you have, and a straightforward explanation of the end result that you’re hoping for (e.g. a photocopy or scan of an original birth certificate, for example). Provide contact information (phone and email is best, where possible) for follow up questions and of course, offer to pay any fees associated with the transaction. Finally, take a moment for a kind word, to offer your thanks and explain what this means to you or your family. Appealing to the person at the other end of the line is always a great idea.
Work with a local researcher
If you’re seeking records that are physically archived at another location, one of the best steps you can take is to work with a local professional researcher. In many cases, obtaining the records in question is much faster or only possible if you visit the town hall, archive, or library in person. A local genealogist will charge an hourly rate or a flat fee to physically go to that location and make a copy of the record that you’re looking for. It’s important when you’re hiring an overseas genealogist to select a reputable person. One of the easiest ways to do this is to partner with a firm in the US that maintains a global network of expert researchers to use selectively on projects as needed.
Just because the records you’re seeking are not available online shouldn’t dissuade you from going after them. Follow the process outlined above, and allow adequate time for research, correspondence, and follow up. If you need help with a genealogical research project, contact us today to learn more about how our team of experienced researchers can help you locate even the hardest to find genealogical records.
A family history presentation is a great way to share what you’ve learned. If you come from a large family, chances are that your aunts, uncles, cousins, and even your own descendants are spread out across the state or country. Once, it was easy to get everyone together for Sunday dinner and share the latest news. Today, we rely on Facebook and infrequent emails to keep us connected and reinforce those family bonds. But if you’re interested in genealogy, you may be considering a family reunion. Not only will you get to see long lost relatives and receive updates on cousins you lost track of, but this could be the perfect venue to share your passion for genealogy and ignite the interest of other relatives and younger generations.
How common are family reunions?
You may be wondering if it’s even a good idea to propose a family reunion. After all, if you don’t have a standing tradition of doing so, it’s going to take a lot of communication and preparation to do so. Still, the statistics suggest that reunions are popular and possible to pull together with some planning. According to the organization Group Travel, most family reunions occur in the summer. It’s usually best to give yourself between 12 and 18 months lead time to get on everyone’s schedule and allow for event planning and travel logistics. Most events are big success. 57% of those surveyed had between 50 and 149 attendees. If you’ve decided to go ahead with planning a reunion, here are some fun ideas to incorporate genealogy as a central theme of the get-together.
Ways to introduce genealogy into the program
It’s important to make genealogy just one aspect of a bigger agenda. Family reunions are about creating ties between living members, after all. However, there is probably no better venue for getting together a group of people interested in their ancestry. The key is to avoid long, dry presentations. Instead, focus on the most interesting parts and break up individual subjects that will allow guest to self-select their participation.
Consider a short presentation and a Q&A:
Consider giving a highlights presentation that offers insights into high-level topics that everyone is likely to find interesting. What countries did your ancestors come from? When did they arrive in the United States, and what general paths have they taken across the country? Do you have any notable connections or famous ancestors? Were there any fascinating people in your lineage or funny stories that you could share? Illustrate your presentation with a simple PowerPoint presentation that features photos, maps, and copies of documents for more visually-oriented guests.
Set up an info table:
Consider manning an information table for people that want to learn more. Bring copies of core documents and photographs. Don’t bring originals or your only copies, in case they get lost or someone wanders away with them. You can focus your conversations on the topics that interest your relatives, talk about the research process, and use it as command central to talk with family members you have questions for. Display items such as family antiques, historical wedding dresses, or portraits of ancestors to draw people in.
Create a giveaway:
Often, family reunions involve some kind of take home gift that could include a jar of Grandma’s signature preserves or a simple T-shirt that boasts surnames. Consider adding some sort of genealogy-themed item. This could include a small collection of photograph copies of ancestors printed into postcards or a short narrative that you’ve written up to accompany your presentation. Don’t forget to add any requests that you might have, such as information on specific ancestors or offering to act as a repository for your family’s historical photos.
Fun activities for kids:
Another tip is to offer stations with age appropriate activities for kids. For example, you might have a coloring station where kids can make paper dolls from specific eras and tell little stories that relate to your family history. Another idea is to ask a crafty family member to make some simple costumes from different countries or time periods, and invite kids to put on a play. Make genealogy fun as a gateway to exploration and discussion.
Are you considering a family history presentation at your next reunion? A professional genealogist can help you prepare or even give the presentation. Contact us at Price & Associates today to arrange for a personalized consultation and discuss how we can help make your get together memorable with a family history presentation.
Finding detailed information about specific ancestors is one of the most challenging aspects of genealogical research. When you’re dealing with recent generations of ancestors, one of the most illuminating records that you can access is an obituary. Obituaries are often written by loved ones, or by professional journalists after interviewing the deceased’s family or friends. These documents may contain numerous details that streamlines your research, as well as anecdotes that bring an ancestor’s personality to life. Here’s a closer look at how researchers use obituaries in the genealogical research process, and a list of resources to help you track them down.
Why obituaries are helpful
Obituaries are typically published in newspapers after the death of an individual. Obituaries contain information such as full name, birth date, death date, locations, and the names of surviving family members. It may also contain additional details like place of birth, immigration status, military service, fraternal organization affiliations, and much more. It’s a genealogist’s dream to access these data points in one consolidated form, often related by the deceased’s closest kin or friends. Obituaries can help you focus in on your future research, developing hypotheses on specific areas for further inquiry.
A note of caution
It’s important to fact-check what you read in obituaries. Bereaved families may be relying on family lore, spotty records, and other unreliable sources when pulling together information. Details can become confused during the painful period following the death of a loved one. When relatives passed on who lived in times or locations without good record keeping, in many cases exact dates of birth were unknown. In other cases, the specificity of details might be unclear. For example, an obituary might report that an ancestor was born in London, England, but in truth they were born in one of the hundreds of villages in the immediate vicinity.
Sometimes, family legends may obscure someone’s true origins such as focusing on a Native American ancestry claim that’s unsubstantiated. Obituaries can be helpful documents. But it’s important to remember that these are not primary records. Instead, they rely on fallible human memory. Your research will benefit if you treat obituaries as a reference, and then work to verify each data point in the document.
Strategies for tracking down obituaries
Finding obituaries isn’t always easy. It depends upon where and when your ancestor died, as well as their status, profession, and even religious affiliations in their community. What follows are some helpful resources to begin your search.
ProQuest Historical Newspapers Database: The ProQuest database has digitized the archives of large newspapers such as The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, and papers of similar caliber. Your local or state library may offer access to this database. You’ll have the best luck if your ancestors lived in an urban area and were affluent or prominent in some way, as these newspapers typically charged a fee to run death notices.
Chronicling America: Chronicling America is a project of the National Endowment of the Humanities and the Library of Congress to digitize more than 7 million small-town American newspapers. Editions of newspapers are constantly being added. The U.S. Newspaper Directory is particularly helpful.
Ethnic NewsWatch: Ethnic newspapers may have obituaries for specific community members not featured in general publications. If your ancestor died after 1990, Ethnic NewsWatch offers a searchable database. Ethnic Newswatch: History covers from 1958 – 1989. Access to these databases may be available at your local library or through your state library system.
Individual newspaper databases: In some cases, newspapers and publications have chosen to digitize their own collections. For example, the Times of London has made their archives from 1785 – 2008 available online. Check to see if area newspapers have handled their own digitization efforts.
Subscription sites: Many subscription products offer access to collections of obituaries. One of the most extensive is GenealogyBank, which offers “modern” obituaries from the 1970s and historic American ones dating from the 1690s. Ancestry.com and similar programs also have access to these documents.
Other resources: If your online searches are turning up dry in specialized databases, there are a few more directions that you can take. One is to search the Google News Archive, which digitized a large number of newspapers before abandoning the project. Another is to search state and county Death Indexes and obituary indexes. Finally, consider visiting the local library or town hall where your ancestor resided. Their obituary may be available on microfiche or through a locally searchable database.
Do you need assistance finding obituaries or other death records in your genealogical research? Contact us today at Price & Associates to arrange for a personalized consultation to discuss your project and how our experienced team of genealogists can help.
The introduction of DNA services has opened up a whole new line of research and inquiry for genealogists. It’s also opened a can of worms for many researchers that are struggling to answer questions from family members when they’re discussing results or requesting a DNA sample. Frequent questions include: What do you mean you found a new cousin online? Why do I have to give a sample if we’re already related? (Hint: it’s because of gender and DNA). What do you do if you get surprise information from a test? Here’s a closer look at how to handle delicate questions about DNA testing and family research.
What is family DNA testing?
Many people in your family may be unfamiliar with how much information is looked at during the family history DNA process. While it varies by company, few on the market actually provide health information. In some cases, people object to their DNA being captured simply because they don’t want to know sensitive health information such as whether they’re at risk for dementia or cancer. Assure your relative that genealogical DNA doesn’t map individual DNA at that level. Instead, they’re looking for the markers that give clues to ethnicity and relationships. But no personal health information needs to be revealed.
Why does gender matter?
Another point of confusion for many people on genealogical DNA testing is why more than one person in a family might need to be tested. Consider the case of a brother and sister who share the same mother and father. On the surface, you’d expect the information revealed to be largely similar. This includes any data about existing relatives already in those database or ethnicities, for example. However, many people don’t realize that we carry DNA from both our mothers and our fathers; depending on our gender, this information is revealed differently in DNA tests. Testing women or men will reveal information about the mother’s DNA. But only through testing the male line will you be able to get specific information about your paternal DNA. That’s why families often invest in having a member of both genders tested.
How closely are we related to specific people online?
Many services provide the opportunity to let people being tested opt in their global database. If you do, you’ll be able to see if there’s anyone else related to you in the database. Other users could also theoretically find you. It’s often possible to opt in anonymously or to create a detailed profile with information such as your name, location, age, and details of your family’s heritage. Individual researchers and their families can make decisions about how much information to reveal, whether to contact relatives in the database, and how to respond to inquiries initiated by other users.
What approach will we take to sensitive information?
In some cases, families uncover unexpected information as a result of DNA tests. For example, a cherished family story about a Native American ancestor is challenged by a lack of DNA evidence. Or perhaps your tests revealed an ethnicity not known to be in the family mix. It’s important to remember that the technology is evolving, and each set of results is open to questions. Surprises in the family history can often be a delight, and with a bit of research you can learn the story behind these mystery connections.
Are you considering options for including DNA research into your genealogical process, and want to discuss your choice with a professional? Contact Price & Associates today to discuss your research plans and what services might be the right solution for your needs.