Archive for the ‘Beginning Genealogy’ Category

DSC05030 Genealogy Files by FamilyI always begin the topic of starting a family history with the importance of organization. Your very first step should be deciding where and how you are going to keep the material and the information you gather. Doing this should save you a great deal of time and trouble from the outset. Tracking down ancestors should be fascinating, not frustrating. You may have done a spectacular job researching a particular person, but if you can’t find your material again, your research is useless.  Also, there is never enough time to do everything we want accomplish. Time does not need to be wasted searching for needed material buried “somewhere around here.” It’s much more fun discovering new information or new connections.

Organization does not come naturally, at least not to me. I’m trying to keep you from repeating my mistakes. Your first task, before you write down anything, is to figure out how you want to organize the material you accumulate. There are a number of options. If you have never done this before, I have a suggestion. Start small.

Have at least four file folders on hand (though having a few extras may be a wise move). Each file folder represents a family. Not an individual, a family.  The first folder would be for material you collect on yourself (as an adult) and your own family.  If you are married, your spouse should be there. If you have children, they will be included. The next file should be for your parents and their children. This would include information about youself (as a child), your brothers and sisters (your siblings), and your parents.  The next two would be for your parents as children, one for your mother and her family. Another for your father and his family. Your goal will eventually be to list all members of each family, parents and children. Next you will include the birth and  marriage dates and places of each family member and the person each married. Then death dates and places as you go back a bit in time. Three generations is a good start. Once you have these down, then you can continue to research backwards, one family and one generation at a time.

DSC05031 Genealogy Files, labellingSetting up the folders. On a piece of paper write down your name and that of your spouse.  Next write the names of your parents. Next write the names of your four grandparents. Make sure you include women’s maiden names if you have them. If you know people further back, then you can include them on your list.  If you complete three generations of parents, you now have the beginning of an ancestral chart and line. Put one set of parents on each file folder tab.  To the left is an example of the file folder for one set of my great grandparents. It includes names and the years for birth and death of each.  I’ve also included places they lived which may expand with future research.  You start with names.  If you do the last names first in capital letters, they will be easier to find. Later, as you learn more information, you can include dates and places.  The dates help you place the family in time, especially as you include more generations. I would file these folders starting with most recent generation first.  As you get used to doing this, you may like this system or you may find a system that works better for you.

If you want to work on your spouse’s family, that will be twice the work and twice the time. You will need three more file folders.  You can either do your family and then work on those of your spouse or you can work one generation at a time straight across, especially as you get into later generations. Of course, if you can get your spouse involved, he or she can be working on that line while you do yours.  You’ll be working together, only on different branches.

Sample of a family group sheet.

Sample of a family group sheet.

You next start pulling together families. You may want some help or a prompt to get you started, especially if you’ve been staring at that blank sheet of paper for awhile. There is a specific form that will be of great help to you.  It is known as a family group sheet and will be the key to future research. This sheet is concerned only with one generation of each family.  With these you fill out not only the parents, but their children. Here is a link to a horizontal family group sheet which I like to use for file folders. Here is a link to a two page vertical family group sheet, which is good if you are using notebooks. Or you may just prefer one form over the other.  There is also an adaptation of the standard family group sheet.  It was created for the Irish Genealogy Toolkit, but can be used by anyone, Irish or not. There are two forms that can be printed out.  One asks “What do I know about my father’s family?” The other is “What do I know about my mother’s family?”  You may be surprised at what you do know and what you don’t. Don’t be surprised if you know only a fraction of the information. This is just a first step. You may be able to fill in names going back to your aunts and uncles, your parents siblings. Dates and places may be another story. Take the family group sheets and put them in the file folders you have created for the parents.

The file folders should work well in the beginning to get you started. It will also help get you thinking in a certain pattern and direction. You start at the beginning with yourself, NOT with some (probably wrong) distant ancestor. You learn to think in terms of families, not just individual ancestors. You use the family group sheet to discover the information you do not have.  What do you need to find out.

Eventually you will decide how you want to organize — with file folders, three ringed notebooks, on your computer with genealogy software, out on the Internet’s cloud, or a combination of several of these options. Like I said, there are a lot of choices. Don’t wait too long if you want to switch to computer software or Internet cloud genealogy programs.  You don’t want to have too much to transfer. The more you have the less likely the transfer will get done.

If you would like to know more about genealogy software or about organization, you might want to check out an earlier post that I’ve just updated: Beginning Your Family History: First and Most Important — Get Organized.  Besides suggesting several books, I have also included links to software evaluations and reviews.  There is a learning curve to working with any type of software.  I have been working with paper for years and have only just begun to work online.  I have software on my computer and am also poking around in Ancestry, MyHeritage, FamilySearch, and FindMyPast.  These last four would save my information on the Internet, aka “the cloud”. It takes time, but eventually some of these will provide me with an organized, online place for my research.

vea/30 September 2015/updated 24 October 2016
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

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Caution SignARCALIFE: Websites Can Disappear

I first became aware of ArcaLife when I was looking for a reliable online site that would save a person’s memories and family stories. I thought I had found just the site when I read the first chapter of Matthew and April Helm’s AARP Genealogy Online.  Their entire first chapter consisted of instructions on how to use ArcaLife to save memories online.  When I went to use it, I couldn’t find it. It had completely vanished.

I did some more research. ArcaLife was originally set up to help individuals and families save their memories, photographs, stories… It purpose was not only to create an online site to store this information, but also to make it possible to create personal archives that could be passed down to future generations.  This was an ambitious goal.  When I checked Internet Archives Wayback Machine, which takes snapshots of websites on random days, I found there were 55 saves between 3 October 2008 and 3 September 2012.  Part of the site was free and part required a subscription.  So far I have been unable to find out what happened to ArcaLife; what happened to Digital Estate Corporation, the company that owned it; and most importantly, what happened to all the stories, photos, and archives that were housed there.  The moral of this story is to always have a backup whenever you trust your family archives to anything online.  Write your stories, collect your photos, scan your papers onto your computer, save them on a flash/usb drive, print them out.  If something very bad happens to one, you will have backup.


Kerry Scott at ClueWagon recently did a post entitled “Want a Full Refund on Your NewspaperArchive.com Subscription?  Just Ask About Their Charity.” It has me very concerned.  She discovered that NewspaperArchive.com was automatically renewing subscriptions and they were doing it for only six months at the same price they had previously used for a full year.  She decided not to renew her subscription. She had told them not to automatically renew her when she first subscribed. She had used a credit card that expired during the summer so she wasn’t worried about them accidentally automatically renewing her subscription.  She also emailed them in a timely manner telling them she would not be renewing.  Sounds like due diligence to me.  Not to the company though.

This gets very involved. To explain everything that happened next would take as much space as her original posting. Since this happened to her,  I would strongly suggest that you read her original post in its entirety.  Just click on the title linked above.  She discovered some surprising information on what it is legal for companies to do with automatic renewals and to expired or temporary credit cards.

What you need to know and to do:

1. Keep track of your subscriptions:  How much they cost (to the penny) and when they run out.

2. Read the fine print when you sign up for any online subscription: What is their policy relating to automatic renewals, expired credit cards, temporary credit cards, and anything else that involves what come out of your wallet.

3. Look carefully at your signup pages. Make absolutely certain nothing else is checked off, including extraneous charities. (If that doesn’t get you to read Scott’s posting, nothing will.

4. If you subscribe to NewpaperArchive.com (not to be confused with other websites like Archive.com), and are having trouble unsubscribing or are having your deadline coming up, you must read this blog.

When you are dealing with subscription sites, be careful out there.

vea/8 May 2014
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy



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Surnames (Last Names) and Given Names (First and Middles Names)

Genealogy Books -- surnames --  closeup horizontalNames can present difficulties for two reasons:

1. The spelling of names was not standardized until relatively recently. Example: There are six surviving signatures written by William Shakespeare. Each one is spelled differently.

2. Transcribers. When you are using the search box of an online database like Ancestry or FamilySearch, there is always at least one person between you and the information you are seeking, the transcriber. This is the person who creates a printed name from an original handwritten record. It is easy to mistake individual letters. Try it sometime. Example: In colonial handwriting, the s can be written differently depending on where it appears. Another example is census records. Census takers were seldom, if ever, hired for their legible handwriting.

What do you do when you are having a problem finding an ancestor?

1. Find different spellings of the name. Check out surname societies online. Google your name of interest with the word “surname”. Surname societies may already have a list of various spellings (and misspellings) of the name.

2. Besides using a surname society, you can also ask friends how they would spell a name. You would be surprised at how many spellings you collect.

3. Keep a list. When you find a misspelling in a record, take note of it. Add it to your list.

4. You can use the Soundex system for a number of United States federal censuses.  Soundex was created in 1935 for use with the 1880 census in conjunction with the new Social Security system. It looks like federal employees had as much trouble reading the handwriting on census records as genealogists do.  Soundex takes vowels out of names and substitutes numbers for consonants. It pulls together names that sound alike and was created to help find people that the handwriting can make names difficult to pinpoint. It is far from foolproof, as are any of the subsequent systems developed to do the same thing. You can use it. But don’t rely on it. Find as many variants of a name as you can think of and then use them in your search box.

5. Use whole family reconstruction. This is especially true if you get too many hits with a common name. Add the names of parents, siblings, a spouse or children’s names if you have them, rather than just the name of the ancestor you are looking for. You can approach adding names in two ways.  You can add everyone at once and delete members until you get a hit. Or you can add family members one at a time until you find what you are looking for.  Remember, sometimes less is more.

6. Sometimes you can find a family using one member with an uncommon name.  Once you find it, you can see if the rest of the family matches up.  Example: One of my ancestors was named George Smith. Luckily he married a woman named Philomene who had a daughter also named Philomene. With other corroborating evidence, I had enough information to realize I had my grandmother’s family.

7. Remember, just because you have a very uncommon name, do not assume that only one person had that name in the time and location you are researching. It is possible that it is a family name passed down through different branches of a family.  That is why checking for other family members or corroborating evidence is so important.

8. You may have the right person, but the wrong location.  They may have moved and you will have to broaden your search.


Surname Research

Kennett,  Debbie. The Surnames Handbook:  A Guide to Family Name Research in the 21st Century. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: The History Press, 2012.  929.42 K39S

Various Aspects of Surname Research

 Clark, Gregory.  The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.  In Processing 17 March 2014.

Lieberson, Stanley.  A Matter of Taste: How Names, Fashions, and Culture ChangeNew Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000. 929.4 LIEBERSON

Redmonds, George.  Surnames and Genealogy: A New ApproachBoston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1997.  929.4 R24S

Redmonds, George, Turi King, and David Hey.  Surnames, DNA, and Family History. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.  929.1 R24S

Kaplin, Justin and Anne Bernays.  The Language of NamesNY: Simon and Schuster, 1997. 929.401 K14L

Jasper, Margaret C. How to Change your NameDobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana  Publications, 2005. 346.73 J31H    This is just a reminder that on very rare occasions, ancestors do change their names.  Usually when you can’t find someone, it is because they simply are not where you expect them to be or there has been a mistake in the transcription of a name.

Bockstruck, Lloyd DeWitt.  The Name is the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 2013.  On Order March 2014.

Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges.  Special Consultant for Jewish Names, David L. Gold. A Dictionary of Surnames. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. R 929.42 H19D 

Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges.  A Dictionary of First NamesOxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.  R 929.4 H19D

Surname Research for Various Locations


Dictionary of American Family Names. Edited by Patrick Hanks. 3 vols. Oxford; New York: Oxford Univeristy Press,  2003. 929.4 DICTIONARY

Encyclopedia of American Family Names. Compiled by H. Amanda Robb and Andrew Chesler.  NY: Harper Collins, 1995.  R 929.42 R53E

America: For a Specific Time and Place

 Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell. Curiosities of Puritan NomenclatureLondon, England: Chatto and Windus, 1880.  929.4 B23C

Directory of the Ancestral Heads of New England Families: 1620 – 1700.  Compiled by Frank R. Holmes.  Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1964.  R 929.1 H68D

A Surname Guide to Massachusetts Town Histories.  Compiled by Phyllis O. Longver. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1993.  MASS 929.374 L86S


Barber, Henry.  British Family Names: Their Origin and Meaning, with Lists of Scandinavian, Frisian, Anglo-Saxon, and Norman Names.  Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 1968. Reprinted from Second Enlarged Edition. London: E. Stock, 1903.  R 929.4 B23B

Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell. Curiosities of Puritan NomenclatureLondon, England: Chatto and Windus, 1880.  929.4 B23C                                                                                           

Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell.  A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames, with Special American InstancesNY: H. Frowde, 1901.  R929.4 BA

Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell.  English Surnames: Their Sources and SignificationsRutland, VT: C.E. Tuttle, 1968.  929.4 B23E 



 Asante, Molefi Kete. The Book of African Names. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1991. 929.44 ASANTE

Stewart, Julia.  1,001 African Names: First and Last Names from the African Continent.  NY: Carol Publishing, 1996.  929.408 S840


Chao, Sheau-yueh J.  In Search of Your Asian Roots: Genealogical Research on Chinese Surnames.  Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 2000. 929.107 C36I


 Jones, George Fenwick.  German-American Names.  Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 2006.  929.4 J71G


 Platt, Lyman De. Hispanic Surnames and Family History.Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 1996.  929.42 P69H


 MacLysaght, Edward.  Irish Families: Their Names, Arms, and Origins.  4th rev. ed. Dublin, Ireland: Irish Academic Press, 1985.  R 929.1 M22I

 Matheson, Robert Edwin, Sir. Special Report on Surnames in Ireland: [Together with] Varieties and Synonymes of Surnames and Christian Names in Ireland.  Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 2003.  929.4 M432S


 Fucilla, Joseph Guerin.  Our Italian SurnamesBaltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 1949, rpt. 1987.  R 929.4 F95O  Also circ.


Shea, Jonathan D., A.G.  Going Home: A Guide to Polish American Family History ResearchNew Britain, CT: Language and Lineage Press, 2008. Chapter 8. “Our Names in Europe and America.” pp. 311-343.


Beider, Alexander.  A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian EmpireTeaneck, NJ: Avotaynu, 1993.  R929.4 B39D

 Ganzhina, I.M. Slovarʹ Sovremennykh Russkikh Familiĭ.Moskva:  AST: Astrelʹ, 2001. RUS 929.9 S754S

 Gil, Pinkhas. Kratkii slovar’ evreiskikh Imen: Okolo 350 Imen. [A Dictionary of Contemporary Russian Surnames. In both Russian and Hebrew.] Jerusalim: 1985.  RUS 929.4 G37K

 Zima, Dmitrii. Taina imeni.  [Mystery of the Name]. Moskva: Ripol Klassik, 2002. RUS 929.4 Z35T


 Black, George Fraser.  The Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning, and HistoryNY: New York Public Library, 1946.  R 929.4 BL


 Platt, Lyman De. Hispanic Surnames and Family History. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 1996.  929.42 P69H


 Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell.  A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames, with Special American InstancesNY: H. Frowde, 1901.  R929.4 BA


 Guild of One Name Studies (Great Britain/now includes surnames worldwide)  http://www.one-name.org

 Federation of Family History Societies (Great Britain)  http://www.ffhs.org.uk

 Cyndi’s List [of Genealogy Sites on the Internet]  Surnames, Family Associations, and Family Newsletters    http://www.cyndislist.com/surnames

vea/26 March 2014
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

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DSC03523 Files, Notes, Folders, and Books

Collecting Family History: Files, Folders, Notes, and Books

After you have decided where you are going to put your information, you start collecting the material you are going to put into your files.   The basics of genealogy are who, where, and when for births, marriages, and as you go back in time, deaths. But that’s only the skeleton of your family. You can include other information as well, such as family stories. You begin by writing down what you know about yourself and then your siblings.  Next you go back to your parents and their siblings, then to your grandparents,  as far back as you can remember.  If you remember it, write it down.  There are three forms that might help you figure out what you know and what you don’t.  These are provided with links so you can print out what your need.  There are forms for individuals. for family groups, and for direct line ancestors.  Take a look.  You should find them useful.

Have you discovered that you have a number of gaps?  Dates and places you don’t know?  Names that you can’t remember?  Your next step is to collect information from your relatives.  Ask questions of your parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and their siblings if they are still alive.  If you are older, you can talk to cousins, nieces, and nephews.  Some may be younger, but they may still have family stories you never heard or photographs you have never seen.  Be prepared for all sorts of responses. You may encounter relatives who think you are wasting your time.  Others will be curious, though maybe a little skeptical.  And you may discover that there are others in your family with a genuine curiosity about their family history.  Some may have collected family stories and/or family photographs.  You may even find someone who is working on putting together a family tree or has in the past.

It is a good idea to take notes either during or as soon after talking to a relative as possible.  Always include your name, the name of the person you talked to, how you are related, the date and the place you talked.  Someday someone may pick up your research and they will need this information.  And twenty or thirty years down the line, your memory may need a gentle nudge as well.

Sometimes you may want to actually sit down and interview a relative.  You can take notes, but see if they are willing to be taped.  In future years it will be a gift to hear their voice.  Be prepared for “but I don’t have anything interesting to say.  I don’t remember all that much.  I haven’t done anything very interesting.”  Trust me.  In 99% of the cases they do, they will, and they have.  But what do you ask them?  How do you draw them out?  This does not come naturally to most people.  You might want to take a look at some of the books or websites I’ve listed below.  You can usually find them at your local library or through your library’s  Interlibrary Loan (ILL) service.  Even if you want to buy it, it’s a good idea to take a look at a book first.  Some books will work for you and others won’t. You may not save money.  But you’ll have a better working library.


Hart, Cynthia.  The Oral History Workshop: Collect and Celebrate the Life Stories of Your Family and FriendsNew York: Workman, 2009.  907.2 H25O   This work covers all the bases.  It helps you prepare for an oral interview, and makes suggestions about the things you do once the interview is over, including transcribing and editing it. The center, Chapter 3, is comprised of all sorts of questions you could ask.  (It helps to have those prepared in advance, in case you need all of them. A good interview is knowing when to just let your interviewee tell stories and when you need to guide the interview with questions.

Greene, Bob.  To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to ComeNew York: Doubleday, 1993.  929.1 G83T   Need more questions? That is what this book is —  a list of questions sorted by category.

Ralph, LeAnn R. Preserve Your Family History: A Step-by-Step Guide for Interviewing Family Members and Writing Oral Histories.  Colfax, WI: LeAnn Ralph, 2007.  929.1 R13P

Catching Stories: A Practical Guide to Oral Historyby Donna M. DeBlasio et al.  Athens, OH: Swallow Press, 2009.  907.2 C28D


Creating Oral Histories from FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Creating_Oral_Histories

Family History Sample Outline and Questions from UCLA’s Center for Oral History Research  http://oralhistory.library.ucla.edu/familyHistory.html

Oral History Association  http://www.oralhistory.org Make sure you check out the section list at the top under the logo, especially the drop down menu under Resources.

Oral Interviews from The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress  http://www.loc.gov/folklife/familyfolklife/oralhistory.html

Oral History Primer from the University Library at the University of California, Santa Cruz  http://library.ucsc.edu/reg-hist/oral-history-primer

vea/4 April 2014
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

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The annual New England Family History Conference will be held on Saturday, March 26th, 2011 at the Franklin LDS chapel at 91 Jordan Road, Franklin, MA.  Although I am not a member of the LDS (often referred to as Mormon) Church, I have been going to this conference for several years now. Everyone is welcome. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in genealogical research who lives within driving distance of Franklin.  Click here for the list of classes. Click here for an overview of the entire program. Each participant can sign up for four classes.  There is another bonus. The conference is free. It is an exciting selection and extremely difficult to choose. The only costs are a boxed lunch, if you choose to buy one, and the syllabus of the classes, if you would like a complete one printed up and given to you in your registration packet.  Both costs are minimal. It is a good idea to register as early as possible.  Classes can close up quickly. For more information click on the conference highlighted title in the first sentence above and Frequently Ask Questions here.

LDS has always been in the forefront of genealogical research.  It’s members are extremely generous with their time, helping everyone from beginners to the most experienced, LDS and non-LDS alike.  Their website is undergoing a major revision.  They have an ongoing indexing project that is huge, staffed entirely by volunteers. To check out their new site, click here.  To take full advantage of this new site, take a look at their instructions in pdf format here and their interactive online guide here.  If you like the old version and wish to use it again, click here.  When you read the pdf, you will discover that there is still a large amount of material that is only available  in the older version.  Explore, enjoy, learn, discover.

vea/24 January 2011
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com

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Newton Free Library 1992

An invitation is extended to you for  Tuesday, January 11th, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in Druker Auditorium (first doors on your left as you come into the library  from the parking lot.) . Cary Aufseeser, a member of the Board of the Jewish Genealogical Society, will  present an Introduction to Jewish Genealogy. Mr. Aufseeser began his own genealogical research in 2002 and has been able to trace some of his family lines back to the Middle Ages.

Points to be covered include:

* What’s Jewish about Jewish Genealogy
* How do you get started researching your roots
* Where do you find the records that give you information about your ancestors
* What are the most important online sites
* Where can you find resources to help you with your research in metro Boston

Everyone is  welcome.  No reservations are needed. No movie will be shown. There will be handouts. If you are (or want to become) involved in your own family search, you should take advantage of the opportunity offered by this program. Even if, like me, you have found no Jewish ancestors, I would still encourage you to come. I believe you will find much information here that will be extremely relevant to your own journey of discovery. 

The following evening, on Wednesday, January 12th, there will be a meeting of the Newton Genealogy Club from 7:00 to 9:00. It will be held in Meeting Room  A, which is in the group of rooms directly across from Druker Auditorium. The purpose of the club is to share information on records and approaches for starting or extending participants’ genealogical research. Novices and experienced researchers are both welcome. Participants are encouraged to bring questions from their own research for discussion. Come on in and get acquainted.

vea/5 January 2011
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com

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How to Trace Your Jewish Family History

Kurzweil, Arthur. From Generation to Generation: How to Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Family History. Foreword by Elie Wiesel. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2004  929.1 KURZWEIL

Mokotoff, Gary. Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy. Bergenfield, NJ: Avotaynu, 1999.  929.108 M72G

Sack, Sallyann Amdur. A Guide to Jewish Genealogical Research in Israel. rev. ed. Teaneck, NJ: Avotaynu, 1995.  929.108 SACK

Key Reference Book

Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy. Edited by Sallyann Amdur Sack and Gary Mokotoff.  Bergenfield, NJ: Avotaynu, 2004.  R 929.1 A96S

Immigration, Emigration

Joseph, Samuel. Jewish Immigration to the United States from 1881 to 1910. New York: Arno Press, 1969. 325.24 J77J

Auswandererhafen Hamburg: Emigration Port. Hamburg, Germany: Medien-Verlag Schubert, 2000.  943.515 EMIGRATION

Walker, Mack. Germany and the Emigration, 1816-1885. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, 1964.  325.243 W15G

What’s Available in Boston

Blatt, Warren. Resources for Jewish Genealogy in the Boston Area. Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston: Boston, 1996. R 929.108 BLATT (also circulating copy)

European Research by Place

Cohen, Chester G. Shtetl Finder: Jewish Communities in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries in the Pale of Settlement of Russia and Poland, and in Lithuania, Latvia, Galicia, and Bukovina, with Names of Residents. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1989.  929.1 COHEN

Mokotoff, Gary. Where Once We Walked: A Guide to the Jewish Communities Destroyed in the Holocaust. Teaneck, NJ: Avotaynu, 1991.  R 940.531 M72W
Key reference for finding Jewish place names in Europe.  Indexed by pronunciation.

Researching Family Names

Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges.  David L. Gold, special consultant for Jewish names.  A Dictionary of Surnames. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.  R 929.42 H19D
This reference work includes a large number of Jewish, Russian, and German names.  Especially useful is the index which includes variants, equivalents, derivatives and cognates. The introduction includes information on Jewish family names, surnames in the Soviet Union, surnames of Eastern Europe outside Russia, and surnames in German-speaking countries.

Languages (for Genealogists)

Shea, Jonathan.  Following the Paper Trail: A Multilingual Translation Guide. Teaneck, NJ: Avotaynu, 1994.  929  S53F
Languages covered include Czech, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Latin, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish and Swedish.

Shea, Jonathan. In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish. New Milford, CT: Language and Lineage, 2000. 929.107  SHEA  v.1

Shea, Jonathan.  In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide: Russian. New Milford, CT: Language and Lineage, 2003. 929.107  SHEA  v.2


Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston

JewishGen: The Official Home of Jewish Genealogy


Tracing the Tribe

7 December 2010 (updated) vea
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass.

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Taken by vea the Curious Genealogist on 2 November 2010 Be cautious about any item you are looking at that is transcribed, copied, or printed from an original.  This means there is at least one person (or more) between you and the original document.  The more people, the more chances for mistakes.

If you do not have access to the original document, one option is to find at least one more printed transcription of the same document.  Different printed sources may have had different people transcribing the original document.  Your second transcription may also just be a reprint of the first transcription, so this type of backup is not foolproof.  This is why source citations are so important in research, not just for the original document, but for the copied material.  Always check for footnotes and endnotes.

Some mistakes can be small in size, but large in consequences.   A transposed or miscopied date or letter can raise havoc with research, keeping you from finding a key record or piece of information. A few years ago I was checking for the name Etna in a census record in Heritage Quest.  Nothing came up.  Luckily, in this case I knew the name of another family member and was able to check through that. It turned out the record had been listed under the name Edna.  When I later checked Ancestry, they did have the name spelled correctly as Etna. At the time I checked, Heritage Quest and Ancestry were two different companies.  Different people were doing the transcribing.

Online sources can make research much easier when they provide both transcriptions and the original document, like Ancestry and Heritage Quest often do.  When you are using these sources, always check for an original.  I was recently following an Albany family from census to census.  Suddenly, in the 1910 federal census, the wife and daughter were no longer living with the husband. At their address was only the husband  and a Russian boarder.  When I checked the nearbys option that Ancestry offers, the wife and daughter were living several houses away.  This made no sense to me.  When I pulled up the original handwritten record, there it was as bold as brass.  The husband, wife, and daughter were all living together at the correct address, just as I suspected.  If I had not had the online copy of the original handwritten census form to consult and had gone only by the evidence in the transcription, I would have been working with very flawed information.

Even online sources that provide both the handwritten document and a transcription are not foolproof. Remember, when you are dealing with sources like Ancestry and Heritage Quest, you are always dealing with someone’s transcription of a name to get to that original record. This is why genealogical research requires skill, patience, and mule headed determination.  Luck always helps too.

Happy hunting.

vea/5 November 2010
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass.

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Census records have been collected and compiled by the federal government every ten years since 1790. Anyone can access these records for information on  individuals from this first census through 1930.  Any record less than seventy-two years old is not available due to privacy concerns.

Remember that records from different census years include different types of information.  Before 1840, only the names of the head of the household was listed.  The 1840 census added the names of veterans of the Revolutionary War.  Only with 1850 do you start getting the names of other members of the family.

Census records have become more easily accessible through computer databases such as Ancestry and Heritage Quest.  Because of this easy access, census records are often the first record searched by beginners.  There are several things to remember when you are looking through census returns.

First, your access to these records is only as good as the person who transcribed the name into the online index.  Remember that the indexer is reading off of original records and handwriting can be very difficult to decipher.  If you are not finding what you are expecting to locate, try any other spelling you can think of.  If you run out of ideas, pronounce the name to a friend and ask them to spell it.  You’ll be surprised at how many alternative spellings you come up with this way.

Secondly, I have never seen a census record in my own research that did not have at least one mistake in it.  Just because it is written on a census sheet does not mean it is accurate.  Anyone can be giving the census taker information,  a neighbor, children of parents who do not speak English, an inlaw living in the home.  People being surveyed could be speaking with accents that the census taker has difficulty understanding.  If it is the population of a large city being surveyed, each person taking the census is more likely to have a large number of people to question and is less likely to know the families involved.  The faster information needs to be gathered, the more inacurate it tends to be. Change that old phrase to “Do not trust and definitely verify.”

The Newton Free Library subscribes to the Ancestry.com database, as do many local libraries.   You can use Ancestry without cost in the library. To have access to it from home you must pay an individual subscription fee directly to Ancestry.

For more information on the census, you can check out Ancestry”s Learning Center. This is one section of Ancestry that can be accessed at no cost from your home computer.  Also the Tennessee GenWeb Resource Project has both interesting general articles on the U.S. Census and separate articles on each individual census and the different information that was collected for each.   Two books, Val Greenwoods’ The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy (pages 233 – 307) and the most recent edition of The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy (pages 157 – 218) are worth consulting as you begin to use census records for your research.  The more you know, the less mistakes you make.  The less mistakes you make, the less time you waste.

vea/14 September 2010
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com


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Taken by the Curious Genealogist 15 May 2010

To Newton City Hall and the City Clerk's Office

Vital records ( birth, marriage, and death records) are key to genealogical research. The collection of these records is usually the responsibility of cities and towns in the United States. In other words, they are best located locally. Copies are sent to the state on a time table determined by each state.  In Newton, the City Clerk’s Office holds these records.

Remember, when you want a copy of a vital record, it is usually less expensive to apply directly to the city or town responsible for the record you are seeking, rather than going through the state.  The first fee might not seem like very much, but it can get very expensive over time. Also, if the town is small enough, the people working with vital records may actually know  of the family you are  researching.This is much less likely to be the case at the state level.

To learn more about vital records in the state you are researching, look at Red Book: American State, County and Town Resources. To learn more about using vital records in your research, check pages 203 to 232 in Val Greenwood’s The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy or pages 603 to 649 in Ancestry’s The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy.  If you cannot find a specific vital record, The Source will also give you some ideas for alternative places to find the same information.

vea/9 September 2010
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com


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