Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Online Hint : Mocavo Genealogy Search Engine

Reading the November 2011 of Family Tree Magazine (yes, it really is a November issue already), reminded me of a relatively new internet search engine designed for genealogists, Mocavo.  I had heard of it before, but had not taken any serious time to check it out. 

When you first visit the Mocavo home page, you are greeted with a portal which says "Research (# here) Ancestors For Free."  At the time of this writing that number was just shy of 5 billion and you can watch the number increase in real time. 

As with most sites that allow us to plug in names, options include a simple search and an Advanced Search.  The Advanced Search is your best bet if you have a more common name, giving options for last name, first name, year born, year deceased, and a keyword entry.  Don't automatically go to the Advanced Search page for most of your names.  Take the simple search out for a spin first to make sure you don't unintentionally weed out useful search results by using too many search terms.  Always start with less and add more a little at a time.  Searching with quotations is useful, such as "John Robinson" insuring that your search names will appear together on the page, and it will locate hits with middle names or initials even if you don't use them in your search.

When you review your hit list you are also given search tips in the column to the left.  You will want to take the time to read and become familiar with these to assist in narrowing your search parameters.  The article in the magazine made mention of a tip - if you wish to search only one website, enter that address along with the name in the simple search or in the keyword portion of the Advanced Search.

Search results are arranged list style, 10 per page, similar to Google and other search engines and includes hits from some of the major family history sites such as:

You are likely to get many hits listed separately from the same site, however clicking on any link in the hit list will take you directly to the location of the information entered into the search box.  This is unlike Google, which sometimes gives you a result in your hit list that you are unable to get to at all or that you must perform new searches once you get to the webpage in order to find what you were seeking.

The down side?  You will encounter broken links as with any search engine.  With, apparently some of the content had been removed from the website.  My hit list led to items that were indexed from the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, but they were no longer there.  Obviously absent from the hits was Google Books and Family Search, but did include many personal & obscure websites.

So, if you are a regular visitor to the above websites and are looking for a quicker way to search many at once, Mocavo will be a useful tool to add to your genealogy checklist.  If you would like to read the article, this and other issues of Family Tree Magazine are available to check out from the Local History Department.

Nameless Picture of the Day
Mystery Solved!
In our August 26 posting, we had a photograph of a home in Breedsville with an unidentified couple standing in the yard (catalog #M1786).  Van Buren County GenWeb master, Joan Jaco, has identified the couple as Edwin Ruthvan Ferguson and his wife Helen Cramer Ferguson.  The house was located on North Pine Street (CR 215), a block north of the main intersection of town.  Joan is a distant relative of the couple and has more information for those who are interested.  Thank you, Joan, for clearing up this mystery.

Nameless Picture of the Day

 unknown boy & girl in buggy
Photographer - Northrup, Bangor; cabinet card

Can you identify the children in this photo?  Do you recognize the buildings or know their location?  Please contact us if you have any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the five character catalog number with your e-mail. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

New on the Shelf : Crash Course in Genealogy

A new arrival to the field of genealogical "how to" publications is Crash Course in Genealogy, by David R. Dowell.

This book is good news to the countless librarians, archivists, and volunteers who assist visiting family historians, but don't necessarily have a background or experience in genealogy themselves.  

As the title suggests and the introduction reads, "This book is intended to be a basic training course for library workers who need to absorb an overview of genealogy very quickly in order to help family history researchers who visit the libraries where they are employed.  It will also be useful to individuals interested in researching their own families."

Most librarians are well-trained in assisting the public, but few are prepared for the wide range of questions unique to the study of family trees.  There have been some doozies in the Local History department, such as:

  • Please tell me where the house in which my great-great-grandfather lived in around 1860 is so that I may visit it this evening on my way back to [insert place here].  
  • I want to obtain the birth certificate for my ancestor who was born between 1840 & 1860.
  • I've come to collect the records of my family who were descended from some Indian tribe around here.
  • We've recently moved here and would like the history of our house.
  • Tell me where I can find all of the records in your collection online.
  • Here are my family names [presenting a single-page hand-written notebook sheet].  I would like my family history.
My favorite is from a cartoon that I saw years ago that showed a man coming up to the reference desk at the National Archives and saying, "Here is a list of my family names.  I will be back in a couple of hours to pick up my family history."

Obviously, the questions posed here are not easy answers.  Librarians find themselves not just able to point the patron in the direction of a book or microfilm, but having to briefly explain research practices to give the patron a basic understanding of where to continue their search online and off.  It also takes skill and patience to clarify their facility's limitations in terms of holdings & staff time, and that not all questions have immediate or even eventual answers.  And, we must continually familiarize ourselves with online resources, new publications, and research repositories for purposes of referral.

Crash Course is a quick read, 220 pages, and covers some useful topics such as DNA, Colonial Research, African & Native American research, research outside the U.S., and includes an appendix with a glossary of common genealogical terms and charts.  All-in-all a good read for those who assist and for those who research.

Nameless Picture of the Day
unnamed couple, standing in front of home in Breedsville
postcard postmarked 1909

Can you identify the couple in this photo?  Do you recognize the house and know its location?  Please contact us if you have any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the five character catalog number with your e-mail. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Online Hint : Self Publishing Online Utilities

In an age where self-publishing has become easy and relatively inexpensive, more and more people are choosing to take their family history to what I call the "final level."

The most recent donation to the Local History Collection of just such a works is The Merritt Families : the story of two sisters, Ida & Kate Merritt as told through family photographs, histories, letters and a diary, with a companion volume entitled Transcriptions of Postcards, Diary & Letters Appearing in The Merritt Families, both compiled & edited by Randa Randall Korson and Sandy Lucas.  Associated families are Lucas, Shepard, McMillan, Tabor, Sibert, Bowles with connections to the Southwest Michigan communities of Bangor, Decatur, Eau Claire, Kalamazoo & Keeler.  The set was a gift of compiler, Randa Korson.

The first volume is a beautiful hardcover with color dust-jacket and is 236 pages.  The second is a smaller paperback of 166 pages.  In the first, images of original letters, diaries, postcards, family pages (resembling bible records) and photographs with brief biographical sketches are shown in color on glossy pages.  Each page is nicely laid out with framing.  Overall a beautiful coffee table style book, with only one flaw - no index.  The second volume is simply a transcription of those diaries & letters whose images appear in volume 1 - also no index.

Publishing can be in a variety of formats, but admittedly a book that can be held in my hands is still my favorite.  Now there is a new way to more easily print your book using online publishing tools.  The Merritt Families was compiled by and published from with a limited printing of only four copies.  This site is one of several with tools that enable you to create your own book by uploading images, designing your own layout, and selecting the style & quantity of your choice, all for as little as $2.75 per book.   One of the beauties of this method of publishing is the ability to print-on-demand. 

If you are interested in learning more about self-publishing using online design & printing tools, simply enter "make your own book" or something similar into Google or your favorite search engine and several cites will appear.  Do your comparative shopping by checking out more than one cite, and remember to include an index in the final product!

Nameless Picture of the Day

 unknown man, labeled only as "bridegroom"
Photographer - J. I. Huff, Decatur

Can you identify the young man in this photo?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the five character catalog number with your e-mail.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

World Vital Records Online Subscription Access

Thanks to an anonymous donation to the Local History department, another online genealogy giant is now available to our patrons.  Already available at any of our seven library locations is Ancestry Library Edition (ALE).  In addition, American Ancestors (formerly New England Ancestors) is available to patrons who use the Local History Collection in Decatur.

Now we add to the list World Vital Records (WVR), another player in the online community of genealogical subscription databases.  WVR has been around for quite a while, but it hasn't been until recently that they have improved their selection of databases to the point where they are competitive with other subscription sites. 

WVR does have a tendency to regurgitate content from other websites, some that are already free access.  The biggest examples of this are Google Books and Find-A-Grave.  They also include in their selections the WWII Enlistment Records which are already available on and for free on the NARA website.  Even though WVR does draw some of their search results from free outside resources, they do so efficiently and neatly, allowing you to search many sites at once and the hit list arrangement is pleasing.

There are quite a few things that appear to be unique to WVR, not least of which is the many newspapers they have available, fully searchable.  This is done through a partnership with  WVR also has the images of the Everton Pedigree Charts & Family Groups Sheets collection, something that was sponsored by the Everton Brothers (publishers of the Genealogical Helper) a couple of decades ago.  Back in the days when I was using the Roots III software to organization my genealogy (1994), I printed out a stack of family group sheets and sent them into Everton Brothers.  I never heard anything more about them and never knew where they went, but now see images of them on the WVR site.

The main search page is very similar to others of its kind, allowing for name variations using wildcards, and the narrowing of a search by location and time period.  Some of the database categories that you can expect to find on WVR include: 

  1. Newspapers & Periodicals (from in & out of the U.S.)
  2. Vital Records
  3. Yearbooks
  4. Military 
  5. Census & Voter Lists
  6. Local & General History
  7. Family History & Biography
  8. Family Trees
  9. Land & Property Records
  10. Court & Probate Records
  11. Directories
  12. Government Records
  13. Historical Maps & Gazetteers
  14. Church Records
I have also noticed that the term "World" in WVR is legitimate as there is significant content from other countries in most of the categories. As I touched upon in my previous blog about free content on subscription websites, WVR has quite a few things that may be viewed for free.  Searching is always free, but you don't always get to see the results without a subscription.  Sometimes searching alone can be very helpful.

All-in-all, WVR is worth a peek for some of those illusive ancestors.   For more information about how to access World Vital Records through the Van Buren District Library, contact us.

Nameless Picture of the Day

 Unnamed Civil War soldier
picture part of the Renbarger family estate,
founders of Galien, Michigan
Can you identify the soldier in this photo?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the five character catalog number with your e-mail.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Upcoming Event : From Stone to the Internet, August 22

The Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society will be pleased to present "Preserving Our Heritage From Stone to the Internet," Monday, August 22, 7 p.m. at the Webster Memorial Library, Decatur.

The lecture, given by avid historians and preservationists, Peter & Anita Rodgers, will discuss family history research focused on tombstones.  Special emphasis will be given to stone cleaning techniques, taking quality tombstone photographs, and placing your findings online for preservation and sharing.

Tombstone Photo Collage by Anita Rodgers
It has been suggested that you are not a "real genealogist" unless you've visited an ancestral graveyard.  Mr. and Mrs. Rodgers will be discussing all of the tools you need to take your cemetery trek, including methods for locating burial sites and obituaries.  There will be a Q & A period at the end of the presentation.

Before the 7 p.m. program will be a Family History Essentials mini-class at 6:00 entitled "What I Learned at Ancestry Day," presented by yours truly.  I will be discussing many of the points made in my previous posts "Things Learned at Ancestry Day," will elaborate on several, and provide copies of some of the handouts that were distributed by during the event.

The public is invited to attend, membership is not required.  For more information contact the society.  

A special bonus for the evening...the library will be giving away several decades of bound volumes of the Genealogical Helper magazine.  The Helper is no longer in publication but was a pioneer genealogical magazine.  Many of the articles regarding general & ethnic research methodology still apply today - a good addition to your reference shelf.

Nameless Picture of the Day
unknown woman, cabinet card
photographer - W. H. Blair, Martin, Michgian  

Can you identify the young woman in this photo?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the five character catalog number with your e-mail. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Things Learned at Ancestry Day, July 23 (Part II)

Continued from the August 8th post: 

10.  In light of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, there was discussion regarding available online resources.  During the "How to Find Your Civil War Roots at," it was suggested that researchers should create a check-list or spreadsheet, listing all possible Civil War ancestors (anyone born between (1816 & 1846), and include factors such as:  residence in 1860 & 1870, birth, birth years of children, etc.   Using this kind of checklist makes searching orderly and more thorough.  In fact, this is a good approach to use for any target group within your genealogy research.

11.  To conduct your Civil War search on, utilize the site's filters to select only Civil War-related databases and start plugging in names (remember to use those wild cards and alternate spellings).  Always remember that computers can be very literal, so browsing through images can be a good idea if you aren't getting results using indexes.

In addition to the five main sessions, I also had the privilege to attend the Librarian's luncheon sponsored by Ancestry which included the latest information regarding Ancestry Library Edition (ALE), a subscription that libraries may purchase to make Ancestry databases available to their patrons inside the library.  Items regarding ALE:

    1.  Patrons may now submit suggested "corrections" to databases, such as the misspelling of a name
    2. ALE includes the World Deluxe databases, the large family tree network created before the Public Member Trees
    3. ALE has recently undergone some changes on the search page, designed to improve search capabilities
    4. Ancestry is introducing another collaborative tool entitled Content Publisher Program.  Similar in nature to the Family Search indexing project and in its beta stages, this will allow individuals or organizations to upload indexes or images of records to the Ancestry community of databases, enable real-time indexing, thus providing a forum for online genealogical data using Ancestry's monstrous online environment.  Stay tuned on this one...
The Van Buren District Library offers Ancestry Library Edition at each of its locations in Bangor, Bloomingdale, Covert, Decatur, Gobles, Lawrence & Mattawan.   For more information about how to access ALE contact us.
    Obviously, these are just a few of the things learned at Ancestry Day.  There was also a syllabus, several handouts, and the opportunity to speak with representatives of and with fellow family historians.  I was a little disappointed in the final session of the day, the "Ask-the-Experts" panel.  All in attendance were invited to submit a written question in advance and there were also questions taken from the floor.  The panel was very knowledgeable, but seven out of eight members were personnel, and nearly all of the questions dealt with Ancestry & Family Tree Maker software.  Written questions on other subjects were not used, but we were told that answers to some of these may appear on the ACPL genealogy blog later on.

    Nameless Picture of the Day
    Baseball Players, Hartford, 1894 

    Can you identify the young men in this photo?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the five character catalog number with your e-mail.

    Monday, August 8, 2011

    Things Learned at Ancestry Day, July 23 (Part I)

    A day (or days) spent in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for genealogy never disappoints and my two-day visit, July 22-23, was no exception.  The highlight of the trip was the day-long "Ancestry Day" held at the Grand Wayne Center on the 23rd, sponsored by the Allen County Public Library.

    In each of the five scheduled sessions of the day, we (me & almost 900 hundred other eager genealogists) were met with enthusiastic speakers, timely topics and new gems of information helpful to anyone doing genealogy online and specifically  Even those more seasoned researchers among us picked up some new things.  Some of these were:

      1. Using wildcards for searching on has been available since the site was born, but until now an asterisk (*) could only be used after three letters.  Recently, they added the ability to place an asterisk or question mark (?) as the first letter, but you still need to have at least an additional three characters.  This is exciting for those whose Gage ancestors were transcribed at Page, allowing a search to look like this:    ?age
      2. The National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) will be releasing images of the 1940 census first on their website, without indexes but browsable.  Ancestry and other companies will immediately begin creating indexes to be released on their respective sites at a later time.
      3. For those who post their family trees on Ancestry in the Public Trees area, that information will always be accessible to them, even if they later drop their subscription.
      4. Try using the Catalog search under the Search tab to locate a specific database or group of databases.  This is especially useful if you are searching for a common name such as Johnson or Jones, allowing you to filter your results to only that database.  This also allows you to target your searches to that specific database.  Remember to read the complete description of any database you use, learning its scope, limitations, and most importantly, the source of information.
      5. Another option in online family history collaboration,   "WeRelate is different from most family tree websites. We take a shared approach to genealogy. By contributing to WeRelate you are helping to build a united family tree containing the best information from all contributors."  I haven't played with this one yet, but at first look it appears to be a genealogical wikipedia.
      6. For those with rare or unusual family history manuscripts or books in their personal collection, consider an exciting possibility from the Allen County Public Library.  They will duplicate the item and have bound a copy for their collection and provide you with an additional bound copy.  The Van Buren District Library has used this service many times and it is definitely a win-win situation, allowing for the duplication of materials at no cost to the owner, and making more publications available to the genealogical public thus preserving it.  Contact the ACPL for more details.
      7. When working with passenger lists, remember that many were created at the port of departure.
      8. Family Tree Maker version 11 is to be released very shortly.
      9. Have you ever noticed while researching at the ACPL that many of the older more rare books are photocopied?  This was the result of an agreement struck between the ACPL and the Newberry Library in Chicago whereby about 35,000 volumes in the Newberry collection were duplicated using the process described in #6 on this list.  A win-win - ACPL received a copy of an otherwise rare or out-of-print book, and the Newberry received a bound copy to place on their shelves, and in turn the originals were able to be taken off the shelves and preserved.
    To be continued...
      Nameless Picture of the Day
      Group of four young men, one identified possibly as
      Will Spaulding
      Original housed at the Van Buren County Historical Society

      Can you identify the young men in this photo?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the five character catalog number with your e-mail. 

      Thursday, August 4, 2011

      Research Tip : Always Look at the Original Census Image

      This topic sounds pretty "beginnerish", but I think you more experienced genealogists will be surprised how much this applies to your past and present research.  The focus of this blog is census images because I personally made one of those researcher "blunders" where I didn't follow through from transcription to image which ultimately cost me years in the research process.

      Case in Point - In the 1980's and most of the 1990's, I traveled at least on a quarterly basis to the genealogical libraries in Fort Wayne and Lansing.  Preparation for such trips usually entailed making lists of certain books and resources to be consulted.  At the top of the list was always federal census, learning early on that census is #1 in the list of sources that should be checked for any U.S. families.  Of course, in those days census images were not on the internet, so I developed a strong right forearm cranking the microfilm. 

      The key then, as it is still now, is in the indexes.  There were books of indexes available for most federal census states up through 1870, but beyond that point things got tougher and we had to rely on the Soundex.  Remember the Soundex?  This was a card index created under the Works Projects Administration (WPA).  This was done for 1880, 1900, 1910 (in 1910 it was referred to as the Miracode), and 1920.  However, 1880 was not completely indexed, including only those households with children age 10 and under.

      The Soundex card typically included the surname, first name, age, birthplace, and relationship to the head of household for each person, along with the geographic location (see example).  Also included is the Enumeration District & Sheet Number, corresponding to the original census.

      In my search for information regarding my Ranney ancestry, I searched for the Franklin Goodrich family (wife Jennie Ranney).  Because this family bounced back and forth between Southwest Michigan and New York state, I had to cast a pretty wide net, but found them in Clyde Township, Allegan County, Michigan.  I proceeded to hand-transcribe the information from the Soundex card. 

      Thinking that I had harvested all of the useful information from this census for this family, I stopped there.  For years after that I continued the search for clues to the parentage of Jennie (Ranney) Goodrich with no success.

      Now I know that I should have right then and there gone the next step to the actual census where I would have learned the following additional information:
      1. Gender and race of everyone in the household (only the head of household's information was on the Soundex card)
      2. Occupations
      3. Marital status
      4. Number of months of employment
      5. Whether attended school
      6. Birthplaces of mother & father
      7. Literacy
      8. Select handicaps such as blindness, crippled, deaf & dumb (which incidentally these things can lead to the special DDD (Defective, Dependent & Delinquent) schedules)
      The most important thing that I missed was placing the family in context with surrounding households.  In this case, this was huge, because guess who was right next door? - Jennie sister's family and her parents!

      You might ask why I bring this topic up now that we are immersed in the internet age.  The concept of looking at the original image still applies today.   Too many times while library patrons are using the federal census databases, they enter a name, locate a likely person, view the record transcript page and stop there, never looking at the original image.  The transcript page provides only names and ages for members of the household, not even providing relationships to the subject of the search as the Soundex had - not to mention all of the other things not shown as outlined above.

      Seasoned family historians have learned through sometimes costly mistakes to always follow up with original sources when collecting information.  Those of you who have stubborn brick walls in your research (who doesn't?), should go back through your notes and make sure that you have tracked each morsel of information back to its origins.  This practice is guaranteed to yield helpful results.

      Semi-Nameless Picture of the Day
       Mr. Alnard, Mary Giffen's First Husband
      From the collection of Jan Stockton

      Can you identify the first name of the subject in this photo?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the five character catalog number with your e-mail.