Thursday, November 06, 2008

FamilySearch Lessons Now Online

The LDS Church’s Family History Library has been providing classes to patrons for many years. In the past, a patron would have to travel to the Library to take advantage of these classes, but no longer. The Library will begin testing different methods of exporting these classes to patrons who reside outside of the Salt Lake City area. The first method to be tested is a set of five lessons in a classroom setting in a video format. These lessons are now available on and cover the basics of getting started with family history research in England. The five lessons are called

Lesson 1: Research Overview
Lesson 2: Census Records
Lesson 3: Civil Registration
Lesson 4: Church Records
Lesson 5: Find Your Ancestors

We invite you to visit, view these lessons, and then give us your feedback by using the feedback link there on the online classes’ page.

Simply go to and click on the link for Family History Research Series Online.

Wordle Family History Word Cloud

Create your own Family History Word Cloud with Wordle, a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.
I used PAF to print a list of Family Names to a text file and used Search / Replace to remove words that were not family names. The above is just one example of many different designs you can create. Have FUN!

Old Maps

Great Online Old Map Collection

Genealogy in the National Archives

Genealogists/Family Historians

The National Archives offers insight into the lives of people, their families and our history. Because the records at the National Archives come from every branch of the Federal government, almost all Americans can find themselves, their ancestors, or their community in the archives. Knowing how a person interacted with the government is key to a successful search.
NARA Genealogy Site

LiveRoots Search Engine

Getting Started with Live Roots

The home page states, "Live Roots is an information resource that assists you with locating genealogical resources, wherever they may be stored." Okay, so what does that really mean?

First, here are some quick hints:

1. Try searching for the surnames that you are researching. (You may enter multiple surnames in the keyword box at once)
2. Try searching for the place names of your ancestors. (Best results achieved by searching for one location at a time in the keyword box)
3. If the surname and/or place name is somewhat common, you'll need to add either a first name or try adding the county name.
4. Do NOT attempt to search for broad topics (e.g. census) as the search engine will respond by telling you there are too many results to present in a meaningful manner. Typically, you'll want to combine broad topics with something to clarify what you are looking for (e.g. federal census) or a place name or year.
5. You can initiate a search from any page on the Live Roots web site using the keyword search box on the left hand side of the page.
6. If you enter a phrase in double quotes it will perform a title search. You don't need to enter the entire title, just the first few words. It matches your phrase to the beginning of the titles.

There are two basic ways that genealogists search. They either search for the title of a resource (or its description), or the names that it contains. Live Roots helps with both types of searches. Let's start with title searching.

Live Roots lets you search the titles of resources by entering keywords. You may enter a surname, a place name, or any word that might relate to your research needs at the moment. If the keywords you chose are somewhat common (e.g. Smith), you should also add a keyword that more closely reflects what you are looking for (e.g. probate records).

Enter your keywords into the search box on any page on the site, and the Live Roots search engine will hunt through its catalog for matching resources. These resources may include transcribed or digitized records that are online, books that you may purchase from a variety of publishers, and individual web sites and pages.

The resource results will list the matching resources sorting them based on how accessible they are (e.g. online transcriptions listed first). Next to each result will be an icon that gives you a visual indication of what the resource is. Clicking on the result will bring you to a resource page detailing the resource and providing the means to access it.

Where does Live Roots get the resource information? We've partnered with genealogy companies and publishers to include their catalogs, and we've combine this with link databases we've been compiling for years.

So what about name searching? Currently, Live Roots offers a search of the names contained within SOME of the resources in the catalog. On a regular basis, additional resources are indexed.

To begin a name search, simply enter a surname as a keyword (or several surnames are once). The Live Roots search engine will provide results from three databases: (1) the Live Roots index, (2) the Transcribed Ephemera collection for, and (3) subscription data from Family Tree Connection.

The results will list each surname and the number of resources that contain matching results. Click on each surname to see a listing of the resources. The resource listing will show you each title and the number of matches for that surname. Click on the resource title to see the actual names. Options to narrow your search are offered once you have selected a surname and/or resource.

Included in the results from the Live Roots search engine (both title and name searches) will be resources that may not be available online, but are available offline to researchers that you can hire to access the information on your behalf.

Okay, so you understand how Live Roots works, and now your asking yourself "So what?" I know, on the surface none of this sounds all that new or different. But, what is unique about Live Roots is that it is allowing you to search a variety of catalogs IN ONE PLACE and highlighting where the same resource may exist in multiple locations.

For example, take some of the major genealogy sites:, and Combined they all publish images and/or transcribed information from thousands of different publications and sources. Yes, you could visit each site and figure out how to browse through their catalogs to find something, but Live Roots lets you do this with a single query.

And Live Roots doesn't just include the major sites; it includes catalogs from dozens of small and medium publishers as well. And, it is updated daily with any new resources made available (check out the Discover option for the most recent additions).

So, to summarize the two major points of distinction. First, there is the "roots" advantage: Live Roots lets you conduct a variety of searches across the catalogs from hundreds of different data providers and publishers all at once and with the most up-to-date versions of their catalog listings. And second, there is the "live" advantage: the same searches you conduct will include resources that you may obtain information from with the assistance of a live person that you commission for a nominal fee.

Where to Find Obituaries

Phyllis Matthews Ziller, M.L.I.S.
Subject Area:
The Value of Archival Newspapers in Genealogy
Authors's Website:
Newspapers are perhaps the most useful yet most often overlooked resource in genealogical research. Historic newspapers chronicle the lives of our ancestors. They allow us to see the world in which our ancestors lived and offer details about the everyday life of ordinary citizens. Newspapers were the primary communication tool for our ancestors before radio and television. Daily and weekly editions were eagerly anticipated and read thoroughly.

Reading historic newspapers is like stepping back in time. The writing was prosaic. The issues of the day were quite similar to those we face today. Children rebelled and neighbors were concerned about the upkeep and appearance of their dwellings. Politics were often debated and civic issues were presented to encourage a debate. Politics was not an issue for just large cities–the small town folk, too, were interested in local as well as broader politics.

Researching historic newspapers allows us a glimpse into the daily lives and social customs of our ancestors. Reading historic newspapers from the town where my ancestors lived brought fresh new insights into their everyday lives. I learned my great-great-grandfather was an avid, and well-respected, fisherman. Of course, the largest fish always got away! My great-great grandmother was an envied cook whose sumptuous feasts were cherished by all who were privy to an invitation to her table.

Newspaper research can help chip away at brick walls by providing detailed family information in obituaries, marriage announcements, and other articles of personal interest. Family relationships can be either explicit or inferred in many newspaper articles. Family migrations can be discovered, whether across town or across the country. Newspapers can pinpoint a particular person at a particular place at a particular time.

Spend some time getting to know your ancestors' local newspapers. You might be amazed at the nuggets of genealogical information waiting to be discovered.
Phyllis Matthews Ziller, M.L.I.S.
12 August 2008
Download Obituaries.PDF
Online Obituaries Research Guide

Understanding Land Records

Look to the Land: Understanding Land Records
By Carolyn L. Barkley

When I first began to attend genealogical conferences, I heard a speaker from the North Carolina State Archives say, “When I hear someone ask for marriage records or wills, I know that the individual is a genealogist; when I hear someone ask for land records, I know that the individual is a researcher.” That quote has resonated throughout my own research ever since.

I set myself a goal of reading all the Barkley deeds in the Northampton County Court House in Jackson, North Carolina (a job, I should admit, that isn’t complete yet). Very quickly, I discovered the value of taking on this type of comprehensive study. My research focused on the family of George Barkley who had migrated to Northampton County from Isle of Wight County, Virginia, sometime in the late 1760s. George’s son Rhodes had twelve children during the span of two marriages. I knew nothing more than the name of one of his sons, William Barkley. However, in transcribing the Barkley index entries from the deed indices, I found a deed dated 27 January 1818 for a William Barkley (grantor) and Rhoades [sic] Barkley (grantee). I immediately checked the recorded deed and experienced one of those golden moments of genealogical research. In this will, William Barkley of Sumter District, South Carolina, had returned to Northampton County to deed to “my father Rhoades Barkley of Northampton County, North Carolina…all my right, title, interest, and claim in a certain tract of land lying in County, on the north side of Wiccany swamp, being the land enured by Richard Allen Senr Patent granted him, and I the said Wm Barkly do for myself, my heirs jointly relinquish, warrant and ever defend my said wright unto him the said Rhoads Barkly…” I knew that Rhodes Barkley’s first wife had been Allice [sic] Allen, so William was probably talking about his grandfather, Richard Allen. From this one deed, I learned the residence of William at the time, learned that he may well have been a son of Rhodes’ first marriage, and opened an entirely new line of research on this Barkley family, this time in South Carolina. I was hooked on land research!

As researchers, it is important for all of us to learn more about land development in order to better understand land records and their contents. Land was not developed uniformly during the colonial period. In New England, townships were the predominant form of development. First the general court of the colony would grant approval for a new township, usually about six miles square in size, and then proprietors of that township would assign the land to specific inhabitants. One of the strengths of New England land records is the existence of landowner, or plat maps, dating from very early in a locality’s development. In the southern states, land development was quite different. Colonists asserted their individual choices in selecting property in a system originally driven by the head right system that granted individuals fifty acres for every individual (head) brought into the colony. This method was not one of controlled settlement, formal surveying was seldom done prior to settlement, and boundaries were often self-described. For the most part, southern property was not laid out around a town center, but rather was clustered around transportation routes – rivers, streams, and the coastline.

Lands that were controlled and granted first by foreign governments, and then by colonial or state governments, are known as “state-land states.” These states include Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia (and later West Virginia). The most common surveying method for state-land states is the “metes and bounds” system that describes markers, measurement, and directions for each piece of property. A metes and bounds survey starts with a designated marker (tree, stone, road, etc.) and then proceeds through a series of straight lines (or geographical boundaries of the course of a stream, creek, swamp, etc.) from point to point until it returns to the starting place. Each “course” or line is described by the name of the land owner whose property shares that line or the water course it borders; each corner may be described by another designated marker. Finally, each segment of the description also indicates direction (north, south, east or west), degrees (compass direction between 0º and 90º) and distance, measured in rods, poles, perches, chains, and links). Tables help convert these surveying measurements into actual lengths: 1 chain = 66 feet, 1 link = 7.92 inches; 1 rod/pole/perch = 16.5 feet. One mile equals 80 chains or 320 rods/poles/perches.

The land records in states that were initially controlled and dispersed by the United States government are completely different. These federal-land states include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Federal-land records comprised the largest single-subject group of records until the advent of twentieth-century records, and include a wide variety of types of records such as homesteads, military bounty lands, mining claims, and agricultural and timber management. They are very rich in genealogical information. These lands were first granted to individuals in 1785, with the first land office opening as early as 1797. The original intent was to raise revenues to compensate for the costs of the Revolutionary War; to grant lands (rather than financial payments) to soldiers; and to sustain burgeoning migration to the west. These land transactions were not described by metes and bounds, but instead were surveys based on meridians.

A meridian is an imaginary line running north to south, from pole to pole; base lines are horizontal lines running east and west that intersect the meridian line. (A map of meridian and base lines can be found at the Bureau of Land Management’s website.) Distance to the east or west is measured from a specific meridian. The meridian region is divided into no more than eight tracts, each twenty-four miles square. Each tract is then divided into sixteen townships, each approximately six miles square. Imaginary lines called ranges run north to south six miles apart, the width of the township. Each township is divided into sections one mile square and containing approximately 640 acres. Each section is numbered beginning in the northeast corner and counting westward. If you have ever flown over the mid-west and looked down on the landscape, the land divisions are seen easily. Sound confusing? You may want to read “Graphical Display of the Federal Township and Range System” or “Range Maps for Dummies” web pages to obtain more of the details involved in this system. The first article discusses the system in general; the second focuses on Illinois land descriptions. Both provide clear, informative descriptions.

A variety of print resources are also available to assist you in your understanding of land development and description. I highly recommend the following two titles if you want to understand more of the basics: Land and Property Research in the United States by E. Wade Hone (Ancestry 1997) and Dividing the Land: Early American Beginnings of Our Private Property Mosaic by Edward T. Price (University of Chicago, 1995). Both will give you a clear understanding of the history of land transactions as well as the specifics of the two systems of land descriptions discussed in this article. In addition, check for printed compilations of land records specific to a state or locality. A good example of a state-specific resource is found in the three volumes of Ohio records by Ellen T. and David A. Berry (Early Ohio Settlers, Purchasers of Land in Southeastern Ohio, 1800-1840; Early Ohio Settlers, Purchasers of Land in East and East Central Ohio, 1800-1840; and Early Ohio Settlers, Purchasers of Land in Southwestern Ohio, 1800-1840) and in Albion M. Dyers’ First Ownership of Ohio Lands, all published by Genealogical Publishing Company. These titles are also available in a CD entitled Ohio Land and Tax Records. The CD also includes Early Ohio Tax Records by Esther Weygandt Powell and is available from GPC.

Several resources are available if you are interested in searching original records. The four-volume Federal Land Series by Clifford Neal Smith (Clearfield, 1972, reprinted 2007) contains a “calendar of archival materials on the land patents issued by the United States Government, with subject, tract, and name indexes.” The focus is on land patents, the first transfer of land to individuals by the government and by Virginia during the period 1788 to 1835. The best resource online is the Bureau of Land Management’s Official Federal Land Records Site that “provides live access to federal land conveyance records for the public-land states” as well as images for more than three million land title records issued between 1820 and 1908 for eastern public-land states. New additions to the site include survey plats and field notes. Select the tab for land patent searches in the upper navigation bar. The basic search tab will allow you to search for an individual or a surname within a specific state. Searching for land patents for any Barkley in Alabama, for example, I found 38 entries. For each entry, I had access to a patent description, a legal land description (here’s why you need to understand how to read a land description), a document image (GIF, PDF or TIFF options are provided), as well as the ability to order a certified copy of the document. If you want to search all states, you must choose the standard search tab rather than the basic. A search for all Barkley patents in all states yielded seventeen pages of hits. Be aware that the “all states” choice is at the end of the list of state names in the drop-down box. In order to search the original surveys, you must have a specific land description to enter into the search form. You should also check Arphax Publishing Company’s family maps land patent books. These books include “county by county, state by state [maps] for original settlers whose purchases are indexed either in the U. S. Bureau of Land Management database or the Texas General Land Office database” and are available for Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. Check for the availability of your county, as all counties may not have been completed yet for all states. These books provide surname indices and maps that allow you to locate your ancestor’s federal or Texas land purchase (first-land-owners), as well as their neighbors and the history of settlement of the particular area. The web site also offers you the ability to look at samples of their products.

Knowing how to draw a plat from its description is a great way to enhance your understanding. Plan to attend a land platting workshop offered either in your area, at a national conference, or as part of an institute such as the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research held at Samford University in Alabama each June. At the latter, an entire week’s course covers land platting in depth, including both metes and bounds and range systems. (This course is not given every year, so check the course offerings.). Deed Platter is an online application to help you plat your deed. In addition, software programs such as Deedmapper will provide you with the tools to create plats, join plats together into neighborhoods, and then export them to Google Earth or superimpose them on a USGS topographic map.

To me, land records are one of the most important resources in genealogical research. Being able to put your ancestor’s feet on the ground in a specific place, at a specific time, with specific neighbors is the key to an enriched understanding of the life he or she led and the neighbors who shared that same place and time.

Happy research and platting.

USGenWeb Vs Ancestry.Com

Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Opinion piece: / USGenWeb squabble

The well publicized squabble between and U.S. GenWeb Project (USGenWeb), in my opinion, has hurt both. But perhaps the greatest damage has been suffered by USGenWeb and has been of its own doing.

USGenWeb is an unincorporated non-profit association of volunteers that maintain a set of geographically organized web sites. Separate, but linked, web sites exist for every county and state in the country. The binding philosophy among all these non-commercial web sites is, "Keeping Internet Genealogy Free." Many had made use of RootsWeb's free genealogy web site hosting service. When acquired RootsWeb, they continued the program, despite dire predictions by some that would discontinue it.

The squabble arose when announced that the address was being automatically replaced with and that mandatory headers would be automatically added to the free genealogical web sites hosted by RootsWeb. For some sites, the headers were merely a change from the mandatory top and bottom advertisements that added to the sites. For USGenWeb sites, the headers were new.

While the organization's bylaws allowed "a website [to] acknowledge any entities who may host their website (i.e., provide server space at no cost)" (Article IX, Section 2.), some web site coordinators feared the worst. (See this post or this for a couple of examples.) USGenWeb sites contain genealogical data gathered through thousands of hours of volunteer work. The mere specter of assimilating these contributions led some web site coordinators to move their sites off RootsWeb. Even the national site made a quick decision to move off RootsWeb, temporarily using a private server donated by a member before moving the site to IX web hosting.

"After many years at RootsWeb, we made a quick move to another option for web hosting," Mike St. Clair, USGenWeb Advisor Board Member later reported. He advised the board that, "a more organized evaluation of the options available would be useful before we decide to confirm that quick decision for the longer term."

Those sites that have moved have spent focus and time on the task, and many are still not finished. (See for examples, ILGenWeb, Town of Essex and the Kidz Project.) Changing URLs have produced broken links, upsetting easy navigation among sites, and cutting off some outside traffic.
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