California Digital Collections to Help You Strike Genealogy Gold

California Digital Collections to Help You Strike Genealogy Gold

As one researcher lamented to me a while back, "California does not give up her secrets easily." That said, there are some excellent California resources. Try these California digital collections and maybe one of them will lead you to strike genealogy gold!

California Digital Newspaper Collection (CDNC) - If you are looking for newspapers from the State of California, then the CDNC is the place to look. This collection contains more than 200,000 issues comprising 2,102,902 pages and 17,536,359 articles from “significant historical California newspapers” published from 1846 to the present. These include the very first California newspaper, the Californian, as well as the first daily California newspaper, the Daily Alta California. You will also find issues from several current California newspapers that are part of a project to preserve and provide access to contemporary papers. While the site is - and will remain - free to search and browse, you might want to consider becoming a premium user, which will help support the CDNC financially, as well as to give you access to bonus features such as high-resolution images, saving of search histories, seeing your recently viewed articles, and saving articles to private lists. And don’t forget to “pay it forward” by correcting OCR mistakes you’ve found; future researchers will thank you!

Online Archive of California - This collection provides free public access to “detailed descriptions of primary resource collections maintained by more than 200 contributing institutions including libraries, special collections, archives, historical societies, and museums throughout California and collections maintained by the 10 University of California (UC) campuses.” You will find more than 20,000 online collection guides which you can use to browse, locate resources, view selected items digitally, or learn how to gain access to the physical objects. The OAC currently contains more than 220,000 digital images and documents.

Calisphere - Visited a million times a year by undergraduates, K-12 students, teachers, professors, genealogists, artists, and other curious people, Calisphere is a project of the University of California Libraries, providing free access to “unique and historically important artifacts.” The collection contains over 875,000 photographs, documents, letters, artwork, diaries, oral histories, films, advertisements, musical recordings, and more, covering California’s pre-Columbian era through the present day. You can browse collections such as the “Holocaust Living History Workshop” or the “1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Digital Collection,” or visit unique exhibitions such as “Everyday Life and People: The Gold Rush Era, 1848-1865.” Be sure to check out the historic photos!

Early California Population Project - Developed by the Huntington Library, the ECPP provides free and public access to all of the information contained in California’s historic mission registers, providing a wealth of information on the Native Americans, soldiers, and early settlers of Alta California. The project contains records of more than 101,000 baptisms, 27,000 marriages, and 71,000 burials performed in California between 1769 and 1850, and includes records from 21 of the California missions, as well as the Los Angeles Plaza Church, and the Santa Barbara Presidio.

The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco - This multimedia site offers resources pertaining to historic events in the San Francisco Bay area, such as the 1849 California Gold Rush and the history of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. Of particular interest are records pertaining to “San Francisco’s Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906,” which includes photographs, the first-ever list of those “Who Perished” in this tragedy, and the “Great Register 1906 List of Dead and Survivors.” Records from a few contemporary events are also available, such as the “1989 San Francisco Earthquake” and “The Oakland-Berkeley Hills Fire of 1991,” considered “the worst fire involving loss of life and property” since the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906.

SFgenealogy - Another useful site for researching your northern California ancestors, SFgenealogy offers free access to genealogical and historical information for San Francisco, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the State of California. Originally created as a niche for San Francisco genealogy, the site has expanded to neighboring northern California counties, as well as Spanish genealogy and California early history. The site was recognized by Family Tree Magazine as one of the “Best State Websites” from 2011 to 2014.

California GenWeb Project - No list of California genealogy websites would be complete without including the California GenWeb Project. Established in 1996 by "a group of genealogists who shared a desire to create online centers for genealogical research," the USGenWeb Project websites are created and maintained entirely by volunteers. The California GenWeb includes links to information on the California missions, maps, the California Biography Project, and links to individual county sites.

Have you found any useful resources for California genealogy research? Please share them in the comments!

Do you have California ancestors? The California series will help you find them!


Elizabeth O’Neal is a freelance writer, educator, and web developer. An avid genealogist for three decades, Elizabeth writes the blog My Descendant’s Ancestors, where she shares family stories, technology and methodology tips, and hosts the monthly "Genealogy Blog Party."


The 3-D Super Powers of Eastern European Genealogists

The 3-D Super Powers of  Eastern European Genealogists

Are you lost trying to find your Eastern European ancestors? Do perplexing surnames, confusing geography and records written in unfamiliar languages challenge you at every turn? Don’t despair. You can channel some research superpowers to conquer your research roadblocks.

  1. Detect. Genealogists often compare themselves to detectives. We follow clues in about our family to make sense of the past. Determining the immigrant’s original name and learning the specific name of the ancestral town or village are the two most essential pieces for success. To do this you must check ALL available resources on this side of the ocean first. While many records are online through sites such as or, you also must be prepared to check microfilm, books, and other sources. It is also necessary to understand the time period and consider geography. For example, when your ancestors departed their homeland, was the area under the Austro-Hungarian, German, or Russian Empire? Did they arrive post-World War I or post-World War II? Did the town names change depending on who was in charge?

    Detect. Decode. Decipher. Eastern European Genealogy

  2. Decode. During the research process, you will likely hit a number of brick walls—those seemingly unsolvable research problems that wherever you look there appear to be no answers. One issue is with the complex surnames for which spelling can be problematic and often leads to incorrect indexing. Sites such as Behind the Name can help, or you can perform a Google search for websites specific to your ethnic group. Be aware of name changes after the immigrant settled in North America. (Names were not changed at Ellis Island—that's a myth. Read about immigrant name changes in this article by Marian Smith). Learn naming practices and patterns to help figure out which Maria or Mihaly is your ancestor. To take account of border changes, consult maps, atlases, gazetteers (geographical dictionaries), books, websites, and town and village histories. Browse the FamilySearch Wiki by country for links to print and online resources. When you are ready to search across the ocean, you will want to see which archives have records online. Start with the free digitized collections at FamilySearch. Another excellent resource is the JewishGen In some instances you may wish to hire a professional researcher based in the country you are researching to pull records from civil archives and other repositories with more restrictive access. Ethnic genealogical societies such as the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International and the Polish Genealogical Society of America, or even fellow genealogists may provide recommendations. If you can manage it, a heritage trip to your ancestral town or village, and local archives can often turn up previously unknown information not yet available online, not to mention the potential for meeting long lost cousins.

  3. Decipher. Many new researchers are dismayed when they locate records for their ancestors, but can’t read them because they are written in German, Hungarian, Latin, Polish, Russian or other unfamiliar alphabets or scripts. While you don’t necessarily need to be fluent in a foreign language to read great-grandma’s baptismal record, you will need to become familiar with keywords and phrases, especially common genealogy terms in the language used to record the information. You can start by watching some language tutorials available for free in the FamilySearch Learning Center, or on YouTube. Online or print dictionaries, books, and FamilySearch Word Lists can also help. Using an online translation tool such as Google Translate is another option, but beware that such tools are usually best for short words or small blocks of text. The accuracy of the translation may be questionable and often local or regional dialects are not taken into account. To ensure a proper translation, you could post a short query to Facebook (Try Genealogy Translations on Facebook or just do a search for Polish, Czech, Hungarian, etc.), or hire a professional translator.


For more tips, tools, and resources, watch Lisa's bonus webinar on "Survival Skills for Eastern European Genealogists,” available to subscribers in the Legacy Family Tree Webinars Library.

Don’t Give Up

Just as a superhero never surrenders, neither should you. Yes, tracking down elusive Eastern European ancestors can be a daunting task. There is no “Easy Button.” But remember that genealogy is one part skill, one part persistence, and one part serendipity. New record sets are being released all the time, so keep checking websites for new or updated content. Channel your powers to detect, decode, and decipher and start solving your family history mysteries.

Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A. is a freelance writer, instructor and internationally recognized lecturer specializing in Eastern European genealogy, writing your family history, and finding female and immigrant ancestors.  She is the author of 10 books, including The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide, and the award-winning Three Slovak Women.  Lisa is a frequent speaker for Legacy Family Tree Webinars, and blogs at The Accidental Genealogist. She can be reached at


5 Ways to Use Trello for Genealogy and Family History

Thanks to guest blogger, Lisa Alzo, for this post.

Have you ever wished for a whiteboard in the cloud where you could generate ideas, organize your research tasks, or storyboard your family history writing?

Then, say “Hello” to Trello—a free project management tool to help you streamline your genealogy projects, tackle your "to-do" lists, and improve your workflow. I have been a fan of Trello for several years to organize my work and personal research projects. In this post, I will share with you five ways to use Trello specifically for genealogy and family history.

Trello graphic

Getting Started
The first step is to set up a free Trello account at  Once you have registered, you will be taken to the Trello “Welcome Board.”  You will see a brief tutorial that will bring you quickly up to speed on Trello’s system of boards, lists, and cards. Trello’s customizable notecards enable you to view any project in a single glance, share it for easy collaboration, and set it up to sync on multiple devices to take your work with you wherever you go. It is like having your own virtual whiteboard.

Trello for Genealogy and Family History

The uses for Trello are endless—from collecting and organizing ideas to setting up group projects with multiple collaborators.  There is no limit to how many boards you can create. Below are five easy ways you can begin using Trello immediately for genealogy and family history.

1. Create a research plan. Trello provides a way to visually organize your genealogy research tasks.  Create a board for each main surname you are researching. Then create three lists for “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.” Other lists could include a specific research task (e.g. “Check FamilySearch,” “Correspondence” or “Source Citations.”   You can also add due dates, checklists, comments, attach files, and set reminders. Other board suggestions include a cemetery board to organize the family gravestones you photograph, or a “mystery photographs” board for those unidentified pictures you come across. Becky Jamison, who blogs about her family history research on the Grace and Glory Blog, is an avid Trello user and has recorded a video with some great ideas for project boards.

2. Storyboard writing projects. One of my personal favorite uses of Trello is to outline and storyboard writing projects. I create boards for articles I am working on, book projects, and family history profiles. Since I can attach an image to each card, this is an excellent way to create a visual storyboard for each writing task. I also like to use the available Power-Ups—a way of incorporating additional features and integrations that are adaptable to your project needs. Enabling Power-Ups on boards allows you to access important information from other apps such as Calendar, Dropbox, Google Drive and others (Read more about them in the Trello User Guide). Free accounts get one free Power-Up per board. My favorite Power-Up to use is the one for Evernote because it helps me to bring over my research materials (notes, saved web pages, etc.) into Trello.

3. Outline and plan blog posts. If you blog about your genealogy research, Trello is a great tool for managing your editorial calendar. For my blog, The Accidental Genealogist, I usually start a blog post outline in Evernote and then attach it to a card to expand the idea. If you write your posts using Google Docs, you can start a draft with Google Drive directly from Trello and compose the article. You can also attach a Drive folder to the card to access the image assets for the post. Using due dates can help with meeting deadlines.

4. Create a travel itinerary. Whenever I travel to a genealogy conference or go on a research trip, I use Trello to build a board for it. I actually save a blank board as a template and then I can customize it for each trip. I make lists for airline and hotel reservations, daily schedules. For conferences, I also create lists for registration information, syllabus files, presentations, and expenses (I can attach images of my receipts right from Evernote). When the trip or conference is over, I can simply remove that board so that it is no longer in my active board list, but I can always go back to refer to it at a later date.

5. Collaborate on research, writing, or other group projects. Trello is the perfect tool for collaboration. You can add members to specific boards (they will need a free account). This is a good option if you are working with another family member to research a specific branch on your family tree, if you have a co-author for a book project, or for members of a genealogical society. If you are a fan of Mondays with Myrt or the other Google Hangouts co-hosted by Dear Myrtle and “Cousin Russ” (Worthington), they use Trello as their planning tool.

Be sure to download the free Trello app to all your mobile devices (you can even work offline and sync your boards later). There is a small learning curve, so start with a small board and then add more features as you need them. If you are a subscriber, check out my webinar “Your Whiteboard in the Cloud: Trello for Genealogists” for more tips and project ideas.

Land records prove parentage - again!

I can almost remember the day when I thought land records weren't all that important. I'm so glad that was decades ago and is a distant memory. And with what I discovered today, it reinforces the fact that land records must never be overlooked in our genealogical research.

This 1778 deed, in which Jeremiah Brown and two of his sons sold land to Simeon Potter, was crucial in proving that Jeremiah was my Nathan Brown's father. Marian Pierre-Louis discovered and explained its use in this webinar.

Brown  Jeremiah to Potter  Simeon - deed - 20 Mar 1778
     Bristol County, Massachusetts, Land Records, 1620-1986, 59: 239, Jeremiah Brown, Samuel Miller Brown and Jeremiah Brown to Simeon Potter, deed, 20 Mar 1778; digital images,, ( : accessed 27 Apr 2017)

We did not know it then, but this very same deed, just today, solidified the theory that this Jeremiah Brown's father was Esek Brown. Yet nowhere in the deed did it mention Esek.

Today I located a 1759 deed where a Jeremiah Brown was given land by his father, Esek Brown.

"I Esek Brown of my son Jeremiah Brown...."

Brown  Esek to Brown  Jeremiah - 1759 deed
Bristol County, Massachusetts, Land Records, 1620-1986, 44: 286, Esek Brown to Jeremiah Brown, deed, 14 Sep 1759; digital images,, ( : accessed 27 Apr 2017)

Was this my Jeremiah Brown? If so, then I've now confirmed that his father is Esek Brown. But this could easily be a different Jeremiah Brown. Comparing the 1759 deed with the 1778 deed answers the question.

I first thought to plot the land boundaries and comparing their shapes, but my DeedMapper 4.2 software hadn't yet arrived in the mailbox. So, I created a table in Microsoft Word to compare the key details of each deed.


Remarkably, although the deeds were written about twenty years apart, they both describe the same land. The land Jeremiah was selling in 1778 was the same land that he was given - by his father Esek - in 1759.

Who was my Jeremiah's father? Esek Brown - the land records prove this.

By the way...the mail just arrived. Guess what was in it? My DeedMapper 4.2 software. Today just keeps getting better and better.

To learn more about land records, visit

Your Migration Secret Weapon - the New York State Census


Those of us with westward migrating ancestors know how difficult it can be to trace people from their destination to their point of origin and vice versa. Even harder is finding the short stops along the way.

Many genealogists have learned to use the United States Federal Census as a clue to migration. By looking at the birth location of children in a migrating family, we can often determine some of the stops a family made on their journey westward. The only challenge is that the Federal Census is only enumerated every 10 years. That's a big gap!

New York's Role in Migration

New York played a big role in the lives of migrating families. Families who originated in New England often passed through New York, often stopping there for a few years before moving on. New York residents as well joined the migration west heading to Ohio and beyond.

The Trouble with New York

The challenge for many researchers is that the trail goes cold in New York. Vital records for most towns in New York state didn't start until the 1870s or later. If you have New England ancestors traveling west this come as a cold shock when you're used to vital records going back to the 1600s. Researching in New York is frustrating to say the least.

Your New Secret Weapon

All is not lost! You were on the right track when you used the U.S. Federal Census. While we may not have the advantage of New York vital records we do have the New York State Census.

The New York State Census was taken for the years 1825, 1835, 1845, 1855, 1865, 1875, 1892, 1905, 1915 and 1925. Not all counties in New York have extant records for all years but for 1855-1905 the coverage is very good
with the exception of a few counties.

Each of the census years asks for different information, of varying value to genealogists. It's the 1855, 1865 and 1875 censuses that I want to bring your attention to. These three censuses asked for the county of birth. If
your ancestors are making stops within New York before moving on, this information is invaluable in tracing their steps.

In addition, the three censuses indicate if a person owned land and the 1855 census mentions the “years resident in the town or city”.

An Example in Action

One of my "challenging" families is David Allen, his wife Mariah and their five kids. Between a common surname, transcription errors and migration I was fit to be tied tracking down this family.

Then I found them in the 1855 New York State Census. The family was living in Volney, Fulton City, Oswego County, New York. David was listed as being born Jefferson County, New York according to the 1855 census. His wife Mariah (no maiden name yet discovered) was also born in Jefferson County about 1823. Their first child Henry was born about 1844 also in Jefferson County.

The 1855 New York State Census showing the David Allen family. Please note the image has been altered to show the headers directly above the family listing.
The 1855 New York State Census showing the David Allen family. Please note the image has been altered to show the headers directly above the family listing.

The next child, Elizabeth, only one year younger that Henry, was born in Lewis County. A second daughter, Eleanor, was also born in Lewis County about 1849. The last child, Charles, only 11 months old was born in Oswego County.

This tells me I can place the family in Jefferson County, New York at least up until 1844. They are in Lewis County from about 1845 to no later than 1854. They arrive in Oswego County in time for Charles’ birth around 1854.

But there’s another clue. Column 13 – “Years resident in this city or town” – shows that the Allens have been in Volney, Fulton City for 2 years thus changing their likely arrival date in Oswego County to 1853. Column 20 – “Owners of land” – indicates that the Allen family did not own any land.

This one census helped to clear up where the family started and where they stopped along the way in New York on the travel west. It gave me new locations to search for new records. By 1860 the family had moved on the Manlius, LaSalle County, Illinois.

If your family traveled west during the mid-nineteenth century be sure to check the 1855, 1865 and 1875 New York State censuses (available on to find the clues to solving their migration mysteries.

Unfortunately the Allen family remains a bit of a mystery for me. In the 1880 US Federal Census I find a David Allen, Maria Allen and son Charles Allen of appropriate ages in Faribault, Rice County, Minnesota. But I also find in a different 1880 census a John Slocumb, Elizabeth Slocumb and a widowed Maria Allen living in Port Huron, St. Clair County, Michigan. A Michigan marriage record indicates that a Libbie Maria Allen born in Lewis County, New York married John Slocumb in 1877. It will take a bit more digging to determine which is my Allen family!

For help researching your New York ancestors see our New York series by expert Jane Wilcox in the Legacy library!


Marian Pierre-Louis is the Social Media Marketing Manager for Legacy Family Tree. She is also a speaker, writer and the host of The Genealogy Professional podcast. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.



A Simple Tip to Bust Genealogy Brick Walls

A Simple Tip to Bust Genealogy Brick Walls

I was recently reminded of a simple yet effective tip for bringing down brick walls.

Yesterday one of my DNA matches contacted me suggesting that we might be connected through the Bair family. That got my attention because the Bairs are one of my brick walls.

Before I go any further, let me tell you that I am an ancestral DNA addict! Not because I think that there is a magic DNA bullet that is going to bring down my brick walls, rather because it might provide the simplest hint that I hadn't seen before. That hint, combined with good old fashioned genealogy research is what solves mysteries.

My new cousin shared her online Ancestry tree with me so that I could see where we might connect. She had already taken a look at my tree. She pointed out that "My Bair's were in Tuscarawas Co., OH, for a time, and Anna Bonfield that you have in your tree died in Tuscarawas Co." She continued, "I would think based on shared DNA our match would be a good ways back, so we just mightn't find it, but it still would be interesting to see if your Bair's relate to the Tuscarawas Bair's."

Anna Bonfield is not a Bair so at first I discounted that. Too hasty, of course! Anna is married to a Bair - my third great grandfather, Jesse Bair.

I decided to look at the information I had on Jesse Bair. Jesse Bair was born 11 Nov 1814 in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Further scanning of his life showed locations such as Stark County, Ohio; St. Louis, Missouri; and St. Clair, Illinois. Jesse's adult life is pretty clear to me but his parents and roots in Pennsylvania are a mystery.

His wife's death in Tuscarawas, Ohio was nagging at me.

So I went to my Legacy database and did a search for all individuals whose death place or birth place contained Tuscarawas. I didn't bother with listing towns or a state because Tuscarawas is such a unique name. I then selected Create List. 

Searching Legacy Family Tree for individuals in Tuscarawas County

The results brought up, as expected, Anna Bonfield, but also her son James K.P. Bair. A quick peek at his profile showed that he was born in Dover, Tuscarawas, Ohio. I was so focused on my ancestors that I forgot to look at collateral relatives! James is the brother of my second great grandmother, Anna Elizabeth Bair (1850-1881). James' birth places my ancestors right in the same location as the ancestors  of my new distant cousin. Her Jonas Bair married and raised children in Tuscarawas, Ohio for twenty years before heading further west. It places him in the town of Dover exactly at the time my Jesse Bair was there.

James K.P. Bair was born in Tuscarawas County Ohio.
Surprise! James K.P. Bair was born in Tuscarawas County Ohio.

What was my big mistake when researching my Bair brick wall? Not checking each location for other families of the same name!

A quick search in the 1850 census for Tuscarawas County, Ohio revealed over 150 Bairs! I'm only concerned with the oldest generation from Pennsylvania so I narrowed down my search to those born in Pennsylvania.  That brought 26 Bairs to my attention ranging in birth dates from 1791 to 1828. That date range means there's potential that Jesse's father could be hiding in plain sight in Tuscarawas County!

I haven't brought down my brick wall yet. My next task is good old fashioned genealogy research. I need to recreate the Bair families in Tuscarawas County. Yes, it will be a lot of work but if it helps me find parents or siblings for Jesse Bair then it will be worth it!

For more brick wall tips check out "Ten Brick Wall Tips for Beginners" in the Legacy library.


Marian Pierre-Louis is the Social Media Marketing Manager for Legacy Family Tree. She is also a speaker, writer and the host of The Genealogy Professional podcast. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.


Using the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Online Catalog for Research

  Using the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Online Catalog for Research

With the growing size of digital collections now available, an online catalog is simply no longer just a research tool. They are now online databases where you can do original research. I have used numerous online images from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) catalog in past Legacy News posts as examples of documents that may include an ancestor. There are over four million images and digital objects in NARA’s catalog, a number that grows frequently, so it’s certainly worthwhile to at least check this site when researching. There’s great potential to find a lot of gems.

Before digging, I’d like to help you navigate NARA’s catalog and provide some tips on how to make the most of it. The NARA homepage presents users with the main search engine where you can start with a few keywords, such as a topic or even someone’s name.

Each time you click on a catalog entry in your search, you are presented with a page that has important descriptive information. The catalog is a research tool because you should consult this before doing in-person research to find relevant sources and create a research plan. Each catalog entry has:

  1. Record Group information
  2. ID number for that entry
  3. Microfilm publication number if the collection has been microfilmed
  4. The branch of NARA that has custody of the archived record and it’s contact information

National Archives Catalog Search

Fig 1 & 2. Screenshots of the information held in an online catalog entry for NARA. 
Fig 1 & 2. Screenshots of the information held in an online catalog entry for NARA. 

Remember that names will only appear in the catalog if they are included in the title or description. General keyword searches can present users with an overwhelming number of results, so using the refining tools allows us to focus on relevant entries.

All the refining tools are on the left side of the page. Limiting to only digital objects and images can be done on the top left under “Refine By: Data” and clicking “Archival Descriptions with Digital Objects.” To the right of these filters are additional filters where you can restrict results to only Images, Documents, Web Pages, and more. If a user is looking for records in a particular branch of NARA, this can be accomplished by clicking one of the locations under “Refine By: Location.” The advanced search, which is located to the right of the search bar offers even more refining tools. People who are acquainted with the division and hierarchy of record groups at NARA might want to try limiting results to a particular RG number. Users can also search for "tags" put on documents by other users. NARA's catalog offers crowdsourcing capabilities where users can tag and transcribe documents in the catalog. Any user can make a free account to do this as well as save their searches and specific entries. [1] 

Military records from the Revolutionary War to the late 20th century are available on NARA’s catalog. A favorite of genealogists would have to be the illustrated family records or frakturs from the Revolutionary War pension applications. There’s a little over 100 of these that were submitted as documentation for claimants and their families. Virginia patriot Dawson Cooke’s claim for service includes pages from the family bible of John Newcomb. The Newcombs were friends and associates of Dawson Cooke and his first wife Mildred. It includes four pages of genealogical information of not just the Newcomb and his descendants, but also a memorandum of the births of other families, who happened to be the Newcomb's family property.


Fig 3. Memorandum of the births of slaves of Joanna Newcomb from Dawson Cooke's Revolutionary War Pension File (National Archives and Records Administration, NAID 7455382). 
Fig 3. Memorandum of the births of slaves of Joanna Newcomb from Dawson Cooke's Revolutionary War Pension File (National Archives and Records Administration, NAID 7455382). 

 There are also thousands of other records from NARA’s military series including:

  • Compiled service record cards
  • World War I & II Casualty Lists, i.e. State Summary of War Casualties (Navy, Marine Corps, & Coast Guard) and World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing Army Air Forces Personnel
  • Muster rolls
  • Unit records
  • Correspondence

Many of the documents are digitized because they were deemed historically significant and some of them invoke painful times in our history. Among the digitized records of the Boston Navy Yard is a 150 page file on casualties in the Coconut Grove fire of 1942 that killed 495 people, including 35 personnel of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

Fig 4. Patients at Chelsea Naval Hospital following the Coconut Grove fire of 1942 [names removed for privacy purposes]. (National Archives and Records Administration, NAID 30623174)
Fig 4. Patients at Chelsea Naval Hospital following the Coconut Grove fire of 1942 [names removed for privacy purposes]. (National Archives and Records Administration, NAID 30623174)

 Among the number of other types of digitized records include:

  • Court cases
  • Naturalizations
  • Indian census rolls
  • Maritime logbooks and personnel documents
  • Lists of patients at government hospitals
  • Maps
  • ….and so much more.

There are some microfilm publications, in addition to the World War II casualty lists, like NARA M862, Numerical and Minor Files Of The Department of State, 1906-1910, which include all the records made and kept by United States diplomats and consuls for that time period.

More than 99% of over four million images reproduced in The National Archives and Records Administration’s online catalog are “government works” and therefore, in the public domain.[2] You can easily download a series of documents for free by clicking the .pdf link or one at a time in .jpg format. I think it’s easier to view the images after downloading them. There are a few which have copyright restrictions, mostly because the copyright title belongs to someone outside of the National Archives. You can scroll past the image to view details and it will note any access restrictions. The restrictions are not only pertaining to copyright, but also accessibility of the originals to the public. Even if there is a document or photo that doesn’t directly include an ancestor, it’s nice to know that genealogists can use them freely to assist in telling the stories of their ancestor or to educate others. 

Fig 5. "Clerical force & U.S. Deputy Marshalls, U.S. Land Office, Perry, OkIa. Ter. Oct. 12, 1893." (National Archives and Records Administration, NAID 516459). 
Fig 5. "Clerical force & U.S. Deputy Marshalls, U.S. Land Office, Perry, OkIa. Ter. Oct. 12, 1893." (National Archives and Records Administration, NAID 516459). 

Remember that the NARA catalog isn’t the first or only place you want to stop and try this. Look for all the possible archival repositories in the area of your research and look to see what they have online for special collections. You never know how it might pertain to your family history.


[1] For more information, see National Archives and Records Administration, "Using The Catalog," ( accessed 16 Dec 2016). 

[2] See 17 U.S.C. § 105 ( accessed 16 Dec 2016). See also “Copyright” under “National Archives Frequently Asked Questions” ( accessed 16 Dec 2016).


Jake Fletcher is a genealogist, lecturer, and blogger.  He currently serves as Vice President of the New England Association of Professional Genealogists (NEAPG).


How to Access Canadian WW2 Service Records

A few months ago I sent for the military records of my father's brother, Clarence E. McGinnis. I knew Uncle Clare had been in WW2 as I have several photos of him in uniform. But I never knew where he served, what unit he was in, or what he did during the War.

Clare McGinnis WW2
Photo owned by Lorine McGinnis Schulze

World War 2 Canadian records are restricted. Note that there are no access restrictions on the service files for members of the Canadian Armed Forces who died in service. But the restricted records can be accessed with a bit of time. They are worth the time spent to obtain them, as they can include documentation about enlistment, discharge, military units served with, and may also include other documents concerning medical history, medals awarded, personal evaluation reports and dental charts.

Library and Archives Canada holds military service files for those who served after 1918. Their website explanation of who can access what files and how to obtain them is a bit confusing, so I'll share  with you what I did. It was simple.

I wrote a one page letter requesting the complete military service files for [individual's name] who was born [individual's full birth date or estimated year] in [name of city/town plus county and province in Ontario] to parents [names of father and mother].

I included my uncle's death date and a photograph of his tombstone as proof of death. Interestingly enough they actually returned the photo to me!

That was it. I mailed the letter and photo to

ATIP and Personnel Records Division
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0N4

You can also fax your request to them at this number: 613-947-8456

Your request can be written as a letter or you can print off a blank copy of the Application for Military Service Information form [PDF file 663 KB] also available in Rich Text Format [RTF file 44,516 KB], which should be filled in, signed and sent by mail or fax.

WW2 Uncle Clare Envelope

After a wait of about 5 months a very large package arrived with Uncle Clare's complete military file. I estimate there are about 80 or more pages.  The wait was not unexpected as it is made clear on the Library & Archives Canada website that they are backlogged and requests can take up to 6 months to fill.

There was a lot of interesting information in the military file for Uncle Clare - such as details of his work history prior to enlisting. It include what he was paid! I wish my dad's files had been as complete.

I am really pleased to have some more details to add to my knowledge of my uncle. I knew him quite well but he never spoke of his military service or his early years. I suppose I was too young for him to think I'd be interested.

But I'm really enjoying reading through his files to find out where he went during the war (to England and France) and what he saw and did during that difficult time.

For more information on finding ancestors who were in the Canadian Military during other years you might want to check out The Canadian Military Project.

For WW1 personnel files you will be able to view these online very soon. Library and Archives Canada is busy scanning and uploading the full files to the online CEF Searchable database.

Other WW2 Links

Second World War Service Files: Canadian Armed Forces War Dead

Last Post: Legion Magazine

Since 1928, Legion Magazine has honoured those Canadians who have served their country by publishing in print short death notices for Royal Canadian Legion members with military backgrounds, Canadian war veterans and Legion members with police service.

Books of Remembrance

The seven Books of Remembrance housed in the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower of the Canadian Parliament Buildings in Ottawa are illuminated manuscript volumes recording the names of members of the Canadian Forces and Canadian Merchant Navy killed on active service in wartime, and in other conflicts. Once you find your relative's name, you can view the actual page and you can also find out the exact date when that page will be displayed in the Peace Tower.

Canadian Virtual War Memorial

The names inscribed in the Books of Remembrance can also be found in the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.


Learn more about Canadian genealogy research from these webinars in the Legacy webinar library:


Lorine McGinnis Schulze is a Canadian genealogist who has been involved with genealogy and history for more than thirty years. In 1996 Lorine created the Olive Tree Genealogy website and its companion blog. Lorine is the author of many published genealogical and historical articles and books.


A Melting Pot of Money and Manners: Researching Newport’s Bellevue Ave Neighborhood in the 1880 Census

Researching Newport’s Bellevue Ave Neighborhood in the 1880 Census

The evidence of Newport’s pre-eminence in the world of money is clear from one glance at the 1880 US Federal Census.  Ignore the names and look at the occupations and places of birth. Children born while their parents were working overseas. Servants from so many countries it’s a wonder they could communicate with each other and their employers.  A long list of jobs meant to support the tiny families living in big houses.

Census enumerations keep a basic record of who’s where. Addresses. Birthplaces. Occupations. The amount of detail provided depends on the census and when enumerators captured that information. In the 1880 census that date was June 1st. It was the second decade of the period that Mark Twain later named The Gilded Age.  Wealth expressed in property and lifestyles.  Robin Leach, host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous (1984-1995) would have had a field day.

Browsing the census at the beginning of the summer season of 1880, is a who’s who of nineteenth century personalities. Newport was the place to be seen.

Max Outrey lived on Narragansett Boulevard with his wife steps from the Atlantic Ocean along with their three children and seven servants—private cooks, maids and a butler. His occupation. French Minister. Not a clergyman, but the Minister of France who worked with Presidents and Senators in Washington, D.C.  His household staff was primarily French, with the exception of one woman from Norway and one born in Washington, D.C.

Next-door were John Carey, Jr. and his wife living in their home known as Grasslands. He was a retired metallurgic engineer. They had nine servants from England, Ireland, Massachusetts and New York. Mrs. Carey was the former Mary Alida Astor, daughter of William Astor, of the New York Astors.

In the winter these families lived in Washington, D.C. and New York City but in the summer the social season revolved around Newport. Local newspapers ran columns discussing who was renting which houses and who was in town.

Along Bellevue Avenue stands a series of buildings that stood when the Carey’s and Outrey’s visited.  In July 1880, the Newport Casino opened with grass tennis courts. The building and the grounds are now the International Tennis Hall of Fame.  It was one of the first social clubs that included sports activities. You can still play tennis on the original horseshoe court!

The Newport Casino, now the building and the grounds are now the International Tennis Hall of Fame
The Newport Casino

It’s not surprising that New York businesses that relied on wealthy patrons would also travel to Rhode Island following the money and opportunities. Photographer Louis Alman, who operated studios in both Newport and New York, moved seasonally with his clients beginning circa 1885. He set up his studio on Bellevue Avenue. Down the street was the internationally famous Notman Photographic Studio, which operated establishments in major cities in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere. Every day coachmen drove their employers down Bellevue Avenue in a parade of envy.    

Alman’s city directory listing mentioned that his studio was near Ocean House. It was a significant well-known local landmark. Ocean House was a much-copied symbol of first class nineteenth century tourism located near the Casino. Built in 1846 the Gothic-inspired structure replaced the original Ocean House that burned down in 1845 only a year after being built.  Bigger and better than its predecessor, it was a five-story hotel featuring two hundred and fifty feet of frontage along Bellevue Avenue and accommodations for over four hundred guests.   It is now a parking lot.  Alman knew with that many guests in the area he was bound to get business.

He photographed this woman with her well-groomed poodle in the 1880s. Based on her dress and the dog she was likely a summer visitor. The dog is a pampered pet, likely kept clean, trained and groomed by a servant. A luxury.  Her owner wears the latest style of dress with a modest bustle and a summer style straw turban shaped hat. Her side pose not only shows off the shape of her silhouette, but also presents the best qualities of her canine, reaching for a treat from her gloved hand.  In this period, photo studios used architectural details like balustrades and fake grass to make it appear their customers posed outside. The painted backdrop in the background makes it clear this was taken indoors.

Photo by photographer Louis Alman
Photo by photographer Louis Alman

Unfortunately, this cabinet card ended up discarded. No name on the back and no history of ownership to link it to a family.

If you want to see how the wealthy lived in nineteenth century Newport, RI you can browse the census looking for particulars about where they resided. On, select the 1880 census then on the right hand side of the screen select browse, then Rhode Island for the state, Newport County and then Newport (ED 95). Street names appear along the left hand edge of the census page. Watch for Bellevue Avenue and Narragansett Avenue to see how the affluent lived.

Learn more about Rhode Island and photographic research in Maureen's Legacy Webinars.


Maureen A. Taylor is an internationally known photo detective who specializes in solving photo mysteries for clients and organizations. She is also specializes in Rhode Island research. Learn more about Maureen at



Avoid Being Overwhelmed By Your Genealogy Research

Avoid Being Overwhelmed By Your Genealogy Research

Tips On How To Avoid Being Overwhelmed by Genealogy Research

How could genealogy possibly be overwhelming? You might be saying to yourself after reading the title of this post, that genealogy is what in fact keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. While genealogy is fun and relaxing, it also challenges us to process a lot more data and information then we may normally encounter. Our brain doesn’t treat genealogy like any other part of our daily life; when it’s overwhelmed, it lets us know. This can make us feel frustrated, defeated, and less interested in genealogy then we once were. So how does someone work to avoid this? Try some of these suggestions to prevent this from happening:

Stick to your research plan

A couple weeks ago, I suggested to readers 4 Steps To Better Research Plans. Plans are used for a reason: they keep us on task. With the plethora of online databases and archives we use for genealogy, I think we can all say it’s a bit easy to get sidetracked. I might see something in the stacks that looks interesting, but was it a part of my plan for things to look at for this day? In some cases, our intuition might be telling us something, but we can get easily overwhelmed if we lose focus or try too look at too much in one day. You can incorporate into your plan when you visit the archives to reserve a bit of time to just browse. We shouldn’t completely suppress our curiosity, but when our research time is limited, we need to focus and manage our time effectively to achieve our research goals.

Consider how you organize your information

A common problem for people doing genealogy is being organized and not having an effective system for processing information. Too many documents can make us susceptible to feeling overwhelmed. Organization is especially important if you’re someone who is “on and off” researcher. Without a system for organizing your research, the relevance of a particular source or page you printed may escape you if it’s not documented in some form.

If you feel your organization could use improvement or you have a lot of documents to process to achieve your genealogy goals, take a break from research to get organized. It’s one of the best things I ever did when I realized it was too cumbersome to keep going without a system in place. Whatever system you decide to work with, documenting as you go is very important because you don’t need to rely on personal memory later.

One of my goals in getting my genealogy organized was to make it easier to access my information on a particular ancestor. You never know when your going to need something or share it with a relative, so having your documentation and records in one place helps in being prepared. As a millennial, I have an affinity for working digitally. Even though I have many family documents and take hand written notes, I scan them all or copy them into my logs. Of course, genealogy was done well before the digital age, so there are systems that rely on charts and booklets that can help us stay organized. Explore and think about what systems for organizing best serves you. You can try some of these resources to explore different methods for organizing your genealogy research:

 Don’t overdo it and take care of yourself first

Overdoing anything is not good. Whether we're working on genealogy or not, maintaining a balance is the key to health and happiness. Too much time on the computer or microfilm reader is not good for our eyes and it may be just that were so focused on doing research that it’s becoming stressful and our brain would like us to take a break. Staying off the research every once in a while is definitely a good thing. Try new activities or other hobbies that you enjoy, or devote sometime to your genealogy education with a class, book, or webinar. All of this will help you recharge yourself for research and in the process, give you some new strategies and ideas to use in your genealogy pursuits.

Writers hear all the time that they should proofread work with a fresh set of eyes, so why not do the same with genealogy? Looking at our research or brickwall with a fresh set of eyes can lead us to new clues. This concept reminds me of one of my favorite personal research stories, which led me to solve the mystery of my great-great grandmother Elizabeth Williams Freeman. A long standing brickwall in my family tree, it all came crashing down after browsing old family documents, which included a picture postcard of her son (my great-grandfather) James Wallace Freeman. The name of the recipient “Mrs. Elizabeth Shields of Kellogg, Idaho” intrigued me enough to look into it. Sure enough, my research was able to identify her as Elizabeth Freeman Williams and ultimately led me to learn about what happened to her after she divorced Wallace Freeman.

Screen Shot 2016-11-06 at 8.16.39 PM Screen Shot 2016-11-06 at 8.16.47 PM

James Wallace Freeman Photo Postcard to Mrs. Elizabeth Shields [ca. 1916]. Author's Personal Collection.

 Try a different family or line in your tree

There’s always a tendency to get involved in one particular family. It’s great to be determined, but this determination could turn into frustration. Genealogy is never done and there’s always ground to gain somewhere. Maybe there’s a particular family or ancestor you spent much time on. Perhaps you heard about a new source or database that could help you with a different ancestor. This might be a good way to continue research, but also divert your attention away from the frustration.

Feeling like there’s no ground to gain on your family? Help others with their genealogy. Not only do you give yourself a break from personal frustration, but you get to share your love and knowledge of genealogy with others!

Avid genealogists might say there’s no way genealogy can be overwhelming, but this post serves as a gentle reminder of how we need to approach genealogy with balance. It’s not just about diligent research. We all got into genealogy because of the benefits it brought to our lives and wellbeing. Don’t let being overwhelmed or frustrated take away from that!


Jake Fletcher is a professional genealogist, educator and blogger. Jake has been researching and writing about his ancestors since 2008 on his research blog. He currently volunteers as a research assistant at the National Archives in Waltham, Massachusetts and is Vice President of the New England Association of Professional Genealogists (NEAPG).