Friday, August 26, 2016

The US Census - Beyond the Names - Immigration

I am taking a few days off of work to get things done around the house but there is only so much you can do outside when it is over 90 degrees and the humidity is so high that you start sweating as soon as you step out. So, after mowing part of the yard I needed to come inside where the air conditioning works. And while I am inside I figured I would put together another post to my blog.

I see many people using the census to discover family members but often they don't bother to look at the actual document. They focus on the indexed information and are just interested in the names. A few years ago I had a talk about mining the US censuses to write your family's story. In that presentation I focused on the additional items in the census. I spoke about family composition, land ownership, employment, economy, and immigration.

Immigration information is one of those things that many beginning researchers have problems finding. The censuses have a wealth of information about immigration if you know how to find it but we always need to be weary about the information and realize that it may not always be correct. Use it as a guide to discover more information that leads to a final conclusion.

Beginning in the 1850 census each person in the census has a birth place listed. Knowing the birth place for the individuals in a family can help you find an approximate date for their immigration. Below is the 1860 census for my 3rd great-grandparents Ferdinand and Appolonia Gayer.

1860 US Census, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio

From this census I can see that Ferdinand was born in Baden, Germany. Below that there are several family members listed as "Do" which stands for ditto. The last person in this family born in Baden was Magdalena who was age 7, meaning she was likely born around 1852-1853. The next child, Catherine is listed as being born in Ohio. Catherine is 5 years old, so we can assume that she was born around 1854-1855. From this one record, which doesn't list immigration information directly, I was able to determine that the family probably immigrated between 1852 and 1855.

To find more information I then went to the 1870 census.

1870 US Census, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio

The 1870 census lists Magdalena "Mag" as 18 years old and being born in Baden. Catherine is listed as 13 years old and born in Ohio. This gives me a range of 1851 to 1857 as the possible immigration date. Notice that neither daughter aged the expected 10 years during this census so my approximate immigration date has grown a bit.

The 1880 census isn't as much help because the children are getting older and many have moved out of the family home. But I can still get a little information from it.

1880 US Census, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio

In the 1880 census only Ferdinand and his wife are listed as being born in Baden. All of the other people in the household were born in Ohio. But I do see Catherine, she is now listed as Catherine Carity, a widow, aged 24. Based on her age and the fact that she was born in Ohio, we know that the family had to immigrate before 1856.

So, what have I found out about the Gaier family and their immigration from these early censuses? First of all, I know that Ferdinand, Appalonia and several of their children were born in Baden, Germany. Secondly, I know that they most likely immigrated in the mid 1850s, probably around 1853 or 1854.

Next, I looked at the 1900 census. Between 1900 and 1930, the census should list the immigration year for each individual.

1900 US Census, Loramie Village, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio - Ferdinand Gaier

In the 1900 census I found Ferdinand Gaier, age 90, born in Germany. He is living in the home of his daughter Magdalena who married Joseph Rice. Remember, Magdalena was the last child born in Germany before the family immigrated. The columns after the birth locations should have the immigration information. Just my luck, the enumerator failed to record the immigration information for this family. So, that means we need to check on the other children who were born in Germany to see if the census records their immigration year.

1900 US Census, Granville Township, Mercer, Ohio - Charles Gaier

The 1900 census for Charles Gaier lists his immigration year as 1850. That is a little bit off of what I had figured but still within the typical margin of error on a census.

What about her brother Valentine? I was able to find Valentine in the 1900 and 1910 censuses.

1900 US Census, Loramie Village, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio - Val Gaier

1910 US Census, Loramie Village, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio - Val Gaier

Val's 1900 census lists his immigration year as 1952 while the 1910 census lists it as 1953. Both of these dates seem to fit with what I know about the children in this family.

Now, knowing that the family probably immigrated in the range of 1852-1854 I can look to see which port of entry was most likely at that time. Many German immigrants arrived on the east coast in New York and traveled west to Ohio. Others came in through New Orleans and traveled north up the Mississippi River to Ohio. If they arrived in New York, they would most likely have come through Castle Garden.

Searching through the Castle Garden database I was able to find Ferdinand Geiger and family listed as arriving on 13 January 1854 aboard the ship Carolus Magnus from Le Havre, France.

Carolus Magnus Passenger List - 13 January 1854

Passenger List for Ferdinand Geiger and Family

So, starting with a few hints from the census records I was able to deduce the immigration dates for this family. Remember that census records provide clues to approximate dates, not the exact dates. However, knowing how to use those clues can lead to more discoveries in your families.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

WolframAlpha - A Computational Knowledge Engine

Hello all! Summer is coming to an end and all the kids are going back to school. That could be a good thing for us genealogists who want that extra free time to do research, or it could mean more time trying to remember how in the world to do fractions and binomials. Whichever it is for you, I have a suggestion for a site to try. It is WolframAlpha.

WolframAlpha is not your typical search engine, it is a computational knowledge engine. What does that mean? Well, it doesn't search the web for hits and provide you a list of websites to look at. WolframAlpha tries to give you answers to your questions. You can choose from a variety of topics including Places & Geography, People & History, Dates & Times, and many more. It even has a Genealogy section but that doesn't show up on the homepage list.

On typical search engines, like Google, we are trying to find information on specific relatives such as where they lived, is there an obituary, where are they buried, is there a ship's list, etc. You can't do that kind of search on WolframAlpha. But you can do some interesting things. Maybe you remember when I wrote about RelativeFinder I mentioned that my only famous relative was Paris Hilton. My great-grandfather's brother's wife's first cousin is Paris Hilton's great-great grandmother. Well, what does my relationship look like for this? I asked WolframAlpha to map out great-grandfather's brother's wife's first cousin great-great granddaughter.

WolframAlpha relational mapping. My relationship to Paris Hilton.
Isn't that cool? It can calculate the relationship, determine blood relation, number of generations removed, and at what generation you have common ancestors.

What about dates? I have an obituary where the weekly newspaper was written on Thursdays. The first Thursday in May 1912 was on May 2nd, but the obituary says the person died last Friday. What was the date that he died? I can never remember if a month had 30 or 31 days so I usually search for a clendar from 1912 to do my look-up. But WolframAlpha can do the calculation for you. Just type in Friday before 2 May 1912 and see what happens.

WolframAlpha date calculator.

The calendar results give you the date, Friday, 26 April 1912, but there is more. You can find date formats, how long ago that was from today (in this case the person died 104 years, 3 months and 25 days ago), what day of the year it was, nearby holidays, time of sunrise and sunset, phase of the moon, etc.

Have you ever gone to the cemetery and found a headstone with the date of death and the person's age? Let's pretend the headstone says the person died 5 April 1914 and he was 76 years, 6 months and 28 days old at the time of death. How would you calculate his birth date? In WolframAlpha you write it as a calculation 5 April 1914 - 76 years - 6 months - 28 days.

WolframAlpha computational calendar.
The result is that he was born on Thursday, 7 September 1837, and died on Sunday, 5 April 1914. Oh yeah, it even tells you the day when you provide it a date. It also provides the results in a variety of calendar formats including Jewish, Islamic, Chinese and Mayan and you find out he was a Virgo. Further down on the page it provides additional information like other historical events on that date.

What if I wanted to know the weather in a certain place on a given date? I decided to see about the weather in Dayton, Ohio on 4 July 1962. Was it a nice day for the celebrations? Did it rain? The results give min and max temperatures, conditions, wind speed, humidity, hourly results for temperature, cloud cover, humidity, pressure, wind, sunlight intensity, ranges of historical temperatures for that date, and much more.

WolframAlpha weather data.
One thing I like to do is see how much a dollar was worth compared to today. Several censuses provide the value of personal property such as their house, their annual income, or the rent they were paying. Let's suppose the value of their home in the 1940 census was $5,000. What is that worth today?

WolframAlpha value calculator
From this, we see that the $5,000 house in 1940 is equivalent to $87,810 today. We can also see the inflation factor and a graph showing how that value has changed over time.

Another fantastic thing you can do with WolframAlpha is find out a tricky word. What I mean by this is when you are reading the handwriting, or someone "accidentally" punched a hole in the document and you can only read a few letters of a word and you need to figure out what it said. You do this by typing in the letters you can read and putting an underline in for the missing letters. An example would be b__g__s. I just chose these letters at random to see what it would come up with.

WolframAlpha word suggestions
The list is fairly long. Now all you have to do is look through it to find something that fits. Would it be badgers, baggies, or bangles? Pretty cool, and it helps with your crossword puzzles when you are stuck.

Can WolframAlpha help me with finding out how common a surname is? Of course it can. However, some of the surnames in my family, such as Westerheide and Aufderhaar, don't come up in the search. So I tried a more common name, Meyer. You do the search by typing in the last name Meyer.

WolframAlpha name search
As you can see, Meyer is the 163rd most common name in the US with  a frequency of 1 in every 1,802 people. There are about 150,000 people with this last name and they are predominantly white. There is more information as you go further down the page, including famous people with that name.

There is much more that WolframAlpha can do to expand your genealogy research. Take a look at their examples page and try it out for yourself. They even have a mobile app available for Genealogy and History searches.

Have fun and continue learning about your ancestors.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Family History Research Today - it's not your Grandma's Research

Welcome back! I have had all sorts of ideas floating through my head on what to write about but just haven't had the time recently. Currently, I am working on setting up the first Indian River Genealogy Conference, scheduled for March 18, 2017, managing a Family History Center and preparing training opportunities for the family history consultants since I was just called as the Vero Beach Stake Family History Center Director, helping to organize a new virtual genealogy society on Second Life called the Second Life Virtual Genealogy Society (SLVGS), and just doing my usual things. Isn't it great to be ADHD? But with all that going on I decided to take off work today and do some things around the house, including adding a new blog post.

So, what have I been thinking about lately? As you can see, I was writing some posts about various online archives in Europe. Before that I was writing about some of the apps that have been developed for FamilySearch. But today I began to think about how genealogy research has changed over the 20 or so years that I have been working on it. I grew up in the computer era. My first computer was a RadioShack Tandy CoCo color computer. You used a TV screen as the monitor. The modem was a telephone you placed on a cradle, the hard drive was a cassette recorder, and I had a 9-pin dot matrix printer with spooled paper. Now we all walk around with cell phones, tablets, and touch screen computers. Our printers have built in scanners and we can make color copies of photographs, take pdf and jpg images of our documents, and a large portion of the records we need to start our research are online and available for us to research at the push of a button, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We have been spoiled by all of this technology, but we do need to realize that only a small portion of all the records are available online. There are many other records out there that we are under utilizing because they are stored on shelves or boxes in a storage room in the basement of a courthouse or the attic of some long lost relative.

In the old days, some of you still remember, we had to take road trips or fly to our homelands to find records. We would search through page after page of records looking for that elusive name or date. Today, many of our records have been indexed by volunteers or contractors, and we have the capacity to use optical character recognition (OCR) so many typed records are now transcribed by computers. Just look at all of the newspaper archives that are opening up online (Fulton History, Chronicling America, Genealogy Bank, and so many more). One of my favorite places to search for newspapers is Wikipedia. Did you know that they have an ongoing project to list the available newspapers at their List of Online Newspapers page? If not, you may want to check it out.

Also, today family history is a collaborative project. Sites such as FamilySearch have one tree where researchers from all over the world can work together building a more detailed record of our families, contributing copies of the documents and photographs that they have in their possession. Social media sites have also been taken over by family history researchers. How many of you use Facebook as a research tool? The number of Facebook groups dedicated to genealogy research are growing exponentially. There is even a list of all the Facebook groups dedicated to genealogy posted on the web. Another rapidly growing genealogy resource is Pinterest. You can search projects, posts, photographs, and other items on Pinterest and you can store your photos there also. Have you thought about setting up interest areas on Pinterest that focus on your interests? A friend of mine, Becky Jamison, has been blogging about a site called Trello. Trello is a site that helps you organize your records in such a way as to tell a story. I suggest that you look at Becky's blog and search for Trello since she has several posts describing how she is using it for her research.

The internet is growing so rapidly that no one person can know where all the necessary records are located. Through collaborative research we will be able to have a more complete story of those who have come before us and really get to know who they were. I challenge each of you to find a seldom used site, get away from the big sites, take the plunge in social media, find new cousins, and build collaborations to increase your research capabilities.

I hope everyone has a great weekend and discovers some of those branches and new leaves that we all know are on our trees.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Algorithmia - Colorize Your Photos Automatically

Welcome back, it has been a few weeks since my last post. I have been extremely busy at work over the last couple weeks working on a tight deadline. If you don't know, my real job is as a supervisory biologist for the US Fish & Wildlife Service working on the Everglades Restoration Project. My job focuses on making sure that proposed projects do not harm endangered species. The past year and a half I have been working with a team to make sure that the Cape Sable seaside sparrow doesn't go extinct in the near future. The population dropped about 25% this year from an estimated population of 3,200 down to an estimated 2,400 individuals. This species is showing signs similar to what was observed in the Dusky seaside sparrow that went extinct in 1987 and the Florida grasshopper sparrow which is now down to less than 200 individuals. I think working with highly imperiled species gives me a better prospective of why I do family history research, I don't want to see these rare artifacts and stories disappear any more than I would want to see one of our rare species disappear. Now that I have given you something to think about, I will provide you with another review of a product that I recently tried out.

I was reading Dick Eastman's blog about the Algorithmia web site. He was talking about how this site can colorize your old black & white photos. For most users, this site is free but if you have a large number of photos there may be a charge. After reading the review I thought this might be an interesting site to try.

The Algorithmia site is accessed at Your photos need to be accessible by a web link. So I tried some of the photos that I have posted to my other blog ( and from Facebook. You don't need to set up an account in order to use the colorize feature. The accounts seem to be for developers who want to contribute code to various projects they are developing.

Here are the results for a few of my photos:






Generally the photos I have provided above look ok. Some pictures work much better than others. Some of the colors are way off, like the red area of the suit jacket in the last two colorized photos. Many of the black & white photos just came out in a sepia tone or the sepia photos came out a bit more brown. Overall, it is an interesting site to play with, and depending on your photos, has the potential to bring new life into your family history. But for the purists, it probably isn't something you want to do to all your photos.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Paris, France Archives

I hope everyone is having a good weekend. I had planned on going to see our local airshow today but it was 93 degrees and so humid you started to sweat just walking outside. We decided that we didn't want to sit on the airfield in the sun and get roasted. So instead of that, I ended up picking the bananas in our back yard and made three loaves of banana fig bread.

Today I decided to mention the Paris, France archives. The archives can be found at  This archive has free access to their decennial tables for 1860-1974. There is also a reconstructed alphabetic file constructed from other vital records for the 16th century to 1859. The four centuries of vital records are not yet scanned so you only have the alphabetic index. They also have indexes to the military service records (1875-1921) and children's records (1742-1915). These records are great resources if your ancestors lived in Paris.

In order to search you will select the vital records link and then fill in the search boxes.

Vital Records Search page for the Paris Archives
The results page will give you a range of names and the number of pages that contain those names.

Results Page for the Vital Records Search
When you click on the eye with the number of pages you get the following display.

Results Display
If you look you will see Leon Levy's name. This is the person I was looking for. He was married 3 May 1921 in Paris. At the top of the page, in the title bar, you see the record type (marriages), date range (1913-1922), district (8e), and the name I was searching. The contrast, page number and magnifier controls are located to the right.

I was able to use the alphabetic index to find the marriage date for Leon Levy and then for his wife, Alice Marchessault, on another page. Of course I had to look up both the groom and the bride in the index to see if they had the same date for their marriage. Luckily they did.

Since this is an alphabetic index I noticed a few lines below Leon's name was Rene Levy, his brother. Now I have to find who he married in Paris on 19 November 1921.

One thing to be aware of, Paris is divided into 20 districts and the records are filed as such. If you know which district your ancestor lived in it is easy to search. However, if you don't know their district you will have to go through each file until you find them. Luckily Leon lived in district 8 so I only had to look through the first 8 sets of records. If he lived in district 20 I would have had a long day of searching.

Good luck and may all your ancestors help you in your searches.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany Archives

Welcome back everyone. Since I talked about the Alsace-Lorraine, France archives yesterday I figured I would jump across the Rhine and mention the Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany archives today. These archives have been a great help in researching my wife's ancestors. Her German line came from Ellmendingen in Karlsruhe.

The Baden-Wurttemberg archives can be found at As you view this page you will see the main search categories. Remember, if you can't read the German, either use the translate function in the Chrome browser or go to the bottom of the page were you will see a note that says View This Page In English. The search section is pretty helpful and is shown below.

Search area of the Baden-Wurttemberg Archives (English version).

Once you know which area of Baden-Wurttemberg your family originated from you can select the correct department and search from there. Since most of the images are not yet indexed you will have to search page by page within the town your ancestors came from. In order to select the town, just type it in the search box and see which records show up. Make sure you search under each category  on the page because you may get different results. Sometimes I like to search page by page because you never know what you will find. Many times I have run across familiar names when I was looking for one person in particular. In many of these records I have found at least one person from my file on each page I looked at.

Example of records found in the archive.
Good luck with these German records, and happy hunting.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Archives for Alsace-Lorraine, France (Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin and Moselle)

Hello again, I am now on a two blog post streak (yes, two is a streak for me). I will be focusing on some French archives in the next few posts. Did you know that France was divided into 83 departments during the French Revolution and that each of those departments have their own archives?!

Lately I have been helping someone research their ancestors in the Alsace-Lorraine region. The Alsace-Lorraine region was formed as part of the Germen Empire in 1871 and is located on the west bank of the Rhine River, directly across from Baden-Wurttemberg where my wife's ancestors are from. Because of their close proximity, many of the residents of this region spoke German dialects and many of their records were in German also. This area was transferred to France after WW I but re-annexed by Germany during WW II. Now it is again part of France and is referred to as Alsace-Moselle.

The area is divided into three main regions, Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin and Moselle. Each of these regions have their own archives. Many of these records go back into the 1700s and include parish and census records, as well as birth, marriage and death records.

Here is an example of the records that I have found in these archives:

Birth record for Rose Netter - 1832.

The Bas-Rhin archives can be found at
The Haut-Rhin archives are located at
The Moselle archives are at

Many of the records in these archives are not yet searchable so it does take some looking through the pages to find the ones you may be looking for. However, what I have found is that many of the record sets have their indexes included either at the front or the back of the records. So, to make it easier to search you may want to look at a few pages up front and then in the back to find where the index is located. These record sets include multiple years and the indexes are included with each year so you will still have to search the documents to find each year's index. One difficulty that I have found in these records is that all of the records are separated by town. So, just knowing that your ancestor was from Alsace-Lorraine may not be good enough. You will need to know which department to begin searching and then know which town they lived in to find their records. This made it extremely difficult because the family I was looking for began in Fegersheim and then moved to Strasbourg about 1880. All I was given by the person I am helping was that they were from Alsace-Lorraine. I was able to determine the towns based on US records, including immigration, naturalization and passport applications.

Good luck finding your Alsatian ancestors, whether they be German or French.