Saturday, September 2, 2017

FamilySearch Indexing - Zoning Pilot Project

Ok, I know what you are thinking - Why can't he write on a regular basis like all the other bloggers? The answer is - I don't know. I love to write but I seem to only be able to do it when I get inspired, and then sometimes when I am inspired I don't have the time to focus. So, a few weeks ago I was waiting for my wife in a parking lot, listening to NPR. The program that was on was from The Millennial Podcast titled Nothing to Lose. That show talked about how the host began her podcast and the challenges she faced trying to find her inspiration. It inspired me to think about writing again (that was over a month ago). I had some great ideas but then just never was able to allocate the time to seriously sit down and write. I thought about writing down my ideas, I had many, but that just passed by without being pursued. So, this week when I had a few free hours, I sat down and started a new pilot indexing project for FamilySearch called Zoning. This was a fun project where volunteers view newspaper pages and block out stories with marriage, birth and death information. In the first day I completed over 670 zones in newspapers from Raleigh, North Carolina. I decided that this would be a good story to provide since this such a new project.

So, let's discuss a bit about indexing to start with. Anyone can volunteer to index the records that have already been digitized. To learn more about indexing visit the FamilySearch Indexing webpage. The indexing projects are moving ahead and more records are being made searchable each month. With the success of the indexing program and the addition of more digitized images online there has been a decrease in the need for microfilms to be sent out. Additionally, the cost of copying microfilms has increased substantially over the years. Many of you have probably read that the Family History Library will stop sending out microfilm records at the end of this week (September 7, 2017). The reason they are ending the microfilm rental process is that many of the films are now available online and they believe almost all of them should be available over the next three years, around 2020. Just to point out the major accomplishments achieved already in digitizing microfilm records, think about the following:

  • Almost all of the microfilms rented by patrons in the past 5 years have now been digitized.
  • Over 1.5 million microfilms (1.5 billion images) are now available online.
  • Microfilms are being digitized at the rate of 1,000 rolls per day.
  • Images that have not been indexed are available in the FamilySearch Catalog.

So, why is Zoning important? Zoning serves as the first step in indexing newspaper records. The zoners highlight the regions of each newspaper page that contain marriage, birth and death information that will be useful in our family history research. There are sets of key words that the zoners look for such as adoption, birthday, anniversary, divorce, engagement, estate, obituary, probate, etc.

If you are interested in signing up for the Zoning pilot project click here. Once your request has been approved and you are signed up you can begin zoning.

FamilySearch Zoning Pilot Project - initial view
Each batch consists of five newspaper pages that may or may not contain important information. As you read the page, looking for the key words, you begin to note which articles are subject to zoning. Currently the only events that are being zoned are those that contain birth, marriage or death information. 

Page after it has been Zoned for marriage information

The page above has several articles pertaining to marriage events such as engagements, anniversaries, announcements and marriages. Marriage information is highlighted in orange and the areas in blue are stories that are stitched together over several columns.

Page after it has been Zoned for death information

The page above has several articles pertaining to deaths. These stories are highlighted in green. Also, if you look at the side bar there is a page with a large red X on it. That indicates that there are no stories with birth, marriage, or death information. The large black circles indicate that those pages have been zoned.

Once you have zoned all the pages you can submit them and go on to zone more batches. This project is important for future indexing in that it provides the articles which will be added to the newspaper records.

I know some people have been having trouble indexing records, either because of the difficulty reading them or because of other reasons. This Zoning pilot project is an easy way for those who are having trouble contributing to the Indexing project to provide new records to the FamilySearch records.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

RootsTech 2017 - Day 4

Day 4 has finally come. This is the last day of RootsTech 2017 and the first morning that I actually slept until my alarm went off at 5:45 am. My day will end at 6:00 am tomorrow morning when I arrive at the Orlando Airport.

Our opening session today was hosted by Ancestry DNA. Ancestry DNA announced the launch of their new Genetic Communities scheduled for March/April this year. The Genetic Communities is basically a high resolution population cluster analysis indicating the most probable locations linked to your DNA results. They currently have 1,000 communities to compare your DNA but only 300 will be available at the initial launch. These communities are smaller geographic regions where there is a high concentration of specific genetic interconnectivity. This technology is ground breaking and was recently published in the journal Nature. With this resolution of data Ancestry can show migration routes and provide historical context to help build your stories. The results also show which of your DNA match cousins also belong to your genetic communities, allowing you to see how these cousins could be related if they don't already have trees on Ancestry to match to.

CeCe Moore, the Genetic Genealogist, talked about her research and how memories may be carried through generations via DNA. There have been several studies that indicate this may actually occur. She told about several of her projects where she reunited families that were separated at birth or found people who had forgotten who they were. The value of DNA in genealogical research is proving to be one of the most important discoveries of our time.

The winners of the Innovator Showdown were announced this morning. They were:

  • Kindex - People's Choice Award - $25,000 in cash and in kind credits
  • Double Match Triangulator - 3rd Place - $26,000 in cash and in kind credits
  • Qroma Tag - 2nd Place - $44,000 in cash and in kind credits
  • OldNews USA - 1st Place - $95,000 in cash and in kind credits

I also attended the Ancestry sponsored lunch. Ancestry has set a priority of making more records available and making their search process as fast as possible. In the old days it took an average of 1 hour and 20 minutes to find a person in the 1870 US census on microfilm. It now takes 22 seconds to perform the same task on Ancestry. Just in the last year, their page access time has improved by 44%, resulting in a 2x increase in page loading speed. Additionally, they are working on a predictive search algorithm, focusing the results based on your recent activities.

Ancestry has over 19 billion online records and added 2.3 billion new records last year alone with the largest increases being the addition of US Vital Records, Church of England Parishes, Ireland Catholic Parish Registers, German Lutheran Church Registers, and German Directories. Their US Marriage library now totals more than 300 million records, three times larger than FindMyPast's collection of US marriage records. Ancestry plans on adding another 120 million German records in the next 3 months resulting in a total of 640 million German records. They are also expanding their Dutch and Swedish record collections. And, one more collection, the US WW I Troop Transport collection will be available in April of 2017. This collection includes the crew and passenger lists for the troop transport ships during WW I. The partnership between Ancestry and FamilySearch provides a record library larger than all the other FamilySearch partners combined.

What else is Ancestry planning for 2017? is adding 8 to 10 million pages each month and currently have more than 240 million pages online. They will launch the We Remember personal memorial pages later this year. These memorial pages can be created for your deceased ancestors, providing one point of entry to tell their stories. AncestryDNA now has over 3 million users, a 2 million user increase over this time a year ago. The increased number of DNA kits in their system is providing many more results for those using the system.

The closing ceremony featured Noteworthy and Vocal Point, two groups from BYU. Additionally, they announced the winners from the cake contest, judged by The Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro. There were 60 cakes entered in the competition and the winner was awarded nearly $12,000 in high end kitchen appliances.

It has been a wonderful conference and I look forward to next year. FamilySearch announced that the RootsTech 2018 conference will be February 28 - March 3. It's time to start saving up for your trip.

RootsTech 2017 - Day 3

RootsTech has been great so far and today was no different (except the weather turned rainy and cold).

The General Session this morning started with Ben Bennet from FindMyPast talking about their new collections. In 2016, FindMyPast released the beginning of the US Marriage Record Collection. Their goal is to provide more than 100  million marriage records with over 450 million indexed names. That would be the largest collection of US marriage records for any site available today. Currently, they have over 70 million records available for search and expect the remainder to be released in the next couple months. Additionally, FindMyPast has acquired Twile. Twile is a tool that allows you to visualize your family history timeline. Twile recently came out with a family infographic using your data from FamilySearch.

My Family Infographic from Twile

What else does FindMyPast have in store for 2017? During the FindMyPast lunch they announced one of the most important releases in 2017 will be their partnership with the Catholic Church for the release of the Catholic Heritage Archive. The Catholic records for Ireland (7.6 million records) were released first with Scotland and the UK following soon. The US Catholic records will be released by archdiocese. The first US archdiocese, Philadelphia was released today. Several others, including Baltimore, New York, and Cincinnati will be released later this year. I am looking forward to the Cincinnati release since it will hopefully have many of my Ohio ancestors.

LeVar Burton, Geordi LeForge from Star Trek TNG, gave a very emotional talk to open the conference today. He emphasized the importance of having good role models as we grow up. He talked about his mother and how she, as a single mother raising children, worked to better herself by being the first person in her family to get a college degree and by working several jobs to make sure they had what they needed to succeed. LeVar also discussed his role in Roots and how the mini-series changed the way we see ourselves. At the end of his presentation, FamilySearch presented him with his family history and talked about some of the significant finds they discovered. LeVar was deeply touched by the stories they presented and there wasn't a dry eye in the convention center.

I also attended a question and answer session with the senior executives from FamilySearch where we learned about the direction FamilySearch is headed. I asked them if they were considering being able to include DNA results in their system. They said that was something they were investigating. Another thing that they mentioned was that they were taking a conservative approach to privacy issues and that their stance on this was beyond what the other companies had as policies. Some records are not being released because of the potential for privacy issues and they are looking at ways to handle living people in the system, to make it more useful without exposing private information to the world. Their customer support continues to be one of the best in the world with over 2,000 support missionaries handling over 1 million requests during 2016.

FamilySearch is concentrating on increasing their records availability. They are prioritizing their content acquisition to include high risk and vitally important records but have the ability to loan out smaller capture kits to groups so they can digitize their own collections. FamilySearch is focusing on developing partnerships to assist them in records acquisitions and are looking at some nontraditional partners to help develop some areas like their recipe collection. So, how quickly are the records being digitized? Well, about 50% of the vault records are now complete. They expect the remaining records to be complete in only a couple years and as new digitizing technology becomes available they will be able to increase the speed at which they release records. They are working on better OCR and AI technology so that computers will be able to index more records. Using these improved technologies they were able to index 26 million obituaries last year without the need for indexers. This allows the indexers to focus on more difficult records. Additionally, they are working on new partnerships with newspapers to include their collections.

The FamilySearch user base is expanding from the predominantly English speaking regions to more Latin American users but the hinting is still focused on English records. They also have seen a 40% increase in the use by youth, including Primary age children (under 12 years old).

All of these advancements will provide new resources for us to research our family histories and learn more about each and every one of our ancestors.

And, to finish off the day, MyHeritage had their After Party. This is a great opportunity for us to network and discuss various things. And just in case you thought genealogists were boring old ladies, that would be wrong. One of the most popular activities at the party was the karaoke stage. The music ranged from 80's rock to rap. Everyone had a great time.

They announced the dates for RootsTech 2018 as February 28 - March 3. That is a little later than usual and will probably require some other local conferences to rearrange their schedules but I don't plan on missing it.

One more day of RootsTech 2017 left and then I can head home and get some sleep.

Friday, February 10, 2017

RootsTech 2017 - Day 2

Wow! It was a busy day today. First of all, I am still on Florida time, so when the clock rolled around to 4 am I was ready to go. Since it was still dark out and the convention center wasn't open I did a bit of walking and playing Pokemon Go. There are a lot of Pokestops in and around Temple Square.

The conference opened with Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch talking about how certain foods can bring back memories of events. He told us about how his grandfather would take the grand kids to the A&W Rootbeer stand and how his grandmother made rocky road fudge for special occasions. This has lead FamilySearch to develop a new part of FamilySearch where you can upload your family recipes. It is located at The purpose is to preserve your heritage by sharing your recipes.

Steve Valentine, FamilySearch's director of partnerships, also mentioned how the different online genealogy companies were partnering to bring more information to the public. He said that Ancestry was focusing on increasing the availability of Mexican records, MyHeritage was focusing to bring more Scandanavian records, FindMyPast was focusing on US marriage records, Geneanet was focusing on French records and FamilySearch now has the largest collection of Chinese records online. FamilySearch was also partnering with BYU to improve computer text recognition software and has been able to index 26 million obituaries over the last year.

Steve Rockwood talked about using the collaborative family tree. The tree now has over 1.1 billion linked names and over 700 million attached sources. But, if you are still concerned about the use of a collaborative tree, FamilySearch is maintaining the ability to upload your gedcom file as a read only source. You can upload your gedcom by clicking on Search at the top of the page and then Genealogies. At the bottom of the page is a Submit Tree button that lets you upload your own gedcom file. One thing to notice on the Genealogies page is the data sets that you can search beyond the IGI, Pedigree Resource File and Ancestral File. These include trees from the Guild of One Name Studies, Oral Genealogies, and Community Trees. These are all valuable resources that should be looked at occasionally during your research.

Aaron Godfrey from MyHeritage spoke about MyHeritage's DNA matching and ethnicity results. They believe they have the most accurate ethnicity results of any DNA test. They took DNA samples from over 5,000 individuals with strong ethnic backgrounds from 200 locations to use as their baseline comparisons for their ethnicity results.

The Property Brothers, Jonathan and Drew Scott, talked about their family, their Scottish heritage, and how their HGTV show allows them to help people achieve their dreams. In each of their projects, they try to focus some of their design around a family heirloom or object, this could be a knick-knack or a photo that the family treasures. In that way, they bring a part of the family into the project design.

As always, the keynote speakers did an excellent job of motivating the audience.

I didn't do many classes today but one that I made sure to attend was Kitty Cooper's discussion of DNA Triangulation. She writes a blog at where she talks about genetics and genealogy. She did a great job of making a very technical topic more understandable. There are a couple tools she discussed that help interpret your DNA results. This was actually a very timely presentation and was useful to me and my family today. My wife was contacted by someone who shows as a 1st cousin to my mother-in-law (who just passed last week - we did her DNA for Christmas) and a 2nd cousin for my wife. As you may know, DNA results showing as 1st cousins could also be half siblings. We believe, based on the results, that this new relative is either the child of my wife's grandfather's brother, or the child of her grandfather. We may have  a bit of a problem determining which it is since the person is adopted and doesn't know her heritage. But at least we are able to connect her to many new relatives on her Bielefeld and Wesner lines that we know about.

MyHeritage provided a great sponsored lunch today. They added two new functions to the MyHeritage site. Today they released the Photo Discoveries application. This basically works like their SmartMatching but does it with photos. This was released today and I already had a hit! There is a picture of Hermann Augenstein (1875-1949) that I had never seen before. This new discovery also added 7 new people to my tree. The second application, Consistency Checker, will be released this Saturday. Consistency Checker goes through your MyHeritage trees and alerts you of potential problems such as parents being younger than their children, mother being too young to have children, husband and wife are too far apart in age, etc. Running this application could help make sure your tree is as accurate as possible. One good thing with the Consistency Checker is that you can adjust the configuration to set thresholds for it to alert you with. MyHeritage also talked about the advances in their DNA collection. They already had access to 23andMe DNA and are letting people upload their DNA files from other sites such as Ancestry and FTDNA. Today they announced the hiring of Dr. Yaniv Erlich as Chief Science Officer to lead development and strategy for MyHeritage's DNA program. Look for several improvements and additions to their DNA program in the next few months.

Oh yeah, the event tonight was great. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed a selection of Rogers and Hammerstein pieces at the Conference Center.

Well, I hope this information gives you something to look forward to in the coming weeks. I'll let you know what else I learn tomorrow. Goodnight!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

RootsTech 2017 - Day 1

It has been a busy day. I arrived in Salt Lake City last night late, after a 5 hour flight. That was after a busy few days where my mother-in-law passed away last week and we had her funeral Monday afternoon. It was a hard week for everyone involved.

Today was day 1 for RootsTech 2017. I was up before 6:00 am making my way to the convention center. The weather has been nice with temperatures in the 40's, so the walk wasn't bad. The major event for today was the Innovator Showdown. So, here is a rundown of some of the sessions I attended.

9:00 - Steve Rockwood, President & CEO of FamilySearch talked about innovators needing to focus on all levels of customers, from beginning researchers to experts. He presented on how the new Discovery Experience on the first floor of the Family History Library draws many people in with a cool experience which then leads them to the other floors where they begin to do research on their families. He talked about how the internet and other new technologies are opening family history to the masses and even demonstrated how Alexa can provide family history information. If you don't know what Alexa is, it is a device that responds to voice commands and answers you back based on information it discovers on the internet. He asked Alexa, "Alexa, anything interesting in my family tree today?" and Alexa responded by providing some information on a couple ancestors who died on that day. He also asked everyone to check if they were related to him by looking up his father, Trulon Van Rockwood (FamliySearch PID#KW88-46X). I put that PID number into the FamilySearch app on my phone and discovered that my wife is a direct descendant of his 9th great grandmother, Mary Rose Croshaw (PID#LKC2-YBF).

Liz Wiseman, author of "Rookie Smarts" presented next. Her talk was on how many tech innovators were inexperienced rookies who didn't know what couldn't be done. She asked us to think about our rookie experiences and how we handled challenges then. As rookies, many of us would seek out networks of people that we could learn from, we asked questions, volunteered for "opportunities", and acted outside our comfort zones. As experts, many of us now make assumptions that we already know the answer, stay within prescribed boundaries, see what we want to see, and miss the gorilla in the room. We need to step back and throw out the rule book, make an attempt to start fresh, leave the mode of giving answers and begin to ask questions again, question what we "know", seek out less experienced individuals, and take new challenges to put yourself back on the bottom of the learning curve. The more challenging the task, the more satisfying it is to complete. Don't get caught in the rut of doing routine assignments because low challenge equals low satisfaction. I totally relate to that last part. I have switched jobs frequently in order to put myself back on the bottom of the learning curve and to perform challenging new things. I do get bored quickly with a standard routine.

10:15 - Craig Bott hosted a panel on Industry Trends and Outlooks. There were representatives from FamilySearch, FindMyPast, JRNL and TagGenes discussing how innovation can change the genealogy environment. Today, many of the new innovations focus around using the data, sharing it and documenting events. This is resulting in multiple ways to use the data but few new ways to gather the information. There is lots of room for innovation in genealogy and the market is huge, genealogy is second, behind only gardening, as a hobby. So how do we engage the larger market? We need to lower barriers, build on existing content and engage people where they are at. Innovators need to differentiate, build products people want, not reinvent the wheel, and show that sharing is caring. TapGenes has innovated by using DNA tests to interpret medical histories and is now working on life planning applications based on your DNA. FamilySearch is working on advanced OCR and handwriting recognition, natural language processing to understand the context of words in records, and neural network and machine learning so computers can improve the accuracy of their record searches. They are also looking at new ways to gather records by determining the risk these records face through natural disasters, political turmoil, poor archiving processes, etc. Another innovation they are investigating is how to share data between sites by removing boundaries between companies. This will cut down on duplication of efforts and allow users to select their favorite platform.

12:30 - The Innovators Showdown presented the top 10 innovators. They included Qroma Tag, JoyFlips, Cuzins, Crowd Sourced Indexing (CSI), Kindex, Rootsfinder, Champollion 2.0, Emberall, DoubleMatchTriangulator, and OldNews USA.

Qroma Tag is an app that allows users to provide custom metadata for photographs. The program can be found at

JoyFlips is an app that connects photos to family history. It allows you to scan and share photos, and provide searchable text by speaking into the app.

Cuzins is an app which links you to your famous relatives. The intent is to introduce young users to genealogy by showing which celebrities they are related to.

Crowd Sourced Indexing is a web based tool that manages indexing project for groups. It allows groups to scan their collections and develop an indexing project based on those records.

Kindex was one of my favorites. This program allows families to produce their own searchable archive of family records in the cloud. Their program can be found at

Rootsfinder integrates with various online genealogy databases to make your searches easier and more productive. It also allows for data to be shared on social media. This program can be found at

Champollion 2.0 is a desktop application that can clean up digitized records and makes it easier to transcribe documents.

Emberall is a smartphone app that helps you tell anyone's story. The app provides the user with a set of questions and organized video clips of the answers to produce a story of the person's life.

DoubleMatchTriangulator helps you analyze your DNA matches and shows how various people are related. It can be found at

OldNews USA is also a phone app. This app helps you research newspapers by suggesting papers that are most likely to have information based on your search information. Users can save clips to their phone or as pdf documents. The app also works with Google Maps to located newspapers near where your ancestors lived.

There were several additional sessions that I attended today, but I am tired and will try to get some sleep before tomorrow. I may write more about the other sessions later. Remember, you can watch some of these sessions streamed live or as archive videos on

Saturday, January 14, 2017

German Genealogy - Using Social Media

Gooood Morning! It's a beautiful day down here in South Florida. The forecast is for sun and in the mid 70s all weekend. Our plans for today are to go to the farmer's market at the beach and then to the home show at the fairgrounds. But before I get out and about, I figured I would get another blog post in. Today's post is about using social media to help in your German research. These tips are good for any type of research on social media but I will be focusing specifically on those pages and groups that deal with German research.

First off, if you aren't using Facebook for your research you are missing out on a treasure trove of information. I know some people aren't comfortable using social media, but you have control over what you post and who you friend. So, be selective of your interactions if that is your concern. Others may not be comfortable because it is a new world for them. But how many times have you tried something new just to realize that you have been missing out on the benefits because of your fears. Social media is the new world for genealogy research and we should embrace it and learn to use the tools that are available.

So, let's get started. Why should you use social media for your genealogy research? The answer is that there are over 1.3 billion people using Facebook and you have the ability to interact with every one of them. That is nearly 20% of the world's population! For the developed countries, the percent participation in Facebook is much higher, sometimes over 50% of a country's population. Your chance of running into someone who can help you in your research are extremely large. And of course, with all those people online, there are a large number of groups that they have created. I won't be able to discuss them all, but Katherine Willson has tried to build a directory for all the genealogy related pages. This directory now has over 10,000 Facebook groups listed that deal with genealogy. You can find this list by going to her blog and clicking on Genealogy on Facebook List. Be aware that this list is now nearly 300 pages long, so you might not want to print it out. For Germany alone, she has over 50 groups listed.

How do you find a group that can help you? Groups and pages are set up by administrators and deal with specific topics. Some groups may address research techniques like using a specific software program. Other groups may address specific record types like photographs. While others may specialize in a certain region such as a town, county, state, or country. I suggest that after you log into Facebook, you do a search for the term you are interested in. One thing to remember though, is always read the purpose and guidelines/rules for the groups. Some admins are very strict on what they allow to be posted or the number of posts you can do in a day. If you violate these rules they can kick you from the group. So, always read the rules.

First, let's start in the United States. If you search your immigrant ancestors' home county you will find many possible groups to join. If they lived in a larger community you may want to search for that location also. My ancestors settled in Auglaize, Shelby, Darke and Mercer counties in Ohio. These counties are all adjacent to each other in the west central part of Ohio along the Indiana border. So, knowing that I have joined the following groups: Auglaize County Ohio History & Genealogy, Darke County Ohio History & GenealogyMercer County History & Genealogy, and Shelby County Ohio History and Genealogy. In these groups you can ask questions about your ancestors, discover new cousins, and discover research tools that fellow researchers in your area use. Once you join, you should post an introduction of yourself and something about your research interests. Now that you have your local area covered, you should expand and possibly join state groups; for Ohio there is the Ohio Genealogy Network, Ohio Genealogy, and the Ohio Genealogical Society. There are also regional genealogy groups such as the US Midwest Genealogy Research Community.

Now, that you are a member of your local, state and regional genealogy groups, be active. Post queries about your research. Let people know who you are researching by posting specific information about your ancestors. Ask for help in finding a specific record or learning about a new site that the group believes may be helpful. The more active you are, the more information you will receive.

Jumping across the Atlantic, you will find a large number of groups focused on German research. One of the site you can start with is the German Genealogy group. Since many of the people I have been researching came from the Baden-Wurttemberg region I use the Baden-Wurrtemberg Genealogy group often. One thing I was able to learn from this group is how to effectively use the Baden-Wurttemberg Archives website. Also, you might want to join the German Family Book (Ortsfamilienbuchen) group if you want to learn about the German family books. These books can be a treasure trove of information for your German research. But now that you are over in Germany, what do you do with the German records that you find, especially if you can't read German. You need to find a translator to help you, but that can be costly. Well, Facebook has a fix for that also. There are groups, including Genealogy Translations and German Genealogy Records Transcription, where you can find volunteers to help you translate your documents.

There are many, many other Facebook sites that can help you discover your ancestors. Try them out, be actively involved in conversations, use the tools they present, and you will discover new information at every turn. Good luck, and get social!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

German Research - Using Maps

I'm back again with another post on tips for researching your German genealogy. I have three previous posts: one from last year on the German census records, and two over this weekend addressing the basics of starting your German research, and immigration and emigration records. This post will provide some tips on finding your ancestor's home region and possibly finding potential relatives in Germany who can assist in your research.

As you do your genealogy research you should always be asking yourself the following questions:

  • When did my ancestors immigrate?
  • Where did my ancestors live?
  • When did they live there?
  • What were the borders at that time?
  • Which religious denomination were they?

As you can tell from many of my previous posts, I like to use maps to aid in my research. Maps provide a visual representation of the world as my ancestors may have seen it. They also allow me to see relative locations of different families. There are many great mapping websites available. One site that all German researchers should know about is the Meyers Gazetteer. You can find this Gazetteer on several sites but I like the site the best since it translates the descriptions into English, provides a view of the map, and also lists all the ecclesiastical parishes in the area. You can also leave your e-mail and a list of the surnames you are researching for each town. 

Here is an example of how the information on the website can be helpful.

My wife's family is from the small village of Ellmendingen, Pforzheim, Karlsruhe, Baden, Germany. The Meyers Gazetteer has the town described as follows:

Ellmendingen entry in Meyers Gazetteer

Below you can see the contemporary map of Ellmendingen provided by the Meyers Gazetteer website.

Map of Ellmendingen

You also can get the list of churches in the area.

List of local churches.

As you can see, this area was heavily Protestant. Since the only church in the village was Protestant we started our search in those records. We were able to find the birth record of many of my wife's ancestors in the Protestant church records in Ellmendingen. 

Surname mappers allow you to see where the family name is concentrated today. These surname mappers use various algorithms but usually rely on phone books or other civil register information. Below are a few examples of the results I received searching for Woessner, the way the name was spelled in the mid 1850s. Today the family goes by Wessner.

As you can see, all three sites indicate that the Woessner name is most common in the southwest part of Germany in Baden-Wurttemburg. The Geogen map also provides alternative spellings of the name that can be displayed.

The maps that I have provided links to can be used to see what the area was like when your ancestors lived there as well as track down potential relatives in Germany. One additional map that many of us may use regularly but not for genealogy is Google StreetView Maps. Google StreetView Maps allow you to travel virtually in your homeland. It is pretty cool to see what the area looks like today and can be used to familiarize yourself with an area before travelling there. But let's go one step beyond StreetView. Did you know that there is an app available for your VR goggles? Do you have VR goggles or do you know what they are? VR is virtual reality. These goggles use apps to fully immerse you in the virtual world. They are a full 360 degree view in 3-D. The VISO Places app translates Google's StreetView Map into a virtual world, where you can see everything with just the turn of your head or the movement of a controller. I have used them to "walk" the streets all over the world. It is incredible.

Well, that is enough for tonight. I hope you have fun exploring the maps of your ancestors world and have the opportunity to look into the future with the VR apps. 

German Research - Getting From Here to There

Hello again. I am continuing my series of blogs on German research, but these tips can be used for any nationality. Today I will present ways to discover when your ancestors came to the US and from where they originated with a focus on immigration and emigration records. But before I start that discussion, I wanted to talk briefly on a little project I did last night. Yesterday my wife and I went to the Vero Beach Antique Show and found a vendor who was selling antique cabinet card photos. For a brief history, cabinet card photos originated in the 1860s and were approximately 4" x 6" photographs on heavy card stock. These photos were common through the 1890s and faded in popularity early in the 20th century. I picked up 8 photos and brought them home to research who they were and possibly reunite them with their families. Five of the photos were of the Haycraft family taken in Louisville, Kentucky; Des Moines, Iowa; and Ocala, Florida. The pictures ended up being of a father, his wife, one son, a 6 month old granddaughter, and a nephew. Two other photos were of the Wood family from Dayton, Ohio. These ended up being a mother and son. The last photo belonged to the Helm family from Huntington, Indiana. I was able to link them all to their respective person and add their pictures to FamilySearch. Now I am waiting for replies from the messages I sent to see who is interested in having the original photos.

Now, back to the topic at hand. Almost all of us have immigrant ancestors somewhere in our lines. Some will be easier to find than others. I will be focusing on the time frame of the mid to late 1800s when there was a large influx of European immigrants, especially the Germans. German-Americans are the largest ancestral group in the United States with approximately 15% of Americans claiming German ancestry.

There were several waves of German immigration. The first significant influx of German immigrants was in the 1680s to New York and Pennsylvania. These were the Quakers and Mennonites who were seeking religious freedom. They were predominantly from the Lower Rhine region.

The next major wave of German immigrants was the Palatine migration which took place in the early 1700s with the majority occurring in 1709. This wave accounted for approximately 15,000 immigrants. These immigrants came from the Palatine region in southwest Germany. They cited poverty as their main reason for leaving German and settled predominantly in New York and North Carolina.

About half of the immigrants between 1728 and 1820 were "redemptioners". These were poor Germans who came to America as indentured laborers. They worked to pay off their debts.

There was another major influx of German immigrants during the 1830 to 1880 period. This is the time frame that my ancestors arrived in the US. Between 25% and 37% of all immigrants arriving in the US during those years were German but their home regions varied depending on the period. Between 1830 and 1860 most of the immigrants came from Hesen-Darmstadt, Hessen- Kassel, Westphalia, Hanover and Oldenburg. Between 1870 and 1880 most of the German immigrants came from Mecklenburg and the Prussian provinces of East and West Prussia, Pomerania, Posen and Brandenburg. These immigrants were generally small farmers leaving Germany due to the political upheaval and revolutions which climaxed in 1848 with a series of revolutions in Western Europe. Most of them were destined for the Midwestern states and arrived in cities like Cincinnati, St. Louis and Milwaukee. From those cities they often spread out to acquire farm land in surrounding counties.

These German immigrants usually departed from ports in northern Germany, Belgium and France, including Hamburg, Bremen, Antwerp and Le Havre. The availability of their emigration records varies depending on which port they departed from. For example, the Hamburg emigration records are a good source of information but many of the Bremen records were destroyed by fire.

So, how do we determine which wave our ancestors belonged to and where they originated. The first set of records that you should investigate are the US Census records. These records provide useful hints as to your ancestor's place of birth as well as possible immigration dates and status. But the extent of information varies depending on which census you search. My suggestion is to look at all of the available censuses for your ancestor and use the information to help narrow your search. Here is what I consider to be the most useful census information:

  • 1870 census - This census gives place of birth of the individual. Additionally it has a column for "Male Citizens of the US of 21 years of age and upwards". If a person was of foreign birth and this column is checked he would have been naturalized prior to 1870.
  • 1880-1930 censuses - These censuses list the place of birth for the individual's parents as well as the nationality of the individual.
  • 1900-1930 censuses - These censuses list the person's year of immigration. I suggest that you look at each census to see how much the immigration year varies. It will give you a hint of the approximate year but usually varies with each census.
  • 1900-1940 censuses - These censuses list the person's naturalization status. AL=alien, PA=first papers, NA=naturalized
  • 1900 census - This census lists the number of years in the US. This can be used to help narrow down the immigration year.
  • 1920 census - This census lists the year of immigration as well as the year of naturalization.
With this information in hand you can take the next step, searching the emigration and immigration records. Many people search the immigration records but never go the next step of looking for the emigration records. So, let's discuss how each can help you in your research.

Immigration records are the records of arrival in the US. Two of the most used ports of entry were Castle Garden and Ellis Island. Castle Garden is located in New York and was open from 1855 to 1892. It was America's first official immigration center. Over 11 million immigrants came through this port. You can find the records for Castle Garden at www.castlegarden,org. Ellis Island opened for processing in 1892 and has processed over 52 million immigrants. The Ellis Island records can be searched at But these were just the most used facilities. There were many more ports of entry to the US. The National Archives has records of arrivals for various immigration centers between 1820 and 1982, with microfilm copies available up to 1955. There are also some sporadic records prior to 1820, including the Port of New Orleans (1813-1819) and Philadelphia (1800-1819). More information on the National Archives collections can be found at FamilySearch also has digitized passenger lists for the Port of Philadelphia (1800-1945) and Port of New Orleans (1800-1945). You can also search an extensive collection of online books about immigration at Another port of entry was Galveston, Texas. Records are available for Galveston from 1846 to 1948 at There is also a group of sites for German immigrants that is broken out by decade from the 1850s until the 1890s. These lists can be found at,,,, and

These immigration records may provide you with the following information:
  • Nationality or place of birth,
  • Ship name and date of entry in the US,
  • Port of departure,
  • Physical description including age, height, eye and hair color,
  • Profession,
  • Place of last residence,
  • Name, address and relationship of people they are joining in the US, and
  • Amount of money they are carrying.
Once you know the name of the ship, I suggest that you check out The Ships List database at and the Immigrants Ships database at Here you may find passenger lists, histories of the ship, and many more bits of useful information.

Now that you have the port of departure and name of the ship you can start looking to the emigrant data. There are many sites that have German emigration data. One tip you should use is searching for the term auswanderer along with the location of origin for your ancestor. Auswanderer is German for emigrant. The German Emigrants Database includes records of emigrants from 1820 to 1907. It can be found at The Bremen passenger lists can be found at Since the emigration records were usually issued from the home state in Germany, you may also want to look at individual states archives. For example the Baden-Wurttemburg Landesarchiv has their emigration information online at

These emigration records may provide the following information:
  • Physical traits, 
  • Age, 
  • Names of family members,
  • Occupation, 
  • Residence, and 
  • Many more pieces of useful information.
Additionally, many areas of Germany provided a document know as the heimatschein. This document certified a person's home village. During certain periods citizens needed permission for many of their activities including marriage, emigration, and internal relocation. The purpose of these regulations was to control the talent and services available in a given area. You may be able to find these records if they were required for your ancestor to emigrate from his home village.

I hope these steps are helpful in your search for your immigrant ancestors and determining their home village. I will continue on soon with the next in this series of researching your German ancestors. Have a good day.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

German Genealogy Research - The Basics

Wow, it's a new year - 2017 - and time to get back to business. I have been thinking about how to include a research plan for German genealogy as one of my blogs. Of course, everyday I have a different idea on how to organize it and each day I forget what that plan was. So now I decided to just start writing, my typical solution to everything, and see how it turns out. This was inspired by a discussion I was involved in on the German Genealogy group on Facebook. I plan on doing a multi-part blog post stepping you through the resources that I know about for German genealogy and how they can be of help. So, let's get the year off to a start.

Over the last couple years, I presented two talks on German genealogy at various venues. One dealt with German immigration and the other was about German research in general. This series of posts will be based on those talks and the resources I discussed as well as a lot of other sources that are available. There is some duplication in these presentations but they were given for different audiences. If you are interested in seeing the actual presentations you can find them here:

The first thing I suggest to researchers is that they learn the basics of the native language, especially those words that are important for genealogy research. You need to know if you are looking at a birth record or a death record. You need to learn to read the dates. You also need to be able to tell the difference between locations and people's names. I had a person come into the Family History Center the other night who told me she had mistakenly thought the town name was a person's name for quite a while. This led her on a wild goose chase looking for records on a person who didn't exist.

So, what words should you know? First, start with some of the basics like:
  • Born - Geboren which is often abbreviated as Geb. This could also be used to indicate the maiden name of a wife.
  • Baptism - Taufen
  • Confirmation - Konfirmationen
  • Died - Gestorben - often abbreviated as Gest. This may be indicated by a cross (+).
  • Wedding - Trauungen - This may also be indicated by interlinked circles.
  • Funeral - Beerdigungen
  • Protestant - Evangelische
  • Catholic - Katholisch
With those words under your belt you now will be able to determine the type of record you are looking at, and if it is a church record, what religion it is.

The next set of words that are important are the numbers. Many records write out the dates long hand and since we are used to looking for numbers we may miss them when they are spelled out. You should start with the basics (1-12). The teens (13-19) are usually built off of the base numbers and then adding ten. For example 3 is drei, 10 is zehn, and 13 is dreizehn. When you get into the 20s-90s the numbers are based on the base number drei (3) with zig added to the end. So, 30 is dreizig, 40 is vierzig, etc. Numbers like 31 become 1 (eins) + (und) 30 (dreizig) or einunddreizig. Hundred is hundert and thousand is tausend.

You should also be able to recognize the days and months along with the words for year, month and day.  Year is Jahr, month is Monat, and day is Tag. Often, a person's age is given as 45 Jahr, 3 Monat, 14 Tag meaning 45 years, 3 months and 14 days. The days of the week are Montag, Dienstag, Mittwoch, Donnerstag, Freitag, Samstag, and  Sonntag. While the months are Januar, Februar, Marz, April, Mai, Juni, Juli, August, September, Oktober, November, and Dezember. I do think the months are the easiest part of the language. 

Now that you know a few words you need to learn to read the writing. German has several fonts and writing styles or scripts, all of which may make it difficult to read various records. My suggestion is to learn the various writing sytles or schrift. FamilySearch has a great German handwriting tutorial in their wiki ( From there you can find examples of script, online lessons, and other advice for reading your documents. There are also several websites that you can type a word into and it will be shown in various scripts. Two of these sights are and

Now that you are able to read the script you will still need translations. Google Translate ( is a great place to start. Even if you can't figure out all the letters, Google Translate will provide suggestions of possible words to insert into the text to translate. Another great site for translating your records is the Genealogy Translations group on Facebook ( The volunteers on the Genealogy Translations group are wonderful and are able to translate almost any language and document type. As a final resort, you could always get your own translator. I have a guy in Germany named Fritz who does a lot of my translating. We met on social media and he uses the opportunity to brush up on his English while translating my German records.

I hope this basic introduction to German research techniques has been helpful. I foresee several more posts in this series including using social media, immigration resources, using FamilySearch, and possibly even more since this is such a large topic. Also. please see my previous post on German census records at Good luck and best wishes for 2017!