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  1. Most genealogists use federal census records on a regular basis. Few resources are, after all, as packed full of information and as easy to access as a census.

    And, while we all know that the details found in a census can often be incorrect, this helpful record collection has become a family history staple for good reason. No other resource recorded details about our ancestor’s lives in such a frequent and predictable way and, often times, the federal census may seem to be the only method we have to explore our ancestors’ lives between birth, marriage and death.

    However, a recent comment by a Family History Daily reader reminded us that there is another related resource group that many people researching US ancestors are either unaware of, or regularly underuse. And it’s a very valuable one.

    We’re talking about US state census records.

    Many of you are probably nodding your head right now because you’ve already found a good deal of information in a state census.. Others many be wondering — what the heck is a state census?

    While the regularity and availability of state census records varies widely by state, this record collection could easily be the resource you need to fill in critical details about your ancestors’ lives. Most state censuses were conducted exactly between federal census years — such as the 1885, 1905 and 1915 New Jersey state census, whereas some were conducted on off years, such as California’s 1852 census. This means the details found in these records can often provide a special window into a person’s life between federal census dates — or when you cannot locate an ancestor in the federal census at all.

    This record collection becomes even more valuable when we consider the lost 1890 census and the twenty year gap that loss created.

    As we pointed out, the dates and availability vary widely, as does the information contained in each census. But most of us researching ancestors in the US will likely be able to locate ancestors in some, or many, states censuses.

    Let’s take a look at a census record from the Minnesota 1885 census, one of eight state census collections easily available online from that year.

    While we don’t see some of the wonderful details in this census that we have come to expect from a federal census, like the occupation, there are many other tidbits to be gathered — such as residence, family relationships and parental birth information.

    A look at the Nebraska State Census from 1885 on the other hand feels a little bit more like perusing a federal census, right down to the coveted occupation box – and that’s because this census (and those of several other states and territories) was requested and partially funded by the federal government. 

    The best free place to access these records (or transcripts of records when no image is available) is on FamilySearch. You can head straight over to this page on their site which showcases all of their record collections.

    You may remember that we covered this page on FamilySearch in another article about accessing millions of records that cannot be searched.

    To find the [...]

  2. By Alexandra Mendez-Diez

    Even when we find what we’re looking for in historical archives it can often feel like there is something missing from the results. A big part of why we conduct genealogy research is to get to know those that came before us, and to feel more connected to where we come from. And while learning facts definitely helps us accomplish that, there is only so much connection that can come from names and dates alone.

    That’s why it’s so wonderful when we find family history sources that contain some narrative of the actual lives our ancestors lived. However, these sources from the past tend to be few and far between. We can’t all be blessed with the apocryphal box of 150-year old ribbon-tied, hand-written love letters, and even the few of us who receive those sorts of precious gifts will find the box will only tell the story of a couple of individuals from our family tree.

    A helpful way of getting to know the day-to-day existence of those who came before is to turn to old cookbooks. When you know the region, time period and demographic reality of a relative from the past, you can extrapolate to determine the sort of cookbook that would apply to the time and place where they lived. And from there, you can experience the very same dishes of food that they once ate. It’s a small window that lets you get to know the ‘meatier’ facets of the lives of your ancestors in a way you can truly sink your teeth into.

    The Digital Public Library of America offers a portal of nearly 700 cookbooks filled with old American recipes  – with over 400 of the books with publication dates before 1921. And Hathitrust’s Early American Cookbooks Collection contains more than 1400 selections with dates ranging from 1800-1920. Both places are a great place to start. You might even get lucky enough to find recipes from your own community.

    Here is a Selection of 7 Interesting Old American Recipes from Cookbooks in the Collections Mentioned Above

    Try cooking up one of these in your own kitchen!

    1. Strawberry Macaroon Ice

    Slade’s Cooking School Recipes, 1920, combined the recipes of 25 cooking school teachers with a common cookbook conceit: a longform advertisement for a brand of ingredient. In this case, each page includes a little jingle about why Slade’s baking products and spices are superior to all others. Here’s one of the selections from this book. You can see the rest at the link above.

    To 1 1/2 cups fresh strawberry juice or syrup from a jar of canned strawberries, add 1/2 cup cold water, the juice of one lemon, a few grains of salt and sugar to taste; turn into a brick mould. Dilute 1/2 pint heavy cream with 1/3 cup milk and beat until stiff. Add 1/3 cup powdered sugar, 2/3 cup macaroons or macaroon drops dried and pounded, 1/2 tablespoon Slade’s Vanilla, and a few grains salt. Pour on to the strawberry mixture to overflow the mould; cover with buttered paper, then with the tin cover. Pack [...]

  3. Thank you to Barbara Lockard for this article. 

    From The Robinson Argus, February 17, 1886, Robinson, Illinois:  A company of children, mostly boys, aged from seven to fifteen years from the New York Juvenile Asylum, will arrive in Robinson at the Robinson House, Thursday morning, March 4, 1886. Homes are wanted for them with families where they will receive kind treatment and enjoy fair advantages. They are mostly of respectable parentage, promising and desirable, and worthy of good homes. They may be taken on trial for several weeks, and afterwards, if all parties are suited they will be indentured until of age. Persons desiring to take these children on trial are requested to meet them at the Robinson House, Thursday morning, March 4. They will remain only one day. For further information inquire at your Post Office for a handbill giving full particulars. E. Wright, Agent

    My husband’s grandfather was an Orphan Train child. I often have visions of this grubby little urchin rambling through the streets of New York City. I envision him scrounging through the garbage for a morsel of food, huddling in a corner to keep warm and getting into a fight over a penny.

    My grandfather-in-law was left to roam the streets of Manhattan because he supposedly was the product of alcoholic parents. Long before coming of age, he was thrust into the mainstream of society. He was only nine years old!

    Many articles have been written about the Orphan Train Children, and much research has been conducted through the efforts of the National Orphan Train Complex. It is the central clearing-house established to preserve the history of approximately 250,000 children placed out between the early 1850s and 1929.

    In 1859 Charles Loring Brace, founder of the Children’s Aid Society, stated, “The best method of disposing of our pauper and vagrant children is emigration to the West. The children of the poor are not essentially different from the rich, the same principles which influence the good or evil development of every child in comfortable circumstances will affect in greater or less degree the child of poverty.” (OTHS Newsletter)

    I doubt my husband’s great grandparents were paupers because the father was a cooper, a very desirable trade of the era. Yet their son became a vagrant due to their lifestyle. I can just imagine his elation upon being plucked from the streets. He was housed with a warm bed, hot food and clean clothes. His every need was met; unlike that which he had experienced in his natural home.

    An announcement in The Ottawa Free Trader (Ottawa, Illinois) 14 Jun 1873

    For twenty years I have pursued every lead, read every article printed and contacted the Orphan Train Heritage Society in regard to gleaning more information about the waif in question. Two major organizations, The Children’s Aid Society and The New York Foundling Hospital, were responsible for placing these children on the trains that took them to the rural areas of the West to find new homes. My personal research finally took a turn when I [...]

  4. The first thing most family history researchers do when they encounter a genealogy website is to begin searching for their ancestors in the general (main) search form provided by the site - which is often located on the homepage or in another easily accessible area. All large genealogy research sites center around these main search forms which are designed, generally, to look for records in all searchable collections at one time. General search forms that dig through millions, or even billions, of records are certainly handy. If you have never used a site before - or have not searched for a specific ancestor - these forms can be a great way to gather the low hanging family history fruit, so to speak. They provide a fast way to turn up easy-to-find records with little effort. But, despite this obvious convenience, they may often be stifling your efforts.
  5. Thank you to Bob Vornlocker for this article on his German genealogy research. 

    In the following article Bob has shared a personal story of breaking down a long-time brick wall and the process he used to create that “lucky break” for himself. He discusses using wildcards, the importance of accessing original records, his experience working with professional on-site genealogists, how common it is to confuse people of the same name when looking for ancestors and, most importantly, the determination and creativity required to solve complex family history questions that may otherwise appear to be permanent “brick walls.”

    Bob also wrote “How to Use Wildcards to Find Your Ancestors” for Family History Daily in the past. You can read that article here for help with using wildcard searches.

    Please note that Bob has made available all records mentioned in this article for your review here. We have included a couple of them below.

    For the past 3 years, I’ve been teaching once a month at my local library about how and where to search for ancestors. Although most of the lessons focus on the Internet using search techniques like wildcards, every session includes a mention of the importance of evidence in building a family tree. So often, people are satisfied by a record of a marriage in an index and cite that as proof of the marriage. They do not even bother to obtain a copy of the marriage record, although the information to do so is often included in the index information.

    In 2009, I was searching for information about my father’s grandparents, both of whom had emigrated from Germany to the USA in the late 1800s. All I knew was that his name was John and hers was Theresa. While searching online for sites with German databases I discovered the German Genealogy Group in New York. Their database manager was so far advanced for the time as to allow wildcards in the search fields.

    Of all the churches in New York City, my great-grandparents chose to be married in St. Leonard’s Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan, one of a few churches indexed by the GGG. I searched for V*rnl*r, which I used after finding several other badly misspelled ancestors, and found John Vornloker marrying Theresia Pfister on 11/7/1886.

    I also found a record for the baptism of their son, John, very near the date of my grandfather’s birth. I entreated the president of the GGG, Liz Lovaglio, to look at the record for any additional information. She kindly did so and sent me the following:

    Date of Marriage: 7-Nov 1886

    Groom: John Vornloker

    Place of origin: Burg Eberach Bavaria

    Father’s Name: Peter

    Mother’s Name: Regina Mueller

    Bride: Theresia Pfister

    Place of origin: Herrpoldsheim Baden

    Father: Sebastian

    Mother: No name in records

    Witness 1: Joseph Klimmer

    Witness 2: George Metzner

    Priest: John Joseph Raber

    I spent some time deciding that his birthplace might be Burgebrach, Bavaria, Germany and quickly wrote to the Archiv des Erzbiztums Bamberg (Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bamberg). I employed an excellent archivist, Carolin Ott, who confirmed a Johann Vornlocker, with a father named [...]

  6. The following article is a free excerpt from a lesson in our Crash Course. This course is an unofficial guide from Family History Daily. We are not associated with Ancestry except to act as an affiliate partner – which means we may earn a small commission to support the work of our site when if you choose to subscribe to their services from a link on our pages.

    While just about all of us have used at some point, very few have really uncovered everything they can from Ancestry’s massive databases. With so many records and resources it is incredibly easy for vital records to get buried. You might be surprised by how many “brick walls” are broken down and “missing” records located by utilizing a new set of advanced tips and search tricks. Our online course utilizes 21 fun, hands-on lessons to teach you this information quickly and easily. You can sign up for the course at the end of this preview lesson.

    Excerpt from Lesson 5: Avoiding Location Search Traps in Your Searches

    If you do not have a current subscription you can still put this information to use with a free 14 day trial here or by following the instructions in the Ancestry Crash Course for utilizing their free record collections.

    Overall, Ancestry does a fairly good job of turning up records – especially when you help it along by utilizing your own skills as much as possible. But Ancestry’s search definitely has some limitations and, in some cases, these can be very detrimental to your research. Most of these limitations are not intentional on Ancestry’s part, instead, they are often a result of Ancestry’s attempt to help researchers along. Ancestry has developed numerous helpers in search forms that generally make our job as researchers easier, but some of them can inadvertently cause major issues if used incorrectly.

    One of these helpers can cause so many missed records that we felt it was important to call it out in its own lesson – the location autocomplete.

    When we enter information into one of Ancestry’s search forms we often include a location. This information is a vital part of narrowing down our results and helping us locate records that have the greatest likelihood of being relevant to our person in question. You have probably noticed that as you start typing a location into a location box Ancestry begins to autocomplete for you.

    This is extremely convenient of course. It helps ensure that we have the name of the location spelled correctly, adds a county to a city search and helps us locate places we may not remember the name of ourselves. It also shows us possible related locations. But the autocomplete can also mislead us and cause us to miss relevant records.

    This can happen when we begin a search for a name and lean too much on the autocomplete to find an answer for us, when we use the autocomplete to assume a location without verifying our sources carefully, or when we are not cautious [...]

  7. By Alexandra Mendez-Diez

    Family History is about more than just finding the names and important dates of those that came before us, it is a quest to discover the narratives of our ancestors lives. But finding that information can be difficult and sometimes requires creative solutions, such as reviewing old newspapers or examining historical events that affected large populations.

    That’s why a unique website like is such an invaluable free resource. GenDisasters provides a database of tragic events, primarily via transcribed entries, many of which are taken from newspapers. The entries include lists of who was involved, killed or injured in the event.

    What makes the site most valuable to genealogical researchers is that you can search the events by the names of those who were involved, as well as browse the disasters by parameters that are ideal for conducting genealogical research: location, event and time period.

    Let’s take a closer look at how to use the site most effectively, and see what sort of stories our sample searches might yield.

    Searching By Name on GenDisasters

    Certainly, the most straightforward method is to search by name. This is accomplished by using the search box in the upper right of the screen.

    Be aware that there may be advertisements on the free page that also look like search bars, but instead will take you to “public records searches” from companies that are completely unaffiliated with genealogical searches. So long as you stick with the search bar pictured in the image, you’ll be fine.

    Once there, insert any names you’ve encountered from your own family tree, or even the names of people who are connected to your family, and see if you get any matches with these names in the records of disasters. You can browse through the search results, quickly eliminating many results that do not fit because of the time period or location.

    A couple of things to consider as you conduct name searches is how important it is to include variations. Remember that a majority of these records are taken directly from newspapers, and they use different naming conventions than legal records, like birth and death certificates do.

    You may be accustomed to entering a relatives’ full legal name (first, middle, last) into a search as that will often provide you with the most relevant results, but that can be counterproductive in a search that depends on newspapers for a source. Oftentimes anything besides a person’s last name may be shortened to a person’s initials. In older newspapers, married women are most often referred to as just by their husband’s name.

    Not just the last name, but the first name as well. So a woman named Janet Leonora Lee who married Abe Robin Palmer might be called Mrs. A. R. Palmer, Mrs. Palmer, Mrs. Abe R. Palmer or Mrs. Abe Palmer, but rarely would any of her other names be mentioned unless they were directly relevant to the news story at hand. That’s why it is important to include the full names of husbands (including variations) of relatives, even if the spouse [...]

  8. This sponsored article has been provided by our partner Findmypast.

    Findmypast is a leading online destination for family historians, with millions of records that you simply can’t find anywhere else. It’s also the only place online that you can access the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), an incredible resource that you may be completely unaware of.

    PERSI is an index of millions of articles, how-to guides, genealogies, local histories and more that have appeared in society publications from around the world. Both family history and history societies publish regular periodicals for their members and have done for generations. These publications cover the area or subject specific to that society, and go into incredible detail – some of which may well contain information about your family.

    You might find the detailed history of one family, a biography of a local figure, a history of peach-pickers in a certain area or details about early colonial communities and where they came from. There is a vast amount of information in PERSI just waiting to be discovered. You’ll find records from the USA, the UK and Ireland, Australia, Canada and more.

    Articles fall under twenty-two different subject headings, or record types, dating back to 1800. These include biography, cemeteries, census records, church records, court records, deeds, institutional records, land records, maps, military records, naturalization records, obituaries, passenger lists, probate records, school records, tax records, vital records, voter records, and wills. Articles about three or fewer specific families are arranged by surname.

    Available exclusively at Findmypast, and operated in partnership with the Allen County Public Library, PERSI contains 2.5 million images that allow you to read these publications online.

    Here’s How to Use PERSI for Your Research

    In order to begin using PERSI, click here. Exclusively for Family History Daily readers; you’ll get 50% off a one month Premium subscription using the code FHDPER50. For just $9.98, you can start uncovering the gems hidden in the Periodical Source Index today. This offer is only valid until Aug 30th.

    When searching PERSI, it’s important to remember that the articles are indexed with tags that are based on the subject of the article. Unlike other record sets, PERSI articles are not indexed by name. This means that unless someone wrote an article about a specific ancestor of yours you are unlikely to find them by searching by name. Your best approach to searching is by location and keyword.

    You will have to think laterally about the search you’re conducting. If you’re looking for ancestors who you know were agricultural laborers in a specific county during the 1870s, or were early nonconformists in Yarmouth, then these are the subject areas you’d search for.

    Filtering Your PERSI Search

    If the above sounds daunting, don’t worry. We have a set of search filters that can help you to drill down to what you’re looking for. On the left of the screen, you’ll see a range of filter options.

    Clicking on the ‘show filters’ button will give you a list of the available filters for that category, in this case we’ve selected [...]

  9. By Tony Bandy

    When it comes to history and genealogy, the two topics can never be separate. Our ancestors’ daily lives, family connections, and records were influenced by events in history that they could not control – and the aftermath of these historic events often brought about quite a change for those affected.

    Let’s take a look at some of the events that may have influenced your American family members over the years as well as some related free resources for researching them. From the 1918 Flu Pandemic to the law that changed US immigration forever, these important historic happenings are worth investigating as part of your family history journey.

    4 Historic Events That Changed America (and Maybe Your Ancestors’ Lives) Forever

    1. Homestead Act of 1862 and the Opening of the American West Post Civil War

    Westward expansion of the United States provoked many changes as families in the Eastern seaboard and states to the immediate west of them pulled up stakes and headed out.

    This movement has its origins in the Homestead Act of 1862, which provided around 160 acres of land to person(s) who could stay and improve the property for a minimum of five years. From a genealogical standpoint, if you know your family moved west in the latter part of the 19th century or later, more than likely the Homestead Act (and other similar land acts) might have played a part.

    To better understand how this important act may have influenced your family and to discover records for researching them please read:

    Millions of Homestead Act (and Other) Land Records Are Free Online from the BLM

    Were Your Ancestors American Pioneers? Here’s How to Track Them Down Online

    2. The 1875 Supreme Court Decision in Henderson vs. Mayor of the City of New York

    In 1875 the Supreme Court decision, Henderson vs. Mayor of the City of New York, transferred control of immigration from the States to the Federal Government for the first time.

    The aftermath brought about the U.S. Government’s first standardized program for immigration, which helped bring about the immigration centers – such as Castle Garden, Ellis Island and Angel Island – that handled the mass immigration we saw in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Use the articles below to discover how to find your immigrant ancestors online for free.

    Did Your Ancestors Come Through Ellis Island? Here’s How to Find Out

    The 11 Million Free Immigration Records You May Have Completely Overlooked

    Millions of Immigrants Never Set Foot on Ellis Island – Find Their Records Here

    Fascinating Interactive Map Shows Immigration to the US from 1830 Onwards

    3. 1918 Flu Pandemic

    While these days the thought of a massive influenza outbreak is usually far from our minds, the 1918 Flu Pandemic was very real to our ancestors. Claiming more lives than WW1, this pandemic swept through more than 500 million people, nearly a third of the world’s population at the time, and killed between 20-50 million. Family History Daily writer Susan Wallin Mosey discusses this in her article More Died [...]

  10. By Jodi Bash

    The HistoryLines website bills itself as “Instant Personal History.” Those of us who love family history get really excited when we think we can get a lot of valuable information quick and easy. So at first glance HistoryLines can seem a little disappointing. Instant personal history may be overselling it. But, like any good tool, the more you put into it the more you get out. And on second glance, HistoryLines is a good tool.

    How HistoryLines Works and What it Costs

    Please note that we may receive a commission to support our work if you decide to use the discount coupon provided on this page. All opinions in this article are that of the author, who has written an honest review of what HistoryLines has to offer.

    To get a sense of what this program can do for your family history you can create a free account in and start a story by plugging in the names, pertinent dates and locations for a few ancestors. But, in reality, the free version does not provide much value since you only get 2 free stories. To create any more you will need a paid account and once you start personalizing it, you’ll want more than two stories. If you do have a paid version it is also a very simple task to upload a GEDCOM file of your tree. It is the fastest way to get the most data imported into HistoryLines; and easy to add to once it’s there.

    If you try the free version and would like to subscribe you can pay monthly for $9.95 or you can subscribe for a year for $59.95. HistoryLines has provided a coupon for Family History Daily readers so you can get 30% off of either option by using code FHD30P. You can find the subscription options here.

    No matter which route you choose – once you enter in some details about your ancestors you are delivered back a timeline of what happened historically within the life of that ancestor. For each story you will see a timeline of US events, a map of where that person lived, events by states they resided in, and a report providing a description for each event as well as descriptions of broader categories surrounding your ancestors life. An average size report for my grandparent was over 20 pages.

    For example, in my grandmother Betty’s life, which ranged from 1919-2009, you can read generically about Iowa during the time she was born, the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, and the New Deal Years among other events. You can also read about trends in clothing, diet, religion, medicine, and other general categories throughout Betty’s life.

    Timeline and map. The red dots on the map are where Betty lived. If I click my mouse on those, the program will list the historical events that occurred while my ancestor lived there.

    The image above shows the generic history, made slightly more personal by using my ancestors name and age in each descriptor.

    This report can be printed in [...]

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