Finding Family for Free, Part IV

To recap Parts I-III, found below, you’ve interviewed your family,  gathered basic family details and charted what you’ve learned. You’ve used free Google searches to find your ancestors in genealogy Web sites. Then, to see what census and IGI records can tell you, you’ve used .

Now you’re ready to see what immigration records can tell you.  If you are like most Americans, you have at least some ancestors who arrived in America during the periods when records of passengers were kept and are now available to you.

While most Americans have heard of Ellis Island and the 16 million immigrants who arrived there, far fewer know about the Castle Garden immigration station at the tip of Manhattan Island,  New York, where many immigrants arrived before Ellis Island was opened. Fortunately, both Castle Garden and Ellis Island have free online databases that you can search for your ancestors.

If your ancestors arrived in New York in the 1800s, check the Castle Garden database for the names of your family. The records in the database stretch from 1820 to 1913.

To continue my own example of the Luehr family, the Castle Garden database shows that four Luhr individuals arrived on the Main on May 26, 1858:  John Nicholas, shown erroneously as S. n., his wife Anna Margaretha, shown as Marg., their son John who was just 3 years old, and Peter, the brother of John Nicholas.

If your ancestors arrived between 1892 and 1954, then you will want to search the online database for Ellis Island. It is worth noting that the Ellis Island site also offers a number of free genealogy forms to assist family researchers.

Americans arrived at many other ports, including Boston, Baltimore and New Orleans. Those of us searching for ancestors are fortunate indeed that the Castle Garden and Ellis Island records are available in a free, searchable database on the Web.

This is one in a series of genealogy and family history research ideas to help you find your family and ancestors for modest or no cost.

Published in: on October 31, 2006 at 5:27 am  Comments (1)  

Finding Family for Free, Part III

Census records are some of the most valuable for family history research, especially those starting in the mid-1800s when all members of a household were listed.  This is true for the United States, Canada and England. Once you have your core family history collected and organized, as discussed in Part I, you’ll likely want to see what the census records will tell you.

An excellent way to begin to tap census records is to use the well known site,  You can search databases for the 1880 United States, 1881 British Isles, or 1881 Canadian Census.  Often these records can help you place a known relative within a family of this earlier time.

The FamilySearch site has more than census records, making it a potential treasure trove of information. When you do a search, you may get results such as Ancestral Files, International Genealogy Index or IGI results and more. Remember that all genealogy data should be checked against other sources, preferably original documents for births, marriages and deaths.

The site also provides access to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. You can also download for free the Personal Ancestral File or PAF , a genealogy and family history program.

You can register for free and gain access to even more information at the site. This makes an important tool both in the early phases of your research and again as you dig deeper and have more names to check.

This is one in a series of genealogy and family history research ideas to help you find your family and ancestors for modest or no cost.

Published in: on October 30, 2006 at 1:10 am  Leave a Comment  

Surnames of My Ancestors

My own ancestors will turn up in Relative Musings occasionally as I illustrate points or seek to explore their lives and influence.  This listing will track of those references, which can also be found via the search engine. Surnames I am researching include:

  • Father’s paternal side: Abernethy, Baker, Bradley, Church, Leaming, Simons, Speich, Stocker, Twitchell
  • Father’s maternal side: Becker, Booth, Bruce (Bruss), Ebrey, and Stiemke
  • Mother’s paternal side: Conger, Cram, Morey, Palmerton, Sharp and Woolverton
  • Mother’s maternal side: Boie (Boje), Carstens, Groth, Hachez, Luehr (Luhr), Suhr, and Tonner

Mentions of family discoveries in my Finding Family for Free postings or other entries and the date they appeared include:

Abernethy/Abernathy, paternal lineage

Baker, paternal lineage

Boie, maternal lineage

Booth, paternal lineage

Bradley, paternal lineage

Bruss / Bruce, paternal lineage

Church, paternal lineage

 Groth, maternal lineage

Hachez, maternal lineage

Leaming, paternal lineage

Luehr (Luhr), maternal lineage

 Sharp, maternal lineage

Stiemke, paternal lineage

Tonner, maternal lineage

 Woolverton, maternal lineage

Women are recorded with their maiden and married names, where available, but are indexed primarily under their maiden name. Click on the date to go to and read the entry.

Finding Family for Free, Part II

Once you have your core family history collected and organized, as discussed in Part I below, you’ll see many directions to continue your explorations. 

If you are fortunate and have your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents all or largely recorded, you will have eight surnames to pursue. You have fourteen individuals to learn about and biographical sketches to write, if you want to focus on the generations close to you.  This is a very worthwhile endeavor.

Or you may want to push back your family stories and family trees another generation or two, to learn more about where you came from.  As you do your family interviews, as recommended in Part I, make sure to ask for family recollections about deeper family roots.  Those clues will be valuable as you continue your research.

Here are some strategies and resources to consider, depending on what you decide to pursue.  Because genealogy has become such a popular activity, and thanks to the Internet, there are many places to look for information at no cost.

Google Search:  Many genealogy Web sites post information on pages that can be indexed by the major search engines including Google.  Search for your ancestor by full name or by name and location.  Try a variation using initials for the individual’s first and middle name.  If searching for an ancestor in the 1800s, try using the abbreviations for first names that were popular then, such as Wm. for William, Jno. for John and so on. Also, try with and without quotation marks around the name.

Example:  One of my maternal great-grandfathers was William Henry Luehr, an educator in central and eastern Wisconsin.  Googling on “W H Luehr,” I found him in the October 17, 1931, edition of the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune that carried excerpts from the Wood County Reporter of Sept 19, 1889. [Use the block of text in lower left and scroll to the mention of him].

The editor in 1889 noted that he had enjoyed a conversation with “Mr. W. H. Luehr of Calumet county,” who had been hired to serve as high school principal there. “We found him a very sociable and agreeable gentleman, and we believe him well qualified for the position he holds,” the editor concluded.

I also found him in the the March 4, 1893 edition of the Centralia Enterprise newspaper that reported he and his wife were entertaining students at their home in Grand Rapids, today Wisconsin Rapids.  While I knew he was an educator, I was surprised to find his name listed as one of the owners and publishers of the newspaper. Here was another facet of his life.

He also was in a 1907  listing of Wisconsin school superintendents and principals, showing that he was by then superintendent of the Manitowoc South Side schools, with 328 students enrolled. His salary was also listed.

Googling on his full name, William Henry Luehr, turned up a Conger-Luehr page in a family genealogy Web site. Included there is his marriage to Clara Hachez, their daughter Lucille Marguerite Luehr and her marriage to Howard Dale Conger. Lucille and Howard are my maternal grandparents.

Using this basic tool, a Google search, I found aspects of W. H. Luehr’s life — including the foray into newspapering — that current family members did not know. A treat for a researcher!

Once you have names, dates, careers, spouses and children, do a Google search for the area they lived, looking for history and genealogy sites that will help you tell a livelier story. 

For example, here’is a fine page of historical resources for Wisconsin Rapids and Wood County, with links to online books, maps and more.  In one online book, I found W. H. Luehr in the Witter House group, the young, unmarried professional men who lived in Grand Rapids.  The caption  says he is fourth from left, top row, and misspells his name as Lehr.  Further down the page I spotted a short history of area newspaper editors, his name included erroneously as W. H. Lueher. But we see the W. H. Luehr and E. B. Brundage newspaper partnership started in 1890.

That McMillan Memorial Library Web site also led to the 1892 Centralia Directory [Centralia and Grand Rapids were twin cities] with a listing for the “Centralia Enterprise and Tribune, Luehr and Brundage, editors and publishers, e Water 5 n Cranberry.” The paper apparently was near city hall on Cranberry.  An advertisement on Page 27 describes it as “A Live Democratic Paper,” with subscriptions at $1.50 per year. A directory listing showed it was a weekly paper.

Watch out for changes in street names!  A Google search shows that Cranberry Street in Centralia became West Grand Avenue, an extension of the Grand Rapids street of that name around the time that twin cities merged.

And search using the misspelled versions of your ancestors’ names!  The newspaper career of W. H. Luehr — his name spelled Lueher — is described in Chapter XV of a Wood County history, the link here to a PDF file. 

Finally, our Google research has yielded a clue that we still need to follow, namely that W. H. Luehr appears in a local Wisconsin Rapids history book as shown by this online index. Later we’ll discuss using Interlibrary Loan to borrow books like this one.

But what a wealth of details for a family history!

More examples of free resources will be discussed in Part III of this series.

This is one in a series of genealogy and family history research ideas to help you find your family and ancestors for modest or no cost.

Published in: on October 28, 2006 at 6:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Finding Family for Free

In your initial foray into exploring your family history, use free resources first.  You’ll build a foundation of family knowledge that may be enough to satisfy your interest.  In addition, that foundation will be essential if and when you decide to expend funds to trace roots further back — to another part of the country or another continent, for examples.

I have created a Genealogy Resources Web page that guides you to many great free resources on the Web, as well as to books and several of the best known for a fee online services.  You will find free resources on census records, immigration records, internment records and much more. There also are links to helpful advice on getting started as well as to free genealogy forms.

In conjunction with the resources listed there, here are steps to getting started on family history research, free.

  • Collect all of the names, dates and places of birth and death of your immediate family members — siblings, parents, grandparents. Then add aunts, uncles and cousins as well. While some people want to follow only their own direct pedigree line, it can be helpful to have a picture of the full family.
  • Interview your parents and grandparents about their own lives. Tape record the interviews and type up your notes.  You have likely heard a number of family stories told, may even remember of few of them. But if no one has recorded them, those stories soon will vanish. Capture them for posterity.
  • Ask a few questions at a time if your family members are uncomfortable with the formal interview approach.  Ask for more than names and dates. What were people’s occupations? hobbies? What different places did they live — and when? What do they know about their family back a ways?
  • Record the answers in whatever system works best for you. Family history sheets and family tree charts are traditional approaches. You should use those, but may also notecards, ring binders with research information stored in plastic sleeves and so on.

You now have the heart of your family. What’s next? We’ll continue with optional approaches for your next steps.

This is the first in a series of genealogy and family history research ideas to help you find your family and ancestors for modest or no cost.

Published in: on October 26, 2006 at 2:41 am  Leave a Comment  

Serendipity & Genealogy

But for a twist of fate, I likely would not have become captivated by the search for my family’s ancestors. 

A colleague well known for his genealogy research and newspaper columns was retiring from the university where I work. We had occasionally had shared work ideas over lunch, so I offered to treat him to a farewell lunch at the spot of his choice.  At the last minute, he couldn’t make it.  Some months later, we were able to reschedule lunch and conversation.

On a whim, knowing his genealogy interests outside of work, I decided to plug some family surnames into a Google search. This might give us an added topic for our lunch conversation. I was intrigued with the first clues that I discovered. When you find a little, you will often want to get just a bit more, to clarify a fact here or a relationship there. And then again more. You’re hooked!

We enjoyed lunch, including conversation about one ancestor he simply had been unable to find. Little did I know then that I would have a key ancestor like that as well… a classic brick wall situation.

The colleague was Terrence Day, and some of his helpful genealogy columns are online. For a collection of more than 65 of them under the heading The Family Tree from the Tri-City Herald in Washington, click here.  Among the many topics Terry covers in those columns is immigration entry points and records.  See Oct. 15, 2000, for that column.

He also has written about the elusive ancestor, his great-grandfather John Day, in a more recent column.  Remarkably, the family has been trying to understand John Day’s origins since at least 1941.  And here is a listing of some of Terry’s more recent genealogy articles for the paper.

This is my small way of saying “thanks, Terry” for all the years you were a fine colleague — and for the inspiration for launching my own genealogy research.

Published in: on October 25, 2006 at 6:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Melting pot revisited

The melting pot. Few concepts are more familiar than this one, at least among Americans educated in the nation’s public schools during most of the 20th century. The melting pot appeared to be the ideal metaphor for the blending of immigrant peoples and cultures into a new unity: the American people, the American culture.

Rare were those among us who learned the source of the term, namely a play called “The Melting Pot,” written by Israel Zangwill, an English Jew, who had visited New York City in 1908.  Sources note Zangwill saw the various peoples of Europe melded into a new people, leaving their old prejudices behind. [See Melting Pot]. 

The concept in its time was extraordinary influential, creating a mindset that spurred newcomers to learn English and adopt the American way of life. Many people did assimilate, especially the immigrants’ children.

In that assimilation process, however, something very important was lost. Many families focused on being Americans in the here and now, largely ignoring their ancestral histories. Broad brush strokes of origins remained, but the retelling of ancestors’ stories was seldom an important element of family life and legacy.

Alex Haley’s book and television series, Roots, the latter in 1977, helped galvanize people’s interests in their own roots, their own family stories.  Then the efforts of the Church of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, to record the marriages and families of many Americans’ ancestors made a wealth of genealogical information available.  Then the Internet put that information within reach, right at home.

 Today I am one of the many people captivated by genealogy research, discovering aspects of themselves as they learn about their ancestors and their lives.  This blog, Relative Musings, is about genealogy research and some of my own discoveries that I want to share.  This is a beginning.

Published in: on October 24, 2006 at 5:50 am  Leave a Comment