Google for Genealogy

Whether you are just starting your family history research or are an experienced genealogist, free online resources are always a plus. And “Finding Family for Free” is a key emphasis of this blog, Relative Musings.

In that spirit, here is a helpful article by TJD with one proposed list of the “Top Five Free Genealogy Websites.” Click here to read the details of each one. The 5 that TJD recommended are:
>> FreeBMD for ancestors in England,
>> RootsWeb with user-contributed family info,
>> Google News Archive,
>> Newspaper Archive, and
>> USGenWeb project.

While some of these are not totally free, all have some free resources are are worth using. For example, the Newspaper Archive offers free searches of the the front pages of newspapers in its database. But most of the others are totally free.

Of the five, new to me was the Google News Archive. I tried it out and immediately found a weath of information about my extended Bruce family in Milwaukee. It helps that William George Bruce, older brother of my great-grandfather, was a prominent figure in publishing and civic service in Milwaukee.

Given that success, I offer for your consideration a trio of Google resources for your genealogy research, each useful in its own way.

Google Books:  Many older family genealogy books and histories of US towns, cities and counties have been scanned through the Google Books project. Some are there in full text, others in limited preview and others just indexed with brief snippets of text excerpted in the search results. But you have a good chance of finding ancestors in some of these books, especially earlier generations in New England.

Google Search:  A basic Google search — if well crafted to be specific enough — can lead you to relevant family history Web sites created by other genealogists or other helpful information. Maybe your ancestor was an early settler in an American town and is mentioned in the town’s history online.

Google News Archive: The news archive is a way to find articles about ancestors, as well as obituaries that fill in a gap in your family history.

Make it a habit to use all three Google strategies as you work to break down genealogy brickwalls or fill out the story of an ancestor’s life.  Your family history will benefit!

Other resources on using Google:

> Using Google for Genealogy, by Kathi Reid
> Easy Google Genealogy Searcher, a handy tool
> Using Google Books in Genealogy, a helpful video

There are entire handbooks in PDF format on using Google for genealogy. Just do a Google search on that phrase and you’ll find a treasure trove of helpful resources!

Best wishes in your family history research!

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

Favorite Genealogy Books

Who better to ask about favorite genealogy books than the genealogists who share ideas via Twitter? Here are the first answers to come in, along with the poll and my own answer:

POLL: What is your favorite genealogy book & why? If you’ll reply via Twitter I’ll compile the recommendations and post them online @

Somerset Homecoming is a favorite of mine. The author researched a communiity once enslaved on Somerset Plantation. See whose favorite this is:

Family Chronicle books: 500 Brickwall Solutions to Genealogy Problems & More Brickwall Solutions Many ideas to try!  Favorites of: 

Fave genealogy book is The Family Tree Problem Solver by M. H. Rising, will probably be Pro Genealogy by E. S. Mills (when I finish).  Favorites of:

Land & Property Research in the U.S. by E. Wade Hone, et al. has been so useful & informative in much of my genealogy research. This is a favorite of:

So many favorites! Google Your Family Tree and ProGen rank near the top of my list though, after personal family genealogies. These are favorites of:

My fav genealogy book is The Sleuth Book for Genealogists by Emily Croom because I love solving family history mysteries with clues! This is a favorite of:

We’ll expand the list as more nominations arrive! Thanks to all who contributed ideas right away!

Barbara /

Published in: on May 12, 2009 at 3:49 am  Comments (1)  
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Top 10 Genealogy Sites

Randy Seaver, who writes the blog called Geneamusings posed a Saturday night genealogy project for fun. He writes: “Let’s do a Top Ten list of Favorite Genealogy Web Sites. These can be record databases, data portals, how-to sites, family trees, software, entertainment, blogs, etc.”

So here are the top ten sites that helped my research:

1 – – many databases of info, use it all the time
2 – FamilySearch – IGI,  Ancestral File, more helpful here, as well as access to the Family History Library catalog
3 – RootsWeb – helpful researcher contributions
4 – GoogleBooks – many old and valuable family lineage & family history books online
5 – Heritage Quest – census, family books, PERSI, Revolutionary War Pension records. Get free log in from your library
6 – – many immigrant ancestors arriving before Ellis Island can be found here, upgrade coming soon
7 – GenForums – great place for queries for surnames, locations
8 – USGenWeb – especially the individual counties posting vital, census and cemetery records, more
9 – Wisconsin Vital Records – marriage records link people born same county, same day, suggesting possible spouses
10 – Milwaukee County Links to the Past – diverse resources on city’s people, family, genealogy resources

Doing genealogy is like doing jigsaw puzzles and requires pieces of each person’s puzzle from different sources. That’s the challenge and the fascination!

Here are several genealogy guides that I have created :

> Brickwall Genealogy Resources
> Finding Family for Free index of postings that are found on my genealogy blog called Relative Musings.

You can see Randy’s top 10 list on his post for May 2, 2009. Go to his blog and add a post with your list — or post it online and create a link on this blog page.


Published in: on May 3, 2009 at 12:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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City Directories

Most family history researchers focus their early work on census records. Census records do contain a wealth of information and cover rural areas, small towns and cities.

However, if your ancestors lived in one of America’s cities, there is another resource that deserves your equal attention, namely city directories. Here is a lively example of how they can help you fill in your family’s story and answer puzzling questions.

I recently sent a cousin the family history that I had discovered — building on the great work my sister did when she and and her husband lived in Madison, Wisconsin, and their son was a baby. The cousin emailed a question I too had wondered about:
“Why was Beatrice Jane Bruce born in Cambridge, Massachusetts?’
I never thought I could find the answer — until put hundreds and hundreds of city directories from the 1880s and 1890s onto its Web site.  The directories help fill the gap caused by the loss of the 1890 census records in a major fire.

In those days, before people had telephone numbers, city directories included name, address — and occupation. So I wondered, would there be one for Cambridge, Mass., for 1896 and would Bea’s father Martin P. Bruce be in it? Voila! Yes! The entry reads as follows:
Bruce, Martin P., Salesman, Fish Bros. Wagon Co., h. 56 Baldwin.
Fish Bros. Wagon Company was a very large Racine, Wisconsin, firm that sold their wooden wagons nationwide and overseas. It was controlled by J.I Case of Racine. Fish Bros.  made both work wagons and fancy wagons such as phaetons and trotting buggies. You can read more about the firm and see a sketch of the Racine plant  online.
So it seems that Martin, newly married in 1895, took a position that promised better opportunities than his occupation as a clerk or accountant — which he had pursued since 1887 when he was 17 years old. Even if that meant Martin Bruce and his wife Grace Booth Bruce having to move east across the country to a new city.

They were there just one year, with daughter Beatrice Jane Bruce born 22 May 1896. Perhaps Martin did not like the life of a salesman. [He likely was a sales agent for Fish Bros., calling on businesses that sold the wagons to customers]. Or, with a new baby, Martin and Grace wanted to be back in Milwaukee among their families.

In any case, by the time the 1897 Milwaukee Directory was published, Martin, Grace and Bea were back in Milwaukee. Martin was listed that year as:

Bruce Martin P., bkpr. 205 Wells, h 465 Hanover

What company did he work for as a bookkeeper? Based on the address at 205 Wells, it was J. Dorsch & Sons, a company that sold agricultural implements and carriages. Its directory listing says:

J. DORSCH & SONS, agric. Implts and carriages, 195 2d and 205-211 Wells.

Martin had worked there as early as 1892, according to city directories. We surmise that he got to know the sales representatives of Fish Bros. Wagon Company. And there is the likely link to the sales job in Cambridge.

So there is why Bea was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, courtesy of city directories for Cambridge and Milwaukee.

You can find city directories in your local libraries or on microfilm through LDS Family History Centers or via Interlibrary Loan, all at a very low cost. Check them out soon!

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

Published in: on January 25, 2009 at 7:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Census Sources

I was asked recently how to find all the census records for different states and counties, and even countries. Because the census is an invaluable tool for genealogists, I offer the following ideas on census sources, both free and requiring suscription. While these recommendations are mostly for the United States, key Canadian and British census sources are also mentioned.

The first place that I would look for census documents — if you have surnames and locations back that far — is to search the 1880 US Census for free at the Web site.

 The 1880 Census is wonderful because for many families it lists all household members, shows each person’s relationship to the head of the household, plus age, occupation, and where they and their parents were born. That page linked above also lets you search the 1881 British Census and the 1881 Canadian Census for free.

[2] The second thing that I would do is call your public library and ask if they have a subscription to Heritage Quest, an online source for searching ensus records, Revolutionary War pension records, family history books in digitized format and more. If they say yes, ask for the password to log in to Heritage Quest from home.

Click on the HQ home page to see what it looks like after you’ve signed in via the link at your library’s Web site — and what it offers. Here is the URL:

HQ has searchable indexes for 1790 through 1820 and 1860 through 1920. Other years are online as scans of census pages that you can browse page by page.  Still it is free from your library if they have it. If not, ask about the nearest library that does. Sometimes a county library has it, but a particular city does not.

[3] Another approach to finding census records is to use Google to find the GenWeb or other genealogy Web site for the specific county you are researching.  In some counties, volunteers have fully transcribed the early census records for the county. Others have done surname indexes. Both are helpful.

I am very grateful for the work of many volunteers to put old census records for New Holstein, Calumet County, Wisconsin online — both early state and federal censuses. The index to the 1855 Wisconsin census on that site showed me that several of my key ancestral lines had arrived by that time from Germany.

[4] Also, you can look at your state of interest at and then check the county you want to see what is available. Here for example is Wisconsin, a key state in my research:

[5] In addition, you can find the LDS Family History Center nearest you and visit to use their computers with subscriptions to  I believe the centers offer Ancestry these days. Search here for the one in your area.

[6] Finally, when you have decided that genealogy is something you want to pursue seriously, then you will likely want to subscribe to one of the services such as to get census records and so much more available easily at your home computer.

As you collect census records for a particular family, you might consider establishing a timeline or other means to display the changes in the family — who was in the family each 10 years and who was out on their own, starting a career or a family.

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

Published in: on August 9, 2008 at 2:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Seeking Ancestors from Germany

Many Americans have ancestors from Germany, but are unsure how to find what area of Germany they came from, and who made up the earlier generations of the family.  Strategies to begin your research will depend on what you know so far.

The first thing you should do is talk to your relatives to see if there are records or memories of where in Germany the ancestors came from. And about when.  And where they settled in America. If relatives don’t know a great deal, you can search ship passenger logs or try to obtain the naturalization papers for the earliest male to arrive.

Or you can use Interlibrary Loan at your local library to get the relevant volumes of the Germans to America series and look up the family. There are 67 volumes covering 1840 to 1897.  Click to see the full list of volumes.

Depending on when your German ancestors arrived, the census records can contain references to specific areas of Germany, rather than just Prussia or Germany. 

For my research, the 1870 Census for Calumet County, Wisconsin, contained an invaluable clue.  The elder Ferdinand Hachez, who settled in New Holstein in 1854, was recorded in the 1860 Census as being from Holstein, as so many of the settlers there were. 

But in 1870, he told the German-speaking census recorder that his actual place of origin was Bremen, a free city in Germany. With help from an expert genealogist in Germany, I have found his family in Bremen, a exciting moment in my research. Click for more about the Hachez family.

Depending on when your German ancestors arrived, these sites are worth searching:
> Castle Garden immigration:
> Ellis Island immigration:

When you have a pretty good idea of where the family originated, you can join one of the genealogy email discussion groups for that part of Germany — and ask for assistance. Most of the genealogy email discussion lists are in English or in both English and German — and the genealogists who help people in the USA speak and write English very well.  For example, here are all the Rootsweb mailing lists for different areas of Germany

You might have luck with a list member knowing of your family. Or you may find a genealogy researcher on the list who offers to help, for a fee. I have had excellent assistance from Klaus Struve, an expert genealogist in Schleswig-Holstein who also has a splendid Web site about people who emigrated from that far northern area of Germany. He now has 63,000 names of emigrants listed. See his Rootdigger site here for a wealth of resources.

With his help, I now have this branch of my family back to the 1700s. The money spent was worth it, for I received transcripts of each of the German originals, followed by an English translation.

Finally, there are additional resources on German Americans — including books on German American genealogy — to be found on this Web page about German Americans and genealogy.

Best wishes in researching your roots!

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

Finding Family for Free, Part XV

Efforts to research and record your family history will in most cases be more successful if part of the story is already published in books. These books may include individual biographies, brief biographical sketches in history books on various communities, memoirs and family genealogy books.

During the 1800s and early 1900s, many volumes of community history were published, and most contained biographical sketches of individual citizens.  Whether you find biosketchs about direct ancestors or about close relatives, you can find invaluable insights about your family members and their lives.  Remember, though, that published works can have errors, just a census records and other sources do.

One example of the biographical narrative published as part of a community history is the story of Isaac Sharp and his wife Mary (Woolverton) Sharp of McNarlins Run, Waynesburgh, Greene County, Pennsylvania. The biosketch offers a look at Isaac and Mary’s lives as well as their many children.

Unfortunately, it gives incorrect information about some of the daughters’ spouses. In particular, daughter Rebecca married David Conger, not Ephriam Corwin. See the clarification, based on Conger genealogy records and family letters.

Still, to learn that Isaac’s parents were Scotch-Irish, and that Isaac’s own career was as a teacher and surveyor, adds immensely to the family story.

Another book that helped me, although with a different branch of the family, was I Was Born in America: The Memoirs of William George Bruce. William was the oldest brother of one of my great-grandfathers. Thus the sections of the book about his parents and about his and his siblings’ childhoods in early day Milwaukee provide wonderful insights about my own ancestors.

To help me and others interested in this period of Milwaukee history, I created an index to this book of memoirs that mentions many well known people of Milwaukee in this era as well as family members.  A fine genealogy Web site for Milwaukee — Links to the Past/Milwaukee — has posted that memoirs index online.

Fortunately, twelve chapters of his memoirs were published in the 1930s in the Wisconsin Magazine of History, from the Wisconsin Historical Society. And today, WHS has digitized its magazine back issues and put them online. Thus, I can reread his descriptions  in Chapters I and II of growing up in the intensely German neighborhood just to the east of the Milwaukee River.  Or view again the photograph of his parents, Augustus F. Bruce and Apollonia Becker Bruce, and read a bit of their story. All twelve chapters are listed on the William George Bruce Web page that I created.

You can use the WorldCat or world library catalogue to search for books about your family lines, and then you can use the free or low cost Interlibrary Loan Service to bring the volume to you for reading.  Don’t miss this great method for finding family for free.

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 February 11, 2007 at 9:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Finding Family for Free, Part XIV

If your ancestors attended a college or university, you may find information about their lives in a source seldom mentioned in genealogy books:  class notes.

Almost every colleage and university publishes brief notes about the lives and careers of their graduates, submitted by the graduates themselves. Topics typically include engagements, weddings, births of children, new jobs and promotions, moves to new locations, awards and, finally, obituaries.

These notes are printed in college and university magazines or newsletters.  Some have indexed their older classnotes. Some remarkably have put these older records online.  One of the finest resources is the University of Wisconsin Library’s digital collection online, including its historic yearbooks and alumni newsletters.

The usefulness of this resource can be seen in several examples.

— In May 1911, the Wisconsin Alumni magazine ran an engagement announcement for Marie Grace Miller and Frank Joseph Petura, both 1904 graduates. Her father’s name, the careers pursued by Marie and Frank, and the month of the wedding are included. What a genealogical gem!

— In 1904, both Frank of Racine and Marie of Madison were included among the seniors with their individuals photographs, field of study, clubs and a quotation. What a remarkable way to see ancestors when they were young!

Many more class notes were published about them and Marie over the years, allowing family to understand more about their lives.

Another ancestor I am researching is William Henry Luehr, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1889.  He is in the Badger yearbook several times including when he was censor and historian of the Bildungsverein club and when he was elected in May 1888 to be a general editor of the Aegis, the student newspaper. He had many mentions in the Wisconsin Alumni magazine, such as when he was the principal at Manitowoc high school.

While not all universities and colleges have such a fine resource as that provided by the University of Wisconsin, they may have an index and may be willing to send copies of relevant class notes, if you send a stamped, addressed envelope. It is worth a try!

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 January 15, 2007 at 9:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Finding Family for Free, Part XIII

Part of the fascination of genealogy is solving the puzzles of who our ancestors were; what occupations they followed; where they were born, lived, and died; and who their offspring were.  If you send a steady stream of emails, letters, queries and requests for information, you’ll find new clues and answers arriving every so often, just enough to keep you motivated!

Consider this checklist of correspondence to do, even if you only write one letter or query a week:

COUSINS:  Write to every cousin and other relative you know, even if you’ve not been in touch for years. You never know who has a box of old family letters and pictures tucked away that they’ll copy and share. Or who will turn out to share the genealogy bug and so have worked out key parts of the family tree.

PEOPLE WHO POST:  People who post family tree and genealogy information at places such as or GenForums typically include an email address. If you find a posting with some of your family, write to the person who posted the information to see what else they know. They may have new research not yet online. 

One wonderful contact for me has been Ginni Morey, who has a very fine Web site for her own family and for her husband’s Morey family.  The site shows the family of George Bradley Morey that includes sibilings Eda Dell Morey, my great-grandmother, and Frederick Eugene Morey, Ginni’s husband’s ancestor.  Thanks to email, we’ve shared some research to the benefit of both.

Recently, I emailed two people who had posted information about the Luehr family.  Back came a digital copy of a wonderful photograph of my great-grandfather’s oldest brother and his wife from one person while the other sent a five-generation pedigree of our lineage of the Luehr family, starting with my ggg-grandparents in Dithmarschen, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. Both picture and family history came by email, are family history treasures — and were free!

LOOK-UPs:  Find Web sites for the surnames you are researching or for the locations where your ancestors lived.  Check to see if any of them list people who do volunteer look-ups in books with histories and biographies, as well as census or local records.  Or try the well known genealogy look-up site, Random Acts of Kindness. Submit a look-up request.  These volunteers get many requests so the reply may take a long time. Try anyway.

QUERIES:  Posting your own queries is another step that should be part of your week-in, week-out correspondence strategy.  Genealogy forums and discussion lists for the surnames and locations of interest are good places to post. You may also want to join history and genealogy societies in relevant locations, and submit queries to appear in their newsletters.

SOCIETY ARCHIVES:  Speaking of history and genealogy societies, many have files and archives on families in their area. Visit their Web sites for procedures for asking about what they might have on your ancestors. Some allow a simple email request while others have forms to complete and mail with a modest fee.

This steady, methodical approach to genealogy research can protect you from being overwhelmed by thoughts about all the steps you need to take, while ensuring a steady flow of clues and information to help you solve your family puzzles.  Try it!

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 January 7, 2007 at 3:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Finding Family for Free, Part XII

Gathering multiple sources and documents for a single person or family is crucial if you intend to create a highly accurate family tree or family history. 

To acquire them, you likely will need to move from free resources available via the Internet to materials held by genealogical societies, state historical societies and libraries. And you will have to pay a fee for each copy and possibly for research time if you live too far away to visit in person. The fees typically are reasonable, and you will be rewarded with invaluable details that will confirm or clarify what you have found in free sources.

As noted at the end of the last post, obituaries would seem to be the very best source of details on an ancestor’s life. After all, it is the person’s life story summed up and published in one place. However, many obituaries were written by a surviving relative who knew many facts about the deceased but may not have recalled correctly specific dates and places, especially from early in the person’s life.

In Part II of Finding Family for Free, I discussed the many sources on the Web for educator William Henry Luehr, my great-grandfather.  I discovered enough online sources to be able to create a detailed Web page about him and about his family.  I have also written a 15+ page biography about him for the family.

To make sure I had as much accurate information as possible, I searched the Wisconsin Historical Society Name Index online and found that a biographical sketch and obituaries were available. I wrote for copies of them.

His university education was important to his career, so I wanted to be sure I had the correct details. Interestingly, his obituaries give his graduation from the University of Wisconsin Madison as 1887 while other sources gave 1889.  Fortunately, the biographical sketch published in 1912 in a Wisconsin educational history volume contained a precise outline of his education.  

It states:  “His early education was received in the county schools of New Holstein and the high school at Chilton. Later he spent two years at the Oshkosh State Normal and two and one-half years at the University of Wisconsin where he graduated in 1889 with the degree of Ph. B. In 1896 he took a graduate course in American history under Prof. F. J. Turner, and in economics and finance under Prof. R. T. Ely.”

The biographical sketch clarified his graduation date — and added insights on his love of learning and other aspects of his career.

Multiple sources are the key to creating accurate family trees and histories. They are also crucial for getting past brick walls in your research, a topic for a future post here at Relative Musings: Finding Family for Free.

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 December 31, 2006 at 6:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

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