Hello followers, are you related to anyone famous?
I’m sure that’s why many people into genealogy– to see if their great aunt is third cousins once removed to George Washington. After digging around in my own family tree, I can tell you, celebrity is not a given! Nor is anything else, for that matter. I’ve said it can be quite a privilege, and this post will come from my experiences which may not work for everyone. Heck, it doesn’t even really work for my mom’s side!
One may not be able to go further than one’s grandparents or find pictures. But, as what I find so fascinating from shows like Finding Your Roots, people you haven’t heard of can still offer incredible stories.
First of all, try to ask all the relatives you can about all the info you want or can get. Fortunately, not only had my dad already done a lot of research, but the wife of one of those third cousins considered herself an “armchair genealogist,” and put together her findings. This will be a great starting point so that when you do go searching for paper trails, you’ll have clues for which of those records are a good match for your relative.
For example, if you only know your ancestor is named Homer Simpson, you’ll find hundreds of records for hundreds of Homers. But if you know he’s married to Marge and that they live in Springfield, records containing that information have a better chance of being “your” Homer.
Asking around your family will also let people know of your interest and they can possibly send those tucked way photos in the attic or basement!
I’m sure everyone is aware of Ancestry, but it is by subscription. My library system actually offers a limited in-building free version, but FamilySource (owned by the Church of Latter-Day Saints) is free! I haven’t really used Ancestry, so FamilySource might not be as extensive. But I think it’s a great alternative to form your tree and find basic records like censuses, military records (draft registries can provide physical descriptions of your relative!), marriage records, and burial information.
Newspapers.com is a paid archive of the national newspapers. Although they require a subscription, they do have transcriptions that show up in Google results. Note that the transcriptions seem computer-generated, so they may be difficult to read, but you’ll hopefully get an idea. If you’ve an ancestor with a unique name and know some nifty search tricks, you may be able to see if they were a celebrity in their town.
For example, if you’re relative’s name is Homer Simpson, search “Homer Simpson newspapers.com.” Homer Simpson is actually kind of common, so you may have to use quotation marks around the name. Again, if they go by a middle initial or some other name, you may have to conduct combination searches or throw in that additional info you know like their location, siblings, parents or spouse.
UPDATE! Apparently, they’ve done away with those automated transcriptions 😡 However, some good Samaritans do upload clippings that I believe still show up in Google results, so it can’t hurt to try!
Find A Grave
Is it creepy to love a site about cemeteries? FindAGrave users volunteer to take photos of headstones and transcribe info so you can see where your ancestors are buried! I just find that incredible. Also, you may find other info users have uploaded such as who owns the plot, death certificates, obituaries, pictures or other family info. From my use, however, its search is pretty sensitive.
For example if you had an ancestor named “Katharina Augusta Wilhelmine Gustafsson” but married someone named “Henry Johnson,” you may have to search any combination of those names. And I find that sometimes if you include too many names, it will exclude your person! One trick is to just use initials for the first or (optional) middle names. If you’ve a really common name, you may have to play around with your birth and/or death years as well because they don’t include close years.
Google itself can be a useful tool! Particularly if your relatives have that uncommon name. I’ve found distant relatives’s webpages, obituaries, town directories, and even Chronicling America, a service from the Library of Congress that provides free access to certain newspapers! I think that is how I found someone with the same name as my great-grandfather was arrested for stealing pigs. 😅
These are some of my favorite sites which have yielded a lot of information for me. But in some cases, you may just have to pound the pavement and actually visit the places of your ancestors. Search state databases and put in requests, visit church and graveyard files. Libraries are always a good idea. Local ones can always point you in a good direction, and larger ones may have entire sections devoted to town history!
Do these tips help if you’re outside of the US? What are you using?
Would you volunteer for Find A Grave? Are you related to any hog thieves?