Technology and the Search for Family

Today I spoke at the New Canaan library about the myriad of technologies that exist to make our lives easier as genealogists.  Technology has changed the way we do our research, how we organize, preserve, and share it.  Technology allows us to learn from home and collaborate with others easily -- and now, with DNA, it has brought an entirely new class of evidence into our tool box. It’s certainly an exciting time to be working on your family history!

Organizing your research

Researching more efficiently

Google is a powerful tool for genealogical research!  Use search operators to focus your online searches and increase the number of relevant hits.  See Google’s help page: https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/2466433?hl=en

Here’s an article that explains it in more detail, from Family History Daily:


Set Google search alerts for subjects you are interested in:   www.alerts.google.com

Read digitized newspapers and books that contain details about your ancestors’ lives:

·      https://news.google.com/newspapers

·      http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov

·      http://www.fultonhistory.com

·      https://archive.org//

·      https://www.hathitrust.org

·      https://books.google.com

·      https://patents.google.com

·      https://scholar.google.com

Google also helps you understand material published in other languages:



Images – search and management

Google image search can help you identify your old photos, especially if they include landmarks.  If you are lucky, you might be able to find out if your old family photos appear anywhere else on the web, possibly discovering other descendants.



Facial recognition

·       https://photos.google.com

·      https://fotobounce.com


Age determination

·      http://how-old.net


Photo and document scanning apps

·       http://turboscanapp.com

·       https://www.camscanner.com

·      https://www.google.com/photos/scan

·      https://www.photomyne.com


Image capture and annotation software

·       Screen capture (on a Mac): command+ shift +4

·       Snagit (purchase):  https://www.techsmith.com/snagit.html

·       Jing (free):   https://www.techsmith.com/jing.html


Photo archives

·      https://www.flickr.com/commons/

·      https://www.instagram.com


Handwriting recognition

Once OCR technology can be used to search handwritten material, finding our ancestors in all the documents they appear in will be as easy as finding them in printed media.  ArgusSearch is a German company that is working on this problem, and was the second-place winner in the 2015 RootsTech innovator challenge.  Watch this space for future developments!


If you are interested in the evolution of OCR technology, here is an interesting 2004 article by Eugene Borovikov, entitled “A survey of modern optical character recognition techniques:”


Adding social and historical context

·      https://www.historypin.org

·      http://www.ourtimelines.com

·      www.theclio.com

·       www.historypin.org

·       http://www.oldnyc.org


·      https://www.google.com/earth/

·      https://www.google.com/maps

·      http://www.davidrumsey.com

·      https://www.loc.gov/maps/

·      http://maps.nypl.org/warper/

·      http://hcl.harvard.edu/libraries/maps/

Crowdsourced data

·      www.findagrave.com

·      www.billiongraves.com

·      www.facebook.com




·      https://familysearch.org/learningcenter

·      http://www.genealogy.com/articles/


·      http://familytreewebinars.com

YouTube videos

·      https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=genealogy+education

Find interesting blogs by Googling your area of interest + blog, or checking the blog lists published on:

·      www.cyndislist.com

·      www.geneabloggers.com

Podcasts – check Cyndi’s list for updated show lists, and subscribe on Apple Itunes or Google Play.

Online courses

·      http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/educational_courses

·      http://vigrgenealogy.com

·      https://genealogyonline.bu.edu

·      https://www.familytreeuniversity.com

Specialized groups

·      www.facebook.com

·      www.twitter.com (hashtag #genchat)


Sharing your research

Create your own blog

·      www.blogger.com

·      www.wordpress.com

·      www.tumblr.com

Create an online family timeline/story

·      https://twile.com

·      https://www.treelines.com

·      https://jrnl.com

·       https://www.thehistoryproject.com

·      https://www.tapgenes.com  (family medical history)

·      https://www.storyworth.com



·       www.blurb.com/bookwright

·      www.lulu.com


You can find some great articles for learning about DNA and how it can be used for genealogy at the International Society for Genetic Genealogy’s wiki:


Top DNA blogs

·      The Genetic Genealogist:   http://thegeneticgenealogist.com

·      DNAeXplained –Genetic Genealogyhttps://dna-explained.com

·       Your Genetic Genealogisthttp://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com

·      Segmentology:  https://segmentology.org

·      Kitty Cooper’s Bloghttp://blog.kittycooper.com

·      List of genealogy blogs:  http://isogg.org/wiki/Genetic_genealogy_blogs

DNA testing companies

·      https://www.ancestry.com/dna

·      https://www.familytreedna.com

·      https://www.23andme.com


Revolutionary Relatives

Today I gave a talk on “Revolutionary Relatives” at the New Canaan Library.  It was an entry level exploration of the resources available to research Revolutionary War ancestors.  The emphasis was on free or nearly-free websites that are widely available to most researchers. 

The collections on Ancestry are the best place to start to look for your Revolutionary War ancestors.  Ancestry is a subscription site, but most people have access through their local library.  We reviewed how to access specific collections by using the Card Catalog and the keyword "Revolutionary War," as opposed to just entering a name in Ancestry's main search engine. 

Heritage Quest is another subscription site that offers Revolutionary War pension records (as well as census records and digital books), and it is free for use at home with a Connecticut library card (access via www.icon.org)

The FamilySearch wiki (https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Main_Page) is a great place to go to search for more detailed information on the subjects we covered today -- or any other genealogical question for that matter.

1.    Ancestry.com

“U.S., Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783” – Muster rolls, payrolls, etc. for Continental forces (excludes militias unless they were under the control of the Continental army for some reason).  Data from War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Record Group 93; National Archives, Washington. D.C., microfilm publication M246.


U.S. Compiled Revolutionary War Military Service Records, 1775-1783” – Individual service records, data from the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, RG 93; National Archives, Washington, D.C., includes microfilm publication M880, Naval Personnel and Members of the Departments of Quartermaster General and the Commissary General of Military Stores, and M881, Soldiers who served in the Continental Army.


“U.S., Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900” – Some 80,000 disability, service, widow’s, and rejected pension application files from the records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15. National Archives, Washington, D.C., microfilm publication M804.


“U.S. Revolutionary War Pensioners 1801-1815, 1818-1872” -- Treasury Department pension payment records. The original data comes from two different sources at the National Archives, Washington, D.C: Ledgers of Payments, 1818-1872, to U.S. Pensioners Under Acts of 1818 Through 1858 From Records of the Office of the Third Auditor of the Treasury, 1818-1872. NARA RG 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury, 1775-1978, microfilm publication T718, and Pension Payment Roll of Veterans of the Revolutionary War and the Regular Army and Navy, 3/1801 - 9/1815. NARA RG 15, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773–2007, microform publication M1786.


“U.S., Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970” – National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution membership applications approved between 1889 and 31 December 1970.  Each application contains multiple pages, so it is useful to scroll through the entire document.


2.      American Archives (Peter Force)      http://amarch.lib.niu.edu


This collection was assembled in the early nineteenth century by Peter Force, an antiquarian and printer, who later became the mayor of Washington DC. (It is completely distinct from Internet Archive, which is a website that collects of out-of-copyright books on all subjects.)

Force’s collection includes proceedings of the colonial legislatures, as well as newspaper articles, documents, and broadsides from the Revolutionary era, much of which is not available any other place. The Northern Illinois University has transcribed the material and put it on their website, and it is every-word searchable. This is especially useful as a way to find your ancestor’s signature on a petition, or his service as a member of a patriotic committee.


3.      Digitized books


Books that were published before 1923 are in the public domain and many have been digitized.  The primary websites to use are Internet Archive, Hathi Trust, and Google Books.  (www.archive.orgwww.hathitrust.org, www.books.google.com) This is where you go to put the flesh on the bones, and find the stories of your ancestor's lives.  The list below is just a sense of what is available:


·       Individual states’ published military archives (especially useful for information on militia service)

·       Genealogies and memoirs

·       Proceedings of fraternal or historical organizations

·       County and town histories

·       State laws

·       Law journals and historical periodicals

·       NARA microfilms

·       Vital Records indexes the group “Reclaim the Records” have won in FOIA lawsuits


4.    National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution  

The DAR’s genealogical research system database: (www.dar.org/grs) includes the current list of approved patriots and their descendants, as well as a catalog of bible records and other data collected by DAR members.  Copies may be ordered from the DAR library.  Instructions on how to do this are on the website.  

5.  Digitized newspapers

These are freely available for many states from 1789 through 1922 at the Library of Congress' Chronicling America website (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov).  Sometimes your area of interest may have a local digitization project that has not been included in the larger online collections.  In this case, check for the latest updates at the Ancestor Hunter blog, which focuses on tracking newspaper digitization projects around the country (http://www.theancestorhunt.com).  

Of course the subscription sites Genealogy Bank and Newspapers will also have useful information.  If you are thinking about subscribing, always check their coverage maps ahead of time, to be sure they offer newspapers in the locality you are researching. (www.genealogybank.com and www.newspapers.com).



Getting Started--New York and New England Genealogy

New Canaan (CT) Public Library

Fall genealogy series, 8 October 2016

Today I spoke at the New Canaan library, focusing on easily accessible, mostly online, sources for discovering details about your New York and New England ancestors. As different as these two regions are both in their history and record-keeping practices, it is important to consider them together because their borders have always been fluid, and most of us living in the northeast have ancestors in both areas.  As promised, here are some of the most useful websites we discussed today.

Ancestry.com – free to use at the New Canaan library.  Access your state’s collections through the card catalog rather than the main search engine.

Iconn.org – Heritage Quest, Census records, Hartford Courant (1764-1922)

(Free to use for holders of CT public library cards)



New York Collections on FamilySearch.org


Highlights include:

·      New York, various county marriages, 1847-1848; 1908-1936 (indexed)

·      NYC birth, marriage, death indexes; 1890 police census

·      New York, county probate records (not indexed)

·      New York, county land records (not indexed)


Connecticut Collections on FamilySearch.org


Highlights include:

·      CT marriages, 1640-1939 (index)

·      CT, district court naturalizations (index only)


Massachusetts Collections on FamilySearch.org


Highlights include:

·      MA, town birth, marriage, death records (indexed)

·      MA state census, 1855, 1865 (indexed)

·      MA, county land records (not indexed)

·      MA, probate files for Plymouth and Worcester county (not indexed)


Vermont Collections on FamilySearch.org


Highlights include:

·      VT state vital records (indexed)

·      VT, town records (indexed)

·      VT, land records, 1850-1900 (not indexed)

·      VT, probate files for limited number of probate districts (not indexed)


New Hampshire Collections on FamilySearch.org


Highlights include:

·      NH, town birth, marriage, death records (indexed; limited years)

·      NH, some county naturalization records (not indexed)

·      NH, county probate files (not indexed)


Maine Collections on FamilySearch.org


Highlights include:

·      ME, county births, marriages, deaths (indexed)

·      ME, cemetery transcriptions (indexed)

·      ME, probate records for a limited number of counties (not indexed)

·      ME, land records for a limited number of counties (not indexed)

·      ME, some county naturalization records (not indexed)


Rhode Island Collections on FamilySearch.org


Highlights include:

·      RI state census 1885, 1905, 1915, 1925, 1935 (indexed)

·      RI town clerk records (limited coverage; indexed)

·      RI some county naturalization records (not indexed)



Congregational Church archives --  www.14Beacon.org


Digitized Books




www.worldcat.org -- consolidated Library catalog


Genealogical Societies

www.americanancestors.com -- New England Historic Genealogical Society

www.newyorkfamilyhistory.org -- New York Genealogical and Biographical Society




http://publications.newberry.org/ahcbp/ -- The interactive version of the Newberry Library’s atlas of historical county boundaries is currently unavailable, but you can download a .kmz file for your state to use with Google Earth or Google maps.


www.digitalcollections.nypl -- Search on keyword “maps,” also “New York City Directories,” etc.







State Archives -- Digital Collections

MA-- State Archives volumes (18) searchable index: 


MA--Passenger Manifest indexes (1848-1891)  


MA--vital records index search: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/arc/arcsrch/VitalRecordsSearchContents.html

CT – colony of Connecticut public records


CT – State Library digital collections



Tombstones and Cemetery Research