Using Locality Guides to Help with Your Research

Using Locality Guides to Help with Your Research

When you start researching in a jurisdiction or a time period that is new to you, you will want to keep track of the little bits of helpful information that you find so that you don't have to look up that information again. You can do this is by maintaining Locality Files (now known as Locality Guides). The Family History Library detailed this strategy in their Research Guide on how to organize your paper files. You can see it HERE. These Research Guides are what we used before the FamilySearch Wiki. I think I had every Research Guide they ever published. 

Let's say I have an ancestor who lived in Perry County, Mississippi and I have never done research in Perry County before. I need to learn a lot of things about Perry County before I can even get started. These are the things I will add to my Locality Guide for Perry County. I need to know a basic history of the county such as when it was formed and what the parent counties were as well as a basic timeline of events for that county. I love to find old county history books that are in the public domain. Google Books, Internet Archive, Hathi Trust, and FamilySearch Books are my favorite websites to find these books. I also want to have contact info for the courthouse as well as anything special I need to know about accessing their records. What records do they have onsite? Did they have any record losses due to fire or flood? I would include contact info for the local genealogical and/or historical society, the local libraries, and any other possible repositories. I like to have a current map of the area (though I do use Google Maps a lot now) as well as any old maps I can find.

I keep all of my information electronically which means I can create hyperlinks to things on the internet such as online books, the available databases at the major online repositories, and the FamilySearch card catalog. I can link right to the Perry County page. I love newspapers and I use the Library of Congress' Chronicling America website to find what was in publication and when.  I only have to do the search once and then I can link to it. For example, HERE is the list for Perry County. It saves me a lot of time not having to go back to the website and do repeated searches. Don't forget that if you have never done research in the state of Mississippi you will also need to collect some general resources at the state level and not just at the county level. Besides my Locality Guides I also gather reference material on the major records groups (military, land, probate, etc.).

It may seem like a lot of work but this information is essential to be able to thoroughly research your ancestors. It will also save you time in the long run. The next time I have a person of interest in this same county I already have the needed resources. I can always update it if I find any new information. Today most genealogists keep these notes electronically in applications such as Evernote or OneNote instead of using paper files. You can also use a word processing program or a spreadsheet program. These are great because not only can you hyperlink to the resources you find on the internet, you can also scan anything you have that is on paper (pages out of the above referenced books for example) and have those pages readily available instead of having to lug out the books each time. You can even design a template so that all of your guides follow the same format.

I have included an example as a downloadable PDF. This example comes from my friend Eva Goodwin. We were in ProGen together and creating a Locality Guide was one of our assignments. I liked Eva's better than mine so I asked her if I could use hers an an example and she very graciously sent it to me. 

Download Halifax Locality Guide (Goodwin)

My real Locality Guides are not as fancy as what we did for our ProGen assignment but I wanted to give you an idea of the types of things you should include.  I will say that I am working on designing a template so that my guides are more uniform. 

The best way to get started is to create a locality guide for a jurisdiction that you are very familiar with. I'll bet that by the time you are done you will have found some resources that you didn't know about.

 An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.
— Benjamin Franklin


Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.

4 Great Collections from American Memory

4 Great Collections from American Memory

American Memory is the digital collection portal for the Library of Congress. The mission of the website is to provide “free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience. It is a digital record of American history and creativity. These materials, from the collections of the Library of Congress and other institutions, chronicle historical events, people, places, and ideas that continue to shape America, serving the public as a resource for education and lifelong learning.” For the genealogist, American Memory is an opportunity to read, hear, and view life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  


There’s so much I love about American Memory but let me share four of my favorite collections as an introduction to what can be found.

Panoramic Maps                                                                                           

American Memory features all kinds of maps including transportation, military, and Sanborn maps but my favorites are the panoramic views. These maps, also known as Bird’s Eye View maps, provide a unique look at familiar cities. From an elevated perspective, these maps provide a detailed look at a section of a city, include specific landmarks, services, businesses, and homes. This collection of over 1500 panoramic maps lack the scale accuracy of more familiar maps but they provide a great way to learn more about the lay of the land and what that city looked like in an earlier time.

California, As I Saw It                                                                                       

One of the strengths of American Memory is their collection of first-hand accounts via books and correspondence that tell the story of pioneer lives.

“California as I Saw It: First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900 is the Library of Congress's first digital collection building on the exceptional holdings in the Library's General Collections and Rare Book and Special Collections Division in the area of state and local history.” This collection of first person narratives date from the Gold Rush (1849) to the turn of the 20th century. While it lacks the perspective of the diverse population found in early California, the collection is a starting place for learning more about California’s rich history.

Other regional collections available from American Memory include: Nebraska, the Ohio River Valley, and the Upper Midwest.

Early Virginia Religious Petitions                                         

Not all American Memory collections are housed on the American Memory website. In the case of the Early Virginia Religious Petitions, a link redirects you to the Library of Virginia, Virginia Memory Legislative Petitions Digital Collection web page. Documents spanning 1776 to 1865 include wills, naturalizations, deeds, and manumissions of slaves.  A valuable Tip Sheet on the homepage provides information about finding African American names. 

The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898 to 1906                                

American Memory provides researchers the opportunity to view historic images, read 19th century texts, listen to interviews and watch very early films. Those films help us better visualize life generations ago. The Life of a City: Early Films of New York documents immigrants arrival at Ellis Island, families shopping for fish at an outdoor market, and everyday life along 23rd street in New York City (watch until the end  for an incident  reminiscent of a much later Marilyn Monroe movie). Make sure to click on the Articles and Essays link at the top of the collection to read more about New York and early film making. Other films found on American Memory include America at Work, America at Leisure: Motion Pictures from 1894 to 1915 and Inside an American Factory: Films of the Westinghouse Works, 1904.

American Memory

Genealogy is about telling the stories of our ancestor’s lives and what better way to do that than experiencing materials created during their lifetime? Use American Memory to read and view materials from generations past to better understand your family’s history. To learn more about American Memory make sure to watch Shannon Combs Bennett’s webinar The American Memory Collection at the Library of Congress.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.

Play Ball! Finding Your Baseball Ancestors

Play Ball! Finding Your Baseball Ancestors


Baseball has long been thought of as America's "national pastime." From the sandlots to the major leagues, chances are good that the game influenced your ancestor's life in some way.

Here are a few resources to help you find your baseball-playing ancestors.

General Resources

The National Baseball Hall of Fame offers an amazing digital collection of oral histories, manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, cartoons, and images of 3D artifacts. The Giamatti Research Center in Cooperstown, New York, is the library and research facility for the organization. You can visit the library in person by appointment or request research assistance from a staff librarian. You may wish to consult ABNER (American Baseball Network for Electronic Research) for a partial list of holdings before your visit. ($) offers two databases specific to the research of baseball-playing ancestors. "U.S., Professional Baseball Player Profiles, 1876–2004" is an index to over 15,000 professional baseball players who played between 1876 (the year the National League was founded) and 2004. Available information includes birth/death dates and locations, nicknames, college attended, physical characteristics, and game statistics. The second database, "U.S., Professional Baseball Player Photos and Illustrations, 1876–2004," provides nearly identical information, but also may include a photograph or a baseball card for players who played between 1887 and 1938.

The Society for American Baseball Research offers many useful resources, including the Baseball Biography Project. All biographies in the project are written and peer-reviewed by SABR members with the goal of publishing a biography for every major league player in history. Also available are links to players' professional career statistics, a bibliography of research citations from The Baseball Index, as well as interviews, photographs and much more. Additionally, the project is creating pages for ages for ballparks, broadcasters, executives, games, managers, scouts, spouses, and umpires, so be sure to check those out if your ancestor could have been connected to other aspects of the game.

Baseball Almanac has dedicated itself to "preserving the history of our national pastime" with an interactive website containing 500,000+ pages of baseball history, facts, original research, and statistics not found anywhere else online. The website is privately-held and welcomes contributions and suggestions from the public. Research services are available by request.

LA84 Foundation's Sport History Library is a growing digital collection of more than 70,000 documents on Olympic and general sports history. Included in this collection are images of Baseball Magazine from 1908–1920. The LA84 Foundation supports a library in Los Angeles, California, housing a collection of thousands of books, periodicals, other publications, and photos. A staff librarian is available to do research by request.

Specific Resources

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is dedicated to preserving the history of African-American Baseball. The website offers an eMuseum of resources, including a historical timeline, personal and team profiles, and "Diamond Cuts," which are narratives taken from the history of African-American baseball. The Research Library contains a multimedia archive of oral histories, selections from the Museum's photo archive, and a resource bibliography for further research.

Negro League Baseball offers a trove of historical information, including details about the League, a timeline of events, team profiles, and player biographies. A Frequently Asked Questions section provides answers to inquiries from students, educators, and baseball fans.

If your ancestor played ball as a youngster, be sure to visit Little League® Baseball and Softball. This site offers a unique timeline of the League from its founding in 1939 to its 75th Anniversary in 2014. Various historical articles can be found in the Newsletter, such as this one on "The 18 Girls Who Have Made Little League Baseball® World Series History." The Little League Baseball World Series History Book (which appears to be a forgotten section of the main site) is a browseable database of game scores, team rosters, and tournament brackets for over 50 years of Little League® World Series history.

Did your ancestor play in the College World Series? Then you'll want to check out College World Series History hosted by and the Omaha World-Herald. This site features historical information for each year of the CWS, dating back to 1947. There is a page for every school that has played in the CWS, some with photos, statistics, and players' names. Baseball Reference also has a section of information about the CWS, so be sure to check that one, as well.

 If your ancestor was one of the athletes who inspired the film A League of Their Own, you will want to visit The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Players Association. This site is a "virtual scrapbook…filled with articles, photographs, interviews, and statistics that give you an up-close-and-personal look at the pioneering women who played professional baseball from 1943 through 1954." The site features player biographies, interviews, and obituaries, league history, and you can even read a section of the players' "charm school guide."

Finally, baseball isn't only popular in America. If your ancestor played ball in Cuba, Japan, or Korea, check out Baseball Reference. This comprehensive site contains team and player information for Japanese and Nippon Pro Baseball, the Korean Baseball Organization, the Cuban National Series, as well as American Major and Minor Leagues and the Negro Leagues.

Elizabeth O’Neal is a freelance writer, educator, and web developer. An avid genealogist for three decades, Elizabeth writes the blog My Descendant’s Ancestors, where she shares family stories, technology and methodology tips, and hosts the monthly "Genealogy Blog Party."

Be Flexible and Don’t Make Assumptions

Be Flexible and Don’t Make Assumptions

After my dad died I started doing more intensive research on his life. He didn't talk about his childhood very much because he had some unhappy memories. He grew up in a family of dirt poor sharecroppers and he had to start picking cotton at a very young age. He was ridiculed in school for not having shoes and for wearing tattered hand-me-down clothes. When he left Mississippi to join the Air Force he pretty much never looked back. 

The Mississippi Enumeration of Educable Children, 1850-1892; 1908-1957 is one of my favorite record sets. My dad did attend school from 1st through 12th grade so I knew I would find him here but I would have missed some records if I had only looked at the years when he was 6 to 18. Sometimes the records don't contain what you think they do.

Thomas Simmons is my dad and he graduated from Purvis High School in 1955. This school census is from 1957. In 1957 my dad was in the Air Force and stationed in Hahn, Germany but the school board still listed him.

Children who were not attending school anymore were still included. They are given a W code with an explanation. This is important information. Always be flexible with your searches and make sure you know exactly what information the particular record can tell you. Did I learn anything about my dad that I didn't know when I saw this page? No but I still wanted to see it. I want to see every record where my dad is mentioned. However, I could have easily learned something that I didn't know.

List of Educable Children
(click image to enlarge)

"Mississippi Enumeration of Educable Children, 1850-1892; 1908-1957," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 31 March 2017), Lamar > image 98 of 157; citing Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Box ID 15134, Series 21.

When you are looking at a record set that you haven't worked with before it is important to take some time to get to know the records. Even if I find a document for my person of interest right away I always look at many examples in the set to get a better feel for the documents. I also check to see if there is any sort of explanatory section.

You can see a good example of this in the federal census records. You should read the instructions the enumerators were given before they were sent out. The United States Census Bureau has this information online. Kathleen W. Hinkley's book, Your Guide to the Federal Census Records is an excellent resource for background information. You also need to look at the pages before and after the page that has your ancestor's family. If you take the time to  understand the records better you will be less likely to miss something.


Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.


When "Late" Doesn’t Mean Dead

When "Late" Doesn't Mean Dead

I introduced you to Ignatius Grantham in Playing Hide and Seek with Records from Burned Counties. Ignatius was a very interesting man so I did a followup post, Ignatius Grantham and the Land Entry Files. I want to go back to Ignatius and Catherine's 1825 divorce one last time because there is a term that was used in one of the documents that might confuse a researcher. 

“To the Sheriff of Hancock — County Greeting 
We Command you, that of the goods and chattels Lands
and Tenements of Wm C. Seaman for Catherine Grantham —
late of your county…” 
[emphasis mine]

late of your county sounds like Catherine is dead, especially since someone else, William Seaman, is acting on her behalf. In this case “late of your county” simply means that she used to live in Hancock County, Mississippi but no longer resides there.

Appellate court document
(click image to enlarge)

Mississippi High Court of Errors and Appeals, Drawer no. 65, Case no. 15, Catherine Grantham vs. Ignatius Grantham, 21 February 1825; Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson. 

When analyzing your own records be sure to check for words that might have multiple or historical meanings and then make sure you choose the correct contextual meaning. It could mean all the difference in how you interpret a document!

What kind of double meaning words have you come across in your research?


Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.


Midwestern State Censuses Provide Critical Information

Midwestern State Censuses Provide Critical Information

Often times, census records are a way in which a genealogist paints a virtual picture of a family unit over time. Federal censuses in the U.S. are taken every ten years and a lot can happen to a family in ten years. Deaths, births, divorce, and moves are just the tip of the iceberg. Follow along with me as I share how accessing state censuses across the Midwest provided critical information to answer what happened to the Lockwood family.

The Lockwood Family in the Federal Censuses

I first found Lewis Lockwood and Sabrina Robinson as the parents of Frank Ren Lockwood (born circa 1858) on a family group sheet passed down to me. According to the vague information, the family was from New York and consisted of three children, Lewellen, Fanny, and Frank. The story attached to the family group sheet indicated Lewis was a traveling clergyman and had moved the family from New York to Iowa. Sabrina had died and the children ended up living with family members. Further, only vital information for Frank was indicated on the family group sheet.

I quickly found who I thought was the “right” family in the 1860 U.S. Federal Census for Chicksaw County, Iowa. But there was a problem right out of the gate. Frank, his siblings, and his mother Sabrina all matched. But the head of household was Benjamin…not Lewis. Ironically, this Benjamin was a clergyman. Was this the right family?

1860 US Census, Fredricksburg, Chickasaw, Iowa, population schedule, page 77, dwelling 653, family 565, Benjamin Lockwood; digital image, MyHeritage ( : accessed 1 Nov 2017); citing NARA publication M653.

You’ll have to take my word for it, but yes, this was the right family. I continued my search in the 1870, 1880, and 1900 censuses to find the family again, but was never able to locate them. This 1860 census was the one-and-only federal census where the family appeared together. By 1870, the parents and Lewellen were nowhere to be found and Frank and Fanny were living in different homes just as was passed down in family tradition.

I was left with more questions than answers. Was their father’s name actually Benjamin? What happened to the father and mother? What happened to Lewellen? By using only federal census records, I could have never answered these questions, but by using state censuses, I was able to piece their story together.

Using State Censuses

Iowa took several state censuses. Some only listed the heads-of-household, but others named each person in the residence and asked each enumerated person who their parents were. Yes, you read that right! In 1925, the Iowa State Census asked every person who their parents were, including their mother’s maiden name.

I knew Frank grew up and lived out his life in Linn County, Iowa. I hoped he would appear in the 1925 state census and record his parents by name. That would answer my question about the father being named Benjamin or Lewis. I did a search for him in the 1925 Iowa State census. He was in Linn County and listed his parents as Lewis Lockwood and Sabrina Robinson. Just for fun, I decided to search for any person who had parents named Lewis Lockwood and Sabrina Robinson.

I found three! Frank, Llewellyn [Lewellen], and Louisa. At first, I thought Louisa might be Fanny found in the 1860 census. This Louisa was living in the home of Lewellen and marked as his sister. But, Louisa was born in about 1862 and could not have been Fanny. Not only had I learned Lewellen had lived, but this Louisa was a missing member of the family I didn’t even know existed!

1925 Iowa State Census, Waverly, Bremer, Iowa, population schedule, house number 31, line 82 and 83, Louisa Lockwood; digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 1 Nov 2017); citing Microfilm of Iowa State Censuses, 1856, 1885, 1895, 1905, 1915, 1925 as well various special censuses from 1836-1897 obtained from the State Historical Society of Iowa via Heritage Quest.

So, what happened to Fanny? I had last seen her in Linn County, Iowa in 1870. I found she had married and moved to Wisconsin. She appeared with her husband, Richard, and children in the 1900 U.S. census for Juneau County, Wisconsin, but by 1910 her little family was dispersed over several counties and residences and Richard was in Dane County listed as a widow.

Thankfully, Wisconsin also took state censuses. I found Fanny’s husband Richard Dearholt marked as a widow in the 1905 Wisconsin State Census. Though I have been unable to find Fanny’s exact death date as of yet, I have narrowed it down to between 1900 and 1905 and likely in Juneau County, Wisconsin.

The Conclusion

I have never been able to learn why Lewis was recorded as 'Benjamin' in the 1860 US Census. Further research indicated his given name was Lewis Rema Lockwood of Greene County, New York. Perhaps it was a clerical error on the part of the census taker...I guess we'll never know.

Having found Lewellen, Fanny, Frank, and Louisa in state censuses of Iowa and Wisconsin helped me to continue to follow them to their deaths. Without state censuses as a part of my research plan, I would have missed critical information. It was a lesson well learned. When available, state census records can fill in the missing decade and provide answers to your genealogy questions.

Learn more about census records from Amie's webinars in the Legacy library!


Amie Bowser Tennant has been passionate about genealogy and family history for the last 17 years. She was awarded the NGS Home Study Scholarship in 2011 and is currently "on the clock" for national certification. She has been very involved in the genealogical community over the years as she served as Recording Secretary for Miami County Historical and Genealogical Society [Miami, Ohio]; newsletter editor for Miami Meanderings; Lead Content Specialist at; and a content creator for Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems. Today, Amie is The Genealogy Reporter teaching and reporting in the field of genealogy. Follow her blog at

Interested in Becoming a Certified Genealogist?

Interested in Becoming a Certified Genealogist?

Many researchers ask the question, "How can I get certified?" Here is my short list of what you need to do to prepare yourself for certification through the Board for Certification of Genealogists. You will be submitting a portfolio of work which will be evaluated by three (or four) judges. 

  • Read The BCG Application Guide
    Everything you need to know about the process as well as what is required for the portfolio is in this free publication. You need to understand exactly what is required for each component. If you don’t follow the directions you will get seriously dinged, possibly to the point of instant failure.
  • Compare each section of your portfolio to the BCG Rubrics
    The Judges use the BCG rubrics to evaluate your portfolio so you need to make sure your portfolio passes each rubric before you submit it.  You are lucky to have the rubrics up front.
  • Pay attention to the Standards listed in each Rubric
    The BCG has listed each standard that applies to that rubric which you can look up in the Genealogy Standards manual.  This book is essential. When you look up the standard you will see expanded information. You should be familiar with ALL of the standards in this book but pay special attention to the ones listed in the rubrics.
  • Take advantage of the helps the BCG offers
    Visit BCG's Preparing for Certification page and Learning Center. You can follow the BCG News blog to keep up to date with the latest happenings. All applicants are automatically subscribed to OnBoard when they submit their preliminary application

    The BCG now contracts with Legacy Family Tree Webinars to host the BCG Webinars Series. You can register for these ahead of time and they are free to watch live and for 7 days after they have been archived. After that you will need a webinar subscription to view them. A benefit of having a webinar subscription is that you can go back and watch any of the webinars whenever you want and you will have access to the syllabuses. 
  • Read Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG
    The first two chapters are crucial to understand the why and how of citing your sources.
  • Be aware that no one can give you specific help/advice on your projects nor can anyone proofread your work 
    There is a special mailing list for those that are “on the clock” and you can get answers to procedural type questions there. As far as the portfolio work itself, you are on your own. No one can proofread your work before you submit it. You also can’t use any material that has been previously peer-reviewed such as a ProGen assignment. 
  • Proofreading is still important though
    When you are ready to submit your portfolio, set it aside for at least 24 hours (a week would be better) and then proofread it for the last time. I recommend reading it out loud. You are apt to catch something that you didn’t see before because when you read something over and over again you tend to skim. Grammar and punctuation are important as are good editing skills. More words doesn’t mean it’s a better report. Once you have done your final read through don’t start second guessing yourself and try to go back and “fix” things. There comes a point when you just need to let it go.

The BCG allows up to a year to complete your portfolio but they do allow you to extend if need be and many people do (I did). The certification process itself is a wonderful learning experience. 


Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.

The Online Trap

The Online Trap by Michele Lewis

Don't get caught in the trap of believing all the records you need are online.

David Ouimette, CG, FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, was able to provide the following information:

"FamilySearch is currently focused on publishing top-tier records as prioritized for each country. For most western nations, that translates to civil registration, church parish registers, census population schedules, and other related records we would all seek for first. There's also the matter of timeframe, as we might not target records too recent to access per existing privacy laws.

We estimate that FamilySearch has published over 7% of these record images (scoped for the top 80 countries and accessible time periods) in FamilySearch Historical Records, with many more (perhaps up to 15%) in the FamilySearch Catalog. This doesn't quite translate to a global statistic as some countries with massive population don't fit in the top 80."

And this is only the top-tier records and not every available record. There are other online repositories with additional records but the sum total of these records will not add a lot to the overall percentage when looking at the same groups of top-tier records. Since the concentration is on this top tier, there are records that are down the priority list that haven't been digitized and won't be for a long time.

I want you to think about that for a minute. Do you have a brick wall that you can’t break through? Maybe this is the reason. Online records are great and I love being able to sit back in my office and go click click click with my mouse but I also do old fashioned research at courthouses, archives, and libraries. I guess it might be easier for me because when I started out in 1991 I didn’t own a computer. It didn’t matter because there weren't any genealogical holdings online at that time. 100% of my research was done onsite, by telephone, or by snail mail. Some genealogists just starting out don’t know that there is whole 'nother world of records out there. I get many emails from people telling me they can’t find so and so and I ask them, "Did you check ___________?" Many times the thought hadn't even crossed their mind.

The trick is knowing what records are available for that specific location and time period and then knowing how to access them. There are many resources that can help you with this. Here are a just few books to give you an idea of the type of reference material out there that can guide you.

Breland, Claudia. Searching for Your Ancestors in Historic Newspapers. Gig Harbor, Wash.: Claudia Breland, 2014.

Darrow, Carol Cooke and Susan Winchester. The Genealogist's Guide to Researching Tax Records. Westminster, Md.: Heritage Books, 2007.

Eales, Anne Bruner and Robert M. Kvasnicka, editors. Genealogical Research in the National Archives of the United States. Third edition. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2000.

Eichholz, Alice, editor. RedBook: American State, County, and Town Sources. Third edition. Provo, Utah: 2004.

Hinckley, Kathleen W. Your Guide to the Federal Census for Genealogists, Researchers, and Family Historians. Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 2002.

Hone, E. Wade. Land and Property Research in the United States. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Incorporated, 1997.

Meyerink, Kory L., editor. Printed Sources, A Guide to Published Genealogical Records. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Incorporated, 1998.

Neagles, James C. U.S. Military Records: A Guide to Federal & State Sources, Colonial America to the Present. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, 1998.

Rose, Christine. Courthouse Research for Family Historians, Your Guide to Genealogical Treasure. San Jose, Calif.: CR Publications, 2004.

Szuc, Loretto Dennis and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, editors. The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy. Third edition. Provo, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2006.

The Handybook for Genealogists. Tenth edition. Draper, Utah: Everton Publishers, 2002.

Another great resource is the FamilySearch Wiki. This is the first thing I check when I am working in an unfamiliar country, state, county, town, or record group. 

I talk to people all the time who are nervous about reaching out and making contact with repositories because they have never done so and don't know what the proper procedures/protocols are. There is no reason to feel this way. The telephone is your best tool. All you have to do is call them and tell them what you are looking for and they will tell you if they have what you need and what the procedure is to get it.

For example, let's say I have someone that I am pretty sure married in Marion County, Mississippi in about 1850. I have checked online and I can't find a marriage record for this couple. I would then call the Marion County Circuit Court (number found online) and ask them about the marriage record. They put me on hold for a few minutes while they go check their marriage books. They come back on the line and tell me that they have the record.  It will cost me fifty cents and I will need to send a self-addressed, stamped envelope. The clerk then gives me the mailing address and also provides me with the book and page number so that I can put that in my formal request letter to make it easier for them. Done.

Of course not all contacts with repositories will be this straightforward. There are some courthouses that are not this friendly or cooperative. You will learn which ones these are. A formal snail mail request might loosen them up a bit. Worst case scenario is that you might have to hire a local researcher to make a personal appearance to retrieve what you need. Most of the state archives require that you fill out a special form which are available online. You can still call them for more information though. Calling libraries that have genealogical holding is usually very fruitful. It is the nature of libraries and librarians to be helpful. 

One last piece of advice. Keep track of every effort and every contact you make when looking for records (research log). The last thing you want to do is duplicate your efforts because you don't remember that you already contacted a certain repository about that record and they have already told you that they don't have it. Your log will also let you know if it has been too long without a response which will alert you that it is time for a followup.



Michele Simmons Lewis, CG is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News.  You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.

Certified Genealogist is a registered trademark and the designation CG is a service mark of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by Board certificants who meet competency standards.

Starting Your Italian Research Journey

Starting Your Italian Research Journey

I won't pretend researching Italian and Sicilian ancestry is easy. It isn't, but if you do your ground work in much the same way as you build a house, from solid foundations you will be off to a good start.

So here are a few top tips to consider:

  • You will need to know the exact town your Italian or Sicilian ancestors came from
  • Track those with the same surname or those that hail from the same place.
  • Remember, in Italy women use their maiden name.
  • Understand the history, economic, political and social aspects of researching in Italy & Sicily
  • Understand the part that religion plays in the lives of your Italian ancestors
  • Explore whether your place has been the focus of a thesis or other work.
  • Become familiar with naming patterns - it is not fool proof but might help!

Before you start researching in earnest start reading and discovering the country; read books about the history and culture, explore the religious festivals. By doing these things you are building your research foundations. You are exploring your ancestor's country, their religion and what was important to them.

You probably know or have an idea of when your family entered the United States. Perhaps you have searched passenger lists but cannot find them. Here are a few more considerations:

  • Did they enter through Canada and travel down into the United States?
  • Look at the surname, is that the surname that left the homeland with? Yes, on occasions names changed in the new country. Play with the name. The sister of my grandmother, Rosanna Licata entered the US under her maiden name, despite being married to Giralomo Mancarella who was often recorded as Mangarella or Mancarelli. Explore the possibilities and record your positive and negative results.
  • Perhaps the passenger list has your ancestor but the place of residence is simply recorded as Italy. What now? Look at others on the vessel. Whilst it is not absolute, it was common for people to travel together from a town rather than travel alone. Perhaps there was a migration scheme and a number of people from the same town went together.
  • Once you have found them on the passenger list look to see who the person was they named as a contact. They are probably a relative or a friend of another relative. Remember Italians are all about family!

D7FB2F90-1E3A-4BEE-BB1C-1B47FC8B0A41image courtesy of Julie Goucher

If you read the post Pathway to My Sicilian Heritage you will see that I mention the place my family hailed from, a small place called Sutera in Caltanissetta. Sutera is a rural community which meant the pool of people that an individual could marry was pretty small. What I found is that the same surnames kept popping up as individuals married and upon researching further I would discover the same surnames appearing in my research. Ironically my maternal line does something very similar in England!  Marrying family members or marrying into the family of in laws meant that what assets there were could be retained within an extended family group. 

Over a decade ago I discovered that Sutera had been the focus of a thesis by an academic in the United States. I ordered the book and eventually it arrived. I also contacted the author and asked her for any insights and did she have any material that had not made it into the published works. She did and since then we have corresponded several times. Explore that possibility. While Sutera is not large, it has been included in a number of books. Explore every possibility.

The biggest challenge is the language unless of course you are fluent. I find researching my Sicilian ancestry takes me three times as long as my English research, but I also yield more information from records. FamilySearch has done a sterling job of getting records online, for some I cannot see the actual record, but a transcription. I can then search for the record on other sites and read it, using the established transcription as a way of checking and double checking my reading.  I have been reasonably lucky and between three sites I can often research and fill in the gaps.  

Important sites for Italian and Sicilian research include:

  • FamilySearch - and there is also some great material in the learning center.
  • Ancestry - this is linked to the Italia site, but I find also searching the complete Ancestry suite of sites especially helpful. I located a Licata relative in the US before I had actually any proof he had migrated because I searched by removing the surname completely and inserting Sutera. The relative was located because I specified Sutera, he was actually recorded as a Licala. 
  • Ancestors - Archives for Master Search - this is an amazing site and has material from 51 Italian state archives. It has many of the records that are on FamilySearch for Caltanissetta. 

Reach out to others that are either researching the same names or the same places or both. You never know where an email conversation will take you. Also consider a DNA test. Does a project exist? While surname DNA projects only exist at FamilyTree DNA (FTDNA) explore your options. Upload the results to Gedmatch. Italians are not especially interested in DNA, so it is not going to be a quick win, but test, because you never know!

Look for a naturalisation record. Sometimes they can be a font of information. The naturalisation record for Giralomo Mancarella confirmed that his wife, Rosanna died in New York in 1922, despite Rosanna death being recorded in Sutera. From that information I was able to send for her death certificate.

Here are a few of my favourite resources:

Good luck getting started!

Learn more about your European ancestors in the webinar Tracing Your European Ancestors.


Julie is the writer and developer of the successful "Book of Me, Written by You" program, which has been popular as a series of workshops delivered to both professionals and historians, in addition to undertaking research for some clients. Julie's book Tracing your European Ancestors is to be published in 2016 by Pen and Sword Books. When Julie is not working or researching her own ancestry she can be found reading, exploring the many National trust properties within the South of England or writing at her blog – Anglers Rest.

© Julie Goucher 2017

Ignatius Grantham and the Land Entry Files

Ignatius Grantham and the Land Entry Files

I told you a little bit about Ignatius Grantham in "Playing Hide and Seek with Records from Burned Counties." Since Ignatius was a cad I of course wanted to know more about him. On 08 January 1820 he claimed 401.72 acres in Jackson County, Mississippi. The Pascagoula River runs right through the middle so this was prime real estate. Ignatius didn’t hang on to it though. He assigned it to John Williams on 18 February 1820 and then Williams turned around and assigned it to Robert Carr Lane on 20 February 1820. Here is a map:

Ignatius Grantham's land
(click image to enlarge)

Screenshot taken from the Bureau of Land Management’s online Plat
Image files, Section 2, Township 4S, Range 7W, St. Stephens

I ordered  the land entry file from the National Archives and it is 47 pages long.[1] Over the years this piece of land had some title issues. Apparently after it was assigned the patent was never filed so it looked like Ignatius still owned it. What is interesting was a “motion for decree pro confesso” filed 11 August 1902 in the case of R. Roberts vs. Ignatius Grantham et als. [sic]. I had to look that up (thank you Black’s Law Dictionary). It means the defendant (Ignatius Grantham) had not answered the complaint so the court treated it as though he confessed to the charges. In that motion it states,

“That said Ignatus [sic] Grantham cannot be found in the State of Mississippi after diligent inquiry and complainant does not know and cannot ascertain or diligent inquiry of Ignatus Grantham is alive or dead, and if he left any heirs.”

This is kind of funny because in 1902 Ignatius would have been about 113 years old. I guess it was a legal thing that they had to do and they did mention possible heirs. 

This little tidbit was in the file too.  Talk about a seriously burned county! I knew about the fire in 1875 but I didn’t know it had burned two times prior to that.

Jackson Co burns multiple times
(click image to enlarge)

The moral of the story is, if you find a patent or warrant on the Bureau of Land Management’s website you need to order the land entry file to get the “rest of the story.” I will tell you that it is cheaper and faster if you have a local researcher pull the records for you at the National Archives than it is to order the records directly from them.

[1] Survey of 23 October 1827, Ignatius Grantham claim, Mississippi no, 135; Private Land Claim Files, 1789-1908; Record Group 49; Records of the Bureau of Land Management; National Archives, Washington, D.C.


What is Soundex and how it is still being used

Newcomers to genealogy are sometimes confused by the word soundex. Whereas those who have been researching for decades have likely memorized the soundex codes for each of their favorite ancestors' surnames. With the advent of every-name census indexes, soundex has been somewhat left behind.

A to Zax: A Comprehensive Dictionary for Genealogists & Historians by Barbara Jean Evans, defines soundex as:

A system of indexing surnames that sound alike. Consonants have certain values, vowels are ignored. The first letter of the name and three digits are used, e.g. Evans = E152. This system is used to index the 1880, 1900 and 1910 censuses and some states use the soundex code on drivers' licenses.

Now doesn't that sound exciting??? Evans is right - to be able to search the census records, we used to have to translate our ancestors' surnames into a soundex code. Manuals were written about how to do this.

Here are some coding rules:

1 - B P F V 
2 - C S K G J Q X Z
3 - D T
4 - L
5 - M N
6 - R

Do not code A, E, I, O, U, W, Y, and H.

Note that surname prefixes such as van, Von, Di, de, le, D', dela, or du are sometimesdisregarded in alphabetizing and in coding.

. . . many other little rules

Confused? You don't need to be. Computers have made this easier - even Legacy Family Tree has a built-in soundex code calculator.

So do we still use Soundex codes?

Not as much as we used to, but still - passenger lists, vital record indexes, and other record groups are still indexed/sorted by soundex code. For example, the Washington state death indexes are arranged this way. To search for my BROWN relatives, I need to know that B-650 is the right code, because all the Browns, and possibly even other surnames are grouped/indexed together.

Calculating this code is easy in Legacy:

  1. Click on the Tools tab.
  2. Click on Soundex Calculator.
  3. Type in the desired surname, and click Calculate Soundex Code.


Locating other surnames with the same soundex code

Perhaps you are researching the Brown surname. Throughout your research, you've found and recorded several variants for the surname. Remembering all the variants is hard to do all the time. Legacy's Search Name List button on the Soundex Calculator will search all the surnames in your family file and give you a list of those surnames that also have the same soundex code as B-650.

Online databases

Even search engines at the big genealogy sites recognize the value of searching for similarly-sounding names.


At, click on the Advanced Search link and then click on the Match Similar Names option to pull up this menu of choices:



At add a checkmark next to Name Variants:



At click on the "Exact" option below the surname:



At, leave the checkmark box blank:


Clearly, each site has its own tools and vary from a checkmark to using the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex. Experiment with each of the settings in your searching and you may be surprised how your ancestors' names were spelled.


Pathway to My Sicilian Heritage

Researching my Sicilian heritage feels totally different than my English heritage. It is so much more than taking my heritage back generation after generation. It is about identity, culture, religion and history. Understanding the elements of the lives my ancestors led.

I have often given talks or written about my Sicilian heritage and genealogy and it was recently that I wanted a different image to accompany an article about my Orlando One-Name Study, which is registered with the Guild of One-Name Studies. On Facebook, there had been several genealogical bloggers that had used Scrabble boards to create something for their genealogical surnames. I was intrigued and located my childhood scrabble board.

I started by using the surname of Orlando as that was the key surname of the article. It also is the surname that launches my paternal ancestral research. I then added in the rest of my Sicilian surnames, having a few Scrabble tiles left over I added once again the surname of Orlando and the place where my Sicilian families can be found, linked together by ONS, short for One-Name Study.

Orlando Scrabble Board by Julie Goucher
Image courtesy of Julie Goucher

It was the moment when the Scrabble board was complete, the surnames slotted in and the place of my One-Place Study, Sutera in Sicily was added that something occurred to me. 

These were my people. And they were in this place. I printed out the picture. This Scrabble board for reasons I cannot explain speaks to me. Each of those surnames connects to me and they all focus on a small town in the Caltanissetta region of Sicily. Truly, it is a powerful image and I cannot explain why.

Researching in Italy and Sicily is not for the faint hearted. It is frustrating for a variety of reasons. When I first started the quest into my Sicilian heritage there was no internet. Everything was painstakingly researched at the place the family came from. There was no email. There were letters written with a pen and placed in an envelope with a stamp on. Those letters were perhaps responded to, if the local officials had time and could understand English. The best way was to write in Italian, but even that did not always yield a response.

I live in England and I know a branch of my Orlando family from Sutera migrated to the United States, along with thousands of others who left Italian shores in search of a better life. I examined passenger lists and located my Salvatore Orlando. He left Sutera in 1913, but there had been migrants to the United States from Sutera since the early 1900’s. The passenger lists were filled with surnames from the Scrabble board, Licata, Nola, Magro, Malosso and Orlando.

The quickest way to ensure that I did not revisit those early documents was to extract all the entries that listed Sutera as the place of origin or birth and to extract all Orlando references. Of course, at the time I was undertaking this process for efficiency, but I suddenly realised that I had two distinct and yet overlapping studies; a One-Place Study and a One-Name Study.

Orlando - Goucher - Sutera
Image courtesy of Julie Goucher

I am defined by so much more than the three circles shown here.

Of course, there are some people that were not tracked, simply because the passenger list gave the place of origin as Sicily or Italy.

We are now in the modern genealogical age. The internet has shrunk the world to the size of a matchbox and I am grateful that my research can be attained easier, although there is so much not online. Researching Italian and Sicilian heritage is just as slow, just as problematic but there are things we can do that will enable us to be better family historians with a better understanding of our ancestors. Exploring our ancestors in their time and in their place.

In 2007, I started to explore DNA and organised an Orlando DNA project at FamilyTreeDNA. Whilst the growth of the project has been slow I am pleased that the project exists and just recently I was contacted by someone who shares a match to the Amico family from Sutera with me.

If you have non-Anglo ancestry why not consider looking at your research from the point of view of a surname study or a one place study.  Try to look at the names and places as I did with my Scrabble activity. Find ways to connect with your ancestors. Learn more about the places they came from and you'll be on your way to understanding your heritage and bringing those surnames to life.

Have you researched your non-Anglo ancestors? Share your stories with me in the comments!

Learn more about your European ancestors in the webinar Tracing Your European Ancestors.


Julie is the writer and developer of the successful "Book of Me, Written by You" program, which has been popular as a series of workshops delivered to both professionals and historians, in addition to undertaking research for some clients. Julie's book Tracing your European Ancestors is to be published in 2016 by Pen and Sword Books. When Julie is not working or researching her own ancestry she can be found reading, exploring the many National trust properties within the South of England or writing at her blog – Anglers Rest.

© Julie Goucher 2017

Playing Hide and Seek with Records from Burned Counties

Playing Hide and Seek with Records from Burned Counties

If you need to find a marriage record in Jackson County, Mississippi dated 02 November 1828, where do you look?  You look in the Wayne County, Georgia probate records of course!   

Catherine Sheffield married her first husband Ignatius Grantham in Wayne County, Georgia on 09 October 1810.[1] Ignatius was a bit of a scoundrel so Catherine filed for divorce in 1825 in the Marion County, Mississippi Chancery Court.[2] They had been living apart for some time because Ignatius is enumerated by himself in 1820.[3] Of interest is that Catherine’s soon to be second husband William Seaman was listed as her “next friend” in the court papers and acted as her representative.

Back in Wayne County, Georgia, Catherine’s father West Sheffield died leaving behind an informative estate file. Catherine’s now second husband William was getting some serious payouts from the estate and not only is there an affidavit from Catherine Seaman attesting that she is in fact the daughter of West Sheffield there is a marriage record from Jackson County, Mississippi copied into the Wayne County, Georgia book proving that William is Catherine’s husband.[4]

William C. Seaman had married Catherine (Sheffield) Grantham on 02 November 1828 in Jackson County, Mississippi but the Jackson County courthouse in Scranton (now part of Pascagoula) burned in 1875. The papers that were in the safe (deeds and money) were spared but the marriage records were not.[5] If William and Catherine’s marriage record had not been copied into West Sheffield’s estate papers there would have been no record of it.

Seamon-Grantham marriage 1828
(click image to enlarge)

Here is another example of finding records from a burned county in an odd place. On 8 November 1851, Silas Simmons applied for bounty land based on his service in the War of 1812.[6]  In the bounty land file there were Perry County, Mississippi court documents dated 01 November 1851, 24 January 1853, 18 April 1855 and 31 January 1856. Silas and a few witnesses had to appear in court to prove that he was in fact the same Silas Simmons that fought in the 10&20 Consolidated Louisiana Militia before he could be awarded his bounty land warrant. Silas also assigned (sold) his warrant to someone else and then applied for another 40 acres. So what is so special about all of this? The Perry County Courthouse burned on 14 November 1877 with a complete records loss.[7]  These court documents shouldn’t even exist. If I had merely looked at the land records on the Bureau of Land Management website and not ordered the actual bounty land file I would have never discovered this.  I have included one of the documents below.

Silas Simmons affidavit 1855
(click image to enlarge)


If you have ancestors that lived in burned counties be sure to check for documents in all the places that your ancestor lived. And don't forget to order the original documents instead of relying on the digitized records.

What amazing finds have you found for your ancestors? Tell us in the comments.

                 [1] Wayne County, Georgia, Marriage Book 1809-1869: 8, Grantham-Sheffield, 1810; Probate Court, Jesup.

                [2] Mississippi High Court of Errors and Appeals, Drawer no. 65, Case no. 15, Catherine Grantham vs. Ignatius Grantham, 21 February 1825; Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson. The case was originally filed in Marion County.

                [3] 1820 U.S. census, Jackson County, Mississippi population schedule, p. 45 (penned), line 15, Ignatius Grantham; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M33, roll 58. 

                [4] "Georgia Probate Records, 1742-1990," digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 24 March 2017), West Sheffield estate, 1831-1833, Wayne County Court of Ordinary, Wills & Estates Records 1824-1855, p. 199-205.

                [5] "Burning of the Scranton Court House," New Orleans Times, 02 March 1875, p. 4, col. 4; digital images, GenealogyBank ( : accessed 24 March 2017). 

                [6] Silas Simmons (Pvt. 10&20 Consolidated Louisiana Militia, War of 1812), bounty land warrant file 64098 (Act of 1855, 40 acres); Military Bounty Land Warrants and Related Papers; Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Record Group 49; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

                [7]  Martha F. Clark, Perry County, Mississippi Clerk of the Circuit Court to Michele Simmons Lewis, e-mail, 10 Jan 2012, “Courthouse Records,” Lewis Research Files; privately held by Lewis, Harlem, Georgia, 2012.

 Michele Simmons Lewis, CG is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News.  You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.

Certified Genealogist is a registered trademark and the designation CG is a service mark of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by Board certificants who meet competency standards.

3 Ways to Get Records from Foreign Archives

3 Ways to Get Records from Foreign Archives

Genealogy research in Central and Eastern Europe has come a long way in the past decade. It used to be that locating a church or civil registration record required much effort and long waiting times. Your options for accessing records were: 1) traveling to perform onsite research in archives, 2) spending a fortune to hire a professional to do the research for you, 3) writing a letter and hoping the registrar’s office or priest would understand and answer your questions or 4) hoping records for your ancestral village were included among those microfilmed by The Genealogical Society of Utah and made available through the Family History Library.

Today, the landscape for researchers has changed, and there are more options for tracking down grandma’s baptismal document or great-grandpa’s Austrian military service record.  Here are three ways to get the records you need from foreign archives.

  1. Start with FamilySearch. has a growing collection of church and civil registration records from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and other localities. First, check out the Digital Collections. From the FamilySearch home page, click the magnifying glass labeled Search, then click “Browse All Published Collections.” Choose Continental Europe and scroll to find the country you’re searching for (e.g., Slovakia). You can also type an ancestor’s name in the search boxes on the left-hand side, click on a map for a location, or if you know the name of the specific collection, start typing the first few letters of the name in the Collection title box; matching choices (such as Slovak, Church and Synagogue Books, 1592–1910) will pop up underneath.

    Be sure to read the directions! When you get to the collection’s page, read the description carefully to understand what exactly is included. Click the “Learn More” button to access related FamilySearch Wiki articles on a particular collection or topic. Make sure you sign up for a free FamilySearch account and follow the FamilySearch Blog or subscribe to the FamilySearch newsletter to receive notifications whenever the collections are added or updated.

    In addition, you will want to check the FamilySearch Catalog for microfilms you can view if you plan a visit to the Family History Library, or you can hire a researcher to view them on your behalf (Starting September 1, 2017, FamilySearch will discontinue its microfilm distribution services, which mean you will no longer have the option to order and view films at a Family History Center. Read more about it on the FamilySearch Blog). Start with a Place search to see if there are any church or civil registration records available. Although most localities will turn up this way, not all villages or towns had a church or synagogue for each religion. Often residents would need to travel to the nearest neighboring village. Once you find the location, click to see the microfilm catalog title, and you will be able to determine if the content is digitized and available. On the catalog title, under Format and next to the microfilm number, you will find a magnifying glass icon (indicating the microfilm is at least partially indexed), a camera icon (indicating the microfilm is digitized), and a film icon (indicating you will need to order the film). You can also search the catalog by keyword, subject, or film number (if known).


 This cropped muster roll page from the Varannó military district of Hungary, now Vranov, Czechoslovakia,  shows the 1873 entry (second row) for Mihály Fencsák, from Póssa, Slovakia.  Details include parents’ first names, height and chest size, religion, and “weak returned” as the decision of the committee for induction or transfer. The image can be browsed online at


  1. Archival Websites. A number of archives have put some of their records online. The Czech Republic, Poland, Estonia, and Latvia, for example.  You can use the FamilySearch Wiki for each country and click the blue "Online Records" button to see a table with a list of online records. You can also use Google, or another search engine to search for an archive, or consult websites for ethnic genealogical societies such as the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, the Polish Genealogical Society International, East European Genealogical Society, or the Foundation for East European Family History Studies. Once you locate an archival portal, check for an English interface (look for the word “English” or the American flag symbol), and look first for any finding aids or help sections. Some sites require you to set up a free account.
  1. Commercial Websites and Other Online Portals.  Those researching in Western European countries often find good coverage of church and civil registration records on subscription sites such as or, as well as other dedicated websites. However, those with Central and Eastern European roots often have to look a bit harder to find these records, but online collections do exist. For example, the JewishGen website has a large collection of databases and resources including the Jewish Records Indexing Poland project, and several Eastern European Special Interest Groups. Those with Czech Roots will want to explore Portafontium. For Polish researchers, the Poznan Projectand Geneteka are good resources. Facebook groups can also be helpful (groups exist for many ethnicities).

Finally, remember that not all records are online—and some areas are not yet included—so in many instances, you’ll still need to consult the FamilySearch Catalog for microfilmed records, contact churches or archives, or consult with a researcher based in that country for hard-to-get records and translation assistance. Professional firms can give you a quote. You can also check with an ethnic genealogical society, or ask for recommendations on social media. But the good news is that getting copies of your ancestor’s records from foreign archives and repositories is not as difficult as it once was 10 or 15 years ago, and more records are being digitized and indexed all the time. You should make it a habit to periodically check FamilySearch, archival sites and other sources for new and updated content.

For more tips on researching your Eastern European Ancestors watch these webinars in the Legacy library.

Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A. is a freelance writer, instructor and internationally recognized lecturer specializing in Eastern European genealogy, writing your family history, and finding female and immigrant ancestors.  She is the author of 10 books, including The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide, and the award-winning Three Slovak Women.  Lisa is a frequent speaker for Legacy Family Tree Webinars, and blogs at The Accidental Genealogist. She can be reached at


Find Your Family Online in Digital Books

Find Your Family Online in Digital Books

Is a book about your family out there somewhere, just waiting to be discovered? You may be able to find one without ever leaving the comfort of your home! Digital books are all over the Internet, and many are free to use. Here are the best places to look for digital books about genealogy.

Google Books

Launched in 2004 as "Google Print," Google Books now contains over 25 million scanned book titles. A Google Books search works just like a regular web search: type in your search criteria, and if a book with matching content is available, it will appear in your search results. If a book is out of copyright, or the publisher has given permission, you will be able to see a preview of the book, and in some cases, the entire book. Copyrighted books are only available in "snippet view," however, links to where you can buy or borrow the book from a library are also provided. With a free Google account, you can add the books you’ve found to your personal library for later reference.

Internet Archive

The appropriately-named Internet Archive began in 1996 with the goal of archiving the Internet, but the project soon expanded into providing digital versions of other published works. Today, the Internet Archive contains over 12 million freely downloadable books and texts, as well as 550,000 modern ebooks that may be borrowed by anyone with a free account. You can expect to find family, county and local histories, census records, and even contemporary genealogy how-to books. Most books are offered in several different formats, including DAISY files for the print-disabled.

HathiTrust Digital Library

HathiTrust (pronounced "haw tea") is a partnership of several academic and research institutions offering a collection of over 15 million titles from libraries around the world. Books that are uncopyrightable (i.e., some government works) or in the public domain can be searched and viewed in their entirety, as well as downloaded in PDF format. Books that are still in copyright are considered "limited," cannot be viewed, but can be searched, allowing you to decide whether or not to obtain a physical copy of the book from another source. 


The Family History Books collection at FamilySearch contains more than 325,000 digitized genealogy and family history publications from the archives of family history libraries such as the Allen County Public Library and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Included in the collection are family histories, county and local histories, genealogy magazines and how-to books, gazetteers, and medieval histories and pedigrees. While some books are only viewable at a Family History Center, many can be viewed from – and downloaded to – your home computer.

MyHeritage: Compilation of Published Sources

One of MyHeritage's best-kept secrets is their repository of digitized books. All are free to access, and you don't even need to log in with a free account! The site currently hosts 84,206,892 pages from 447,870 sources, including "thousands of published books ranging from family, local and military histories, city and county directories, school, university and hospital reports, church and congregational minutes and much more." All records include images of the book's pages, as well as an OCR text transcription. If you have a MyHeritage account, you can save records directly to a person in your tree. You can also print or download individual pages, although it does not appear possible to download entire books at this time.  To learn more about the digital books at MyHeritage watch the free Legacy webinar - Book Matching Technology at MyHeritage.

BONUS: Genealogy Gophers

Despite the funny name, Genealogy Gophers offers access to more than 80,000 digitized "family histories, regional and local histories, genealogy magazines, how-to books, gazetteers, newsletters, and medieval histories." Digitized books are provided through a partnership with FamilySearch,, and other free book sources on the Internet. What makes Genealogy Gophers different from the other sites is their search technology, developed specifically for "identifying real people named in genealogy books." In other words, your searches are more likely to return useful results. Having performed searches on all of the sites listed in this post, I can honestly say that I found Genealogy Gopher's results to be surprisingly different than what I received on any of the partner sites. They are definitely worth a try!


Elizabeth O’Neal is a freelance writer, educator, and web developer. An avid genealogist for three decades, Elizabeth writes the blog My Descendant’s Ancestors, where she shares family stories, technology and methodology tips, and hosts the monthly "Genealogy Blog Party."