Thrifty Thursday – Even More Free Websites

This week I’ve been talking about free websites, their importance in my Journey of Genealogy in the Recession, but also their importance to the genealogy community.  In response to Thomas MacEntee’s post What Do You Mean It Isn’t Free?, I want to make it clear that I do place great value on the contributions of genealogists, certainly do not expect them to work for free, and believe that most of the internet genealogy companies provide a very valuable service at a fair price.  I am also extremely grateful for all of the volunteers who do provide free resources, whatever their motivation.

Today I want to highlight some more of the wonderful free websites that I use.

The US GenWeb Project
This is one of the first places that I go to find information for a certain area. There is often a good overview of the state’s history, a clickable map of counties as well as an alphabetical listing.  Sometimes there are contacts for the counties.

The motto of this group of volunteers is “Keeping Internet Genealogy Free.”  Its organization is by county and by state — and what is available varies greatly.  In some counties, there are transcriptions of census, tax lists, military rosters, cemeteries and more.  There may be family biographies and contacts for surnames.  Sometimes there is very little, and sometimes the links don’t work.  Don’t give up, though; often if you Google the county you can find an active link.  Or you can find a backdoor through another county — they often have links to other counties, especially adjacent ones.  Here is another page with links to states and special projects:  USGenWeb Archives.  Take some time to explore the states and counties you are researching — I’ll bet you’ll find some information you can use.

Genealogy Trails
I have discovered some incredible things on this site, which I found a few months ago.  This group of volunteers started in 2000 providing data for Illinois and expanded to other states in 2006.  On the home page of Genealogy Trails History Group, the first thing you see is

Our goal is to help you track your ancestors through time by transcribing genealogical and historical data for the free use of all researchers.

As with USGenWeb, Genealogy Trails is built by state and county and varies to the amount of content within these divisions.

Here is an example of something I found and what it led me to.  Perry County, Illinois, has a dizzying amount of information, including photos of the destruction caused by a tornado in  Willisville, Illinois.  Googling “Willisville Illinois tornado” I then found several newspaper articles which reported tornadoes in 1912 and 1917.  An interesting tidbit was the description of the town in each:

22 Apr 1912
“The tornado…swept over central & southern Illinois and northwestern Indiana….Five persons are known to be dead and 21 injured at Willisville, a town of 3000, in the southwestern corner of Perry county.” “…and 16 houses were demolished.”

26 May 1917
“The village of Willisville, in southern Illinois, near St. Louis, was practically wiped out by the tornado. No accurate reports of the loss of life in the little village of 700 souls could be obtained.”

Seeing these photos and reading stories of the devastation and the changes in the town leads me to an entirely different picture of life between the 1910 and 1920 Census than I had before.

RootsWeb has been around for a long time, with the purpose of connecting people in order to facilitate their genealogical research.  Since its purchase by Ancestry in 2000, there have been quite a few changes, including the most recent removal of the social security index from RootsWeb, the free site.  I like the mailing lists for surnames, counties and topics of interest, such as Irish in Saint Louis. The message boards can be searched through RootsWeb or Ancestry.  Check out the older posts; I find a lot of discussion in the 1999-2000 time period.  It just might provide you with an important clue.  And although it is usually difficult to track down those who posted back then, you might find enough information to do so.  Also, use the Search Thingy — “a silly name for our powerful site-wide search engine” — to explore RootsWeb using keywords.

With these three super-links, you’ll be busy for a very long time.  Enjoy!


What Do You Mean It Isn’t Free – My Response

Last week Thomas MacEntee wrote a week-long series Genea-Opportunities – 2012 Update where he discussed not only opportunities to earn a living in the genealogy field and their issues but also the perception that everything should be free when it comes to genealogy  [see What Do You Mean It Isn’t Free?].  Because of my present circumstances, my journey of Genealogy in the Recession, this made me a little uncomfortable.  It’s not that I think that everything in genealogy should be free, it’s that right now I need to find the things that are.  I think that this situation presents itself to one degree or another to many researchers sometime during their life.

I have presented many links to websites where the information is/was free.  Sometimes a subscription site is offering access to certain record collections for a limited time.  This is a loss leader for the company, i.e., they are hoping to attract new customers who discover the wonderful information available in those collections, and by extension in the rest of the collections that company offers, and sign up for a subscription.

Many times Webinars are presented as a form of marketing for their presenters and sponsors.  Legacy is a prime example of this.  They have weekly webinars on a wide variety of subjects that offer them an opportunity to promote their Legacy software and the presenter an opportunity to showcase his/her knowledge and professional offerings.  A CD and handout are then available for purchase.   The Illinois State Genealogical Society offers free webinars, charging only for the handouts, because it has found that the cost is covered by new memberships generated.

Sometimes the information is made available by the government and in this case it is funded by the taxpayers.  In the case of federal websites, this is all of us.  In the case of state websites, it is courtesy of that state’s taxpayers (and perhaps all of us, I suppose, if there is a federal grant of some kind involved).

Many times the information is free because of the dedicated efforts of volunteers.  This is the case on findagrave, The US GenWeb Project, RootsWeb, Genealogy Trails, and many others.  I wrote about findagrave on Tuesday’s Tip – Websites for Death Information–Free, of course; I will write about the other sites on Thrifty Thursday.

The tremendous amount of information on FamilySearch, in the Family History Library and in local family history centers is available because of the LDS Church and also because of many volunteers around the world who index, add to the wiki and more.

In the past, I have had subscriptions to Ancestry, fold3, NEHGS and memberships in local genealogy societies.  I certainly hope to again.  At present, I am very grateful for the wide availability of resources available to me at no cost and very appreciative of all the work that goes into making these resources available.

I am taking the opportunity to give back in any way that I can.  I have done quite a bit of indexing for FamilySearch, including the 1940 Census [and the 5 million name day that turned into 10 million!].  I have taken photos and posted memorials on findagrave.  I have responded to many queries on my Ancestry tree, offering information and guidance.  I have taught a class and I have researched and built trees for several people — all free.

And, I hope in some small way that this blog provides some useful information to the genealogy community as well.  Maybe it will even provide inspiration to someone else to give back a little.  I think that there will always be free resources available because genealogists tend to be very helpful people, people who like to volunteer and to help others become passionate about family history.  This doesn’t mean that we always expect a free lunch – just that we are grateful for it when it comes.

Tuesday’s Tip – Websites for Death Information–Free, of course

In my journey of Genealogy in the Recession, I use a lot of websites that are free.  I always used many of them, of course, but I relied most heavily on subscription sites.  My posts about Genealogy with No Budget, free websites and links to websites are among the most popular — I guess there are quite a few people looking to save money but continue to research and write their family histories.  So here are a few more of the websites I turn to often.
This is the website I search first to — surprise — find a grave. There are several other sites, but this one has been around a long time and often has what I need, including, dates, a photo if I’m lucky, and sometimes obituaries, death notices and more, plus information about the cemetery. I always double check all of this information, though. Often it is unsourced, and as we all know, death certificates are sometimes wrong (darn, those sons-in-law!) and I’ve found a surprising number of gravestones with incorrect dates. It’s often a good place to start looking for a death date, however, and then you can search for a death certificate or social security record.

Social Security Death Index, on NEHGS
One of the free databases on NEHGS’ site American Ancestors, you can find out more in last week’s post Thrifty Thursday-The Free Part of NEHGS.

Missouri Death Certificates
One of the free databases on the Missouri Secretary of State website, Missouri Death Certificates is one of the best resources on the internet.  If you are lucky enough to have ancestors/relatives who died in Missouri between 1910 and 1961 (currently), you will definitely want to bookmark this site.

I have found Advanced Search best. Because names may have alternate spellings, make full use of the options “starts with,” “ends with” and “contains.” I have sometimes resorted to searching individual years, with or without a county, in really tough cases. You may need to try just the first or last name (I hope you’re not searching for Mary Jones or John Smith).  I have found death certificates for Mrs. X X — her first name was not mentioned anywhere!

Remember when searching death certificates that the individual may have died in a hospital, which could have been in one of the big cities rather than within their home county.  Note that even though Saint Louis is an independent city, searching St Louis county does return results for both city and county.  I have often been very glad for that.

Other online Death Certificates

FamilySearch has many Death records, some only indexes, some images.  Here is a  list of Birth, Marriage and Death Collections by state.  No further collection filters are available so you have to look for the death records; those with images have a picture of a camera next to them but not all of these are certificates.  Be sure to check out collections for states you are interested in as there are some browsable collections (no index) and new information is added all the time.  Here are some with images.

FamilySearch also has the U.S. Social Security Index online.  “Name index to deaths recorded by the Social Security Administration beginning in 1962. Current as of May 31, 2012” (as of this writing).  They say there are also a few from 1937 to 1961.

Online Searchable Death Indexes & Records
One of Joe Beine‘s great sites is another place to look for possible free records.

New York City Death Records Search, 1891-1948
This database from Italian Genealogical Group is an index only, but it may have information that you can use.

This list is not exhaustive, of course, but I’ve found it very useful in my research.  If there are websites that you would recommend, please add them here in a comment or e-mail me at

Military Monday – Little Eddy the Drummer

Edward Dwyer, born 22 May 1847, enlisted in the 8th Regiment Kansas Volunteers, Company K,  and was mustered in as a private 02 Jun 1862.  He was barely 15 years old. Edward was born in Saint Louis and had lived there all his life so I wondered why he enlisted with the Kansas Volunteers to fight in the Civil War.  The table below shows that the captains and several other officers were also from St. Louis.

Edward was promoted to the rank of Musician.   He was mustered out 04 Jun 1863 in Nashville, Tennessee.  Patrick Callahan, also a resident of St. Louis, enlisted and was discharged on the same dates as Edward; he was also promoted to Musician — this is an avenue I definitely need to explore further.

Source:  Extracted from Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kansas, Vol. 1. – 1861-1865.Leavenworth, Kansas: Bulletin Co-operative Printing Company, Chicago. 1867.  Eighth Regiment Kansas Volunteers – Infantry, Company K   [Note that I clipped pieces important to Edward’s service to create this table.]

The following, from the Wikipedia article 8th Regiment Kansas Volunteer Infantry, is a detailed service listing of Company K during the time Edward was with them.

1862.  Companies B, E, H, I and K moved from Leavenworth to Columbus, Ky., May 28-June 2, and to Union City, Tenn., June 8-11. To Trenton, Tenn., June 16-17. To Humboldt, Tenn., June 26, and to Corinth, Miss., July 2-3. Companies B, E, H, I, and K moved from Corinth, Miss., to Jacinto July 22, 1862, and to Eastport, Miss., August 3-5. March to Nashville, Tenn., August 18-September 4, thence to Louisville, Ky., in pursuit of Bragg September 11-26. Pursuit of Bragg into Kentucky October 1-16. Near Perryville October 6-7. Battle of Perryville October 8. Lancaster October 14. March to Nashville, Tenn., October 16-November 7. Reconnaissance toward Franklin December 9. Near Brentwood December 9. Assigned to provost duty at Nashville December 18, 1862 to June 9, 1863.

Edward’s 16th birthday was shortly before he was mustered out.  What more can be said than he had certainly had an eventful year.

It seems likely that this photo was from early in his Civil War service.  My daughter said that he looks like he is about five.  I think he could easily be mistaken for a little boy playing dress-up, playing at being a soldier in a war — not serving in the Civil War.

The photo is in the possession of a cousin who is a descendant of Edward’s half sister Cecilia Dwyer Weaver; Celia is a sister of my great grandmother Laura Dwyer French.  If you’d like to read more about Edward and his parents, see Mystery Monday – Jeremiah Dwyer, county Tipperary to Saint Louis, Missouri or select the Category “Dwyer” under “Surnames” in the drop down list to find additional posts on Jeremiah and on my great grandmother Anna Rooney Dwyer.

Next Monday I’ll continue Edward’s Civil War service with his enlistment in a Missouri regiment.

Follow Friday – Historypin blogpost on My Blog..My Life. My Ancestry

On My Blog..My Life. My Ancestry, kellyvial wrote a great piece on a website I had heard of but not really explored:  historypin.  See Thrifty Thursday ~ Historypin

She does a great job of explaining some of the websites features, so I’ll just say that I’m looking forward to exploring the site.  It looks like that will take some time!  And it is a free site, which is what I am always looking for in my journey of “Genealogy in the Recession.”

When I looked at Collections, the first Featured Collection was of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire by San Francisco MTA Archives.  This was of special interest to me because one of my gg grand aunts, Euphemia Narcissa Johnson Russell Copeland, died that day, Wednesday, 18 Apr 1906.  The headline read:  “DIED OF FRIGHT, Earthquake This Morning Ended the Earthly Career of Mrs. E. N. Copeland”

Aunt Fee was in Watsonville, about 90 miles from San Francisco.  Seeing those photos on HistoryPin really adds to what I thought I knew about that day.  No wonder she died of fright!

Take a look at My Blog..My Life. My Ancestry, especially the post on HistoryPin.  I think you’ll enjoy it.

Thrifty Thursday – The Free Part of NEHGS

The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) was the first genealogical society established in the United States.  Millions of documents, manuscripts, records, books, microfilms, photographs, artifacts, and electronic resources are housed in its library, and there are 500 searchable online databases available to members.  What many people don’t know is that there are also Free Databases available to everyone.  All you have to do is complete a guest registration on their site,

A membership in NEHGS includes many valuable benefits, and they sometimes offer discounts on the $79.95 annual membership fee.  The NEHGS Library catalog is searchable online, and you can determine if their holdings include items of interest to you and your research.  However, if you are like me and your genealogy budget is $0, then free databases are a wonderful find. recently pulled the Social Security Death Index from RootsWeb, the free site, leaving it available on its paid site.  It is quite nice to find that it is still available free at NEHGS.

Another database which I have found useful is New York Wills.  I have Dutch ancestors who were in New York in the 1600s so I love this Calendar of Wills.

The Irish Immigrant Advertisements is from The Boston Pilot “Missing Friends” column with ads from people looking for “lost” friends and relatives who had immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland.  I haven’t found any of my Irish family yet, but I hope that someday I will see a familiar name.

You can also sign up for NEHGS’ weekly newsletter, The Weekly Genealogist — it’s free, too.  I highly recommend it.  My favorite part is the weekly survey.  Last week’s survey asked if any of your ancestors were living in the thirteen American colonies on July 4, 1776.  This week’s survey wants to know if your research has debunked a family myth.  I look forward to the answers each week and to finding out what the new question is.

I hope that you find the NEHGS as helpful as I have.  There is a lot more on the website to explore (as there always is in genealogy).   It’s so much fun to find that some of it is free!

Workday Wednesday – Jeremiah was a Drayman

Draymanthe driver of a dray, a low, flat-bed wagon without sides, pulled generally by horses or mules that were used for transport of all kinds of goods [Wikipedia]

My gg grandfather Jeremiah Dwyer was a drayman in the mid 1800s in Saint Louis, Missouri, according to the 1850 and 1860 census.  Saint Louis directories in the 1860s list him as a porter for Pottle & Bayley in 1864 and then M.L. Pottle & Co in most of the remaining years.

From Kennedy’s 1860 St. Louis Directory:
Pottle & Bayley, (Moses S. Pottle and Romanzo Bayley), com. butter and cheese, 3 and 4 N. Levee

By the 1870 census, Jeremiah is listed as an “R&C mcht” (I think) and I have no idea what this means.  Suggestions, anyone?  The value of real estate given in the 1870 census is $5,000 and personal estate $2,000, which seems like a lot of money.

Jeremiah’s son Edward Dwyer was a student at Bryant, Stratton & Carpenter’s College in the 1866 St Louis Directory, a plumber in 1868 and a student at Bryant & Stratton College in 1869.  The 1870 census lists his occupation as plasterer.

I’m not sure how common it was to go to this type of college or how expensive it was.  I hope someday to learn a little more about their lives during this time period.

But now I’m singing “Jeremiah was a Drayman” to the tune of “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” and I need to get that out of my head!