Discovering the existence of a family bible can be one of the most thrilling revelations in family history research. Original Bibles possess what archivists refer to as artifactual value: intrinsic worth as objects apart from their content. We often revel in family heirlooms because their very survival is a matter of chance. At least one representative from each succeeding generation must cherish the item, or serendipitously leave it forgotten in a secure location for it to be recovered decades later.
For genealogists, family Bibles can also convey unique information. Heirloom Bibles often contain records of birth, marriage, and death dates—usually scrawled on the Bible’s inside flyleaf—and can serve as proof of parentage in the absence of a vital or church record. Continue reading Locating Family Bible Records→
Gravestones have long served as the cornerstone of genealogical research. While the words they bear can be crucial sources of information about our ancestors, don’t forget to look at the symbols, too. Gravestone symbolism can point to information about your ancestors’ religious beliefs, group affiliations, life experiences, and more. Below are just a few noteworthy examples of common gravestone symbols and what they can reveal. Continue reading Beyond the Letters: What We Can Learn from Gravestone Symbolism→
Online genealogical websites like AmericanAncestors.org, Ancestry.com, and FamiliySearch.org can be extremely helpful when researching your family tree. But what do you do when your search comes up empty, and you don’t have unlimited resources to travel in-person to your ancestor town? Sending emails, calling, and filling out inquiry forms for town libraries, historical societies, and local clerks’ offices may be the needed extra step in finding your ancestors.
[Editor’s note: This series of posts originally appeared in Vita Brevis in June 2021.]
While recently reviewing family research that I have been doing for some time, I came to the realization that I had learned some valuable lessons during that process. These lessons are not unique to me, but the circumstances surely are. The first lesson relates to family stories.
The availability of online records has greatly increased our ability to find information from past generations, mostly in the form of facts and the information related to them. What it has not done, and can never do, is retrieve those family stories that have died with those ancestors. How many people have said “I wish I had asked my grandfather about…”? I am one of those who have lamented lost opportunities. We cannot make up for the past, but we can ensure that does not happen to the family stories that we have tucked away in our memories. Do not wait to be asked, record those stories! Continue reading ICYMI: Lessons in genealogical research series→
Okay, so despite my earlier claims, I did end up looking at the 1950 census on day one. Of my twelve living ancestors, I found seven immediately upon searching, and another two after browsing their specific town of residence; I was unsuccessful in locating the remaining three (one couple, one widow) after browsing their towns, both of which had several addresses listed “not at home.” All in all, I spent about twenty minutes looking for ancestors. Overall, I am impressed with the advances of OCR technology giving genealogists a much better start this time around than ten years earlier. Continue reading Presidents in the 1950 census→
My colleague Chris Child wrote a controversial post last month about the merits of the 1950 Census. The title of the post was triggering, but I must admit that I agree with his overall argument. According to Chris, “…the census has spoiled us. Because it is often so quick to search, we might overlook other valuable resources because of how long looking through those records might take us. This is not meant to diminish the importance of the census, only to partially explain why it is used more than other records.” Continue reading The 1950 census: just the beginning→
The 1950 Census was released right on time, exactly 72 years after 142,000 enumerators set out to record the booming post-war population of the United States. Today, in 2022, we will be able to search for the names of our family members among more than 150 million other Americans.
While the 1950 census was still in its planning stages, a primary concern of the United States Census Bureau was minimizing cost. Executing the 1940 Census had cost the federal government $67.5 million. Not only had the U.S. population increased by 14% between 1940 and 1950, but the Census Bureau reported the cost of maintaining enumerators and clerks on the scale of the 1940 census would exceed previous expenditures more than twofold. To offset higher costs, the Bureau eliminated “all but the most basic items” from the census schedules, asking 14 fewer questions in 1950 than in the decade before. However, the 1950 census would ask a series of supplemental questions to a larger sample of the population compared to the 1940 census. Continue reading Comparing censuses: 1940 and 1950→
Okay, I know the title of this post is not going to be popular amongst many of our readers. My original title contained at least one curse word! It’s not that I do not care about the 1950 census, it’s more of an overall appreciation of how many more records are now available at our fingertips, as well as the rise, and partial fall, of the U.S. census as a go-to resource in genealogy. Continue reading The 1950 census – who cares?→