Tuesday’s Tip: Organizing Digital Research Notes, Emails, and Reports

The last two Tuesdays, I wrote tips on how to organize your digital files (i.e. genealogy documents) and digital photos. The next task is to tackle all those miscellaneous files; you know, the copies of emails from distant relatives and other researchers, the notes or logs you’ve kept (either in a digital document or those written notes you’ve scanned), and reports such as ahnentafels or timelines. As you can see in the image below, I have five such folders for my CROTHERS surname which are named “Crothers Genealogy,” “Crothers Genealogy 2004,” etc. It’s definitely not an efficient system:

Click on any image for an enlarged view.

Looking inside one of these folders gives a view of files named just as randomly:

Opening and reading through these files revealed that some of them were no longer (or had never been) pertinent to my research, so I deleted them, leaving only five files in that particular folder:

The file titles give me a small idea of what each is about, but I don’t know which are emails, which are reports, and which are research notes. I also don’t know–if they are emails–who the authors are. And I don’t have a clue when they were written, unless I use the Details view:

The Details view gave me the following perspective, but the dates are out of order:

Clicking on Date Modified brings the dates into chronological order:

Still, these file names are lacking what I need to really analyze them at a glance. I have decided to name emails in the following format: Date; “Email from [first and last name of author]”; and Topic. For the topic, I look inside the email and pinpoint exactly which individual or family group this message is really focused on, and then use it. I also use the “SURNAME first name MAIDEN NAME” format in the topic to be consistent with my Document files. In the list above, you can see that I have a file named “Jane Sweers” and another one named “Jane Sweers & Willard Crothers”. They become:

2003 01 28 – Email from Ruby Foust – CROTHERS Willard marriage to SWEERS Jane FORD

2003 01 29 – Email from Ruby Foust – CROTHERS Willard and SWEERS Jane FORD family information

I noticed when I attempted to rename a couple of files, I got a message asking me if I wanted to change the name of the Read-only file. In some cases, it wouldn’t let me change the name, because it was a Read-only file. So I right-clicked on the file and under the General tab, unchecked the Read-only box.

I used the following formats for research notes, and reports:

2003 08 07 – Research Notes – War of 1812 Muster Rolls – CROTHERS John in New York and Pennsylvania

2005 09 15 – Ahnentafel Report – Ancestors of SWEERS Rhoda YORK

Now that I’ve cleaned up all those files and folders, I made a new folder named CROTHERS Research. Here’s what it now looks like inside:

I can easily see at a glance which Crothers family members I have information on and what type of information it is. I can find my reports and research notes. It’s easy to find all the emails from one researcher. And everything is in date order.

My Genealogy folder is looking a little neater, too. Now there are only three CROTHERS folders: one for documents, one for photos, and one for all other research files:

I hope this gives you some ideas on how you can organize, manage, and analyze those odds and ends of digital genealogy files and folders. This system is very adaptable and easy to personalize. Happy Organizing!


Tuesday’s Tip: Organizing Your Digital Photographs

When I started to revamp my digital files using Barbara Nuehring’s fantastic system, I decided to see if I could adapt it in some way to organize my digital photographs, specifically the photos of ancestors, relatives, and tombstones I’ve either scanned from printed photos or uploaded from my digital camera. I experimented with some photos that my dad recently e-mailed me of his mother taken when she was a young woman. I really liked the system I developed and so have decided to use it for all my genealogy photographs. I’ll demonstrate on my CONCIDINE photo folder–my great-grandmother’s family. Here is the way my CONCIDINE folders currently are named in my Genealogy folder in My Documents:

Click any image for an enlarged view.

You can see that I have not really organized anything in these folders. The first thing I’ll do is rename the photo folder, so that the surname in capital letters really stands out. I right-click on the folder icon and choose Rename:

Then I retype the surname in all caps:

Taking a look inside this folder shows eight photos, one of which is a duplicate. Here’s the Thumbnail view:

The List view currently doesn’t do anything to help me analyze or organize these photos:

The first thing I’m going to do is eliminate one of the photos of my great-grandparents because it’s a duplicate, and also because it’s a scanned image of a color photocopy. It used to be the only copy I had. Then my dad sent me a .jpg file, which is what you see here. This year, I actually got an original print of my own from my grandparents’ estate, and I need to scan the original into a .tif file (writing this on my To Scan list for Scanfest right now).

Right now, that photo is named “Holst, Alfred Henry & Nellie Concidine”. I am going to make a folder in which to put every photo of Nellie that I have. There are two here in CONCIDINE Photos, this one and the Higby Family Reunion photo. I know I have a couple more, but they are not digitized yet (making more notes in my To Scan list). From the toolbar menu, I choose File, then New, then Folder:

A new folder is created, and I right-click on it and chose Rename. Here it is:

To move the photo of Alfred and Nellie, I left-click on it, then hold the mouse button down while I drag the photo to the folder and then lift the button. You can see that the photo is now in the folder:

I open the folder to rename the photo file using a system I came up with adapting Ms. Nuehring’s system for digital files. I have decided to use the date, then the first and last names of each person as they appear in the photo from left to right, using the woman’s maiden name and her current married surname. I debated whether to put surnames in capitals in photo file names, and decided against it. It makes it too difficult to read, especially when there are several people in a photo. I am limiting naming individuals in photo files to about five or six people. If there are more than six people in a photograph, I’ll give it a group name and then identify the individuals in the Properties section of the file, or in a Notepad file of the same name (more on that later):

I know this photo was taken for Alfred and Nellie’s 40th anniversary, and they were married in 1905. I don’t have further information on the date, however, so I’ve added two sets of double zeros. If this photograph’s date could only be identified by a vague date, say “circa 1940,” I would list it as “1940 circa – Alfred Holst, Nellie Concidine Holst”. That way, the files will still line up in date order when I view them in List view. Naming it as “Circa 1940” or “c. 1940” would put this at the end of the list of photos, because Windows Explorer orders numbers first, and then letters. If I had any other photos of Nellie taken after this date, then the photos would be out of date order; so again, I would put the word “circa” after the date.

Now that I’ve relabeled the photo, I’ll add Properties information. This is something that will be used more for my photo files than my document files. In my document files, I only used Properties to identify the date and website in which I viewed and downloaded the document. First I right-click on the photo and choose Properties:

Next, choose the Summary tab (you won’t have a Carbonite tab unless you have this great backup system downloaded to your computer):

If you get this window instead of the one shown above, chose Simple:

Here’s where I fill in the details:

Title: 1945 00 00 – Alfred Holst, Nellie Concidine Holst
I just copy the name I’ve already given this photo.

Subject: HOLST Alfred Henry, CONCIDINE Nellie May, anniversary portrait
I write out their full names, as they appear in the photo from left to right, and add a descriptive phrase.

Author: unknown – possibly Versluis Photography – Michigan, Ottawa, Coopersville
Photographer’s name and location photo was taken come next.

Keywords: formal, anniversary, Alfred, Holst, Nellie, Concidine
I list whether the photo is formal or casual, then repeat any descriptive words I’ve used in the Subject line. I also enter first and last names only of those in the photo. I only do this with photos that don’t have a lot of people in them.

Comments: Original in the possession of Bryan Robbins, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] 2008.
Here’s where I put the contact information for the owner of the photo. I actually put the address in, instead of the “address for private use” phrase.

This photo will get copied into Alfred’s own photo folder in the HOLST Photos folder.

Things are a little different for large group photos. I can’t put that much description in any of the Properties fields, because I’m limited on the amount of text I can use. Here’s what I did for the Higby family reunion photo. I named it “1906 00 00 Higby Brothers Reunion.” Then I put in the following information in the Properties fields:

Title: 1906 00 00 – Higby Brothers Reunion
Subject: HIGBY, family reunion
Author: unknown – probably Michigan, Kent County
Keywords: casual, family reunion, Higby, Holst, Concidine, Hefner, Keeney, Dupree
Comments: See notepad file of the same name for identifying information. Original in the possession of Donna Metcalfe [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] 2005.

Note that I only used surnames in the Keywords field (no first names). Next, I created a Notepad (.txt) file and identified everyone in the photo with information I gleaned from an e-mail sent to me from the owner of the photo:

HIGBY Brothers Family Reunion
Probably taken in Kent County, Michigan

Back row, left to right:
HIGBY Lafayette C
[–?–] Anna Marie HIGBY – 2nd wife of HIGBY Lafayette C
CONCIDINE John – widower of HIGBY Anna M
HIGBY Albert
[–?–] Esther – wife of HIGBY Albert
HOLST Alfred Henry – son-in-law of CONCIDINE John
CONCIDINE Nellie May HOLST – daughter of CONCIDINE John
HEFNER Orpha HIGBY – wife of HIGBY Frank M
DUPREE Mary L HIGBY – 2nd wife of HIGBY Carey Willis
HIGBY Dorothy – daugher of HIGBY Carey Willis
HIGBY Carey Willis

Etc., etc.

Because Nellie’s father and three of her brothers appear in this family reunion photo, I make a folder for each of them and copy the photo and notepad files into each of their folders.

For gravestone photo files, I name them with the date they were photographed, which always places them at the end of the list of photos for that individual. Here are the Properties for a photo taken of the gravestone of Nellie’s father, John Dennis CONCIDINE:

Title: 2005 00 00 – Gravestone of John Dennis Concidine
Subject: CONCIDINE John Dennis, gravestone
Author: Donna Metcalfe – Michigan, Kent, Byron Twp, Winchester Cemetery
Keywords: John, Concidine, gravestone, Winchester Cemetery
Comments: Original in the possession of Donna Metcalfe, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] 2005.

Is this a perfect system? I don’t know, but it is working well for me. Here is what the inside of the CONCIDINE Photos folder now looks like:

And here is Nellie’s photo folder in Thumbnail and List views:

Everything is neat and tidy and easy to find. The keywords allow me to do a search over all my computer files and find the photographs I’m looking for. The file names ensure that I can find all the photographs for that person in one location, listed in date order. The folder names help me find all the photographs for all individuals with that surname in one location, listed in alpha order. Yes, it will take me time to rename and tag all these photos, but I can tell you that it’s making it very easy to know how to name, file, and organize the new photographs that have recently been sent my way.

I hope this inspires you to do something similar with your ancestral photographs!

Update on Tuesday’s Tip: Organizing Your Digital Files

I had a wonderful response to my post on Tuesday, and I’d like to publicly thank all who dropped by, especially those who left comments. Isn’t this system terrific? I only wish I could take credit for it, but I can’t. 🙂 I think what makes Barbara Nuehring’s organization technique so great is that it really is very simple, plus it adapts well to people’s needs and personal styles. That’s what’s great about any good filing plan: if you can’t make it work for you, then it just won’t work at all, no matter how many people rave about it!

In this post, I’d like to address a couple of comments I received, as well as some other clarifications I felt the original post needed. First of all, as with any filing system, you need to determine what it is you will keep and file–or not. For some people, they are only interested in keeping information on their direct ancestral lines. I personally keep information on many collateral lines (siblings, cousins), because I know that in order to break down brick walls, I must research “sideways” in my family tree. I haven’t kept all collateral information, however; on those lines that have been easy to research and lots of documentation has been found, I stick fairly closely to the direct ancestral information. For those brick wall lines I’ve worked hard on, I’ll keep every little tidbit of documentation wherever I can find it, since I never know which clue will break me through my obstacles.

Also, in order to streamline my physical files and folders, I’m trying to become as paperless as possible. My eventual plan is to go through all the physical files, scan what is necessary, toss what isn’t (I have lots of duplicate and irrelevant printed documents and e-mails), and place in my safety deposit box all original or difficult-to-replace papers and photographs. What all this means is that I’m going to have to really get my digital files in order, and I believe this plan will really work well for me. Of course, going digital means having an efficient and dependable backup plan, and that’s where Carbonite is my hero!

Again, the how of your naming system should fit your personal needs and taste. Some people will want punctuation of some sort (dashes, underscores, commas, periods, etc.) within the file name; others will prefer none at all. These named files will be most useful for analyzing if you have them in the List view in Windows Explorer. See the images below:

Click on the image above for a better view.

Apple brought up the very important issue of double cousins. Double cousins are children born as a result of two individuals in one family (siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews) marrying two individuals from another family. The adults who marry can be in the same generation as your ancestors or off by a generation or two (which is the case for the double cousins in both my own and my husband’s family trees). These double cousins are related to you in two family lines. Where do you file the children’s records–with their mother’s family, their father’s family, or both? My answer is to file the children with the father’s family records, because that is the surname they were born with. It’s the same premise as filing a woman’s records under her maiden last name. Again, that is what makes sense and works for me; do what works for you. I also file what records I keep for sons-, daughters-, sisters- and brothers-in-law of ancestors in the folder of the family that they marry into.

All right, now to start writing next week’s tip!

Tuesday’s Tip: Organizing Your Digital Files

Speaker Barbara Nuehring at the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society’s annual October Seminar inspired me, as she did so many others. She amazed her audience with fresh ideas for using timelines and basic principles of design for dressing up our family histories, then moved on to discuss various ways to use technology to enhance our research and organize and preserve our digital files.

I have since adopted her digital filing system, with some slight personal adaptations, and thought I would share it with my readers (hopefully not violating any of her terms of use—gosh! if you ever get a chance to hear her speak, jump at it!). Randy Seaver brought up the discussion of organizing digital information a couple of months ago, but I was unable to add my two cents’ worth until now. However, I consider this Tuesday Tip to be an overdue response to Randy’s query.

First of all, I have Windows XP as my operating system. In My Documents section of My Computer, I have created a Genealogy folder, in which resides many files containing research notes, copies of emails, digital photos, downloaded images of digitized records, uploaded images from microfilmed records, and the like. Originally, for each family surname I was researching, I had a folder for every year that I had research information, with labels such as “Ton Genealogy 2004” or “Hainline Genealogy 2000”. This was an inefficient way to file, as it made it more difficult to find what was needed. Even before I attended the October Seminar, I decided to re-organize my folders by adding a Documents and a Photo folder for each surname and planned to combine e-mails and research notes for each family into a Research folder. Today’s Tuesday Tip will focus on the Documents folders for each surname and how to label the files so that information is easy to find—and even analyze!

Ms. Nuehring suggested that each document be labeled thus (minus the semicolons):

Surname; First Name; Middle Name; Married Surname at that time, if a woman; Date of Document in year, month day order; Type of document; Location Document was Created listed in largest to smallest location

This automatically will place all your documents first in alpha order by individual and secondly in date order as they were created. Let’s look at an example of some documents of major life events of my maternal grandmother:

HOEKSTRA Ruth Lillian – 1919 01 16 – Birth Record – Michigan, Kent, East Grand Rapids
HOEKSTRA Ruth Lillian – 1920 – Census – Washington, Pierce, Tacoma – daughter
HOEKSTRA Ruth Lillian – 1930 – Census – Michigan, Kent, Grand Rapids – daughter
HOEKSTRA Ruth Lillian VALK – 1943 09 11 – Marriage Certificate – Kansas, Geary, Junction City
HOEKSTRA Ruth Lillian VALK – 1946 04 26 – Divorce Record – Michigan, Kent, Grand Rapids
HOEKSTRA Ruth Lillian VALK DeVRIES – 1947 10 03 – Marriage License and Certificate – Michigan, Kent, Wyoming Twp
HOEKSTRA Ruth Lillian VALK DeVRIES – 2001 08 25 – Death Certificate – Michigan, Kent, Grand Rapids

By glancing through this list, I can see that everything is in date order. Both times when my grandmother was married, I added her new married surname to her current name, allowing the documents to remain in order. I can immediately see what surname she was going under for the different events in her life. At a glance, I can tell whether or not I am missing any of the records of major life events, and where she was living—or visiting–during those times. For the census records that occurred during her lifetime and are publicly available, I can tell at once that she was not the head of the household, but was a daughter in the households then. If there were some changes of residences or many major events happening during census years, I may wish to use the official Census Day date to label the census documents.

My system differs from Ms. Nuehring’s in the following ways: I use uppercase letters for surnames, I used dashes between sections of information, and I wrote out state names and used commas between location places (Ms. Nuehring uses no punctuation in her file names). I also used more descriptive terms for the documents, rather than Birth or Marriage, because in some cases, I have both birth records (from county libers) and birth certificates, or marriage licenses, certificates, and parental permissions for those getting married underage. If a document has more than one page, you may wish to end the file name with “pg 1 of 8”, etc.

For some family surnames, I have very few documents. For others, I may have hundreds for dozens of individuals. In the latter case, I’ve opted to further divide my surname Documents folder into folders by individual name. This is true for the Hoekstra family, so I have created a folder labeled “HOEKSTRA Ruth Lillian” as well as others with my grandmother’s sisters’ and father’s names. Ruth’s mother, Lillian Fern Strong, has her documents and photos filed in the appropriate STRONG Documents and Photos folders. All information is filed by maiden name for the ladies. Cousins with different surnames that connect with me through our common Hoekstra ancestry also have their files stored in the HOEKSTRA folders. Also, records where a document is “shared,” such as the marriage certificates and divorce record for my grandmother are copied and re-labeled in her corresponding husbands’ folders (I’m researching both my Valk biological line and my DeVries step-family line). They would appear in their respective folders as:

VALK William – 1943 09 11 – Marriage Certificate – Kansas, Geary, Junction City
VALK William – 1946 04 26 – Divorce Record – Michigan, Kent, Grand Rapids


DeVRIES Adrian – 1947 10 03 – Marriage License and Certificate – Michigan, Kent, Wyoming Twp

These are the only kind of document files that are copied and refiled. For instance, I don’t have to file copies of every record that occurred when my grandmother was going by her Valk married name. They stay in the HOEKSTRA folder and are only copied to the VALK folder if my grandfather’s name appears on them as well. This will save hard drive room.

One other note: by right-clicking on each file I can access the Properties feature of each file image and list where and when I found the document (Ancestry or other online database; e-mailed from a cousin—listing their mailing address; copied from microfilm at the Family History Center—listing the microfilm and item number; or ordered from a repository, etc.). This then lends itself to being able to know what citation to use (and for more on this, I recommend footnoteMaven’s handy “Working with Citations” post, which I also plan on implementing).

The point of all this is that using this type of system, adapting it to fit your needs, is a very efficient way of labeling your digital files, making them easy to find when doing a Search in Windows Explorer, helping you to see what records you have or which are missing. Another thing I’ve noticed: say a distant cousin contacts you, new to genealogy, and would like copies of any records that you may have of her direct ancestors. It would be very easy to find these and either attach them singularly or place them in a zip folder and e-mail them, or copy them to CD and mail them via the postal service.

Next time, we’ll talk about labeling ancestral photos, using a similar labeling technique, followed by organizing your research notes and e-mails.

UPDATE: I’ve added some clarifications at an updated post here.

Tuesday’s Tip: City Directories

Today’s tip is not meant to be a comprehensive study on the genealogical use and whereabouts of city directories, but more as a guide to places online and off which can help family historians educate themselves further about this excellent, but often underused, resource.

What Are They?

City directories first came into use in what is now the United States in some of the east coast cities in the 1700s and continue to be published today in both the United States and Canada. The most recognized publisher is (R. L.) Polk City Directories, but many other publishers were also involved in the city directory business. These books were used to help salespeople and deliverymen locate individuals for commercial and delivery purposes and to provide advertising space for businesses. In many instances, people had to pay to have their names listed in a city directory, which disqualified many of our poor and day laborer ancestors. In addition, ethnic and racial minorities were often excluded. After the invention of the telephone in 1876, some directories began to list phone exchanges and numbers, where available.

Why Use Them?
These volumes were often produced annually or every other year. They list the name of the head of the household, the street address, and often give the occupation and employer of the head of household. The listing can include whether the individual was a boarder, renter, or owner. As children became adults, they were listed as well. When a man died, his wife was often indexed as “Smith, Mary, widow of John,” and occasionally you’ll see a person’s name with a death date. These last two examples are great death record substitutes. Using city directories year by year can help you track where your ancestors were living, especially in the absence of census records, more notably the 1890 Federal Census. An individual may be listed as boarding with another person, and by finding the others residing at the same address, you may confirm your theories that the individuals are related.

The community pages also list the houses of worship, businesses, clubs, cemeteries, and other features of the community, sometimes including city maps and a brief history of the area. This information can help you determine where your ancestors may have worshiped, worked, socialized, or been buried, leading to clues for further records.

By the 1920s, many city directories often additionally had a cross-directory, in which an address could be looked up and the individual(s) who lived there would be listed. This is especially useful for seeing who lived next door to your ancestors, or checking out others in the household who had different surnames.

Do Directories Exist for Rural Areas?
Yes, in a variety of formats. Sometimes you will find small towns and rural areas listed at the end of directories for their nearest big city. Like city directories, county directories include the individual’s name and occupation. However, instead of a street address, you will often see a section number of a township given (in American public-land states), the number of acres owned, and the value of the acreage, as well as the name of the community post office where the individual received their mail.

Rural directories produced by granges and farm cooperatives often listed the number of heads of cattle, horses, and sheep owned by the individual in addition to the acreage information. If the farmer had a telephone, the phone exchange or number would be given.

There are also business, church, and institutional directories. Records that can be used similarly are association and school yearbooks and voter registration books. All kinds of directories for foreign countries can also be found using online resources.

What Format are They In?
Of course, the original directories are still available in printed form. These can be found in archives, libraries (including the Library of Congress or the Library and Archives of Canada), or for sale at online auction websites and used book sites. Some historical directories have been reprinted and several years’ worth may be available in one publication.

Many directories have been microfilmed by the LDS Church, and can be ordered from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah to view at your local Family History Center. Archives and other libraries may also have city directories on microfilm or microfiche.

Some directories (or their microfilms) have been digitally scanned and are available online, usually at subscription websites, such as Ancestry and Footnote, although some are located at free public websites like Google Books or Cincinnati Public Library. In some cases, the data is only available in transcribed or indexed form, which is the format in which many of the directories used to be at Ancestry. Still others have been scanned and are available for sale on CD.

Where Can I Find Them?
Besides the links given above, links to city and other directories (both online and off) can be found by checking out Cyndi’s List of City Directories and by performing a Google search (see search term examples below). While there is no comprehensive list of all city directories available online (which is why I recommend Google), Cyndi probably has the largest such list. Here are examples for finding a city and a county or rural directory with a search engine:

“grand rapids” michigan (“city directory” OR “city directories”)

“kent county” michigan director*

What Online Resources Exist to Further Help Me?
After winning an eBay auction of a 1925-26 R.L. Polk City Directory of Detroit, Michigan, Jasia of the Creative Gene blog wrote a wonderful and comprehensive 11-part series on the wealth of information within city directories, which can be read for free, beginning here. I guarantee that after you read this series, you will be anxious to get your hands on a city (or rural) directory of your ancestors’ locations!

Cyndi’s List of City Directories – this page consists of four parts: the first is General Resources, which includes links to various free online articles and tutorials. Like Jasia’s series, you’ll want to check out these articles and tutorials–many written by professional genealogists–to increase your knowledge about and search skills in using city directories. Libraries, Archives & Museums list locations where you may be able to find directories in published, microform or digital formats. Locality Specific links specific online directories categorized by location and year. Publications, Software & Supplies links to vendors where you can purchase new, used, or reprinted directories, and CDs.

FamilySearch has numerous Research Outlines for many locations: American states, Canadian provinces, and a multitude of countries. In nearly every location’s Research Outline, there is a useful section on Directories, listing the Family History Library microfilm numbers for that area’s major cities’ directories, as well as web links and mailing addresses for archives and repositories that may contain published or microfilmed directories for that location. These outlines can be read online, or downloaded and/or printed in PDF format. To access them, go to the FamilySearch website, click on the Research Helps tab and choose Articles. Then click on the letter with which your location begins (M for Minnesota, A for Alberta, or B for Belgium, for instance) and find the Research Outline for that location.

Lookups – If you’re not having success locating a directory, try City Directory Lookup or Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness.

Dae Powell has a handy City Directories form on his Shoestring Genealogy website to help you keep track of your research in this resource.

What Offline Resources Exist to Further Help Me?
City Directories of the United States of America has gathered information on many city directories stored at U.S. libraries and archives.

Use the Family History Library catalog to find microfilmed directories for your ancestral location by going to the FamilySearch website, choosing the Library tab, then Library Catalog. Choose Place Name and then enter either the city or county name of your location in the first search box and a state, province, or country name in the second search box. You may be prompted to choose between locations with identical names. Locations are listed from largest to smallest. Once you’ve found the resouces for that location, look for Directories. Only microfilmed resources can be sent to your local Family History Center, but you can ask the Family History Library staff to do a lookup within a printed publication for a small fee (ask for this mail-in request form at your Family History Center).

Eichholz, Arlene H. Ancestry’s Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources. Ancestry, Inc.: Salt Lake City, 2004. Similar to the FHL’s Research Outlines, this book has a chapter on every state in the union, listing all the genealogical resources for each state, including directories. Most libraries, especially those with genealogical collections, have this resource.

Luebking, Sandra H. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Ancestry, Inc.: Salt Lake City, 1996. This book is the opposite of the Red Book in that it has chapters for each type of resource (including city directories), explaining in great detail how those resources are used in genealogy and where to locate them. Again, this would be found in most libraries.

Random Tips I’ve Learned:

Look at the beginning of the directory for the abbreviations used within.

Try alternate surname spellings.

If searching an online database of scanned images, don’t rely on that database’s search engine to find your ancestor, even if he had an unusual surname. Be willing to browse through the pages alphabetically, using some simple math skills to determine where in the directory your ancestor’s name might be listed. For instance, if his last name begins with M, and the directory has 700 pages, you might try looking at page 350. Move back and forth within the directory by 5 or 10 pages and then narrow it down by 1 to 2 pages until you find it.

Don’t be surprised to find 1) your ancestor at a different address each year; or 2) your ancestor “missing” every few years or so.

Take time to learn about the community through the community history and service pages.

Remember that information was gathered annually or every two years, much like a census, so that by the time it was published, it may have been inaccurate, or your ancestor may have moved or died.

Realize that both street names and house numbers changed over time, and that “new residence” your great-grandparents appear to have moved to may actually be the same structure they are listed at in the last directory.

If you are viewing a microfilmed or scanned copy of a directory and notice pages missing, look at the end of the film or section of film or database for that directory. I once did a lookup request for someone who was trying to find their ancestor in the microfilmed 1899 Washington, DC city directory, which I had on permanent loan at my local Family History Center. Unfortunately, the page of the directory (which I could tell from the microfilm images was in poor shape) on which his ancestor should have appeared was missing. I reported this information to the requester, deleted his message from my e-mail inbox, and went on my merry way. Months later, I was looking at this same film and discovered that all the loose pages from this directory had indeed been microfilmed and were located at the end of the film! 😦

Many directories had a “new listings” or “recent changes” section which listed updated addresses that were gathered too late to place within the alphabetized directory of names.

Genealogy Resources on State Government Websites

Did you know that at each of the 50 United States’ official government websites there is at least one page of genealogical and historical resources (online and offline) for that particular state?

AND did you know that there is a webpage that list links to all 50 of those sites’ resource pages?

Neither did I until today, thanks to Carlie, a local librarian and a participant in my current Basic Online Genealogy class I’m presenting this month at the local county library district.

The webpage of links is located on the United States official government website, http://www.usa.gov: http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/History_Family/State_Genealogy.shtml

This is one you’ll surely want to bookmark!

Genealogy Resources on State Government Websites

Did you know that at each of the 50 United States’ official government websites there is at least one page of genealogical and historical resources (online and offline) for that particular state?

AND did you know that there is a webpage that list links to all 50 of those sites’ resource pages?

Neither did I until today, thanks to Carlie, a local librarian and a participant in my current Basic Online Genealogy class I’m presenting this month at the local county library district.

The webpage of links is located on the United States official government website, http://www.usa.gov: http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/History_Family/State_Genealogy.shtml

This is one you’ll surely want to bookmark!