CTO Scott Sorensen has a challenging job: Helping Ancestry.com expand and enhance its vast database of family information, while keeping that data secure. It’s not easy being the CTO of a company that has a 10 petabyte database with 13 billion structured and unstructured records going back to the 1300sa number that grew by 1.2 billion documents in 2013. In its quest to continue expanding and enhancing its enormous database of family information, the company launched AncestryDNA in May 2012.
Vital records are documents that offer proof that someone existed; that they lived, died, were married or divorced, gave birth to or adopted a child. For the most part, these records are a product of the 20th Century; before 1900 it’ll be hard to find all of these records on an individual. These are some of the common types of records and the important information that can usually be gleaned from them. Not all vital records provide all of this information, since state laws vary:
Birth Certificate: You will probably come across both long and short forms of the birth certificate. Unfortunately, today’s birth certificates often don’t provide as much information as those in the past did. Of all of the vital records, birth certificates are where you will get a majority of your information to aid in your research: Birth name of child, date and location of birth, time of birth, whether the child was born in a hospital. Name and signature of the doctor or midwife. Depending on state laws, name of the mother and her maiden name; the father may not always be listed if parents were not married. Age of the parents at the time of the birth, occupations. Number of mother’s living children(siblings) of the child; whether the child was a twin or part of a multiple birth. Parents’ race (some Native American, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians) need this information to prove blood quantum for tribal or native benefits.
Death Certificate: Name of person, age, date and location of death. Cause of death. Last known address of person who died. In some states, the name and address of spouse are included. Signature of doctor overseeing proclamation of death. There may also be information regarding any investigation that is ongoing as to the cause of death at the time that the certificate was produced. Death certificates are usually signed within a day or so after death, or after the discovery of the dead person in cases of an unattended death.
Marriage License: State laws vary widely on the issuance of marriage licenses; for historical purposes they began to be issued as far back as the Middle Ages in some countries to indicate who was legally permitted to marry, since marriage laws have evolved as to legal age of marriage, waiting period required between license and wedding, blood tests required, definition of close relatives permitted to marry, etc. On a marriage license you may find the following: the full names of bride and groom, their ages, where bride and groom were born, date of marriage, names of both sets of parents and where they were born, name of person officiating at wedding, location of marriage.
Certificate of Divorce, Dissolution of Marriage: Names of husband and wife, date of marriage and date of divorce, name of court with jurisdiction, signature of judge or court official, cause of divorce. Some divorce certificates also list the children born during the marriage.
Adoption Papers: Most information on the adoption of a child is confidential; state laws vary about who can be given access to these documents and when. If you are doing research on an ancestor, it is quite possible that an adoption was never legalized. It was the tradition in many cultures for children to be given at birth to close family members to raise but legal adoptions were never formalized.
There are different levels of difficulty (legal hoops to jump through) depending on whether you are looking for identifying information on an individual (name of child and names of parents) or if you are going to be satisfied with non-identifying info such as date and place of birth or age, race, religion, and occupation of parents. If you were adopted, the best place to start is to find a support group for those searching for their birth records. Others who have been through the same experience can provide valuable advice on searching and save you lots of time. You can also place your name in an adoption registry to let your birth parents know that you are willing to be contacted.
Vital records can unlock the lives of ancestors that you are searching for. Life events/stories can be traced through vital records.They will reveal lives that were surprisingly similar, in many ways, to those living today and will help in linking you to generations past.
By Leonard Smith
I am always prepared with a list that I will be searching for when I get to the parish courthouse records.
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For a long time during the history of the United States, the local court system functioned as more than just the judicial body. Local courts performed governmental functions such as issuing licenses to physicians, midwives, merchants, clergy, lawyers, ferry operators, and public inns. They were responsible for regulating apprenticeships as well as overseeing the education of the poor and orphaned. They built housing for the poor and maimed, ordered the destruction of pests, provided inspection of goods and services, built bridges and roads and oversaw their maintenance, assessed and collected taxes, and called the local militia units to muster.
On your first visit to the courthouse you should start with the marriage records and log what you find on your pedigree and family charts.
Information you should record includes both bride and groom’s names, witnesses, minister, location and dates. Make copies and record the reference information (book number, page, etc.,) on where this important document was found. Also check to see if there was a bond document for the marriage.
After searching the marriage records my next stop is the conveyance records. This is where “the gold” is kept! The conveyance records contain information such as contracts, cash and credit sales, sale of slaves, abstracts of inventories, family meetings, donations, etc.,
As you can imagine, your ancestors probably had some contact with a courthouse at some time or another, and not because they were accused of a crime. Most jobs that are now performed by administrative governmental bodies used to be performed by the courts, and incredibly detailed records were always kept. Even if court records were destroyed in a fire or other tragedy, legal business needed the information to be reconstructed so things could continue on as usual.
The 1870 – 1940 census information is the official way that the country keeps track of how many people are living in each town, city, county/parish, state, and in the entire country. Every 10 years, the Census is conducted in an effort to record basic data about the people of the United States. Beyond numbers of people, the Census also records age, name, race (or ethnic background), citizenship status of each person, and the total information for each household. This can give a snapshot of what a family looks like in a given year. For individuals doing research into their own family history, using Census data is incredibly helpful, especially for the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
While the Census is meant to collect information from everyone, naturally that is not always successfully accomplished. People can refuse to fill out their Census form, or Census forms get lost, names are misspelled, or records are kept inaccurately. While many pitfalls exist for people researching their genealogy through the Census, it still remains an incredible tool for most. With a little bit of determination and thoroughness, you may find just what you are looking for.
Between 1870 and 1940, a number of changes occurred in the United States. Slavery was abolished and the names of black Americans started to be recorded as part of the 1870 U.S. Census. In 1921, the 1890 Census forms were lost in a warehouse fire. Some still exist but are very limited to a few geographic areas.
In Louisiana, you are in luck if you had “kin folk” in Ascension Parish in 1890 because their census index was not destroyed.
In 1902, the Census Act was signed by Theodore Roosevelt, creating a dedicated census office for the federal government. Before 1902, census forms were collected locally, and there was a considerable amount of fraud involved. Many municipalities were hoping to go from territories to states, and would bump up their numbers with fake people or duplicate names. Others, in an effort to pay less in taxes, would throw out a certain percentage of forms to make their population seem smaller.
With all these challenges, it is important to remember that your search of the census record will not be straightforward or fast. Give yourself time and create a research log, then start your searches. All census records are available up to until 1940. The 1940 census search by name is a great feature. There are a large number of websites that offer family history search capabilities of the census records, and when you search you may find too much or nothing at all.
Just as the spelling of a surname can be spelled differently, so can given names. Remember to try all variations of names, such as Eliza, Liza, Liz, Beth, and Elizabeth, and jot down each search you complete in your research log to keep all those attempts straight. Include a town if you have that information, but remember that the simpler the search, the more results you will receive. Try everything before giving up on the census. While the information may have been lost or destroyed, it’s far more likely that you will find some real gems about your family history if you trace it back through the decades using the U.S. Census.
The Census Bureau’s National Processing Center (NPC) is located in Jeffersonville, IN and houses copies of census records from 1910 to 2000. Because of the “72 years” rule, the census records from 1940 were released on April 2, 2012. After 72 years have passed, personal records are available for viewing or to be purchased through the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) can obtained census records online. Visit the National Archives website for invaluable census information to assist in your search.
by Leonard Smith
Genealogy is a fascinating subject and Mormon genealogy records can be found with ease and at no cost to you. Even if the Mormon religion is not a part of your family’s background, you can still find just about anyone looking through the Mormon records.
The name of the site to go to is www.familysearch.org. This Mormon genealogy records site is operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here you will find some of world’s largest collections of genealogical records. There is also an international network of global centers affiliated with a Mormon genealogy search. Just think of the largesse of the site: it has over a billion names from counties and areas in the United States alone!
Much of the information contained in these Mormon genealogy records are obtained from U.S. Census Records performed in 1880 and after. There are also Census records from Canada and Great Britain. In addition to some vital statistics, census information will inform you as to where a person was living at the time of the record, and who was living with them (spouse, children). Here you will also be directed to the Ellis Island web site database. This is a very important resource if you ancestors traveled to America on a ship in the early part of the twentieth century. You’ll also find the Freedman’s Bank records on the family search site.
The records you can access at the Mormon Church site are microfilmed and digitized records which can be seen free of charge. You can also go to one of their Family Centers to view these records. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Family History Library can be traveled to in Salt Lake City, Utah. Here you can access one of the world’s largest ancestry libraries in the entire world. With records from more than 110 countries, from England to Africa, the Center receives about 2,400 visitors every day. Many of these visitors came from abroad, hailing from countries in Europe, Asia and more. The pull to find out about our past is an intense and strong magnetic one.
There are also over 4,500 Family History Centers that are local to certain Mormon Church meetinghouses all around the world. Any genealogical services are given free by Church volunteers.
If your ancestors date back to the Civil War era, records can be accessed at the Mormon Family Center sites. There are soldier’s indexes, individual pensioner’s information and draft records.
Index your family’s information onto the indexing database so others can find your relatives you have in common during their search. You simply transcribe what is on your records and they will then become available on the Mormon ancestry site for others to view. The Mormon genealogy records are an excellent source for your genealogy research.