Tuesday’s Tip: City Directories and Their Impact on Your Genealogy Research

I attended some excellent workshops during Houston’s Family History Expo in 2012 that offered great advice and tips on dealing with brick-wall ancestors (great or small) when we hit them in our family research. One session that really helped a lot, or at least helped me find ancestors that tend to go missing between census decades, was — City Directories and How to Really Use Them — presented by Dae Powell at ShoeStringGenealogy.com!

Now I’ve used city directories with my research before I attended Dae’s workshop. But what I took away from his session was — “how often” — I should be using them with my research! So when he recommended doing city directory searches year by year because they’re “excellent fillers between the Federal Census decades,” anyone in this session looking my way would have seen a giant yellow light bulb appear above my head – LOL! This was my “AHA” moment about the real use of these directories with my research! I have not been doing city directory searches year by year for every ancestor. If truth be told, it never occurred to me that these directories were an excellent resource for tracking changes that occurred within families such as –

which family members were still there and which ones were not due to — a move, a marriage, death, etc.”Because information was collected at the time of the event – often by actual house to house canvassing — it carries the same evidential weight as many “original” records.” [1]

Below are some other quick tips Dae Powell gave during that session that I tweeted out to my genealogy friends on Twitter:

Click to learn more about this session at Family History Expo 2012

This session with Dae Powell really did change the way I use city directories with my research! As I began using them more, I noticed that they also provided: excellent historical information about the city, a reverse directory (a listing of residents by address if searching for your  ancestor’s names doesn’t work), cemetery listings, church & clergy listings and much more!

So where can you find city directories? According to Dae, city directories may be found —

[i]n public libraries in the regions they cover.  In university libraries, at the LDS Family History Centers, and even some have been scanned for commercial use online.”

Need to acess Houston’s City Directories online? Surf on over to the Houston Public Library’s digital collection at this link – http://digital.houstonlibrary.org/cdm/search/collection/citydir

To locate city directories for other regions of this country online, check out the links below for assistance and information:

1. Ancestry.com (for paid subscribers) – http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2469
2. Cyndi’s List – http://www.cyndislist.com/directories/general/
3. Fold3.com – http://www.fold3.com/s.php#query=City+Directories
4. FamilySearch.org – http://distantcousin.com/directories/


Source Citation:

1.  Powell, D. (2009, October 21). Another Look at City Directories. SHOESTRING GENEALOGY: City Directories. Retrieved June 15, 2013, from http://shoestringgenealogy.com/article/City_dir.htm


Tuesday’s Tip: Census Records, an Interesting Public Resource for Genealogy Research

Now that you’ve collected as much information as you can from within your family to complete your Family Group Sheets and Pedigree Charts (refer to my post, Five Step to Getting Started With Your Family Research for more information), it’s time to begin looking for your ancestors in public records. Census Records are a very good place to start!

Every 10 years since 1790, the US government has conducted censuses to count the population. Megan Smolenyak² hit the nail on the head in her book, Who Do You Think You Are? when she said,

Genealogists are the accidental beneficiaries of all this counting. There was never any intention to record our forbears for prosperity, but that’s exactly what happened.” [1]

Well, all I can say is that I’m glad all this counting was done and that these records exist right now today! And due to privacy restrictions, census records are only available for researching/viewing and purchase after seventy-two years. The 1940 Census is the most recent decade available to us; it was released to the general public on April 2, 2012.

So where exactly can you find census records?

They are available to you via:

So how do you use census records to find your ancestors?

Begin by reading and researching the most recent census (1940) and work backwards in time. So start by finding families and ancestors in the 1940 census. Then look for them in the 1930 census, then in the 1920 census, and so on . . . back as far as these records will take you.

Quick tips for you to remember as you read and research census records:

  • Search all available census (federal and state) for each ancestor on your family group sheets and pedigree charts. For clues and tips about the kind of information that was collected for each census decade, visit the National Archive’s website for:
  • Copy (or photocopy) every ancestors’ detail you find in the census. Consider downloading blank census forms (1790 – 1940) from FamilyTreeMagazine.com’s website to fill-in for every ancestor and family you find in census records – http://familytreemagazine.com/info/censusforms. These forms become a great source citation for each family group sheet you create; so make plenty copies!
  • Be aware that there will be inconsistencies with some of the information you’ve gathered about your ancestors with what you’ll find about them in census records. For starters, the spelling of the family’s surname from one decade to the next may change which can make locating them difficult at times. Why? It’s probably due to the limited education of the census taker recording the facts, and/or the ancestors giving those facts (this is especially true with newly Emancipated African Americans who could not read and write due to slavery). You may also find a lot of inconsistencies with ages and birth dates of your ancestors in these records. Why? Many states did not did not keep written records or document these events early on as we do today (refer to my post, “Five Drawbacks I’ve Encountered Using Census Records” for more inconsistencies to be on the lookout for as you explore these records).
  • Be sure to indicate any missing information or blanks (such as a birth date, birthplace, parents’ name, etc.) you find in the census in your notes. Why? It serves as a “memory jogger” for you later when you’re looking over your notes and documents. Your notations will remind you that certain details were missing in these records and not because you overlooked them.
  • Always copy information from these records in your notes exactly as they appear regardless of their inaccuracy! Note all errors you find with the Latin word sic (which means “thus”) as a reminder that you’ve copied exactly what was given even though you know, with certainty, it’s an error.

Have more census information, tips, and strategies to share? Let me hear from you!


Source Citation:

1. Smolenyak², Megan. “Learning to Love the Census.” Who Do You Think You Are?: The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family History. New York: Penguin, 2010. 56. Print.

Tuesday’s Tip: Houstonians Research Your Family Roots for Free!

I don’t know a genealogist (beginner or seasoned professional) alive who doesn’t love the word FREE when it comes to having access to some of today’s top ‘pay-for-use’ genealogy websites and databases. But what I do know is that Houstonians may conduct family research absolutely FREE from their home, or office, computers as long as they have the — Power Card — from the Houston Public Library!

With the Power Card, you will have 24/7 access to:

19th Century U. S. Newspapers Digital Archive
Digital facsimile images for hundreds of 19th century U.S. newspapers. Includes The Galveston Daily News from 1874 until 1897 (see listing under Houston, Texas)

African American Heritage
A groundbreaking digital resource exclusively devoted to African American family history research. This collection was created in partnership with leading African American genealogists to develop a comprehensive mix of resources, records, and tools specifically pertaining to African Americans.

American Civil War Research Database
Online resource for researching the soldiers, regiments, and battles of the American Civil War contains indexed, searchable information on over four million soldiers and thousands of battles, together with fifteen thousand photographs.

Biography and Genealogy Master Index
Index to millions of biographical sketches in thousands of reference books.

Clayton Genealogical Library
Houston Public Library’s Genealogical Collection.

Harris County Archives
Documents the history of the government and the citizens of Harris County as revealed through the county records and donated materials.

HeritageQuest Online
(Provided by the Texas State Library’s TEXSHARE program.)
U. S. Federal census records and other research materials for tracing family lineages.

Scholarly journal archive covering information in the arts, science, business, history, education and much more.

ProQuest Obituaries
Offers more than 10.5 million obituaries and death notices in full-image format from uninterrupted historical archives of top newspapers.

Texas Digital Sanborn Maps
(Provided by the Texas State Library’s TEXSHARE program.)
Sanborn maps are historical large scale plans of a city drawn at a scale of 50 feet to an inch. These maps are used to trace the history and development of cities and are also helpful in genealogical and historical research.

But that’s not all . . .

Houston’s very own — Clayton Library — is one of the top ten best genealogy resources in this country (Family Tree Magazine named it, “one of the 9 genealogy libraries you need to visit before you die  in its July 2008 issue)!

When you’re in the library, you have FREE access to:

Access NewspaperARCHIVE (In library use only)
The largest historic newspaper source online containing tens of millions of searchable newspaper pages, dating as far back as the 1700s.

American Ancestors (In Library Use Only)
Genealogical data from the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

Ancestry Library Edition (In Library Use Only)
One of the largest collections of family history data online. Ancestry Library Edition is the Ancestry.com database with a interface from Proquest.

Fold3 (In library use only)
Previously known as Footnote, this database contains almost 40 million images of primary source materials. Many are available here for the first time.

If you have a HPL Power Card, you can begin your research online right now by going to:
1) http://www.houstonlibrary.org/home
2) Under the “E-Library” section click the arrow and a drop-down menu appears
3) Scroll the drop-down menu and click “Databases”
4) Scroll down all the available databases and click “Genealogy” . . . then it’s happy ancestor hunting to you!!
Just keep in mind that databases marked with an asterisk (*) require a HPL Power Card for access from your home or office.

So if you don’t have a clue as to what kind of FREE genealogy resources are available at your city or county library, then I recommend you call them and find out today. You just may be missing out on an affordable way to gain access to some incredible resources FREE of charge that could help you take your family research to a whole new level!


Tuesday’s Tip: On Your Mark, Get Set, Ready … GO – 1940 Census here we come!

We are just a week away from the release of the 1940 Census and thanks to the National Archives, they have setup a direct link to the 1940 Census records at http://www.archives.gov/research/census/1940/ and a brief, yet informative video I’ve posted below, for anyone planning to access these records on April 2, 2012.


So why is the 1940 Census so special?

This census describes our country during the Great Depression, which began when Wall Street crashed, October 1929. According to Wikipedia.org, This crash “. . . marked the beginning of a decade of high unemployment, poverty, low profits, deflation, plunging farm incomes, and lost opportunities for economic growth and personal advancement.”

So what can you and I do right now to prepare for the grand opening of the 1940 Census?

We can begin by:

  1. Making a list of all the people (our ancestors, their parents, siblings, cousins, etc.) we want to look up in the 1940 Census.
  2. Collecting as many addresses as possible for these people by referring to:
    • City Directories
    • 1930 Census
    • World War II Draft Records
    • Naturalization Petitions
  3.  Identifying the Enumeration District (ED) where our ancestors lived.What are Enumeration Districts? These are geographical areas of a city or county that were assigned to a census taker.To locate the Enumeration Districts where our ancestors’ lived, go to the National Archives’ Online Public Access Search (OPA) at http://www.archives.gov/research/search/.
    To look up an Enumeration District, type –
    1940 census enumeration district description + the county + the state
    To look up an Enumeration District Map, type –
    1940 census maps + the county + the state. Another option for locating an Enumeration District is to visit Steve Morse’s website at http://stevemorse.org/census/ed2040.php?state=&year=1940 to access his free tool for converting a 1930 Census ED to a 1940 Census ED in one step.
  4. Accessing a blank copy of the 1940 Census forms below to become familiar with the various questions asked by census takers on that form:
    Blank 1940 Census Form
    Fillable 1940 Census Form

For more information and free resources for Genealogist at the National Archives, visit them online at http://www.archives.gov/research/genealogy/

Happy Researching!

Tuesday’s Tip: Five Online Resources to Jump-start Your Family Research

A conceptual look at the family and its members.

I want to thank family and friends for all the positive feedback I’ve received about my post, Five Steps to Getting Started with Your Family Research! Since I’m asked about my research process all the time, I decided to share those “how-to” instructions on this blog. Now whenever I’m asked how did I get started with my family research, I can just refer everyone to that information!

Now that you’ve been interviewing family members about your ancestors and locating home sources to gather names, dates, and places to fill-in your pedigree charts and family group sheets, you’re probably ready to turn to a variety of online and offline resources to round out your research. When considering the Internet as a place to start your research, there are hundreds and hundreds of excellent websites out there you will use and enjoy along your journey. Just the thought of  listing all the ones I frequent would be impossible . . . WHEW! But if I were to select just five websites to recommend for jump-starting your family research, I would recommend the five below because I visit them over, and over, and over again!


This website, filled with billions of digitized records, feeds my need for searchable census and military records, as well as, birth and death indices. Anyone who visits this site can launch an electronic family tree for FREE by typing in your name. Once you’ve found information you want to attach or save to family members of your tree, you will need to become a paid subscriber of the website. I’ve been using Ancestry’s FamilyTree Maker software to manage and organize my family history for quite some time. But, I became a paid subscriber of Ancestry.com in 2011 and totally enjoy the syncing capability I now have with my software and the entire Ancestry online community.


This is my favorite “go-to” website to search for death certificates to download and attach to my family tree. Being able to download and closely review ancestors’ death records have allowed me to fill in some pretty important gaps in my research. I have also been able to dispel rumors, as well as, shed light on assumptions and truths about some of my ancestors. Be sure to read a post I wrote about how FamilySearch.org helped me to reveal that my grand-father, Joseph Chapple (who grew up as an only child), wasn’t the only child my great-grandmother, Carrie Blanton, gave birth to!

USGenWeb and RootsWeb

Knowing where your ancestors lived, worked, and died in the US is very important to your success in locating information about them. So when I’m not able to physically visit states, counties, and towns where my ancestors lived right away, I turn to two great websites – USGenWeb and The RootsWeb Project – for help! Both of these websites, maintained by wonderful volunteers, provide free resources for the genealogy community. USGenWeb focuses on resources and information that you may find about your ancestors at the state level, while RootsWeb allows researchers to access searchable database and indexes for ancestors at the county level. Both of these websites have played an important role in me successfully locating obituaries, deeds, wills, and affidavits of heirship about my ancestors.


Once I’ve had a chance to carefully review an ancestor’s death certificate, I usually head over to FindAGrave.com, a very valuable online community dedicated to recording the final resting place of individuals around the world.  The content at this website, mainly transcriptions and actual photos of tombstones, is provided by volunteers who are more than happy to transfer the management of your ancestor’s memorial page over to you to complete if you contact them.  I truly appreciate this community a lot and show my support by sponsoring family members’ pages when I locate them. Sponsorship is a one-time payment of $5 which goes to helping them sustain the website, as well as, remove all the flashing banner ads on memorial pages.


This massive and wonderful website, personally maintained by the one and only Ms. Cyndi Howell, consist of over 300,000 links to online genealogical resources organized in to 188 categories! WOW! Actually, I call this website –  the genealogist playground – because anything genealogy you can think of is probably linked at this website! If you’re looking for specific online genealogy resources relevant to your ethnicity, then this website is a great point of reference. Finding what you’re looking for is not difficult at all; just use the site’s custom Google search box, or click “Categories” along the site’s left sidebar to explore!