Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Inside Scoop on Ancestry.com

by Mary Beth Newbill, Southern History Department, Central Library


Ancestry.com is probably the best known genealogy database on the market. But did you know that you can access the Library Edition of Ancestry.com free at any public library in Alabama? Keep reading for some research tips and tricks and then make plans to visit your local library to try them out.

Census Records
One of my favorite sources and, arguably, the most important one for genealogists is the U.S. Census. Ancestry has every population schedule currently available for genealogy research (1790-1940) and they are fully indexed. You can search by name, location, age range, etc. You can even search by occupation in the later years. As with any database taken from handwritten documents, expect to find some interesting transcription errors. For instance, I became very curious about John H. Cheney who appears in the 1870 census. The index lists his occupation as retired sea cat. Upon closer inspection of the image on which his name appears, it is obvious that he was a retired sea captain.

City Directories
Like telephone books, but better, city directories from all over the country can be found on Ancestry.com. They have an excellent collection for Birmingham with coverage from 1888-1960 (minus a few years). However, cities such as Denver, CO, Charleston, SC, and Honolulu, HI are among the many others included. City directories pre-date the telephone book and include additional information such as a person’s occupation or place of employment and the name of their spouse. Most also offer the ability to do reverse look-ups if you know an address, but not the name of the person who lived there.

School Yearbooks
Whether you’re looking for an ancestor, interested in the fashions of the day, or just strolling down memory lane, old high school and college yearbooks are a must. Ancestry.com has got a massive collection of digitized and keyword searchable yearbooks from all across the country. I was thrilled to use the yearbooks to locate a picture of someone’s grandfather who was orphaned at a young age and for whom no childhood pictures exist.

If you’d like to learn more, I hope you can attend one of our upcoming classes on the Library Edition of Ancestry.com. There will be one at the Wylam Branch Library on Wednesday, June 27. at 10:00 a.m., and again at the Avondale Branch on Monday, July 2, at 2:00 p.m.

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