Thursday, November 19, 2015

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FREE, and Fun, Genealogical Research Websites
By Elizabeth Eagan-Cox

Genealogy Tips
The genealogical websites presented in this article will give you something to talk about... and you don't even need to be interested in genealogy, yours or anyone else's. But... if you are looking for fun and free ways to dig up the dirt on family secrets, you'll find the sites I list even more informative and entertaining. 

All the sites listed below are free to use. Some sites may require that you create an account that has a User Name and email address. Before doing so, I advise that you sign up for an entirely separate email address (separate from your regular-use email address) for the sole purpose of genealogical research. Well-known email providers such as AOL (my personal preference for this purpose) or Yahoo, are your best bet. I suggest avoiding the use of an email provider such as Google/G-mail or Hotmail, simply because these two email providers are known as sites used by spammers and scammers.

There are many websites free to use for genealogical research. Below, I list a few sites I have found to be interesting, entertaining, reliable and useful.

About Website Addresses. If the URL I list does not work...

Chances are the website is still valid, but it may have undergone a revision. This happens all the time. Try to locate the website in a GOOGLE search by typing the name of the website in parenthesis. Example, if you go to Google ( and type in the term “Find A Grave” in the search box, the first, or at least the second, result should be the valid url for Find A Grave.


Find A Grave. Search through thousands of grave/burial sites in USA and international.   This site is updated often, literally, day-by-day.

From home page, under heading of “Find Graves” choose “Surname Index.” Next, choose “Search Page.” On the Search Page, a search form appears. Enter as much, or as little, information as desired. Be sure to use variant spellings of surname and given names. If no results appear, try using only a surname and an initial for the first name. Then filter out the results based on location. Find a Grave can be used to locate cemeteries. Get to know the menu provided on its home page.

Billion Graves   Similar to “Find A Grave.” Personally, I do not use this site nearly as often as Find A Grave, however, it is worth an attempt to research/locate a gravesite. Use the search option at the top right.

NOTE: Keep in mind that dates and names listed on a tombstone/gravestone are not always accurate. Recently I discovered that a great-grandfather's tombstone was in error by one day: he died on the 10th, not on the 11th, as indicated on his tombstone. Thus, in authentic research, it's best to follow-up on a gravesite information by ordering an official vital record (Death Cert. from the county in which the death occurred). Also, writing to the cemetery for a burial record may provide additional details. I did this with a grandmother in order to identify the funeral home that handled her services. The burial record I received from the cemetery's office provided a name of a funeral home. I did a Google search to locate the funeral home and then wrote to the funeral home, for the cost of $5.00 I received a copy of her funeral record, which, in turn provided more detailed information than what was on her official Death Certificate.

In making a request to a cemetery or funeral home, always do so by USPS groundmail and include a SASE. State only the facts, as briefly as possible.


Locating a photo of an ancestor is exciting, and the chances that you will find a photo is unpredictable. Do not use the sites listed below for the sole purpose of finding images of people, broaden your interest to discover what a place/location looked like at the time and era in which your ancestor resided (or worked) at a specific location. “Dead Fred.” From the home page, choose one of five ways to search. I usually skip the “Quick,” “Mysteries,” and “Keyword” search options in favor of using the “Surname” or “Detailed” option.   “Ancient Faces”  This site is heavy with advertisements. It can be difficult to discern which search box form is Ancient Faces or another (subscription required) web site (such as Ancestry dot com). From the top horizontal menu that runs along the top of the home page, choose the small tab labeled “Vintage Photos” a drop-down menu appears, click on “Browse Photos” then from the Browse Photos page, scroll about half way down the page to the section labeled “Family Photos.” From the Family Photos section, choose how you want to conduct your search.


Get to know more about how they lived, and their life and times by exploring these sites. The following sites put flesh on the bones, and by that, I simply mean you get a better understanding of what the world was like from an ancestor's point of view... by glancing over your shoulder to another era. “Measuring Worth” allows you to calculate the modern-day equivalent to a specific dollar amount in a specific year. Think of it this way. You discovered on a U.S. Census that your ancestor had personal wealth valued at $300.00 in 1860. So, what does that really mean to you, in present day? How do you compare your ancestor's financial well-being by today's standards? This site does it for you. From 1774 to current time, you can enter a sum in a specific year and find its contemporary value. This comes in handy not just for the obvious lifestyle comparison, but to appreciate the cost of living and value of items on many levels: The cost of a funeral, a college degree, medical fees, food and dining out, clothing and the ever-important “vehicle” for transportation in eras of the past... a horse.

Browse eatery and dining menus at: Los Angeles Public Library Menu Collection. Everyone eats. So… the question is... how has eating and dining-out changed over the decades? The url above takes you to the search page. I suggest starting at the 4th line down, and enter an era (1870, for example) for which you want to find menus. The menu collection is not exclusive to L.A./California. While perusing the menus, pay attention to the prices, menu selections...the foods that were popular at the time, and the artwork on the menu...all of these features are telling about the period.

What in the world was happening during your ancestor’s lifetime? Use this url:  The Timeline Index allows you to see what was going on in the world during a specific time period. From this home page, on the right, at the top, type in an era or a year, such as 1870, and click. The result is a timeline of events, people, places and things that impacted the world in the time period specific to your search.  “Behind The Name” Often your first (or “given”) name is a family tradition... However, do not let that keep you from wondering what is behind your name. Simply type in a given name and then click to find out the meaning and history of that name.

Naming traditions and practices at:  “Naming Practices” is a tutorial written by Shirley Hornbeck that explains the quirky practice (found in genealogy) of how families used patterns to name their children. Also, toward the latter part of this page, there is a listing of various nicknames/call names that have been popular over the centuries. No genealogist can ever explain in logical terms why a women named Mary was called Polly... but it happened, and it happened often. This concept of using a nickname that appears no shorter or phonically relevant to a given name is one of the great mysteries in genealogical research. All genealogists (myself included) have come to recognize on sight when a listed name is probably a call name and not the legal given name. Shirley Hornbeck does an excellent job or making sense of the name-game.


What your ancestor died of can be a curiosity and/or a health concern. It can also be exclusively significant to the era in which the ancestor died. My great-great grandfather Lucian Hunt died young, age 44, in the first decade of the 1900s. He lived in the Red River farming region of north Texas, just above Dallas. No other person in his family had/has died so young, in fact, his grandfather lived to be 102. When I received Lucian's Death Certificate I was stunned to find out he died of stomach cancer. No person in this family branch had/has ever had cancer, let alone die from it. I set out to understand why, and while I will never know for certain what caused the cancer... I did discover lifestyle clues that could explain it: 1. Chewing tobacco. I have no proof that Lucian chewed tobacco, or used it in any form. But I did discover that farmers were more likely to chew tobacco than smoke it. Chewing was more practical to their lifestyle and work in farming. 2. The area of north Texas were Lucian lived and farmed was a key area for experimentation with various agricultural products of that time period. This included pesticides derived from arsenic and additional toxic chemicals, that were later outlawed. In this era, most substances were handled bare-handed, and safety masks/goggles were not in use, thus exposing Lucian to the carcinogens in products he used. Is this what caused his stomach cancer? I will never know, but at least I have some historically accurate ideas that could explain why Lucian, and no other person in the family, suffered with and died from stomach cancer.

The following list is of sites that have to do with diseases, ailments and cause of death commonly found in genealogical research.  This is the url for a “Genealogy Quest” list of Glossaries. “Diseases” is the second topic in the list. Click it and it takes you to a glossary of diseases found in genealogy... past, present and in-between. Make a note of this site, the other glossaries listed on the opening page (Abbreviations, Epidemics, Latin, Occupations, Terminology) are equally valuable in genealogical studies.  The “Prickly Tree” site originates in the U.K. and is an excellent source for the old names of ailments and diseases. Keep in mind that many of these names transcend the distance between the U.S. and the U.K., especially when digging up records relating to Canada and early America.

And a reminder...  

About names: Always search for alternative spellings of a person's surname and first name. Keep in mind that nearly any vowel can be, and probably was, exchanged for another. This was common, simply because of misinterpretation of handwriting as well as how a surname was heard and then subsequently, pronounced. Regional accents played a huge part in variant spellings. So did the multicultural nature of early America.

Prefixes on surnames were often dropped or misspelled. Many a German surname beginning with “von” became a Dutch “van” and vice versa. Irish and Scottish surnames beginning with “O'” “Mac” or “Mc” were dropped or exchanged. And, if you have heard that “Mac” stands for Irish and “Mc” stands for Scottish (or vice versa) you heard wrong. “Mc” is simply a shorter form of “Mac.”  Neither “Mc” or “Mac” is unique to Irish or Scottish names.

With married women, look for them under their maiden surname, and their married surname.

Final Word to the Wise: If you catch the genealogy bug and become dead serious about digging up your past… NEVER, ever, rely on those little trails of green leaves found on to connect, and more importantly, verify beyond doubt your ancestry connection. There is an excellent and unquestionably valid reason that tried-and-true genealogical organizations (lineage societies such as the D.A.R. and S.A.R) do not accept the so-called family trees as evidence for membership qualification… Simply stated, the information presented as ‘fact’ on the trees is not evidenced with official documentation. I am a member of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) and Descendants of Mexican War Veterans… often I have been approached by women wanting to join D.A.R. , who are misled and misinformed by the family trees they have discovered on (and similar sites). To prove direct lineage to an American Patriot of the War of 1776, a woman must have official documentation to prove direct lineage… not say-so info found on a website. I was the first in my family to locate an ancestor who is a patriot, then undertake the research and gather the documentation... it can be done, if one is serious about collecting evidence.

Happy hunting!
Questions about genealogy? Contact me via this blogsite.