Do You Read Your Photographs?

Do You Read Your Photographs?

I recently came across a Minnesota Historical Society LibGuide that really interested me. In their LibGuide, Photographs: Research & Ordering, they include a section on "images as primary sources." This got me thinking about how often we take our historical photos and really study them. Analyzing them for clues that may not be apparent from a cursory look.

Not all photos may require careful study. But in cases where photos show multiple people, an unknown background, an activity, or something else you are curious about, carefully analyzing the image should be done, just as we could analyze documents. This can especially be important when using a non-relative related photograph to provide historical or social context.

Minnesota Historical Society recommends "reading" photos by asking questions such as :

  • "What do you already know about the photo?
    • Photographer?
    • Location?
    • Date?
    • Caption or other written description?
  • Look at the entire photograph
    • What is the subject matter? (Portrait, building, event, etc.)
    • What is happening in the photo?
  • Look at individual parts of the photograph
    • What is in the Foreground? The Background?
    • Where is your eye drawn first? What less-obvious things do you notice?
    • Examine people, objects, signage, setting, time, etc...
  • What does the photo say to you? To others?
    • Are the people in the photo expressing certain emotions?
    • Does it evoke certain emotions in the viewer?
  • Why was the photograph taken, and who is the audience?
    • For a documentary or journalism purpose?
    • For sale (as a postcard, poster, etc.)?
    • To advertise something?
    • As an artistic expression?
  • What decisions did the photographer make when taking this picture?
    • Is it posed?
    • Why did they take the photo at that exact moment? What happened right before the photo was taken? Right after?
    • Did the photographer make the choices they did (perspective, focus, angles, etc.)?
    • Was the photo edited, cropped, or colorized? What did that change?
  • What questions do you have after viewing the photo?" [1]

Using this methodology, let's consider a historic photograph and what more can be learned from it.

I am an American
Courtesy: Library of Congress.

Take a minute, even if you know what this photo is about, to "read" the photo.

What is shown in the photo?

  • A building that appears to contain a grocery-type store called Wanto Co. A sign reading Grocery can be found at the top left. Fruits and vegetables are listed in the left-side window.
  • A car is parked next to a mailbox.
  • A sign that reads, "I am an American."

What is the purpose of this photograph, and who is the audience? This most likely is not a family photo. It appears to be more of a documentary photo. The photographer seems to have taken it to document a moment in time.

Just looking at the photograph itself, we don't know the answer to who the photographer is or why they took the photo. Research into newspapers and city directories might provide us with a clue about Wanto Co. Adding information about the car might help to date the photo.

We may ask why a sign stating I Am An American is added. Why would this be important to announce to a community?

If we go to the website Flickr the Commons and see the page for this photo uploaded by the Library of Congress, we read that the photo was taken by Dorthea Lange, who spent some time taking photographs for the US government. The description states:

Oakland, Calif., Mar. 1942. A large sign reading "I am an American" placed in the window of a store at [401 - 403 Eighth] and Franklin Streets on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. The store was closed following orders to persons of Japanese descen[t]

The description tells us more. We can assume that the store owner was of Japanese descent. This information can lead us to other questions about the time period, the owner, and his store. Googling adds even more to this story, including information about the sign commissioned by Tatsuro Matsuda, whose family owned the store, and the taking of the photo. You can read more in the article The Wanto Co Family.

Start Reading Your Photos

It's said that a photo is worth a thousand words, but when we take time to read it, we may find more information than what's on the surface. What questions do you consider as you "read" your historic photographs? Have you ever used those questions to learn more about the photos?

[1] "Images as Primary Sources," Photographs: Research & Ordering ( accessed 1 May 2023).


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


3 Digital Collection Resources for New York

Digital collections are one way to conduct research prior to planning a trip to an ancestral hometown. Make sure to exhaust genealogy subscription websites, local libraries, archives, and historical societies. The following three resources for New York are an example of what could be found when you search for digital collections in the place your ancestor lived. Although these places have great New York collections, they also have items outside the state and country.

1) New York Historical Society Museum & Library


The New York Historical Society Museum & Library founded in 1804 offers “on-site and online visitors a vast collection of art, objects, artifacts, and documents, as well as ongoing collecting programs that demonstrate a broad grasp of history’s enduring importance and its central role in explaining our present day.”

What do they offer online visitors? Their collection includes a digital collection of books and records. Some items of interest to the family historian include:

Ladies Christian Union Records 1850-2001 

“The records of the Ladies' Christian Union include annual reports, minutes, financial and real estate records, correspondence, photographs, biographical writings, membership lists, ephemera, printed brochures, articles, and manuals. The Ladies Christian Union was founded in New York City in 1858 with the aim of creating and maintaining safe, affordable housing for young, unmarried Christian women employed in the New York area. Between the years 1860-1922, the organization owned and operated a total of eight buildings in Manhattan. In 1871, the "Young Ladies Branch" of the Ladies Christian Union established itself as an independent organization known as the "Young Ladies Christian Association," better known today as the "Young Womens Christian Association" (YWCA).”

Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphans records, 1836-1972 (bulk 1850-1936) 

"The Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphans was founded in 1836 and was originally located on Fifth Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets in Manhattan. The Colored Orphan Asylum was among the earliest organizations in the country to provide housing, training, and employment specifically for African American orphans. During the Draft Riots of July 14, 1863, the Colored Orphan Asylum was attacked by a mob. At that time, it housed some 600 to 800 homeless children in a large four story building surrounded by grounds and gardens. The crowd plundered the Asylum, then set fire to the first floor. While the children were evacuated, the building burned to the ground. The records of the Colored Orphan Asylum document the activities of the institution from 1836 to 1972, with the bulk of the records falling between 1850 and 1936."

Highlights from the Map Collections 

"The New York Historical Society's map collection ranges from the 17th century to the present and includes printed and manuscript items. Geographic scope varies by time period, but extends from New York to the entire country. Among the manuscript maps that have been digitized are the unique sketches of projected battle sites of the American Revolution by Robert Erskine and Simeon DeWitt, and a series of maps created by Lawrence Veiller for the Tenement House Committee that document overcrowding in Manhattan in 1899."

To find more digital collections from the New York Historical Society, see their website .


New York Public Library Digital Collection


One of my favorite library digital collections, the New York Public Library Digital Collection, currently includes over 935,700 items that range from genealogically significant items with names and locations to social history items like postcards and menus. Like any of these larger collections, some of the materials are not New York oriented, so they really are resources that all researchers should check out.

Two examples include:

Atlases of New York City 

“NYPL's holdings of real estate and fire insurance atlases dating from the 19th and 20th centuries, showing streets, blocks, tax lots, and land use classifications of New York City's five boroughs and the surrounding metropolitan area.”

Photographic Views of New York City, 1870-1970s 

"Approximately 54,000 New York City photographs (and their captioned versos), primarily of exterior building views and neighborhood scenes, from the 1870s-1970s, arranged by borough and street."


New York Genealogical and Biographical Society 


NYG&B has an amazing collection of online genealogical relevant records that are searchable or browsable. Check out their website for more genealogical resources. A quick perusal of their Collections Catalog gives a glimpse of what researchers with New York ancestors can find.

Albany County Cemetery Records 

Browseable record collection of transcribed gravestone inscriptions. Other county cemetery records can also be found in the digital collection.

Bible Records from the American Bible Society 

Bible records that cannot be found anywhere else. Housed in Manhattan and searchable from this digital collection.

New York Estate Inventory Abstracts 1666-1825 

“The documents compiled in this collection consist of “petitions, letters of renunciation, bills and receipts” regarding the estates of the deceased. Specifically, it details how the state managed the estates that the deceased left behind. What is abstracted here is listed alphabetically according to the name of the decedent."


Find it Online

There are some wonderful digital collections for New York from the New York Historical Society, New York Public Library and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. Have New York ancestors? Start with a digital collection prior to planning a research trip to the Big Apple.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



What Genealogy-related Magazines and Journals are you Reading?

What Genealogy-related Magazines and Journals are you Reading?

As genealogists, we need to engage in continuing education. Your continuing education plan can benefit from magazines and journals as they provide the latest thought, resources, and ideas concerning research and methodology.

I'm a big fan of magazines. I like to receive them and scope out what is the latest on the newsstand at my local bookstore. Right now, my nightstand includes a variety of magazines and journals, including the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, American Ancestors Magazine, Utah Genealogical Society's Crossroads magazine, Uncoverings, the Journal of the American Quilt Study Group, Family Tree Magazine (US), Discover Your Ancestors, and Markers, the Journal of the Association for Gravestone Studies, among others. I read each one for a different reason to learn more and improve my knowledge of resources, history, and research.

What Magazines and Journals do you Read?

There are a variety of magazines and journals that can be useful to researchers. They may be published by:

  • Genealogy Societies
  • Historical Societies
  • Museums
  • Membership Organizations
  • Popular Press
  • Academic Publishers

As a researcher, I'm reading magazines and journals that can help me learn more about:

  • Location
  • Era
  • Methodology
  • Subject
  • History
  • Social History
  • Resources

Reading magazines and journals is not limited to those that were recently published. Through digitized book websites such as Hathi Trust or Internet Archive, I can read magazines published by earlier generations helping me better understand what my family may have been reading as well as better understanding that time and place. It's also possible to find an ancestral name in a periodical in an article with an index of names or even a case study.

Where to Find Them

One way to acquire magazines and journals is to subscribe or become a member of a society or organization. Membership benefits may include magazines and journals, but that isn't the only way. I mentioned previously using digitized book websites to read older magazines. Look for publishers, organizations, and society websites to find indexes, sample articles, and archived issues. Periodical Indexes can help you find articles that fit your research. Consider using JSTOR, PERSI, and Google Scholar. You can learn more about JSTOR by watching the Legacy webinar; History Lives at JSTOR. The new version of PERSI is explained in a Legacy webinar by Sunny Jane Morton. Use keyword searches such as where your ancestor lived (not your ancestor's name) to find relevant articles.

It's easy to ignore periodicals in our search for our ancestors. Don't make the mistake of picking and choosing resources. Periodicals provide everything from historical context to resources to even the possibility of your ancestor's name. Utilize online sources, indexes, and memberships to acquire the periodicals that will help your research.

What periodicals have helped you with your research? What are your favorites? Please let me know in the comments below.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


3 Ways to Ease into Social Media to Connect with Other Genealogists

3 Ways to Ease into Social Media to Connect with Other Genealogists

Have you wanted to find other genealogists who share your enthusiasm for genealogy? Social media is a great way to connect with other genealogists whether they are close to home or live half way across the country or the world. If you're new to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, it can be a little overwhelming to dive right in. Don't let that stop you from joining the online genealogy conversation.

Here are three ways you can ease into social media and connect with others. These three methods all involve interacting with content that other people have posted. The first step in getting involved is to show other people that you've connected with what they've shared.

3 Ways to Ease into Social Media to Connect with Other Genealogists

#1 Liking

Liking is the easiest way to engage with a social media post. Depending on the platform, liking consists of clicking on an icon showing a thumbs-up, heart, or another image. This indicates that you agree with the post's message. Liking only takes a second. The drawback is that if someone wants to see the names of everyone who liked the message, they need to hover their mouse over the icon to see the names of those who engaged with the post. 


The other drawback of liking is that you don't know why the person "liked" or engaged with the post. It could have been in support of the poster. It may have nothing to do with whether they agree or know the information is accurate. However, it is a good, fast way to show support.

#2 Commenting

Commenting on a post is one way to engage with the poster and its audience. As genealogists, we read social media posts that include news, methodology questions, and events. Commenting can lend support to the person posting or sharing information. So, for example, a comment can show our support to people when they are celebrating an accomplishment. 

Commenting allows us to crowdsource problems. Some genealogy groups are precisely for that purpose. For example, if you're a member of the Legacy Family Tree group, you can learn the latest and ask questions about using Legacy Family Tree. A staff member or another Legacy user will answer your question.

Replying to a comment on social media provides the opportunity to type or like a previous comment, as in this example from Facebook.


My one caution about commenting is to remember that an online conversation differs from one done face-to-face. In person, I can get clues from your body language, facial expressions, and tone that you are joking or being sarcastic. It's more difficult to judge that from a typed message. Remember that commenting doesn't allow for nuances, so keeping remarks straight and to the point is best. Keep in mind that some Facebook groups have community guidelines that must be adhered to.

#3 Reposting

On Twitter, reposting is called Retweeting. On Facebook, it's called Sharing. Simply, reposting is when you share what someone else has posted. Reposting shows the original post, and you can add information at the top. In this example from Facebook, I shared a post from Legacy to my News Feed and added some info.


Reposting is perfect for adding to the conversation by providing more information, agreeing to the post, sharing to benefit others, or supporting the poster.


Social Media is a Conversation

Stop using social media as a passive news source and start engaging. Its time for you to interact with other genealogists. I use social media to share information that will benefit others, promote my presentations and blog posts, and support the genealogy community. Social media is where we can gather, so don't scroll by, add your expertise.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.

What Are Your Hidden Sources?

What Are Your Hidden Sources?

In 2000 the book, Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Places by Laura Szucs Pfeiffer was published. The premise was simple. The book was essentially a list of sources that genealogists rarely used. Each article included information about that record, why it was helpful, where to find it, and additional readings. While this book is focused on American research, some of the record sets can be found outside of the United States and may help the reader consider what records they are missing in their research. 

When this book was published, I devoured it. I wanted to know how to do good genealogical research. That quest required me to know records that held genealogical context, including records that genealogists didn't typically use. Now, mind you, this was when many of these records had to be found by doing in-person research at a government office, library, or archive. While there were a few items online, there wasn't anywhere the number of digitized records we enjoy today.

Some of the records discussed in the book are today considered familiar online records, such as city directories, newspapers, obituaries, military records, court records, and deeds. The main reason they are familiar to today's researchers is the benefit of digitized documents. As more records are made available, we as researchers become more familiar with records that were once difficult to obtain and may have been ignored because of the difficulty. That's why even if an older relative researched your ancestors, you need to see what you can find. Access to records changes over time.

But even today, some of the records written about in Hidden Sources are still what I would consider "hidden" or unusual. They include:

  • Admiralty Papers
  • American State Papers
  • Bankruptcies
  • Fraternal Organization Records
  • Homestead Records
  • Necrologies
  • US Government Documents and Publications
  • Works Progress Administration records

As I peruse the book today, I realize I use most of the records listed and benefit from the digitization of many. But there are some I have never used and don't think about when researching.

One of the records mentioned in the book is midwife records. I have seen some of these records, but overall I haven't used them in research. And although I do know where some are located, I need to do a better job of looking at what might exist where my ancestors lived. I plan to work on this gap in my record knowledge.

So my question for you is, what are unusual or hidden record sources that you haven't used? What records do you want to know more about?


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Three Resource Wikis for Genealogy

Remember when you were young and needed to know more about a subject? You might go to the library (or your front room if you were lucky) and consult an encyclopedia. The encyclopedia had articles on just about everything. 

Today, encyclopedias exist online, but they are not the only works to consult. Wikis are like crowdsourced encyclopedias that can help you with answers to your questions. They introduce a subject, define key terms, and help you learn about a subject. All kinds of wikis exist, with the most familiar being Wikipedia. For genealogists, there are some genealogy-specific wikis that can help us learn more and conduct better research. The following are three examples.

FamilySearch Research Wiki 

FS Wiki


Any discussion of wikis has to begin with the wiki that is synonymous with the phrase "genealogy wiki." The FamilySearch Research Wiki has over 105,000 articles (and growing) about everything from locations to methodology to individual records. Use it to better understand the location you're researching and what records exist. Also, check the wiki for record sets found on FamilySearch.

Remember that this is not a place to search for your ancestor. The FamilySearch Research Wiki is a place to learn about genealogy, record types, methodology, and research in your ancestor's location.



The ISOGG Wiki (International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki) is the place to learn about genetic genealogy. According to the homepage, "The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) was founded in 2005 by DNA project administrators who shared a common vision: the promotion and education of genetic genealogy. Our mission is to advocate for and educate about genetics as a genealogical research tool and promote a supportive network for genetic genealogists. This wiki was established for the benefit and education of the genetic genealogy community."

With 734 articles currently, you can learn more about DNA tests, DNA testing companies, methodology, and topics of interest to those searching for birth parents. Take some time to scroll down the homepage to learn more about how to search the wiki.



A German wiki, this website explains: "The aim of the GenWiki is to collect information from all areas that are important for genealogical research and to make it freely accessible. Above all, GenWiki wants to help people to help themselves. The aim is not to present finished research results or theories, but to provide instruments and show ways and means that every genealogist needs or must know to achieve their research results." Use the menu on the left or the center to find pages of interest.

What Wiki Are You Reading?

Wiki's can be helpful to refer to when you are researching. They can enhance what you know about research, a location, or a methodology. If you're not using a wiki already, try some searches today and see how you can enhance your research. 


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


How to Analyze a Letter for Genealogical Clues

How to Analyze a Letter for Genealogical Clues

Last week we discussed analyzing envelopes, so this week, let's look at what lies within the envelope, a letter.

Like an envelope, there's more than meets the eye when looking at a letter. The letter may not seem to hold genealogical value because it does not include vital record events, but it can provide insight into both the writer and the receiver's lives.

Analyze and Transcribe

As you begin your analysis, take a look at the letter and note:

  • Who is the letter addressed?
  • Who is the letter from?
  • What are the dates listed?
  • What is the return address?

Most of us know there is a standard format to letter writing, but that format may or may not be present in a letter written to a family member. The information listed above provides some foundation information about the letter that should be noted as you transcribe and analyze.

Now, transcribe the letter. You may be asking, why? In my opinion, not only does transcribing the letter make it easier to read (in the case of handwritten letters), it helps to preserve the letter, and it also allows you to annotate and make a note of important aspects of the letter, such as:

  • Names
  • Places
  • Events
  • Descriptions
  • Stories

As you transcribe, you can use square brackets [ ] to add information, add clarification, or correct misspellings. You could even use tools in your word document program to highlight and add comments.

Once you have transcribed the letter, you might want to add a page to summarize what you have learned from the letter. What are the key points? What information should be followed up on in records or newspapers? What questions do you have? What are your research plan and research questions?

I also like to create a timeline in a table. In the first column, I add the date the letter was written (or postmarked) and list them chronologically in the first column). Subsequent columns include the place, the name of the writer/recipient, a few points of the letter, and a source citation. You can also add a column to include next steps or records to look for.

Letters as Genealogy Sources

Letters are an excellent genealogical source, regardless of who wrote or received them in your family. Analyzing them can lead to clues and records that will enhance your genealogy. Take some time to take a second look at the letters in your files to enhance your family history story.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



How to Analyze an Envelope for Genealogical Clues

How to Analyze an Envelope for Genealogical Clues

I love antique stores. When I go to an antique store, there are a few items I can't resist. Yes, vintage cookbooks are a weakness, but another is one that many genealogists have. I can't resist the allure of vintage postcards and letters.

I am naturally curious about history and people who lived generations ago. Their writings can help us understand them, their lives, and their era. So I buy other people's correspondence, take them home, and then get to transcribing, researching, and analyzing. Researching those letter writers and receivers is a natural step. That requires transcribing names, dates, and places and then seeking out those names in "name lists," such as the census or city directories. But how do we analyze correspondence before we even start the research?

We must consider all parts of the correspondence as essential, not just what the letter tells us. One often overlooked item is the envelope. 

The Envelope.

Letter 3 annotated

1. Recipient's name and address. 2. Sender's name and address 3. Postmark 4. Stamp 5. Cancellation


What can an envelope tell us? Consider the following:

  1. Type of envelope. What is the size and color? Is it part of a letterhead set?
  2. The front of the envelope. Notice the envelope in general. Is the envelope hand addressed or typewritten? What language are the words in?
    • Who is the letter from? Is there a name and return address? Is it from a different person or the person receiving the letter?
    • Who is the letter addressed to? Is there a formal title (for example, Mrs./Miss/Dr) if it is addressed to a "Mrs"? Is the name that follows her husband's? Is the name a "proper" name, a nickname, or incorrect?
    • What address is the letter addressed to? Is it a street address, "general delivery," a P.O. Box, APO, or a non-residence?
    • If this letter is part of a letter collection, timeline the addresses to determine the recipient's movements.
    • Is a postage stamp used? If so, what kind? You can look online or in a stamp catalog to learn more about it. If there is no postage stamp, why?
    • What does the postmark indicate? What place, date, and time (if applicable) was the letter postmarked? Is it far from the return address? Was it postmarked several times in different places? How did the envelope travel? (by air, for example?)
    • What about the stamp's cancellation mark? Does the cancelation mark have words or just lines? Does it appear to have been done by a machine, a stamp, or a hand? Does it provide any clues?
    • Are there other marks on the envelope, such as a black line outlining the shape, that may indicate a death?
  3. The back of the envelope
    • Is there any writing on the back? Perhaps a return address or a note?

Studying the envelope might explain how a person was addressed at a particular time, whether they were married or not, and possible immigrant origins.

Philatelic + Genealogy

Haven't considered the envelopes of your ancestral letters before? It's an excellent time to take a second look. The website PhilGen has several articles that include an analysis of envelopes that you might find helpful. The website's author, James R. Miller, has written a book that further delves into the topic. "Philatelic Genealogy, Old Envelopes, Letters, and Postcards as Genealogical Sources presents 100 old envelopes and postcards to show how they serve as sources of genealogical information." Websites such as Linn's Stamp News provides information about the history of stamps worldwide. Postal museums may include online articles and exhibits that can shed light on our ancestor's use of the postal system of their country. Wikipedia has a list of postal museums by country.

As we analyze sources left behind by our ancestors, we need to consider the whole source and, in the case of correspondence, including the envelope. Taking a second look might provide you with additional clues to follow up.

Next read: How to Analyze a Letter for Genealogical Clues


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Finding and Using Digital Collections for Genealogy

Finding and Using Digital Collections for Genealogy

Are you using digital collections in your genealogical research? They are an essential resource that can easily be accessed from your home or in the repository you are researching. 

What are Digital Collections?

Digital collections are one of the benefits of an online repository that can scan and host all types of records, images, periodicals, and books. Anderson Archival defines a digital collection or a digital library as:

 …any collection of files that has been digitally preserved and is accessible on the Internet or through software. A digital library may contain manuscripts, newspapers, books, journals, images, audio, and video.[1]

For family historians, digital collections provide ease of access to documents, images, books, periodicals, and other materials that would typically require us to travel to a repository.

Where to Find Digital Collections

Digital collections can be hosted by libraries, archives, museums, businesses, or even individuals. While some are housed at a repository in a specific location (for example, the New York Public Library), that doesn't mean they only have materials for their city, state, or country. Exploring large repository digital collections may provide opportunities to discover items pertinent to the family or location you are researching.

Digital collections exist because of the dedication or mission of the entity that wants to take items they house and make them available either for free or by an online subscription. It makes sense that a university might scan and make available its yearbooks and then make available subscription digital collections for their students and faculty. In addition, there are examples of individuals making digitized materials available from their own collection or because of their passion for that record (consider Thomas Tryniski's Fulton History).

As you contemplate your research, consider what repositories exist in your research location and the state/province. Then look at their websites and notice any digital collections pertinent to your research. In addition, consider more extensive national and international collections to add to your research plan.

Examples of Digital Collections

The following is not meant to be an exhaustive list of digital collections, they are instead some that you might want to look into or will inspire you to search for those that would benefit your research:


Because it's online doesn't mean you can use a digitized item for publishing projects. Digital collections provide copyright statements. Consult these before using the digitized item in any publication online or off.

What Digital Collections are you Using?

Are you using a digital collection for your research? Is it a collection not mentioned above? Please share with us your favorites. Together we may discover digital collections that can break down a research brick wall.

[1] "What Is a Digital Collection or a Digital Library?" Anderson Archival ( accessed 8 February 2023).


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Finding Online Records

Finding Online Records

Most likely, you have heard of and/or used the FamilySearch Research Wiki. There's a lot to love about the wiki, with its over 105,000 articles about locations, records, and genealogy methodology. But there's one wiki page you should be looking at each and every time you start researching a specific location.

That Blue Button

When you search the FamilySearch Research Wiki by location, such as a country or a state/province, you will have access to information that can help you further your knowledge of that area and the existing records. But there's a shortcut to help you understand what records are online to help you start your research.

FS Canada Wiki homepage

This blue button is labeled [Location] Online Genealogy Records. Click on it to find a list of links for online genealogy records. These links are for records found within FamilySearch and other websites, including subscription websites.

FS Wiki

These online records links are grouped according to category. These subject categories will be familiar to those who use the FamilySearch Catalog. These categories include the following, as well as additional categories that are specific to that country or region:

  • Vital Records (subcategories: Birth, Marriage, Death, and Divorce)
  • Adoption
  • Bible Records
  • Biographies
  • Business Records
  • Cemetery Records
  • Census
  • Church Records
  • Compiled Genealogies
  • Court and Criminal Records
  • Cultural Groups
  • Directories
  • Histories
  • Immigration Records
  • Land Records
  • Military
  • Naturalization
  • Newspapers
  • Obituaries
  • Occupations
  • Periodicals
  • Probate Records
  • Religious Records
  • School Records
  • Taxation
  • Voter Lists

The list will indicate the title of the collection, the entity that hosts the collection (such as FamilySearch), if the collection includes indexes and/or images, and if there is a cost (indicated by a "$"). You should start with the country, then go to the state/province page, and then you can search a county page, but those pages will only contain links for a larger region (depending on what is available).

FS Alberta wiki

Keep in mind that for a country or state/province page it will not show links for records "lower jurisdictions." A country list will not include links for a state or province, and a state/province page won't show links to a county or parish.

Why Click the Blue Button?

There's no doubt that exhausting what's online is an excellent first step to researching an ancestor. Once you exhaust online sources, you can move on to identifying what you need from a library, archive, or government office. These lists of online records are incredibly helpful as you scan them but keep in mind that they might not include everything. The FamilySearch Wiki is a wiki, and because it relies on a community to update it, it may not include everything it should. However, the blue button is a great first step to understanding what is available online.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.