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.

 


Two Tips for Using Google Chrome

Do you use Google's Chrome as your browser? If you do, there are two tips you should know to make using it easier. Before we look at these two tips, let's take a look at a website and get to know some of the features that we will be using.

Chrome Window

In this screenshot, I'm looking at the Legacy Webinars website. The website is in my browser window. In this case, I only have one website open but I could have multiple tabs in one window. At the top right are three horizontal dots that when clicked, reveal a drop-down menu. At the top left is the tab with the title of the website, and next to it is the button to click to open a new tab "+".  At the bottom is a toolbar with the Google Chome logo.

#1 Opening the Closed Browser Tab

The first tip is one that I use quite a bit. I'm one of those people who opens way too many browser tabs as I research. And then, I get so caught up in researching and stop paying attention to what I'm doing that I accidentally close a  tab with a website I'm using.  What can you do if you close a tab before you want to?

There are three ways you can reopen that closed browser tab. First, you can simply use a keyboard shortcut, in this case, CTRL + Shift + T.

Or you can hover your mouse and click the right-click button where the "+" sign appears in the browser.

Google chrome reopen closed

Finally, you can click on the three dots to the upper right of the browser, and then in the drop-down menu, hover your mouse over the word History and you will see a history of the websites you've looked at. Choose "Recently Closed."

Three dots google chrome

Now that dread of losing the web page you were using is gone.

#2 Focusing your Search with More than One Window

Let's go back to this problem of having too many open browser tabs. When I'm on the computer I typically am multitasking which means I'm working on genealogy but I'm also taking a look at other websites. Perhaps you multitask. Maybe you're checking social media, researching that new refrigerator you need, or mapping out your research trip. All of those open browser tabs make it challenging to focus on just one project, and you may have so many browser tabs open that you lose sight of which one is for which website.

One way to focus is by opening another window. You can have more than one window open and keep your genealogy research in one  and all your  other tasks in another. Thus lessening how many browser tabs you have open.

Google chrome move to another window

To do this, click on the New Tab button "+" at the top to open a new browser tab. Enter the URL or conduct a search. Now that the website is open right-click on the browser tab. This will open a drop-down menu. One of the choices is "Move tab to another window." By clicking on that, your website will go to another window.

Now, to access that other window, go to your toolbar (most likely at the bottom of your screen), where it shows the Chrome icon, and hover your mouse. Your windows will appear, and you can click on the one you want to use.

Browsers Do More than Search

Browsers have all kinds of options to make searching and finding websites easier. If you need more help with Google Chrome, see Google Chrome Help.

 

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.

 

 


Are you Googling Your Ancestors?

GooglingAncestors-crop
Are you Googling Your Ancestors?

When we think about researching our ancestors, genealogical-focused websites come to mind. That makes sense. They are the websites that have the records, indexes, and databases we need. But research requires more than entering search terms in a genealogy website's search engine. It requires us to expand our search and try other resources and search techniques.

Whenever I research, I always try a search on Google. Why? Using the Google search engine, it's possible that I can find mention of an ancestor in resources posted by groups or individuals. I can also focus my search to websites, images or books.

Take, for example, my latest search based on some letters I bought at an antique store. I entered the name of a woman who wrote a few letters, Inez Overell, and received several hits. The most promising was one for the website Heirlooms Reunited by genealogist Pam Beveridge. In a blog post dated May 13, 2013, "1880s Autograph Album of Minnie Kennedy with signers from New York, New Orleans, and Ontario," she mentioned several Overell family member appearing in the autograph book, including Inez. Pam, like many genealogists, tries to reunite orphan heirlooms with family. In doing so, she scans and writes about them for her blog. This 10-year-old post provided me with more clues about a family whose letters I bought at an antique store. I was able to connect with Pam and get more information (thanks, Pam!).

Heirlooms Reunited by Pam Beveridge

As I Googled Inez's name, I tried searching for an exact phrase by placing quotation marks around the search phrase (for example, "Inez Overell"). I also tried searching just the surname (Overell), and I focused my search results on books to see if I could find her mentioned in older books (including city directories) or magazines.

This type of search isn't always successful. Not everyone is mentioned in an old book or a website. I have had many times where I come up empty checking Google. But in some cases, you may find information that is not available anywhere else, including the names of researchers or families who are researching that person or have valuable family heirlooms.

As you consider your genealogy Google search, go beyond just entering a name in the Search engine.

Try different search techniques like an exact phrase search, an advanced search (available once you conduct an initial search by clicking on the gear icon in the top left corner), or even a wild card (substitute an asterisk for a missing word like a middle name, for example). If you aren't sure how to use Google to find what you need, check out the webinars about Google in the Legacy Webinars Library.

Advanced Google Search Options from Gear icon

Researching the names I found on these letters has given me a lot of genealogical information about the families involved, but going beyond genealogy websites and generalizing my search to Google has helped to uncover a family heirloom and a researcher I would have ordinarily missed. Take your search to Google and see what you can find.

Let us know your Google search success stories in the comments.

 

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.

 


Start the New Year with Genealogy Kindness

Start the New Year with Genealogy Kindness

Happy New Year! It's that time of the year when many people consider how they want this year to be different than the last. That contemplation usually involves making some goals to improve oneself. One professional genealogist has suggested an idea about what you can do differently this year.

Genealogy Kindness

The genealogy community has a history of kindness, both as organized groups and as individuals. I know I have benefitted from those whose kindness to me has extended to conducting a lookup at a library, taking a photo at a cemetery, or teaching me something about a record. We all have benefited from the help of others, whether an individual or a group. The work of groups of volunteers, such as Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness and the US GenWeb has benefitted those of us who have sought help. Even if we don't have a lot of time to volunteer, we can support the work of individuals helping others like Cyndi Ingle of Cyndi's List or Tami Mize of Conference Keeper. Melanie McComb's idea of daily genealogical kindness is something to consider.

So how can you start passing along genealogical kindness? Even if a daily act is too much, you can do one thing this year that will help another family historian. It doesn't have to be a significant undertaking; it can be something simple. Melanie provides some ideas for ways to help in her Facebook post. Other possibilities include the following:

  • Joining a Facebook group for the place you live or a genealogical topic and adding your expertise
  • Volunteering for a genealogy or historical society
  • Posting information you have gathered in your research
  • Transcribing or indexing records
  • Offering to do lookups at a library or archive
  • Taking part in a genealogically related project
  • Conducting oral history interviews
  • Passing on copies of photos or records to other family members

It comes down to doing something that you see is needed. Many of you probably are doing something, but maybe it's time to do something new to help the genealogical community or, at the very least, a friend or fellow society member. Remember that your passion or interest in a genealogical subject will help someone.

If you are currently spreading #GenealogyKindness, thank you. Your work may not get a lot of accolades, but it does make a difference. Thank you, Melanie for reminding us to start the year by considering kindness.

Have you benefitted from the kindness of others? Tell me about it in the comments below, and let's acknowledge those whose kindness extends beyond their genealogical 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.

 


Borrowing Genealogy Books from the Internet Archive

Internet Archive is a great place to search for books for your research. Their diverse collection has been digitized with the help of libraries, archives, museums, and individuals, as well as the books the Archive has collected and digitized. In these cases, you can look at the book online or download it via numerous formats, including PDF and eReader versions.

But what if the book you want is newer or unavailable to download? That's when you will want to take advantage of borrowing the book.

Internet Archive

Borrowing a physical book from a library requires a library card. To borrow a book from the Internet Archive, you will need an Internet Archive account first. Signing up for an account couldn't be easier. At the top right of the website, click on "sign up." You can either use your Google account, or you can enter your email address and a password. Once you've done this, you'll have an account and can take advantage of the borrowing library.

Sign up for an account

As you search Internet Archive and click on books of interest, you might notice a blue button at the top indicating you can borrow the book.

Borrow for 1 hour
You can select 1 hour or 14 days by clicking on the drop-down menu. (14 days might not be an option for all books). If all of the virtual copies of a book are loaned out, you can join a waitlist. If the book you've borrowed is only available for a 1 hour loan period, you can check it out again after you have returned it. There are no renewals. According to their Lending Library web page, there is no waitlist for books available for a 1-hour loan. Unlike a brick-and-mortar library, there are no late fees (the book is automatically "returned.")

Internet Archive does have a Books to Borrow collection that houses over 3 million books to choose from. A search for the word "genealogy" in that collection showed over 3,000 results, including some of my favorites.

Genealogy books to borrow

 

I have found this service a lifesaver when I've needed a book not available at my local library. This service expands the selection of "library books" available to me without leaving home.

To learn more about borrowing from the Internet Archive, including a video tutorial, see their website Borrowing from the Lending Library . Some books require a download of Adobe Digital Editions. Instructions for this are available from the link above.

 

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.

 


Your Answers: How Do You Use Genealogy Handouts?

Your Answers: How Do You Use Genealogy Handouts?

Last week I asked a question. As genealogists, we collect handouts from society meetings, seminars, webinars, and conferences. What do you do with those handouts? How can we best utilize this massive amount of information that we collect?

Legacy readers answered with their ideas. I want to spotlight some of these answers to give other readers ideas for the best use of the information they collect.

Technology to the Rescue

In some cases, readers use technology to annotate, organize, and store their handouts. Reader Joyce Ann Luallen-Black uses an E-Ink writing tablet called Remarkable which is similar to other tablets but is not for internet searching:

"I have a Remarkable and load the handout to my Remarkable. So I can then make notes on the handout, underline, use asterisks and even add note pages. I make my handouts a document that I can use. I can also save the file when I am done to my computer in my designated directory. Before getting my Remarkable, I always printed and made notes, highlighted, take notes during the presentation. Of course, when I am done, I can make a digital copy. When I get a really good syllabus and notes that I know I can use regularly, I keep it in the paper version for quick access. Now that I have my Remarkable, I can keep it stored there also for quick access."

Some readers utilize cloud storage programs like Dropbox to organize handouts. Geraldine Knatz writes:

"I have a separate folder in my Dropbox for handouts, and I categorize them by topic. If it is something that I just learned about that I want to act on quickly, I will print it out and keep it on my desk until I follow up."

The great thing about using cloud storage is that you have access to those materials anywhere you have the Internet. Some handouts can be great tools to use when researching at a repository because they provide instructions.

More than One Way to Use a Handout

Some readers have multiple ways of dealing with handouts depending on what the handout is for. One example is provided by Howland Davis:

"How I use handouts and syllabi: I have two situations. If it is a talk of interest, I keep notes on a separate page, which I then neatly add to the handout/syllabus (since my writing of notes is terrible and I have trouble deciphering them 24 hours later. On the other hand, I have kept a file of all handouts by presenters to the Summit County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society since 1994 with indexes by date and by keyword. These are available to our members (I should scan them all so they can be easily sent)."

Jerry Kocis downloads webinar handouts before the event so he can make notes and then scans the handout so it includes his annotations:

"I like to download and print the handout before the webinar starts. During the presentation, I try to follow along and take notes on the handout. Later, I scan the handout, which by this point contains my handwritten notes, and store the image as a .pdf file, sorted by topic, on an external hard drive that I use to maintain reference materials. Sometimes a presentation will touch upon more than one of the topics that I've established for reference notes. In that case, the .pdf file is stored under each of the topic categories to which it relates. And, yes, that external drive is backed up to OneDrive."

How Do You Use Handouts?

The benefit of a handout or syllabus is evident: it provides the participant with resources and information that they can use once the presentation is over. How you decide to take advantage of that resource is up to you. As our readers explain, there are several ways to utilize those pieces of information to enhance our genealogical research. What’s important is for you to decide now how to best use handouts and start utilizing that plan to make the most of what you learn.

 

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.

 


Even Brief Death Notices Can Provide Ancestor Clues

Even Brief Death Notices Can Provide Ancestor Clues

It would be wonderful to find a long biographical obituary for each of our ancestors replete with employment history, hobbies and family members.  For relatives who died before 1940, more often than not, that won't be the case. But if you look closely enough you can extract lots of good information from a quick death notice.

Let's take a look at the death notice for Christian Nunge which was published in the Pittsburgh Press in 1916.

Death Notice for Christian Nunge, 1916
Death Notice for Christian Nunge, 1916[1]

 

    NUNGE—On Tuesday, Nov. 20, 1916,
at 7:30 a. m., Christian Nunge, beloved
husband of Lizzie Nunge (nee Pfalz-
graf), in his 44th year.
    Funeral from his late residence, 2114
Lautner st., Troy Hill, Northside, on 
Friday afternoon at 2 o'clock. Mem-
bers of the Northside encampment, No.
251; Deborah Rebekah No. 27, I. O. O.
F.; Mozart lodge No. 971, I. O. O. F.;
Homewood commandery No. 378,
Knights of Malta; Grand Army band
and Pittsburgh Musical society and 
friends of the family are respectfully 
invited to attend.

First clue - date of death. Now we can go in search of an Allegheny County, Pennsylvania death certificate which would provide details about where he was born and list the names of his parents. 

Next - we have the name of his wife, Lizzie, and amazingly, her maiden name (Pfalzgraf)! With this information we can easily go in search of a marriage record. Combined with the next bit of information - "in his 44th year" - we can calculate his birth year to 1873 or so. We can also expect that he was married after his 18th birthday so we can narrow the search time frame for the marriage certificate to 1892 or later (up to 1916).

In the second paragraph of the death notice we get the funeral details and information about the people who are invited to attend. We learn that the funeral is taking place from his home and we even have his address - 2114 Lautner Street (Troy Hill, Northside of Pittsburgh). With this information we can look for the house on Google Maps and even use Google Street View to see what it looks like in more recent times.

NungeChristian-2114LautnerStreet
2114 Lautner Street, Pittsburgh, PA on the left in yellow.
Source: Google Street view; image date April 2012

 

2114 Lautner Street, Pittsburgh - Map
Map showing 2114 Lautner Street, Pittsburgh. Source - Google Maps, 2022

With the precise location of his residence at the time of his death we can check land records to see if he owned the property or rented it.

Lastly, based on all the members of organizations that were invited to the funeral we can presume that Christian Nunge was a member of the following groups:

  • Northside encampment, No. 251
  • I. O. O. F. - Deborah Rebekah No. 27
  • I. O. O. F. -  Mozart lodge No. 971
  • Knights of Malta - Homewood commandery No. 378
  • Grand Army band
  • Pittsburgh Musical society

To learn more about these organizations it might take Googling their names, searching old city directories and watching the webinar Decoding Secret Societies: Finding Your Male Fraternal Ancestors by Michael L. Strauss. I would probably also check for history specific to music or musicians in Pittsburgh at the turn of the century to see if that reveals any further clues.

From a relatively short death notice we were able to find many clues that will lead us to other records which in turn will reveal more about his life. Did you catch any clues that I missed? Let me know in the comments.

[1] Source: “Death Notices,” The Pittsburgh Press [PA], Tuesday Evening, 21 November 1916, page 28, column 5; digital image, MyHeritage.com (https://www.myheritage.com/ : accessed 6 October 2022), Newspaper collection.

 

Marian Pierre-Louis is a house history and genealogy professional who specializes in educational outreach through webinars, internet broadcasts and video. Her areas of expertise include house history research, southern New England research and solving brick walls. Marian is the Online Education Producer for Legacy Family Tree Webinars where she produces online genealogy education classes. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.


Downsizing (Part 1) - Getting the Process Rolling

Downsizing (Part 1) - Getting the Process Rolling

It’s a frequent topic of magazine and blog articles, downsizing. Whether you need to downsize to move to a smaller house, to make more room in your current home, or just to be better organized, chances are downsizing is something that has crossed your mind.

It’s also crossed mine as I’m currently in the middle of a large downsizing project. In my opinion, those countless articles about downsizing aren't as applicable to genealogists. I think downsizing is different for the keepers of the family history “stuff." Why? Because our homes are family archives with original documents, photographs, and irreplaceable heirlooms. It’s not about whether we should toss out clothes we haven’t worn in a year. We are talking about our personal belongings plus items that document our family history. For the genealogy-related items, we must carefully consider how to organize these items and what needs to happen to them, such as digitizing and preserving, storage, donating, or gifting to other family members. There’s also the mass of digital files we collect. It can be overwhelming.

One of the most important reasons to downsize and organize our genealogy is so that we can leave it to family members who will appreciate it and not be overwhelmed by the mass of foreign-to-them papers that make little to no sense. Downsizing can mean organizing and keeping what is necessary but not every scrap of paper we ever wrote on (yes, I fall into that category).

When I teach, I talk about genealogists as “information hoarders.” We think every piece of paper or information we ever found will be needed “one day.” (This is something I am especially guilty of). And because of this, we tend to have piles of photocopies and articles that we will never see that “one day” because we can’t find what we need!

That gets me back to the topic of downsizing. What should you consider when facing a long-term or short-term downsizing or organizing project?

Items of Sentimental Value

I’m not a professional organizer, so I reached out to someone who is. Janine Adams writes about organizing your family history on her Organize Your Family History website. As I sat stymied by items with a sentimental attachment, I asked her what I should consider as I start to “downsize.”

"When it comes to sentimental items, the more you keep of any one category, the less special any of it is. Less really can be more when you’re deciding what to take to your new home. Genealogists can have a tougher time letting go of family-history-related items because so much of it feels so special. I encourage you to start with the low-hanging fruit, the genealogy documents you’re storing on paper. If you have time during the downsizing process, you could scan your genealogy papers, so that they take up less space in your new home. Be sure and create a file-naming protocol and folder structure so you’ll be able to find the documents. For non-paper heirlooms, keep those that are really important to you and perhaps find new homes for the others with cousins or other relatives.

It can be hard to let go of stuff, but the key to being able to enjoy your new home is to get in touch with what’s important to you and keep only those items that support that. Making the tough decisions now will help you enjoy your new home more quickly."

I like what Janine said about the more you keep, the less special something is. That struck home with me as I looked at my adult son’s collection of toy trains and realized that I didn’t need to keep all of them to remember his childhood. The same is true for the boxes of genealogy photocopies I have from a cousin’s research, most of which is now online.

So with Janine’s words of wisdom and thinking about my downsizing project, I realized that I needed to start with that “low-hanging” fruit and then go from there. Janine has more tips about going digital with your genealogy on her website.

Now It’s Your Turn

What are your downsizing/organizing problems? What do you need to do with your genealogy so that it can be inherited or gifted to a family member or archive? How have you tackled this problem?

For more details on organizing see the more than 15 webinars on organization in the Legacy Library.

 

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.

 


A New Improved WorldCat to Help You Locate Books

A few weeks ago, WorldCat displayed a home screen banner promising that a new website was coming. The wait is over and WorldCat has a new look and new features that you'll want to explore for your genealogy research, no matter where it takes you.

A New Improved WorldCat to Help You Locate Books

Keep in mind that WorldCat is a worldwide library catalog. According to the new website it features:

  • 405 Million Books
  • 440 Million Articles
  • 25 Million Sound Recordings
  • 10 Million Musical Scores
  • 6 Million Maps
  • 30 Million Theses/Dissertations

What this means for you is a large catalog of materials that can help you learn more about your ancestor.

Membership Has Privileges

Before we look at a WorldCat search, let me reiterate something I have discussed on Legacy Tech Zone videos in the past. You don't have to have a free WorldCat account to use it, but there are benefits to one. All you need is an email address and password. Your experience using WorldCat will be richer, and you will have access to more features.

Transfer

If you already have a WorldCat account, you can transfer it to the new website. You will need to transfer it first before you sign-in. If you already have an account, do not start a new account because you will lose all your saved lists and libraries. Transferring allows you to retain everything you had saved on the old WorldCat website.

A WorldCat Search

Let me show you a search to get a sense of how WorldCat is improved. From the WorldCat home screen, I did a search for Snowflake, Arizona. The default search is Items (look to the left of the search box). But you can change that default search to Libraries or Lists if you have an account.

Homepage

I received 1336 results for my keyword search, which I can narrow down with the tools on the far left. This is a feature that was present in the old WorldCat website and on most library and archive catalog websites.

Search on snowflake

Because I’m signed in to my account and I have designated some libraries as favorites (including the Family History Library) I can narrow my search to show just my favorites. This is great especially when I'm planning a research trip. Narrowing by the Family History Library took my list down to 77 results.

FHL results

Here’s the card catalog view of one of my results. Notice that the list of libraries the book is found in has a makeover and on the right, I can also choose a place to buy the book.

Result

 

Even though I narrowed this list to the Family History Library, WorldCat still shows me other libraries with this book. In that list of libraries, the Family History Library has a green star because it is one of my favorite libraries.

FHL favorite

One of the benefits of WorldCat was some of the features it included like source citations. When you are looking at a result, under the book icon are three buttons. The first icon allows me to add the book to one of my WorldCat lists. This is where having a WorldCat account is critical. 

Buttons

 

Next, the button with a set of quote marks allows me to copy and paste a source citation.

Citation

Finally, the last button is a share button for Facebook, Twitter, email, or a link.

 

Not Just a Book Catalog

Archived

Don’t forget that WorldCat has more than just books. I narrowed my original search to Archival Materials, which opens up some great genealogically relevant records not found on the usual familiar genealogy websites.

Now's the Time to use WorldCat

Have you used WorldCat? Now’s a good time to start. With new, improved features and an updated look, it’s a must-have catalog for the genealogist.

 

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.

 


Visiting the National Funeral History Museum

Genealogists love cemeteries. But what about a funeral history museum? Going beyond finding an ancestor's final resting place and learning more about the records and customs that were part of our ancestor's death is a must. I'm always trying to learn more about the social history of our ancestors' lives. On a recent trip to Houston, Texas, I visited the National Museum of Funeral History to learn more about our ancestors' final days.

Visiting the National Funeral History Museum


National Museum of Funeral History 

The National Museum of Funeral History (NMFH) is a relatively new museum founded in 1992. The idea for the Museum "grew from Robert L. Waltrip's 25-year dream of establishing an institution to educate the public and preserve the heritage of death care."

The exhibits when I visited included:

  • George H.W. Bush Memorial Exhibit
  • The History of Cremation
  • Thanks For the Memories (celebrity deaths)
  • Celebrating The Lives and Deaths of The Popes
  • Day of the Dead / Día De Los Muertos
  • History Of Embalming
  • 19th Century Mourning
  • Presidential Funerals
  • Reflections On The Wall
  • Coffins And Caskets of The Past
  • Historical Hearses
  • A Life Well Lived: Fantasy Coffins from Ghana
  • Japanese Funerals
  • 9/11 And Fallen Heroes Tribute
  • Marsellus Casket Company
  • Jazz Funerals of New Orleans
  • History of Mourning Photography

That's a lot of exhibits! Many of the exhibits were small, but the museum is 30,500 square feet overall. So if you plan to visit, give yourself at least an hour, if not two. However, If you never plan on traveling to Houston, you can still see the museum via a virtual tour. The Museum's homepage includes information on purchasing tickets for in-person visits or virtual tours.

Museums offer much more than exhibits. The NMFH is no exception and includes an online library with articles to read, including:

  • Chicago Funeral Streetcars and Trains
  • Funeral Patent Models
  • Post Morten Photography
  • Spirit Houses of Alaska

Why Visit a Funeral Museum?

Let's address the elephant in the room. A funeral history museum isn't for everyone. Some (including my family) find it morbid and not a fun summer activity. So why visit?

As genealogists, we need to understand better the location, eras, and customs of our ancestral families. Museums like the NMFH do just that. In the cremation exhibit, I learned about the first crematory in the US, 19th-century views of the new "technology," and even saw a list with the names of the first people cremated in the US.

Cremation list

The mourning fashion exhibit included various mourning badges that I was unfamiliar with.

Mourning badge

Questions to Ask When Visiting

Museums should be part of your research plan. No matter what museum you are visiting, ask yourself:

  • What exhibits might help my genealogical or local history research?
  • What sources did the museum use to find the information in their exhibits?
  • How can I tell my ancestor's story in a way that incorporates what I learned at the museum?
  • Does the museum have a library or archive?
  • What publications does the museum offer?
  • What books or other educational materials can be found in the gift shop?
  • Does membership entitle you to publications, discounts, events, or tours?

Museums that focus on a topic provide an educational opportunity for family historians. Historical exhibits offer the chance to experience a specific place in time which can lead to other educational opportunities. Studying the exhibits of a funeral museum provides family historians with a taste of what death was like for our families in the past and might lead to new-to-you record sets.

 

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.