Finding Genealogy Clues in Coroner’s Records

Did your ancestor meet a tragic or untimely death? Perhaps you tracked down his or her death certificate and it included a notation about an autopsy, and/or a medical certificate of death, with the signature of a coroner or medical examiner.

Death certificates are staples of genealogy research, but many times there is more to the story. Coroners investigated all types of unexplained deaths from drug overdoses to drownings, mishaps to murders, making their records useful for learning more about an ancestor.

A coroner is a public official whose primary function is to investigate by inquest any death thought to be of other than natural causes or occur under unusual circumstances. Sometimes an elected position, the Office of the Coroner dates back to the Anglo-Saxon Common Law system of government, making it the oldest administrative office. This is sometimes an elected position, and the individual may not have a medical background. The powers and responsibilities have changed over the years.

In general, coroners look at all available information to determine the cause of death (natural or not), decide whether to order a post-mortem examination (autopsy) if there are questions around the cause of death, and hold an inquest if the post-mortem shows the death was due to something other than natural causes. The purpose of an inquest is to find out the facts not for judging who was to blame. In many areas, the Office of the Coroner was abolished and replaced with the office of the Medical Examiner. Medical Examiners are appointed to their position and almost always are physicians (learn more here).

Bain News Service, Publisher. Coroner Israel L. Feinberg. , . [No Date Recorded on Caption Card] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, (Accessed May 08, 2017.)


In addition to detailing specifics about an ancestor’s demise, coroner's records can also reveal plenty of genealogy research clues. Typically, a coroner used a standard pre-printed form. The contents and format will vary by locality and time period may include some or all of the following:

Inquest form (details on deceased). If the coroner determined the cause of death was criminal negligence or murder, he held an inquest.
• Testimony/ies: During an inquest, the court appointed jurors and called witnesses to testify.
• Affidavit (testimony/deposition). Some of these witnesses may have been relatives, and in addition to their names and relationships to the deceased, the records might include their addresses.
• Postmortem findings (autopsies).
• Necrology report; Pathology Report, Toxicology Report
• Proof of identity

How to Locate Coroner’s Records

Coroner and medical examiner files generally are open to the public. If the ones you need are not, family history research may be a legitimate reason for access (check the local laws). Here are a few suggestions for starting your search.

First, check home and family sources (documents, photographs, etc.) and ask relatives if they can remember details about any unusual or suspicious deaths.

A quick Google search on the county and state, plus “coroner case files” or “coroner records” will usually turn up a website for the coroner or medical examiner office in the jurisdiction where the death occurred. Use online databases provided by the county or other government office. Sites such as Cyndi’s List and USGenWeb are also great resources for finding other websites. Also, the Online Searchable Death Indexes and Records site by Joe Beine offers a quick glance at different types of death records available online for free or in subscription databases. The site is organized by state and under Indiana has a link the Monroe County Indiana Obituary Index, which includes a downloadable PDF file of The Monroe County Coroner’s Reports (1896 – 1935) in a summarized table format. Below is a sample page.

[Image courtesy of Monroe County Public Libary; accessed 17 May 2019]

For older records, consider searching at state, regional, local or university libraries and repositories, or genealogical and historical societies. For example, I have had success with locating coroner case files for several ancestors in the Allegheny County Coroner Case Files housed at the University of Pittsburgh. You can view samples of their case files here.

Also, consult the FamilySearch Wiki online (do a keyword search for “Coroner’s Records”) to find digitized records now available online, or links to other FamilySearch Historical Records Published Collections. And don’t forget to check the Family History Library (FHL) catalog for microfilm available for viewing at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City (do a place search for the locality and look under vital records. For example, this digitized image from Coroner's records, Waterbury District, 1917-1931 (New Haven, Connecticut) on Family Search offers details about Irving Webster, who died on 1 January 1931 in New Hartford, from “a saw wound of the skull by being struck by a flying fragment of a circular saw.”

[Image credit: FamilySearch <accessed 17 May 2019>.


Scour historical newspapers for articles about your ancestor. Check websites such as to learn about disasters or tragic events, or search for blogs that discuss murder, suicides and other suspicious deaths in a locality. Google Books can turn up unusual record sets or books. For example, I found an eBook History of Pittsburgh & Environs and in it there is a photograph of, Samuel L. Jamison the Coroner for Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, whose signature appears on reports I located for two separate ancestors.

Researching Coroner's records may take some extra time and effort, but if you are lucky to find a file or report for your ancestor, there may be useful genealogy clues included to help you solve some of those family history mysteries.

To learn more about this record set, you may wish to check out my webinar on “Cause of Death: Using Coroner's Records for Genealogy” (available for subscribers in the Legacy Family Tree Webinars Library).


For over two decades, author and instructor Lisa A. Alzo has been educating and inspiring genealogists around the world to research and write about their ancestors. She has presented 45 webinars for Legacy Family Tree Webinars. Lisa coaches aspiring family history writers through her online courses at Research, Write, Connect



Where did the children go?


There are some U.S. states that give researchers more problems than other states. Lately I've been researching my Pennsylvania ancestors. Before 1900, Pennsylvania gives me a lot of trouble. Here's an example of one of my problems.

In 1857 my 3rd great grandfather, Simon George, died Indiana County, Pennsylvania. At least we can say that he disappears from census and other records by 1860. But Simon is not my problem, at least not for today. What bothers me is that Simon left behind a 33 year old wife, Lydia, and four small children: Jacob, age 10; Sarah, age 8; Ann, age 6, and Susan Jane, age 5. I can't find any trace of Lydia or her children in the 1860 US Federal Census. My mind doesn't seem to want to let go of missing children so here's f I'm doing to find them.

Start with what you know

I started with what I do know for sure - that the family lived together (Simon, Lydia and the first two children born by 1850, Jacob and Sarah) in Brush Valley, Pennsylvania in 1850. It would make most sense to start by searching the 1860 census for the family in Brush Valley also, but 10 years is long time for a mother with four young children. I carefully looked for every Lydia without a surname (in case she got remarried) and with four children matching the names, Jacob, Sarah, Ann and Susan. No results. Strike one.

I also know that Jacob, my 2nd great grandfather, lived in Burrell, Indiana, Pennsylvania in 1870 with his new wife. Perhaps the family had moved to that town which is the next town over? I searched for every Jacob George in Burrell and all of Indiana County in the 1860 US Federal Census. Strike two.

Get on to a different website

Next, in an attempt to find different information, I decided to use a different database site. In an unusual move I chose My thought was, if I could locate one of the family members in a cemetery maybe by searching the same cemetery I could find the rest. FindaGrave has a handy feature that lets you search the same surname in the same cemetery making searching very easy. You can also then switch over to searching any name in the cemetery.

Jacob George, the son, died in 1909 and is buried in Greenwood cemetery in Indiana, Indiana County, Pennsylvania. There are many Georges buried in Greenwood cemetery. Unfortunately, none of them are his siblings or parents. A general search of for the father, Simon George, in Indiana County, Pennsylvania came up empty. Strike three.

Broadening Out the Search

I was beginning to think that the whole family was hiding behind a new husband's surname not just potentially Lydia. Sometimes census enumerators wrote all the children down with the surname of the head of the household. They weren't helping descendants and future genealogists!

I focused in on Jacob, the only son, and my direct ancestor. I constructed searches with varying information such as a last name and a birth year. And then simply Jacob with a birth year (plus or minus a few years). I had to carefully scan every entry looking to find the other members of the family - mother, Lydia and sisters Sarah, Ann and Susan.


There in the 1860 US Federal Census I found Jacob Murphy born about 1847 listed in the household of Jacob Murphy, head, in Brush Valley. Ironically you might think they were father and son because of their sharing the same name. The rest of the household had wife Lidia (lesson to me to be more careful to look for misspellings!), Sarah, Ann, Susanna and one year old (what looks like) Bullian Murphy. I would imagine the name were really William Murphy but the enumerators Bs and Ws are clearly different on the page. So it appears that Lydia George got remarried to Jacob Murphy sometime between 1857 and 1860.

Post Script

I was relieved to finally solve the mystery of Lydia and her family in the 1860 census. But one mystery leads to the next. As quickly as they are found, they disappear. Jacob Murphy, Lydia and 1 year old son disappear and are no where to be found in the United States in the 1870 US Federal Census. That's another mystery for another day. Some day I will discover when and where Lydia died.

Lessons to Learn

Today's genealogy databases and search engines are very good but they can't make up for errors written into the census. If you are having difficulty finding your ancestors get creative with the spellings of their names (or "loosen" up the search parameters so that you don't search for "exact") or consider that, like in my case, they were hiding under a different surname. Any time there are mixed families in one household this can happen. Not just with second families but also with households that contain grandparents and grandchildren with different surnames. In this case, stop focusing on the surname and search instead for the first name and a birth date.

How would you have solved my dilemma? What tricks do you have up your sleeve for finding missing ancestors in a census record?


Marian Pierre-Louis is the Online Education Producer for Legacy Family Tree Webinars. She hosts the monthly evening webinar on the second Tuesday of each month. She is also the host of The Genealogy Professional podcast. Her areas of expertise include house history research and southern New England research. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.

OneNote Q&A: Your Questions Answered

This is a special guest post from Legacy Webinar Speaker, Tessa Keough.

Using OneNote with Genealogy

We got lots of questions during last Wednesday’s webinar Using Microsoft OneNote with Your Genealogy. I answered most of them, but a few of them only partially and one or two stumped me. As promised, I did a bit of sleuthing and found the complete answers for you. Thanks to everyone who attended the webinar, asked questions, and posted comments after the webinar. I really appreciated the feedback and hope you will give Microsoft OneNote a try. I think you will enjoy using it as one of your genealogy tools.

1. Stanley asked "Does OneNote support footnotes?"

I did not use OneNote for writing and publishing my work (I use Microsoft Word or Scrivener) but was aware that OneNote has a style entitled “citation.” I took a look at citation – it simply formats what you type into 9 point font. If you select Home, then select superscript at Basic Text features, you could add a footnote number at the end of a sentence and manually add a footnote (I wouldn’t). So, No, OneNote does not have a footnote feature, as Microsoft Word does.

Best Tool

2. Jerry asked "If you have shared a OneNote Notebook, can the person who has privileges share your Notebook with others without your permission?"

There is a difference between Sharing with "Can View" permission and "Can Edit" permission.

Notebooks marked Can View – person has view-only permission so they can only open and read the notebook. They cannot move it or change it.

Notebooks marked Can Edit – person and move and copy the notebook and share the notebook with others.

While you could add a message asking recipient not to share without permission or a footer to your notes with copyright information – you need to Share with Can Edit permissions with those you trust.

3. Clara asked "Does OneNote have storage limitations?"

The free OneDrive account comes with 5 GB of storage and theOffice 365 accountOneDrive account has 1 TB of storage. If you don’t have a subscription to an Office 365 account and are interested in storage only, you can purchase 50 GB of additional storage for $1.99/month.

4. Stanley asked "If you attach a file in OneNote, does it need to be located on OneDrive?"

If you are using the OneNote App and saving to OneDrive, you would need to save your PDF to OneDrive as well if you are linking the document to OneNote. If you are adding the PDF file, it will be on the page in your OneNote (and synced to OneDrive) so the PDF would not need to be located on OneDrive.

5. Matt asked "What the difference is between Windows Snipping Tool and OneNote Clipper and which would be best to use with OneNote?"

The OneNote Clipper is specifically designed work with OneNote AND to clip from your Internet browser to OneNote – it sits in the upper right hand corner of the browser ready to work (full page, region, article, or bookmark). The clip contains the source as a link, and you can add a note to the clip before clipping. You can also choose where to file the clip (you choose the notebook and section). If you are doing online research, use the tool designed to clip and file automagically to your OneNote notebook(s).

The Windows Snipping Tool sits on your taskbar and can snip anything from a browser’s full screen, window, or a region. However, that snip is then saved as a capture (in the form of a png, gif, jpg, or single file HTML) in Windows Photos (by default). You must name and file that capture (on your desktop, with images, in a document, etc.) but the snip does not contain source information. Note that theWindows Snipping Tool is moving and will now be Windows Snip & Sketch. It looks like it has the same features; however, your capture is now called an annotation and it includes the date. An added feature is three choices for a time delay before snipping. The look of Windows Snip & Sketch is similar to the updated Windows Photos and Windows Printing function.

Clipper vs Snipper

6. Beverly asked "How to find which version of OneNote you are using?

In OneNote 2016 (or earlier versions) you will select File (on the Ribbon) and select Account. Your Office product information includes About OneNote, listing the version and build. In OneNote App you will select the three dots in the upper right hand corner and select Settings and select Account. Your OneNote product information lists the version and build.

7. Finally, Marnie and Linda both asked "Are there size limitations for OneNote?" – page limits, section limits, and notebook limits.

There is no limit as to how many notes you can take in OneNote, you are only limited by how much storage you have. If you use the OneNote App, check your OneDrive storage limit. If you use OneNote 2016 (or earlier versions) and keep your notebooks on your local drive only – check your hard drive storage limits. And from Microsoft OneNote Support - there are no maximum number of notebooks, sections, and pages you can create in OneNote AND the maximum size of a file upload to OneDrive is 10GB. I think you have plenty of note creating and note keeping storage available!


Tessa Keough takes advantage of 21st century technology to work on her own family history as well as engage in specialized projects. These projects include a one-place study of her grandfather's native community of Plate Cove East, Newfoundland, and a one-name study of her Keough surname. Check out her webinars in the Legacy Family Tree Webinars Library.

Try Goodreads for Genealogy Inspiration

Are you using Goodreads ? I will admit that I wasn’t until recently. It was one of those websites that I signed up for years ago and then almost as soon as I had, I forgot about it. Recently my nephew helped me to see the importance of Goodreads and how it can be helpful to family historians.

Goodreads website

First, let me explain what Goodreads is. The Goodreads About Us web page states, “Goodreads is the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations. Our mission is to help people find and share books they love.” Wikipedia  explains that Goodreads is “a social cataloging website that allows individuals to freely search its database of books, annotations, and reviews. Users can sign up and register books to generate library catalogs and reading lists. They can also create their own groups of book suggestions, surveys, polls, blogs, and discussions.”

To be honest, even though I LOVE books, these website descriptions weren’t enough to interest me. What did finally interest me was the ability to create virtual  “bookshelves” of books I want to read or have read. Goodreads does more than this but I want to focus on this aspect of the app and how it can help family historians.

What really convinced me to give the Goodreads app a try were the experiences and enthusiasm of  those around me. My brother and nephew use it to find new books and track their reading. My brother even challenged himself to set a reading goal for 2018 which you can do via the Goodreads Reading Challenge (you can find this under the More link on the app). Legacy Webinar speaker and archivist Melissa LeMaster Barker (The Archive Lady) says, “I am an avid user of the Goodreads app. I love the fact that I can access my collection of genealogy and archives books that I own anytime and anywhere. This comes in real handy when I am at the bookstore and I am wondering if I have a particular book, I just check the Goodreads app. Also, if I come across a source citation for a particular book in a reference work at the archives, I can check to see if I have that book by checking the app. I can also add genealogy and archives related books to my “to-read list” by just accessing the app and adding the book to the list.”

So after talking to friends and family it became obvious to me that Goodreads would enhance my reading life by tracking genealogy books I read and finding new books  to read to learn about my ancestors' life.

Getting Started

How do you get started with Goodreads? You can sign up for a free account on the Goodreads website or through the mobile app. I suggest that you use the app since that will give you the tools you need away from home at libraries and bookstores. To use the app you will need to first download the free Goodreads app  from your mobile device’s app store. Although you could just use the desktop version of the service, the Scan  feature is only available using a mobile device with a camera (more on this later).

Searching for Books

The Goodreads app is fairly simple to use. Why I fell in love with it is its ability to add books to virtual bookshelves labeled, Want to Read, Currently Reading, and Read. Goodreads allows you to create additional bookshelves. I, of course, created a “genealogy” shelf but I could see this being useful for more specific genealogical topics (think DNA or Eastern European Genealogy). You can view your shelves and the books on them by clicking on My Books at the bottom toolbar of the app.


Two ways to add books to your bookshelves are by searching for a book (click Search at the bottom of the app and then enter a title or author) or  click on the books featured on the Goodreads  home page in  categories like  Trending and Popular or based on what you have read or what your “friends” have read/reading/ or want to read. Yes, Goodreads allows you to “friend” others (family, real life friends, those with similar reading interests) just as you do on other social media websites.

My books 2


Another way to add books is actually my favorite part of the mobile app,  the Scan feature. I don’t know about you but when I’m at a bookstore, the books I’m interested in far outweigh the amount of money I have to spend. So when that happens, you can scan the book’s barcode (look at the back cover) and Goodreads will identify that book and allow you to place it on a bookshelf. Easy! Now when I’m at a library,conference, a bookstore, or even a friend’s house, I can easily upload the books I want to read. And, I can even upload books in my own collection. What a great idea since I’ve bought the same book more than once on several occasions!

Scan book 2

There’s More

I’m just touching the surface of what you can do with Goodreads. Goodreads has other features that will enhance your genealogy as well including the ability to join groups, review what you’ve read,  and connect your Kindle with Goodreads (Goodreads is owned by Amazon) so that you can view your Kindle notes and highlights on the Goodreads app (to learn more about using Goodreads and Kindle together see the Goodreads Help subjects on this topic.)

Use Goodreads for your genealogy? Yes! Keep track of your 2019 genealogy reading goals by using Goodreads to track what you have read and what you want to read.


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.

Preservation vs Conservation: What's The Difference?

Preservation vs Conservation: What's The Difference?

The two words, "Preservation" and "Conservation" can be confusing. Many people use them interchangeably but truthfully they are not the same.

Let's Talk About It!

First, let's look at some definitions:

Preservation: n. ~ 1. The professional discipline of protecting materials by minimizing chemical and physical deterioration and damage to minimize the loss of information and to extend the life of cultural property. - 2. The act of keeping from harm, injury, decay, or destruction, especially through noninvasive treatment. - 3. Law · The obligation to protect records and other materials potentially relevant to litigation and subject to discovery.

Conservation: n. ~ 1. The repair or stabilization of materials through chemical or physical treatment to ensure that they survive in their original form as long as possible. - 2. The profession devoted to the preservation of cultural property for the future through examination, documentation, treatment, and preventive care, supported by research and education.

(Source: Society of American Archivists Glossary Terms

My easy definition and explanation that I like to give to genealogists for these two terms is:

"To preserve something is to protect it, to conserve something is to fix it".

Many genealogists have made commitments to organizing their genealogical records in 2019. This could mean filing piles of paper, putting photos in archival sleeves and putting everything in an archival box or filing cabinet. This is preservation at its best! You are "keeping from harm, injury, decay, or destruction" all those wonderful genealogical records that you have in your care. Preserving those records, photographs, memorabilia and family heirlooms for future generations should be part of every genealogist’s commitment to family history. I always encourage genealogists to actively play a part in preserving the family records in their care. It is also important to educate ourselves on the best practices for records preservation. Knowing how to take care of our precious family records will hopefully ensure that they will survive for generations to come.

Knowing what materials to purchase and how to store our records can make a lasting impact on the survival of these records. Obtaining archival materials such as acid free sleeves, archival boxes and archival tissue paper, just to name a few, can mean the difference in the preservation or destruction of our records. I highly recommend purchasing archival materials from reputable archival stores (see list below). It is important to purchase materials that are acid free, lignin free and that have passed the P.A.T. All three of these should be listed on the packaging or in the description of the product. “P.A.T.” is an acronym that stands for Photographic Activity Test. This is a standard procedure to check for potential chemical reactions between materials used to make enclosures and photographs stored in those enclosures. Any archival materials that lists all three of these standards or at least two of the three is an excellent choice to use for your family records.

Now, let's say you have a photograph that is damaged and you want to "repair or stabilize its original form", then you would need to conserve this photograph. Completing conservation work on your own is not recommended.  Most likely, you will want to seek out a professional conservator that specializes in repairing and fixing photographs. Many genealogists don't feel comfortable doing these types of repairs and if you don't have the knowledge of the materials and methods of conservation, then you need to leave it to the professionals. This is also true when it comes to conservation of paper records. You do not want to cause more damage by doing it yourself. Archivists also seek out professional conservators to help with conservation challenges at their facilities. I have had several items at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives sent out to a conservator for repairs with fantastic results. Knowing our limitations and seeking professional conservation help is the best decision when trying to repair a document or photograph.

Where to find a conservator?

I suggest contacting the state archive in the state where you live. In the United States, all 50 states have a state archives. Most of them have a professional conservator on staff that works with the records in their facility. Some of these conservators will also take on projects from the public. If they do not accept projects from the public, they should be able to give you a reference name and contact information for one they recommend.  There could be different conservators for different mediums such as one for only photographs, one for only documents, etc.

I would also suggest going to the website:

American Institute for Conservation ( They have a section entitled "Find a Conservator" where you can locate someone in your area to help with your conservation problem. You can search for a conservator by “Geographic Location” by entering your postal code and choosing a specific mile radius to search. The site will give you names of conservators in your area that can be of help. There is also an option to choose what type of medium you need help with such as books and paper, textiles, electronic media, etc. There is also a search feature where you can locate a conservator by a specific name. If you know the name of a conservator or were given a name by the state archives, you can search for them. There is even an option to locate a conservator that is willing to travel to where you are to perform the necessary conservation work.

Now you know the different between Preservation and Conservation. I encourage all genealogists to actively preserve your genealogy research, documents, photographs and family heirlooms.

Archival Stores

Gaylord Archival

Hollinger Metal Edge

University Products

Light Impressions


Archival Methods

Print File Archival Storage

To learn more about archives and genealogy visit the Archives section of the Legacy Family Tree Webinars site.

Melissa Barker, The Archive Lady, is a Certified Archives Manager currently working as the Houston County, Tennessee Archivist. She is also a professional genealogist and lectures, teaches and writes about the genealogy research process, researching in archives and records preservation. She has been researching her own family history for the past 28 years.

Why You Should Be Using WorldCat Now!

Are you familiar with WorldCat? No? One of my favorite resources, WorldCat  is an important tool for genealogy researchers that can make the difference between finding information you need to document your ancestor and coming up short.


WorldCat describes itself as “the world's largest network of library content and services. WorldCat libraries are dedicated to providing access to their resources on the Web, where most people start their search for information.”[1] What’s important for you to know is that WorldCat is the world’s library catalog with 2 billion items from 10,000 libraries.


Two billion items. Don’t assume that means two billion books because it doesn’t. No doubt that would be great but like other library catalogs, it includes periodicals, audio recordings, photographs, thesis/dissertations, archival materials, articles, newspapers, and more. So basically all the materials that we should be searching for when we research our ancestors.

What can you find on WorldCat?:

  • Local histories for the place your ancestor lived
  • Transcriptions of cemeteries
  • Maps
  • Indexes for vital records
  • Images of your ancestors hometown
  • Family history books
  • Dissertations detailing the historical era of your ancestor
  • Archival materials that document your ancestor’s membership group

Basically you can find anything having to do with the place, occupation, religion, or events that your ancestor was involved in.

Start using WorldCat by searching your ancestor’s hometown. Now, when I say search by a location that really involves more than one search. So for example, Independence, California is in Inyo County. So I would want to search for “Independence, California” and “Inyo County.” But then I also need to consider regional nicknames for that place which include “Eastern Sierra” and the “Owens Valley.” These searches will help me find records that detail the local history and genealogical records of that area.

Did you notice that I didn’t tell you to search by your ancestor’s name? Why? Because this is a library catalog and not a genealogy database. Genealogy databases are filled with records that are indexed by name, date, and place. Library catalogs are different. So unless your ancestor was famous, infamous or an author, stick to searching by using  keywords that describe a place, an occupation, religious affiliation, or an event.

Let me give you an example of why WorldCat is important.

If I do a search on “Snowflake, Arizona” I receive over 500 results. Snowflake is a small town in northern Arizona where my maternal family lived. These results include all kinds of histories including some religious histories that I’ve seen at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

WorldCat Snowflake all Results

One of the items found in this search is a genealogical report of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the time period my family, including my maternal grandmother, lived in Snowflake. Notice where this item is located.

Worldcat genelaogy report

Now, let me narrow my search so that I'm just looking at archival materials. This search results in  144 hits including interviews and diaries. One of the more interesting archival materials is bank records covering the years 1890-1909 found at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. None of those diaries or letters appear to be written by someone related to me but because this was a small town, it’s possible they knew my ancestors and mentioned them and would be worth checking into.

WorldCat Snowflake Results

So why should you use WorldCat for every research project? WorldCat is where you can identify histories and other materials important to your research. You already know that the FamilySearch Catalog is an essential part of your research. Guess what? FamilySearch’s Catalog is also available in WorldCat. Which for you means that if you find something in the FamilySearch Catalog that is only available onsite at the Family History Library, check WorldCat for the possibility of a closer repository with that same item.

Get Started with WorldCat!

Don’t take my word for it, start using WorldCat now. Conduct a search on the place where your ancestor lived. If too many results appear, narrow it by choosing a specific format (on the left-hand side of the page). See what it can help you identify that you didn’t know about before.


[1] “What is WorldCat,” WorldCat ( accessed 7 December 2018).


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.


4 Places to Search for Clues for Maiden Names

4 Places to Search  for Clues for Maiden Names

Researching our female ancestors can be a challenge!

Early laws and traditions meant females did not generate many of their own records.

Names changed upon marriage and multiple marriages meant multiple surnames. Determining your ancestor's maiden name can be especially difficult. 

Often we need to take our focus off of our female ancestor and place that focus on the people around her. Shifting your focus can lead to clues about that elusive female ancestor and her maiden name.

4 Places to Search For Clues to the Maiden Name of Your Female Ancestors

1. Check the Marriage Record

Yes, checking the marriage record is an obvious first step, but did you glean all the clues important to your search? If a marriage is a second marriage, her married name may be the one listed on the document - not her maiden name. In this case, look closely at all of the names on the document. Identify each person and their relationship to the couple. Close family friends of both the bride and the groom often served as witnesses. Potentially, a male relative of the bride can be found providing the researcher with a new research path.

Holt Haley Marriage photoWedding Photo of Clara Holt and William Haley - 1883

2. Research a Female Ancestor's Death Certificate (or Death Record)

Death certificates in the U.S. are relatively "modern" genealogy record. Most states did not begin using a formal death certificate until the 1900's. Death certificates did (and still do) ask for the deceased's parents' names including the mother's maiden name.

If the maiden name is not listed, take a close look at the informant's name. The informant is often someone related to the deceased and could be a brother, uncle, etc. Determine the relationship of the informant to the deceased and research this person if warranted.

3. Explore a Female Ancestor's Children

A woman can be found in her children's records. Tip:  Thoroughly research ALL of a woman's children.

Check each child's death certificate or death record for the mother's maiden name. For example, a search for the maiden name of Harriet Richardson (wife of Daniel T. Richardson), can include analyzing the death certificate of the couple's daughter Esther Richardson Talbott. Harriet Richardson's maiden name is revealed as Elliott.

Example of Mother's Maiden Name State on Death Certificate (Source:

Explore the middle names of a woman's children. In the U.S., using a mother's maiden name for a child's middle name was (and still is) a common practice.  If you are researching outside the U.S. or within a specific ethnic group, learn the common naming patterns. You will then be able to pick out maiden name clues if they exist.

4. Analyze Your Ancestor's Census Record

Census records are not typically a place we search for a woman's maiden name. Clues to a maiden name do exist within these records, but can easily be overlooked.

Once you find your married female ancestor in a census record, look closely at the members of the household. Are one or both of her elderly parents living in the home? A brother and/or an unmarried sister perhaps? 

Alternatively, look at the neighbors. Do you find any potential candidates for her parents? Is anyone about the right age to be her parents living close?  Anyone with a surname that appears as one of her children's names? Research those individual's records for potential clues to your ancestor.

Finding a female ancestor's maiden name is frequently not an easy or quick task. Researchers can easily miss clues to her name in the records.  Shifting the focus of your research to those individuals surrounding your female ancestor can provide the researcher with clues to continue the search.


Learn more about Finding Females in these seven Legacy webinars.


Lisa Lisson is the writer, educator and genealogy researcher behind Are You My Cousin? and believes researching your genealogy does not have to be overwhelming. All you need is a solid plan, a genealogy toolbox and the knowledge to use those tools. Lisa can be found online at , Facebook and Pinterest


Bookmarking - Using the Facebook Save Feature

Are you using Facebook? There are many reasons to use Facebook for genealogy. First of all it’s a great place to get your Legacy Family Tree questions answered. But you probably knew that.

We all have our own reasons for using Facebook but one of mine is to keep up on genealogy resources. I also love to find recipes,  history, and even interesting books to read when I scroll through my Facebook News Feed. I like that Facebook provides me a place to read more about topics that are of interest to me. But let’s face it, we don’t always have time to read an entire article. In some cases I catch a glance at Facebook while I’m waiting at an appointment or when I’m inbetween other tasks. So how can we "bookmark" those Facebook posts that we want to refer to at a later time?

You can Save them.

Facebook has a feature called Saved that allows you to save posts. This feature works slightly different depending on whether you are using it via the website (as you might if you're at your computer) or on the Facebook mobile app. So let’s first  take a look at how it works via the website.

Saving Posts via a Computer

To save a Facebook post, click on the three horizontal dots at the top right of the post. This will reveal a drop-down menu and one of the choices in that menu is to "Save post" (or "Save link"). Click on "Save post." Please note that you can save more than posts. You can also save events, links, and videos.


Now, to see where that post went, go to your Facebook News Feed page, and on the left side under the Explore header, click on Saved (it has a purple bookmark icon next to it).


Your Saved Page on Facebook will show your "Collections" and  all of the posts you have saved.


“Collections” are just that. They are a collection of saved posts that you curate around a topic. They are a way for you to save items that are alike in one group. So you might have a Legacy collection or a Recipes collection or a Social Media Tips collection. You can also add your Saved items to more than one collection if you'd like. You can also delete items once you are done with them.

FB Legacy Collection

Saving Posts via a Mobile Device

If you are using the Facebook mobile app and want to save a post, link, video, or an event, save the items just as you would using Facebook on your computer by clicking the three dots.



When you save, a menu will appear prompting you to add your newly saved item to an existing collection or create a new collection. 



Once you save it to the collection of your choice, click Done.


I love this Facebook feature and most admit I use it frequently. Even if it’s something I want to save temporarily, it’s so much easier to save it to a collection and then later delete it then to try to find where I originally saw it. Consider making a few collections right now for your genealogy interests and see how saving on Facebook can help you make the most of your social media time.


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 Write a Family History Narrative in 30 Days

Is writing a family history one of the items on your to-do list? Perhaps you have self-doubts and fears about how to get started, what to write, and how to put it all together in a compelling way? The only way to overcome the obstacle of facing the blank page is to make a commitment and start writing! Here are seven tips to help you write a family history narrative in 30 days.

  How to Write a Family History Narrative in 30 Days

1.   Give yourself a deadline. Since 1999, National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) has served as an online writing forum where registered participants begin working on November 1 towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. See I have participated in NANOWRIMO twice. If this sounds intimidating, you can create your own version of NANOWRIMO for your family history writing project. While you don’t have to write 50,000 words, you can commit to producing a draft of your narrative using the November 1-30 deadline as a guide. The pace you set is entirely up to you.

2. Find your focus. Many family historians mistakenly think they have to write one large manuscript in their first attempt. It is much easier to focus on a smaller project such as ancestor profiles, or on one event or time period of an ancestor’s life (immigration story, military service, work history, etc.). You will feel less overwhelmed working on a smaller project and more likely to finish what you've started.

3. Set SMART writing goals. One way to focus your project is to set SMART Goals. SMART is an acronym giving criteria to guide in the setting of objective. There are a number of interpretations of the acronym's meaning, the most common designations are: Specific, Measurable, Relevant (Realistic), Attainable (Actionable) and Time-Bound. Here is an example of a SMART writing goal for writing four ancestor profiles in 30 days.

  • Specific - I will write a profile for each of my grandparents (4 profiles). I will work on one profile per week.
  • Measurable – I will write a profile for each of my grandparents. I will write 1200-1500 words for each profile.
  • Attainable (Actionable) - I will write a 1200-1500-word profile for each of my grandparents. For each profile, I will write 250-300 words per day for 5 days.
  • Relevant (Realistic) – I will write a 1200-1500-word profile for each of my grandparents. I will work on one profile per week. I will do this by writing 250-300 words per day for five days.
  • Time-Bound – I will write a 1200-1500-word profile for each of my grandparents. I will work on one profile per week. I will do this by writing 250-300 words per day for five days. I will have all four profiles completed by 30 November 2018.

By breaking your writing tasks into smaller daily or weekly goals the process becomes less overwhelming and you are more likely to stick to your writing routine.

4. Craft a storyboard. A storyboard is a way to visually outline or map out your writing project. It helps to plot out your family history writing project using index cards or a project management tool like Scrivener.  (To learn more about Scrivener, watch my five-part Legacy Family Tree webinar series). The objective of the storyboard is to jot down the main events of the story you are telling, then arrange them in chronological order (first to last). If you need to, you can then move them around to create another structure that makes sense for the story, such as a flashback. Virtual index cards created with a program such as Scrivener make this task much easier. The index cards should be used to describe your scenes or write down key points you want to include, but should not contain long sections of text.  Try to stick to one scene, event, or major point per card. For storyboarding tips, watch the Legacy Family Tree Webinar “Storyboard Your Family History.”

5. Write daily. The premise of NANOWRIMO is to write every day. It is important that you schedule time to write. Block out writing time on your calendar and make every effort to adhere to that appointment just as you would any other commitment. To succeed at finishing your family history narrative you must be willing to put in the time and effort. If you need to block out distractions (social media, e-mail, etc.) choose a quiet place to write where you can shut the door and turn off all electronic devices, or if you need to leave the house, consider going to a library or coffee shop to write. If you are really serious about distraction-free writing, edit lock tools such as The Most Dangerous Writing App or WriteorDie force you to set parameters and stick to them otherwise your words will disappear!

6. Rest and revise. Once you have a draft, it is a good idea to let your writing rest. Put your draft aside, and have someone you trust read your prose and provide feedback. Then, go through your narrative and fix the punctuation, grammar, and any other problem areas. When you finish, you can decide whether to create a book (print or electronic) using a print-on-demand service such as Lulu, or share your stories on a blog. 

7. Remember: You Can’t Edit a Blank Page! You don’t have to write the perfect narrative the first time you sit down at your keyboard. Avoid the paralysis of perfectionism. Just write something. Once you start you will build up a momentum to finish the story.

While November is a great time to start that family history narrative (just in time for holiday gift-giving), you can follow these seven steps during any 30-day time period.

No more excuses! Stop procrastinating and start writing!


For over two decades, author and instructor Lisa A. Alzo has been educating and inspiring genealogists around the world to research and write about their ancestors. She has presented 44 webinars for Legacy Family Tree Webinars, include nine on Writing and Publishing. Lisa coaches aspiring family history writers through her online courses at Research, Write, Connect 


3 Underused Resources for Finding Eastern European Ancestors

3 Underused Resources for Finding Eastern European Ancestors

While church registers are the most popular and useful sources for tracing most Eastern European ancestors, and civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths provide even more details, there are other record groups to be searched that may prove useful. If you are coming up empty in the search for vital records in a particular locality, here are three of the most underused resources to put on your research list.

1. Census Records

As you probably learned from exploring U.S. or Canadian census records for your ancestors, the prime value of census records is for grouping families together. In Eastern Europe, censuses were usually taken for tax and military conscription purposes. Searching census records can be hit or miss depending on the country, the region, and whether or not registers have been preserved. Because of shifting borders and the destruction of records during wartime hostilities, only relatively small portions of certain record groups survived in many instances. Therefore, you should check registers of births, marriages, and deaths (not census records) first, opposite of what genealogists typically do when looking at North American records for their ancestors. Also look for census substitutes such as city or parish directories or confession lists.

As you search for census records, keep in mind the two keys to successful research in Eastern Europe:

1. You must learn the immigrant’s original name
2. You need to obtain the specific name of town or village of origin

These steps are typically accomplished by a reasonably exhaustive search in records where your immigrant ancestor settled (for example, US and Canadian records).

As shown in the example below, I was able to locate the Figlyar family in the Slovakia Census, 1869 Szepes Oszturnya (Osturňa). These returns are digitized and available through the FamilySearch website. Because the database is “browse only” it is essential to know the village name with its Hungarian spelling (Oszturnya) since at the time Slovakia was administratively under control of the Hungarian half of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as well as the historical Hungarian country name (Szepes).

Slovakia Census, 1869," images, FamilySearch ( : 3 November 2015), Szepes > Oszturnya (Osturňa) > image 49 of 610; Bytča, Banská Bystrica, and Nitra Regional Archives.

A good first step to determining what might be available for the locality you are researching is to use the FamilySearch Wiki and click on the country (e.g. Slovakia). Then, click on the link for “Census” (where available) to get more information. You should also search the Family History Library Catalog by Place and then look for the Census category keeping in mind that not all records of the Family History Library have been digitized and some records are still only available on microfilm.

Websites by individuals and organizations may also contain indexes or images of census and other types of data sets. An online search query for the country name and the word “census” can often link you to these resources, or use the Online Records button on the FamilySearch Wiki page for the specific country and click the Blue Button that says Online Records to get to a chart with links to country wide collections. For example, Russia Online Records shows under the Census category a link to a FamilySearch collection Russia, Tatarstan Confession Lists, 1775-1932, which serves as a census substitute.

2. Occupational Records

While many of my ancestors were peasant farmers, I also discovered ancestors who worked in specific trades (My great-grandfather, Mihaly Fencsak was a bootmaker and my other great-grandfather, Andrej Straka worked as a tailor). You may be able to find guild records or occupational directories. Since guilds were associations of professionals with similar economic interests based on a certain craft or trade (such as tannery, metalworking, tailoring, and shoemaking, among others), some of these records are still in the possession of the guilds, others have been collected into local, city, regional, or state archives. Sometimes paperwork is found in home and family sources. For example, below is a scanned image of pages 2 and 3 of my grandfather’s 15-page worker pass book from Hungary. In order to learn the details, I hired someone to translate the pages from Hungarian into English. In addition, to listing his date of birth, and that he was Greek Catholic, the worker pass contained a physical description of my grandfather (low figure, a round face, gray eyes, regular nose, healthy teeth and brown/maroon hair) and he had an apprenticeship certificate and his occupation was listed as a cartwright assistant/helper.


Online sources such as the Czech Occupation Dictionary and the Industry and Trade Directory of Hungary in 1891 with an alphabetical list of occupations and industries can help you learn more about occupations. [NOTE: these are just two examples—you will likely find more].

3. Town or Village Genealogies or Histories

Town genealogies are known by various names, including “town lineage book,” “local heritage book,” “one-place-studies,” “Ortssippenbuch (OSB),” and “Ortsfamilienbuch (OFB). You can find a list of these on The Odessa Digital Library has a Village History Project and links to Village Records and Compilations.

One of my favorite research discoveries is a page from a local history book Dejiny Osturne that contains a copy of an 1855 summons for Jan Figler (one of my ancestors) to appear at the Mayor’s office. While the notice does not give any additional details, it does provide historical context for this particular family.

If you are a Legacy Family Tree Webinar subscriber, you can view a copy of this record in the syllabus for “10 Eastern European Genealogy Resources You Might Be Missing.”

Town or local history books may reside in the local mayor’s office, the town hall, library or museum, or if you are lucky they could be available online. A simple search of your ancestral town or village can lead you to its website where you may find historical images and information, and often contact information for the mayor. For example, the website for my grandmother’s village of Milpoš contains a section on its history. While the Milpoš site is in Slovak, I opted to have Google Chrome translate the page into English. Also, don't forget to search Facebook for town and village pages. 

Continuing Your Search

FamilySearch and other online resources such as Google Books, Internet Archive and personal, archival, or organizational websites are excellent places to start looking for miscellaneous records. However, keep in mind that many of these hard to get resources may only be available in printed format in books kept by the town or village offices, or documents housed in state, regional, or local archives. Remember, there is no easy button when it comes to tracking down overlooked records for your ancestors, but if you are lucky enough to do so they may provide additional clues for further research.

Learn more Eastern European research tips from Lisa's classes on Legacy Family Tree Webinars. 


For over two decades, author and instructor Lisa A. Alzo has been educating and inspiring genealogists around the world to research and write about their ancestors. She has presented 44 webinars for Legacy Family Tree Webinars, including nine on Eastern European research. Visit her website