Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Your Naval Ancestors

Nelson's Ship in a Bottle, Royal Museums Greenwich website

Recently I came across several interesting-looking websites with a nautical theme, so if you have ancestors who served in the navy – and there are some American resources here too – perhaps one or two of these sites will help with your research or some background information.

Online collections of historical artefacts with a naval connection, as well as the Caird Library & Archive, which includes hundreds of thousands of books, pamphlets, periodicals, manuscripts, and maps, covering every aspect of maritime history.  Was your ancestor a mutineer, a navigator, shipwrecked, or in the Royal Navy? (hopefully not all four).  Register in advance of your visit and ask the archivists’ advice.

A significant collection of archives and photographs is held by the museum.  These include over 2 million individual items, with personnel records from key branches of the Royal Navy, as well as journals, letters and diaries dating from the American War of Independence to Afghanistan in 2003, plus rich photographic resources.  Many of these have been donated by members of the public.

The National Archives, Kew
Use TNA's online guides to learn what records they hold for tracing merchant and royal navy personnel.  Tick the appropriate boxes on the left of the page to narrow down the results - there are dozens of record categories to choose from.  Some are only available at the archives, while others can be accessed online.  Currently, those that can be downloaded direct from TNA are included in their free record service - diverse records such as those from the Battle of Trafalgar or WW2 merchant shipping movement cards.

This website's highlights include transcriptions of Royal Navy WWI ships’ log books, and United States Revenue Cutter Service/Coast Guard and Geodetic survey ships’ logs.

Brush up your historical naval knowledge with articles on historical topics and regular online seminars, free to non-society members.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Gathering Some Leaves for the Tree

Blaeu's 1654 Map of Britain
It’s autumn in the northern hemisphere, so in this post I share some interesting genealogy sources that will hopefully lend detail and colour to the leaves of your family tree.  I’ve collected some free guides for records of the British Isles.

No matter how many times you’ve used these records, you can always pick up more tips on how to read or use them in a different way, especially by studying the official guides written by their keepers.

National Records of Scotland Research Guides: A-Z of record types from adoption to wills & testaments.

And, did you know that you can search for and view historical images on ScotlandsPeople at no cost? These include categories such as aerial photography, historic sites and monuments, social issues, and transport. 

England & Wales
The National Archives: How to look for records of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales.

National Library of Wales: Help with your family history research – including Getting Started, and guides to different record types like tithe maps. 

PRONI: Archives for family and local history.  A comprehensive listing of resources for tracing ancestors on the island of Ireland.

National Archives of Ireland: Sources for family & local history.  An introduction to what’s available via the Archives in Dublin and its website.

Keep an eye on the blog for more autumnal family tree tips!

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Free Family History Mini-Class : Lesson 10

For the final lesson in this series of mini-classes, I’m sharing some online tools that you may find helpful as you continue with your research, whether that’s just beginning or is a long-term project.  These ideas can build your skills as well as your family tree – and like everything else in this course, they are completely free.

☙  Try a spot of descendant research, using the intriguing Puzzilla app that connects to your FamilySearch Tree.

☙  Have FT Analyzer check out your GEDCOM file for potential lines of research or problems. Family Tree Magazine’s Rachel Bellerby gave it a test drive and you can read her review here.

☙  Mind mapping for genealogy – use this study idea to organise your research, and perhaps download the free software it suggests. 
☙  Choose some of these PDF family tree charts to organise and display your genealogy.

☙  And finally, sign up now for virtual family history conference RootsTech Connect – access to all the classes and resources will be absolutely free of charge, but you do need to register to attend. 

Thanks for taking my mini-classes! You can review them any time
here on the Frugal Family History blog, or share them with your genealogy buddies – and come back soon to check out 
what else is new here.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Free Family History Mini-Class : Lesson 9

In this lesson I recommend some helpful websites from the virtual library “reference shelf”.  Genealogists are constantly having to look things up, whether it be dates for historical context, or the meaning of obsolete words and phrases.  Below are some sources that could come in handy next time you’re stuck.

Family History Reference
FamilySearch Wiki  A real miscellany of useful genealogical resources. You can learn about different types of records, find out what’s available for a specific country and where, or download forms and worksheets, to name just a few of its features.

GENUKI  The must-have in your toolkit for British research.  It breaks the UK up into its constituent parts (not forgetting the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands), then counties, with location and contact information for archives, libraries, family history societies and parish churches.

Maps & Gazetteers
National Library of Scotland Maps  With UK-wide coverage and the capacity to compare areas in different time periods, this is a perennial favourite with family historians.

Gazetteer of British Place Names  Search by postcode or place name with this superb reference tool.

Hometown Locator is my go-to gazetteer when working with United States records.  You can search or browse states, counties, and cities.

Dictionary of the Scots Language  Stumped by an old Scottish will, or just baffled by Burns?  Then this is the perfect solution.

Genealogy Latin Dictionary  For when you come across a random phrase in a parish register and have forgotten all your schoolgirl Latin.

Obsolete Things
The National Archives’ Old Currency Converter  Ever wondered where historical documentaries get their “in today’s money” equivalents?  Wonder no longer.

Old Medical Terminology  Great for understanding more about what killed off your ancestors in days gone by.

History, Geography, & General Knowledge
Encyclopaedia Britannica  The world’s longest running encyclopaedia moved online many years ago, but it’s still more trustworthy than popular alternatives.  Excellent for putting your ancestors’ lives in a social or historical context.

Next week, in the final mini-class,
I’ll share some great free research tools.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Free Family History Mini-Class : Lesson 8

Woman reading tablet

In our digital age, many otherwise inaccessible historical sources and information are readily online, not just to read, but to search using keywords and names.  You’ll find that they are often provided in formats (such as PDF files) which can be downloaded to a mobile device for use on the go.

Digital resources are an indispensable element of the genealogist’s toolkit, and even more so when access to physical archives and libraries is limited.  Check out the following links, and hopefully you’ll identify sources that you can use in your research.  All of these are free to access.

HathiTrust hosts millions of digitised books from libraries the world over, while
Project Gutenberg has free e-books of many classics and out-of-copyright titles.

Read my previous blog posts here and here for details of some of the essential free newspaper archives online.  Don't overlook these invaluable records of your ancestors' everyday lives.

Historical city & trade directories
Scottish Post Office directories list names, addresses, and trades or occupations of people in urban areas from the 18th century onwards. 
For England & Wales, there are similar Trade & Local Directories from the 1700s to the 1910s.

Area histories
To learn more about the local history of specific counties or parishes, there are the Victoria County Histories covering England, and for Scotland, the 18th- and 19th-century editions of the Statistical Accounts

Digital Collections 
Such resources include many images that can bring your family’s history to life.  These are just a few suggestions.

SCRAN offers still, sound and moving images from hundreds of museums, including the Victoria & Albert and National Galleries of Scotland.  View buildings where your ancestors lived, worked, or went to school, objects they might have used, and views they would have looked out on.

The British Library's digital collections include illuminated manuscripts and vintage books with photo-illustrations, which could easily side-track you en route to their wide selection of online maps, or their oral history recordings.

Fordham University in New York City provides an extensive list of links to free digital content from Irish libraries, archives and museums, including many sources of use to family historians.

United States
The US Library of Congress’s vast range of subject matter, from music to maps, includes local, social, and business history collections in different formats.  The America at Work, America at Leisure: Motion Pictures from 1894-1915 collection is just one highlight of a fascinating online repository.

The next class will introduce you
to some essential reference tools
for family history research.

Free Family History Mini-Class : Lesson 6


A few minutes here will give you the tools to 
root out untrustworthy information online. 

No course would be complete without a visit to the library for a guided tour, and these mini-classes are no exception.  And no skiving off – this is important stuff for your research, especially when it comes to things like social history that helps put your family's lives into context.  

The mini-class’s library is the World Wide Web, which can be a problem: how do you know if the information on a website is reliable?  Answer: be PROMPT.  Look at the site’s


This will help you evaluate the reliability of information you find online.  After all, anyone can set up a website and fill it with whatever they like.  Even double-checking with another website can’t ensure accuracy, as many sites copy and paste from each other.  For instance, looking up Wikipedia is quick and easy, but it’s riddled with stuff that’s inaccurate or just plain nonsense.

So ask yourself: 
  • Is the website well laid-out?  Even if it is, that’s no guarantee of truthfulness, but it’s a good start. Glaring spelling and grammar mistakes are a red flag, though.
  • Is the information relevant to my research?  Skim read the material to determine if it’s detailed enough for your needs, or perhaps too detailed if you just want a summary of the topic.
  • Is the author/organisation behind the site impartial and fair?  Or do they have a specific axe to grind? Make sure their credentials, if they have any, are genuine, and perhaps do some research on the author.
  • How was the information gathered?  Was it just copied from Wikipedia, or is there some proper research behind it?  Genuine studies will show their sources and methods.
  • Is it a trustworthy source?  If there’s a link that tells you “About” the website, use that to learn more about the source of the information. Find out if the author is an acknowledged expert on the subject.  You might want to contact them for more details, especially if the information is about your ancestors.
  • Is the information up to date?  Checking the date on a news story, article or blog post is important.  You don’t want to be caught out by obsolete data.  If you can't see a date anywhere on the website, consider finding an alternative source of information.
This handout goes into more detail about PROMPT.

Put as much thought and homework into your online information sources as you would your online purchases. 

In a future mini-class visit to the library, I’ll share some of the best free online reference sources for family historians.

Next week's class focuses on birth,

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Free Family History Mini-Class : Lesson 7

Some of the first and most important genealogical sources you will use in tracing your family tree are birth, marriage, death, and census records.  You can search many of these online at no cost using websites compiled by various organisations, often by volunteers.

If you’re starting out in the British Isles, try using Free UK Genealogy or UK BMD for indexes to England & Wales civil registration, British census returns and parish records. Note that UK BMD provides more than one source for the England & Wales BMDs; their main web page explains this in more detail.

For birth, marriage and death records, both civil and religious, on the island of Ireland, you can search indexes and see free certificate images at Irish Genealogy.ie.  Some great tips on browsing these images are found on Shane Wilson’s blog

Perhaps your British ancestors worked or lived (or, indeed, died) abroad; if so, you may find their life events indexed at FamilyRelatives where there are military and consular records of births, marriages and deaths.  You will need to register with this site to carry out a search, but there is no charge for viewing the results or digitally imaged indexes in this category.

For many other countries as well as the UK and Ireland, FamilySearch’s indexes and images (both indexed and unindexed) are freely accessible.  You can search or browse civil registration/vital and census records, and video learning courses are provided to help you use them.  Creating a FamilySearch account is free and allows you unlimited access to all the website's resources - see this earlier post for a few of the things you can do.

Finally, if you’re trying to calculate someone’s birth date using their age on a census, here’s a handy chart to pinpoint the various dates on which censuses took place in the UK, Ireland, and the US.