Shedding Light on Brick Wall Ancestors

We all have brick wall ancestors who just refuse to give up their secrets, don’t we?  They completely baffle you until you want to just give up in total frustration.   You may need to change your focus and shed some light on the cracks in the wall by approaching the problem from another angle.

Lighting the Way with Maps

Many of your ancestors may have resided in several different countries, states, provinces, towns or villages during their lifetimes.    If you have determined the general area where your ancestors lived, one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with these places is by consulting maps.   Once you learn more about where your ancestors lived, you may be closer to understanding the area in which your ancestors lived.

The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection includes over 150,000 maps dating back to the 16th century, with the majority of North and South America as well as Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania.  You can search and download maps for free without creating an account.   If you do find a map you wish to download, click o Export in the upper right-hand corner of the page and then choose the preferred map resolution.

Old Maps Online is another map resource you may want to check out.   It has 400,000 maps from collections all over the world and is very user friendly.  After entering a search location several small historical map images with names and dates will load.   Click on any of these thumbnail images to view the map and see more information.

Now that you have a general overview of where your ancestor lived, it’s time to zoom in even more to see the towns, buildings and streets where they lived.   The Sanborn Map Company has published fire insurance maps covering the residential, commercial and industrial sections of close to 12,000 towns and cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico.   These maps were created to help fire insurance agents assess hazards, but these maps show many details of interest to family historians such as the size, shape and use of all buildings, names of streets and businesses, properly lines and house numbers.    Even though the names of streets and numbering of residences and businesses may have changed over time, these maps are an invaluable resource for genealogists.

How to Find Genealogy, Family History and Local History Books in the Internet Archive

We always are hunting for more information about our ancestors, and the Internet Archives’ online service might be just what you need to help further your genealogy research.  The following is an article from Dick Eastman’s July 6, 2017 On-line Genealogy Newsletter.

  “Would you like to electronically search through 129,577 genealogy books? You can do that on the Internet Archives’ online service. Not only can you search these books, but you can do so electronically. A search for a name might require a few seconds, not hours or days in the manner of a manual search through printed books in a library.

The Internet Archive (also known as The Internet WayBack Machine Archive) is a San Francisco–based non-profit digital library with the stated mission of “universal access to all knowledge.” It provides free public access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, software applications/games, music, movies/videos, moving images, and nearly three million public-domain books. This online library now has a collection that fills more than 15 petabytes. NOTE: 15 petabytes is equal to 15 million gigabytes.

The Internet Archive’s collection is growing daily. Best of all, the use of the Internet Archive is always FREE. There is only one class of available service: FREE. There is no upgraded, or ‘pro’ version. The Internet Archive is funded solely by voluntary donations, so everything is free.

The Internet Archive has always collected genealogy, family history, and local history books. However, searching through the huge collection used to require imaginative search terms to find specific references. For instance, searching all of the Internet Archive for references to my last name of Eastman used to find a few genealogy books buried in a listing of hundreds of books related to photography. In addition, a search for family names often also produced listings of book authors who shared that name, even if the book had nothing to do with genealogy. A search for a family name that is also a common English word, such as Black or Street was almost hopeless. Luckily, a change made some time ago has now reduced the search problems.

The Internet Archive now has a dedicated section just for genealogy, family history, and local history books at You might want to go to that address first and then conduct a search there.

When writing this article, I went to, found the box labeled ‘Search this Collection’ and performed a search for: Eastman. That search found thirty-seven books. Unlike searches I have performed in the past, all the books were either (a) books about Eastman genealogy or (b) genealogy or local history books that had the name Eastman someplace within the book. In fact, quite a few of the books were local histories for towns where Eastman families had settled. One book was a history book written by Ralph M. Eastman although the book did not appear to contain any genealogy information. I also tried searching for geographic locations, such as ‘Penobscot County,’ and had equally good success.

A few of the books listed in my searches were about U.S. Civil War histories. Those books had little or no genealogy information but contained great information about the soldiers and sailors who served during that war.

Many of the books were originally published in the 1800s; all of the ones I found were published prior to 1923.

The front covers of each book were displayed, and clicking on the image of any book cover immediately showed the contents of the book. Once I clicked on a book’s image, full source citations also were displayed for that book, including: author(s) name(s), publication date, publisher’s name, Internet Archive call number, number of pages within the book, the name of the person or organization who contributed the book and even the name of the OCR software used to convert the book to text

The searches seem to work best for surnames of families that have been in North America for a century or longer. It does not work well for recent immigrants with eastern European or Oriental or Hispanic names. After all, these books are out of copyright; therefore, almost all were published prior to 1923. Don’t look for more recent immigrant families in this collection. Almost all the books listed are in English although a very small number may be in other languages.

The addition of a dedicated genealogy section on the Internet Archive is an incremental improvement but a very welcome one indeed. It greatly simplifies the searches for genealogy, family history, and local history books in this fabulous online resource.

I suggest you might want to go to and search for any surnames of interest. You never know what you might find. You probably want to bookmark that address. Did I mention that the service is FREE?”

 Source:  Dick Eastman blog post, July 6, 2017

Adding Historical Events to Your Ancestors’ Lives

Genealogists seem to fall into two types of researchers, the hunter and the gatherer.   The hunter seems to be content to just find ancestors to build their tree, whereas the gatherer not only finds ancestors to add to their tree, but also wants to add historical information to each ancestor to flesh out their lives and make them “come alive” virtually.

 Over multiple census returns and other documentation, you now know that your ancestor’s occupation may have been  an agricultural labourer, a sea captain, or  a myriad of other occupations.  But what does that really tell you about your ancestor?

Your ancestor’s life sketch or biography instantly becomes more fascinating when you add a little historical context to the mundane facts for their existence.  Adding historical events adds multiple senses to your ancestor’s lives just by naming what happened at the time, who the leaders were, and what technology was spreading throughout the land.  These factors add drama and interest to your ancestors.   Don’t forget to also add local, national and global context.

Many of us cannot describe the landscape, sounds, and seasons pertaining to our ancestors. We can’t visualize what they saw, heard, smelled, or tasted. We certainly can’t imagine what worried them or excited the local town chatterboxes. But if you add the historic events from the time and place they lived in, either through adding it as an event or a story in your family history software, or taking the big step of actually writing your family history, your stories magically transform into not just a recitation of facts, but the story of a person’s life during the time period in which they lived.  Historical context, such as weather, local and world events, pop culture references, and economic averages add flavor to an otherwise bland retelling of the genealogical details.

Where do you find the details of the times in which your ancestors lived?   One source is newspaper archives.   There are several newspaper archive sites available, far too many to mention but if you Google “archived newspaper sites”, there are many sites you may want to check out.  Usually these sites are ranked by popularity, the most popular being at the top of the list.

Another way is to search for historical events during the time period of your ancestor or ancestors’ lives.   Again, the easiest way to find historical events is to use your good friend Google – enter the search term “historical events” and you may be overwhelmed by the choices.   One interesting site I found is  Then take it one step further and Google historical events for the area you are interested in – city, country or time period.

Beginning locally with my more recent ancestors, A quick Google search for British Columbia events provided several links.  One site,, provided links to the major events in British Columbia history.

Adding history to your ancestors’  bare-bones genealogical data may enable you to virtually “walk in their shoes”.   Good luck with your research.










The Challenge of Given Names

Given names are always a challenge for genealogists.  In historic records, people would often misspell names and sometimes they even used nicknames.  Names were also commonly abbreviated to save room when space was tight on a page.

For example, old street directories and city directories always abbreviated common given names. Parish records often abbreviated familiar Christian names. This was done to save space and paper. In some jurisdictions, census enumerators would also abbreviate common names when going door to door to save time.

Knowledge of given name abbreviations can be very helpful in tracking down ancestors. For example, knowing that Chas is a short form for Charles, Geo represents George, My means Mary and Hy means Henry opens up many more possibilities when looking through historic ancestral records.

You should also be aware that many people used their middle names, rather than first names, and this can also cause problems for genealogists.  For those who are members of the Qualicum Beach Family History Society, the September 2017 issue of “Voices of the Past”, our QBFHS journal, there is an article on “Using Middle Names in Your Family History Searches” that delves even deeper into ways to research your family history when searching with a first name doesn’t provide results.

Genealogy in Time magazine has a list of abbreviations for most common given names that you may find helpful when researching your ancestors.  Some of the abbreviations may surprise you!

The Importance of Cemeteries and Obituaries for Genealogists


When all else fails when researching your ancestors, two often overlooked research oppor­tunities are obituaries and cemeteries.   An obituary will provide more than the name and date of death for a person.  Names of relatives, age of the deceased, cause of death and many other valuable pieces of information can be found in obituaries.

There are several sites that are dedicated to obituaries.  A Google search for “obituary” with a very basic term, “genealogy obituaries” will provide a wide variety of sites that can be researched.    Narrow your search down to newspapers; search the free and paid sites such as FindMyPast, Ancestry, My Heritage, Library and Archives Canada or other similar sites.

Many family history societies are now working to provide on-line databases for obituaries in their local area.  This past summer, Qualicum Beach Family History Society created an index of obituaries from 1995 – 2002 from the local PQB News newspaper, including information on how to obtain a copy of or information from an obituary found in the index at the Parksville Museum.   If you are searching for information on your ancestors in the Parksville/Qualicum Beach area on Vancouver Island, B.C., begin with; from there you may also want to visit the following pages for more information:  and

Hint:  If the obituary has the name of the funeral home listed, contact them, if possible, as they may have more information on the deceased person that will be helpful to you.


You hear quite often that a vacation for a genealogist is not a vacation if they do not visit at least one cemetery!  That, in a nutshell, explains how important cemeteries are to add information on the lives of our ancestors.

Again, there are many sites with information on cemeteries, local, county or provincial.   The largest and most prominent site is FindAGrave and that should be one of the first sites you check for information on your deceased ancestors’ burial site.

However, when searching for graves in Canada, don’t forget Canadian   Recently it was announced that the

Ontario Genealogical Society will be taking over and are hoping to continue on with the work done by the founder and president, Jim McKane.   Founded in 2009 to capture digital images and the complete transcription of Canadian headstones with free access, CanadianHeadstones now has more than 1.7 million records available online.

Mr. McKane, announced in early September that the Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS) has agreed to assume responsibility for the operation of the corporation and its namesake website,, to ensure the continuation and growth of Canada’s premier collection of headstone photographs and transcriptions, together with its sister sites,,, and

He said, “While not looking forward toward the prospect of stepping away from CanadianHeadstones, I will be able to do so knowing that it will be in proven and reliable hands.”

Kudos to Mr. McKane for wanting to preserve this important resource and to Ontario Genealogical Society for taking over the operations. It sounds like an ideal arrangement.

Good luck with your research!


Vancouver City Database – Early 20th Century Vancouver Building Permits

Do you have an ancestor that lived in Vancouver or perhaps you are curious about your childhood home in Vancouver?

Heritage Vancouver’s searchable building permits database can help genealogists learn a bit more about their ancestors. The database is an exact transcription of original historic building permits dating from 1901 to the early 1920’s for the following areas:

  • City of Vancouver: 1901 to 1904 and 1909 to 1921
  • Corporation of the District of South Vancouver: Oct 1911 to Dec 1921
  • Corporation of Point Grey: May 14, 1912 to Dec 1923

Information from a  recent University of British Columbia blog post provides valuable information about both the  BC Historical Newspapers archive and a searchable City of Vancouver  building permits database, reading partly as follows:

 “UBC Library’s B.C. Historical newspaper archives, part of the university’s publicly-accessible Open Collections, is playing a critical role in heritage research in Vancouver. ‘The archive is such an amazing and unique resource’, says Patrick Gunn, Board of Directors at Heritage Vancouver Society, ‘It is key in our ongoing built heritage research, across multiple areas’.

One of the ways the archive is being used is to help provide more fulsome information for Heritage Vancouver’s online building permits database that contains over 40,000 building permits from January 1, 1929 when the municipalities of Vancouver, South Vancouver and Point Grey were amalgamated into what we now know as modern-day Vancouver.

The searchable database, that was created by painstakingly transcribing handwritten city ledgers found within the City of Vancouver archives allows for users to find key information about particular buildings in Vancouver. The ledgers provide some, but not all the information that would have been included in the individual permit document. Long-form building permits were issued to the applicant and a copy was made for the city; unfortunately, it was common practice to record overview information into registers, like the ledgers that have survived, then purge the full records.  It is in this respect that the B.C. Digital Newspapers Archive has been useful in filling in the gaps.”

Although the database, sponsored by the Heritage Vancouver Society, was created to assist individuals with historical research pertaining to the City of Vancouver, it can help genealogists and family historians learn about the home where their ancestors lived.

The database can be searched by building owner and address. When exploring the database, keep in mind that street names can change and addresses can shift over time.

If you do find an ancestor’s home in the database, you will also learn its value at the time the building permit was issued and the name of the architect and builder.  This type of information fills in gaps in the knowledge you may have of an ancestor’s life

From my own family records and research, I knew that my grandparents lived at 1943 5th Avenue West, Vancouver.   The earliest record I have of them living there is the 1921 Canadian census return.

Searching the City of Vancouver building database, I found the following information:

District:       Vancouver
Permit:        —
Owner:       Vernon Bros., Ltd.
Architect:    Vernon Bros., Ltd.
Builder:       Vernon Bros., Ltd.
Legal Address:      DL: 526 Block: 246 Sub: Resub: Lot: 29
Date (Y-M-D):       1909-12-06
Street Number:    1943
Street Name:        5th Avenue W
Value:         $1,350.00
Remarks:    Framed house
Reference ID:       VN-3021-3021-41

The probate records for my grandfather dated February 28, 1930, provide more information on the property:

 “Property in the City of Vancouver, Province of British Columbia, being more particularly known as Lot 29, Block 246, District Lot 526, Group 1, New Westminster District, Plan 590 (1943 5th Avenue West, Vancouver) valued at $1,500.00.”

My grandmother sold the property shortly after my grandfather’s death.   A high rise now stands on the property and it is mind boggling to know the value of that property today!

Read more about the building permits database and newspaper archive in the blog post, UBC Library’s B.C Historical Newspaper archive plays critical role in helping to preserve heritage buildings in Vancouver.

Good luck with your ancestor home hunting!

New FreeCen Website

Did you know that  FreeCEN gives free access to census records for England, Scotland & Wales?

FreeCEN offers a free-to-search online database of the 19th century UK censuses. Transcribed entirely by volunteers, they have more than 32 million individuals available on their website that anyone can search without having to create an account. The new FreeCEN2 website launched on Monday 31st July 2017 with all of the records that the current website holds, but with a fresh new look and feel in-line with Free UK Genealogy and FreeREG.

Their new website will offer more features for researchers, and make it easier for people to find what they’re looking for. FreeCEN2 also brings with it a host of improvements for existing and future volunteers, such as a members sign-in area and brand new messaging system.

FreeCEN, FreeREG and FreeBMD are projects by Free UK Genealogy, a registered charity that promotes free access to historical records. FreeREG underwent this process in 2015, and FreeBMD is due to begin its renewal later this year.

For more information on the updated information on FreeCEN, please click here.


Best Newspaper Sites for Genealogy

There are literally hundreds of newspapers sites that could be useful for your genealogy research. Many of them would gladly have you as a paid subscriber. But how do you know which one is worth spending your money on?

No newspaper website has all of the newspapers. There is some overlap between the sites, but their coverage does vary.  The best newspaper site for your genealogy is the one that has the newspapers that you need.

Before subscribing to any of the paid newspaper sites, be sure to check out the Ancestor Hunter website.  As of August, 2017 there are links to approximately 25,000 free newspaper sites, including the US Canada and other countries.   It is definitely well worth checking out!

Good luck with your research.


Understanding DNA Tests

Have you gotten the bug yet and taken a DNA test?   Once you receive the results, are you totally confused?   There is definitely a huge learning curve, as you have probably found out.

Genetic genealogy or DNA testing can tell you, at its most basic level:

  • If you and another person are related /descended from the same individual
  • If you and someone else with the same surname are related
  • If your genealogical research is on the right track
  • What area of the world your paternal and maternal lines come from, as well as giving you an idea of your ethnic origins

It is very important to remember that most of the value of genetic genealogy (DNA testing for family history research purposes) is in the comparison and matching of your DNA results to others. Just because we have DNA testing does not mean we can throw exacting traditional research techniques out the window!  Think of it as a marriage between two methods of finding and providing our family history – traditional genealogy research and DNA testing.

A brief but comprehensive explanation of the types of DNA tests and what you can find is available in a document provided by Mary Katherine Kozy and is well worth taking the time to read.

There are several sites that do DNA testing, including Family Tree DNA, 23&Me and AncestryDNA.   You may choose to test with one or all of the companies and each one is completely reliable.   Comparing the tests can be a new problem, though.   One comparison site is Gedmatch.

If you are new to using GedMatch or want a brief overview of how it works, you may want to read a previous blog post on “Ten Tips for Making the Most of Gedmatch”.

Once you have uploaded your DNA results to GedMatch, the test results are not always a 100% match.   The Legal Genealogist explains why this happens.

Uploading your tree to GedMatch is explained by The Young & Savvy Genealogists on their blog page.

Did you know that many cousins don’t share enough measurable DNA to get caught in DNA application filters? By using the GEDCOM search at GedMatch you can find people who have your relatives in their family tree even if you only share small amounts of DNA,  The blog post How to find DNA cousins on Gedmatch with a Gedcom search provides information on how to conduct a search.

Good luck with finding more family research information using DNA results!

Librarians On Loan

When you just can’t find what you’re searching for on the Internet, remember that real-world libraries may well hold the information you can’t locate in cyberspace. If you believe a distant library might have the answer you’re looking for, consider using “Ask a Librarian,” a service offered by most libraries and archives in the U.S. and Canada. The libraries encourage you to submit short, specific questions via e-mail or an online form provided for this purpose. You can also call them, but genealogical inquiries are often best submitted in writing. Library and Archives Canada at even has a special “Genealogy Inquiry Form.”

Appropriate requests would include lookups, such as obituaries that may have appeared in a local paper within a narrow date range. Librarians may be willing to make photocopies of brief local publications or several pages of a document or an article in their holdings. In such cases, you’ll need to pay for the copies and postage. Otherwise, the service is usually free, but a small donation is always appreciated.

Source:  Sue Lisk, Your Genealogy Today and Internet Genealogy author