Finding Your Roots: Great Gains in Digital Access

Isabelle MacLean Drown
By Isabelle MacLean Drown December 15, 2010 16:30

Isabelle MacLean Drown

What a great time to be a genealogist! The records being collected and digitized are appearing online faster than we can keep track of them. At the time of this writing, there are 475 collections on, and several more will have been added as you are reading this.

For instance, those of you who have Revolutionary War ancestors, check out this new collection: “United States Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files,” available free at this site. There are about 80,000 land warrant applications in this collection and your veteran ancestor’s file could consist of anywhere from one to 200 pages.

Search tips: On the home page, either enter your ancestor’s name in the search fields or click on “All Records Collection.” Browse down the list or enter the country you want in the search box. When you find it, if it has a little camera icon at the left of the collection name, that means that you can browse through the original records.

To refine your search, click on “advanced search” and enter the ancestor’s name, his parents’ name, or a date or other details you may have. Then look at the list of records that will contain the name you entered, either as a parent or child; click on the “view image” button, which will take you to the original record.

The value of these records lies in the contents, which include the veteran’s name, age, residence, date and place of birth, spouse or widow with marriage and children’s information. If a widow was applying for compensation, she was listed by name, along with all children under age 16, with birth dates, who were fathered by the veteran. It is good stuff! Finding a whole family listed together – in the early 1800s – what a gift.

For those who are having difficulty pinpointing your ancestor who lived in the San Francisco area, check out this free collection on the same site: “San Francisco California Area Funeral Home Records, 1835-1931,” consisting of 61,186 images. This collection has various records that were maintained by several San Francisco funeral homes. The records have been indexed alphabetically by surname and record type. It has been found that the earlier indexes are more complete, and some indexes are for persons with given names only, and Chinese and Japanese burials.

As beta is still in the building stage, there will be hiccups for a while as engineers perfect the site, but the experience for most people viewing it is a successful one. When you have gone through the list of collections and chosen one to research, take time to click on the “Learn More” button and read about the history of the collection – it will give you some needed insights to using it and what to expect from it.

No matter who we are and how wonderful our family is, we will find illegitimacy in our lines. If you can’t handle the thought, don’t go any further with your genealogy, as I guarantee you will run into this stumbling block otherwise known as a brick wall.  For many researchers, that line grinds to a halt. But let’s not give up. As the Church Parish or State would end up being responsible for the upkeep of the child, they often went to great legal lengths to find the name of the father and to force him to pay for the child’s upkeep.  And some really scary stories come with this fact.

For instance: In England, if a woman was found to be “with child” and no husband, various means were employed to make her give up the name of the child’s father. When all else failed to extract that name, the midwives were instructed to wait until she was at the height of her labor, and most likely to be the angriest with the father, to ask his name.  (That was dirty pool!)

So, make sure you take a good look at and its Family History Library Catalog for Church and Court records for the country you are researching, to discover how the child was supported. Also, if in a census you see a couple past the years of childbearing with an 8-month-old child listed as a son or daughter, take a good look at the older children on the census. Most likely you will find the mother there, listed as a sibling to her child.

Some of the references made to illegitimacy will be as follows: by-blow, baseborn child, wood’s colt … that has inference to when a horse was let out to run in the woods and came back – with a colt.

Besides the FamilySearch Beta site, you will find many excellent collections on the Web now. Just Google your area and the type of record you are seeking. What would we do without Google?

Until next time, good luck with your research!

Sonora resident Isabelle Drown  is a genealogical expert currently on a one-year sabbatical in Salt Lake City, Utah.

© 2010 Friends and Neighbors

Isabelle MacLean Drown
By Isabelle MacLean Drown December 15, 2010 16:30