Thanks to everyone who attended last night’s free “Ask the Editors” webinar! We had a blast, and we hope to do it again.
I wanted to share the questions attendees asked—and our answers, of course, enhanced with links to resources we mentioned and a few new ones. But first, because Allison, Grace, Lindsay and I started the webinar with an introduction, blog readers can “meet” most of us on our FamilyTreeMagazine.com staff page. Get to know Lindsay here. And now for the main event:
Q. How would I find a 1905 death certificate from Mexico?
A. Civil registrations in Mexico (akin to vital records in the United States) started in the mid- to late-1860s, though records may not be complete. In most cases, records were kept on the municipio level and you can request copies from the local civil registry (addresses are in FamilySearch’s Mexico research outline). Older records may have been transferred to a local or state archive.
Before writing, see if the record is in an online index or on microfilm. Many Mexican death records are indexed on the FamilySearch Record Search Pilot Site. Search the Family History Library online catalog for microfilmed civil registration records or indexes, as well.
You’ll find more advice in our Mexico Research Guide digital download, available from Family Tree Shop.
Q. I can’t find my ancestor’s birthplace. Different censuses give different locations, and I don’t know his parents’ names. Where should I look?
A. It’s not unusual for a person’s birthplace to be inconsistent from one census to the next. The trick is to go beyond census records. Many sources will give a place of birth, so continue researching the person in any record you can get your hands on. Bibles, baptismal records, newspaper birth announcements, military records, passports, naturalizations and death records are a few sources that often name a person’s birthplace.
See which places are mentioned most often, and focus there. You may find online birth indexes such as those for Arizona, Minnesota, Missouri or South Dakota. Websites such as Ancestry.com and FamilySearch often have vital records indexes, too.
Get in-depth information and online search demos in our recorded webinar Vital Records: Researching Your US Ancestors’ Births, Marriages and Deaths, available from Family Tree Shop.
Q. How do you trace a child named Jane Doe who was a foundling, and was adopted?
A. Adoptions weren’t always formalized in courts—sometimes a relative or neighbor would take in the child. For a formalized adoption, look into guardianship records (court records of hearings to determine who would care for a minor). Also look for an amended birth certificate, changed to reflect the child’s adoptive rather than biological parents.
Another good resource is newspapers. Finding an abandoned child would be a newsworthy event and may have received press coverage and follow-up articles. Also see the resources in our adoption toolkit and the “Early Adopters” article in the February 2007 Family Tree Magazine (available as a digital issue).
Q. How do you find a grave site when the cemetery doesn’t know where the stone is?
A. Try looking in the cemetery for plots of relatives and those of the same last name, since family members are often buried together. Also search for burial indexes, many of which were created years ago—perhaps before the cemetery lost track of the burial record or the stone was overgrown. In the 1930s and early ‘40s, the Works Progress Administration indexed cemeteries in many communities; you’ll find a free WPA cemetery database at Access Genealogy and printed indexes at public libraries and the Family History Library. The Daughters of the American Revolution also has collected cemetery and other records for years.
A webinar attendee suggested the researcher look for burial permits, which many counties would issue before a grave could be dug, as well as funeral home records. Just this week, I got a letter from a reader who found a permit that a deceased’s relative’s second husband had obtained to have the remains moved to his own family plot.
Q. Several of my lines have “daughtered out.” What is your advice for researching women?
A. Our female ancestors just don’t show up in as many records as our male ancestors did, so sometimes you get to a point where you can’t trace a family line back past a woman. Allison emphasized the importance of not focusing just on the female ancestor, but also researching her husband, children, siblings, parents and neighbors. Records of these people may lead you to a maiden name and other information about the woman. Because people often married those who lived nearby, researching the husband’s family may lead to records of interactions, such as land transactions, with your female ancestor’s family.
Q. What will increase my chances of success in your photo calls?
A. As Allison explained in the webinar, which photos end up in the magazine or another project is partly luck, for example, say we need a wintry photo for a January calendar page, and you’ve sent in a photo of kids sled-riding on a snowy day. Or sometimes a project calls for a vertical or horizontal orientation.
Another thing we look for is a photo with a clear focal point to draw the viewer’s eye. “Compelling” is a good word to describe a photo that makes someone want to pick it up and look at it longer. (We’re always happy when someone picks up the magazine!) Pleasant, open expressions on faces (we know outright smiles are rare in old pictures), a steady gaze, or cute kids are often compelling. Photos with unusual or surprising subject matter also can be compelling.
If we’ll be reprinting the photo at a relatively small size, we’ll want to make sure viewers can still easily discern the subject matter in the pictures (in this respect, photos of large groups of people might be at a disadvantage). But we hope you’ll upload your photos to our Flickr pools regardless—we love seeing them, as do others.