Imagine an online service that gives you access to thousands of databases: Family and local history books, census records, passenger lists and old newspapers—all at your fingertips. Can you guess the service we’re describing? No, it’s not Ancestry.com
. We’re thinking of World Vital Records, a similar, but newer and smaller service.
Launched in 2006 by one-time Ancestry.com
president Paul Allen and some of his former employees, World Vital Records is closely following Ancestry.com’s early model by cobbling together a large collection of databases and making the whole shebang available by subscription.
Allen has been busy developing additional properties, including the We’re Related application for Facebook, a social network called GenealogyWise, the tree-building site WebTree, interactive history site WorldHistory.com,
World Vital Records aggregates books, family trees, passenger lists and newspapers from a variety of content partners. Some of these resources are available elsewhere online for free or by subscription, while others have been digitized and indexed just for World Vital Records. Like Ancestry.com, World Vital Records lets you search for a name in thousands of resources at once. That broad-brush search might turn up genealogy clues in a book or record collection you never would’ve thought to check. Here’s how to get the most genealogy bang for your World Vital Records buck.
This “map” will help you get around World Vital Records:
Frankly, the site isn’t pretty—it looks more vintage 1999 than 2009, and it’s tiring to see the same imposing book ad and testimonial splashed across every page on the site. But accessing all of World Vital Records’ databases in one place is cheaper and easier than searching them out individually online, buying all the books or traveling across the country to research in person.
World Vital Records divides its offerings into two subscriptions: a US Collection and a World Collection, which has the US records plus content from the UK, Canada and other countries (see below for prices). New databases show up on the site’s home page; some of these are free for 10 days after they’re posted. Take the name count for each database with a grain of salt. For example, the publisher’s description of the book Missing Relatives and Lost Friends says it has about 5,000 names, but World Vital Records claims it has 23,349 names.
US Collection content
The following resources come with the US Collection:
- Books: For decades, Genealogical Publishing Co. has printed books packed with useful information on Colonial genealogy, immigrants, royal ancestry and other resources. World Vital Records has digital versions of more than 1,000 of the publisher’s books (and counting). The Simmons Historical Publications collection totals more than 350 tomes of transcribed records from Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee. You’ll also find genealogies from Connecticut’s Godfrey Memorial Library and nearly 5,000 French Canadian genealogy titles from Quintin Publications, including genealogies, biographies, local histories and Quebec church records. You can view images of yearbook pages from 25 universities dating from 1875 to 1960 as a result of World Vital Records’ partnership with E-Yearbook.com. When you search World Vital Records for an ancestor, the site also automatically searches Google Books and tacks those matches onto your search results.
- Family trees: World Vital Records is bringing two large heretofore-print-only family tree collections online for the first time. Everton’s Pedigree Chart and Family Group Sheets database contains more than 3.5 million names. Meitzler Ahnentafel, a collection of pedigree charts from subscribers to the now-defunct Heritage Quest magazine, has another 3 million names. World Vital Records also searches WebTree.com’s online family trees.
- Newspapers and journals: The growing collection of newspapers on World Vital Records includes publications from NewspaperArchive.com; most are from Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania between 1759 and 1923. You can also view pages from 200 issues of Everton’s Genealogical Helper magazine back to 1947 with 4 million names in all. Content from Paper of Record, a large collection of newspapers from the United States, Canada, Mexico and Australia (which was bought by Google), is being added.
- Immigration and passenger lists: World Vital Records has Ellis Island’s information on 24 million names of passengers who arrived at Ellis Island between 1892 and 1924, as well as 5,000 passenger lists from the Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild. You also can search the mammoth Filby’s Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, but sometimes it gives you only a useless code, rather than a bibliographic reference with a book title.
- Gravestones, census records and more: Gravestone inscriptions from Find a Grave and early Mormon membership lists contain millions of names. Census images from AllCensus cover selected states and counties from 1790 to 1920, and you can browse images of census indexes from World Vital Records’ books collection. Because the indexes aren’t linked to the census records, though, you’re better off using online censuses at Ancestry.com, HeritageQuest Online and FamilySearch’s Record Search Pilot site.
World Collection content
The World Collection includes the US records and adds resources from several other countries:
- Great Britain and Ireland: English and Welsh resources from FindMyPast include the 1841, 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 censuses and browsable indexes to births, marriages and deaths from 1837 to 1983. World Vital Records’ plans call for adding the 1851 and 1901 censuses.
Church records from the Everton Library, housed in Logan, Utah, encompass published indexes of pre-1812 registers from parishes in Staffordshire and a few in other English counties. An Irish wills index (1484 to 1858) and the 1851 census of Dublin are among the databases from the Irish genealogy site Eneclann
- Canada and Australia: In addition to French Canadian church records from Quintin Publications, this collection offers scanned volumes from Archive CD Books Canada and the Dundurn Group covering Canadian history, politics and biography. Australian resources include the Ryerson Index to 2 million death and other notices in 156 newspapers and books from Archive CD Books Australia.
- Other foreign content: Rounding out the international collection are online family trees from Argentina called Familias Argentinas and a transcription of the 1828 Hungarian land census.
The search isn’t as user-friendly as some other big genealogy sites. You can do a Quick Search for a first and last name on the home page under Start Building Your Family Tree, and on the right side of most other pages. That works fine for an unusual name. But if you’re searching for a common name, click on the Search tab to access the Advanced Search to narrow your search with more criteria (see Search Secrets, below, for a demo). You might enter a town, county or state in the Lived In field and an occupation or spouse’s name in the Keyword field. You also can limit the search to a country or state in the Narrow To field, and check a box to return only US records.
You have a couple of options for finding alternate spellings of your ancestors’ last names. You can select Soundex or Double Metaphone (both are systems for finding similar-sounding surnames) under Matching Type, but in our tests, these searches sometimes ignored the last name altogether. You can use an asterisk as a wildcard, but only after at least three letters. For example, a search on the name Rob*son finds Robson, Robinson and Robertson. You can use a wildcard in other fields, too: Enter Pittsburg* in the Lived In field to find both Pittsburg and Pittsburgh. You’re supposed to be able to use quotation marks to search on a phrase in the Keywords field, but it didn’t work for me.
To get a match, all the search criteria you specify must appear in a single record in a database, or in the same line or paragraph in the text of a digitized book. If you enter more than one word in the Given Name or Family Name field, the words must appear next to each other in matching records. The Lived In field searches only parts of a record marked as “Place” entries, while the Keyword field searches more fields. If you enter a date, you’ll get matches only on databases that contain date fields. This means you’ll need to try different combinations of search terms.
All databases on World Vital Records use the same search form—no customized forms for individual databases. When you search a single collection, such as military records or newspapers, you’ll get results from that collection plus Google Book Search. When you search a specific database, you get results from just that database and Google Books.
Keep in mind a couple of quirks: You can search on just a last name, but a surname-only search misses some matches in books, so repeat the search with a given name. Also, if you add a year or a place to your search, you won’t get matches in pedigree charts and family group sheets. To search these collections, enter a given name and a family name, or just a family name, and leave all the other fields blank.
If you get a lot of matches, you might need to click a link at the bottom of the list to “view all results.” (Newspaper results group all matching articles under the paper’s title, so you may need to click again to get to individual articles.)
In the list of matches, click in the More Details column on the right to view the page image or more information from the record. When the result is an image, such as a book or newspaper page, your search terms are highlighted in yellow. Bibliographic information, useful for citing the source, appears below the image. Buttons at the top of the record viewer let you print, save and e-mail record images.
A few more quirks here: In our tests, links to newspapers always went to page 2, whether or not the match was on that page. Be sure to note the page cited in the search results list and go to that page. Also, we had some trouble using the Firefox browser to view British census images. A message popped up to “Click here to download plugin,” which we did. But then it said, “No suitable plugins were found.” After using Internet Explorer to download the DjVu plug-in, Firefox worked fine.
Finding relevant databases
Doing a global search of all the databases on World Vital Records lets you cover a lot of ground at once. But examining individual databases might turn up useful information the global search misses. Unfortunately, it can be tricky to find the databases you need.
Navigation tabs let you view databases by place or record type, but neither option is very useful. When you click the Places tab to browse databases by country or state, many items are only tangentially related to the state or country they’re listed under—British Roots of Maryland Families and US Korean Casualties 1950-1957, for example, are considered New York databases.
The Record Types tab groups databases into eight categories, but here, too, the categorization doesn’t always make sense. For instance, most databases under Birth, Marriage and Death Records don’t focus on vital records—including A Genealogy of the Kelly Family and A Short History of Staten Island. Databases in the Newspapers category are arranged in an alphabetical list, rather than by place. A link at the bottom of the Places, Record Types and Search pages lets you Browse by Popular Collection. Here, you browse collections by source, such as FindMyPast and NewspaperArchive.com, but each source’s databases are just organized alphabetically
Keep in mind that the alphabetical database lists don’t ignore an initial A, An or The. So databases with titles that start with The, for example, are listed under the letter T. Titles that begin with a number, such as 10,000 Vital Records of Central New York, appear under Other.
Although most of World Vital Records’ alphabetized database listings aren’t very helpful, there’s a good way to find databases that cover surnames, places and subjects you’re researching: First, click on the Record Types or Search tab, then Search by Database Title, and enter your search terms. The search engine looks for the exact string of characters you enter: A search on loyalist finds titles containing loyalist or loyalists. A search on Lancaster County will find A History of Lancaster County, but not A History of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. See our Search Within a Database demo, below, for more tips.
Once you find a promising database, click on Browse This Database to go to the first page of a book. You can browse page by page, but because there aren’t links to chapters or sections, start with the table of contents or the index.
Still in its youth, World Vital Records isn’t as big or sophisticated as some other genealogy sites on the scene, but it’s worth a try for the convenience of finding a variety of resources in one place.
World Vital Records Search Demos
Search for Ancestors
Unless you’re looking for an unusual name, use the Advanced Search form. To find it, click on the Search tab or the Advanced Search link on the home page.
1. Enter a person’s name, a place name, a keyword or a combination of these. If you’re searching on a common name, add a city, town, county or state in the Lived In field to find results for that place. You also can add a keyword, such as an occupation or spouse’s name, in the Keyword field. Experiment with adding a year, such as the person’s year of death if you’re looking for an obituary, or the range of years when someone lived in the place you specified.
We’re searching for George W. White, an artist in Hamilton, Ohio. I entered White as the Family Name and George as the Given Name.
2. If you get few or no matches, search on fewer fields. Click the breadcrumb trail to adjust your search, or use the link at the end of your results list to search with Soundex on the last name.
Ensure you catch name variations by repeating your search with alternate spellings. For example, we’ll also try George W., G.W., George and Geo in the Given Name field.
3. To get matches in pedigree and family group sheet collections, enter a Family Name and, optionally, a Given Name, but nothing else. Also search without a date and keyword to see all possible book results, as well as matches in databases without these fields. We tried our searches with and without Hamilton in the Lived In field and artist in the Keyword field.
1. Matches are grouped according to collection and database title. “Featured databases” are listed first; these matches are repeated in the collection categories below. For example, the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is displayed under both Featured Databases and Birth, Marriage and Death Records—click either place to see the same SSDI matches. Click on a database title to view matches from that database.
2. If the match is in a newspaper, note the page number first. Click on More Details to see full information and the source from a transcribed record, or to view a digitized book or newspaper image in World Vital Records’ image viewer.
Not all records open in the image viewer. When you click on a newspaper match from content partner Paper of Record, you download the page as a PDF file. Matches in Ellis Island passenger lists
take you to that site to view the records; matches in Google Book Search take you to Google
3. Zoom in and out using the image viewer controls. Use your mouse to drag the image around to the parts you want to read. Browse books and newspapers by clicking the blue arrows, or type in a page number to go right to that page. The black and white arrows let you toggle between positive and negative images; a Sharpen box makes words in the record a bit sharper. Click the disk icon to download the page you’re viewing (you can’t download a series of pages or a whole book at once).
Search Within a Database
Instead of just searching for people’s names, browse through databases relevant to your research, such as genealogy books on your family names and county histories for the places where your ancestors lived.
1. To find promising databases, we recommend using the Database Name search. Click on the Record Types or Search tab, then choose Search by Database Title.
2. Type one or more words in the search box (don’t worry about capitalization), using these strategies:
If you’re looking for a specific book, search on one or more words in the title.
To find databases for a place, such as county histories or newspapers, search on a town, county, state or country.
To find family histories and genealogies, search on a last name.
Also try keywords such as loyalist, pilgrim or confederate to turn up other databases you hadn’t thought to check.
This search isn’t foolproof, because it finds only databases with your search term in the title—newspaper names, for example, don’t always contain the place where they’re published. Also remember that the search finds the exact string of letters you enter in a database title.
3. Click on a title to search or browse within that database. If the database is a book or newspaper, the Browse link takes you to the first page.
Web address: <www.worldvitalrecords.com>
- US Collection: $39.96 annually, $5.95 monthly
- World Collection: $119.40 annually, $14.95 monthly
Paying subscribers: 30,000
Content: More than 11,000 databases
Major Content Collections
- Digitized family and local history books from genealogy publishers and libraries
- Quebec church records from the Quintin Publications CD library
- Record abstracts and transcriptions from books by Genealogical Publishing Co. and Simmons Historical Publications
- Select digitized newspapers from NewspaperArchive.com
- Pedigree charts and family group sheets from the Everton and Meitzler collections
- 1841, 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891censuses of England and Wales
Upcoming additions: international newspapers, the American Genealogical Biographical Index and the Brenner
Collection of German vital records
2006 World Vital Records founded by former Ancestry.com employees
2007 FamilyLink, a social networking site, launches
2007 World Vital Records releases We’re Related, a Facebook application
2008 Corporate name changes to FamilyLink.com; FamilyLink site becomes FamilyHistoryLink.com
2008 WebTree.com and WorldHistory.com launch
2009 GenealogyWise launches; FamilyHistoryLink shuts down
World Vital Records Quick Links
Hacks and Shortcuts
- A surname-only search misses some matches in books, so add a given name if you’re looking for book results.
- To find someone in pedigree charts or family group sheets, enter given and family names, or just a family name, and leave the other fields blank.
- To catch variations on personal and place names, use an asterisk (*) as a wildcard after three or more characters.
- Quickly switch to a Soundex search by clicking the “With Soundex on the surname” link below your results list.
- Because the Soundex and Double Metaphone searches didn’t work consistently for us, search on variations of surnames.
- Try variations of given names (such as Cathy and Kathy for Kathleen), as the World Vital Records search engine doesn’t automatically find these.
- Try your searches without a date, place and/or keyword to ensure you get matches in records from databases that don’t have these fields.
- To adjust your search, rather than repeatedly hitting the back button to return to the search screen, find the breadcrumb trail above your results and click Global Database Search or Search.
- To find individual databases to search, go to www.worldvitalrecords.com/searchdbbytitle.aspx and enter names, places or topics related to your family.
See neighbors in the SSDI
World Vital Records’ Social Security Death Index (SSDI) database is geocoded, so if your ancestor’s SSDI record gives a last residence, you’ll see it on a map, along with nearby cemeteries. You also can click See Neighbors in your search results for a list of people who died the same year in the same zip code as your ancestor.
World Vital Records makes a few of its databases free for 10 days after they’re added. To see what’s available, go to the Browse Recent Databases page and look for “Free for [insert number] more days” after database titles.
You also can search World Vital Records free on the computers at your local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Family History Center (see our directory of locations
Click on Customer Service
at the bottom of most pages or call (888) 377-0588. Subscriptions renew automatically; you must call this number to cancel. You also can renew or upgrade your subscription online.
From the November 2009 Family Tree Magazine