eGGSA is the acronym for the virtual branch of the Genealogical Society of South Africa. According to their website the ‘Genealogical Society of South Africa (GSSA) is an international organization of people engaged in the study of genealogy, family trees and family history with a South African connection’.
From the first small colony established by the Dutch East India Company in 1652 in what is now Cape Town to the British government settler schemes of the 1820s, to the men seeking their fortunes on the diamond and gold fields in the 1860s – settlers, soldiers and missionaries flocked to what is now South Africa. Records were created as they lived their lives. eGGSA has an incredibly rich variety of records on their site, including transcripts and databases (1820 Settler correspondence, newspaper extracts, passenger lists, church and burial records); photographic collections of gravestones (now containing over 700 000 gravestone photographs), family bibles and postcards, and an incredibly useful page of links to other websites which may help with research in South Africa.
Almost all the records on the site are freely available. Membership does offer the perks of receiving eGGSA’s quarterly publication, Genesis. Members also receive FAMILIA, the quarterly journal of the parent body, the Genealogical Society of South Africa and are eligible for a reduced rate when ordering documents from the South African Archives at Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Pietermaritzburg and Durban.
If you have ancestors with connections to South Africa this is an excellent resource to start your research with.
Internet Archive: Described as ‘a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.’ Internet Archive is a great site to search for just about anything. The “Wayback Machine” allows the archives of the web to be searched. Users are then able to view archived web pages even for web sites which no longer exist.
In terms of genealogical research there is a wealth of information available. Clicking on their American Libraries collection, for example, pulls up over 2,450,000 different items in over 1000 collections. A quick look under North Carolina Directories shows 925 city and business directories with a wide range of years.
You can then select a specific directory to look at. Each directory is fully searchable and easily downloaded. All collections on Internet Archive can be filtered by Media Type, Year, Topic and Subject, Creator, and Language.
The Internet Archive collection for World War II contains almost 6000 items including 2,839 movies, newsreels and audio recordings. Did you know you can see census records on Internet Archive? The United States Census collection holds over 23,000 items, with approximately 13,004,791 page images.
Several historical societies provide content to Internet Archive as a means of preserving it for the future. The Minnesota Historical Society provides newspapers and manuscripts in the 2,661 items on Internet Archive and the Georgia Historical Society has several old journals and books in its’ collection.
You can even listen to Winston Churchill as he sends his thoughts to American troops and citizens on Thanksgiving 1944, or to President Roosevelt as he calls on Congress to declare war on Japan on 8 December 1941. Both can be found in Internet Archive’s Community Audio collection.
This brief introduction doesn’t do justice to the incredible resource that Internet Archive is. It’s a great tool to add to your genealogy toolbox.
Fulton History is a historical newspaper site containing over 37 million newspaper pages (as of December 2016) from the USA and Canada, as well as a few other locations. Even more remarkable is that the site is run by one person, Tom Tryniski, of Fulton, New York. Besides access to millions of newspaper pages, there are also postcards, maps and photographs.
The site is searchable and each newspaper page can be downloaded as a PDF. There is help available in the FAQ including different ways to search the database.
To see which newspapers are available, click on the FAQ-Help-Index button at the top of the page. The first few lines contain the link to view all the newspapers available on the site. Instead of going through the index page by page, download the index as a Microsoft Excel file. The link to download it is at the top of the screen in blue.
The downloaded Excel file gives you a list of newspaper titles arranged alphabetically by County. It’s an easy way to see which counties are covered and by which newspapers.
If you have ancestors in New York State, then you have at your fingertips an incredible free resource thanks to the efforts of Mr Tryniski.
The Arizona Memory Project is a project of the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records. The site provides access to a wealth of primary source documents, photographs, maps and other multimedia items showcasing Arizona’s past and present.
A specific collection can be searched (of which there are over 270) or a general search of the entire site can be done. You can narrow your search by creator, coverage, date, subject or type.
I conducted a few different searches to see how the search engine worked and was impressed with the results. From a search on a specific ancestor’s name which resulted in finding an oral interview with an extended family member speaking about a second great grand-uncle and his settling of Alpine, Arizona to a general search on territorial stage-coach routes and a book detailing those routes across Arizona. A location search for the settlement of Maricopa Wells (a settlement which developed as a watering hole and rest area along the Butterfield Overland mail route and which no longer exists) resulted in several photographs of Indian ruins close to Maricopa Wells as well as photographs of various named and unnamed people standing outside their homes in the area.
A search for a specific event, in this case, for the ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral’ yielded scans of original documents including the recently discovered ‘Coroner’s Transmittal Page to the Clerk of the District Court concerning the Inquest of the gunfight at the OK Corral’. These missing documents were discovered in the Cochise County Courthouse in 2010 and were transferred to the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records where they were scanned and preserved.
The Arizona Memory Project is a rich resource for anyone conducting research in Arizona.
Arizona Territorial Census records are unique in that they fall in the interim years between federal censuses. Arizona became a U.S. territory on February 24, 1863. By February 1864 Milton B. Duffield, U.S. Marshall for Arizona, provided instructions for the first census to be taken. The information collected on the census varies from year to year but may include name, place of residence, age, nativity and occupation. A territorial census was taken in 1864, 1866, 1867, 1869, 1874, 1876, and 1882. Instructions were given that no settlement, mining district or ranch was to be excluded. A daunting proposition considering the size of the territory.
Good news for Arizona researchers, especially those who do not have paid Ancestry subscriptions is the partnership between Arizona State Archives and Ancestry.com which makes these Territorial Censuses freely available online to residents of the State of Arizona. You do need to set up a free Ancestry.com Arizona account which is easily done by going to https://www.azlibrary.gov/arm/research-archives/archives-resources/ancestry-arizona. The State Archives of Arizona has much more available than only the Territorial censuses so it is well worth a look.
Many Latter-Day Saint (Mormon) families heeded the call to settle parts of Arizona Territory, including the Judd family. Called by Brigham Young to settle the Little Colorado river area, the first families arrived in Sunset in Apache county, Arizona Territory in March 1876. Hyrum Jerome Judd, a herdsman by occupation, and his family were living in Sunset, Apache, Arizona Territory when the 1880 U.S. Federal Census was taken.
Hyrum Jerome Judd’s brother, Don Carlos Judd and family had arrived from Utah Territory about 1879 and settled in Smithville (Graham County) on the Gila river. Smithville would later become the Town of Pima. Hyrum Jerome Judd and Don Carlos Judd lived about 300 miles from each other in 1880.
These early pioneers faced many obstacles including flash floods, crop failures due to poor soil, long cold winters and summer droughts and by 1881 many had moved on to other areas. By 1881 the Sunset settlement had failed and the pioneers looked to the settlements in the southern part of the territory as a better option. The 1882 Arizona Territorial census indicates that by 1882 Hyrum Jerome Judd and his family had moved south to join his brother Don Carlos Judd in Pima. Their father and mother, Hyrum and Lisania Fuller Judd had also moved to Pima with 4 of their younger children: Lucius Hubbard Judd (24), Daniel Judd (17), Lyman Perry Judd (13), Lafeyette Judd (12).
The Judd’s were only one of many stalwart pioneer families who took on the challenge to settle parts of Arizona Territory. The Arizona Territorial censuses are unique records that help to find those pioneer settlers in the years between U.S. Federal censuses.
Searching for a family in the 1890 U.S. census may leave you feeling very frustrated. That’s because the 1890 Census was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1921. If you are researching in Appomattox County, Virginia it is vital to know that a fire destroyed much of the county court records in 1892. If you are searching the freebmd.org.uk site for a birth registration for your ancestor born in 1835 you will be disappointed. The civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales only began in July 1837. On June 30, 1922 almost all of the records kept in the Public Record Office of Ireland were destroyed during the Irish Civil War. All Irish census returns for the years 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 as well as many other documents were destroyed by the explosion and fire. These are simple examples of why it is important to know the history before you search for the records.
How to Find Out What Records are Available
There are 2 sites I use when trying to find out what records may be available in a research locality which is new to me:
I’ve written before about the incredible value to be found in using the FamilySearch Wiki as you prepare to search.
Start out with a broad locality, for example, Arizona. Here you will find a page that gives you all the information you need to begin a search for records in Arizona. The large blue ‘Online Records’ button indicates that there are numerous records available online to look at.
You can continue to narrow your search to a particular county, city or town. The FamilySearch Wiki is not only focused on the United States but has information on the available records for many countries. Below is the Wiki page for South African genealogy:
You can also search by keywords so typing in ‘Burned Counties’ will give you a page with information on which U.S. counties are considered ‘burned counties’ and ways to find records for them.
Not only can the FamilySearch Wiki assist in finding out what records are available but it also gives valuable research guidance and advice. Know the history know the records!
The other site that I use for my British research is GENUKI. From their main page, “GENUKI provides a virtual reference library of genealogical information of particular relevance to the UK and Ireland”. (http://www.genuki.org.uk/)
GENUKI provides a wealth of information on county formation, available records, maps, addresses of libraries and county record offices, directories, description and travel, and local history.
Having trouble locating a record? Good questions to ask yourself are:
Do I understand enough about the history of this area to be able to search effectively?
Does the record exist in the time period I am looking at?
Am I looking in the correct town, city, county, province or district?
Have records moved as counties merged with other counties?
Have a country’s borders changed over time?
Was there a fire, flood, or some type of disaster which may have destroyed the records I’m searching for?
Knowledge really is power. Knowing the history means knowing which records may be available. The added benefit of this knowledge is that it helps us make good use of valuable research time.
Many years ago I received the birth certificate for my great-grandfather James Thomas, born in Medomsley, County Durham, England in 1862. I knew his parents to be William and Susan Thomas, but I had not been able to find Susan’s maiden name. I eagerly opened the envelope anticipating the beautifully written maiden name of my great great grandmother. It was not to be. The handwriting, while not the worst I have ever seen, was not that easily read:
From James’ birth record I was able to make out that Susan was formerly BASH-something. It looked like it could be BASHLON, BASHLOW, or BASHTON. I noticed too that Susan was not able to sign her name and instead had added her mark (x).
Using James as a starting point I was able to find the family on the 1871 U.K. census. This gave me the names of some of James’ siblings, specifically of his older brother, William Henry Thomas. I sent off for William Henry’s birth certificate, hoping for better handwriting that would confirm his mother Susan’s maiden name.
While waiting for the birth certificate to arrive from London I began a search to see if I could locate a marriage record between William Thomas and Susan BASH-(something). I was fairly confident that the maiden name began with ‘Bash’ as those were the 4 letters I could easily read. No luck!
Six weeks later I had my hands on William Henry Thomas’ birth certificate. The handwriting was better and there was Susan’s maiden name …. BASTON. Not what I was expecting to find.
What I had thought was BASH-(something) was now BASTON. The 1871 U.K. census had shown that William Henry Thomas had been born in Cardiganshire, Wales but that he had an older sister, Mary Ann Thomas who had been born in St. Agnes, Cornwall circa 1857. Hoping that Mary Ann Thomas was their first child, I began a new search for a marriage record for William Thomas and Susan BASTON, in Cornwall in the years before 1857. The search was negative again. Using FreeBMD I was able to search for all marriages between 1850 and 1857 (when Mary Ann was born), with William Thomas and Susan (leaving out any last name) as parents, and across all districts and all counties in the U.K. I received 44 results. I searched through each one looking at the maiden name of the bride. The only record which came close was a marriage between William Thomas and a Susan BOSTON, in Aberystwyth, Wales in 1854. Could they have met and married in Wales, moved back to Cornwall and had Mary Ann Thomas there in 1857, and returned to Wales where William Henry Thomas was born in 1859?
Working backwards from the 1871 census to the 1861 and 1851 U.K.censuses I was able to track the family’s movements and noted that in 1851 William Thomas, aged 17, was living with his parents in the village of Goginan, Melindwr, Cardiganshire, Wales which is within the Aberystwyth registration district. The FreeBMD marriage index I had previously found seemed to be the right one.
So far my search for Susan’s maiden name had resulted in:
1854: Marriage of William Thomas and Susan BOSTON
1859: Birth of son William Henry Thomas – mother’s maiden name BASTON
1862: Birth of son James Thomas – mother’s maiden name BASH-(lon, ton, low, tow)
The recent launch of birth, marriage and death indexes at the General Register Office in England has given genealogists the opportunity to search for births with a maiden name, which was not possible before (only available now for births before 1911). I began to search for each of William and Susan’s children with the following results:
1857: Birth of Mary Ann Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BACTIAN)
1859: Birth of William Henry Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BASTON)
1862: Birth of James Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BASHTON)
1864: Birth of Emma Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BASHTON)
1867: Birth of Matilda Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BASHTON)
1869: Birth of Elizabeth Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BUSHTON)
1879: Birth of Joseph Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BASHTON)
This is certainly a great way to get a first look at information before ordering a certificate.
You would think that with BASHTON being the most commonly occurring name in all the records so far that I would be fairly confident in thinking that to be Susan’s maiden name. The other variations of the name can be ascribed to the fact that it’s probable neither Susan or her husband William were able to write their names (they always used their mark ‘x’ in place of a signature) and BASHTON can easily sound like BASTON or BOSTON or BUSHTON to the person they were reporting the birth to. Right?
Wrong! Using her ages given on the various census to come up with an approximate birth year, my searches for a birth record for a Susan BASHTON born about 1837 in Chacewater, Cornwall were all negative. However, an 1851 Welsh census record for a family with a daughter named Susannah, born about 1837 in ‘Chesswater, Cornwall’ caught my eye. This family was living in Melindwr, Cardiganshire, putting them in the same place as William Thomas and his family, at the same time. And the last name of the family was BASTIAN.
A quick look back at the birth of Mary Ann Thomas (first child of William and Susan Thomas) revealed that the maiden name of the mother was BACTIAN, only a slight variation from BASTIAN. Unfortunately, despite searching through parish records, page by page, and surrounding parishes to Chacewater, Cornwall, I have not been able to find Susan BASTIAN’s birth or christening record.
My confidence in Susan’s maiden name as BASTIAN comes from:
Susan’s parents and siblings are recorded as BASTIAN on the 1841 and 1851 census.
In 1841 Susan and her family are living in Kerley Downs, Kea, Cornwall. Kerley Downs is described as a very small moorland to the southeast of Chacewater. There are 7 very large BASTIAN families living there.
The christening records for all of Susan’s younger siblings show BASTIAN as the last name.
The marriage record for Susan’s parents, John and Susanna Evans, shows the last name as BASTIAN.
Susan’s father, John was christened in 1805 as ‘John, son of Henry BASTIAN’
It is an interesting lesson in not always believing the first record you find. Had I not gone any further than the first 2 birth certificates ordered I would today have in my records a great great grandmother with the incorrect maiden name of Bashton. And while the General Register Office search facility is extremely helpful in being able to provide results coupled with a maiden name, those results must always be corroborated with further proof. This is the emphasis of the third point of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) – all information, sources, and evidence must be analyzed and conflicting evidence resolved, resulting in a credible conclusion. And of course, all of this rests on the first point of the GPS, reasonably exhaustive research. My search therefore continues to find Susan’s birth record and confirm that Susan’s maiden name was in fact BASTIAN.