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Jul 11, 2015

Today, we’re turning back the clock to talk about two of my favorite eras, the 1950s and—well, the second one is a surprise. I’ll tell you later in the show when I introduce the NEW Genealogy Gems Book Club featured title!

But first, we’ll talk a little news—from a new Google innovation to two new record collections online that fill in a hole in American documentary history. I’ll read some mail from YOU about the new Ancestry site and family history blogging.


Wouldn’t it be great if your smartphone alerted if you left your keys or eyeglasses behind when leaving the house? Google is working on it, based on a recent patent it filed.

The patent describes a device that uses short-range wireless technology to link your smartphone with other must-have items like your wallet, keys or glasses. The idea is that if you leave a location with one item, but leave other items behind, an alarm will go off.

A commentary on the VentureBeat website explains that “the user can control the amount of distance between the mobile device and the paired object that must exist before an alarm goes off. They can also control the type of alarm, as well as how often the device checks to see if all paired objects remain nearby.”

Here’s a drawing from the patent. In one way, it makes me think that Google is taking its Alerts out of cyberspace and right into our daily lives to help them run more smoothly.

Do you use Google Alerts? Setting them up lets me find out about new content online as it becomes available—24/7—relating to my favorite keyword searches. I use Google Alerts to automate my online genealogy searches and follow other favorite topics.

You can learn more about Google Alerts AND how to search for patents like the one I was just talking about—for household items and inventions that shaped our relatives’ lives—in my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.


In last month’s podcast, I mentioned the Civil War Soldiers & Sailors Database in response to a question from a listener who was looking for a good resource for Civil War sailors. Unfortunately, as I stressed in the blog post, the percentage of sailors included is still fairly low in that database. So I was pleased to see a new collection on Fold3 recently: U.S. NAVY SURVIVORS. Here’s a link to a post about it.

Nearly 2 million records in this collection come from case files of approved pension applications between 1861 and 1910, so they include Civil War survivors and later Navy veterans until just before World War I. I love seeing all these new record collections that appear online that, ever so gradually, fill in the gaps to help us find our ancestors! At Genealogy Gems we blog about new record collections online every Friday—watch for those on our blog!


Finally, there’s another record set coming online that will just be HUGE for those researching African-American ancestors. Freedmen’s Bureau records are finally being fully indexed!

Anyone with African-American roots or who has ANY Southern ancestors should know about these. The Freedmen’s Bureau was organized after the Civil War to aid newly-freed slaves in 15 states and Washington, DC. Destitute whites were also helped. For several years the Freedmen’s Bureau created marriage records, labor contracts, and other records of families and their military service, poverty, property, health and education. The richest documents are the field office records of each state. (Here’s a link to a great article from the National Archives about these records.)

A few field office records are already transcribed or indexed; you can find links at the Freedmen’s Bureau Online. Now FamilySearch and other national partners have issued a call to action for the genealogy community to help finish indexing them all—an estimated 1.5 million records—within the coming year. A press release says the “records, histories and stories will be available on Additionally, the records will be showcased in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is currently under construction on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and expected to open in late 2016.”



Recently I heard from Patty, who says, “Not long ago I listened to the podcast in which you encouraged people to send the links to their genealogy blogs, and after seeing this week's newsletter, I thought I finally would.”

“I started a blog last summer to share my research with my family, which is fairly spread out throughout the country.  I also wanted to document a trip to Italy that my husband and I took last October, which included genealogy research as well as the chance to meet newly discovered relatives there. My website is Thanks for all the great info you provide!”

You’re welcome, Patty, and I have to say, I hear from SO many people about the power of blogging your family history. Most people start because they’re just bursting to share their family history finds, and they want to do it in the small bite-size pieces that work so well on a blog. Many of them also hope to connect with other descendants who may stumble across their blogs and contact them. And you know, it really does happen!

If you’re ready to start blogging your family history—or to get re-inspired and get BACK to it—I recommend you listen to my how-to series on the FREE Family History Made Easy Podcast or watch my YouTube channel version.


Finally, we continue to hear feedback on the new Ancestry site. On the Genealogy Gems Facebook page, Cynthia told us, “I absolutely love it! At first I was confused, but took the time to figure out how to find what I wanted, add new facts, photos, etc. It was a challenge and now I will never go back to the old way.” Also on Facebook, Paris told us she misses the “show how we’re related” feature with its icon, and Ken misses now having the family group view.

Nora also wrote in with more detailed comments on her three favorite features. In short they are:

That when you are given the option to accept hints, you now have yes, no AND MAYBE options. (And I agree—that’s so much more practical to have a MAYBE option.)

She loves the Lifestory view, especially since it gives the option of removing historical events you don’t want to include from an ancestor’s timeline.

She finds it easier to merge facts about the same life event when reported by multiple sources.

Nora even shares step-by-step tips for how she merges facts on the new site. Here’s a link to her full comments, along with helpful screen shots.


A third piece of mail comes from Carol in St. Louis, Missouri. She was frustrated that she couldn’t read my entire email newsletter. “Would love to know what you are saying,” she says. But my newsletter email doesn’t fit in her email window. She says, “I don’t want to toggle to the right to see the end of each line and then have to toggle back.”

I don’t blame her! That’s annoying. The good news is that anyone who has trouble with my emails not fitting in their viewers can fix it pretty easily.

Email sizing is related to your computer’s screen resolution setting and a variety of other variables. It’s different for everyone. In cases where it doesn’t come through to your email account right, we provide a link at the top of the email that you can simply click to view the email on a new web browser tab fitted to the page.

To get the free Genealogy Gems email newsletter, just sign up in the box in the upper right-hand corner on the Genealogy Gems home page. We don’t share your email address with anyone else and you get a free e-book of Google tips for genealogy just for signing up.


Sunny and I discuss her digital backup plan (or lack thereof!) My solution for her:








GEM: Find Your Family History in the 1950s

What comes to mind when I say these words? Sock hops. Drive-ins. Juke boxes. Fuzzy dice. Letterman jackets. Poodle skirts, bobby socks and saddle shoes. 3D movies. Hula hoops. Of course, the 1950s. Do you remember any of these fads, or have you seen any family pictures that show them?

Of course, the fifties weren’t all fun and games. Think the Korean War, McCarthyism, the Iron Curtain. The 1950s was also a time of complex social problems and conflict throughout the world.

What about finding records about your fabulous family in the 1950s? You know, we’re always told to start researching the most recent generations. But national censuses and many vital records have privacy blackouts. So I want to mention four major resources for finding family in the ‘fifties:

Oral history interviews. In many families, there’s at least one person around who remembers the 1950s personally. If there’s not, then look to the memories of the next living generation, who often know at least some important things about the past.

Interviewing a relative is one of the most fun and meaningful ways to learn your family history. After all, you’re learning about the past first-hand (or second-hand, if you’re asking about someone’s parents). You can ask specific and personal questions of the kind that don’t appear on a census record. You can deepen your relationships with those you interview and gain a better understanding of the lives that led to you. Older people often love to have someone take a sincere interest in them.

The Family History Made Easy podcast has a great episode on interviewing your relatives. Here are some tips about interviewing your family:

Reach out with sincere interest in that person, not just their memories of others who have gone.

Be patient and respectful when you ask questions. It can take a while to establish a rapport and discover the kinds of memories that person most wants to share.

The best skill you can have is that of a good listener. Don’t interrupt. Don’t judge. And listen so intently that you can ask great follow-up questions.

Newspapers are my second resource. Turn to these for more recent relatives’ obituaries and other articles that mention them. Use hometown papers to discover more about a relative’s daily life, current events that would affect them, popular opinions of the time, prices for everyday items and more.

Thanks to the internet, it’s getting easier than ever to find family members in newspapers. Some newspapers have been digitized, though this isn’t as common with more recent papers that may still be under copyright protection. Still, you can use online resources to discover what newspapers served your family’s neighborhood, or even whether an ethnic, labor or religious press would have mentioned them.

Each country and region has its own online newspaper resources. In the US, I always start with the US Newspaper Directory at Chronicling America. (In this case, DON’T start with searching digitized papers, which only go up to 1922.) From the home page, click on US Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present, and you’ll get a fantastic search interface to locate ALL newspapers published in a particular place and time, as well as the names of libraries or archives that have copies of these papers. Links for newspapers outside the United States include: The British Newspaper Archive, the National Library of Australia digitized newspapers webpage and the Newspaper Collection webpage for Library and Archives Canada.

Remember, historical societies and even local public libraries are also wonderful places to look for newspaper holdings. My book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, gives you all kinds of tips for what to look for in papers and how to locate them, both online and offline, and in free and subscription resources.

City directories are the third place I look for recent relatives. By the 1950s, most towns and cities published directories of residents, mostly with telephone numbers. I use annual directory listings to track families from year to year. These might give you your first clue that someone moved, married, separated, divorced or died. I can often find their exact street address (which is great for mapping them out!), who lived at the house and sometimes additional information like where they worked, what their job was or who they worked for.

Ancestry has over a billion U.S. city directory entries online, clear up to 1989. But most other online city directory collections aren’t so recent, probably for copyright reasons. Look for city directories first in hometown public libraries. I would call the library and see if there is a local history or genealogy room where they handle research requests. Also check with larger regional or state libraries and major genealogical libraries. These are pretty straightforward research lookups and may not be that expensive to request copies of your relatives’ listings in each year for a certain time period.

The fourth and most fun place to look for relatives, I think, is in historical video footage! YouTube isn’t just for viral cat videos and footage of your favorite band. You can look for old newsreels, people’s home movies and other old footage that’s been converted to digital format. It’s not unusual to find videos showing the old family neighborhood, a school or community function, or other footage that’s relevant to your relatives.

Use the YouTube search box like you would the regular Google search box, because it’s powered by Google. Enter terms like “history,” “old,” “footage,” or “film” along with the names, places or events you hope to find. For example, the name of a parade your relative marched in, a team he played on, a company she worked for, a street he lived on and the like. It’s hit and miss, for sure, but sometimes you can find something very special.

My Contributing Editor Sunny Morton didn’t really believe me that YouTube could be a great source for family history finds. She set out to prove me wrong—and I’m glad she did! Almost immediately, with a search on the name of her husband’s ancestral hometown and the word “history,” she found a 1937 newsreel with her husband’s great-grandfather driving his fire truck with his dog! She recognized him from old photos and had read about his dog in the newspapers. What a find! Her father-in-law was stunned, because he never met his own grandfather, who died in 1950. You can learn more in my all-new second edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, which has an entire, newly-updated chapter on YouTube.

So that’s four places to look for 1950s relatives: in family memories, newspapers, city directories and YouTube footage. So what ABOUT those 1950 and 1951 censuses around the world?

Spotlight on the 1950 US Census:

The 1950 US Federal census won’t be released to the public until April 2022. If you REALLY need an entry on yourself or immediate relatives, you can apply to receive copies of individual census entries from 1950-2010. It’s not cheap—it’s $65 per person, per census year. But if you’re having research trouble you think would be answered by a census entry, it might be worth it. Here’s a link to the page at that tells you how to do this (it’s called the “age search service”).

Ancestry does have a 1950 U.S. census substitute database. It’s a little gimmicky, because it appears to be just a slice of their city directory collection from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s. But this is still a good starting point to target US relatives during this time period.

I have some interesting factoids on the 1951 censuses for England, Canada and Australia, which aren’t available yet to the public.

At Office for National Statistics website, you can at least download a blank form for the 1951 census in England. That site says:

“There was no census in 1941 and only limited population information from the 1939 National Register, making the 1951 census highly significant in tracking changes in society over 20 years. The 1951 Census revealed that the population of Britain had exceeded 50 million.

It was the first census to ask about household amenities (outside loos) as Britain began to clear slums and rebuild housing after World War II. Questions about fertility and duration of marriage were reinstated.

The Registrar General for England and Wales, Sir George North, asked women to be more honest about their age. Many women of the time felt that questions relating to age were of a too personal nature. Information from previous censuses suggested that women had adjusted their age upwards if they married young and down if they married later. Problem pages in newspapers and magazines were flooded with queries from distraught women, fearful that their true age would become public knowledge.”

That’s so funny to me now, as our age is a basic piece of all our identifying records!

So a good substitute for the 1951 census may be England’s electoral registers, at least for those who were qualified to vote. An Ancestry description of London electoral registers states that these “registers typically provide a name and place of abode, and older registers may include a description of property and qualifications to vote. Registers were compiled at a local level.” That webpage has helpful tips on searching registers by location through 1954.

What about Canada? They do censuses every 10 years on the years ending in “1” also, and a population and agriculture census in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta every 10 years in the years ending in “6,” according to the Library and Archives Canada website. By law, you can’t get personal information yet from post-1921 census returns except about yourselves or for pension or other legal purposes. The site does say that “Third parties cannot obtain information about another individual without the individual's written consent,” which leads me to wonder you COULD get them if you did have consent, but that might not be easy or possible to get from the relatives you’re researching.

You’ll hit up against the same privacy issues in Australia for 1951, but what is online is the entire Year Book Australia for 1951, with free downloadable chapters on topics like land, transportation, communication, education, welfare, labor, wages, prices, the population, vital statistics, and several different types of industrial reports. You won’t likely find ANY ancestors mentioned by name, but you can read generally how the country was doing at the time.










The new Genealogy Gems Book Club featured title is Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, edited by Pamela Smith Hill. This autobiography was written by Laura in the 1930s, and is the basis of her popular Little House children’s series.

But her actual autobiography was never published, and it’s the “grown-up” version—more detailed, more explicit—of all those stories and her recollections of family, and neighbors, wagon trains and homesteads: pioneering in an American West that was fading away. Across the cover of the first tablet she scrawled “Pioneer Girl.” These real stories behind the Little House stories will intrigue--and sometimes stun--any Laura Ingalls Wilder fan.

What makes this book a standout and a prime candidate for genealogists? The immaculate research that went into it. The stunning example it sets for source citations, which consume large portions of most of the pages. And the often never seen before photos sprinkled throughout that bring the people and times to life visually for the reader.