Researching Alabama WWI Ancestors

WWI service summaries are incredibly useful when researching our military ancestors. For Alabama, we have two choices to access these online: The Alabama Department of Archives and History and FamilySearch.

For the centennial of WWI, the Alabama Department of Archives and History conducted a crowdsourcing effort to transcribe the records of Alabamians who served in the military during WWI. These records can be browsed by county here.

Click on a county to view the list of WWI service cards in alphabetical order.

From the page for the county results, you can enter a name in the Search box, and click on the Search button, to see that name in all the counties in Alabama. (Also note the checkbox for Alabama Active Military Service Reports if you are searching for more recent military ancestors.)

Below is a list of all the Smith results for all counties.

There is a separate series for members of the 167th Infantry Regiment. Enter the name in the Search box and click on the Search Button.

This is a summary of service transcribed from the original personnel records that may have been burned at the NPRC. Remember, even though the files may have burned, the data compiled in them still exists. Read our blog post Where Do I Find Out About My Ancestor’s Military Service? The OMPF!.

As promised, there is one other resource for the Alabama service summaries. FamilySearch has them online and indexed. It was a little easier to search on this website, but you do have to sign up for a free account to use it.

Search the Alabama, World War I Service Cards, 1917-1919 here. The birth date might be helpful to enter.

Searching for Frank B Williams brought me to these search results. When you see the camera icon on its own that means you can view an image on the FamilySearch website.

The first result was the WWI soldier who I was researching.

Thank you to John Milam for bringing the research question to me that resulted in this post.

Book Review: “How To Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records”

I was excited at the opportunity to review “How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide” by Sunny Jane Morton and Harold A. Henderson, CG. The book contains specific resources for researching ancestors in major Christian Denominations before 1900 in the United States. That excitement lasted throughout the whole book.

While censuses are great for providing us with a backbone of an individual’s or family’s timeline, Church records can help us learn the web of connections between family members and those who were close to them. The choice of Church may also give us the underlying motivations for major stories in our ancestors’ history. At the very least they provide us knowledge of the important institution and tenets with which our ancestors allied themselves.

This book is a game changer for religious research. Up until now, genealogists may have or may not have known the importance of church records, but conquering them was a hit-or-miss effort. These skills were usually taught by an experienced genealogist. A genealogist would learn a little about whom to contact and what to ask for, and that could still be a hit-or-miss effort. Experience was the only teacher.

In Section 1, Chapters 1 through 5 take the genealogist through the basics of researching Church Records. Section 2 addresses specific Christian denominations in the United States: Anglican/Episcopal, Baptist, Congregational, Dutch Reformed/Reformed Church in America, Latter-Day Saint (Mormon), Lutheran, Mennonite and Amish, Methodist, Quaker (Religious Society of Friends), Presbyterian and Roman Catholic. Each chapter contains a short history of the religion, important facts about it, followed by information about the records and how to find them. Every chapter also includes a section with resources for learning more.

One unexpected hidden gem in this book is that this approach may prove useful for those researching enslaved African-American ancestors. Some church records for them may exist in the Anglican/Episcopal Church, covered in Chapter 6.

I read this book from cover-to-cover, impressed by the amount of research put into each topic. The authors were clearly focused on putting useful and actionable information into genealogists’ hands. The authors are knowledgeable researchers, but put forth the additional effort of having experts in each religion review their material.

If you are thinking about trying to find your Christian ancestors in Church records, and you should be, this book is for you. This is an invaluable reference for those researching Christian Churches in the United States.

“How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide” by Sunny Jane Morton and Harold A. Henderson, CG, is available from the Genealogical Publishing Company.

Cemetery Research: Interview with Tina Simmons

We recently had a chance to catch up with researcher and author, Tina Simmons, about her work in cemetery research and in cemetery preservation.

How did you become involved with the field of cemetery research? 

Long before I understood genealogy terms I would attempt to determine connections between family members fueled by knowledge that her mother had a number of unknown relatives. I joined the Anne Arundel Genealogical Society to research my family history and took on a project working with cemetery records. I have been the Cemetery Chairman for over 30 years. Areas of continuing interest include documenting old and neglected cemeteries, photographing and transcribing tombstone inscriptions, and seeking out documentation from varied sources including death certificates, newspapers, land and church records, funeral programs, and interviewing community residents. I have focused much research on African American and institutional cemeteries that are the most elusive. I serve as a consultant with archeologists, government officials, church groups, and individuals. I give talks to various organizations.

What other hats do you wear?

I have also been a board member of the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites for the past three years and visited various sites throughout Maryland in that capacity as a consultant. For the past four years I have also volunteered at the Maryland State Archives with a Family Search project working to prepare probate records from various Maryland counties for scanning.

I have led public Cemetery Inscription Days since 1998. We invite people to come out and help transcribe information from tombstones two or three times during the year. With the advent of BillionGraves we started photographing tombstones instead of doing paper transcriptions which is faster but we have less control over the final project.

What should people consider when doing cemetery research?

Cemeteries often have no record of the burials. Other sources of information include Catholic and Episcopal churches records which sometimes list funerals held for local residents who were not members of that church. African American burials, in particular, typically give out a program at the funeral detailing the deceased’s life and listing many of their relatives. A family Bible, may list deaths as well as births and marriages in the center pages.  Funeral homes may allow family members access to their record for the deceased. Historical and genealogical societies as well as local libraries may offer local histories on family members or on particular surnames. If a person dies “intestate”, i.e. without a will; there will still be a distribution of their estate, both personal belongings and possibly of real estate.

Online sources for information on deaths and burials include: The Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites which lists various sources on their county pages, USGenWeb Tombstone Project, Interment.net, FindAGrave, and BillionGraves.  Various online sources allow searches in old newspapers for obituaries, death notices, and notices by the court of estate settlements, guardianships, and various filings related to deaths. Older newspapers may have pages with notices from the towns where they lived, including local deaths.

When looking to do cemetery research, consider checking local resources, particularly at genealogical, historical, and public libraries. Knock on doors and ask older residents if they are aware of any cemeteries in the area. Ask permission before going on private, military, or institutional properties. Be aware that not all cemeteries are well-maintained or need to be cleaned up. Wear clothing suitable for “beating the brush”. Consider having a cemetery kit with a way to take photos, paper and pen, hand pruners, gloves, a spray bottle with water, a soft scrub brush, a trowel, something to kneel on if the ground is wet, and something to shine light on tombstones such as a mirror or car sun shield. A quick “rubbing” can be made with aluminum foil and a tennis ball.

What is your latest project?

This year I spoke at Anne Arundel County’s first Cemetery Symposium, working to bring together people interested in cemeteries with property owners who had cemeteries, professionals in archaeology, restoration professionals, and community groups. Anne Arundel County began a Citizen Preservation Stewardship Program to create an inventory of all their known cemeteries to access what condition they are in and who to contact with questions or issues using citizen participation. Information about the Citizen Preservation Stewardship Program for historic cemeteries, how you can join and what you can do is available at here.

How can people find out more about cemetery research in Anne Arundel County?

Some of the cemeteries in Anne Arundel County are listed on the Anne Arundel Genealogical Society website, as well as on the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites’ website. I am still looking for someone to add summaries of our cemeteries to the society’s website.

Tina joined the Anne Arundel Genealogical Society to research her family history and took on a project working with cemetery records. She has been the Cemetery Chairman for over 30 years. Her areas of continuing interest include documenting old and neglected cemeteries, photographing and transcribing tombstone inscriptions, and seeking out documentation from varied sources including death certificates, newspapers, land and church records, funeral programs, and interviewing community residents. She serves as a consultant with archaeologists, government officials, church groups, and gives talks to various organizations.

Tina has been a board member of the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites for the past three years and has visited various sites throughout Maryland in that capacity. For the past four years she has also volunteered at the Maryland State Archives with a Family Search project working with probate records from several Maryland counties.

She has published several books including several on African-American cemeteries, volumes of Grave Matters containing Anne Arundel County cemetery inscriptions, an index of early Anne Arundel County death certificates and a book of her father’s letters to her mother during World War II.

RootsTech London 2019 Videos and Handouts

Rootstech London 2019 is over, but we can still enjoy it.
You can download the syllabi from the presentation list here. Click on the arrow next to the name of the presentation to see the description and a link to the syllabus (if there is one).

There are links for RootsTech London 2019 Keynotes & General Sessions and some selected Sessions here. More videos from past RootsTech presentations can also be found on that page.

National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair 2019

Are you looking for an easy way to learn about using the National Archives? Would you like to know more about researching your genealogy at NARA?

The 2019 National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair has come and gone, but the videos have been posted on YouTube, and the handouts are still available. You can learn directly from NARA personnel in the videos and have the handouts for reference. This year’s topics are the History Hub, Preserving Personal Collections, Immigration Records, WWI Navy and Marine Corps Records, Indian Affairs School Records and The Homestead Act.

Check out the 2019 National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair webpage for the topics and links to the videos and handouts. You can follow the links on that page to watch presentations from the day on YouTube.

If you want to head straight to the presentations on YouTube, you can use this link.

Consider taking the time to fill out the Event Evaluation Form to let NARA know how much you appreciate this Virtual Genealogy Fair.

While you are there, follow the links to check out the presentations and handouts for the previous years, too. There are links for the genealogy fairs going back to 2010.