Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Breaking News: Use Google To Search in 1940 Census

I just discovered something interesting: You can use Google to search in Ancestry.com's version of the 1940 Census database.
I was searching for information on my uncle, Wallace Dingman, using Google, and up popped a hit on his 1940 census record in Buffalo, New York. It actually was the No. 4 hit in the list generated by Google for Wallace Dingman when I entered no other information.
Then I tried the search again, this time entering "Buffalo" and "1940" along with his name. Guess what popped up first in the list: Yes, the same 1940 census record popped up but now it was first in the list.
I tried the same approach with other ancestors, including my mother and father, and the same process worked. It is much simpler than going to Ancestry.com and opening the 1940 search function.
I also learned that you can refine the search by adding additional terms. I looked for "Walter Dingman" and "1940 census" and the first hit was not my great uncle but another Walter Dingman. So I added "Ohio" to my search terms and now he appeared as the No. 1 hit immediately.
Apparently the programmers at Ancestry have figured out how to make their 1940 census database searchable by Google. I don't know how they did it, but the results are wonderful. It will speed up the process of working my way through my list of persons of interest in the 1940 census. 
So here is my working approach: Start with a first name and family name, particularly if the names or the combination are somewhat unique. My name is an example: Wallace Huskonen. This is a combination of a somewhat uncommon English given name and a Finnish Surname. So if you enter "Wallace Huskonen," that's all you need to search in Google to find me in the 1940 census. My 1940 census result pops up first in a list of results for me. 
Another example of a direct search is my father-in-law: "Clyde Vancourt." His 1940 census result comes right up first, in a list of results for Vancourt.
With "Walter Dingman," I had to add details to come up with my great uncle's 1940 census listing. With Google, it is easier and faster than using the search window built into Ancestry.com.
Now, there's a caveat: the person you are looking for has to be in a state that has been indexed by Ancestry.com. At this writing, the number of states indexed stands at 38 states and territories. With the rate states are being added, we should be able to search the entire 1940 census by the time summer is over.
Is the indexing perfect? Sorry, but from my experience I can't say that it is. I was attempting to look up my boyhood neighbor, Lawrence Betts. No luck in Ohio, so I tried Pennsylvania. No luck there either with the Google approach. 
Being persistent, I went to Ancestry's search window and entered "Lawrence Betts" along with his birth year, "1937." He wasn't in the first 50 hits, but scrolling down through the second 50, there was Lawrence Betta, with his father, Harold, and mother, Mary. Bingo! They were living in Pennsylvania just across the state line from Andover, Ohio, where we both grew up.
So, technology marches along and we have even more tools with which to do our research.
Oh, by the way, if you don't have an Ancestry account, either paid or free, you will have to give your name and email address to be able to see the search results. Viewing the 1940 Census on Ancestry.com is free for now, but they do want to be able to let you know about new databases and subscription offers. In my view, that's a very small price to pay to be able to use the research power programmed into Ancestry.com.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ancestry.com Discovers President Obama Related to First Documented Slave in America

The latest press release (see below) from Ancestry.com describes how staff research connects our first African-American president to the first African slave in the American Colonies. The connection is on his white mother's side.

PROVO, UTAH – July 30, 2012 – A research team from Ancestry.com (NASDAQ:ACOM), the world’s largest online family history resource, has concluded that President Barack Obama is the 11th greatgrandson of John Punch, the first documented African enslaved for life in American history. Remarkably, the connection was made through President Obama’s Caucasian mother’s side of the family.
The discovery is the result of years of research by Ancestry.com genealogists who, through early Virginia records and DNA analysis, linked Obama to John Punch. An indentured servant in Colonial Virginia, Punch was punished for trying to escape his servitude in 1640 by being enslaved for life. This marked the first actual documented case of slavery for life in the colonies, occurring decades before initial slavery laws were enacted in Virginia.
In the 372 years since, many significant records have been lost – a common problem for early Virginia (and the South in general) – destroyed over time by floods, fires and war. While this reality greatly challenged the research project, Ancestry.com genealogists were able to make the connection, starting with Obama’s family tree. 
President Obama is traditionally viewed as an African-American because of his father’s heritage in Kenya. However, while researching his Caucasian mother, Stanley Ann Dunham’s lineage, Ancestry.com genealogists found her to have African heritage as well, which piqued the researchers’ interest and inspired further digging into Obama’s African-American roots. In tracing the family back from Obama’s mother, Ancestry.com used DNA analysis to learn that her ancestors, known as white landowners in Colonial Virginia, actually descended from an African man.  Existing records suggest that this man, John 
Punch, had children with a white woman who then passed her free status on to their offspring.  Punch’s descendants went on to be free, successful land owners in a Virginia entrenched in slavery.
An expert in Southern research and past president of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, Elizabeth Shown Mills, performed a third-party review of the research and documentation to verify the findings.
“In reviewing Ancestry.com’s conclusions, I weighed not only the actual findings but also Virginia’s laws and social attitudes when John Punch was living,” said Mills. “A careful consideration of the evidence convinces me that the Y-DNA evidence of African origin is indisputable, and the surviving paper trail points solely to John Punch as the logical candidate. Genealogical research on individuals who lived hundreds of years ago can never definitively prove that one man fathered another, but this research meets the highest standards and can be offered with confidence.”
“Two of the most historically significant African Americans in the history of our country are amazingly directly related,” said Ancestry.com genealogist Joseph Shumway. “John Punch was more than likely the genesis of legalized slavery in America.  But after centuries of suffering, the Civil War, and decades of civil rights efforts, his 11th great-grandson became the leader of the free world and the ultimate realization of the American Dream.”
More details and supporting information on this discovery and additional research on President Obama’s family lineage can be found at www.ancestry.com/obama.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Identifying Year of a Photograph, with help from Google

Today, I was comparing notes with my brother, Walfrid, trying to guess when a photograph of our grandmother, Ida Maria (Hytönen) Huskonen was taken, probably by our father. I was able to enlarge the digital file of the photo large enough to be able to read the days of the month on a calendar hanging on the wall behind Grandma Huskonen. The month was January, and the first day of the month was on a Thursday.
Using Google, I found a website, Perpetual Calendar, at http://www.searchforancestors.com/utility/perpetualcalendar.html
With this tool, I was able to determine that in 1948, the first day of January was on a Thursday. After comparing notes, we agreed that this was the proper year.
In our emails back and forth, Walfrid came up with some other events at home around this time. While I didn't remember all of them, I did take note so that I can compile a time line of our growing up in Andover, and especially our house at 496 South Main Street.
That got me to wondering exactly when an explosion destroyed the Isaly Restaurant in Andover. I did a Google search for "Isaly Fire in Andover." Google returned three hits with news reports of the blast and fire. Needless to say, these reports brought back memories of the horror of the event. 
The first report I looked at, published in a Van Wert, Ohio, newspaper, has a list of victims and I quickly scanned it for a high school classmate, Ruby Shellito, but she was not listed.
I did another Google search for "Ruby Shellito" and found a Find-A-Grave listing where she is memorialized along with her parents in the Padanarem Cemetery (about four miles from Andover). That search result provided the following information:

Ruby H Shellito
Birth: 1938
Death: Aug. 10, 1955
Ashtabula County
Ohio, USA
Ruby was killed in an explosion at Andover, Ashtabula County, Ohio. She was a waitress working when Andover Islay's and Gateway Restaurant exploded.

These are just some more examples of the value of using Google as a genealogical research tool.

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