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Here are tips from @ancestry


It’s written for census records but it really speaks to the search process…


 1 – always look at the page before and after, many records/images are two sided, so if you don’t scroll, you miss out

 2 – focus on unusual names, when you can’t find one family member, look for another

 3 – look for first names only, or search with less criteria

 4 – use wildcards ? *

 5 – record the details, it forces you to become familiar with the ancestor and provides clues; when sharing stories the images are not always clear but if you have transcribed what you find everyone learns; or if you should lose the image, you have the details

 6 – reverse surname and first name

 7 – look for a neighbor, or the other people included in the record, like informants on death certificates, family members in death notices, witnesses for marriage and citizenship…

 8 – compare handwriting, look for other words that you can identify to help decipher the penmanship

 9 – just browse, you don’t always have to search

 10- think differently; one search result for me presented an image that didn’t match my ancestor, then I realized they were alphabetical, indexed incorrectly by more than 200 images, but I was able to find the match.



Another great Chicago resource, the Pritzker Military Library is celebrating their 10th anniversary this month.  The library is located in downtown Chicago, on Michigan Avenue across the street from Millennium Park and the Art Institute.

 The Library is a unique institution – part military history and information center, part museum – open to the public with an extensive collection of books, artifacts and rotating exhibits covering many eras and branches of the military.

Research – the library staff will be happy to assist you in your research.  Visitors can browse our catalog to view holdings in advance of their research visit.

Inter-Library Loan – borrowing privileges (available to Associate Members) give you access not only to materials from our collection, but also to materials from the many other libraries across the continental United States that partner with us through the Inter-Library Loan System.


Listen to a podcast or join a live event, find details at

This is a guest post by DCGS President Nancy Thomas

I arrived yesterday, January 25, after a very early morning flight out of Chicago. The hotel has a free shuttle van that picked me up at the airport. My room was ready. I unpacked, ate a quick lunch in the hotel’s restaurant, and set off to find the group at the library. There’s an exit out the back of the hotel that leads to an alley that is a shortcut to the library. Very handy. However, after looking for the group on several floors with no luck–I didn’t realize that the seven other members of the group would be scattered around doing there own research (and I had no idea what any of them looked like!)–I decided to get on with my own research and try to meet up with the group later. Later turned out to be 9:00 p.m.

I started out by ordering some microfilms that were listed in the FamilySearch online catalog as located in the vault which is off site. In a few days, I will look in the film drawers to see if they are there yet. I did not accomplish much that first day on my own, but had a good consultation session with Nancy Ellen Carlberg, the professional genealogist with the group, this morning. She had looked over several Family Group Sheets that I had sent to her before the trip. She was able to suggest resources and orient me to where things were located on the various floors of the library. This individual attention was what I needed to really get started.

After getting passes from the lobby desk, the group went to lunch together at the LDS Church Cafeteria. This is located across the street in the LDS Office Building, about a 4 minute walk through beautiful Temple Square. This is an amazing cafeteria that is actually for employees of the LDS Church, but patrons using the LDS library are also welcome. It has a wide variety of food to eat, but the best thing are the prices! They are subsidized; for example, I had the special grilled sandwich of the day and a cookie for $3.28! Something I have noticed both at the library and the cafeteria is that all the men wear suits, white dress shirts, and ties. The women wear either skirts or dresses. They look and act very professional, and are friendly and helpful as well. It is very impressive.

I am preparing tonight for another day of research tomorrow. How great is this!

Nancy Thomas

President, DCGS


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On Monday I spent the majority of the day researching in the Special Collections Department of the Daley Library at the University of Illinois – Chicago. I was looking through some of the Italian Americans in Chicago collection for a client. I requested a few boxes of materials that were not related to my client’s work but thought might provide a little more context for his genealogy book. The information I discovered was amazing. BUT, the one thing I found so sad and disappointing is the fact that many of the photos donated to the collection or copied for the collection were unmarked.

There were no names identifying all these people.

The research conducted was used to put together a special exhibit of the Italians in Chicago, originally housed at the Cultural Center and then later, and still today, at the Italian Cultural Center. You can view the photographs there, in the collection or online at the Italians in Chicago photo collection.

I encourage you to take a look at these photos and if you can identify anyone in them, please leave a comment. If you have Italian roots in Chicago, visit UIC or the Italian Cultural Center and investigate their collections. You may uncover something new and wonderful for your family history.

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November Speaker

Join us November 16, 2011 at the Wheaton Public Library to hear Discovering the Naperville Family History Center.
This presentation will include what you can do before you visit and tips on searching the Family History Library catalog. Find out why you may want to join the patron’s mailing list and Yahoo groups. Attention will be given to Chicago ancestor resources at the Center.

The meeting will be held at the library’s lower level meeting room. The library is located at 225 N. Cross Street, Wheaton.

See you there!

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I was trying to catch up on my blog reading and read a post on Amanda’s Anaetheum called “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? Cruise Reads.”  Amanda posted as she was about to embark on the Legacy Family History Cruise.

What am I reading? I just finished Nicholas Sparks’s The Best of Me. Get your tissues out if you decide to read that one. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is sitting on my desk now ready to read.

Genealogy books I’m reading include Getting the Most Out of RootsMagic 4 and Finding Italian Roots.

So I wonder what you are reading this week. Post your book list in the comments. They can be genealogy or non-genealogy related books.

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Join us on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 for our next general meeting. Come hear Thomas MacEntee talk about Social Networking: New Horizons for Genealogists.

Thousands of genealogists and family historians have discovered new ways to expand and improve their genealogy endeavors using social networking, also called social media networking. Learn the basics of blogging, Twitter, FaceBook, wikis and more in an easy-to-follow session that cuts through all the hype and lingo.”

The meeting will be held on Wednesday, October 19 at 7:00 p.m. at the Wheaton Public Library.

Hope to see you there!

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Guest blog post by Patricia Desmond Biallas

“I LOVE the Civil War! It was wonderful! Fabulous!”

Those were the opening remarks of Craig Pfannkuche at a recent program co-sponsored by the DuPage County Historical Museum and the DuPage County Genealogical Society.  The program, entitled  “Using Non-Federal Civil War Records in Family History Research,” was held last week at the Wheaton museum.

Pfannkuche, a former high school teacher who taught history and anthropology for 30 years, has continued to put his curiosity, research skills, and experience as an educator to good use since his retirement. In addition to lecturing on family history topics, he’s served as Genealogical Archivist for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway, and board member for both the McHenry County Genealogical Society and Chicago Genealogical Society.

Aptly dressed in a navy jacket and gray slacks, the speaker, who noted that he had ancestors serving on both sides of the war, made history come alive for those in attendance with his energy, enthusiasm and humorous anecdotes.

“Lots of records were kept by the federal government, states and counties, and the Quartermaster corps just churned them out—all to our benefit,” he told his audience of genealogists.

“Early on,” he explained, “young men signed up in droves for the ‘Adventure of a Lifetime.’ Friends, brothers, neighbors and classmates often joined up together.

For the most part though, the war was fought by draftees, and regiments were raised by the states which each had a quota. That created records.”

“Counties having trouble meeting their quotas,” Pfannkuche explained, “offered cash bounties to entice volunteers to join, and many young men went from county to county enlisting wherever a bounty was paid. They’d sign up, collect their bounty, and run off to another county to do it all over again.  That created more records.”

And draftees with the money who didn’t want to go to war, could hire themselves a substitute to take their place for $300. That created records too,” he continued.

While Pfannkuche noted that pension files and military service records may be found through the National Archives, he also encouraged researchers to investigate other federal records: the OR (Official Record of the Union and Confederate Armies in the Civil War), the ORN (Official Record of the Union and Confederate Navies in the Civil War, and the Roll of Honor: 1865-1923, which contains the official record of veterans’ burial places during those years.

But Pfannkuche also promoted checking county and state records as well when searching for a Civil War ancestor. “Most states have Adjutant Generals. Write to the Adjutant General of the state where your ancestor was discharged from. You may be told that  they’ve transferred their records to the state archives, but contact them anyway—maybe not all the records have been transferred.”

For those whose ancestors were in the Confederate Army, Pfannkuche suggested contacting the United Daughters of the Confederacy whose records are in Austin, TX.

But while the starting point for most Civil War researchers is often via keyboard, mouse, and the internet through genealogy and government websites, Pfannkuche encouraged his listeners to go much further than that.

There’s a treasure trove of resources beyond traditional federal records for learning more about those who played a part in one of the most significant chapter’s of our nation’s history, he professed.

“Don’t stop after seeking pension files and military records from traditional sources like the National Archives or state muster rolls. While they may provide the raw data—facts and figures—they don’t give the full story. There ARE other avenues to pursue in search of your Civil War ancestor,” he insisted.

His suggestions?

“GO! GO to the county where your ancestor served.  VISIT the area where your ancestor fought….where he was mustered in, or out.  If he fought at Shiloh, go to Shiloh!”

“Visit the local museums,” he encouraged. “Talk to the curators. Ask if they have  local regimental histories from the Civil War.  Read the diaries, journals and letters of soldiers from areas where your ancestor served. Read the historic newspapers of the day—in person, if possible—not all historical newspapers are online,” he pointed out.

“Examine the photo collections. Look at the artifacts. Review local histories that can’t be found in any other library or museum,” Pfannkuche continued. “Visit the local cemeteries, look at the monuments, examine the headstones. Most of these kinds of things aren’t indexed! You just won’t find them online.”

The program was one in a series of educational lectures being held at the DuPage County Historical Museum in recognition of the Civil War’s Sesquicentennial. Remaining programs include: Disease, Wounds, Hospitals and Hygiene: The Medical Side of the Civil War (October 8 from 1-2 pm); and Civil War Nurse Clara Barton (October 15, 11-2 pm).

An exhibit “DuPage County and the Civil War: A Local Perspective will also run at the museum through September 2012. Museum hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.  For more information about the programs or exhibit call (630) 510-4956.



Patricia Desmond Biallas, is a budding genealogist who began researching her family history two years ago. She is very much looking forward to her first research trip next week to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. where she hopes to obtain military records of her great-grandfather, William Donar, who served in both the 8th Regiment Illinois Infantry in 1861, and the 25th Regiment New York Infantry National Guard in 1862.

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*** I originally posted this on my Generations site last week after a discussion on Twitter about genealogical societies and distance members. What are your thoughts? Please share the post and comment below. Thanks! ~Jennifer Holik-Urban


At FGS 2011 last week I had a conversation with a President of a Genealogical Society in SW Missouri about research, the society’s benefits, etc. I had tried to meet this person in May when I spent the month down in SW Missouri but we were unable to meet up.

He suggested I join the society. That had been on my mind for a while. Looking at their membership benefits this morning I was a little shocked. $28 for an individual and this does not include a quarterly. The other benefits are GREAT for local members though. Sadly I am not one of them. The quarterly is a separate subscription for $15 a year.

Now, let me say I was born in Chicago but spent many years growing up in SW Missouri. My roots are not there. I have done a lot of pro-bono research for a good friend and one of his relatives by marriage because they have roots in the state and I have been able to look at records my family just can’t provide. My Bohemian ancestors came off the boat and settled in Chicago after 1880 and prior to 1925. I have no Civil War history or anything before that. This friend’s research lets me explore that.

So why would I want to join this society? Because number one, I want to expand my business into Missouri more. My parents still live down there so I have a free place to stay. Good for clients who need research done near where my parents live – the hotel (and some meal) expense is gone from their bill.

Number two, I enjoy a challenge and exploring new repositories and records. Every family’s story is different and I learn so much doing work for others.

Number three, because I want to network and make solid contacts with other researchers and repositories in that area. Again, I want to expand my business down there and build a reputation. I also want to learn things from those researchers because some of my Chicago clients have families that passed through Missouri. Even if that client work does not allow me to travel, I will still learn of resources to suggest for future research or to attempt to obtain long-distance.

Number four, I want to write articles for their quarterly. I want to learn from quarterly articles and be in the “know” about what’s going on in the society so my education level rises.

So what can this society, or others, offer me, as a distance member?

  • A quarterly with their membership. This particular society offers that separately. Need to cut costs? Offer it online like other societies do and a paper option for those who do not like using the computer for such things.
  • Online databases.
  • Online publications that are free for members. I’d rather have access to online books and quarterlies rather than fill my personal library with paper books that I may rarely use because I do not have much business there.
  • Finding aids for their collections. This society in particular has their own research library AND a collection at the main public library in town. I think they have a finding aid they give to members. If they posted that on their website for everyone, they might just attract other members because of all the amazing resources they have. I visited their research library and the main library so I know some of what is there.
  • Ways to network. They have a blog but it isn’t updated very often. They are not on Twitter or FaceBook unless I have completely missed them. I did ask my contact at the society about this. My local society, DuPage County (IL) has a blog that I run. After FGS I have many more ways to expand how we use it and to encourage distant members in particular to post and hopefully strike up more conversations.
  • Consider a webinar of one of the workshops they offer.
  • Post meeting and workshop handouts and summaries online. You know who does a great job of this? Tony at the Schaumburg Library. Schaumburg is fairly close but I have not yet been able to attend a meeting. I can always go to his blog and see what’s going on though from his posts and handouts. His handouts also contain other resources and his comments on articles he’s read in genealogy magazines and journals.
  • Get some Official Bloggers working at your meetings or conference if you have people willing to do this. Then distance members can be in the know.

There may be other things but those are the biggies off the top of my head.

What do you think a society should offer distance members? Please comment below.

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I recently finished Lesson 11 of the National Genealogical Society Home Study Course on migration and census analysis. I decided to use what I created from the census portion of the assignment to write an article for the Koreny journal for the Czech and Slovak American Genealogical Society of Illinois. My research focuses on my Czech family in Chicago.

Let me explain the assignment. I had to choose two censuses in which an ancestor appeared. Transcribe that census for the ancestor and his family plus 100 people surrounding the ancestor. Then analyze the data and write a narrative report. I chose my great-great grandfather Joseph Kokoska and roughly 100 of his neighbors for 1900. By 1910 that number increased to over 100 because so many more people moved into the neighborhood.

Census analysis is not only interesting for cities, but rural areas as well. Analyzing the census for your ancestor and 100 or so of his neighbors for multiple census years may show:

  • Families that migrated from place to place together.
  • Same surname families you missed in other research that may or may not be related.
  • Information about the wealth, or lack thereof, of the people in the community.
  • Demographic changes from census year to census year. Did the community grow older, younger, remain roughly the same? Did a new ethnic group move in and the original one move out? Did more people own or rent homes? Did the occupations change drastically?

Those are just a few things a census analysis can show you. So what are you waiting for? Start transcribing a couple of census years for your ancestors and see what you find. You might just break down a brick wall or find a new relative.

Have you already done a census analysis? What did you find? Please post in the comments.

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1940 census

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