Posts Tagged ‘vital records’

Nine Questions with FamHistFinder

Monday, February 1st, 2010

famhistfinderThe Salt Lake City area probably has more professional genealogists per capita than just about any metropolitan area in the US. So it comes as no surprise that Genlighten has several lookup providers who live near the LDS Church’s Family History Library and know its resources well. Barbara Smythe is one of them. She joined our provider network only recently and already offers an extensive collection of vital record lookups covering eight states plus Chicago and Manhattan.

From FamHistFinder‘s Profile

Barbara has a BA in Social Science and Library Science. She’s been a school librarian and teacher of reading and geography in Kansas, California, Hong Kong and China.

Nine questions with Barbara

1)  How did you get started doing genealogy lookups/research?

About thirty years ago a close friend asked me to help her find out something about her mother and we both became hooked.  We lived in Southern California where there was a National Archives and several good libraries.  We then began doing family history for friends and family, we have never stopped.

2)  Do you have a genealogy superpower? If so, what is it?

My “superpower” is my husband of 53 years.  He is an historian and will always go to libraries with me and do his research as long as I want to do mine. We once spent 27 days at the Library of Congress, and have been to many of the State Historical Libraries. I’m a detail person and never tire of going from one lead to another in order to solve a problem, and I love huge libraries.

3)   Describe a tricky research problem you’re particularly proud of having solved?

A friend said that his wife, who was adopted as a baby, wanted to find who her birth parents were.  All she knew was when and where she was born.  She was adopted soon after her birth.  I was taking a trip to the Salt Lake Family History Library and there I started looking at birth records for a female baby born on the date and place given.  There were two girls born that day, one with the right first name, but no father mentioned.  I then looked for the mother in the census.  I found her with her parents at a younger age and found her marriage later, tracked her down in the same town where she still lives.

The problem was how to get in touch with her.  Do you just call one day and ask if she had put a baby girl up for adoption 50 years ago?  I took the information back to my friend, and he said that his wife had decided since her adoptive parents were still alive and lived close to them that she would not try to find her birth parents.  I am pretty sure that my information was correct, but will never know whether this lady ever used that information to find her birth mother.

4)     What are the ideal elements you like to see in a well-formulated lookup request/research query?

It is always important to have a specific goal. Give names, places, dates and any clue about the people who the person is looking for. If they know where the people are during a census year, it is great to have siblings and other people who might be living with the family on a census.

5. What’s the most interesting record source or repository you’ve utilized in your area?

The Salt Lake Family History Library.

6)  What technical tools (hardware, software) do you use to produce the digital images you provide to clients?

Desktop PC with Windows Vista. HP Deskjet 4480 (3 in One, Printer, Scanner, Copier).

7. Any new lookups you’re considering offering?

Any lookup which can be answered with records from the Salt Lake Family History Library.

8. What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started as a lookup provider?

Live near a large library or repository that has a great number of records.

9. What other passions do you pursue when you’re not at the archives doing lookups/research?

I’m always working on my own and my husband’s family history. I am a member of a local chapter of the Daughter’s of the American Revolution and help prospective members and friends with their applications for joining the DAR. I have done the research for 14 DAR applications which have been accepted.

Lookups FamHistFinder Offers

Manhattan, New York Birth Certificates, 1866-1897, $10.00
Manhattan, New York Marriage Records, Index to all Boroughs, 1866-1937
Chicago, Cook, Illinois Birth Certificates (not yet online at FamilySearch), 1916-1922
Alabama Death Certificates, 1908-1974
Florida Death Records, 1877-1939
Georgia Death Records, 1914-1927
Idaho Death Records, 1911-1937
South Carolina Death Records, 1944-1955
New Mexico Death Records, 1889-1945
Minnesota Death Records, 1908-1955
Louisiana Death Records, 1850-1875, 1894-1954

How long before “It’s not all online” isn’t true anymore?

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
cgs_iceberg1

Courtesy California Genealogical Society and Library

David Rencher, FamilySearch’s “Chief Genealogical Officer” stopped by the Genlighten booth at NGS in North Carolina last year and we had a pleasant chat together. He asked a question that I’ve thought about often but never come up with a perfect answer to:

How will Genlighten’s business model stay viable over the long term as more and more records become available online?

As you already know if you’ve been reading this blog for long or if you’re one of our users, Genlighten’s unique selling proposition is that we help you find offline genealogy records — the ones that are only accessible in libraries, archives, courthouses, historical societies, etc.. In fact, when a provider signs up and offers to do lookups solely using their Ancestry or Footnote subscriptions, we ask them to modify those offerings to utilize an offline source instead.

Beneath the Tip of the Iceberg

Our unspoken assumption here is that many more records are available offline than online. Or as the marvelous image shown here depicts it, the biggest part of the iceberg is below the surface. I stand confidently behind that assumption, despite the fact that I can’t back it up with any meaningful data or statistics.

David’s question implied that he foresees a time when the statement “Most genealogy records aren’t online” won’t hold true anymore. And in fact, he’s in charge of an organization — FamilySearch — that is working hard to digitize and index every single reel in its vast collection of microfilmed records. Whether it takes five years or ten, they will eventually achieve their goal. Whither offline genealogy research (and our business model) then?

The Power of Family Search Indexing

This point hit home particularly hard for me this last December. I visited the Massachusetts State Archives just outside of Boston, mostly to see what kinds of records Genlighten providers could retrieve there, but also to do some of my own research. I was excited to see how many records were available on microfilm and could be scanned at low cost. Within minutes, I easily found the marriage certificate for my Walter Ferdinand Knapp and Rosamond Guilford.

A local Boston provider, I reasoned, (or one with access to the corresponding FHL film) could just as easily provide Massachusetts marriage record lookups for a reasonable fee and still be well-compensated for their forty-minute trip on the Red Line. Cool! Now I just needed to recruit the right providers and help them take advantage of the opportunities available.

Just as I was about to tweet or blog about this discovery, though, what should appear in my Twitterstream but a link to a post about Massachusetts marriage records becoming available on the FamilySearch Record Search Pilot. I tried the site out, and lo and behold, in seconds I had the image of the very same marriage record I had just finished printing out. Thanks to FamilySearch indexing, that was one lookup opportunity that no longer seemed as attractive. Massachusetts Births and Death records still weren’t available online, but for how long?

A Prediction

longtail2I don’t know how FamilySearch decides which records to digitize and index next, but I can guess. They must know which FHL film sets are ordered most, and I suspect those ones get bumped up in priority. So in the short term, we should expect that films of records towards the left end of the long tail will become available online. FamilySearch and other organizations will gradually work their way down the long tail, digitizing and indexing as they go. Over time, more and more long tail records will become available at low or no cost online, just as obscure bands’ music can now be found on iTunes and films that only a few thousand people even know about are now available on Netflix.

Another Prediction

So Genlighten has four, maybe five years before its business model begins to evaporate? I can’t be sure, but I suspect not. At least, not due to a lack of offline records. I will go out on a limb and predict that for many years to come, as fast as old records are brought online, “new” old records will be discovered. In other words, the entire curve will rise.

Where will these new records come from? Diaries, generic government agency paperwork, medical records (despite HIPAA regulations), legal proceedings, SEC filings… I bet you can think of many more. The types of offline records that Genlighten providers will be asked to look up will change, but there will still be plenty of them to perform lookups for.

Of course in five to ten years paper, microfilm, and even electronic data storage as we know it may have been completely superseded by some grand and glorious new medium. Or Google may simply have achieved by then their goal to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” In which case, they’ll hopefully have already acquired us!

Cook County Vital Records Online — Another Viewpoint

Monday, July 7th, 2008

There’s been a lot of excitement surrounding the release of Cook County Illinois vital records online last week. Leland Meitzler tried the site and initially found the images to be of poor quality, but quickly discovered that when downloaded and brought into Photoshop they were quite clear. A firestorm of comments have appeared on Dick Eastman‘s blog, most complaining about the index, the cost, the site functionality, or all three (and that’s not to mention the usual conspiracy theories.) I thought I’d offer a somewhat different perspective.

For the last four years or so, my wife has been providing lookups of Cook County vital records from the FHL microfilm copies available at our local Family History Center. The FHL microfilmed records don’t cover the full range of years offered by the new Cook County site. But they are of similar image quality. Here’s a side-by-side (or top and bottom) comparison of the same death certificate from two sources. The first image is the one downloaded by Leland (which I screengrabbed from his blog) and the second one is an image that my wife scanned from the corresponding FHL microfilm.

Image Leland Meitzler downloaded

Same certificate scanned from FHL film

Superficially, as you’d expect, the images are quite similar. Both contain the same information. Both are quite legible. But there are some subtle differences. The FHL image has a smudge in the lower left (present on the film). More interesting, however, is the additional handwritten “9/a” in the upper right-hand corner of the FHL version. Does this imply that there were multiple sets of paper records, and that different versions were microfilmed by the two projects? Or is there some alternate explanation? Please feel free to speculate in the comments. [I have no idea myself.]

As for alternative sources to check if you can’t find the record you want at the Cook County vital records site, I’ll suggest four. [There are several others, as have been pointed out in the comments to Dick's post and elsewhere.]

  1. Check the indexes at the Illinois Secretary of State’s office and proceed to order the appropriate Chicago or Cook County films from the FHL. (This is not always a straightforward process — Chicago and Cook County records are on separate sets of films.)
  2. Visit either Molly Kennedy’s site or www.chicagogenealogy.com and follow the instructions given at these respective sites. [Note: if you use chicagogenealogy.com, I will benefit financially.]
  3. For 1916-1947 Cook County death certificates, you can try the Illinois State Genealogical Society’s service.
  4. For marriage licenses up to 1900 and Cook County Death Certificates (outside the City of Chicago) 1878-1909, contact the Illinois Research Archives Depository (IRAD) at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU): 773-442-4506.

None of these options is free, though all will cost you less than the $15 charged by Cook County. What these options won’t do is give you the “instant gratification” that the new Cook County site can potentially deliver. For all the complaints I’ve read about their new service, I think it’s important to remember a few key points:

  • This is the first week the site has been up and running officially. No website is ever perfect right away. [Counter-examples welcome.] Please consider cutting the county some slack here!
  • As of a week ago, you would have had to wait 2-3 weeks for these records. You can now receive them immediately, at the same cost as before. That’s a big improvement if you’re in a hurry!
  • At a time when many government agencies have chosen to make access to vital records less convenient (or more costly, or both), Cook County has headed in a genealogy-friendly direction. To me that merits more kudos than complaints.