Finding living relatives and reuniting lost family treasures is just one way genealogists do random acts of kindness. Our Gems reader has a passion for reuniting photos from eBay to living relatives, but needs to find them first. I have some tips for finding living relatives using Ancestry family trees.
Years go by and dust collects on old photos left on shelves. Sadly, some will choose to sell those once treasured photos on e-bay or at a local flea market. But the good news is there are genealogists who are actively searching for living relatives to reconnect with these pictures of the past.
Finding Living Relatives
A Gems reader recently asked:
I love doing random acts of kindness and when I find photos on eBay and other sites, I love trying to find some family members to enjoy the treasure. There was an email from a listener that I wanted to see if you could expand on for me. She asked who she should contact via Ancestry to ask about a found item. You had great suggestions, but I am hung up on one thing you said.
You said to look at their tree and look at the relationship to the person who created the tree, and the person mentioned in the picture. I would love to do this, but alas, I do not know how.
I have a very specific example right now. I found this listing for Ora Shields barn on eBay this morning. Ora is not my relation, but this would be a neat picture if he were! I looked in Ancestry and found lots of trees for him. I found a couple of people with lots of sources for him, and I always look to see the last time the tree owner logged in. But, what next. I am not sure how to tell how the tree owner is related to Ora. Any suggestions?
P.S. Love your show and now I am addicted to Google Earth thanks to listening to the premium video! Keep the good stuff coming!
Using Ancestry Family Trees for Finding Living Relatives
I’m so glad our Gems are loving Google Earth and our Premium videos! It is wonderful to hear how our Gems Premium Members are using these tools! It is also spectacular that they are seizing the opportunity to help others and I want to help them do that!
I just grabbed a tree on Ancestry that included a person named Ora Shield’s as an example.
Below is the result showing this Ora Shields. If I wanted to find a living relative of this individual, I would take the following steps.
Step 1: Click the down arrow on the name of the tree and click View Tree.
Step 2: Click the down arrow on Find Person and choose Home Person from the pull-down menu.
Step 3: Quickly scan the names and find someone with the last name Shields. In this example, this is the Home Person’s great-grandmother.
Step 4: Click the up arrow above the Home Person’s great-grandma (Cora Shields) to see the Shields’ ancestors.
As you can see, Ora Shields is great-grandma Cora Shield’s brother!
Using this calculator, you can’t specify brother. So, we identify who the direct ancestor is that the Home Person and Ora Shields share. That would be Cora’s parents. Ora is their son and Home Person is their great-great grandchild. Enter that into the calculator and it will tell you how they are related.
Isn’t this an amazing tool? I wish the best of luck to our reader and others who are finding living relatives to reunite with these treasures. And, I love sharing these feel good stories on in our blog and podcasts so thank you, reader, for letting us share your question with our Genealogy Gems.
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Findmypast announces the new catholic church records in their Catholic Heritage Archive this week. This new partnership with British and American Archdioceses will be a monumental help to those searching their early Catholic roots. Also this week, records from Italy and the Netherlands at FamilySearch.
By JakobLazarus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Catholic Church Records in the Catholic Heritage Archive
Findmypast announced their new Catholic Heritage Archive this past week. They are releasing over 3 million exclusive records including sacramental registers for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1757 to 1916 as well as for the British Archdioceses of Westminster and Birmingham from 1657 forward. This builds on last year’s publication of more than 10 million Irish Catholic parish registers.
The Catholic Church holds some of the oldest and best preserved genealogical records and in the past, have been difficult to access.
In collaboration with various Archdioceses of the Catholic Church, Findmypast is helping to bring these records online in one unified collection for the first time ever. Exclusively available on Findmypast, images of original documents will be completely free to view in many cases. Fully searchable transcripts will also be included, providing family historians from the around the world with easy access to these once closely guarded records.
Click “Play Now” below to listen to Sunny Morton’s brief interview with Findmypast about the announcement: [display_podcast]
The next phase of the Catholic Heritage Archive will include records from the archdioceses of New York and Baltimore as well as additional records from Philadelphia. There are over 30 million records in just these three dioceses. The digitization of the whole archive is a monumental undertaking and, when complete, will contain hundreds of millions of records for the USA alone.
Catholic Heritage Archive Holdings for This Week:
United States – Pennsylvania – Philadelphia – Baptisms
The Philadelphia Roman Catholic Parish Baptisms at Findmypast are the first of these record releases from an agreement made with the Roman Catholic Church to digitize their records. These baptismal records will include a name, their parent’s names, and residence at the time of the event.
Additional information may include place of birth, sponsors, minister who performed the ceremony, and notice of marriage. Catholic priests were charged with noting all vital events of their parishioners. If, for instance, a parishioner married outside her home parish, the priest who performed the marriage would contact her priest to confirm she was baptized and to share the details of her marriage, hence the marriage notice in the baptism register.
United States – Pennsylvania – Philadelphia – Marriages
Information contained in these records include the couple’s names, marriage date and location, and you may find dates and locations of the couples’ baptisms.
All Philadelphia Roman Catholic Parish records are from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, covering Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia County.
England – Westminster – Roman Catholic Census
Another Catholic records resource from Findmypast includes the Westminster Roman Catholic Census 1893. As well as the typical information you would expect from a census (occupation, address, birth year, etc.), notes detailing the local priest’s opinion on your ancestor’s faith and dedication to the church let you find out if your ancestor was a good or bad Catholic. Scandalous!
England – Birmingham & Westminster – Roman Catholic Church & Parish Records
Four separate collections, also in the Catholic Heritage Archive at Findmypast, include Roman Catholic baptismal, burial, marriage, and congregational records for locales in England. The records released this week are for the areas covering the Birmingham and Westminster archdioceses. The amount of information in each of these record sets will vary on the age of the record, legibility, and the amount of information recorded by the parish priest. You will find both a transcription and a digital image of the record.
Provided by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Findmypast brings you a large collection of vital records. The first is titled Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Births & Baptisms. These records include images from a variety of sources spanning years from the late 1600s to the mid 1900s.
It is important to note this may not be the only place to find births or baptisms—and there may be records included that are not births or baptisms in this material from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Deaths & Burials collection will include records that may contain the following information: decedent’s name, date of death and burial, parish and diocese, and could include additional information such as military service, age, and birth date.
United States – Pennsylvania – Congregational Records
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Congregational Records is a unique collection that may give you insight into your ancestor and the church they attended. Not only will images include lists of past ministers, but you may find additional lists of those persons baptized and confirmed. Some of these records may also be used as a source to discover the names of your ancestor’s parents and spouses.
United States – Pennsylvania – WWII Records
Screenshot from Findmypast of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, WWII Casualty Cards.
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Word War II Casualty Cards collection is a group of records created by the Army so if something happened to a local soldier, the newspaper wouldn’t have to scramble for information. These records are particularly relevant in light of the fire at the National Archives and Records Administration in the 1970s when most World War II personnel files were destroyed.
Netherlands – Miscellaneous Records
We have brought you many collections from Findmypast, which require a subscription. However, these next few collections are brought to you by FamilySearch and are free to access.
Netherlands, Archival Indexes, Miscellaneous Records collection has been updated this week at FamilySearch. These records include many record sources, such as civil registration, church records, emigration lists, military registers, and land and tax records. These records cover events like birth, marriage, death, burial, emigration and immigration, military enrollment, and more. These indexes were originally collected, combined and published by OpenArchives. For the entire index collection and more information visit www.openarch.nl.
Italy – Trapani, Civil Registration
FamilySearch brings you updates to the Italy, Trapani, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1906-1928 collection. This collection consists of civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths within the custody of the State Archive of Trapani. Availability of records is largely dependent on time period and locality. This collection of civil registrations records covers the years 1906-1928 and may also include:
Learn More about Institutional Records Research
From schools and orphanages to prisons, hospitals, asylums, workhouses, and more, there’s a good chance one or more of your ancestors might be found on record in one of the many types of institutions. In this Premium eLearning video, Institutional Records Research Methods, Lisa Louise Cooke presents methods for finding your ancestors in institutional records, from establishing a workflow and investigating clues found in the census and other records to resources and strategies for digging up the records. This 40-minute video includes a downloadable handout and is available right now to all Premium eLearning members. Click here to sign up!
TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are? is back with eight new one-hour episodes bringing more unexpected turns, and surprising discoveries of great historical significance. Read more to find out who you’ll see and some of the hidden family secrets revealed.
7th Season of WDYTYA
Communists, secret agents, and abolitionists are just a few of the family secrets uncovered in this season of Who Do You Think You Are. The line-up of celebrities include:
Jessica Biel making a surprising discovery that changes what she thought knew about her heritage.
Julie Bowen, of Modern Family, uncovers the story of two relatives whose moral codes are from opposite ends of the spectrum.
Courteney Cox will trace her maternal line back seven centuries to the Medieval times to discover royalty in her lineage and an unbelievable tale of family drama.
Jennifer Grey uncovers new information about the grandfather she thought she knew, learning how he survived adversity to become a beacon of his community.
Smokey Robinson searches for answers behind the mystery of why his grandfather disappeared from his children’s lives, and finds a man tangled in a swirl of controversy.
John Stamos digs into the mystery of how his grandfather became an orphan, and learns of tensions between families that led to a horrible crime.
Liv Tyler learns that her family is tied into the complicated racial narrative of America.
Noah Wyle unravels the mystery of his maternal line, uncovering an ancestor who survived one of America’s bloodiest battles.
Tune in on Sunday, March 5th, 2017 10/9c and be a part of their journeys. Also, you can enjoy this sneak peak in the video below:
Sharing Your Own WDYTYA Experience
Have you recently found an amazing discovery that has altered how you feel about your family’s history? We would love to hear about your experiences on our blog, here in the comments section, or on our Facebook page. After all, everyone has a story to tell.
And speaking of telling your story, Sunny Morton’s new book can help you do just that. It includes:
fill-in pages with thought-provoking prompts to capture key moments that define your life
Advice and exercises to reconstruct memories from long ago
Interactive pages for family and friends to share their own stories
Special forms for spotlighting important people, places and times.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!
Not all people of color were enslaved prior to the emancipation. In fact, many were freed long before that. Researching free people of color can be quite complex. Tracing my own family line (who were free people of color) continues to be a real learning process for me. However, don’t let the challenges deter you from exploring this rich part of your heritage. In this “Getting Started” post, we discuss the manumission process, “negro registers,” and more for tracing your free people of color.
Who are Free People of Color?
[Note: Throughout our post, we will be using terminology that was used at the time the records were created.] A ‘free negro’ or ‘free black’ was a fairly recent status in the U.S. which differentiated between an African-American person who was free and those who were enslaved prior to emancipation. If a person was referred to as a ‘free negro’ or ‘free black’, that meant the person was not living in slavery. It is a fascinating and little know fact that, as Ancestry Wiki states, “one in ten African-Americans was already free when the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter.”
Step 1 for Tracing Free People of Color: Censuses
Sometimes, the story of your ancestors being free people of color was passed on through oral traditions. In my own family, our “line of color” was not talked about. Instead, my first clue was when I found my ancestor in the 1840 population census listed as free. I also found that one woman (presumably his wife) was marked in the column for “free white persons,” but John and the children were marked as “free colored persons” in this census. This was the first step to identifying my ancestor as a free person of color.
Let’s see another example. The 1850 and 1860 U.S. Federal Censuses included two population schedules. One enumerated free inhabitants, and the additional schedule, referred to as a Slave Schedule, was for making an enumeration of those persons who were enslaved. [We will discuss this further, below.]
If your ancestor appears on the 1850 U.S. Federal Census for free inhabitants, they are considered free, even if their race was listed as “Black.” An example of a Black man enumerated on the 1850 census is shown in the image below. Archibald Giles is recorded as “Black,” but appears on this census for “free inhabitants.” Therefore, he would be considered a free person of color.
If your targeted ancestor does not appear on either the 1850 or 1860 population schedule for free inhabitants, they might have been enumerated on the slave schedules of 1850 or 1860.
1850 Slave Schedule for Henry County, Tennessee. Snapshot via Ancestry.com.
In this example to the left, you will see a portion of the Henry County, Tennessee Slave Schedule for 1850. Notice, only the heads of household or the “owners” were listed by name. Slaves were not named, but rather listed by age and sex under the names of their “owners.”
Step 2: The Manumission Process
Once you have identified that you have free people of color in your family tree, the next step is to determine how they became free. Many free people of color came from families that had been free for generations. This could have been due to a manumission of an ancestor or a relationship between an indentured white woman and a black slave. I make mention of this relationship between races because it is helpful to remember that the status (whether free or enslaved) of the child was based on the status of their mother. If the mother was free, then the child was free. If she was a slave, then the child was enslaved. 
Manumission was a formal way in which slaves were set free. There are many reasons why a slave owner may have released or freed his slaves. In some cases, slave owners would free their mistresses and children born to her. In one case, I found the following comment made by the slave owner, “I give my slaves their freedom, to which my conscience tells me they are justly entitled. It has a long time been a matter of the deepest regret to me…” And thirdly, it was possible for a slave to obtain their manumission through the act of “self-purchase.”
If the mother was free, then the child was free. If she was a slave, then the child was enslaved. 
Private manumission through probate. A private manumission decree could be made in a last will and testament. You can find these manumissions in wills, estate papers, or in probate packets. Many of these county level probate records have been microfilmed or digitized and are easily accessible online.
Sometimes, a manumission in a will would be contested. When this happened, a long paper trail of court documents may have been created. A thorough search of all of these proceedings may offer a wealth of genealogical data and clues.
Usually, manumission papers included the name of the slave owner, the name of the slave, and the reason for manumission. In the case of the slaves of John Randolph of Roanoke [Virginia,] his slaves were not named individually in his will written on 4 May 1819. Instead he stated, “I give my slaves their freedom, to which my conscience tells me they are justly entitled. It has a long time been a matter of the deepest regret to me, that the circumstances under which I inherited them, and the obstacles thrown in the way by the laws of the land, have prevented my manumitting them in my lifetime, which is my full intention to do, in case I can accomplish it.”
John freed over five hundred slaves, and though each of them was not listed by name in his will, a codicil at the end of the will did name two of his slaves when he asked that Essex and his wife Hetty “be made quite comfortable.”
Record of Arthur Lee purchasing his freedom.
Manumission through self purchase. Self-purchase may seem impossible; however, many slaves were not required to work on Sundays for their masters. On this day, men and women could hire themselves out to do work for others. With frugality, they could save their earnings to buy their freedom or the freedom of their loved ones, though this was very, very difficult.
As you can see in this example of Arthur Lee, he was able to pay for his freedom and the freedom of his wife, though it took many years. This type of record could be found in a published book, a record listed in notarial books of the county, civil minutes books, or other courthouse holdings. It is important to speak with a knowledgeable person in your targeted area about where you should look. A knowledgeable person may be those working with the local historical or genealogical society, or a head of the local history department of the public library.
Step 3: “Negro Registers”
If you do not find the manumission in a last will and testament, perhaps due to a courthouse fire or other loss, you may have luck searching the county records where your free people of color later settled. Free people of color were often required to register, using their freedom papers, when they relocated to a new area. These types of records are called ‘negro registers’ or ‘records of free negros.’
Newly freed people carried with them their freedom papers which were given to them when they were manumitted. Once they relocated, they would register with the county clerk. They would need to show the county clerk these freedom papers and a record was made in the register. The record may include the name of members of the family, ages, and most recent place of residence.
The book titled Registers of Blacks in the Miami Valley: A Name Abstract, 1804-1857 by Stephen Haller and Robert Smith, Jr. provides the following information about registers of freed people:
“From 1804 to 1857, black people in Ohio had to register their freedom papers with the clerk of courts of common pleas in the county where they desired residency or employment. State law required this registration, and clerks of court were to keep register books containing a transcript of each freedom certificate or other written proof of freedom (see Laws of Ohio 1804, page 63-66; 1833, page 22; 1857, page 186). Few of these registers have survived to the 20th century.”
Though this author says that only a few of the registers have survived, I found some microfilmed registers listing the names of free people of color who had settled in Miami County, Ohio at the local historical society archives. Again, it is important to ask those people who would be most knowledgeable, and in this case, it was the historical society.
In conclusion, we understand that tracing both our enslaved and manumitted ancestors is often a difficult task. We also know there is much more to learn and share for the best techniques to researching these lines. We encourage you to review some of the additional sources below. Please let us know what other resources have been most helpful to you in researching your free people of color in the comments section below. We want to hear from you!
We begin this YouTube journey with the historical footage of the funeral procession of Hiram Cronk. Cronk was the last known surviving veteran of the War of 1812 when he died in 1905, at the age of 105. The clip found on YouTube shows row after row of marching men passing by on the screen. A YouTube comment identifies them as “Civil War veterans in their 60s [and] Mexican-American War veterans in their 80s.” Another comment identifies the last group of marching soldiers as re-enactors wearing War of 1812 soldier’s uniforms.
In fact, YouTube offers us many opportunities to see the faces and actions of earlier generations of soldiers. Have you seen the famous footage of the storming of the beaches at Normandy? It’s on YouTube!
After sharing our last post, The Faces of U.S. Military Veterans through the Centuries, I received a comment from Stephen, a Genealogy Gems reader. Stephen’s father served in the U.S. Army during WWII and was in the Aleutian Islands. That caught my eye because my father-in-law also served in the Aleutian Islands. It was a challenging landscape in which to serve, which is evident in the YouTube video I found online.
Aleutian Islands WWII Campaign: Combat runs over Kiska, Alaska
There are other military history gems found on YouTube you may never have expected to see. This next video is a collection of early combat photos beginning in 1863 with the U.S. Civil War. The creator of this video gave some background on combat photography. He said:
“The first war photography took place in the Mexican-American War by an anonymous photographer, but it wasn’t until the American Civil War that the first combat photos were taken…The limitations posed by the time and complexity it took to take a photo in the mid-to-late 1800’s made it difficult to obtain images during battles, but a few of naval actions did emerge. There was also not a tradition of journalists and artists putting their lives on the line for an image. The overall amount of combat photography before World War I was small, but a few images did emerge from a few courageous and pioneering people. By the time of World War I, governments saw the value in having large numbers of photographers to document conflicts for propaganda purposes and improved camera technology allowed combat photographers to routinely capture most iconic images of many conflicts.”