When I do genealogy, I couldn’t live without ancestry.com. Who can argue with 12 or 14 billion records? I also subscribe to newspapers.com and fold3.com… But there are loads of small, lesser known websites out there. Here are half a dozen of my favorites—all free.
The U.S. Government’s General Land Office Records (above). I don’t have many ancestors who came to the U.S. early enough to be the first private owners of government land (and it was almost all government land back at the beginning)… But I’ve done plenty of other people’s trees where I found some real treasures here, including ancestors of Amish friends. And it’s easy—click on “Land Patents” – then choose the state and county, type in the name, and hit “search.” Often the original patent image is there (similar to a deed), and the images can be downloaded as pdf files for no cost.
Old Time Medical Ailments. When looking at old death records, one sees causes of injury or death such as “putrid fever,” “lagrippe,” or “consumption,” it’s nice to have a place to consult in order to find out that today we call these same three ailments “diptheria,” “influenza,” and “tuberculosis.”
The Inflation Calculator (above). Old census records list the value of land and homes. This website translates those dollar amounts into 2014 dollars. No calculator can take every factor into consideration, but it’s much better than my wild guesses when trying to figure out, for example, that $300 of land in 1860 might be worth about $77,915 today.
Behind the Name (above). This is a site with information about surnames, with a twin site for first names. You can browse the surnames by letter of alphabet, by nationality, or by typing the name into the search box. The first names can also be sorted out by gender. This website has been very useful for me when I see a name on an old record which I cannot read (or which was misspelled by the census taker). For instance, one client’s grandmother was a German immigrant and her first name was spelled a different way on every single record! But by searching the German female first names on the website, I determined that it was most likely spelled “Ottilie,” since that was a common German first name for girls and none of the other spellings even appeared on the list.
Old Occupations. Most of time I recognize the occupations appearing on U.S. census records, but occasionally I am stumped by one like “drayman,” “steeplejack,” or “huckster.” Old English records are even more likely to have occupations I’m not familiar with. This site lists hundreds of them, with definitions of each.
I hope this list contains something helpful for those of you bitten by the genealogy bug like I am. What are your favorite lesser-known websites?