Category Archives: Resources – Software, Websites, Records, Etc

Friday’s Find – Historical Maps of Pittsburgh PA

Last week’s Friday’s Find was historical maps of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This week we move across the state to a site hosted by the University of Pittsburgh that has a great collection of historical maps of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and vicinity. Check it out here.

The format of the maps at this site is quite a bit different than the layered maps of Philadelphia, but the content is (I think) equally as useful. For my own research, I was focusing on the City of Pittsburgh Geodetic and Topographic Survey Maps. I was trying to locate the street where my husband’s great-grandfather lived when he was naturalized in the early 1920s. Not being familiar with Pittsburgh, I was not having very much luck. The street was not showing up on current maps, so I suspected that it was either renamed or closed down.

As it turns out, I was able to find the street on the older maps on the University of Pittsburgh site. Then, by comparing the older maps to newer ones, I was able to determine that the neighborhood where the street was located was subsumed by the expansion of the J&L Steel plant. This lead me to search the area newspapers and I was able to find an article describing the expansion. (The article, however, did not name any of the condemned streets by name.)  In my case these maps were key in helping me find the information I was seeking.

So the Pittsburgh maps are my Friday Find for this week. Hopefully someone else might find them as useful as I did!

Friday’s Find – Historic Philadelphia, PA Maps

I was recently trying to geographically analyze census data from the mid to late 1800s. More specifically, I was looking at various families of the same surname who were living in the city of Philadelphia. I was trying to get a feel for the proximity of the various neighborhoods in which they lived and potentially a better feel for their relative socio-economic status. The problem was that I was unfamiliar with the neighborhoods and their locations within the city.

I was finally able to find an incredible mapping site that is almost too good to be true! The site is  The Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network. On the site is an Interactive Maps Viewer tool. It contains various historic maps of Philadelphia and is designed such that they can be overlaid with a semi-transparent current Philadelphia streets map!

The map viewer works much like any graphics software that supports layers. In this case each layer is one of the maps. You are able to toggle the visibility of each layer/map independently as well as adjust it’s transparency with a slider control. You can also drag the various layers/maps up or down the stack.

The maps are very high-resolution, so you can zoom in close and see the details. In fact, the only drawback could be the load time if you have a slow internet connection. If you’re looking for historic Philadelphia maps, this is definitely a resource worth checking out.

Friday’s Find – UK and Canadian Marriage Records – Free at Ancestry this Week

Are you taking advantage of the free access to UK and Canadian marriage records this week? In celebration/recognition of the upcoming royal wedding, Ancestry is running a promotion from now until April 30, 2011. When I logged on to their site earlier today there was a big advertisement box with the details. All I needed to do was click on it and start searching.

Now I don’t actually have any Canadian ancestors, and my Welsh ancestors emigrated in the very early 1700s. But I am never one to pass up a good deal. (And, really, what could be a better deal than free?!) So I tried to think of how I could make the most of their generosity. As a result I’ve been collecting the marriage records for a group of Bechtel cousins that immigrated to Canada. And after that, I need to check on some in-laws of my great-grandmother. They were from England.

There’s no way I could justify the expense of an Ancestry World Membership just to gather records on people with such tangential connections to me. But since I’m a bit of a genealogy junkie and  the opportunity presented itself, I’m going to try to make the most of the situation. Thanks Ancestry!

Advanced Search in Ancestry – A Success Story

Every once in a while I manage to stumble across an option or feature that I have either not realized was there or didn’t recognize for its usefulness.  Case in point is the Ancestry’s advanced search which provides various options for reigning in a search based on geographic area in conjunction with family members, etc. To better explain this, I guess I should start at the beginning of the story…

Off and on for about the last five or six years I have been unsuccessfully searching for my husband’s great-grandparents, Andrew and Anna Stibrik and their family, in the 1920 census. They should have been in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — but all my searches were drawing a blank. I almost had myself convinced that when they saw the census taker coming, they locked the doors and hid!! A week or so ago, I finally found them! I thought I would relate the story here as the techniques used may help someone else in their searching.

I started with the Ancestry’s Advanced Search. (I always use advanced search as opposed to regular search.) Since Stibrik is not a real common surname, I did what I typically do, which is to search on just the surname along with an approximate year of birth. But I had tried that before and knew it wasn’t going to work. I had also tried all kinds of variations of Stibrik — like Stibrick, Stibryk, etc. I had tried to think of ways it could be misspelled or misinterpreted by the indexers (due to sloppy or otherwise illegible handwriting). So I had tried Stebrek, Strebreck, Stibrink, etc. I also usually try to think of alternate phonetic spellings based on how a person might pronounce it with an accent; but to be honest, in the case of Stibrik I really wasn’t sure how that could be mispronounced.

After having no luck with the surname-based searches, I figured the last name was either very badly mangled or just plain wrong. (i.e. Perhaps the Stibriks were living with another family and were erroneously enumerated under that family’s surname.) So as a next step I tried searching on just the first names. Andrew, Andr’w, Andy, etc. with wife Anna or Annie. (I was able to add the wife as a family member and have it incorporated into the search because I was targeting a census after 1880 and thus family relationships were recorded.) Theoretically this should have worked, but the problem was the overwhelming number of “wrong” hits that Ancestry was presenting before the “correct” hit.

Why were the “wrong” hits appearing first? Well, probably a couple of reasons. If I used “Andrew” as the first name, all “Andrews” appear before those enumerated with “Andrw” or “Andy” or “A.” Adding a “lived in constraint” will give preference to those in the correct location, but will still list an “Andrew” in another state before an “Andy” in the targeted “lived in” location. Add to this that the husband could be enumerated as “Andy” and the wife as “Annie” or maybe they were “Andrw” and “A.” Bottom line, I just wasn’t hitting the correct combination. And this was compounded by the fact that both Andrew and Anna are relatively common names.

So what did I do? Well, first of all, I loaded up on family members. In addition to Andrew and Anna, I knew that 5 of their 6 children were born before 1920, so I added in their names in the “family member” section. Then I clicked on “add life events” and put in the location of  “Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania” as chosen from the drop down list. Then (and I think this was key), underneath the box containing “Pittsburgh”, I clicked on “use default settings.” A pop up menu came up and I clicked on the “restrict to this place exactly.”  I also added in an approximate birth year for Andrew, but left the place blank because he was born in Austria/Hungary and I wasn’t sure if the birth place would be recorded as Austria, Hungary, or Czechoslovakia.

Now when the results came back, one of the options returned (about the 8th or 9th choice) was the family of Andy and Annie Stiewick. I checked out the image and it is definitely them. And it definitely says Stiewick instead of Stibrik. (What can I say, I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out misspellings based on a German or PA Dutch accent, but I’ve got a way to go with a Slovak accent! It’s a variation I wouldn’t have come up with in a thousand years!)

Some other tips – I often have better luck searching for one of the children rather than a parent (especially in early censuses (1850-1870) where the family relationship are not recorded. I think this is because the adults have a greater tendency to fudge on their age, making them easier to miss when looking for a George age 32 and he decides he’ll only be 28 when the census taker asks! I also tend to search on a family member with a less common (but easily spelled) first name. In other words, it’s often easier to find the son Horatio than the father John. Also keep in mind nicknames and abbreviations (like Jno. for John or Saml for Samuel) and don’t forget to try also searching with them.

Well, I hope this helps. I only wish I had tried the exact place match sooner!!

New Databases at FamilySearch.org

If you haven’t gone to the FamilySearch.org site lately you may want to click on over and check it out. They have been adding tons of databases – some with images and some without. Of particular interest to me has been the birth, marriage and death databases for a variety of states, including New Jersey, Ohio, Delaware, Indiana, Minnesota and others. In my goal to identify “all” descendants of some of my immigrant ancestors, I have been quite successful in finding records for several distant (and not so distant) cousins that moved out of our ancestral home state of Pennsylvania.

Now there are a couple of things of which to be aware. For the databases that include images, I believe you need to be registered and logged in to view the actual images. This is really not a big deal since registration is FREE!!

The other thing is that if I know a cousin moved to a certain area, I find it useful to focus my search to a particular database – say the New Jersey marriage database. The easiest way that I have found to do this is to go the main screen and click on the appropriate region under the “Browse by Location” – in my case that would be “USA, Canada, Mexico.”

That brings up a new screen with a listing of all the Historical Records for that area of the world. Rather than scrolling through the list, I type “New Jersey” in the search box on the upper left and the list automatically is pared down to only the records pertaining to that place.

Now it’s just a matter of clicking on the appropriate collection which will take you to the focused search screen. From there I usually just enter the surname and see what records I can find. You automatically get  exact and close matches, although if the surname is really badly mangled in the index you may need to search on a combination of first name and dates.

Also bear in mind that they are constantly adding new collections so if you can’t find what you are looking for check back in a month or so and try again – you never know when the records you’ve been searching for may be added.

Till later,

~j