Genealogy Tips and Helpful Websites

This is a somewhat new Menu heading here at Laurel Cottage for the out-of-the-ordinary search tips and helpful websites we’ve stumbled across, as well as the well-known. We’ll continue to add more as we go along.

Genealogy tips and best practices

The sometimes-elusive and all-important maiden name….

Here’s a funny (wow, what are the odds?) example from this web author’s 2x great-aunt, Jane Pritchett Banks, to illustrate the point of how muddled things could get without careful documentation:

“Thomas was three times married. He first wedded Miss Polly Craig. After her death, he chose as his second wife, Miss Polly Craig. She, too, having passed away, he was married to Miss Polly Craig. His first two wives were cousins; the last Miss Polly was no kin to either of the other two Miss Polly Craigs.”

Imagine! (or in Regency Era terms…”Only think!” 😉 ) Thomas Banks married three women in succession, all with the same given and maiden name. What if you were putting up info on Thomas’ wives but hadn’t found the maiden names of the three women, well…. there’s potential for triple the confusion. For instance, you’re on whatever genealogy site you use (or your own site) and don’t know the three Pollys’ maiden name; in not knowing, you want to put in something, so you type in Banks….Well, it’s your decision, that’s the beauty of it (!) but in so doing be aware you run the risk of:  1. Starting the snowball effect of wrong info begets wrong info, when others copy something from you as “gospel.” 2. Cutting yourself out of the loop of potential new information (fourth cousins with photos – laying it on thick here, eh?  😉 out there searching under the maiden name Craig are passing you by and you’re not finding them either…..)

True, if you have thousands of people in your family tree, that perhaps aren’t essential to your particular search criteria, in other words, you’re not heavily looking for the maiden name on some, you can end up with a ridiculous number of women just under their given names…running down the list….sixteen Pollys, fifty-two Marys, sixty-one Elizabeths, etc. It’s comical but infinitely preferable to the alternative. So, leave off the maiden if you can’t find it yet, or get creative and type in something in its place that lets others know at a quick glance, maybe “2nd wife, maiden unkn” or maybe “Craig???” if you have an inkling but no proof.

And on a related note, don’t forget to scrutinize the marriage records, death certificates, census records, etc. for possible indication of prior marriages for the married couple, so you don’t run the risk of putting in what looks like a maiden name, to find out later (hopefully!) that such-and-such was her first husband’s last name…

Source:  Banks, Jane P. The Banks Family. Columbia, Missouri:  E. W. Stephens Publishing Company, 1908.


On the Irish side…..

Can’t find your Irish ancestor in early census records? Try searching under IRISHMAN for the surname, whether male or female. (A quick search under IRISHWOMAN only brings up one entry.)

It seems that many families that had hired labor living with them, didn’t know or weren’t sure of the hired help’s last name, as evidenced when the census taker came ’round. See LCG’s post Surname “Irishman” In Census Records for detailed examples and references.




Antique Automobile Club of America

You can sign up (create user name and password), no charge, and go to Forums to post photos of old cars. This, to help date your old photo and/or just find out what kind of vehicle your relative was driving. We’ve posted three queries, so far, and received a same-day response on one and next-day on the other. Excellent help!


Household Journal and Floral Life

This particular journal link is for 1912-1913 and shows some good illustrations of fashion – if you just scroll through, they’re pretty easy to find. All years for the journal may not be helpful (fashion-wise) but it’s a good reminder to check journals of the time-period when trying to pinpoint dates.

Past Patterns

Clothing styles are ultra-useful in dating old photos, etc. but unless one is already an expert the search can be maddening, of the needle-in-haystack variety. Past Patterns is a great site, the drawings make the styles easy to recognize and are dated for time-period.

French postcard publisher logos/trademarks

Has a long alphabetized list of publisher names. Click to see the corresponding publisher mark. Also has over 150,000 old french postcards! If you have a hard time finding the page with the list of publisher names, just try a general web search under anciennes marques d’éditeur de cartes postales and look for cparama.

Houses and Architecture

Sears Modern Homes

Sears & Roebuck “kit” homes:  thumbnail images of home styles 1908 – 1940. Great site, very user-friendly and informative. Check out the “History of homes” category (“Entire homes would arrive by railroad….”). And, if you see a similar but not exact style of the home you’re researching, yours could still have been a Sears home but with a modified floor plan, or brick rather than shingle, a dormer added, etc.


Cemetery Look-ups Online

Some of these sites are obviously quite well-known, others not so much….all are excellent.

Billion Graves

Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)

WWI and WWII casualties for those who served and died under Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Bear in mind, not all casualties were buried in the country they served under, and you can search by country, state/province, cemetery, and other search criteria, as well as by name. Has great info about specific battles, old and modern photos, and individual burial records. Includes records of commonwealth civilians who died as “a result of enemy action” in WWII.

Find A Grave

Rule of thumb here is always check with the photo owner to make sure you have their permission to download their photo(s) to put up elsewhere. Some have already posted whether it’s yes or no, some you have to contact to find out.

National Cemetery Administration

Part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs


Historical Newspapers

An ever-growing (thank goodness!) source of invaluable information. Bear in mind that even on the best sites a key word search might correctly show hits for your topic or name but (unbeknownst to you) be skipping over that very particular person or reference you’ve been on the hunt for. So, browse page-by-page if you can. (At least, if you have a narrow time-frame.) As with all written historical info, the data is only as good as the reporter or the recorder, so you will find mistakes (i.e. “Fighting Island” reported incorrectly as “Fire Island”) and family stories skewed, especially after a couple of generations. But the wonder of finding personal stories, sometimes even interviews and eye-witness accounts of events, and all kinds of things in general (some we’re not so happy to read) is incredible.

CanGenealogy – Newspapers

Has a long list of Canadian papers in web link and province format. To and from published dates are included but read the general info at the top which explains that not all sources show correct published dates.

Genealogy Bank

Subscription needed, but you can do a free-trial. Genealogy Bank and are my two most used. Saginaw, Michigan (in particular) shows up well in Genebank. That’s the thing, it’s all depending on what papers have been added. Results or non-results will surprise you sometimes, so always check multiple sites and check periodically.

INK – ODW Newspaper Collection

Ontario, Canada newspapers, some in french. Also contains The Marine Record regarding Great Lakes shipping. Ink is a division of ODW (Our Digital World).

Another subscription-based but free-trial offered. Great site, easy to use.



A category we’ll be adding to asap

Great site, type in your target location and use the timeline to narrow dates, and you can zoom in and out on the map images (heaven!)