I’ve posted some deeds here and thought I’d add a note letting researchers know my methodology making abstracts, etc. First I’ll clarify abstract and transcript. An abstract is an abbreviated copy of a document, distilling what the abstractor feels is important. Abstracts can get you the meat without the long descriptions of property for instance, if you don’t intend to map out the lines but just want a general location. I might condense a legal description to something like “a tract of 150 acres more or less laying along Finches Run bounded by the farm of Joe Schmoe”, for example. Abstracts are also used a lot for wills, and for censuses. I tend to want transcriptions, however – no telling when a small detail can be a clue, plus – an abstract is dependent on the abstractor’s view of what is important – and the detail that tells him nothing might be just the clue another researcher needs.
A transcription, which is what I try to provide, is an exact reproduction of the language : every word, mis-spelling, odd grammar exactly as written. It can be difficult and tedious because the documents are difficult to read and it’s worse when there are reproduced from microfilm or photocopy. I’m pretty good now at deciphering old handwriting and idioms of earlier times but it took some eye strain to get there. Nothing beats a photocopy, of course, and seeing the original in person. It’s kinda cool seeing Great granddad’s signature scrawled out in ink right before me, knowing he held that same piece of paper in his hands.
So why bother with these transcriptions and abstracts? Well, everyone wants “free” genealogy but research requires source documents – not the gedcoms and ahnentafel/registers which clog the genealogical internet-scape – but actual source material. That is only going to come from us – the individual genealogists. Huge organizations like the Mormon Church and Ancestry.com are inputting censuses, parish registers and indexes and that’s great but getting to actual deeds, or wills, or letters of administration is a different matter. This is just my “two cents worth” of effort toward that goal.
Links to some great resources that I use regularly. Naturally, I’m assuming if you read my genealogy pages you’re researching some of the same lines and areas – the links that follow are egocentric in the sense that they are ones I use and not even close to all the great sites out there. One thing I’d suggest is to start searching blogs specifically to find others like mine.
Roots Web is an Ancestry owned collection of free and pay records (they mix the results) that grows daily, if you don’t want to pay for membership there are still hundreds of free hits. They’ll tease you with partial results from the pay records. It can be tempting but remember one thing – they have a VERY loose interpretation of what is relevant so those 911 hits in the pay section may well hold nothing even close to what what you want.
GenWeb is better, in my opinion because it’s a completely free collection but its’ quality varies from county to county. Some counties have terrific volunteer webmasters and tons of resources, others are little more than links to other sites with only general information.
Family Search is another free resource, run by the Church of Latter Day Saints. Genealogy is integral to their religious beliefs so they have poured a tremendous amount of money into it, and they have a literal army of volunteers to do inputting. Think what you want about their beliefs but genealogy would still be in the courtroom “closets” without their efforts. They are working on a new site that will have free access to everything from census images to vital records. One of the first is the Ohio Death Records – actual images – from 1908 through 1953.
Google Book Search is a terrific free tool. Search for out of copyright books, like old county histories, court minutes, legislative session minutes, biographies, heraldry and family genealogies. Word searches on a surname can bring up hundreds of hits. I”ve found a ton of free records this way. Use the advanced search option and check the box “full view only” to limit the search to books that you can download and cut and paste from (in .pdf format – you can paste the clips into Word or Open Office). The one limitation is you need to perform searches from the Google site, the downloaded versions aren’t usually searchable on your own computer (you can use the book index the old fashioned way however:)
West Virginia Vital Records Online – The state of West Virginia is way ahead of the curve, adding actual photocopies of their archived birth, death and marriage records online for download. Fantastic!
Archives of Maryland Online – Records from the Maryland Archives being placed online include military, historic, court sessions and minutes, tax rolls, land records and various documents pertaining to early Maryland. Never know when you’ll find a hidden nugget of info in these papers. Another great resource!
Online Book Archives – Here you’ll find dozens of links to online repositories of historical books. Histories, indexes, local and regional accounts, biographies. Many are free, a few are pay-per-view or subscription. Most of them are associated with universities, many are making their out-of-copyright research worthy collections available in various online formats.
Civil War Index The national Parks indexed every soldier in the Civil War with a record at the National Archives. The index will reference NARA microfilms and there is a chance you can find them at Ancestry (paid), or at a regional NARA library, or a large genealogy library (Newberry, or Allen County or Mid-Continent, just to name three).
Access Genealogy is a cool site with loads of links to different databases. Most of them are completely free but they pay for it by embedding paid site links and its not always easy to tell when you’re going to end up at Ancestry.com or Footnotes.com . Now remember, I fall into the “no free lunch” line of thinking so those links don’t bother me. Affiliate advertising drives this wonderful internet and Ancestry and Footnotes are both worth every penny in my opinion, if you have those pennies to spend, but the gist of this page is free places to gather records. Access has lots of stuff for free.
Evendon is an incredible resource. They do ask for donations but everything is free. Please, if you do use their site a lot, give em five bucks. Don’t be a scrooge. I’d rather donate freely to a site like theirs than be auto billed. They have city directory images, searchable, for a lot of major US Cities, a number of history and genelaogy books online, Yearbook images, a growing collection of High School and University yearbooks, plus they sell hard copies of their online books for very reasonable prices. This is one of my favorite sites since I have a lot of Cincinnati relatives and they have a big collection of Cincinnati directories. And yes, I donate!
That’s 11 free tools just for starters but all have the same limitation – with all the records in any one locality what is found on these sites is still very insufficient for a particular time and place. Free is just unrealistic, in my opinion, at this point. Getting records digitized and online is expensive. Under the “No free lunch” axiom, I expect to pay but I look forward to the day the bulk of records have been digitized. Until then, though, I’ll just chip away by adding records myself and hoping more and more fellow researchers do the same thing.
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