Quick Tip: PA Birth Records 1906-1908

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As of yesterday, Pennsylvania’s birth records (1906 – 1908) are available on Ancestry. This is in addition to the death records (1906 – 1963) that were previously digitized on the site.

So, how do you access this great resource?

If you’re a PA resident, you can view these records for free even if you don’t have an Ancestry subscription. Just visit the following page at the State Archives website, put in your zip code, and follow the instructions: http://phmc.info/ancestrypa

I also recommend following the Facebook page of the People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access. They actively discuss any glitches they’re encountering on Ancestry Pennsylvania, share tips, and talk about other records coming available online.

To learn about the birth and death records available in Fayette County, visit the Vital Records page right here on the blog.

Happy researching!

Quick Tip: Navigating World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942

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This could also be filed under: When in Doubt, Read the Instructions.

While I don’t use them all that much, I’ve always found the World War II Draft Registration Cards (freely accessible on FamilySearch or through a subscription on Ancestry) to be an interesting collection. They come from the “Old Man’s Draft” — that is, the registration of American men who were between 45 and 64-years old in 1942.

The cards are microfilmed so that a front and a back appear in one image. One side includes information like place of residence, place of birth, and name of employer, while the other offers physical descriptions of the registrants. In the past, I’d noticed that the data didn’t quite seem to match between the fronts and backs, but my research had always been so casual that I didn’t think to investigate the inconsistencies.

Recently, I happened to notice that the database had been updated on Ancestry. While scrolling down through its “About” section, I found this information on the images for Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia:

These four states were microfilmed at the National Archives in such a way that the back of one person’s draft card appears in the same image as the front of the next individual’s card. Thus, when viewing the scanned image of each person’s original draft card you will see the correct front side of each person’s draft card, but the back side of the previous person’s card.

Thus, the reason why the description of my great-grandfather didn’t sound right was because I was looking at the back of the wrong card. I should have clicked forward one image. Whoops.

The gist of this not-so-quick Quick Tip: Read any notes attached to the databases you’re using. Ask more experienced researchers about the quirks of certain collections. If something doesn’t seem quite right, do what you do best and investigate!

Researching Your Coal Mining Ancestors

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Fayette County has seen two particularly large waves of immigration — the pioneers and the industrial workers — that offer unique challenges for the genealogist.

In the era of the pioneers, the county did not keep vital records and the census only reported the heads of the households’ names. Many of the churches founded at that time have since folded or combined with other congregations. And some families just loved to repeat certain names, even within generations. (In the course of answering a research request, I have definitely muttered, “The number of William Martins in this family is too damn high.”)

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A member of the Coal and Iron Police rides alongside a State Trooper.
Credit: Uniontown Public Library.

On the other hand, those who immigrated to work in the coal mines or coke yards often rented their homes instead of purchasing property, leaving no deed or mortgage records. Their names were confused and misspelled by just about every official they met. Many died without leaving a will or the money to fund the purchase of a permanent headstone, and unfortunately, wooden markers don’t last all that long in Pennsylvania weather.

There were many who came here, made the money they needed, and returned to their home country. Some came to America entirely alone, leaving future researchers bereft of the local family connections that can be so helpful in tracking down an ancestor.

I find researching our county’s coal and coke workers much more interesting than researching earlier immigrants, possibly because many of my own relatives came to work in the industry. So, I thought I’d share some of my favorite resources — not just for tracking down your coal mining ancestors, but for understanding how they lived.

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Quick Tip: PA Vital Record Digitization

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Great news for genealogists, historians, and curious people everywhere: Pennsylvania’s publically-accessible birth certificates (from 1906 -1908) and death certificates (from 1906 – 1963) will be available online this year. If you hadn’t heard, Ancestry.com and the PA State Archives partnered to digitize the records — and now they’re almost ready for perusal.

To stay informed, keep an eye on the Facebook page for People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access (PA-HR-Access). On January 16, they reported:

“Ancestry will be posting the death records on-line in 3 phases — about 20 years each time. They anticipate they will be posted in April, June and November. All birth records should be on-line in September.”

Don’t have an Ancestry.com account? No problem — if you live in Pennsylvania, at least. As a resident of the Keystone State, you can access PA State Archives records on Ancestry for free! Check out this page on the Archives’ website to learn how.