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Strike while the iron’s hot

I have some good and bad news this month.

One of our freebies is apparently no longer available. I have touted the virtues of www.familysearch.org for some time and the site is still one of the most valuable sites for free genealogy data that is indexed and searchable. However, due to contractual restrictions, they are no longer able to post the Chicago Birth, Marriage and Death certificates on FamilySearch. The Cook County Clerk is selling those certificates for $15 apiece and has withdrawn the ability for us to see the certificates directly on FamilySearch.

However, please keep in mind that we can use the old microfilm method. The index shows enough information on the person for us to tell if it’s Uncle Sal or not. Birth certificates show the name, date of birth, place of birth, parent’s names and their places of birth. (It all depends on what was on the original document.) But you can’t see the document itself. So you can either pay the $15 to Cook County by ordering the certificate on www.cookcountygenealogy.com, or you can note the “GS Film Number” on the FamilySearch results screen. You can then choose to either order the film from LDS to send to a Family History Center, or you can visit the Wilmette Family History center and use the film there. They have a nearly complete collection of Cook County vital records films from 1878-1922 and some later years for deaths also.

Before FamilySearch posted the images of these birth, marriage and death certificates, we had to use the old method of finding the certificate number and locating on microfilm, so now that we lost the easier way, we can just revert to this older method.

This is a good time to get on my soap box, and mention that it is important to take advantage of any web sites when you find out about them. If you wait, there is the chance that a legal agreement can be invoked that will pull the web site down. Especially today, when people have an easier time stealing identities, there are more complaints about genealogy web sites that give out data that might help thieves steal identities. This means that more data will be made illegal to have out on web sites and we will lose additional chances to find what we need.

On the good side, ProQuest is making one of its flagship web sites available to public libraries. Newspaperarchive.com is a site devoted to making it easy to search small town newspapers for names, death notices and other tidbits. It’s hard to find old family items in suburban papers or smaller town papers in other parts of the country. It’s fun to find Uncle Rico playing Santa Claus in the Christmas parade, or Zia Anna winning the cooking contest (she wasn’t lying after all!) or Cousin Louie’s DUI (oops!)… Anyway, this site focuses on smaller papers, so don’t expect the Tribune or Sun Times. Sometimes just finding a library that has the 1940-1950 editions of the Russellville Alabama Enquirer on microfilm is very difficult, much less traveling to Russellville to look at them! This site has been available to the public for some time, and new papers are added every week, but it is not cheap to be a subscriber. So ask your local public library if they can get this site added to the library web site. You might have to physically go to the library to use it, but it beats Russellville!

Some more bad news for genealogists who want to work in Salt Lake City at the huge Family History Library. They have cut their Saturday hours. They used to be open 8am-9pm Saturdays. Now they are only open 9am-5pm. They are already closed Sundays and Monday evenings for religious reasons. So if you have a ton of work to do, you may have to go for a full week to get the full schedule of hours available to you. A long weekend might leave you with unfinished tasks.

A great new tool is available as a backup and to make your genealogy data available to you anywhere, on a computer, laptop, or your smart phone. Well it might not be new but I have discovered it and have embraced it. Dropbox is a new “cloud” system where you can load files and retrieve them on smartphones or PCs. You install Dropbox on your PC that has your genealogy files or photos. Then you copy folders to the Dropbox that you want to make available. It uploads those files to the “cloud”. You get 2 gigabytes free but you can buy 100 gig for $10/month. Only you can log in and see the files. You then load an app on your smart phone and can view all the files and folders. The photos show you a thumbnail so you can find the right one. The great advantage is that even if your smart phone only has 16 Gig of memory, you can carry 100 gig with you by retrieving what you need with the smart phone. I presume you can do the same with pad computers. It’s a great way to back up your most important files without having to think about it. Every time you save a file into the drop box, it copies out into cyberspace. When your hard drive crashes, or you lose your flash drive, those files can be retrieved anytime on another computer.

Write to Dan at italianroots@comcast.net and please put “Fra Noi” in the subject line.

About Dan Niemiec

Dan Niemiec has been the genealogy columnist for Fra Noi since 2004. For the past 25 years, he has researched his genealogy back 17 generations, plus tracing descendants of his ancestors, yielding 74,000 relatives. His major focus is on civil and church records in Italy, Chicago vital records, Chicago Catholic records and most major genealogy web sites. He has given dozens of presentations to many local and some national genealogy societies on topics such as cemetery research, Catholic records, Italian records, Ellis Island and newspaper research, among others.