Using Try-It! Illinois for Genealogical Resources – Wisdom Wednesday

The best stuff in life is free, but it may only be available on a trial basis.

If you’re an Illinois resident with internet access of any kind, you are eligible to access the immense amount of information available during the Try-It! Illinois Database Trial.  Thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White, the Illinois State Library, and numerous electronic resource vendors, Illinois residents can sample, evaluate, and utilize resources free of charge.

Every year, I like to highlight several of the databases for genealogical researchers.  This time, however, I would like to gush over one of my favorite databases available on this year’s trial: Historic Map Works.

I worked with Historic Map Works ages ago.  It is a great collection of plat maps, city maps, and atlases.  My previous experiences with the site were lukewarm.  Yes, it was nice to have a map, but then I need to find the time to superimpose the plat map with a current US map via paper.  It made maps for some areas of my research readily available, but then all I had were really nice maps.  I didn’t really have a lot of tools to use them effectively.

Fast forward to this year’s trail.  I finally had time to take a look at this site, and it is AMAZING!  The site offers an Overlay feature which combines the plat map with Google Earth called Historic Earth Basic.  If you’re looking for a super easy way to correlate a historic map with a modern image, you absolutely have to try Historic Map Works!

I was able to find an 1899 Plat Map of Bradish Township, Boone County, Nebraska, where my Dudek ancestors were homesteading 160 acres of land.

dudek farm 1899For years, I was curious if the original house was still there, and the Historic overlay answered my question beautifully.

Frank Dudek Historic Earth


After changing the opacity between the historic 1899 plat map and Google Earth, I discovered the farmhouse is gone, and the land itself is part of a larger farming outfit.  There are few houses which still exist today, but nearly everything in that area is gone.  The school, houses, buildings, and even the town Bradish, which was listed as the place of birth on the WWI draft registration papers of my great-grandfather and his brothers, no longer exists.  No wonder I had a hard time searching for local genealogical societies or historical groups in the area!  It’s Nebraska farming country, and not much else.  On the upside, I have a map, and I have answers.

Next month, I’ll showcase a series of digital newspaper resources available on the trial, such as, 19th Century British Library Newspapers, and 19th Century U.S. Newspapers.

Remember, you only have until November 30, 2014 to enjoy this database.  If you think Historic Map Works or any of the databases on Try-It!  Illinois would be a great addition to your local library’s databases, you will want to call or drop by the library to share your suggestions!

The next Fountaindale Public Library Genealogy Club Meeting will be held on Wednesday, November 12 at 7 p.m. in Meeting Room A.  Grace DuMelle of Heartland Historical Research Service will present Investigating Chicago Police Ancestors, which will help you find local and online sources for deceased members of the Chicago police force. The program will show you how and when your ancestors joined the police force, where they were stationed, what they were paid, and some of their notable cases. There are special sources as well for those killed in the line of duty.

All Genealogy Club meetings are free and open to the public.  Light refreshments will be served.  For more information on Investigating Chicago Police Ancestors or other Genealogy Club events, please call the Fountaindale Public Library District at (630) 685-4201.

See You At the Library!


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Fall into Genealogy with the Try-It! Illinois Database Trial – Follow Friday

Attention Illinois residents!  Some of the best genealogy resources online are available for free through the Try-It! Illinois Database trial October 1 – November 30 2014.

This annual statewide database trial is sponsored by Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White and the Illinois State Library. Try-It! Illinois offers library staff and patrons to survey and evaluate a wide variety of electronic resources. Thanks to the partnerships between the Illinois State Library and the participating electronic resource vendors, there is no charge for accessing these databases during Try-It! Illinois.

Due to the nature of this program, libraries are asked not to post the Try-It! Illinois login and password on the Internet, on Web sites or in publicly archived e-newsletters.  To access these resources, please contact your local Illinois Library and pick up a login information sheet in person!  Beginning October 1, 2014, you can pick up a copy of the Try-It! Illinois login and password from the  Fountaindale Public Library’s 3rd Floor Service desk and at our October and November Genealogy Club Meetings.

Due to the absolutely astounding offering of databases, I’ve compiled a “must see” list of genealogy resources available during the trial:

  • 19th Century British Library Newspapers
  • 19th Century U.S. Newspapers
  • Archives Unbound
  • Digital Sanborn Maps Geo Edition
  • Genealogy Connect
  • Historic Map Works
  • MyHeritage-WorldVitalRecords
  • National Newspapers Core
  • ProQuest Newsstand
  • ProQuest Obituaries
  • Newspaper Source Plus
  • Historical Chicago Defender (1909-1975) (Proquest)
  • Historical Chicago Tribune 1849 – 1989 (Proquest)
  • Historical New York Times 1851 – 2009 (Proquest)

The Try-It! Illinois database trial is a great way for patrons to give libraries valuable observations and feedback regarding online databases.  So please let your librarian know what you enjoyed and what tools you found useful!

The next FPLD Genealogy Club meeting will feature Dr. Daniel Hubbard and his presentation “Space-Time for Family Historians, Timewarps and Curved Space aren’t just for Physicists” on Wednesday, October 8 in Meeting Room A at 7 pm.  This program is an entertaining look at how the times and places we read about and research are often not what they appear to be. Don’t be fooled- decoding dates, comprehending calendars and understanding the time on your ancestor’s pocket watch are not as easy as they seem.  Handouts and light refreshments will be served.

See you at the library!


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Searching for Silent Screen Ancestors – Those Places Thursday

Marguerite SnowDoes your family link back to the world of silent screen acting?  You could be in for a surprise!  During the early eras of film making, nearly 11,000 movies were made in places such as New York City, Chicago, California, and New Jersey, and if your ancestor was living in an area where films were made, there may be a possibility they were involved with the creation of cinema projects.  What’s the daunting part of this research?  According to the Library of Congress, nearly 75 percent of America’s silent films have been lost or destroyed, which is a relatively bleak number.  But there’s still hope everyone, as there are several amazing resources you should check out right away!

Without the credits, and other items found in each film, Early Cinema Collectionwhere can you begin your search?  You need to visit a fantastic site called Media History Digital Library, which has posted a prolific collection of trade and fan magazines from 1903 – 1963, all of which are searchable and available for download from Internet Archive.  Although each magazine or publication is listed individually, you have the option of searching by an ancestor’s name.  Good news, there are lots of pictures credited to actors and actresses alike!  If your ancestor was involved with the movie business, but their film has been lost or destroyed, take heart.  Try using Media History Digital Library’s magazine collection and and the Silent Era Presumed Lost Film List should help you find out more information on individual movies and their writers, creators, and support staff to aid your research.

patchwork girl of oz movieOn a happy note, let’s take a look at this ad for The Patchwork Girl of Oz found in Motion Picture Magazine in published 1914.  The advertisement describes the film, the film creator, the address of the film company, and provides a few photos of the actors.  By searching Internet Archive, I was able to find a copy of the film available for free, as well as a Wikipedia page listing the film credits, cast, and production notes.  The ad also describes two additional Oz Films available for theaters, The Magic Cloak of Oz and His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz.  These are great little films, and as Frank L. Baum wrote the screenplays for all three films, they are of great interest to anyone who loves the Wizard of Oz series.

Batman, Transformers, and Ferris Beuler maybe the best known films shot in Chicago today, but the city has a much older connection to the movie industry.  Before there was Hollywood, there was Essanay Studios.  Never heard of them?  Reaching back to the early film period of 1907-1918,  Essanay Studios in Chicago, the firm grew to one of the largest film companies in the world.  Charlie Chaplin started his career in 1915 at Essanay Studios and shot his first full feature film entitled His New Job.  After losing Chaplin to another studio, and facing a full onslaught of legal battles and money problems, the studio was sold and later merged to a new company called, V-L-S-E which would eventually absorbed by Warner Brothers.  You can find out more about the Essanay Studios archive on their website

As a complete side note, the Library of Congress American Memory project hosts a fantastic collection of early Edison Motion Pictures, and my favorite so far is a 25 second advertisement for Admiral Cigarettes.   I can’t be sure, but I think there’s a cameo by the Village People in the film.  What do you think?admiral cigarettes(Disclaimer: I am in no way advocating the use of cigarettes or smoking by including this in my blog.  I just happen to think this is a very entertaining advertisement from the days of early film.)

Do you have a silent screen ancestor?  I’d love to hear from you!  Post your stories and photos on our blog!

See You At The Library!


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Can’t Wait for ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ Try BBC’s ‘Turn Back Time: The Family’ – Travel Tuesday

Quick show of hands, who’s NOT looking forward to TLC’s new season of Who Do You Think You Are?  By the way, thank you for the WDYTYA viewing party invitations.  I can’t wait to see the new season!

Before we overdose on a new season of Who Do You Think You Are, I want to draw your attention to a simply fabulous BBC series called Turn Back Time: The Family.  I stumbled across it on YouTube last month, and I absolutely adore it.  To my readers in BBC land, my apologies.  As BBC America has yet to feature this show in a timely fashion, I have discovered this show (and many others) several weeks, months, or years after their air date.

The premise of Turn Back Time is simple.  Three modern families live week by week through successive time periods, all within a single block of Victorian housing in Morecambe, England.  The catch: their living conditions and and social status is dependent upon those of their ancestors in the same time period.  Thinking of being sucked in to the world of your great-great grandparents, and seeing the world from their point of view for a week!  How could a genealogist not watch this show?

turn back time the family 1

The families selected for the program were for the most part unaware of their genealogical backgrounds, so it was a big reveal to see where each family would fit in the social and housing pecking order at the beginning of each episode.  Over a series of five weeks, the families progress from the Edwardian period with its strict adherence to social conventions to the dramatic social changes of the 1970s.  Each era brings opportunities and difficulties, both social and economical.  Each resident of Albert Road is expected to live within the social means and norms of their situation, and have three historians to lead them through each time period.

You can view the episodes for free on YouTube:

Turn Back Time: The Family (Edwardian)
Turn Back Time: The Family (Interwar)
Turn Back Time: The Family (Second World War)
Turn Back Time: The Family (1960s)
Turn Back Time: The Family (1970s)

You can read a wonderful blturn back time family goldingog post from Turn Back Time – The Family participant Ian Golding, and offers a great account of the show and the amount of effort it entails.  Ian and his wife Naomi adjusted their modern parenting style to each era’s parenting techniques, which was an eye opening experience to both the Golding parents and their young children.

I was also intrigued by an earlier program Turn Back Time – High Street, where modern shopkeeping families experience life on the high street (downtown shopping district) in various time periods, namely the Victorian era, Edwardian era, 1930s, Second World War, 1960s and 1970s.  This show has two focuses, immersing the shopkeepers in the period joys and pitfalls of their professions, while courting favor with modern shoppers.

You can view one Turn-Back-Time---The-High-001full series on Vimeo:  Turn Back Time – High Street (Edwardian Era) .  I haven’t been able to find additional full episodes of this series, so if anyone has a lead please let me know! Without giving away too many spoilers you can read My experience of Turn Back Time: The High Street by Karl Sergison.  Warning!  It contains spoilers!

How many of you would step into the living conditions and working professions of your ancestors?  Leave your comments and thoughts here on our blog!

As a quick side note, PBS’s Genealogy Roadshow is casting right now, and you can find information on the second season online.

See You At The Library!


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BillionGraves Field Trip for July 12 cancelled due to thunderstorms – will be rescheduled

The BillionGraves Fieldtrips to Oak Crest and Oak Hill Cemeteries in Downers Grove scheduled for today, Saturday, July 12, 2014, have been cancelled due to thunderstorm activity.  We will reschedule this event for a later date this autumn.  If you have any questions or concerns, please call the event organizer Debra at (231) 920-6313.

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Finding Family Clues in Digital Letters and Diaries – Follow Friday

Once upon a time, acquiring access to a personal correspondence collection required an in-person visit to a specialized library, state archive, or a national depository.  Diaries and Letters give a first person account of daily life, and divulge an individual’s circle of friends, chores, schedules, thoughts, and to various degrees – feelings.

This type of research has its pitfalls.  While many letters, diaries, and other personal correspondence have been digitized and record a sender and receiver, the genealogical hidden in each document are uncovered by personally reading each item carefully.  Understandably, this is a time intensive project for researchers, but the availability of these collections online make up for the time spent traveling to browse  items in person.

Let’s take a look at a few of the online archives which feature digital diaries and letters:

Internet Archive (

Sam Kimble DiaryThe personal diary of Sam Kimble, a resident of Manhattan, Kansas is a highly readable account of daily life on the turn of the century prairie.  Kimble describes the weather, crops, livestock, town life, local politics, as well as the tasks of building a home and attending to household matters.

Kimble even found time to paste a picture of his ideal finished home ‘Castle Kimble’ in his diary entry for Thursday, May 17, 1894


The diary of Caroline Belcher Abbott chronicles life in the area around Kennebec County, Maine from 1834-1859.  Some of her entries are very short, no more than one line about events that happened during the day.  Others are a few paragraphs, describing her visits to Boston, and the people, places and information she acquired during those trips. As an interesting note, the sabbath days are clearly marked and noted in her writings.

The Diary of Daniel Coker a Methodist Missionary at Fourah Bay, near Freetown, Sierra Leone in West Africa from April 21 to September 21 1821

daniel coker diaryThe diary pages are photocopied from the original document, but the the contents make for an engrossing read.  Coker documents fever outbreaks, prayer services, visits to individuals and families, and daily reflections of his missionary work.  The script is flowing and relatively easy to read, but due to the nature of the photocopy job, the side margins where Coker placed notes and additions are sadly garbled.


University of Iowa Digital Civil War Diaries

The Iowa Digital Library hosts a collection of 20 handwritten letters and diaries of Civil War veterans.  Spanning a period from 1862-1960, this collection offers large, readable images of original items.  The interface, which allows users to pan around a page or download each item to a computer.  One of the best features is the ‘Text’ tab, which allows you to read the page side by side with a typed transcription.  If you’re interested in solving a mystery, there are two diaries which are listed as ‘Author unknown’.  You can read them here:

American Travel Diary of an Unknown Englishman, 1864








California Civil War Diary of an Unknown Soldier, 1862-1863

Tuesday 26 Started at 5 AM in a dense fog. Lost the road going to far to the left went 10 miles out of the way & had to come back Capt pd (paid) Spaniard $2,50 to pilot us to right road went through the canon to Rancho Del Charro. & camped, Travailed 35 miles to day  Wednesday 27 Broke a box in one of the wagon hubs and  (Vertically, from bottom left:-)  Distance to day 21 miles. no good water

Auburn University in Alabama also has an excellent collection of digitized Civil War diaries.  Using the same interface as the University of Iowa’s digital library, Auburn’s collection also contains an unattributed Federal Soldier’s Diary (1862-1863).  According to the description, the  is dairy believed to have been written by a soldier of the 44th Massachusetts from December 11, 1862 to February 8, 1863.  The early pages of the diary include numbers of casualties, for the Battle of Kinton on Dec. 14, 1862, and an account of the solder’s wartime activities.

If you need help deciphering American handwriting, I recommend  Reading Early American Handwriting by Kip Sperry.  However, if you’re looking for an online tutorial in paleographic exercises in general, I also recommend The National Archives’ practical online tutorial on Palaeography: reading old handwriting 1500 – 1800, and Bringham Young University’s online Script Tutorials.

What online diary collections are you looking to find?  Share your thoughts and ideas in then comment section!

See you at the Library!


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BYO Smart Phone for our BillionGraves Field Trips! – Follow Friday

billiongravesgraphicBreak out your smart phone and join the Fountaindale Public Library Genealogy Club for a series of summer BillionGraves Field Trips!  There are four BillionGraves Field Trips scheduled for June and July, 2014.  Each field trip is available for genealogists, family historians, and cemetery buffs of all experience levels.  Registration is free and each session will include handouts, hands-on training, and bottled water.  Participants should bring a smartphone or data-plan enabled tablet, weather appropriate accessories, and a good pair of sturdy shoes to each field trip.

On Saturday, June 14 our first set of field trips will be held at 9 am at Boardman Cemetery in Bolingbrook.  After a short break, the second field trip will be held at 1 pm at Alexander Cemetery in Romeoville.Alexander Cemetery

The second set of field trips will be held on Saturday, July 12 in Downers Grove.  The first fieldtrip will be held at 9 am at Oak Hill Cemetery.  After a short break, the second field trip will be held at 1 pm in the adjoining Oak Crest Cemetery.

If you are new to BillionGraves, you will want to attend our BillionGraves Orientation on Wednesday, July 9 at 7 pm at the Fountaindale Public Library.  The orientation will cover how to download the app, how to take photos, link photos together, delete photos, how to tackle difficult transcription issues, and how to upload photos at the end of the project. The program will also include a short cemetery transcription orientation as well.  Registration for the orientation is free and can be completed online or by calling the Fountaindale Public Library at (630) 685-4176.

You do not need to be a Genealogy Club member to join the BillionGraves Field Trips!  We would like to host additional field trips in the fall, and we would like to know what cemeteries you want to survey!  For more information call (630) 685-4201.

To learn more about the cemeteries on our field trip list, you can visit the following sites:

Boardman Cemetery –

Alexander Cemetery –

Oak Hill and Oak Crest Cemeteries –

Good Luck!


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