Start researching your family tree without leaving your house!
In the Geneaology 101 blog, we looked at resources that teach you about genealogy, now we’re going to look at some sources for doing researching – specifically for those researching in the Evansville area.
One of EVPL’s most popular resources, and very good for those starting out, is the Browning Genealogy Database, which doesn’t require a library card to access. It is an amazing database named for its creator, Charles H. Browning, and covers the Evansville newspaper obituaries from the early 1900s to current day.
If you have a common last name like SMITH, the results of a general search may be too overwhelming. In which case, you would be wise to search again using any other details you have. You will need to start a fresh search. There is no way to filter the results of a finished search.
Once you have a search you’re happy with, you’ll most likely see your results split between a digital database and a notecard database. If you’re interested in learning why the database is split, read the about page. For your research, the most important thing to know is that the records are split into before and after 1990. Which list you choose will depend on your relative’s death date. If you can’t even hazard a guess as to the decade your person died, you’ll have to check both lists.
As you can see from these examples of records from both data sets, I blocked out the names for use in this blog, but anyone can do a search for Smith and find both records intact. As you research, you will find that some records contain more information than others. How much is included is dependent on the information in the obituary. Some have unexpected information, like this record from before 1990 that even gives the name of the other driver involved in the accident. Other records are lucky to have the deceased’s name and burial cemetery.
This database gives the primary information most genealogists are searching for and makes the need to see the full obituary essentially unnecessary, but many still want the obituary as it appeared in the newspaper. The hope for a picture of the deceased might be one reason. Confirming the accuracy of the information would be another.
Newspapers are another excellent genealogy resource, beyond obituaries. Depending on the time period, and how active your ancestor was in their community, you may find additional articles about them. In my research I found that even my farmer relatives showed up in their newspapers when they entered the local county fairs – my great, great grandmother was renowned for her baking and needlework.
Depending on the era, the papers, also, reported a lot of everyday socializing. They were simple, short comments about who was visiting who, who had gone out of town on business, or to visit friends or relatives. This is a great way to learn about your relatives’ friends, and everyday activities. It also provides another possible avenue for identifying ancillary relatives. Like the black sheep brother that Grandpa never talks about now, but that the paper reported attending family Sunday dinners back in the 40’s. For example, thanks to these little vignettes, I can trace when my grandparents would visit the family cottage and whom they regularly had over for dinner. One caveat, my examples come from smaller town newspapers. This might not hold as true for big city newspapers in places like Chicago or New York.
You can access our Evansville newspapers anywhere you have an Internet connection. Outside of the library, you will be asked for your library card number. Type that in, and you will be taken to the search page.
We offer access to the newspapers in three different ways. The oldest newspapers are available as black and white scanned images. There is a time period between 1992 and 2018 when we only offer text of the newspaper, but starting in January 2019, we have full color PDF versions of the newspaper. One search will pull results from all three versions. If you find a text only article and want to see what it looked like in the newspaper, you will need to visit EVPL Central where we have microfilm of all the newspapers up to 2019.
If you have trouble using the database, or questions about your results, don’t hesitate to call, chat, email, come in, whatever works for you to contact us. We’ll be happy to help you get the most out of your searching. Newsbank, the company that provides the access for us, also offers some help tips. Scroll down to the black bar at the bottom of the screen, click the ‘Need help?’, then click the ‘View help documentation’ on the pop up screen. That will open a nice, detailed PDF on using the database, which you can download and refer back to at any time.
One other warning: Back in the late 1800s, Evansville had another newspaper, the Evansville Journal. It, too, is a great resource of historical information. The problem is, when you search EVPL’s current Historical Newspaper database, the Journal is not included in the search. It is a quirk that just started this year when we added the current newspaper PDFs. We, and our database provider, are still working on fixing the issue, but if you know anything about computer programming and getting software systems to work together, you know problems can sometimes be difficult to fix. Until then, here’s a work around you can use.
The next screen will give you two search boxes. Enter your search term in the first box, type EVANSVILLE in the second box, then change the field next to it to SOURCE. You will now search all off the Evansville newspapers.
Now let’s explore EVPL’s Digital Archive.
Like the Browning Genealogy Database, our Digital Archive is available to anyone anywhere, no library card or sign in needed. The archive is made up of digitized Evansville city directories with no copyright, school yearbooks, books on the history of Evansville (again past copyright), postcards, and photo collections.
All of the collections are keyword searchable. When you’re looking for a particular name, this is a great feature for the books, city directories, and yearbooks. It isn’t as useful with the pictures simply because the pictures rarely identify the people in them. As you search, keep in mind that these books are but a fraction of what we hold in print in the Indiana Room.
Collections in the room include plat maps, aerial maps, local area histories, local company histories, yearbooks, and everyone’s favorite the Evansville City Directories. Imagine that you know from census records that Grandma and Grandpa moved sometime between 1930 and 1940. Your family doesn’t remembers the year, and the decennial census certainly isn’t going to tell you. But, you can visit EVPL Central and look through the city directories for those years until you find the year their address changed. Cool, huh? Yes, I’m a genealogy nerd!
When you’re visiting us would be a good time to try out our Ancestry database. Trust me, it is great. Stay tuned for the next blog post, Genealogy 103, where I’ll talk about the pluses and minuses of using Ancestry at the library and provide some searching tips!