Sunday, May 23, 2010

Great Privacy Tool for Facebook Users (Yes, this is related to Genealogy!)

Why am I posting about Facebook privacy settings on my genealogy tips blog?  I love using Facebook for genealogy too.  Facebook has become a wonderful way to keep in contact with all of my extended family, and is a great place to share family history.  I can't count the times when a niece or nephew has said, "I didn't know that about 'so and so'....."  Facebook is a great way to share your genealogy with the younger generation.

However, Facebook has made some privacy changes lately.  One of my uncles (who was very new to Facebook) decided to drop Facebook because he was fearful of the privacy issues.  I believe Facebook is far too valuable to just drop it, and I've found you can still have a great Facebook experience -- so long as you properly lock down your privacy rights!

I came across a great tool that will help check your Facebook to see what you are sharing with others.  This tool scans your Facebook profile for privacy settings and tell you exactly what others can see about you.  This free tool is easy to install (just drag and drop as a "bookmark" to your internet browser).  You first have to log on to Facebook, then you can click on the button to have it "do it's thing."   It is called  The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and PCWorld recommend this site.

I learned of this tool from Kim Komando, a computer guru from the Phoenix area who has a nationwide radio show.  Here is Kim Komando's article on if you want to read more about it.

Her website is:, and I trust it implicity.  In fact, I go to her site for all things computer-wise!

Bottom line is - I am going to continue using Facebook, and you can too -- so long as you properly lock it down!  

P.S.  After I tested my Facebook settings using this bookmark, I removed it (just to be safe!).

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

It was Right There All The Time! More Free Access at My Family History Library

On Saturday I was at my local Family History Center trying to find more information on a gentleman who died in July of 1970 in Phoenix.  Basically - I need his obituary so I can learn more about his family and where he hails.  I thought - check the databases at my local public library (Phoenix Public Library).  It referred me to a local Family History Center (Mesa Regional Family History Center) which maintains a database called AZObits.  What a wonderful resource!  I found the obituary I was researching (well, information that one exists - not the complete obituary), along with the newspaper where it was published.  Now - to find that newspaper and see if the July 1970 issue was in an online database.

I searched and searched to no avail.  I eventually wound up at and they indeed had my newspaper, but I really didn't feel like paying for a membership just yet.  And, I am not really interested in making a trip to the Phoenix Public Library to look at microfilm (I want it ALL online NOW!  I can dream, can't I?)  Well, I gave up for now and left my little Family History Center to save this search for another day.  Little did I know that my library had free access to through another website.
While researching tonight I found an article on the 10 Great Pay Sites - Genealogy Websites.  I saw Godfrey Memorial Library on the list, and I discovered that Godfrey offers access to (via paid subscription).  (Best part is -- Godfrey offers library subscriptions to anyone!)  I considered subscribing, then I remembered:  Hey!  My local Family History Library allows access to Godfrey Memorial Library for free -- AND its link to (also for free!) -- through its FHC Portal!

Needless to say, I can't wait to return to my local Family History Library to start researching this rich source of material.  And, a lesson learned -- learn what is available to you in your own local family history library!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

"Digging Dirt" on The Living and Recently Deceased

In my "real" job (paying job) I am asked to locate individuals as well as investigate the backgrounds of individuals, which is really the best part of my job.  There is no better satisfaction than finding dirt on a cheater!  I digress.  However, I have used these same skills and resources in genealogy research - locating the "living" and the "newly dead."  First - a couple of stories.

One patron at the Family History Library (where I volunteer) was looking for someone who had died within the last 10 years, and we couldn't find him on the Social Security Death Index.  However, she had a state and town, so we searched the county's recorded deed records and was able to find the name of his widow - and her current contact information.

One gentleman from church wanted to find his dad, who he knew was a dentist in the Navy when he had dated his mother.  We searched the state licensing board for dentistry and found a couple of possibilities, and he had contact information so he could begin making a few calls.

One friend of mine knew her dad's name but had never met him (her mother left him when she was young).  We set about searching for him and we found him!  She was thrilled to find out he had been searching for her, and that her grandmother - who lived in her same city - was also searching for her.  It was a blessed reunion, and they now have a great relationship which she cherishes.

Now - let's get on with searching!  As an FYI - I NEVER pay for any of these sites; I save my money until after I have exhausted all of these free sites.  I have used a couple of paid sites for work-related searches, but they were databases (mostly available to me via my employer.  I am unsure if Accurint is open to the general public or how much information you can obtain (due to privacy concerns in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002).  However, a private investigator did share this site me with:  I have never used IRBSearch so I cannot attest to its accuracy, but it does list pretty reasonable prices for its searches.  I'd still exhaust all of the free sites first.

To help you begin your research, think about what exists on you in your own life, and it will help guide you to where you need to look for similar records on the living or recently deceased:
  • Do you own a home?  If so, your deed and mortgage is recorded in the County records.  Your also pay taxes on that real estate, so the County Assessor will have your name listed.
  • Ever receive a traffic ticket that went to court, or ever sued or been sued?  Your County court (or lower courts such as Justice Court) may have records on you.
  • Ever been divorced, or did your family ever have to probate a loved one's estate?  Even small estates can be probated.
  • Have you ever donated to a political party or person running for public office?  (My name popped up on a candidate's financial disclosure form on the internet, even though my donation was only $20).
  • Telephone directories are still around, and more exist online than in print.
  • And last, but not least, some of your relatives may have had a criminal history.  I'm not talking murders etc., but a lot of websites display misdemeanors and traffic violations.
Where's a good place to find State and Local Government sites on the Net?  

One caveat:  Not all states, counties, cities and towns have online records.  However, I think many of these sites will get you to those government sites that do have online records. (BRB Publications).   This is turning out to be one of the best sites I have found for public records searches on the living, plus some links to genealogy-type records.  Check out their Free Resources, go to Links to Thousands of Free Public Records, then on to State, County and City Sites.  In Arizona this site did list good information for genealogists, as it linked to (select birth and death records).  I also love that this site tells you the time periods of the records available, and if you need to register.  10/7/11 UPDATE:  Unfortunately is no longer a favorite of mine.  It seems the almighty dollar has won and therefore many of their links take you to advertisers and  However, if you click on the "County" links, they are still helpful.  (I am very disappointed!)   This is a pretty good site as well.  I selected Recorded Documents for Arizona, and it took me to "Arizona Public Records," and all of the links were good links to those government agencies who have online records.  They also have in their drop-down box birth, marriage and death records, but it didn't have the link to like the site did.  However, may still one day have this information available.  If you don't have luck with, go find your government entity at  You can quickly "drill down" to find your State, County, Cities and Towns.  Since I know Arizona records the best, I drilled down to get to Maricopa County (Phoenix), and it took me to  They have links just to the left to Assessor/Parcel Information, Case History, Recorded Docs, and more.  Maricopa County Case History includes links to civil, criminal, family court, probate, as well as a link to justice court cases.  This is the US Government site.  Although it has quite a bit of information, it is almost too much information.  And, it only took me to State websites, and not the county and local governments (or maybe I didn't search as long as I should).  Nevertheless, it may be helpful to you.

When You Really Want to Dig Dirt On the Living

First, always check these sites using your own name - that's the best way to check for accuracy.  And, by the way, have you googled your name lately?  I've found many people just by googling their name, but use the google tips I provide (See my tips on conducting better google searches).

Don't be alarmed how "not-private" your information is!  Some of the information comes from what you have added on the internet (or sites you belong to), but some of this information comes from the "credit header" information supplied by the credit bureaus (though they never disclose your credit information).  What are credit headers?  Addresses, phones, variations of names, etc -- everything you write on a credit application for cell phones, car loans, etc.

You will find that some of these sites will find your postings on Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, etc.  You have control over what content you want to display in each of these social networking sites, so I suggest you "lock down" so your information does not display in simple google searches.

And, last, here's some sites I use to find information on people:  Advertises "One Stop Free Online Public Records Searching."  It does take a few minutes to conduct this search (even displays a clock for you).  It found search results in the local justice court, my notary registration, property tax information and social networking sites and phone directories.  It even had links to (see below).   PeekYou can also take some time to search, but it does want you to click on some of the links to go elsewhere for paid searches.  Although it lists some paid sites, I still go check them out up to the point where they want your money.  Peekyou took me to these sites:  This site actually showed my age, towns I have lived in, my Dad's name and my husband's name (though almost 15 years younger than me, and he is only 9 months younger than me!).  Keep this in mind when you are searching others:  if there are names displayed along with your name, you might want to check out those names too. - Intelius is pretty reliable as well, as it listed the towns I have lived in and my husband's name.  It also had some 5 other people associated with my name, and only one of them I knew (my cousin who shared my maiden name). - I had to laugh at first when Peekyou linked me to this site.  It said my home value was an estimated $1M (I wish), that I owned an RV (I wish again), and that I was "self-driven."  (I KNOW I have never listed myself as "self-driven" on any social sites.)  However, it did have some accurate information on me, such as my husband's name, our street address (but not street number), and that I have a college degree.  So, I have now added this site as one of my search sites.  This is a great site if you are looking for criminal history of individuals.  It lists violent crimes to simple traffic crimes, and even gives you the court information.  (And no, my name was not among these records.)  I had just learned of this site and it is pretty good as well.  It found my name, age, address, property records and deeds, Facebook, and even my profile (looks like I need to change my Amazon profile as I don't want that information public).  It also found web pages where I had posted genealogy search queries.  It also had my employment information (taken from, which looks like it takes its information from  An old site, which is now being overshadowed by some of the newer sites that provide more comprehensive search results.  Nevertheless, it may be helpful.

I hope this information can be helpful to you.  Happy digging!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

My Favorite Go-To Sites for "Where do I Start?"

I was trying to help a Family History Library patron yesterday with searching Austria genealogy.  I had never done research in Austria, so here I am, a library volunteer with no experience in Austrian genealogy.  How can I help her?  You've heard the sayings, "If all else fails, read the manual," or "Don't reinvent the wheel," and so here are my favorite go-to sites when I ask myself, "where do I start?"

1. - Excellent Research and Help sections to begin your search.  My favorites links are:
  • Articles - you can search by Place, Title, Subject or Document Type.  In searching for Austria, there was only a letter writing guide, so I moved on.
  • Research Guidance - again, not much on Austria, so I was able to quickly move to the next link.
  • Search the Wiki - I had a couple of choices - type in a keyword search, or go to a List All Countries:
When I did the keyword search, it returned a list of 222 search results.  Well, I wanted something a little more organized, so I chose "List All Countries" and went to Austria - and VOILA!  Just what I wanted - a search page neatly organized:

Wonderful!  You really have to learn a little about the country to see how it has evolved over the years, otherwise you could miss out on some search sites.  The Wiki helped with that as well, providing a Jurisdictions section explaining all about the evolution of Austria.

2.   I had forgot about this site, but it is a great site as well.  They are professional genealogists, but they have a great Research Tools section as well:

I love their International Genealogy Sleuth -- a listing of sites these researchers use when conducting genealogy research.  (They also have a United States Genealogy Sleuth page.)  To find Austria research, I selected WorldGenWeb Regions - Eastern Europe - and was able to get to the Austrian Genealogy Pages (hosted via

3.  The old favorite - Cyndi's List.  I hadn't visited Cyndi's List in a while, but it is still a good resource as well.  There was a link on the home page for "Austria/Osterreich" which got me on my way.  It too had all of its links logically organized.

More to look at:

4.   BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy also offers area-specific Research Guides with a few internet site links.

5.  Check out the WorldGenProject (if you first don't go to ProGenealogist's International Genealogy Sleuth above), and WorldGenWeb Archives (sadly, not too much to offer with the many online databases available via and

6.  Ancestry has a Help section, including their own Wiki.  When I searched the Wiki for "Austria," it returned 9 search results.  There were a couple of helpful links such as "Overview of Immigration Research, " "Foreign Sources for Immigration Records," and "Overview of Jewish American Research."  I perused these articles, but not too many links you can search.

Sadly, though we wish ALL countries and their records were available online, they are not.  So, if you have exhausted all of your online sources, your next bet is to go to the Library Catalog, find the country, state, county and/or city you are searching, and hope there exists microfilm rolls of the records you are searching.  For now you will need to order the films from your Local Family History Library, but SOMEDAY these will all be available online (via's Indexing project).


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