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Add Audio to Pictures on FamilySearch.org

FamilySearch - Wed, 04/24/2019 - 17:28

For years, FamilySearch has helped you preserve family memories by allowing you to upload photos and attach them to your family tree. Now you can take another step in preserving memories by adding audio recordings to the pictures you upload to FamilySearch.org.

Record the Stories around Your Photos

Behind every photo is a story. Now you can record that story as you preserve photos of your family. For example, do you have a photo of your grandparents on their wedding day? You can gather stories about their wedding and add audio of those cherished memories to their wedding photo when you upload it to FamilySearch.org. Or, at your next family reunion, you can snap a photo and record a moment of the family fun to go with it!

Adding Audio to a Picture on FamilySearch.org

You can add audio to photos you upload on both the FamilySearch.org website  and the FamilySearch apps.

FamilySearch.org Website

On FamilySearch.org, first go to your family photos by clicking the Memories tab at the top of the FamilySearch screen. Or, in the Family Tree, you can click an ancestor’s name and go to the person’s details page. Then choose Memories to see photos for that particular family member.

Next, add a new photo or click on one you want to add audio to. (You will only be able to add audio to those photos you have uploaded to FamilySearch.org.) You will notice a microphone below the photo with the words Record a Memory. After you click the words, an audio recording screen will appear. Click the blue microphone to start talking, and record up to five minutes for that photo.

Note: Photos and audio attached to deceased ancestors can be viewed by other users on the FamilySearch Family Tree. To protect privacy, photos and audio attached to living people can be seen only by the person who added the memory unless that person shares the memory or album with another user.

FamilySearch Apps

Adding audio on the apps works in a similar way. From the Family Tree app, tap on a person of interest, and then choose the Memories tab to add a new photo or see photos already added to the person’s profile. When you are ready to add audio, tap the photo. A small microphone will appear above or below the photo. Tapping the microphone will bring up a screen that says Record audio about this photo. Just as on the website, you can record up to five minutes of audio.

Similarly, from the Memories app, click a photo of interest, and go through the same process. If the photo is attached to a person in the Family Tree, changes made to the photo will automatically be updated in the FamilySearch Family Tree.

Now you are ready to start adding audio to your photos! Head over to FamilySearch.org, or pull up the app on your phone. Find one of your family photos—or upload a new one—and record a story to go with it. With these new tools, it is easier than ever to preserve your family moments as more than names and dates—and to share your memories with your family.

Your Chinese American Heritage

FamilySearch - Mon, 04/22/2019 - 08:38

Nearly 2 billion people in the world today have Chinese ancestry. China, the most populous country in the world, is home to 1.4 billion people, and another 500 million people with Chinese heritage live outside its borders. An early wave of Chinese immigrants came to Canada and the United States between the 1850s and 1880s. Others arrived more recently. Learn the stories of your Chinese American and Chinese Canadian ancestors and the enduring legacies they created in their adopted North American countries.

Early Chinese American Immigrants

Immigrants from China began arriving to the western United States and Canada in significant numbers during the mid-1800s. Lured by the discovery of gold, most were working men who came without their families. When they found no success in the gold fields, thousands took jobs building the Transcontinental Railroad in the United States and the Canadian Pacific Railway in British Columbia.

Chinatowns and Chinese Exclusion in North America

When not working on job sites in remote areas, Chinese workers generally clustered in urban neighborhoods. Initially, these “Chinatowns” were located in large cities of western North America, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles in the United States and Vancouver in Canada.

Chinese workers faced severe prejudice in North America because of racism, cultural differences, and language barriers. After a financial panic in North America in 1873, competition for jobs became fierce. Laborers united against Chinese workers. In the 1880s, both Canadian and United States governments passed laws to limit or prohibit Chinese immigration. Other discriminatory laws and practices made life more difficult for residents of Chinese origin, who were still mostly men.

New Chinese American Immigration to North America

After restrictions were lifted in the 1940s, Chinese immigration to North America gradually resumed. Political and cultural changes in China further motivated some families to leave. In recent decades, most Canadian arrivals have settled in Ontario; Toronto’s Chinatown is home to more than 400,000 residents of Chinese origin. Many have also settled in British Columbia; nearly 350,000 Chinese Canadians live in Vancouver. Alberta and Quebec are home to smaller, but significant, Chinese Canadian communities. The 2011 Canadian census counted 1.3 million people of Chinese origin. Their numbers continue to grow, and Chinese is the country’s most-spoken language after English and French.

In the United States, the replacement of national quota immigration laws in 1965 with policies favoring family reunification led to an increase in arrivals of Chinese families. In the decades that followed, many immigrants came from Hong Kong, Canton, Taiwan, Fukien, and North China. As in Canada, most people initially settled in the historical Chinatowns of San Francisco and Los Angeles, but many also settled in the growing Chinatowns of New York City, Chicago, and Seattle. The Chinese population in the United States has risen steeply since 2000, from about 3 million to about 5 million in 2015.

FamilySearch’s online record collections can help you find your Chinese Canadian or Chinese American family. Learn how to use FamilySearch’s online records to find your ancestors and connect them to your family tree.

Chinese Immigration and the Chinese Exclusion Act

Chinese Genealogy Research: How to Find Your Chinese Ancestors in North America

Chinese Genealogy Research: How to Find Your Chinese Ancestors in North America

FamilySearch - Mon, 04/22/2019 - 08:37

If your Chinese ancestors immigrated to North America, you may be able to learn more about them in Canadian or United States records. Here are tips on records that may help you explore your Chinese ancestry.

Chinese Immigrants in Census Records

Chinese immigrants may appear in censuses, which are descriptive counts of the population. You may discover valuable information, such as a relative’s occupation and approximate year of birth and when the relative immigrated. Because most early Chinese immigrants were male workers who left their loved ones behind in China, you won’t often find them enumerated with their families.

The United States has taken national censuses every 10 years since 1790. Chinese immigration became significant after the California Gold Rush began in 1849. Chinese ancestry was first noted in the California census of 1852. Learn more about exploring United States census records.

In Canada, national censuses have been taken every 10 years since 1871 and every 5 years since 1971. Most early Chinese immigrants to Canada went to British Columbia. Census records in British Columbia began in 1881.

In both countries, Chinese residents were sometimes missed, or their information was written incorrectly. Sometimes Chinese residents avoided census takers. At other times, language and cultural barriers were to blame.

Finding Vital Records (Births, Marriages, and Deaths)

Records of individuals’ births, marriages, and deaths have been kept by different North American government offices at various times and places. In Canada, these vital records are called civil registration records and are kept by individual provinces. Civil registration began in 1872 in British Columbia; Chinese residents weren’t officially included in these records until 1897. This guide to civil registration records for British Columbia includes links to free FamilySearch collections.

Individual states and counties in the United States may have marriage records dating back to when the state or county was organized. Birth and death records weren’t reliably kept in many places until the late 1800s or early 1900s. Learn more about United States vital records here, or read about California vital records here.

In both countries, Chinese grave markers may provide additional information about relatives. Tombstones of immigrants may include the deceased’s name and maiden name and that person’s Chinese province or district and village of origin (and, for married females, similar information about her spouse).  Several Chinese cemeteries in California, British Columbia, Hawaii, and other locations are documented on Find A Grave. Tombstones and in other Chinese-language records may use dates specific to the Chinese calendar.

Chinese Immigrants in Passenger Lists

Chinese immigrants to North America generally landed at West Coast ports. In the United States, San Francisco and Hawaii were the most common destinations. In Canada, look for Chinese passengers arriving in Vancouver, Victoria, and other ports in British Columbia.

British Columbia passenger lists don’t begin until 1905, well after the initial surge of Chinese immigration. A collection of Chinese passenger arrival lists for Vancouver (1906–1912, 1929–1941) is available on Ancestry.com and in the Ancestry Library Edition available at family history centers and many public libraries.

According to the Chinese Family History Group of Southern California, in the United States “early immigrants and people in steerage were often not listed by name, but as ‘Chinaman’ or not listed at all. If listed on passenger lists after the Exclusion Act, the ancestor was not in steerage, but may have been in second or third class. Travel companions may be listed and their relationship. Women were usually listed with their maiden name and 氏 “Shee” (indicates married woman).”

Several key collections relating to Chinese immigrants are available online:

For many decades, the Canadian and United States governments kept additional documentation on Chinese residents living within their borders.

Published Histories about Chinese Americans

Even if they don’t specifically mention your relative or family, regional and ethnic history books can help you better understand the experiences of Chinese immigrants and communities. Look for stories about others who may have lived in the same places your family did or who worked in the same occupations.

Look for published histories at your library. If it doesn’t have what you’re looking for, ask a reference librarian for help or search for titles on WorldCat.org, an enormous online catalog of materials at thousands of libraries in the United States, Canada, and beyond. You may be able to borrow a book through interlibrary loan.

Explore the stacks and online catalogs of genealogy research libraries too. For example, the Family History Library holds a copy of Chasing Their Dreams: Chinese Settlement in the Northwest Region of British Columbia by Lily Chow and Unbound Voices: A Documentary History of Chinese Women in San Francisco by Judy Yung.

Learn more about researching your Chinese genealogy

How to Find My Chinese Ancestors


North American Government Records about your Chinese Immigrant Ancestors Chinese Last Names: A History of Culture and Family
Your Chinese American Heritage

North American Government Records about your Chinese Immigrant Ancestors

FamilySearch - Mon, 04/22/2019 - 08:29

In the mid-1800s, Chinese immigrants arrived in North America in increasing numbers. Most were working men who found jobs on railroads and in other labor-intensive but low-paying occupations.

As their numbers grew, so did prejudice against Chinese immigrants. Eventually the governments of both Canada and the United States restricted Chinese immigration and created special records to document residents of Chinese descent. Today, these records can help you learn more about the identities and experiences of your Chinese ancestors in North America.

Search Chinese-American Records Chinese Canadian Immigrant Records

In 1885, the Canadian government passed the Chinese Immigration Act, meant to discourage Chinese workers from coming by imposing a tax of $50 on each (well over $1,000 in today’s currency). By 1903, the head tax had increased to $500 per person, making it extremely unlikely that working men could pay it.

Certificates were issued to Chinese-born immigrants and travelers, including those who had arrived previously or who otherwise didn’t have to pay the tax. The purpose of these certificates was to prove the holder’s identity and permission to be in Canada. Original certificates may have been handed down within families; the government did not keep copies.

However, the Canadian government did keep a register of certificates issued at the Chinese Immigration Service headquarters in Ottawa. According to Library and Archives Canada, “These registers list all immigrants of Chinese origin arriving in Canada between 1885 and 1949. Some entries for residents arriving in Canada date back to 1860. The names in the registers are arranged numerically by serial number, in approximate chronological order by the date the notice of the immigrant’s arrival was submitted to Ottawa. They include information such as age; certificate number; place of birth; occupation; date and port of arrival in Canada; and head tax paid.” These records are searchable in the free Immigrants from China, 1885–1949 database at Library and Archives Canada.

Chinese American Immigrant Records

In 1882, the United States government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned Chinese workers from entering the country. After this act was extended in 1892, Chinese-born residents of the United States were required to register with immigration authorities and obtain certificates of residence. United States citizens of Chinese descent who wanted to travel overseas also had to register.

Individual case files were packed with identifying information, such as a person’s name, date, and place of birth; physical description; occupation; residences in the United States, and, if applicable, deportation or international travel.

According to Patricia Hackett Nicola, Chinese exclusion files also “usually include the name of the village and province or city and state where the person was born. Sometimes included are lists of family members with cross-references to their files, return-certificate applications, affidavits from witnesses, birth, marriage or death certificates, drawings or descriptions of a home or village in China.” Later records even included photographs. Chinese merchants also had to submit lists of their United States business partners to prove their commercial interests in the country.

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed many key documents for United States residents of Chinese descent. Subsequently, some Chinese-born residents began to claim inflated numbers of children in China, who could be eligible to join them. These residents used their exaggerated claims to bring additional Chinese friends and relatives into the country, who came to be called “paper sons.” To prevent this deception, authorities began interrogating Chinese immigrants; transcripts of interrogations are also included in many Chinese exclusion case files.

Chinese exclusion case files are generally now in regional branches of the National Archives and Records Administration. They number over 200,000. Individuals’ case files were created at their initial port of entry (or, for residents who were born in the United States, their port of first return). Information from some collections has been put online. Those searching for records can do the following:

Chinese-born residents sometimes ended up in court over problems relating to residency status, deportation orders, and other issues. These court cases may be mentioned in their exclusion case files. Court files are also researchable in the correct jurisdictions, which may vary but which include United States district courts. FamilySearch has indexed images for California, San Francisco, Register of Chinese Immigrant Court Cases and Foreign Seamen Tax Cards, 1883–1924; Ancestry.com’s collection U.S., Chinese Immigration Case Files, 1883–1924 includes records from courts in El Paso, Texas; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and overlapping records for San Francisco, California.

Explore a more comprehensive list of National Archives and Records Administration collections relating to Chinese exclusion and court case files.

Learn more about your Chinese immigrant ancestors in Canada and the United States in other North American records.

Your Chinese American Heritage

Finding Your Finnish Ancestors

FamilySearch - Mon, 04/15/2019 - 16:01

Located at the very top of Europe, Finland sometimes flies under the radar. But with its vast natural beauty, excellent education system, and of course, as the official home of Santa Claus (at least according to the people of Finland), perhaps it shouldn’t. 

With a population of around 5.5 million people, Finland has one of the lowest population densities in Europe. Yet Finland also has a rich cultural heritage and history, with deep connections to both Sweden and Russia. Finland has also sent a significant number of people out into the world, with Finnish immigrants settling in the United States, Canada, and many other countries. 

Today, people with Finnish ancestry have access to great records, many available through FamilySearch’s online Finnish collection. Getting acquainted with the Finnish language and naming traditions can be challenging at first. But once you get a grasp on them, you’ll likely find success in the thoroughly kept and well-preserved records.  

If you want to understand and trace your Finnish heritage, here’s some information to help you dive in! 

Search for your Finland ancestors Types of Finnish Records

Finnish Family History Research: Where to Start  A Peek into Finnish History 

Having a basic understanding of Finland’s history can help you be more effective in locating your Finnish ancestors. Finland did not become an independent country until 1917. From about 1150 until 1809, Finland was a part of Sweden, which means many records throughout this period were kept in Swedish. Both Sweden and Finland were impacted by the Reformation and became predominantly Evangelical Lutheran, with Lutheran Church records including nearly every member of Finnish society. 

When Russia defeated Sweden in the Finnish War in 1809, Finland became part of the Russian Empire. Under Russian rule, Finland had more autonomy, and Finns developed a stronger sense of their national identity. Finnish became the country’s official language in 1863 and churches gradually began keeping records in Finnish. 

Not long after Finland established its independence in 1917, it passed the Family Names Act of 1920. This act standardized Finnish surnames, making it a legal requirement for everyone to use family surnames. Before this, Finnish names could follow several different naming traditions. In western Finland, many people followed the patronymic naming system as was done in Sweden. In this system, surnames are based on the father’s first name and change from generation to generation. Eastern Finns tended to use regular family surnames. However, in both areas, people sometimes took on farm names. This meant that a person adopted the name of the place where he lived, taking on a new name when he moved. The change enacted by the Family Names Act makes Finnish genealogical research in this period much simpler! 

Finnish Emigration

Between 1864 and 1914, over 300,000 people left Finland for the U.S. and Canada. This was the first of several major waves of Finnish emigration. Today, around 640,000 Americans claim Finnish heritage. Michigan, Minnesota, and Massachusetts saw the largest number of arrivals. Significant Finnish populations can also be found in Sweden, Canada, Russia, and Norway. In fact, Finnish emigration to Sweden peaked from 1950 to 1970, when many Finns left in search of employment. 

Finding your ancestors in emigration records can also help you piece together their stories. Finns left through several different ports, including ports in Sweden, Germany, and England. Finnish ancestors can also sometimes be found in Canadian border-crossing records or U.S. arrival records. After 1891, many Finns emigrated with the Finland Steamship Company. FamilySearch has a large collection of emigration (departure) and immigration (arrival) records that you can search. 

Now that you’ve got a basic introduction, it’s time to get started! Take a few minutes to learn more in the attached articles, or head right over to FamilySearch—and get acquainted with your Finnish family.   

Types of Finnish Records

FamilySearch - Mon, 04/15/2019 - 15:47

Over the years, millions of Finnish records have been indexed and entered into databases on FamilySearch.org. You can use these indexed records to find information on your ancestors’ birth, marriage, or death information, as well as information on where and when your ancestors lived! 

To start, on the FamilySearch.org home page, click Search. On the Research by Location map, click the area of Europe, and then, in the pop-up list, select Finland. In the Indexed Historical Records section of the new page, click Show All 8 collections. If you search these collections and still don’t find what you are looking for, then you might want to check a database created by the Genealogical Society of Finland called the HisKi project to search additional indexed parish records. 

Search Finnish Parish Records 

 Prior to about 1880, parish records in Finland were written in Swedish. Parish priests kept many types of records to account for the people living in the parish. The ones we search the most are the following.

  • Birth and Christening Records: A record of all births and christenings in the parish. These records typically include the following information:  
    • The name of the child 
    • Parents’ names 
    • Parents’ residence  
    • The names of the godparents 
  • Engagement and Marriage Records: A record of each couple that was engaged or married in the parish. These records typically include the following information: 
    • The names of the groom and the bride
    • The day of public announcement (banns) of the wedding 
    • The day of the wedding 
    • Potentially other information, such as the character references for the groom and bride.  
  • Death and Burial Records: A record of all deaths and burials in the parish, which typically include the following information:  
    • The name of the deceased 
    • The date of death 
    • The date of burial 
    • Place of residence 
    • Age at time of death 
    • Usually, a cause of death
  • Move-In and Move-Out Records: A record of every person who moved into or out of the parish. These records typically include the following information:  
    • The name of the people who moved 
    • Where they came from or where they were going to 
    • The date of the move (or at least when the priest was notified) 
  • Communion Records: A record of all the people in the parish who partook of the communion. These records typically included the following information:  
    • Age or date of birth for each person 
    • Moving information  
    • Other important notes  
  • Preconfirmation Records: These records are of children who were preparing for confirmation or who had not partaken of communion. Generally, the children were younger than 14 or 15 years old. After partaking communion, the registration of the child was moved to the regular communion books. 

The preconfirmation books from the period 1657–1915 have been indexed into a searchable database with over 33 million entries. You can access this database on either MyHeritage.org or FamilySearch.org.

Want to save time? Search these great databases before you browse any record collections. You can learn more about the church records of Finland on the Finland Church Records page in the FamilySearch Wiki.  https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/finnish-ancestors/

Finding Your Finnish Ancestors

Finnish Family History Research: Where to Start

FamilySearch - Mon, 04/15/2019 - 15:37

Are you looking for your ancestors from Finland? Maybe you don’t know where to start. The good news? There are many online databases and tools to help you. A good place to start is on FamilySearch.org

FamilySearch Record Hints Make It Easy

Record Hints are the easiest way to start your research. Some of your Finnish ancestors may have records hints, and you don’t even know it! Here’s how to get started. 

  1. Open a web browser and navigate to FamilySearch.org. In the top menu, click Family Tree, and find a Finnish ancestor or family. Using the FamilySearch fan chart view, you can easily see where your ancestors are from. 
  2. Select an ancestor’s name to see information about him or her. From there, click again to bring up the person’s details page. Find the heading Research Help to see if there is a record hint.  
    1. If there is a hint, click the hint, and then open it by clicking Attach
    2. Check the content to see if the names, places, and dates match the information on the person’s details page.  
    3. If they match, then click Compare, and finish the process.  

If there are no record hints, you should check available databases on FamilySearch.org. If that fails, search the parish records. You can find out if digital copies of the Finnish parish records are available by doing a search in the FamilySearch catalog. Many hints come from these records. As you look at the records, you may learn new information about your ancestor or his or her family. When using these records, keep in mind that the indexed names or relationships might not be correct. When in doubt, check the digital copies of the original parish records to verify the information.  

Finding Your Family through their Finnish Parish

To find your ancestor in the church records of Finland, you will need to know what parish, or district, they lived in. Often, you can identify the parish from the person’s details page (check, for example, the place of birth). If you see three named locations, they usually refer to the parish, county, and country. A fourth named location might be the name of a farm. You can use the FamilySearch wiki for Finland genealogy to identify parish names.  

Strategies to Find Finnish Church Records

To learn more about Finnish record types, read Types of Finnish Ancestry Records.

Start by looking up a birth, marriage, or death entry. Use the place of residence to look up the ancestor in a communion or preconfirmation record.

Search every available communion or preconfirmation record. Verify all the birth, marriage, or death information in the birth, marriage, or death records. If your ancestor moved, use the moving-in and moving-out records to follow your ancestor (or family) from one parish record collection to another.  

Keep in mind that most parish records were written in Swedish before about 1880. After that, the records were often written in Finnish. If you need help with translation, you can get help with both languages or get advice for strategy at the Nordic Countries Group on the FamilySearch Community page

Only 10 or 15 years ago, the process of finding your ancestors from Finland would have been significantly harder. With a collaborative family tree, record hints, and searchable databases, you can find new information much more quickly. Even when you need to look through record images, you can do it from home with online support from people with more experience. Have fun discovering your ancestors from Finland! 

Finding Your Finnish Ancestors

Joe Price Talks about Census Tree Project—RootsTech 2019

FamilySearch - Fri, 04/12/2019 - 16:05

How have you been influenced by archives and libraries? Have you ever visited a museum and wondered how your own ancestors were part of the history you see there?

Joe Price, associate professor of economics and director of the Record Linking Lab (RLL) at Brigham Young University, spoke at the Access and Preservation Day at RootsTech in 2019. His presentation was about the RLL’s census tree project and how it will create meaningful connections to the records in archives, museums, and libraries.

Connecting with Records

“My life has been changed by archives and libraries,” Price said. He described how he likes to look for records and items that have not yet been digitized. He once took his children to a library and told them to find a book about someone who might be interesting. His son came back with a book about deaths in Yellowstone. Next, he told them to find the interesting person in the FamilySearch Family Tree. His son successfully did so and added information that the family and others would find meaningful.

This is the type of connection Joe looks for in museums as well. At the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D. C., the exhibits affected him powerfully. “I was struck by the heroes,” he said. Price then asked himself, “How does this person connect with me?” As someone who works with records, he explains that “one way we can tap into a larger population is to provide those connections.” He predicted that in the future when you visit an archive or museum, you will be able to take out your phone and type in your grandparents’ information, and you’ll be directed to displays about your relatives. It will make a visit much more meaningful.

How Do We Get There?

Dr. Price runs the Record Linking Lab (RLL) with over 50 research associates at Brigham Young University. Their goal is to make records easier to find by linking them together. With technology, humans can teach machines to extract data from historical records and link the records. “This linking opens up immense opportunities,” Price said. When you find an ancestor in a source you think to search for, technology can find him in records you may not have thought about yet.

A challenge the lab is working on is linking United States census records for everyone who lived in the United States from 1850 to 1940. That is about 217 million people. The result will be one database with one profile for each person. Imagine that someone goes to Gettysburg. This person would be able to search the census tree and find a relative, which then connects to FamilySearch Family Tree. It is then possible for people to find records about their ancestors who were in the Battle of Gettysburg.

Libraries and archives are like haystacks. And finding a record in them is sometimes like searching for a needle. If you attach a record to a digital tree, though, people can find it. This digital tree could include so many great databases, such as newspapers, school records, oral histories, and photo collections. The census tree creates a core structure where all these other record collections can fit.

A Roadmap

Price presented a partnership roadmap for archives, libraries, and museums. Together, they can identify which records are of most interest to people. They can digitize and index those records, perhaps partnering with the RLL or another academic institution. They can then link those records to a tree, such as the RLL census tree or the FamilySearch Family Tree. Price notes, “We can help create ways to integrate this into the user experience when they visit your archive, library, or museum.”

Joe Price is a professor of economics at Brigham Young University and is the director of the BYU Record Linking Lab. He has been working to combine family history and machine learning to create automated tools to link historical records and extract data from handwritten and printed text. His lab employs over 50 students and has ongoing collaborations with academics at universities around the country. He loves finding ways to help connect people to records in meaningful ways.

Chinese Immigration and the Chinese Exclusion Act

FamilySearch - Wed, 04/10/2019 - 14:40

The California Gold Rush launched an era of Chinese immigration to the United States. Over a period of about 30 years, well over a quarter million Chinese workers entered the country. Were your ancestors among them? Read about when and why they came, and how to learn more about their lives. 

Find Your Chinese-American Ancestors Early Chinese Immigration and the California Gold Rush

In 1785, the sailing ship Pallas arrived in Baltimore with 3 Chinese sailors aboard—the earliest documented arrivals from China to the United States. Within the next 3 years, Chinese carpenters and smiths were living in a settlement on Vancouver Island on the opposite coast. Throughout the early 1800s, additional Chinese immigrants trickled into the country, including students, sailors, businessmen, servants, and laborers. 

That trickle became a flood when word of the California Gold Rush reached Hong Kong in 1849. Within 2 years, 25,000 Chinese immigrants arrived in California, mostly in San Francisco.i The vast majority of immigrants were men traveling alone, not families. Unfortunately, most did not find success in the gold fields. They found themselves unable to afford to return home, stranded in a land that was strange and unwelcoming. 

More Jobs for Chinese Workers

Many Chinese immigrants spread out from California to work in mines all over western North America. After gold was discovered in British Columbia in 1858, Chinese workers who rushed there to mine gold often took jobs in construction, coal mines, and canneries. 

In the United States and Canada, thousands of Chinese workers helped construct railroads. Both the California Central Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad hired Chinese men, who earned a reputation for being steady, productive workers. Eventually, as many as 15,000 Chinese workers helped build the Transcontinental Railroad.  

Once the railroads began service, industries and farms across the West clamored for Chinese workers. In 1868, the United States and China signed the Burlingame Treaty, making immigration from China easier. Between 1850 and 1882, more than 322,000 Chinese immigrants entered (or re-entered) the United States, many from Guangdong and Fujian provinces.  

By the 1870s to 1880s, about 25% of California’s workers were Chinese men. So were about a third of the state’s small commercial farmers and more than 70% of workers in woolen mills and cigar factories. Chinese-owned businessesi grew across the country, from shrimp fisheries to neighborhood laundries. 

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

Despite their hard work, Chinese immigrants generally remained underpaid. Many were treated poorly in their jobs and communities. As the Chinese presence grew in the United States, so did anti-Chinese discrimination. Some of this hostility was due to ethnic and cultural prejudices. Many feared the low wages accepted by Chinese workers threatened their own incomes. Organized political resistance to Chinese workers increased after the Panic of 1873, a financial crisis that led to severe job shortages. 


Affidavit of Louie Young stating that he is the father of Louie Jock Sung, and deposition of non Chinese witnesses.


In the late 1870s, anti-Chinese legislation passed in California and in Congress. Then in 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which completely banned Chinese workers from entering the country for 10 years. Current Chinese residents could not apply for citizenship and could be deported by courts. Those who left the United States would find it difficult—if not impossible—to re-enter. Ten years later, the Chinese Exclusion Act was renewed. Eventually the Act was extended indefinitely and was expanded to ban Chinese immigrants from Hawaii and the Philippines as well. Although many Chinese workers returned home to China, others stayed and formed families in communities across the country. 

Despite objections in China, the United States continued to ban entry by Chinese immigrants until 1943. That year, a new law permitted U.S. residents of Chinese descent to apply for citizenship. The first person to naturalize under the new law was Edward Bing Kan, an interpreter for the Immigration and Naturalization Service; his citizenship took effect on 18 January 1944. New national quotas were put in place that continued to restrict immigration from China and other countries until The Immigration Act of 1990.

During the decades of Chinese exclusion, many documents were created about Chinese residents who lived in the United States. Explore the stories of Chinese-American families in North American records.

The First Transcontinental Railroad: Did Your Chinese Ancestors Help Build It? Your Chinese American Heritage

Is Your Family in the Updated Digital Library?

FamilySearch - Fri, 04/05/2019 - 14:18

Where can you go to find more information about your family? Have you ever tried the FamilySearch Digital Library?

The digital library on FamilySearch.org is a powerful resource for finding family history books and learning about families and places all over the world. Although the digital library has been around for awhile, new changes and updates have made it easier than ever to find exciting and enriching details for your family story.

Why the Change?

The new FamilySearch Digital Library system provides a more modern searching and viewing experience. It is easier than ever to type in your family names, locate a book or publication, and quickly find information you’re looking for.

The new system includes the following:

  • Digital books that are full-text searchable.
  • Filterable search results to help you focus quickly on the most relevant books.
  • Images and pages that load quickly.
  • Options for users to adjust the size, contrast, and orientation of an image to read documents more easily.
  • Digital page turning that feels more like a real book.
  • A new look and feel to the library as a whole!
What Can You Find in the FamilySearch Digital Library?

The FamilySearch Digital Library offers a collection of more than 440,000 digitized genealogy and family history books and publications. Here, you can dive into family histories, county and local histories, genealogy magazines, gazetteers, and even medieval histories and pedigrees!

How to Access the Digital Library

Visit FamilySearch.org, and click Search in the top menu. Then, in the drop-down menu, click Books. You can also go directly to the new URL—FamilySearch.org/library/books. The content of the digital library is freely viewable, but you may need to create a free FamilySearch account and sign in to view images. On the home page of the digital library, you will see a simple search bar. Here, you can type in a surname, historical events, groups of people, or names of places. Go ahead! Try typing in one of the surnames from your family tree now! Then, click Search.

Using the Digital Library

To test the updated digital library, I searched my own surname—Bowser. In the list of publications, I was happy to find a book about my Bowser family titled The Bowser Family History.

To view the digital images of the book, I clicked the title of the book.

The next screen showed me the details of the book. Then, to see the book, I clicked View All Pages.

When you are looking at a book, an information panel shows on the left. The book pages are shown on the right.

You can click the left or right arrows to turn the pages of the book.

You will notice that the toolbar across the bottom of the screen has several icons. To learn what they do, hover your mouse over each one. You can open and close the information window, change how the pages turn, view pages side-by-side, and toggle other viewing options. You can also zoom in, zoom out, adjust the contrast, and more to read images better. The new FamilySearch Digital Library interface is very user friendly!

While reading a book, you can also search the text of the book by clicking the search icon in the toolbar. This search can help you quickly narrow down the pages that might have your family information. I know that my Bowser family lived in Ohio. When I typed “Ohio” in the search field, the system pulled up 60 results in this book.

So what are you waiting for? Search for your family in the digital books and publications at the FamilySearch Digital Library, and, in the comments below, let us know what you found.

Paula Williams Madison: My Chinese-Jamaican Legacy

FamilySearch - Mon, 04/01/2019 - 23:45


Paula Williams Madison is an award-winning journalist and a former NBC executive. She’s been named one of the “75 Most Powerful African Americans in Corporate America” by Black Enterprise Magazine and has been honored by the East West Players and AARP with their Visionary Award.

Currently, Madison serves as chairman and CEO of Madison Media Management LLC, a media consultancy company based in Los Angeles with global reach. In addition to her remarkable professional accomplishments, Madison has an incredible family story.

After her retirement in 2011, Madison wanted to learn more about her family’s story. She knew that her mother was born in Jamaica to her Jamaican grandmother and Chinese grandfather. When her grandfather left Jamaica to return to China with a second wife and some of his children from his first wife, Paula’s mother experienced a deep sense of loss. Her entire family foundation was taken away from under her and it affected her throughout the rest of her life. She said that her mother always had a sense of sadness because of this loss.

In April 2015 Paula wrote a book about her story, documenting her experiences as she discovered the details of her relatives in China and traveled with her American family to China to meet, for the first, time, more than 300 members of her Lowe family. It was also produced as a movie titled Finding Samuel Lowe: China, Jamaica, Harlem, which documented her search.

Paula’s story is both heartbreaking and enormously inspiring. It’s story about the triumph of the family spirit. Take a moment and view the video below to hear her amazing story.

New Records on FamilySearch from March 2019

FamilySearch - Mon, 04/01/2019 - 17:44

FamilySearch expanded its free online archives in March of 2019 with over 25 million new indexed family history records from all over the world. Almost 180,000 new digital images were added as well. New historical records were added from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Colombia, the Cook Islands, England, France, Germany, Iceland, Peru, South Africa, Sweden, and the United States, which includes Colorado, the District of Colombia, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia. Records were also added from BillionGraves, the Revolutionary War, and World War I Draft Registration Cards.

Find your ancestors using these free archives online, including birth, marriage, death, and church records. Millions of new genealogy records are added each month to make your search easier.

CountryCollectionIndexed RecordsDigital ImagesCommentsArgentinaArgentina, Corrientes, Civil Registration, 1880-193026,8620Added indexed records to an existing collectionAustraliaAustralia, South Australia, Immigrants Ship Papers, 1849-19404,1840Added indexed records to an existing collectionAustraliaAustralia, South Australia, School Admission Registers, 1873-19855790Added indexed records to an existing collectionCanadaCanada, Prairie Provinces Census, 19262,016,40448,436New indexed records and images collectionColombiaColombia, Diocese of Barranquilla, Catholic Church Records, 1808-198514,8670Added indexed records to an existing collectionCook IslandsCook Islands, Public Records, 1846-198975,7340Added indexed records to an existing collectionEnglandEngland and Wales, National Index of Wills and Administrations, 1858-19571,788,4660Added indexed records to an existing collectionEnglandEngland, Derbyshire, Church of England Parish Registers, 1537-19184220Added indexed records to an existing collectionEnglandEngland, Hampshire Parish Registers, 1538-1980253,5380Added indexed records to an existing collectionEnglandEngland, Northumberland, Parish Registers, 1538-1950160Added indexed records to an existing collectionEnglandEngland, Surrey Parish Registers, 1536-19922,554,3960New indexed records collectionEnglandEngland, Warwickshire, Parish Registers, 1535-19634250Added indexed records to an existing collectionFranceFrance, Births and Baptisms, 1546-18965,475,4430Added indexed records to an existing collectionFranceFrance, Rhône, Military Registration Cards, 1865-193260,0290Added indexed records to an existing collectionGermanyGermany, Bavaria, Middle Franconia, Brenner Collection of Genealogical Records, 1550-19002,667,7700New indexed records collectionGermanyGermany, Bavaria, Middle Franconia, Brenner Collection of Genealogical Records, 1550-190042,5710Added indexed records to an existing collectionIcelandIceland Church Census, 1744-196513,1100Added indexed records to an existing collectionOtherBillionGraves Index127,027127,027Added indexed records and images to an existing collectionOtherFind A Grave Index2,089,7340Added indexed records to an existing collectionPeruPeru, Amazonas, Civil Registration, 1935-19999,5480Added indexed records to an existing collectionPeruPeru, Áncash, Civil Registration, 1888-2005130,2170Added indexed records to an existing collectionPeruPeru, Diocese of Huaraz, Catholic Church Records, 1641-201686,7320Added indexed records to an existing collectionPeruPeru, Lima, Civil Registration, 1874-1996178,6420Added indexed records and images to an existing collectionSouth AfricaSouth Africa, Transvaal, Civil Death, 1869-1954196,1220Added indexed records to an existing collectionSwedenSweden, Kalmar Church Records, 1577-1907; index 1625-186002,569Added images to an existing collectionUnited StatesColorado Statewide Divorce Index, 1900-193987,4700Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesDistrict of Columbia, Glenwood Cemetery Records, 1854-20139,6540Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesFrench Combatants in the Revolutionary War, 1778-178326,8660New indexed records collectionUnited StatesGeorgia, Fulton County Records from the Atlanta History Center, 1827-19553710Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesHawaii, World War I Service Records, 1917-19199,5270New indexed records collectionUnited StatesIdaho, Bingham County Historical Society, Bingham County Records, 1885-19203530Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesIllinois, County Naturalization Records, 1800-1998230,2210Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesIndiana, World War I, Enrollment Cards, 19191,0390Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesIowa, Death Records, 1904-195150Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesLouisiana, Orleans Parish Vital Records, 1900-196432,4950Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesMaine, State Archives, World War I (WWI) Grave Cards, 1914-19501680Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesMontana, Deer Lodge County, Anaconda, Cemetery Records, 1878-20055,7680New indexed records collectionUnited StatesNew York State Census, 19059050Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesNorth Carolina, Confederate Soldiers and Widows Pension Applications, 1885-19536200Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesOhio Tax Records, 1800-18502,400,5320Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesOhio, County Births, 1841-20034510Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesOregon, Benton County Records, 1856-19843,6660Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesSouth Carolina, Chesterfield County, Original Marriage licenses, 1911-19511,9170Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesTexas, Gonzales County, Divorce Records, 1911-19581,9340New indexed records collectionUnited StatesTexas, Houston, Historic Hollywood Cemetery Records, 1895-20084,6880Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesUtah, FamilySearch, Early Church Information File, 1830-1900911,0530Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesUtah, World War I Militia Lists, 1917-191826,0190New indexed records collectionUnited StatesVirginia, Fluvanna County Colbert Funeral Home Records, 1929-1976640Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesWest Virginia Will Books, 1756-19713690Added indexed records to an existing collectionUnited StatesWorld War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-19183,442,5350Added indexed records to an existing collection

How to Find My Chinese Ancestors

FamilySearch - Fri, 03/29/2019 - 10:20

Chinese families have been recording genealogy for nearly a thousand years. Their unique records may help you trace your Chinese ancestry into the distant past.

What Chinese Genealogy Records Exist?

Before people had tools to write their family lines in books, family histories were recorded on shells, bones, and even in bronze. Some people kept counts of their generations by tying small objects into knots on ropes. 

By the mid-1600s, Chinese genealogy began to be recorded in manuscripts called Jiapu (家譜) and broader clan records known as Zupu or Zhupu (族譜). Nearly all families in the Han ethnic group and many families in minority ethnic groups created these genealogy manuscripts. Those who reverenced their ancestors as part of their religious practice considered it critical to maintain these records. While wealthier families had more resources to preserve and print Jiapu, poorer and rural Chinese clans kept them too. 

From FamilySearch’s free China Collection of Genealogies: Kou surname in Hunan Province, Cili County, image 20.

Today, about 85% of surviving Jiapu are publicly available but are scattered throughout libraries in Asia and the United States. These records cover up to a quarter of Chinese people who have lived since the 1600s. Some have been published as multivolume book series. The rest are mostly original manuscripts that remain in private family collections. Unfortunately, many Jiapu were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.

What Is in a Chinese Genealogy Book (Jiapu)?

Jiapu often begin with founding ancestors, those who first migrated to a known location or are otherwise are the earliest known members of the family. You may find information about your family’s migrations and participation in social, military, and government affairs. Often Jiapu include praise of worthy ancestors and encouragement for descendants to bring additional honor to the clan.  Jiapu often contain detailed genealogical information for the men of the family, such as the following:

  • Multiple given names and surname.
  • Birthdate and perhaps birth order.
  • Patrilineal lineage and nature of father–son relationships (adoption or biological).
  • Education, professional accomplishments, and official ranks.
  • Wife’s surname, her birthplace and death date, and her father’s name and his titles and honors.
  • Death date or burial date and place.
  • Sons’ names and perhaps birth order and mother’s name.

While Jiapu can be rich in information, important details are often omitted. Daughters may be tallied by number or left out entirely, although occasionally you will find identification information for the husbands of married daughters. Relatives may be left out if they entered a monastery or behaved shamefully.

How to Find Jiapu on FamilySearch.org

FamilySearch has worked for many years to curate an enormous collection of digitized Jiapu—more than 13 million pages! Here’s how to explore these Chinese clan records:

  1. Log into FamilySearch.org. If you don’t have an account, click here to create your free FamilySearch account.
  2. Go to China Collection of Genealogies, 1239–2014. As shown here, you will see a description of this collection and the option to view record images. Don’t worry—you don’t have to scroll through 13 million pages to get to the clans you care about. Click where it says to browse the images.
  3. A new screen will appear showing a long list of Chinese clans. Scroll down the page as needed to search for family names of interest to you. Click one.
  4. You may see additional options for the location of this family name. Click through to select the country, province, and county, and then the title and year.

  5. Use the image browser to page through the digital images (A), zoom in and out for better viewing (B), and maximize the image by going to full-screen view (C).

If you need more assistance in navigating this collection, the FamilySearch wiki articles “China Research Tips and Strategies” and “Chinese Genealogical Word List” may prove helpful, as might this more advanced tutorial on how to read and understand Chinese genealogies.

Other Resources for Finding Chinese Ancestors

The House of Chinn website provides excellent English-language resources to help genealogists trace their Chinese family histories. Societies such as the Chinese Family History Group of Southern California and the Chinese Historical Society of America may have additional support and resources. See a more complete list here. The FamilySearch wiki has additional suggestions and strategies for researching your Chinese ancestry.

Does the FamilySearch collection of Jiapu include any of your ancestral surnames? Click here to start exploring it for free.

Chinese Last Names: A History of Culture and Family

FamilySearch - Fri, 03/29/2019 - 10:12

Chinese last names have a history dating back more than 4,000 years. In many ways, Chinese surnames hold the key to understanding Chinese family history. By learning about your Chinese last name, you can uncover your family’s history and heritage.

What Can I Learn from My Chinese Surname?

In the Western world, identity-related documentation has usually been maintained by central, church, or state authorities. In China, families and clans kept all the documentation. For this reason, finding your Chinese surname is often the first step to uncovering your family’s history!

As well as your family origin, your surname can reveal details of your clan’s history, migration patterns, and current distribution.

Origin of Chinese Last Names

As early as the third millennium BC, the legendary Chinese Yellow Emperor is said to have ordered people to adopt hereditary family names. By the Song Dynasty (AD 960–1279), major family names were listed in the ancient poem Baijiaxing or Hundred Surnames. Containing 504 surnames and 564 characters, the poem became the classic crash course for teaching young scholars in Imperial China to read. The names in the poem were so well recognized that the work gave rise to the Chinese expression for ordinary folk—laobaixing—meaning “one hundred old surnames.” Out of the 12,000 family names that have been recorded throughout history, about 25 percent are still in use today.

Each family name has its own origin story, and historians can trace family history all the way back to the very first bearer of each name. Take the surname Zhong (also written Chung), for example. According to historical records, a Zhong family ancestor named Ye moved his family to safety in the Zhongli Mountains in Yingchuan (modern-day Henan province) in the late Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC) because of social instability and political turmoil. In an apparent need to change the family’s identity, Ye’s son Qi adopted the surname Zhong (钟), after the first character of Zhongli Mountain. This event marks the official start of the Zhong clan and made Zhong Qi the very first Zhong ancestor. Nowadays, there are well over 6 million people with the last name Zhong in mainland China alone, and it is the 54th most common Chinese surname.

How Chinese Surnames Have Changed

Originally, Chinese surnames were written using Chinese characters, or hanzi (汉字). However, descendants of overseas Chinese are often left only with their ancestors’ romanized names—“Francis Fung” or “Benjamin Lee,” for instance.

There was no standardized romanization system in place to transcribe Chinese names into foreign languages. In many cases, immigration officials unfamiliar with the foreign sounds they were hearing would simply guess how best to spell a migrant’s name.

The result can be confusing; for example, the surname 陳 can be written as Chen, Chin, Chan, Chinn, Tan, Dan, Tin, Tjin, or Ting. With each surname numbering tens of millions of bearers, it is crucial to narrow a name search to the correct surname.

Another complication stems from the group dialects that make up the Chinese language. Many of these dialects are as distinct from one another as separate languages—think the difference between English and French, for instance—and speakers of one dialect may not be able to understand speakers of another.

These dialects have different pronunciations for various Chinese characters. As a result, one surname could be pronounced and written in several different ways. This variation presents a real difficulty when it comes to working out which Chinese characters represent which romanized equivalents.

In addition, because of the Chinese practice of putting the surname before the given name, Chinese migrants’ surnames were also often incorrectly listed as their first names on official documents. For instance, in the name Long Kaiwei, the family name is Long (龙). This name order confused the foreign officials registering the arrival of migrants. Thus, although 99 percent of Chinese carry a single-character surname such as Lee, Fung, or Wong, many overseas Chinese descendants have double-character surnames, such as Kaiwei, Huaman, or Wing Ho, as officials transcribed given names as family names.

Further communication breakdowns between immigration officials and newly arrived migrants also confounded matters. For instance, many Chinese migrants took the question “What are you called?” literally, and would answer with their nickname, or the name they were most often referred to by friends. The syllable Ah- (阿) at the beginning of many Australian Chinese and American Chinese surnames is a direct result of this confusion; in Cantonese, adding Ah- before a man or woman’s name was, and still is, a common way of creating a nickname, meaning something like “dude” or “pal.” Thus, a person whose surname was Wong would become “Ahwong,” or “the pal, Wong” to his or her friends.

Finally, various anti-Chinese immigration policies, most notably the United States Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, caused many migrants to travel under forged papers. Many claimed to have familial ties with current Chinese American residents. If your ancestor was one of these “paper sons,” you may have some difficulties in finding the real name, as it won’t appear on any official documents.

Chinese Surnames in Other Countries

Not all Chinese family names are technicallyChinese. For centuries, the Chinese empire was a veritable multiethnic and multilingual melting pot where the Han Chinese traded, married, and exchanged with foreign peoples from all over. To integrate into society and sometimes to escape persecution, these foreigners adopted Chinese surnames. For example, people of Persian, Sogdian, Turkic, and Indian origin are known to have taken the surname Hu (胡), while Jin (金) and Man (满) are well known to be adopted by the eastern-Siberian Jurchen and the Manchu people respectively.

Many other foreign surnames have Chinese origins as well. Especially during the Tang dynasty (AD 618–907), when Chinese cultural might was at its peak, neighbouring states wanted to get closer to China. The influence of the Chinese language on Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese largely stems from this period. The Vietnamese name Trần, Korean name Jin, and Japanese surname Chin all share a common root—the Chinese name 陳.

In other countries with long histories of Chinese immigration, the influence is more subtle. In Thailand, Chinese family names have been combined with local ones. The Chinese name Chen, for example, has become Sae-Chin, a hybrid of the two languages. In Indonesia, the Chinese name Tan, has become Tandiono, Tanzil, Tanasal, and so on.

Resources to Find Your Chinese Last Name

If you don’t know your Chinese surname, the easiest way of finding out is to ask relatives. They may already know which Chinese character represents your family name and be able to transcribe it for you.

If you are struggling to find relatives who know your surname, never fear! Even if you don’t read or write Chinese, it is highly likely that your family still has some trace of this information. Look for your ancestors’ old letters, newspaper clippings, photos, notebooks, heirlooms, travel documents, or identification papers or track down their graves and tombstones. If the tomb inscription is in Chinese, then you will most likely find your ancestor’s name on it.

If you know your Chinese family name and are interested in learning about the origins of your own clan, Wikipedia is a good place to start, providing basic information about the origins of major names. For more detailed accounts, you can check out China’s online encyclopedia Baidu (Chinese only). A more complete, but more challenging, resource is the Song Dynasty (AD 960–1279) Xingshi Ji Jiu Pian (《姓氏急就篇》), or Hurriedly-Written Essay on Names, which is online at ctext.org.

The United States government has made available certain case files relating to the Chinese Exclusion Act. You can check them out through the National Archives or the Chinese Family History Group of Southern California.

Another resource is to look for organizations your ancestor may have been part of, such as Chinese clans or native-place associations, which often kept archived members’ lists in Chinese. The Asian Women in Business association has compiled a directory of the Asian American associations in the United States with English-language websites, while the National University of Singapore has compiled a rough list of Chinese Associations in Southeast Asia and Australia (Chinese only).

Legacy Tree Genealogists is a genealogy research firm with expertise in researching ancestors from many different backgrounds. Founded in 2004, the company provides full-service genealogical research for clients worldwide, helping them discover their roots and personal history through records, narratives, and DNA.

David Carmicheal’s Keynote Captivates Attendees at the Access and Preservation Day Held at RootsTech 2019

FamilySearch - Fri, 03/29/2019 - 09:45

David Carmicheal, state archivist of Pennsylvania, gave the keynote address for the Access and Preservation track of RootsTech, which was held on Wednesday February 27, 2019, at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. His presentation, titled “What are the challenges and opportunities archives face over the next decade, and what role can you play in that future?” was given to a receptive audience composed of important industry associates and RootsTech attendees.

Digital Record Preservation

David told about a first foray into digitization 30 years ago when he directed a New York archive project to digitize a collection of maps. He chose a nonarchival format that became obsolete within a few years. He found that rescanning was cheaper than converting. Fast forward 30 years. Last year, the lieutenant governor had no paper records to transfer. “We have lost the safety net of paper records,” he said. “Born digital records [records that were created and only exist digitally] have both challenges and opportunities.”

He explained three things that excite him about digital records. The first is capitalism. “We [the archivists] are the happy beneficiary that captains of industry are demanding preservation.” Second, digital records create huge opportunities for cooperation. Lastly, digital records give the ability to create virtual communities and virtual archives. Archivists can reach around the world for volunteers.

Challenges of the Past

There are three challenges of the past that no longer keep David up at night. It is no longer necessary to worry about preserving records for hundreds of years. Technology changes so quickly that it is folly to worry about the distant future. All we must do is keep digital records viable for another 10 years. During those 10 years, we can figure out how to keep the records alive for another 10.

Electronic formats no longer keep up. Rather than trying to preserve every format, the archive has a policy that long-term records must be created in specific formats, such as PDF/A, that we know can be preserved long-term.

The idea of keeping every single record no longer worries David. For example, the archive has only one photograph of Teddy Roosevelt dedicating one of the state’s buildings. It is such a good photograph, even if they had more, everyone would use that particular photograph. If you have the right picture, you don’t need to have more. Go aggressively after the right records.

Current Problems for Archivists

David mentioned three problems that still worry archivists.

One is the inertia that exists in IT departments. Because IT has always had all the state’s servers, they don’t understand an archive’s need to manage records actively. David said Pennsylvania is fortunate. The Pennsylvania CIO “gets it” and supports the archive’s approach to record preservation.

Another problem is user expectations. For paper records, it sufficed to describe boxes and folders. For today’s users, if it is not online and individually described, it doesn’t exist.

Lastly, the greatest danger archives face today is irrelevance. Archivists are always answering the question, “Why should we fund you?”

You Know What Records Are Important

“You know better than I why archival records are important,” David told the genealogists in the room. “You need to tell us.” People use records in compelling ways. Examples generate much more support in the legislature. David related two examples.

He told how a 92-year-old woman wanted to visit her Italian homeland one last time before she died. She was unable to provide the documentation of her Italian citizenship necessary to obtain a passport. Fortunately, archival documents made possible an old woman’s final wish.

Decades ago, blight wiped out the American chestnut. In Georgia, biologists used Georgia archives to determine where the American chestnut originally thrived. With an improved American chestnut variety, the biologists wanted to plant in the same places, giving the new trees the best chance of survival.

Genealogical records put the human face on history. Stories help us convey value to others. Archival records are used in so many compelling ways. David said, “As a state archivist, I use stories like these to sell our story.”

“Gather those stories and share them with the archivist. They will use them. The impact is more compelling. Ultimately, what we do is not about records, it is about people.”

David Carmicheal is state archivist of Pennsylvania. Previously he was state archivist of Georgia, and director of records and archives for Westchester County, New York. David’s archival work includes construction of two state archives buildings, national efforts to protect essential government records, and service on NARA’s advisory committee for the electronic records archives. One of his books, Organizing Archival Records (AASLH, 4th ed.), has provided practical advice to small archives for 25 years.