Friday, August 30, 2013

Making the Most of HeritageQuest

HeritageQuest is a resource that may be offered to you for free through your local library. I discussed it briefly in my blog post Your Friendly Local Library, but recently at my genealogy group I learned so much more about this great website that I wanted to share with you all.

In order to use HeritageQuest for free, first you need a library card. Hopefully you already have one, but if you don't they are super simple to get. Just go to your local library, show them proof of residence and boom. You're in.
HeritageQuest front page; barcode prompt
(Click to enlarge)

Now you go to your library's website and look for a research or database page. Once there, check for a link to HeritageQuest. You'll need to navigate to the site through your library's page in order to use it for free.

HeritageQuest main page navigation
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Once you get to HeritageQuest you'll be prompted to enter your library card barcode. You'll find that on the back of your card.

All set? Good. Now you're on the main page where you can see all of the databases that HeritageQuest offers. It may not seem like a lot, but one trip to this website last night netted me 40 articles about my ancestors, and 17 books mentioning just one of them! This website is a treasure.
There are the US Censuses, books, PERSI, Revolutionary War records, Freedman's Bank records, and the US Serial Set.

HeritageQuest census search for Joseph Dumas
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Let's start off with the US Census. I've been having trouble finding the 1910 census for my 2nd great-grandfather Joseph Dumas, so maybe I'll have some luck. Once I type in his surname, given name, census year, and state I click the search button.
I won't make a screen capture of every step, it would take up too much space. But when I clicked the search button I got a page listing the results for each county. Since he was in Middlesex in 1900 and 1920 I tried there, where there were three hits. No luck.

HeritageQuest search for the 1910 census in
Everett, Middlesex, MA
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There's also an option to browse the census page by page.
Since Joseph lived in Everett, MA in 1900 and 1920 I search for him there in 1910.
I selected Massachusetts, Middlesex, and Everett then was taken to the census which I flipped through page by page looking for Joseph. Once again I have no luck. This isn't HeritageQuest's fault, that darn Joseph just doesn't want me to know where he was in 1910! Perhaps I should have demonstrated a successful search, but this seemed more realistic.

HeritageQuest results page for Gaspard Boucher
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On to books! Wouldn't it be fabulous if all of our ancestors were mentioned in books? My hopes weren't very high, but I had good luck searching for one of my more notable ancestors.
My 10th great-grandfather Gaspard Boucher's name appears in 17 books! I can't wait to pore over all of these books. Just peeking at one page revealed that some jerk stole all of his stuff from a boat in 1634.  You never know what you might learn from a book!
Make sure to click on "hits" to be taken to the pages with your ancestor's name on them.

HeritageQuest's PERSI Archive front page
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Next up is the PERSI Archive. It's filled with over 2.3 million genealogy and local history articles from tons and tons of publications.
You can search by your ancestor's name or by place, if you want to find more on the history of your town or a town where your ancestor lived. Last night I searched for all of my surnames and found 40+ articles about my ancestors!
These articles can be about your family's history, lineage, lives, brushes with the law, etc... You might just get a new insight into your past.

PERSI Archive article details
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Once you find a hit for your ancestor, click on it to get the article details.
As you can see, the article is not viewable, however that can be changed! You'll see a link to a request form on the bottom of the page. There is a fee that goes along with this, around $7 I believe. But I would suggest giving your reference librarian a call before shelling out. They might be able to order the article for you free of charge. Awesome, right? My reference librarian put in 5 orders for me last night, wish me luck!

Freedman's Bank record for Adaline Johnson
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The next database offered by HeritageQuest is Freedman's Bank. Freedman's Bank was set up by the US government to help former slaves gain financial independence. Unfortunately it was a miserable failure. You can read more about it on Wikipedia.
Instead of showing you the main page of the Freedman's Bank database, I decided to show you an actual record for a young lady named Adaline Johnson from Abberville, SC. She is 19 years old, married with a daughter named Sarah. Her parents have passed away as well as her brother Henry. She sells at the market, working for herself. The remark for her application is that she can't write. Her signature was written by someone else and she signed with her mark, an x.
Even if you have no African American ancestors, I recommend browsing Freedman's, if only to get to know some of the people better and feel more of a connection to our nation's past.

HeritageQuest Revolutionary War Records
Results for John Smith
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If you have an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War, congratulations and I am extremely jealous of you.
Now that I got that off my chest, let's talk about how HeritageQuest can help you obtain your ancestor's war records.
Just type in their name, and then click on their name on the results page. Then you'll be taken to a bunch of their records, letters, etc...for free! You're then able to save these files to your computer, like you can with most records from HeritageQuest.

US Serial Set Results Page
(Click to enlarge)

The final database offered by HeritageQuest is the US Serial Set. It includes lots of US Congressional documents including land claims, relief actions, petitions and memorials.
I haven't had much luck using this database yet, but who knows? Maybe you will! Wouldn't it be cool to find your ancestor mentioned in congressional documents? It might reveal some cool information about them that you never knew before.

So that's HeritageQuest! Pretty neat I'd say. Hopefully this post has introduced you to and made you excited to use this great database, or if you already have tried it, taught you more about how to use it and make your experience with it that much more successful.

Soon I will be posting a mini-post as somewhat of a companion or amendment to this post, where I will discuss the new addition of a Learning Center at HeritageQuest which is in association with FamilySearch. I'll also discuss FamilySearch's own Learning Center. A lot of exciting stuff there!

Special thanks (again) to my friend and reference librarian Cindy Grove for helping me understand HeritageQuest and inspiring this post.

Till next time. Happy ancestor hunting! :)