A Favorite Web Site Is A Footnote To History
SHARON TATE MOODYIn this day of tight budgets, we genealogists have to be selective in the online database subscriptions we can buy.
Published: November 9, 2008
Published: November 9, 2008
Two databases I could not imagine living without are Ancestry.com and Footnote.com. If bad times really persist, I can travel to the local library and access Ancestry. When it comes to Footnote, however, I'm willing to pay out of the grocery budget if need be.
Founded in 1997, Footnote didn't become a real presence on the Internet until 2006. In 2007 the company partnered with the National Archives. Genealogists waited with bated breath to see what treasures would be digitized.
They digitized Revolutionary War pensions. What a thrill it was to sit at our computers, searching and browsing the files so rich in genealogy.
But the "wow" factor of those digitized records didn't compare to the excitement and anticipation when Footnote recently announced the first digitized versions of Civil War widows pension files.
Before Footnote went online with the Revolutionary War files, many of us already had researched them on microfilm, which is widely available in libraries and archives. The original Civil War Union widows pension files, however, never have been microfilmed and have been available for viewing only at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Keep in mind that pensions for Confederate widows were not federal records and are not a part of this group. Confederate widows got their pensions through individual state governments, and most of those files have been microfilmed.
An index of Union pensioners has been available at Ancestry.com (accessible at libraries or from home by subscription only) for some time. Once a researcher confirmed the existence of a record through the Ancestry index, he had to order a copy of the file from the Archives in Washington, D. C. The cost to order a Civil War widows pension file is $75.
That's more than the $69.95 annual subscription to Footnote, where you eventually will be able to view all 1.2 million Civil War widows pension files.
File Was Confusing
I found a fascinating file when I searched for John Blankenship. No genealogist would complain of getting too much information in a file, but this 204-page file was confusing.
I learned that John had been killed at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. His widow, Sarah, filed for a pension and began receiving $12 a month. Evidence showed they had married on Nov. 13, 1851 in Scioto County, Ohio. The file stated that John left one legitimate son, James, under the age of 16.
Delight turned to confusion when the file turned to an application for a pension made by John Sickles. Digging through many pages, I was sure someone had erroneously combined the two files and indexed them under Blankenship. The real story became apparent, however, when a page showed that John Sickles died and his widow Sarah Sickles, who had been Sarah Blankenship, applied for his pension.
After a number of years and new legislation, apparently the Widow Sickles learned that she could draw more money on Blankenship's service than she did on Sickles'. She petitioned the government to drop her claim on Sickles and reinstate her as Blankenship's widow.
So in a single file, I learned of the one woman's marriages to two men, dates of both marriages, and dates of death for both men. I also found clues that allowed me to research elsewhere and find proof that Sarah was the mother of an illegitimate child before she married John Blankenship, proving once again that genealogical research is full of treasures and surprises.
Some other records that Footnote provides by subscription are naturalization petitions from several states, passport applications from 1790-1905, a wide selection of small-town newspapers, and FBI Case Files.
But you don't need a subscription to see some records on this site. The best groups of records viewable for free are historical records of the Pennsylvania State Archives. Originally published in 138 printed volumes, the records cover initial colonial settlement through the Civil War.
The Web site has several features that make it fun and unique. Subscribers can annotate names - of people and places - in the documents they read. The system takes those annotations and incorporates them into the system index so future researchers can find any name in the file, not just the key person, such as a pensioner.
Feature Easy To Use
For example, as I searched the Navy widows certificates for Joseph Watters, I found numerous mentions of his widow Caroline and his two children, Charles T. and Albert J. Watters. Because the feature is so easy to use, it took me only a few minutes to annotate the widow and children.
Footnote rightfully advertises itself as "more than just an online repository for original documents," but being that repository is what makes it so valuable to serious researchers. An original document is "the best" for a genealogist to use for research. An image copy - which is what a subscriber sees on the Footnote site - is just as good.
One entry on the site informs that "we always encourage users to contact us with suggestions, thoughts, feedback or whatever is on their mind." Those aren't just public relations words. The people behind this Web site listen and react to what their subscribers say. You can e-mail or phone and talk to a real person.
When you find a document relating to your ancestor, printing a copy directly from the Web site or saving it to your own computer for later use is quick and easy.
Footnote's images go online as they are digitized rather than waiting until an entire set of records have been scanned. When you go to a group of documents, you will see a green bar telling you the percentage of completion.
They have a feature called "Watches & Notifications." This comes in handy when using new acquisitions such as the widows pension files. You can put this group on your "Watch List," and the system will notify you as new files are available.
You can learn much more about Footnote and view all the documents it offers by going to www.footnote.com. You also can sign up for a free seven-day trial at www.footnote.com/freetrial.php.
Write to Sharon Tate Moody in care of The Tampa Tribune, 200 S. Parker St., Tampa FL 33606; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.