Tree of Life

What is the USBH Project and why should you care?

USBH stands for United States Black Heritage, a project on WikiTree. Its objectives are:

  • To collect in one place information and resources to assist in building and documenting African-American Genealogies.
  • To create the largest online public database of connected African-American families.
  • To bring together WikiTreers interested in connecting African-American families to the Global Family Tree.
  • To process all types of documents regarding free and enslaved ancestors with the goal of creating their profiles and connecting them to their descendants.
  • To provide and maintain a logical and organized structure to help individuals identify their ancestors and celebrate their history.
  • To improve all profiles of ancestors with Black heritage, which may include biography building, sourcing, and making correct connections.

It’s a sub-project under the United States Project and the Global Black Heritage Project. See the quarterly newsletter or USBH Project calendar for more information about activities and how to get involved.

Continue reading What is the USBH Project and why should you care?
Vintage Greetings from Mississippi postcard.
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Mississippi Genealogy Resources

I have a special interest in Mississippi genealogy because my father was born and raised here.


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The Ancestor Hunt: Free Online Mississippi Collections

There are 24 categories of records across many databases (birth/marriage/death, probate, military, and more).

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Mississippi Department of Archives and History

A government website of digital and physical records related to Mississippi history and genealogy.

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Mississippi Genealogy NEW!

A website with Mississippi genealogical and historical information, especially sources for records.

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Mississippi State University: Archives and Special Collections

Digital and physical records related to Mississippi history and genealogy. The library can be contacted for help accessing non-digital resources. Here is the page for genealogy records by county.

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Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness: Mississippi Archives, Societies & Publications NEW!

A good list of archives, genealogical societies, libraries, museums, etc. in Mississippi.

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Why you should prefer FamilySearch over Ancestry for records

(or over MyHeritage or over FindMyPast or over [insert other paid site here])

TL;DR: FamilySearch is free and accessible to everyone.

FamilySearch is a “one global family tree” site (like WikiTree) while Ancestry is an personal family tree site. FamilySearch is designed for collaboration.

That said, FamilySearch isn’t perfect. The search engine is inferior to Ancestry’s when it comes to finding records if the person’s name is misspelled in the record or if the record was transcribed incorrectly. The website also has more bugs and is missing some important record collections that come in handy when you’re researching people in the US, but I think it should be the first place you search for records because the basic ones are there for a lot of people (census, marriage, and death) and it’s important that people be able to access sources as easily as possible. On WikiTree there seems to be an unwritten rule that everyone is supposed to use Ancestry as much as possible because the vast majority of profiles only have sources from Ancestry on them. I don’t update sources other people have added unless they’re wrong and will use Ancestry to follow the profile’s style, but it bothers me.

I don’t avoid Ancestry completely, I use it to supplement FamilySearch research. There is a feature on FamilySearch that will let you search for more records for someone on Ancestry (and a few other sites) by using data from the person’s FamilySearch profile page. If I find a record on Ancestry that is from a collection that FamilySearch also has but I didn’t find it on FamilySearch, it’s usually because (a) the person’s name is misspelled in the original document or transcribed wrong in the record, or (b) the person’s birth or death year in the record is much different than the birth or death year in their profile. I use the WikiTree Sourcer browser extension on the Ancestry record to find the same (or similar) record on FamilySearch (you can use this part of it even if you don’t use WikiTree). If that doesn’t work and it’s a census record, I usually manually look for the record by browsing the actual document scans. The scanned document page on Ancestry is the same as the one in FamilySearch and the census pages have identifiers. If I still can’t find it (because FamilySearch failed to index some records) I will use the Ancestry source. If you decide to use an Ancestry source please also add details about what’s in the record so that people without an Ancestry subscription will still be able to know. Using an extension to create the source citation is a great time saver. I use WikiTree Sourcer but there are others, including some not specific to WikiTree. Please see the WikiTree Tools post for more info.

Note: the 1950 US Census is indexed pretty badly on both FamilySearch and Ancestry. It’s always best to look at these document scans directly. I have also discovered that some people/households aren’t indexed on one site or the other for previous censuses, but it’s a lot more scattered.

If you do use a FamilySearch record as a source, please also link it to the person it belongs to in FamilySearch’s family tree. This may involve creating the person’s profile yourself. I’ve often seen a record used as a source on WikiTree that wasn’t also linked to the person’s profile on FamilySearch. You can also add an Ancestry record to a FamilySearch profile as a source (and vice-versa). Not everyone visits WikiTree, so it’s better to have information on more than one website.


How to find or confirm a last name at birth

A last name at birth (or LNAB) is the surname given to a child when they’re born and the culture you’re born into usually determines the name. In the US, England, and many places formerly colonized by England, your LNAB is usually your father’s surname even if your parents were not married at the time of your birth. In places formerly colonized by Spain, people generally have multiple surnames: one from their mother and one from their father. Puerto Ricans, for example, give children a first name + a middle name + the first surname of their father + the first surname of their mother. I’m going to be specifically writing about people named according to US convention, but the tips can also be applied to most “Commonwealth” countries.

If you just want the list of possible sources for someone’s LNAB, click here.

I usually have no idea what a person’s mother’s LNAB is when I first start out because I usually research people born before 1930 in the southern US. The earlier they were born, the more difficult it is to find the information. Before about 1920 many locations in the southern US didn’t create birth or death records and didn’t record the names of the parents on marriage records.

Sometimes you get lucky and there is a relative of the person living with the family in a census record. If it’s their father or a brother that’s easy. If it’s their mother you have to be careful to make sure she didn’t remarry. If it’s a sister you have to check to see if she’s single or not (though it’s possible the sister changed her name back to her LNAB after a particularly bad marriage).

After searching for census records, I search for the person’s death record (it’s not guaranteed to list the parents because it depends on the informant’s knowledge) followed by a U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index record (it usually lists the parents but can only be found on Ancestry or MyHeritage) and then search for an obituary. If I don’t have any success with either of those, I turn to records for the person’s children: the death record, the U.S. SSA Claims record, a marriage record. Sometimes there will be a birth record (Virginia and South Carolina in particular) or a christening record (Texas has a lot of these).

These tips can also be applied to those assigned male at birth. I’ve run into two instances so far when the LNAB of a male wasn’t clear. One example: I was creating the profile of a man on WikiTree based on his FindAGrave profile that read “Liddell Sanders”. When I did some research on him to find at least one other record, I discovered his obituary. It also used the name Liddell Sanders, but it listed his parents as Sonny Ashmore and Liddell S. Williams. I found a third record from the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index on Ancestry and discovered that his mother’s LNAB was Sanders. It also recorded (male) Liddell’s actual LNAB as Ashmore. Liddell Ashmore changed his surname to Sanders sometime after he came of age but before he married.

Here is a list of sources that may record a LNAB in order of ease of access. Whether or not any of these types of records actually exist depends on the era the person you’re researching lived in and where they lived. FamilySearch offers free access (though some collections are only available to access from a Family History Library or Affiliate Library). Ancestry and MyHeritage require a paid subscription to access most records. and GenealogyBank require a paid subscription for all access unless you can use a free trial. Check your local library to see if they subscribe to a genealogical records website. Here in Michigan, I can obtain access to MyHeritage and other databases remotely through the Library of Michigan.

  1. Census records. Sometimes a male sibling, single female sibling, or the person’s father is living with their family. Their mother could also provide the LNAB, but she could have remarried so be mindful of that.
  2. Marriage records. It varies widely in the US by location and time period, but the names of the bride and groom’s parents can sometimes be found on marriage records. Caution: the surname of the bride on the record may not be their LNAB because they could have been previously married.
  3. A national death index. U.S. Social Security Death Index records don’t list parents.
  4. Their memorial. FindAGrave and BillionGraves both provide free access to memorials. Sometimes the memorial page will have a photograph of the actual plot and/or the person’s obituary (and the person’s LNAB).
  5. State/local death index. They don’t provide as much info as an actual death record, but they sometimes list parents.
  6. State/local death record. These aren’t guaranteed to have the information because sometimes the person giving the information for the record had no idea who the deceased’s parents were.
  7. Obituaries. You usually have to have a subscription somewhere to access the full-text of the obituary unless the person died after about 2005 (use a regular search engine in that case). The quality of the computer-generated summary varies. You don’t always need the obituary of the person, sometimes a sibling’s or parent’s works as well.
  8. Other national records. U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index records often lists parents but it can only be accessed via Ancestry or MyHeritage. (See note below.)
  9. Cemetery records.
  10. Birth index. They don’t provide as much info as an actual birth record, but they sometimes list parents.
  11. Birth record.
  12. Court and other legal records.

Note: FamilySearch has a collection (United States Social Security Numerical Identification Files) that includes U.S. SSA Claims information for people (and usually their parents’ names). It seems to be a new collection. I’ve only found one person in it whose SSA Claim record I also found on Ancestry. There wasn’t a result for this person’s sister who also had a SSA Claim record on Ancestry. The FamilySearch collection records include more info than the Ancestry ones such as previous residences.

Vintage Georgia postcard with the words "Greetings from Georgia" on it over an illustration of the state capitol. The words "Georgia" are decorated with illustrated scenes from the state.
“Greetings from Georgia..”

Georgia Genealogy Resources

I have a special interest in Georgia genealogy because my maternal grandmother was born in Georgia.


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The American History and Genealogy Project: Georgia American History & Genealogy

This website contains information on Georgia’s history along with various Georgia records (births, deaths, marriages, censuses, etc.).

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The Digital Library of Georgia

An initiative of the University of Georgia Libraries that has over 1,000 collections related to Georgia and Georgia history. The site also provides access to thousands of collections from partner institutions.

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FamilySearch: Georgia Genealogy Resources

A list of collections, strategies, and other resources to aid your research from the FamilySearch wiki.

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FamilySearch Digital Library: Georgia Genealogy Resources

The FamilySearch Digital Library is separate from the searchable records and wiki sections. Here are search results for the publicly available digital books and documents related to Georgia genealogy (over 40,000). You must be logged in to FamilySearch to view this page and some resources may only be viewed at a Family Search Center or Affiliate Library.

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Lowcountry Africana

While most of the records on this website are related to South Carolina, it also covers Georgia and northern Florida. It focuses on people with Gullah-Geechee heritage. The site also contains research strategies and full-text historical texts.

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Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness: Georgia Archives, Societies & Publications NEW!

A good list of archives, genealogical societies, libraries, museums, etc. in Georgia.

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