Are Your Ancestors Worth Any Money?

10 09 2008

I am always looking for new and interesting means by which I can find out information about my ancestors.  Recently I found myself perusing the website Missing Money.  According to the site, Missing Money is “a database of governmental unclaimed property records”.  Some of the examples of the types of unclaimed properties are bank accounts and safe deposit box contents, stocks, mutual funds, bonds, and dividends, uncashed checks and wages, insurance policies, CD’s, trust funds, and utility deposits, escrow accounts”.  Looking further into the site, I found a little more explanation as to how these unclaimed properties end up where they do.  According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), accounts from businesses and financial institutions that have had no activity and no contact with an individual for more than a year are handed over to a state administrator.  The most interesting peice I read stated, “Most states hold lost funds until you are found, returning them to you at no cost or for a nominal handling fee upon filing a claim form and verification of your identity.”

From what I could tell, there was no time limit on how long the state administrator would hold on to this missing money.  The first thing that came to mind was how cool it would be if I were to find an old insurance policy or something that belonged to a long dead relative?

With that in mind, I started to do some researching.

I started by searching myself as well as my brother and sister – just in case.  Nothing.  No hits on my parents either.  Perhaps it’s too soon for one of them to “forget” about money they had somewhere.  So I skipped down the line a bit and went for my great-grandparents, Earle Russell Miller and Dorothy Frances (Baker) Miller.  Nothing for Earle, but when I looked for Dorothy, I found four results for a Dorothy Miller with a Somerville, Massachusetts address (They lived there for some time from the 30’s to the 50’s I believe).  Each of the four hits were from a “Corestates Financial Corp”; a brief look into the history of the company shows that the bank had been around in one shape or form since its original structure as Philadelphia Bank in 1803.  So the odds are in favor that these could be old bank accounts belonging to my great-grandmother!

I made note that I may have found a potential “winner” (I’d have to see what my father would suggest since he’s closer in relationship than myself) and continued searching other names.  Since just about everyone else on my Miller side came from Canada, I decided to start poking around my mother’s side of the family.  I did a quick search for the surname Willetts in Pennsylvania – my mother’s grandfather’s family were from Pennsylvania.  BAM!  Another hit.  This one was my grandmother’s cousin.  I think I met her once when I was a little boy, but she died in 1983.  She never married and had no children that I was aware of.

I decided to see what steps would have to be taken to claim this particular money, so I followed the link to the Pennsylvania Treasury department and found a phone number.  After a brief explanation of the situation, the person on the other end of the line told me how things work in Pennsylvania.  In order to be immediately eligible to claim the missing property, the claimant has to be a spouse, parent, or child of the individual if they are deceased.  If the relationship is more distant than that, the individual would have to reopen probate for the purpose of claiming the money.  The woman was very nice and told me that the amount listed for the account I was calling for was $56.28; not really enough to justify hiring a lawyer to reopen probate with the courts!  I agreed and thanked her for the time – a valuable lesson nonetheless.

I’ll certainly be digging deeper into the vast generations of my family tree for more opportunities.  If nothing else, it adds a little more detail to the lives these past generations left and what may have been overlooked by the courts at the time of their death.


Why pay for archived books on CD? Part Three

2 07 2008

This will wrap up my series on the basics of finding books available in the public domain for free online.  In my last post, I briefly discussed how Google Books can be used to alleviate the pains associated with paying for a book on CD.  But searching for these public domain books takes more than one site to solve the problem.  That’s why this post will discuss the left jab in the one-two punch of book searching; the Internet Archive Text Search.

According to the main page of the Internet Archive, their mission is simple: 

“The Internet Archive is building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Like a paper library, we provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public.”

This website is a fabulous resource for information of all types – I would highly suggest you take a look around all the different portions of the site.  For today, we’re sticking with the texts section.  The text section is a collection of nearly 450,000 items from a plethora of North American libraries and beyond.  I think it’s in your best interest to browse the individual collections as you have time simply because there are so many resources throughout that you might find something of use that you otherwise would never have thought of!  For today, we’re sticking with our search for History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men by Duane Hamilton Hurd. 

As with the Google Books Search, all you need to do is type in the first few words of the title in the search box at the top of the text archive page.  I searched for “History of Middlesex County Massachusetts”, again without the quotes.  Shazam!  The fourth, fifth, and sixth results of that search come up with our desired set of books, each volume ready for viewing!  Clicking on the title brings you to your viewing options.

The Internet Archive offers a wider array of options for viewing the books they have available.  They can be found on the left hand side of the page once you’ve selected a book.  The options are:

  • DjVu – a high-quality, high-compressed files, suitable for web viewing
  • PDF – a standard Adobe PDF format
  • B/W PDF – similar to above, although all color has been eliminated, making for faster download
  • TXT – Simple text format.  This is the text pulled from the book when it was scanned using Optical Character Recognition.  This format is often tough to follow
  • Full Text – Similar to TXT
  • Flip Book – Another file for web viewing.  Searching books in this format is kind of a joke, but if you’re just wanting a quick and dirty preview before you download a PDF version, this is the way to go.

I think just about every book I have downloaded from these sites already has the Optical Character Recognition layer embedded into the PDF.  This makes searching through a five hundred plus page book a peice of cake. 

I have had considerable success using these two sites and can only imagine that they will continue to be a means of accessing otherwise out of print, old, and scarce books – especially those in the public domain. 

Why pay for archived books on CD? Part Two

30 06 2008

In my first post I shared my frustration with people making a buck off of unsuspecting family historians by charging for CD versions of books in the public domain.  I used the three-volume set History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men by Duane Hamilton Hurd as an example of one such book being sold for almost thirty dollars!  I would like to continue the discussion on how one can find this, and many other books of potential genealogical importance, for free online.

Today I will be discussing the joys of Google Book Search.

Google Book Search offers several different viewing categories: Full View, Limited View, Snippet View, and No Preview Available.  We’re going to want to access only the books that are available as full view.  According to the Google Books site, “You can see books in Full View if the book is out of copyright, or if the publisher or author has asked to make the book fully viewable. The Full View allows you to view any page from the book, and if the book is in the public domain, you can download, save and print a PDF version to read at your own pace.”

There are two steps to doing this search.  First, go to the Google Book Search page and type in the first handful of words in the title of the book.  I typed “History of Middlesex County Massachusetts” (without the quotes) and hit enter.  I was given 1,618 results.  You can stop here and start browsing for the book or you can eliminate the books that won’t allow complete cover-to-cover access by selecting “Full view only” in the drop down menu near the top of the page.  In this case, the second book listed is what we were looking for.  Clicking on the title of the book brings us to the book itself.  On the right had column you will find several options, the most important being:

  • Download the book as a PDF to save for offline use
  • View the book as plain text (in case the original printing is tough to read)
  • Search – this is the best of the options. You can search for any word or phrase that may appear in the book and it will give you links to the specific page where the word or phrase is found.
  • Other editions – In the case that there are multiple volumes of a particular book, this is where you’d find links to them.  This can be hit or miss as it will link to books that may or may not be available to view online through Google Books.

Unfortunately, it appears that you can only read Volume One of History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men via Google Book Search.  Following the links to the other editions comes up with volumes unaccessable for online viewing.  Fortunately, we have another option to find the rest of the volumes – the Internet Archive Text Search.  I will conclude this series on finding public domain books online for free with basic tips on how to use Internet Archive Text Search in the next few days.

Why pay for archived books on CD? Part One

26 06 2008

One of the reasons I started this blog was because of the number of people selling public domain books to unsuspecting victims for ridiculous prices.  I found a brief definition of public domain as “The status of publications, products, and processes that are not protected under patent or copyright.”  For those not in the know, here two facts to remember; books are considered public domain if they are published prior to 1923 or published in the United States between 1923 and 1977 without a copyright notice.

Unfortunately, there are people out there who are taking advantage of the lack of understanding as it pertains to books within the public domain.  This has hit home for me specifically as I have searched for books that would be of use for me in my genealogical research.  On more than one occasion I have been told of certain books that may assist me in my research, only to discover that the book was printed many years ago and the odds of obtaining a copy would be pretty tough.  What I originally thought would be the next step would be to purchase the book(s) on CD that I could simply browse from my computer.  I was wrong.  There may be some occasions where the only option is to pay for a book that has been digitized to CD, but for the most part you can find them for free online.  If you know where to look.

For instance, consider the three-volume History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men compiled by Duane Hamilton Hurd.  This is a fantastic resource for those looking to discover more in-depth information about the cities and towns within this historic county.  Each chapter is dedicated to a particular city or town and many names are provided within each.  This set could be of huge importance to someone who is researching their family tree back to Middlesex County in the 17th and 18th centuries.  If you were to look for a means to obtain these books, the chances are likely that you aren’t going to have immediate access to them via your local library and an interlibrary loan isn’t very plausible either.  These three volumes cover more than three thousand pages combined and were published between 1880 and 1890.  Doing a quick search online would give you links to several dealers who are offering the collection on CD in fully-searchable PDF format.  All for the low-low-low price of nearly thirty bucks, not including shipping.

However, did you know that with a little patience you could find this book in several formats for absolutely nothing?  It’s true – no catch, no fees, no nothing.  Being published in 1890 means that the books fall into the public domain, so odds are someone has already scanned the book and made it available in many number of formats.  I’d like to share two excellent resources for finding these public domain books which you can access for free at any time: Google Book Search and the Internet Archive Text Search.  By no means will this provide you with all your research needs, but it certainly will make a huge difference.

Part two of this article will delve into the steps necessary to find books via Google Book Search and part three will discuss the Internet Archive Text Search.