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Budding Genealogists: Advice from a local researcher

December 23, 2013
By LINDA COMINS - For The Times Leader , Times Leader

Historical researcher Jeanne Finstein of Wheeling finds that many baby boomers, like herself, have become interested in searching for their ancestors.

Finstein, who is a well-known presenter on history-related topics and is president of Friends of Wheeling, has some good advice for budding genealogical researchers.

"One of the best things that people can do is participate in the Wheeling Area Genealogical Society," she said. That group meets in the Ohio County Public Library, 52 16th St., Wheeling, at 1 p.m. on the second Saturday of every month.

The organization "also periodically has genealogical workshops open to the public at no cost and, during those workshops, people are shown some of the resources that are available both online and at the Ohio County Public Library," she said.

"In the library, the Wheeling Room is, of course, the primary resource. There are census records for counties all over the state for at least 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880 and 1890," she said.

Finstein said, "Another really terrific resource are the Wheeling city directories. They list not only a residence, but also a place of business. Quite often there are advertisements for those businesses that provide a lot of interesting information."

Meanwhile, she said, "When I am researching any of my ancestors who are from West Virginia, one of the first places I go is the West Virginia vital research records search." That site can be found online at select.aspx.

On the West Virginia vital research records site, she said, "It has birth, death and marriage records for the entire state and, in many cases, you will get an actual view of a death certificate that will show, depending on the year, a lot of details. The more recent ones have more information than the older ones: parents' name, residence, cause of death, birthplace, burial location, that kind of information."

Also found online at this site, Finstein said, "For Ohio County, there are birth records for the year 1820 and 1853-1912; death records from 1853-1862 and marriage records from 1790-1970. These dates vary from county to county but it will tell you right online."

The researcher added, "Another excellent source for the Wheeling area is the Wheeling Area Genealogical Society's website: index.htm. It has biographies, information on cemeteries, links to other generalogy sites and so forth. It's a very good resource."

All of those online resources are free, Finstein pointed out. "If you really get into searching, you can subscribe to online sites that are fee-based," she said.

Another free online resource is offered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Its website is

Finstein remarked, "One of the best sources that I have found is obituaries. Once you find a death record and know a date of death, you can go quite often to a newspaper of that time period and find an obituary."

She cautioned, "In the olden days, the obituaries weren't alway printed in the newspaper or were printed and were very short." However, in obituaries published in the late 1800s and early 1900s, "especially for someone who was a prominent citizen, they may go into great detail of how the person died, that you don't see today," she said, adding. "Today, they (obituaries) can be quite long, but don't necessarily tell all the details that you might find on a death certificate."

Another resource that is relatively new is the Library of Congress' Chronicling America project, found online at

Finstein explained, "The Library of Congress, through grants, has digitized certain important newspapers around the country. The only one done in West Virginia is The Wheeling Intelligencer from August 1852 to 1898.



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