Ancestors, actors and arachnids: Interesting things found in 1 billion historic images

Published: Thursday, June 26 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

Actress Rita Hayworth Hill is one of many recognizable names that visited Brazil according to the FamilySearch.org digital collection, "Brazil, Rio de Janiero, Immigration Cards, 1900-1965."


Lisa McBride was browsing through FamilySearch.org's digitized collection of War of 1812 military records online when she found 1st Lt. Robert Puckett of White County, Tennessee, her fifth great-grandfather. Because she knew it was his duty to keep the company rolls, it occurred to her that the handwriting on the image may very well be his.

"I connected with him and the sorrow he must have felt as he recorded the deaths of men who served under him," McBride said. "A hunch to browse through a digitized record not only proved a relationship, but told a story of a brave and respected ancestor."

McBride's experience of finding Puckett illustrates how taking the time to search through the vast collections of digital images and historic records on FamilySearch.org can yield priceless treasures of family history information.

People can also just have fun. Documents, signatures, photos and other records of famous people can be found within the massive mountain of digital data. Earlier this week, FamilySearch International announced the publication of its 1 billionth image.

"Although a few social sites like Flickr and Facebook can boast over a billion photos contributed by users, there is no site like FamilySearch.org that has published over 1 billion images of historic records online," said Rod DeGiulio, director of FamilySearch records division. "A single image can have several historic images on it, which means there are actually billions of records ... for people to discover."

Brazil's famous visitors

The website ancestryinsider.org and contributor Whitney Petersen compiled a list of famous Americans who visited Brazil by searching the online collection Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Immigration Cards, 1900-1965.

The list includes Orson Welles, Eroll Flynn, Henry Fonda, Rita Hayworth Hill, Kirk Douglas, Leslie Townes "Bob" Hope, John Wayne (a souvenir seeker removed the photo) and the famous family of Tony, Janet and Jamie Lee Curtis.

There are also four presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who traveled to Brazil during that time span, namely Presidents David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee and Spencer W. Kimball.


A quick search of the United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-18 yielded a few famous signatures, including musicians Louis Armstrong and Irving Berlin. There is also a draft registration card for escape artist Harry Houdini.

Prominent pioneers

If you have pioneer ancestors, you might find one of their photos in the collection Utah Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah, 1847-1868. LDS Church Presidents John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow can be found in this group, along with Joseph Smith's famous Mormon bodyguard and friend Orrin Porter Rockwell.

Famous passports

One FamilySearch collection still in the process of being indexed is United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925, which makes it more difficult to search.

Even so, a few celebrities were found hiding among its documents. Author Ernest Hemingway went to Italy to help the Red Cross in 1918. Home run legend George Herman "Babe" Ruth applied for a passport in order to play baseball in Cuba. Scientist and inventor Alexander Graham Bell applied to visit his boyhood home in Scotland. There is also an application for writer F. Scott Fitzgerald.

To volunteer to index images, visit FamilySearch.org/indexing.

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