Genealogy Blog

What Will You Tell the Future?

18 Oct 2014

We’ve had some excitement here in Boston over the last few weeks. The Old State House is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city. When Boston’s original Town House, built in the 1650s, burned in 1711, officials chose to rebuild on the same site. In 1713 the new building was erected to house the official offices of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was the seat of the Royal Government, housing the Royal Governor’s offices, the Massachusetts Assembly, and the courts of Suffolk County. At the peak of the roof on the side of the building facing the harbor were placed statues of a lion and a unicorn as symbols of the Royal authority.

From a balcony just beneath these statues official proclamations were read. It was just under this balcony that the Boston Massacre occurred in 1770. In July of 1776, the townspeople of Boston listened for the first time to the words of the Declaration of Independence as it was read from the balcony. Shortly thereafter the lion and the unicorn were torn from their perches and burned. During restoration work on the building in 1882, new statues of the lion and unicorn were placed where the originals once stood.

At the turn of the century, additional restoration work was done. When the lion was returned to its perch in 1901, it included something new. A time capsule had been placed inside the crown, a gift to the future. Flash forward to 2014. Restoration work is once again being performed. While reviewing the work done during the 1901 restoration, a reference from a 1901 newspaper is discovered that discusses the time capsule. The company doing the restoration work looked, and discovered that yes, indeed, the time capsule was there.


Boston Time Capsule


After spending time determining how best to remove the capsule without damaging the statue, it finally taken from its hiding place last week. During a ceremony on October 9, the capsule was officially opened and the items contained within it saw the light of day for the first time in more than a century. The capsule was filled with newspapers, cabinet cards, photographs, buttons from the 1900 presidential campaign, a GAR button and badge, wood from inside the lion placed in 1882, and much more. The city is now working on developing a list of items to be placed in a new time capsule that will be implanted into the lion’s crown to detail current life in Boston. Only two items are definitely being included: a photograph of Marty Walsh, the current mayor, and a medal from the running of the 2013 Boston Marathon, to remind the future of the horror of terrorism.

Reading all of this made think that a great idea for today’s genealogists is to create your own personal time capsule. What items would you include for the future to know what life was like for your family? When you are choosing items, remember to keep a few things in mind.

  • Use paper as well as digital formats. Who knows if the media on which you store your digital items will still be readable in a century? It may physically degrade, or it could simply be a matter of technology that is so old in a century that there will no longer be any machines capable of reading it.
  • Include black and white as well as color dyes. As anyone with forty-year-old photographs knows, the dyes in color photographs fade over time. Black and white fade at a much slower rate, and can still be easily seen a century or more later.
  • Write a letter by hand. There is much to be said for the joy in reading the handwriting of an ancestor. It brings a feeling of personal connection. Remember to use acid-free ink on archival paper, to improve the odds for survival.
  • Choose an environment proof container. And be careful of what you put into it. Modern materials are often manufactured using chemicals and plastics that can provide off-gasses that could be harmful in the long term to items contained in capsule.
  • Choose whom to leave the time capsule with. Charging a specific family member/members with preserving it is a great step. Include information about that in your will, so future generations will know of its existence. Another great way to preserve it is to put it on deposit at a library or archive, with directions that it is not to be opened until a certain date (e.g., in 100 years, 40 years after my decease, 10 years after the decease of my last surviving child [or grandchild], etc.). This vastly improves the odds that the capsule will not be accidentally lost to fire or theft, as it might be in private hands.

Tell your story and make sure it is heard by future generations. A time capsule is a different way to do this. To find out more about the Old State House time capsule in Boston, read Here’s What’s Inside the Old State House Time Capsule From 1901 in Boston Magazine.


Celebrate Family History Month with an Open Access Weekend

16 Oct 2014


What better way to celebrate Family History Month than with an Open Access Weekend? From now until Monday at 11:00PM ET, you can enjoy complimentary access to all Mocavo Gold search features and the brand new Mocavo Census Viewer! Customarily you need to be a Mocavo Gold member to search all of our fascinating content at once, but for this weekend only, you can search more than 420,000 databases to your heart’s content. Simply log in to your Mocavo account and discover an easier way to research your family history.


A Millennial Census

15 Oct 2014

Genealogists are used to using census records in their research. There are all different kinds and types of enumerations. Recently, National Public Radio decided to take its own census.

For decades we have heard about the Baby Boomers This includes those born in the post-World War II years, staring in 1946, through the year 1964. This time period say a huge increase in the annual number of births in then U.S., which dropped precipitously after this time. As the largest group in America, it has often gotten a great deal of press, and we therefore have much information about them as a whole.

NPR is currently running a series on the New Boom. This generation is called the Millenials, and they were born between 1980 and 1996. They now outnumber the Baby Boomers, and their influence is being felt in society as a whole. This generation has no idea what an areal antenna is, what a party line is, what a rotary telephone is, or even what it is like to have television itself off for several hours each night. They’ve never heard of Groucho Marx, Gilligan, or Casablanca. But their influence is increasing as the Baby Boomers die off, and they move in to take the place of the older generation.

As part of this series on the Millenials, NPR is taking a census of them. The goal is to put a face on them, both figuratively and literally (despite the fact that many Millennials don’t know the difference between those two words and how to use them properly!). To do this, NPR is employing the latest in social media.


NPR Millenial Census


NPR asked those born in the Millenial era to take a selfie and post it to Twitter, Instagram, and/or Pinterest. They are to tag the images with the hashtag #NPRCensus. In addition to their face, participants were asked to include in the image the answers to three standard U.S. Census questions: race, ethnic origin, and sex (meaning gender). They were also allowed to include any other “check boxes” they desired.

The wide variety of information included in the responses is incredible. And even the answers to the standard questions are from the traditional answers of the past. The responses to gender, for example, reflect our current understanding  that far from being a black and white choice between two options (as it has been considered in the past), gender is actually a wide spectrum. And this generation will not be put back into an outmoded box that reflects antiquated ideas. One young person, for example, responded to the question of gender with the answer “ever-changing.” This person’s lower face and upper chest are block by the arms and camera, so as to eliminate any visual clues that older individuals might wish to use to push this person into the outmoded visions of earlier generations. The number of men who described themselves as feminists was very encouraging, as were the great number of straight individuals (including self-described Christians and conservatives) who support equal rights for GLBT persons.

So far men are being far outnumbered in their response. NPR hopes that more will contribute to the census as time goes on. To see a sample of those who have already responded, and their self-described categories, visit These Are Your Millenials, America.

Who Will You Discover with the New Mocavo Census Viewer?

14 Oct 2014


Census records are full of exciting surprises that can help us trace our family history. Now it’s even easier to pinpoint the ancestors who helped shape your unique story with the new interactive Mocavo Census Viewer. Premium technology will help you seamlessly navigate each census record image to capture every important detail.

As a Mocavo Gold member, you will enjoy exclusive access to the Mocavo Census Viewer and to the images of all available United States Federal Censuses. Who will you discover?

Watch a quick tutorial >>



We could not be more thrilled with all of the positive feedback we have received from the Mocavo community. Please keep your feedback coming and let us know what we can do to make your census viewing experience even better!

3 Tips for Using FamilySearch in Your Research

13 Oct 2014


I’m off in Salt Lake City for a few days of research at the Family History Library. For almost twenty years now, I have made this journey several times a year. Back when I started, I would return home with reams of paper, photocopies made from microfilm and books. Over the years technology has changed dramatically. I return home now with a few photocopies, but far more images are stored on camera memory cards and flash drives. And many materials are now available online. FamilySearch now offers a variety of ways to help you with your research.


1. Family History Library

The Genealogical Society of Utah was founded in 1894 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and started collecting research materials. In 1938, GSU started an active program of microfilming records. Over the course of the past 75 years, almost 2.5 million reels of microfilm have been created, with records coming from all over the world. In addition to microfilm, the are thousands of books, also from all corners of the globe, containing transcriptions, abstractions, local histories, family histories, research methodology, atlases and gazetteers, and much more. All of these are housed in the five-story research facility across from Temple Square, free and available to the public. And despite an active digitization program, many records are available only at the Family History Library and its regional centers around the world.

2. FamilySearch Records

The FamilySearch website now provides us with access to a wide variety of digitized copies of original records. The microfilming program begun in 1938 has now morphed into a scanning problem, with digital cameras deployed around the globe. And staff members are actively working to digitize the records that were originally microfilmed. Tens of thousands of volunteers are donating time to index these records to make them even more accessible. Image databases on the FamilySearch website include both indexed images, and browse-only images. Unfortunately, recent upgrades have made accessing these materials more complicated than it was in the past, and you will have to dig further to get to individuals databases. The default forces uses into global searches which return many irrelevant results.

3. Other Online Resources

Over the last year or so, FamilySearch has moved away from an emphasis on research and focused more on sharing. While continuing to upload records, they have added a number of features to make it easier to share family stories with others. You can upload your family tree, audio files, photos, documents, and other items. Many of these are searchable separately from the databases. One thing to be aware of, however, is that once you upload items to FamilySearch you cannot take them down, and you grant a perpetual unlimited license to FamilySearch to use them in any way they wish. Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist, wrote a piece about their terms of use last year.

Experience the Brand New Mocavo Census Viewer

10 Oct 2014


Less than four months ago, we joined the Findmypast family to revolutionize the genealogy industry. In that time, we have continued to provide groundbreaking access to millions of records, books, and databases that hold the clues to your ancestors’ stories.

And we’ve only just begun.

Today we could not be more excited to announce the first feature innovation created by the combined Mocavo/Findmypast team. Transform your census research experience with the new Mocavo Census Viewer!

Watch a quick tutorial Now>>

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 5.34.11 PM Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 5.34.21 PM Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 5.34.31 PM Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 5.34.39 PM Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 5.34.46 PM

Start exploring the new Mocavo Census Viewer right now with your Mocavo Gold account! We think you’re really going to love it and we can’t wait to hear what you think. Please let us know how we can make your experience even better, and thanks again for being a part of this community!

Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, October 10, 2014

10 Oct 2014

This week’s news roundup includes the Legal Genealogist discussing poverty-stricken ancestors, a modern dance based on family history, Leland Meitzler discussing a new genealogy television show, Iceland’s fascination with genealogy and how it is helping us with medical research, and a techie look at family history in the future.

Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist had an interesting post this week that applies to so many of us. Many of our ancestors were quite poor. And the poor were always susceptible to being caught in a financial morass that left them unable to pay their bills. This week Judy dedicated a post to these individuals, and why they would sometimes work to be declared insolvent (hint: it has something to do with prison). Read more in Broke By Any Other Name.

This week’s Telegram in Montreal carried an interesting story. The Festival of New Dance this week had an interesting dance piece that was part theater and part dance: a cross-pollination of many elements. The really interesting part of Peter Trosztmer’s “EESTI: Myths and Machines” is that it included parts of his family history. Find out how he incorporated his Estonian grandfather’s story into the piece in Dance Piece Starts as Personal Family History Research.

Leland Meitzler from the Genealogy Blog wrote an interesting post this week about a new genealogy television show. Roots: Our Journeys Home traces the families of a dozen CNN news anchors. It starts this Sunday with a primetime special and segments will air each day for the following week, culminating in a two-hour primetime special. Get the details in “Roots: Our Journeys Home” Debuts Sunday, October 12, on CNN with 2 Hour Primetime Showing.

It is well known in genealogical circles that Iceland has a very inbred population. People are so related multiple times that an app was even created to tell people exactly how closely they are related, to prevent pairings that are too closely related. Back in 1997, neurologist Kári Stefánsson created a digital version of the “Book of Icelanders” that traces their family history back for almost a millennium. This has allowed for tremendous scientific breakthroughs in the history of genetic traits as well as inherited disease. Discover the fascinating story in How Iceland’s Genealogy Obsession Leads to Scientific Brekathroughs.

And finally, for the techies among us, comes a story from the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Lincoln Cannon, a philosopher and professional software engineer postulates about a future where we are able to run “family history simulations,” watching our ancestors act out their lives. Which raises some important philosophical questions. Follow this techie but interesting story in Are We Living in a Family History Simulation?


Family History Simulation



Extreme Genes Genealogy Radio

08 Oct 2014

Last week I had the pleasure of being a guest on the Extreme Genes radio show. Fisher, the host of Extreme Genes, is a native New Englander. He has been in broadcasting since he was a young man. And not he has turned his passion for genealogy into a radio show.

Fisher calls himself “Your Radio Roots Sleuth.” Each week, he hosts a show of about 45 minutes. The good news is that with today’s technology, you do not need to be within one of the broadcast areas that airs the show. Because each week after the show airs, it is turned into a podcast, archives on his website, iTunes, and libsyn.


Extreme Genes


Each episode has one or two guests covering a topic of interest to genealogists. On the episode I appeared on, Blaine Bettinger was also a guest, discussing DNA. Other guests have included Anna Swayne and Mathew Deighton of, Chris Tomlinson, and my old friend David Allen Lamber from the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston. Topics have included:


  • DNA
  • Orphan Trains
  • Colonial Wars
  • 19th Century Photography
  • Who Do You Think You Are?
  • and much, much more!


At the end of the show, Tom Perry shares some technology tips. Recently he has discussed taking care of CDs/DVDs, the proper way to use USB drives, and how to shoot video.

Check out Fisher’s show, and listen to podcast versions of back episodes, at You can find my interview on episode 60: DNA Testong: A Different Animal for Revealing Family Secrets?


Scrolling Through History

07 Oct 2014

Scholars at Harvard University have been working on a very special project.  A cross-department cooperative effort between students in a course from the Committee on Medieval Studies and Harvard Divinity School  and those in a course at the Program in General Education has produced some intriguing analysis as well as records preservation.

Harvard’s libraries have many incredible items in their collection, some dating back millennia. Among their collections are scrolls from the Middle Ages.  The students got together to work on some of these scrolls.

The students from “Scrolls in the Middle Ages” and “Making the Middle Ages” met with the Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts to examine and select a scroll to research. Digital images of the scrolls were taken for the students to use. According to a story in the Harvard Gazette, Library Technology Services  is working with HarvardX (a group dedicated to implementing new technology at Harvard) to crate better image viewing and annotation tools.

“Next-generation digital images are made using archive-quality, high-resolution photography that precisely reproduces the color of the original object on-screen. The images show close detail, such as brushstrokes and texture. They are presented as panoramic, stitched-together graphics, rather than pages, so that students can focus on particular areas but also see the larger context of a piece.”


Kings of England Scroll

Closeup of scroll MS Typ II, a genealogy of the ancient Kings of England, worked on by Emerson Morgan.


The end result of the students’ work was twofold. First, an exhibit of scrolls was prepared for display at Houghton Library. One of the students, Emerson Morgan, is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in historical musicology. He worked with a scroll that details the genealogy of ancient Kings of England. Part of his work was to prepare the scroll for display. Unfortunately, the scroll is too long to fit  in the case if completely unrolled. This meant that he had to decide which sections to display. He said that the process “ . . . raised interesting questions about stories and how they are chopped or parsed.”

Those same questions often face genealogists. When we are telling our family stories, we must sift through all of the information we have accumulated. Which land transactions to we include? Do I include this part of the story, or omit it for something more (or less) provocative?  And how will those decisions impact others’ views of our ancestors?

The second result of the students’ work is online versions of the scrolls that are free to access. Some are available in on online Museum exhibit. Others are available through the Page Delivery Service offered by Harvard Libraries. You can read more about he students’ work and the scrolls in Scrolls and Scrolling: Digital Tools Key to Projects in Medieval Studies.

Aunt Mary Joins the Greek Gods and Changes Genealogy

04 Oct 2014

Daniel Ruth, a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times, wrote an interesting piece last month.  A few years ago, his wife’s Aunt Mary asked her, when the time came, to travel to Mount Olympus in Greece to spread her ashes. When the time came, Ruth and his wife faced an intense challenge.

First they needed to deal with all of the paperwork involved in carrying cremated remains out of our country and into another. Mountains of bureaucratic red tape needed to be climbed and processed in order to obtain the appropriate permission from both governments.

Then there was the tiny detail of climbing the mountain, an activity not exactly in their daily exercise regime. Getting to the top of the mountain is no mean feat for anyone. It is frequently dangerous. In fact, just days after they made the trek, another climber died in a 600-foot fall.

And, upon their arrival at Litohoro, a final surprising challenge met them. The weather changed their plans. There would be no rest. If they wanted to hike the mountain, it would need to be immediately. Ultimately, they were able to scale the mountain and spread Mary’s ashes over a ridge. In Ruth’s words: “A gentle breeze carried Aunt Mary into eternity, into the embrace of the Greek gods.” You can read more of their adventure in Aunt Mary Joines the Greek Gods for Eternity.




Stories like Aunt Mary’s are becoming more and more common. For a variety of reasons, people are no longer going the traditional route for their post mortem plans. And it will change the way genealogists in the future research.

I’m not referring to cremation. That has been common for a century at this point. It is what happens to those cremains that has changed. In days past, cremains would be buried in cemeteries. Sometimes they are buried in family graves alongside coffins. Many cemeteries have a special area for cremated remains called a columbarium, or they might have an urn garden.

But today, many people are opting to have their ashes spread elsewhere, in places that have some sort of significance to them. The remains of John F. Kennedy, Jr., for example, were spread at sea. The ashes of comedian Robin Williams who died this summer were scattered in San Francisco Bay.

Many eco-conscious people are now opting to have a “green burial” or “natural burial.” The remains are not embalmed, and buried in biodegradable containers. Usually the graves are unmarked.

How is this changing genealogy? One of our major resources for research are grave markers. Many cemeteries have seen their inscriptions transcribed and published over the years. And website like FindAGrave and BillionGraves have made it even easier to view grave markers and transcriptions of the inscriptions. Often these inscriptions are the only records of death that we have.

These new forms of burial leave no markers. Not only will there be inscription to transcribe, but genealogists will be robbed of another wonderful experience. During my research I have visited the final resting places of countless individuals. Each time I am able to pause and reflect on who they were and what they accomplished in life. The feeling will not be the same for those whose remains are spread to the winds or the water, like Aunt Mary; JFK, Jr.; and Robin Williams. Our research, and our experiences, will never be the same.