Genealogy Blog

Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, April 18, 2014

18 Apr 2014

This week brings an eclectic group of stories for you. From lost records to DNA to fashion tips and more, I hope you find them as interesting and informative as I do.

First up is a post from Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist. Today Judy writes about record loss. Even when a courthouse burned, there are quite possibly materials that survived. To illustrate her point, she discusses early records of San Francisco that survived the devastating earthquake that hit the city 108 years ago today. Read more in All Not Lost.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently raided the home of a 91-year old man in rural Rush County, Indiana. Don Miller has been acquiring artifacts for eight decades. In addition to Native American cultural objects, materials from Australia, China, Haiti, New Guinea, Peru, and Russia were also identified. The FBI is working to catalog thousands of these artifacts to determine their origin, how Miller came into their possession, and whether it is legal for such an item to be privately owned. Read more in Thousands of Artifacts Removed from Rural Indiana Home.

My friend Drew Smith recently posted an update to a horrific story coming out of Florida. The former Dozier School for Boys in Florida has been the subject of an ongoing scandal since bodies were discovered in unmarked graves on school grounds. An anthropology professor from the University of Southern Florida is leading a team building a DNA database to help in identifying the remains.  Read more in USF Builds DNA List to Help ID Dozier School Bodies.

Last month I posted about writing your own obituary. Apparently USA Today liked it, because they picked up on the topic as well: “Put it down to the ‘selfie’ lifestyle of social media, and to the aging baby-boomer generation’s enduring need to exert control over every facet of their lives, including the end. Or maybe it’s the triumph of the DIY movement.” Read the full story in The ‘Selfie’ Impulse Now Extends to Obituaries.

 

Men High Heels

 

File this one under “everything old is new again.” We all know that fashion trends are a never-ending circle. Ideas that were once new, go out of style, only to return to favor at some point in the future. Back in the 17th century, men wore shoes with heels, while women wore flats. Heeled shoes were considered masculine. They were used for riding, to lock one’s feet in the stirrups, making combat more efficient. Eventually the style changed over to women. Now the fashion trend is for men to wear high heels. Read more about the history in Why Did Men Stop Wearing High Heels?, and more about the recent trend in A Tall Order for Even the Most Fashionable Gentlemen: High Heels for Men are on the Rise.

How Often Do You Cite Your Sources?

18 Apr 2014

This week we would like to know

How long have you been researching your family history?

18 Apr 2014

We asked and you answered. Last newsletter we asked how long you have been researching your family history.

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We have quite a wide range of experience levels in our community! Over 60% of you have been researching for more than 15 years, proving genealogy can be a lifetime hobby for many. Don’t forget to take our next poll “How often do you cite your sources?”

 

 

Three Reasons Why Everyone Needs to Cite Their Sources

17 Apr 2014

Three

We often hear people say that they don’t have to cite their sources because they are “only doing it for the family” or they “aren’t going to publish” their research. But there are very good reasons why you should want to cite your sources.

3. So Other People Can Follow You
Whenever I hear people say that they don’t intend to publish their work, I have to laugh. Because almost every one of them that has said that has also told me that they use a genealogy database program to keep track of their research. Not only that, but they create GEDCOM files, which they send to family and friends, or post them online. They don’t realize that this is also publishing. And when you publish in any way, shape, or form, you want people to be able to understand your research, and how you reached your conclusions.

2. So You Can Evaluate The Reliability of Your Evidence
Genealogists today have access to mountains of information for researching their family history. This information will provide you generous amounts of information, which you then have to evaluate. You may, for example, have a general year of birth from a census record. You then find a birth certificate that gives you an exact date of birth. By citing your sources you will be able to review where you to the information to determine what is the most accurate.

1. Because You Will Need to Find it Again
Above all else, your ability to find your source again is the biggest reason why you should record where you found the information. You may find two documents that provide conflicting information, so you will have to go back and look at your sources again. You need to be certain you didn’t make a typographical error of some sort when recording the information. I have a friend who has been a professional genealogist for more almost thirty years, and has been researching for almost forty years. One of her biggest regrets is that when she was a beginning researcher, she found the date and place of birth for her great-grandfather. Unfortunately, she didn’t record the source of the information. She has never been able to find it again. And people are publishing all sorts of conflicting information online, but she has no way to evaluate it all and come to the truth.

Is the Book You’re Reading Bound By Human Skin?

16 Apr 2014

As genealogists we often spend time in libraries, looking through manuscripts and old books for clues to our family and the places where they lived. These materials can include very old books, bound by hand. In addition to leather-bound books, some are bound in sheepskin or pigskin. But occasionally some were covered in something very different. Anthropodermic bibliopegy refers to the practice of binding books with human skin.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the practice became known among physicians, who used human skin to bind anatomy books.  The skin was usually taken from cadavers, but was sometimes taken from criminals. One common form was to take the skin of criminals who were sentenced to death and use it to bind the records of the criminal’s trial. This was seen as a punishment that would last even after death.

The Boston Athenaeum has a text in its collection titled Hic Liber Waltonis Cute Compactus Est. Published in 1837, it contains the memoirs of James Allen, a notorious highwayman and bank robber.  He once declared himself to be the “master of his own skin,” and the book was actually bound in his skin.

The Harvard University Libraries  hold at least two books bound in human skin.  A third book, oringinally thought to be bound in human skin, has since been proven to be bound in sheepskin. One of these books is Des Destinées de L’Âme by Arsène Houssaye, published in the 1880s.  He gave the book to a physician friend, Ludovic Bouland. Bouland loved books, and had Houssaye’s treatise on the soul and life after death and had it rebound. He used skin from the body of a deceased mental patient whose family never claimed her body. Bouland added the following note:

“This book is bound in human skin parchment on which no ornament has been stamped to preserve its elegance. By looking carefully you easily distinguish the pores of the skin. A book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering. . .”

The tanning process used on the skin to preserve it and make it fit for binding damages the skin to the point that DNA is not recoverable, so it is not possible to trace the origins of the “donors.” By the end of the Victorian era the practice fell out of use because it was so morbid.

 

Human Skin

 

You can read more stories online in Anthropodermic Bibliopegy, or The Truth About Books Bound in Human Skin, A Morbid Secret Lies Hidden Within the Beautiful Walls of the Boston Athenaeum, and Flesh-Crawling Page-Turners: The Books Bound in Human Skin.

And remember, the next time you are in a library and using a very old book, the binding may not be what you think it is.

Preserving Your Story is Now Easier than Ever

15 Apr 2014

In October, we announced the Free Forever Revolution and committed to bringing 1,000 databases online for free, every single day. We’ve kept that promise every day since.

In January, we added 10,000 databases in a single day to put our total count at more than 200,000 databases available online for the world to enjoy.

In March, we reached a major milestone when we hit 300,000 databases and we are still going strong.

Along the way, we’ve been improving our product and launching new features designed to help you make more discoveries, faster.

As exciting as the last six months have been, believe me, we’re just getting started.

Preserving Your Story is Now Easier than Ever

The next frontier for Mocavo is to make it as easy as possible for every one of you to bring your family’s historical content online and available to share with the world. Every family history book, photo, letter, pamphlet, brochure, or directory you’ve ever gotten your hands on; we want to help you bring it online for your relatives to discover, near or far, close or distant. Let’s get every single piece of it online for free.

But how?

Early last year, we announced our Free Scanning program that allows you to mail us all of your books, documents, and photos. We scan in the materials, provide you with a digital copy, and add it to our index. To date, through the Free Scanning program, the Mocavo community has added more than 40,000 historical documents to our search index. That’s 40,000 documents packed with family history that will be free, forever.

But what about the content you’ve already scanned in yourself? How can you get that added to our index? We wanted to make it even easier for you to contribute content to Mocavo, so we’ve completely redesigned the Contribute section of our site.

Now, all it takes is a few simple clicks to upload your documents to Mocavo! We will process your content, add it to our index so that all of the text within your documents is completely searchable, and then you can show off your hard work to your loved ones and collaborate with family members to make even more discoveries!

Wouldn’t it be nice if your ancestors had left more of a paper trail? Upload your documents now and gain the peace of mind knowing that when you share your content on Mocavo, your story will be securely preserved forever.

Upload my documents now

You can also watch a quick tutorial on the collection manager tool here

We Are Still Boston Strong

15 Apr 2014

Imagine what your ancestors though when they gathered to hear the Declaration of Independence read in public for the first time. Or when they heard the news of Fort Sumter at the start of the Civil War. Or the start of World War I “The War to End All Wars.” Or the start of World War II, the war after that. Or when they heard of the sinking of the Titanic. Some of you remember where you were when you heard the news that President Kennedy was shot (For others it may be your parents or grandparents). For my generation, each of us remembers that bitter cold day in January 1986 when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded less than two minutes into flight.

The entire world knows the date of 9/11 and how our lives changed after it. For some, they lived it, while for others it is history. But in Boston, the date of April 15, 2013, will always be remembered. It was a typical April day, cool and perfect weather for running the Boston Marathon. Several friends of mine were running, and another friend from out of town asked me to join her at the finish line to wait. Unfortunately I had too much work to do that afternoon.

I had the television on while I was working, showing the runners come in and hoping I might catch a glimpse of a friend, when the explosions occurred. The first one at the finish line itself; the second only a block away. At first there was the thought that it was a gas explosion from inside a building. Then, slowly, the truth became evident. Boston had been attacked.

In the initial hours, there was confusion as the search for answers began. Trying to locate friends to be certain they were okay. This task was made more difficult as the BPD asked people not to use mobile phones in that section of the city, for fear of setting off additional bombs.

As the hours turned to days, the questions remained. Who had set off the bombs? Where were they? The biggest question: Were there any other devices planted in the city ready to explode? Would major tourist attractions like Quincy Market be next? Would a packed subway car be destroyed underground?

Personally, I had to make a decision. I was to speak at the New England Regional Genealogical Conference up in New Hampshire. Like all Bostonians, I was quite shaken. And we still had no answers. I decided to go, and  was in Manchester when the Shelter in Place order was given, and worried for the safety of my friends back home. My genealogy family, however, was there as always with love and support.

In the end, four people were dead, including eight-year-old Martin Richard. More than 260 people suffered injuries ranging from the minor to the 16 people who lost limbs. Nobody who lives in Boston was unaffected personally. While I was fortunate not to have any close family or friends injured, a chorus friend was the next-door neighbor and close friend of Martin Richard. For weeks, there was a physical scar running through the heart of the city as investigators closed down several city blocks, looking for clues. Then there was the grisly task of cleaning up the area. For months, people from all over the world dropped flowers, shoes, t-shirts, signs, and other items in a makeshift memorial that has now been preserved at the City of Boston Archives.

 

Boston Marathon Survivors

 

As our ancestors did before us, we stand up and move on in the face of violence. Today is a day of mourning and tribute in Boston. On Monday we will see the Boston Marathon running again, with more runners than ever before in history. There will also likely be more spectators than ever before. There will definitely be more police and security officials than ever before. But we will be there. And we will run. And we will watch. And we will not be cowed by hate. We are Boston Strong.

Copyright Free Maps from the New York Public Library

14 Apr 2014

The New York Public Library is filled with so many treasures for researchers. Every visit I find new materials to work with. But not everyone is lucky enough to be able to get to Manhattan to research on a regular basis. The NYPL has been working to digitize some of their collections to make it easier for people to access materials.

A couple of weeks ago, the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division made a huge announcement. The division announced the release of “more than 20,000 cartographic works as high-resolution downloads.” But the best part of the announcement was what came next: “We believe thiese maps to have no known US copyright restrictions.” That’s right, these maps are copyright-free.

The division has been scanning maps for 15 years. Much of this digitizing was done through grants from organizations like the National Endowment for the Humanities. Among these maps are:

  • 10,300 property, topographic, zoning, and insurance maps for New York City from 1852 to 1922
  • 2,800 maps from state, county, and city atlases (mostly New York and New Jersey)
  • 1,100 maps of the Mid-Atlantic cities and states form the16th to the 19th centuries
  • more than 1,000 maps of New York City boroughs and neighborhoods from 1660 to 1922
  • more than 700 topographic maps of the Austro-Hungarian Empire created between 18777 and 1914

While many of the images are black and white or grayscale, a very large number of them are full-color. Even some of the oldest maps are in color. You can browse through or search for maps on keywords. You can send a url to share with friends, or you can purchase a high-resolution digital image. You can also purchase high-resolution prints of the maps. You can also print out a copy difrectly from your browser.

When you look at an image, not only will you see the map, but you will see other information as well:

  • Names (of cartographers, etc.)
  • Name of the collection it comes from
  • Date of publication and publisher
  • Library Location where you will find the original
  • Subject classifications (called Topics)
  • Notes about the map/image
  • Identifiers, including the NYPL Catalog number and the RLIN/OCLC number

 

One of the map pages from the New York Public Library's Digital Collections.

One of the map pages from the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections, showing a seventeenth-century map of New York, New England, and Canada.

 

You can check out the maps by visiting the NYPL’s Digital Collections area. You can use these maps under a Creative Commons license from the NYPL, but as they warn you, you must be careful about any maps that are restricted because of a right of privacy or other restrictions.

Start your weekend off right with new Mocavo features

11 Apr 2014

What better way to start off the weekend than with new features! We’re working hard to ensure your time spent with us is both delightful and productive, which is why we’re excited to share a few upgrades we’ve recently added that will take your research experience to the next level. If you have a little extra time this weekend, give these new features a try and let us know what you think!

First & Last Name Search Sliders

Sometimes the missing piece to the puzzle is found when using an alternate spelling of an ancestor’s first or last name. To make sure no stone is left unturned, we’ve added another search slider to both first and last names on the search form.

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First Name Search Slider
If you’re looking for Elizabeth Shaw, who potentially went by Liz, Lizzy, Beth, Eliza, etc., then drag the slider to the middle (“Similar Names”) to reveal results that have alternative versions of your ancestor’s first name. Also, sometimes our ancestors only recorded their first initial when creating a record. To account for similar names and initials, simply drag the slider all the way to the left (“Initials & Similar Names”) and your results will show records that contain E Shaw, Liz Shaw, Elizabeth Shaw, etc.

Try the first name search slider now

Last Name Search Slider
In the past, it was common for surnames to be recorded with multiple spellings. For example, Krieger could also be: Krueger, Kreger, Kroeger, etc. Make sure you’re not missing any hidden records by dragging the last name slider to the left (“Sounds Like”) to display results with alternate spellings and pronunciations for your given last name.

Try the last name search slider now

Cut Your Search Time in Half by Saving Your Filters

Do you find yourself selecting the same search filters on a consistent basis? Now you can save yourself time by saving your custom filter settings. Simply run a search on Mocavo the way you always do. Select your favorite category, date, and location filters and click the save filter button. Then give your filter a title so you can easily reference it in the future. Once you click save, your custom filters will appear on the bottom left side of your search results page. You can create as many filters as you would like, helping you customize your Mocavo experience to make discoveries faster than ever.

 

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Bring Your Ancestors to Life with Our Database Photo Viewer

Part of researching your family history is finding images of your ancestors and the places they lived. Locating such images can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack, so we found a way to use our photo recognition technology to simplify the process for you. We extract all of the images from a particular database and display them on the database’s search page. Now you can easily browse hundreds of historical images in more than 2,000 historical books; and we’re adding more every day! Simply scroll to the bottom of a database cover page to find the link to review all of the images from that book, saving you time and effort. If you are looking for something specific, you can also use our image search engine to help narrow your image results even further.
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We hope you have a lovely weekend and look forward to hearing what you think about all of our new features.

News Stories and Blog Posts for Genealogists, April 11, 2014

11 Apr 2014

This week’s roundup of stories ranges from the serious to the very fun. From the institutional to the personal, they represent a wide range of sources, and a geographic area that spreads from the United States to the United Kingdom to Sweden.

We start with an admonition from Harold Henderson. In a conversation originally started on Facebook by Dave McDonald (former president of the Board for Certification of Genealogists), Harold discusses the importance of sorting through your genealogical materials (a dilemma faced by all too many of us). Read the full story in Cleanup in Aisles 1–1,000.

Six months ago, The National Archives of the United Kingdom released the first redesigned website pages. Last week, new pages for the Education and Information Management sections released beta versions of those new pages. The Education area is of special interest to genealogists. You can read more about what the team has been up to, what they’ve learned, and future plans in Beta Release of New Web Pages.

Terry Koch is a music teacher in Washington. For Christmas his children presented he and his wife with albums to fill out for their granddaughters, telling the tales of their lives. As he is about to enter the world of retirement, he is starting to think of genealogy, a tale that many of us are very familiar with. He wrote a wonderful piece about his story in the Walla-Walla Union Bulletin, Retirement Gives Chance to Reflect on Family History.

In a Toronto neighborhood sits a house that was built in the 1940s. The 96-year-old owner has resided in it since 1942. After 72 years, she has decided to sell her home. What makes the story even more interesting is that the house has not been redecorated since the 1950s. It is a perfect time capsule of that period. See the pictures on HGTV.ca in 96 Year Old is Selling Amazing 1950s Time Capsule.

 

Swedish Gravestone

 

We wrap up this week with another decorating story. The Nilsson family of the town of Fuglie in southern Sweden was renovating their living room when they made an amazing discovery. Under the floor of the room was embedded a very large 200-year-old gravestone. And this is the second time in less than a year that a gravestone has been found in the area. Read more in Swedes Find 200-Year-Old Gravestone in Living Room.