Genealogy Blog

A New Year, A New Beginning

29 Dec 2012

2012 is coming to a close. It has certainly been an amazing year. At the start, I decided to make 2012 a year where I would do things for me. I would do more travelling, seeing places I hadn’t seen before. I would see more Broadway shows (as Jessica Fletcher said: “There are three things you can never get enough of, lieutenant. Chocolate, friends, and the theater.”). And I would do more with genealogy.

Back in January I started a new part of my journey when I first joined the Mocavo team. Over the course of the last twelve months we have worked to build great features and resources for genealogists.

My genealogy work was taken me across the country, to conferences in Salt Lake City, Cincinnati, and Birmingham, as well as individual engagements in interesting new places such as Wichita, Kansas. I managed to tack on some personal travel to these trips as well. This made for five additions to the number of states I have visited, bringing the total to 39.

Parish church of St. Mary Magdelene in Ecton, Northamptonshire, England.

Parish church of St. Mary Magdelene in Ecton, Northamptonshire, England.

I managed to make great inroads in my personal genealogical research as well. I managed some great work on my Franklin book during a week of research in England. Thanks to the graciousness of my friend Audrey Collins at The National Archives, I was able to visit Ecton, Northamptonshire, and see the birthplace of Josiah Franklin.

So what do you want to accomplish in 2013? The best way to make it happen is to start out the year and set some goals. Don’t call them resolutions. That word puts a lot of pressure on you. If you are someone who doesn’t react well to that pressure, you will never accomplish things. Instead, call them goals.

They don’t have to necessarily be huge things (although I am a big fan of reaching for the stars. You may end up on the moon, but that is still better than landing in the dirt!). And don’t strive for too many things. Make them realistic and attainable.

Once you have your goals for the year set out, then look at each one individually. What will you need to do to attain that specific goal? Lay out some plans for initial steps to take towards each one. Then, start taking them.

Set a reminder to yourself that once or twice a month, you will check in on each goal. What progress have you made towards it? Is this something that will happen later in the year? Perhaps you can put it aside for a month or two then. Will it happen in Feburary? Better get hopping! For even more motivation, you can team with one of your friends and check in on each other regularly.

Ecton High Street

Thatched-roof homes on High Street in Ecton.

Some of my goals this year include:

  • Adding at least five or six more states to my total visited;
  • Writing at least four articles for scholarly journals;
  • And, solidify the first five generations of the Franklin genealogy for publication.

Remember that sometimes life does get in the way, and you need to adjust your timetable.  That’s okay, as long you keep moving towards your goal. Take a moment this week to look back on all you accomplished in the past year, and decide what you accomplish in the coming year. And then you can put it into a blog post for all the world to see, and your friends to constantly remind you of during the year!

May 2013 bring you a wondrous year of fun, laughter, and accomplishments! Happy New Year!


How Will You Be Incorporating Genealogy into Your Holiday Plans?

29 Dec 2012

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked how you will be incorporating genealogy into your holiday plans. Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take the next poll and see how you compare with your fellow genealogists.


Are You Being a Cognitive Cheapskate?

28 Dec 2012

Do you find yourself imagining a fictional account of your ancestor’s life? Of course you do, that’s half the fun! What is much less fun is finding out later that you disregarded evidence that did not support your story and you have, in fact, been telling Great Aunt Gail’s story wrong all along.

The human brain has evolved to make decisions quickly, as was mentioned in another recent blog post. These decisions can be the difference between life and death sometimes, but they can also really throw you for a loop if they’re all you rely on. Look for the hard evidence in your research to support your claims, ideas or hypotheses on ancestors. If you don’t know the true story, it’s a good idea to hold on off on conjecture until you have ferreted out the truth.



Your brain is cognitively fiscal, meaning that it wants to conserve as much thinking power as possible. If you are presented with two different stories, your brain is more likely to accept the less complicated story simply because it’s easier. This can lead to some serious oversights in genealogical research. Records and evidence can confirm or deny hypotheses and it’s important to rely on this evidence to do so. As people who seek the truth in our ancestral stories, we have to be aware of these cerebral pitfalls. Simply being aware of the process your brain goes through when researching or seeking evidence can allow us all to be better researchers in the future.

Another way in which your brain is cognitively prudent is in regards to confirmation bias. With confirmation bias, we all favor information that confirms our beliefs and tend to subconsciously block out information that points us in another direction. Again, as researchers, it’s best for us to be aware of this bias and try to override it with solid evidence, objective observation and an open mind. Forming that story of your ancestor in your head is fun, just make sure it doesn’t lead you down the wrong path.



As those who seek the truth in our ancestral stories, we have to be aware of these cerebral pitfalls. Simply being aware of the process your brain goes through when researching or seeking evidence can allow us all to be better researchers in the future. These snap decisions can be helpful to us in some circumstances, but incredibly detrimental in others. When it comes to publishing information on your ancestors, I’m inclined to think snap judgments are useful in potentially pointing you in the right direction, but certainly not in confirmations. Leave that to the hard evidence.

From the Blogs, December 21

21 Dec 2012

Following are some history and genealogy blog posts that I found interesting and informative. I would like to share them with you.

Instagram pulled a major faux-pas this week in trying to take incredible liberties with the images posted on their website. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Instagram is a photo-sharing website that was recently purchased by Facebook. Users have been in an uproar ever since. And the company is already trying to backpedal.  The Legal Genealogist, Judy Russell, discusses the possible ramifications in Instagram’s Terms of Use Debacle. It will certainly be very interesting to see how this ends up panning out.



The crossover between history and genealogy is great, and issues that impact historians can also impact genealogists. The American Historical Association blog reported recently on a study conducted by Ithaka S&R (part of a non-profit that also runs JSTOR. The study, dealing with how digital resources have affected the research practices, issued a report  “provides a deep analysis of the current research practices of historians, and current models for research services emerging on campuses in the United States.” It is an interesting read. You can read more in Ithaka S+R Reports Changing Research Practices Among Historians.

Those researching ancestors from Friesland, a province in the north of the Netherlands will find Michael John Neil’s recent RootsDig post very interesting. As usual, while searching for one thing, he came upon something completely unrelated, but very interesting. In a nineteenth-century work on British family names, he discovered a list of Frisian first and family names.

Dick Eastman often is among the first to report on items of interest to genealogists. This week he reported on a potential problem with records access. He read through the National Strategy for Information Sharing and Safeguarding (NISS). NISS outlines how the federal government will attempt to protect the private information of Americans. Unfortunately, there is tremendous opportunity for agencies and governmental organizations to misinterpret and misinterpret the guidelines, creating major access problems for genealogists. You can read more in U.S. Government’s National Strategy for Information Sharing: a Threat to Genealogists?

Michael Hait wrote an important piece this week that every genealogist should read. He discussed about The Most Important Thing You Can Ever Prove. As researchers, there are many things we must prove, but the most important is this:  the identity of the subject of each record. While this may sound easy, in reality it is much more complicated. Find out more by reading this informative and interesting article. And while you’re at it, you can download his free e-book, United States Federal Census Pathfinder, to help you with your American census research.

Riding the Rails

20 Dec 2012

I am writing this on board the Amtrak Acela from Pennsylvania Station in New York City to Boston. Train travel is so civilized. One of the many benefits of living in Boston is the wide variety of transportation available to you. And between Boston and New York (even as far as Philadelphia) it is just as easy to take the train as it is to fly. The pluses are that seats on trains are designed for actual human beings, not negative-two-sized runway models!

There are days when I wish I was alive during the heyday of American railroad transportation in the first half of the twentieth century. Up through World War II trains were the major mode of transportation. Automobiles were still outside the reach of many families. And air transportation was only just beginning to get off the ground (so to speak). Intercity and interstate travel was mostly done on trains. It wasn’t till after World War II that a massive effort promoted automobiles for every family. In fact, so many cars were purchased to quickly that President Eishenhower signed a law in 1956 that created today’s interstate highway system.


First edition of G.K. Warren’s “hurried compilation,” indicating the routes of the Pacific railroad surveys. The map was appended to the U.S. War Department’s official report to Congress. (1857). From American Memory.


The period of mass transit by train dates back to the first half of the nineteenth century. As the Civil War approached, the network was beginning to take shape. During the war, many advances were made in the north, while the south saw devastating destruction as the north blew up rail lines to plunge the Confederacy into disarray. After the Civil War, the railroad industry quickly gathered steam and started repairing and expanding the nationwide network or rail lines.

This enormous network had two major impacts on American society. First and foremost, Americans became even more nomadic than they had been previously. One could quickly and easily get from one point in the country in another in a few days at most. Second, it opened up more areas in the nation’s interior than had previously been easily accessible, such as many locations in the American southwest.

Massive migrations occurred in the late-nineenth and early-twentieth centuries by rail. Immigrants arriving on the east coast were easily able to travel to location in the interior of the country. African Americans know about the Great Migration that occurred in the early twentieth centuries when their ancestor relocated from the south to potentially better lives working in the factories and mills of the industrial north.

If your ancestors “disappear” for a time while relocating, look at the rail lines. How would they have gotten from point A to point B? Are there any locations along the way that would make sense for them to have stopped for awhile? Great opportunities nearby? Relatives living a short distance from the rail lines? Perhaps your ancestor even immigrated to the U.S. by rail, coming in through Canada or Mexico?

Well, time to close for another day. I have finished the delicious steak dinner with creme brulee for desert. I’ve had a cup of tea. and in just a couple of short hours, I shall be home. When my grandparents were little, I’m sure they could not have imagined a world in which one awakes in bed at 4:30 a.m. in Boston, arrives at the train station an hour later, and is in New York City by 9:40 a.m., let alone being back in Boston and in my own bed just 19 hours after waking there in the first place.

Readin that Writin

19 Dec 2012

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a website called that has tutorials about reading and using records in Scotland. Today I would like to introduce you to a similar effort from The National Archives of England and the United Kingdom (TNA).

TNA offers . The tutorial was created in partnership with the School of Library, Archive, and Information Studies at University College London.

It is divided into seven sections:

  1. Introduction
  2. Where to Start
  3. Quick Reference
  4. Interactive Tutorial
  5. Further Practice
  6. Game – Ducking Stool
  7. Further Reading

The Introduction provides a compact overview of the tutorial. Where to start is a great piece that starts with the concept of how we read:

“The huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. The oredr of the ltteers in the wrod can be in a total mses but you can sitll raed it wouthit any porbelm.”

There follows a discussion of standard phrases, transcribing, spelling, and abbreviations. The Quick Reference contains information on dating (just to be clear, this means tips on calendar years vs. regnal years, not how to score on a Friday night in a bar), numbers, money, measurements, and counties. This is particularly helpful for Americans or others who don’t know the difference between Barks and Bucks (Berkshire and Buckinghamshire) or Hants and Hunts (Hampshire and Huntingdonshire).

The Interactive Tutorial contains ten documents for transcribing, starting from relatively easy to much more difficult. Each documents has a section explaining the document, transcribing tips for the particular documents, and an image of the document with a box beneath in which to type your transcription. You transcribe the document line by line. Each time you submit a line, it tells you how many words your got wrong, which words they were, and the percentage you got right. You then have the option to go back and try again or move to the next line. You can ask for a hint here to help you with the words you got wrong.


Ducking Stool


The Further Practice section provides a number of documents to work with. Each document provides an introduction to the document, an image of the document, a page on which you can zoom in on the document, and a transcription of the document against which you can check your work. There is also a Ducking Stool game for you to try your hand at. A seventeenth-century woman is about to be dropped into the river on a dunking school. You can save her by correctly spelling words. Finally, the Further Reading section provides a bibliography of articles and books about paleography.

This is a great tutorial from TNA. For those with American ancestry, it is equally important to use it. Whether your ancestors were British or not, the scribes and recordkeepers were, and many records are written with the same rules as in Britain. Try it out today and see quickly you can start reading the old handwriting.

5 Tips for Gift Giving (and Receiving) For the Holidays

18 Dec 2012


One of the challenging things about this time of year is coming up with gift idea. Not only do you have to decide what to get others, you will invariably be asked what you yourself would like to receive. The challenge to be creative every year can be tremendous. Here are five gifts for you to ask for or give to your favorite genealogist this holiday season.

1. Books

It is my experience that genealogists love to read. We are voracious consumers of all manner of written words. Methodology books on how to conduct certain aspects of research are always a welcome gift. Books on local history and social history are also welcome, helping us to understand the nature of our ancestors’ lives, as well as potentially providing us with new ideas for research paths. One of my favorite book provides is Maia’s Books. Whenever I see Martha’s booth at a conference, I invariable come away with several new tomes to pack into the luggage for the ride home. She has a wide variety of books of all kinds to help you with your research.

2. Genealogical Society Memberships

There are so many worthwhile societies to belong to.  The National Genealogical Society offers a nationwide view, educational opportunities of all kinds, an interesting member magazine, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, one of the stalwarts of scholarly, trustworthy genealogical publishing.  Then there are the state societies, such as the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. Not only the society where you currently live, but those where your ancestors once lived. Then there are county and local societies that can provide tremendous insight into research for that area. And , of course, there are also regional societies, such as the Southern California Genealogical Society or the New England Historic Genealogical Society, that offer  invaluable assistance.

3. Gadgets/Software

We genealogists love our computers and our tech gadgets. Where would we be without them? It wasn’t that long ago that research trips involved lugging lots of paper around. Bringing paper on the trip so you would have the proper information to research. Then bringing entire forests-worth of paper home with copies of records for further research. Gadgets and software are a great gift. Perhaps software to help with your land platting. Or finally getting a Flip-Pal scanner. Or maybe that iPad or iPad Mini you’ve been drooling over!

4. Genealogy Trip

Genealogists love to plan their vacations around genealogy trips. And there are so many options. Visiting locations where your ancestors used to live, stopping in cemeteries, libraries, archives, and courthouses to do research. Or attending one of the major national or statewide conferences, where learning and networking opportunities abound. Maybe this is the year you can finally get to the country of origin of your ancestors to research and visit. And, of course, there is always the  granddaddy of all research trips: a visit to Salt Lake City, where you can research locations around the planet in one fell swoop.

5. Subscriptions

Of course being able to research from home at your convenience is one of the benefits of being a twenty-first century genealogist. Even if there is still no single computer or website that will provide you with all of your ancestors, you have a wide variety of options to help you with your research. This is the time to ask your spouse for an upgrade to for example, opening up new doors and avenues for research.


The Holiday Season

15 Dec 2012

December is holiday time. And there are many different traditions to be celebrated. All of them have something to do with celebrations of light. Fitting, as this is the beginning of the dark time of year.

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is the Festival of Light. It commemorates the rebellion of Judah and the Maccabees, and their victory in retaking the temple at Jerusalem. During the cleansing of the temple, they managed to find only a single unsealed jar of oil, enough for a single day. Miraculously, the lamp is said to have remained alight for eight days.

Kwanzaa has its roots in the black nationalist movement of the 1960s. It is the first African-American holiday. While the exact origins and relations back to Africa are the subject of controversy, the principles are worthwhile: Umoja (Unity), Kujchagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujama (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), Imani (Faith). Among the symbols of Kwanzaa are the kinara, a candle holder with seven candles.

For Christians who celebrate Christmas, lights clearly play a key role. Christmas trees are festooned with multi-colord twinkles, or single shades of white or color. Houses are draped inside and out with lights in all manner of colors, shapes, and sizes.

New Year’s Eve 2009 in Boston, from Brian Burt’s Photoblog.

And New Year’s Eve is often celebrated with fireworks at the stroke of midnight. In Boston, the celebration lasts all day long, with musical performances, parades, ice sculptures, dancing, and more. The culmination occurs at midnight near Boston Harbor, as the countdown is projected onto the Customs House Tower, and fireworks over the harbor. And half the country watches Times Square as the ball slowly descends to the New Year.

Hopefully during these time of celebrations of light, you will have some time to get some genealogy searches done. Holiday gatherings are a great time to trade family stories. You can share your research, and others can share their family stories with you, providing you new avenues to research. Need an easy place to start searching for your ancestors online? Try searching for them in the Social Security Death Index.

No matter what holidays you celebrate, or what traditions you uphold, enjoy this time with your family and friends. The entire Mocavo team wishes you all the best for the season, and will be here to help you follow up on your new clues when the holidays are over.

What is Your Favorite Genealogical Activity at Family Gatherings?

15 Dec 2012

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked what is your favorite genealogical activity at family gatherings. Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take the next poll and see how you compare with your fellow genealogists.

Family Holiday Recipe Contest Winner!

15 Dec 2012

A big thank you to all of you who participated in this year’s festive Family Holiday Recipe Contest! Congratulations to contest winner Jill, who took the cake with her family’s Utterly Deadly Pecan Pie recipe. Jill’s killer recipe was one that her mother and aunt shared and made throughout the years for their families. Check out the winning recipe!

Utterly Deadly Pecan Pie
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups Southern cane syrup (Kayo will do)
1 1/2 cups broken pecan meats
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Boil sugar and syrup together two or three minutes. Beat eggs not too stiff, pour in slowly the hot syrup, add the butter, vanilla, and the pecan meats, broken rather coarsely. Turn into a raw pie shell and bake in a moderate (350 degree) oven for about 45 minutes, or until set.

Luckily for us, we had so many great submissions that sounded so tasty that we couldn’t help but share them in our own Mocavo Community Heritage Cookbook. Take the time during the busy holiday season to try out some of these recipes, or a family recipe of your own.  Cooking with family and friends is the perfect opportunity to share laughter and joy, and remember those who have come before us. We wish you a very happy holiday season, and a joyous new year.