Genealogy Blog

From the Blogs, August 31

31 Aug 2012

Following is a summary of recent posts from blogs of interest to genealogists that I have found interesting and informative and wanted to share them with you.

This week Tampa, Florida, was the site of the Republican National Convention. These political events have changed drastically. Originally the place where candidates were selected by the party, today the candidates are known well in advance and are more of a public relations opportunity for the parties. The Detour Through History blog posted an article this week about the 1888 Republican Convention, where Benjamin Harrison was nominated.

Benjamin Harrison

President Benjamin Harrison

Last week I talked about Dick Eastman’s post concerning the long-term future of genealogical societies. Ruby Coleman of Nebraska takes on the same topic. Ruby is a professional genealogist who writes the Genealogy Lines blog. In Genealogy Societies are Meant to Survive, Ruby discusses all of the good things that societies do. She also offers some suggestions of her own for society management.

And speaking of Dick Eastman, EOGN had another interesting post this week. In today’s economic climate, it is a sad state that public libraries, who provide valuable social support to economically disadvantaged people as well as researchers and historians, are being heavily penalized. In Nine Reasons to Save Public Libraries, Dick talks about journalist Emily Bristol and her reasons to help these institutions.

Forefathers is a genealogy and family history research services group in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England. Peter Clifford from Forefathers wrote an interesting opinion piece on genealogy software recently. I was roped into  when I saw his first words  “Is it me, or does genealogy software need a rethink? Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Luddite. I worked in IT for 30 years and have developed my fair share of software in that time.” He then goes on to point out some glaring deficiencies and major opportunities for improvement.

Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, has given us another valuable entry in her series on website terms of use. This week she discusses GenealogyBank’s TOU. For those unfamiliar with it, GenealogyBank is a website with the Social Security Death Index and more than 6,100 historical newspapers.

Using Genealogy Database Programs

30 Aug 2012

On Tuesday I wrote about citing sources for names, spouses, and other information after reading a post on the topic on Randy Seaver’s Geneamusings blog. Professional genealogist Debbie Parker Wayne made an interesting comment on Randy’s post that took the discussion a bit further:

Debbie Parker Wayne

Professional genealogist Debbie Parker Wayne.

“Before using a name or relationship source mechanism in a software program, I would print several reports with different options to determine how the data prints and how hard it is to modify or delete. I want an option to enable or disable the inclusion of these sources in output. Depending on the purpose of the output report, I may or may not want to include these sources.”

Here Debbie points out one of the limitations of genealogy database programs. They only export what you import. The data you type in comes out just as you type it.

This is not the fault of the developers of genealogy database programs. Computers are very stupid machines. They only do exactly what you tell them to do. They just do it very quickly.

All too often we give no thought to our database programs. We import and enter new information to make it convenient to read on the data entry screen, but we don’t’ think about how it will look when it comes out of the program.

Read the Register– or NGSQ-style report that comes out of your database program. Is it in legible English (or French or whatever language you use?). Or will it require heavy modification to make it look like a human did the work?

Debbie goes on to say:

“I try to think about how I will use the database as a research tool for evidence analysis, how I will use the output from the database, and how the data might transfer to a new database as I determine how best to input the data. For my model, I look at how things are handled in articles in scholarly journals and try to get similar output from my software to reduce the manual modifications needed before sharing or publishing.”

Debbie spends time thinking about how the information she is putting in will look when it comes out in a report or other file for sharing with others. Then she thinks about how the information should be entered into the software to get the desired results. By doing this, she minimizes the editing that has to be done on the back end.

Genealogy database programs provide numerous different ways to enter information. In addition to the name, date, and place fields, there are a variety of ways to include notes. Take advantage of these fields. Learn how to use them to get the information out that you need.

Debbie closes by saying that: “I don’t give GEDCOM files or copies of my database to others.” Sharing GEDCOM files or other database files indiscriminately is a sure way to have your data misinterpreted (or, worse, hijacked by a genealogist without scruples who will forward your information to the world without even crediting you for your work.

This last is less of an issue for me, as I keep more of my information in word processing files than I do in a genealogy database program. I use the databases programs for what they excel at: creating charts and forms for as research tools.

I enter the minimal information of names, dates, and places in the database. Then I can create pedigree charts, family group sheets, and other tools for research.

Too many times the information I find does not fit neatly into the fields in a database program. It requires explanation of how I came to that conclusion. I have chosen to use a word processing program for my information. It allows for a much better flow of thought for me. I can still use the information in the word processing files to share the information, online or in print.


England’s County Record Offices

29 Aug 2012

Next year the Bedfordshire Record Office will celebrate its centennial anniversary. Founded in 1913 by George Herbert Fowler, it was the first county archives in England. It would be eleven years before Bristol founded the second record office. Since that time, the network has spread across England and Wales, with similar repositories in Scotland and Ireland.

The county record offices in England and Wales are far different from county archives in the U.S. To start with, the laws governing the record offices are permissive, without requiring them to hold certain records, etc. Because of this fluidity, you will often find that private records are on deposit in the offices as well.

A prime example of such records are those of the Church of England. The Parochial Registers and Records Measure of 1929 allowed bishops to designate locations to serve as a diocesan record office. Quite often, although not always, the county record office was chosen to be the diocesan record office.

Another major record set found at many county record offices are the manorial and tithe records. The Master of the Rolls has approved of such deposits since 1922.

ARCHON Directory

The ARCHON directory is housed by The National Archives. You can search the directory for record offices of interest. You can search by name, or browse by geographic location. The listings in the ARCHON directory provide the contact information, including physical addresses, email, and website information. The Access Information section provides information on hours of operation, photocopy/digital copy ordering, etc.

You will also find a link to Access to Archives. This area will help you find online finding aids to major collections at the record offices. You can search for specific keywords, or choose the record office and leave the search fields blank for a list of all finding aids for the office.

Some record offices make images of original records available online, but it is not currently a major project of most offices. Check the website for individual offices to see what might be available electronically.

Sources and Citations

28 Aug 2012

Last week Randy Seaver posted an interesting question about sourcing information. After watching a webinar he wondered how many people source names and the relationships between people. This brings awareness to a very important issue.


When researching, it is important to document your research, but what should be documented?  Every statement of fact should be documented.That includes names, places, etc. Unfortunately, we often don’t think to apply this rigorously. Our focus is so much on the big picture information that we miss the details.

A perfect example of this is collateral ancestors. We know how important doing cluster genealogy can be (researching the siblings and neighbors, etc. of your ancestor). Thus, when we are writing up our research, we often name the spouses of siblings of our ancestors.

We will often provide the spouse’s birth and death information, including the names of their parents. We might find an undocumented compiled genealogy that says: “John Smith married at Boone County, Kentucky, 25 June 1873 Mary Jones. She was born at Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, 13 April 1852, daughter of Henry and Esther (Williams) Jones.” We would then search marriage records in Boone County, find the original marriage record, and give a citation for it.

Then a search of the Massachusetts vital records shows the birth of Esther, including her parents’ names as Henry and Esther. This provides us with an original record, and we give a citation for Esther’s birth record. But did the record document all of the facts?

The missing piece: the mother’s maiden name, which is often left out of pre-twentieth century vital records. We found everything else matched the compiled genealogy, and we gloss right over the fact that the mother’s maiden name has not yet been proven. Many times the most convenient place to find this is in the marriage record of the parents.

In my source citations I include not only the citation to the birth information, but the source confirming the parent’s names. It would look something like this:

Massachusetts Vital Records, Births, 1852, 19:136. Parent’s marriage with mother’s maiden name in Massachusetts Vital Records, Marriages, 1851, 17:222.

If you cannot find the parents’ marriage record easily, you don’t have to spend years looking for it. Simply note where the information came from:

Parents’ names from Matthew Decker, Descendants of John and Esther (Williams) Smith of Carbon County, Wyoming (Belleville, Ill.: p.p., 1906) 22.

At least then your readers will know where the information came from. More importantly, YOU will know where the information came from. This could be especially important if your ancestors migrated a lot. You may discover someone named Williams association with your ancestor in Wyoming. Perhaps it is a cousin? Knowing where you found the information can help you find the information again.

Names can be tricky. When writing, I usually use a single, standard way of spelling the name. If the name is spelled differently in the original record, I will use that spelling, in quotes, in the discussion in the text. If I don’t use it in the text, I include the variant spelling in quotes within the source citation.

Source citations may sound stuffy, but they are an important research tool. And I promise you that if you do not use them, it will not take long before you regret it because you need to find that information again and don’t know where it came from.



5 Tips For Attending the FGS Conference

26 Aug 2012

This week Mocavo will be participating in the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ annual conference. It will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. Hundreds of genealogists from around the country will descend on Birmingham to learn, network, and break bread with each other.

Some of the leading genealogists in the nation will be making presentations on a wide variety of topics. Learn the latest research techniques, publishing options, and technology. A limited number of tickets are still available for luncheons, workshops, and the social events on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. If you are attending and haven’t purchased tickets yet, be certain to do so when you pick up your registration materials, or you may be left out.

The exhibit hall will be filled with vendors displaying the latest books, software, websites, and more for genealogists. Mocavo will be there as usual, in the front of the exhibit hall in booths 106 and 108, across from FindMyPast. Visit the booth and enter to win a genealogy gift basket. The basket includes scrapbooking supplies, notebooks, a DVD of The Human Family Tree from National Geographic, and a FlipPal scanner.

Here are five tips to help you enjoy your experience at the conference:

1. Dress in layers

This may sound a little simplistic, but you could be surprised how much being comfortable and affect your experience. It is can be difficult to maintain constant temperatures in spaces as large as classrooms and convention centers. Not to mention that we all have different meanings for the words “comfortable temperature.” Dressing in layers allows you to add layers when you are cold, and take off layers when you are warm.

2. Download the App

FGS is using the Guidebook app for the conference. It works for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Windows  phones. The app allows you to view the schedule, look at maps, create a personal schedule and to-do list, and even follow Tweets about the conference. You can download the app at This is the same app used by NGS for their conference, so those  who attended the conference in Cincinnati may already have it. Once you download the app, search for FGS to get the guide.

3. Create a Schedule in Advance

Whether you have the app or not, review the program in advance. For those getting an electronic syllabus, you can download it today to get more information about each presentation. Decide which sessions you want to attend and create a list. You can then check out the room numbers on the maps to see how far away from each other they are, and how far you must travel between sessions. While you are doing this, check for a second choice session for each time slot. Your session may be full, or you may decide that it is not quite what you needed. Having a second choice at the ready saves you time and allows you get the most learning out of each slot.

4. Review Vendor List

After you set your schedule for classes, go over the vendors. Whose booth do you want to make sure you don’t miss? Which ones do you want to visit earlier? One of ways costs can be kept down for individual participants is the fees paid by the vendors.  Make sure you visit the hall and support the vendors!

5. Share on Social Media

While you are at the conference, make sure you share the experience with your friends! Use the official Twitter hash tag, #fgs2012, to see what participants are doing and tell others what’s happening. Those who, for one reason or another, cannot attend a conference appreciate being kept in the loop through your Facebook posts and tweets!

Make sure you stop by the Mocavo booth and say hello to us when you are there. The staff is always happy to meet our users and answer any questions or just receive feedback.

From the Blogs, August 24

24 Aug 2012

Following is a summary of recent posts from genealogy blogs that I have found interesting and informative and wanted to share them with you.

Dick Eastman’s blog includes articles that are free to everyone and PlusEdition articles for subscribers only. One PlusEdition article was so popular that he recently updated it and made it free for everyone. In Facing UP to the Long-term Future of Your Genealogical Society, Dick does an incredible job of iterating the problems facing genealogical societies today. He points out that there is nothing new under the sun, and compares the societies’ issues today with similar issues facing other industries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Audrey Collins had an interesting discussion this week about online databases. In , Look at the Source, she makes some interesting observations about understanding online databases. Major websites, such as Ancestry, FamilySearch, and FindMyPast, tend to group data together by localities or subject. This data can often come from multiple sources, making it difficult to determine the exact origin of the information you are looking at.

The National Genealogical Society is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the NGS Quarterly a series entitled Voices of Genealogy. In the Upfront with NGS blog, they announce the latest video in this series. Noted genealogist Henry B. Hoff, CG, FASG, FGBS, tells his story of Becoming a Genealogist.The video is quite interesting and includes stories of some of the great names in genealogy that Henry had the opportunity to work with.

Mel Wolfgang is always interesting and informative. Recently on his Mnemosyne’s Magic Mirror blog, he discussed . Mel and his wife have been on a research trip to West Virginia. During the many visits to courthouses and other repositories, they ran into conflicting policies about copying documents, sometimes several times within the same building. He used a digital voice recorder to help him save time.

Lynn Palermo is a freelance writer and family historian in Simcoe, Ontario. In her Armchair Genealogist blog, she recently wrote that Little Libraries Have a Big Impact. These libraries are small places, some like an oversize postal box, where people leave books for others to borrow and return. It is an interesting concept, and one that is growing in many communities.

4 Resources for Illinois Research

23 Aug 2012

Illinois is a significant state genealogically. French Canadians explored the land early, and set up forts. Their legacy is carried on in the names of places like Joliet. In the nineteenth century, americans pushed into the Illinois areas as part of their migration west. By the second half of the century, many recent immigrants made their way directly to Illinois to settle. Here are 4 online resources to help you with your research in Illinois.

Illinois State Flag

This is a website of the Cook County clerk’s office, providing access to birth, marriage, and death records online. Birth records more than 75 years old, marriage certificates more than 50 years old, and death certificates more than 20 years old are considered “genealogical” and can be ordered through the website. Registration and searching are free. Images of records are $17. Once you pay online, you can download the images and view them immediately. Searching is easy on names, dates, and record types.

Illinois DPH Vital Records Contacts

The Illinois Department of Public Health has responsibility for registering births, marriages, and deaths in the state. Many records are also available on the county level, where they were first registered. The DPH website provides a list of contact information for each jurisdiction in the state. Many have websites, others just provide email and snail mail information.

Illinois State Archives

The state archives provides a great list of online databases on their website.Databases from their collections include land, military, and vital records. The best part of their list is that it also includes databases from other repositories. The Illinois Regional Archives Depositories (IRAD). Among the repositories represented are Eastern Illinois University, Illinois State University, the University of Illinois at Springfield, and Western Illinois University.

Illinois State Genealogical Society Blog

The ISGS blog provides tips and resources for researching your ancestors in the Prairie State. In addition, you can find news about events, both historical and genealogical. You can also discover news about the latest webinars from the Society.



Cofnodion Profiant Cymru/Welsh Probate Records

22 Aug 2012

Probate records are one of the basic building-blocks of genealogical research. They can identify, or disprove, familial relationships. They can also give you a sense of the standard of living your ancestor experienced. Those searching for their roots in Wales have an exciting tool to help them with their research. Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/The National Library of Wales (LGC/NLW) has digitized and indexed the probate records of Wales and made them available online.

Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/The National Library of Wales

Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/The National Library of Wales

Probate records in Wales, like those in England, can be separated into two time period: pre- and post-1858. Until January 12, 1858, the task of proving wills and granting letters of administration was the province of the ecclesiastical courts.

The consistory courts of St. Asaph, Bangor, St. Davidsand Llandaff are on deposit at the library. Also there are the consistory court of the archdeaconry of Brecon, the peculiar of Hawarden, and the consistory court of Chester. All but fifteen border parishes in Wales can be found in the collection. Seventeen English parishes that feel under the jurisdiction of the Welsh courts can also be found here. The records of the fifteen border parishes can be found at the Herefordshire Record Office or the Lichfield Record Office in Staffordshire.

Estates of individuals who owned property in multiple jurisdictions were probated at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Those records are available on the National Archives website. The jurisdictions of ecclesiastical courts did always follow county boundaries. This can make it difficult to records of your ancestors. The LGC/NLW website has a finding aid to assist you to better understand these records and their organization.

Starting January 12, 1858, jurisdiction over probate matters was transferred to a new system of civil probate registries. The principle registry was located in London, with a network of local registries throughout England and Wales. The five registries with jurisdiction in Wales are St. Asaph, Bangor, Carmarthen, Llandaff, and Hereford. The collection covers records of the will copy books from 1858 through 1941, when wills were no longer copied. The LGC/NLW collections include records for all of Wales except for Montgomeryshire. Those were probated at Shrewsbury, and can be found at the Shropshire Record Office. There is a finding aid on the LGC/NLW website to help you understand this time period better.

The new index allows you to search across jurisdictions, making it easier to locate appropriate records. You can search a date range by entering start and end years. Remember to click save before you search! You can select a single diocese, or search on all dioceses. You can search on up to four field, including person’s name, parish, township, or occupation.

The results page shows a summary of the information in each record. This includes the name of the person, the record type, year, parish, and the collection it is found in. If you are actually in the library, you can request to see the original by clicking the Request button. Digital images can be viewed online. If you wish to obtain a digital copy to save on your computer, one can be purchased for £3.50. Check out the search and see how many ancestors you can find.

What’s Your Number?

21 Aug 2012

Judy Russell is at it again. On Saturday I read her post on “the missing 7/8ths.” When looking back through the generations, it is amazing how quickly the numbers add up. Two parents yield four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and sixteen great-great grandparents. By the time you reach the ninth generation (seventh-great grandparents), you have reached 1,022 individuals.

Now, not every person will have 1,022 unique individuals at this point. Often you will find multiple lines of descent from a couple due to cousin marriages in later generations. This is called pedigree collapse.

On Saturday, Judy picked up on a topic that has been running all week. Starting with a Facebook post on Monday by genealogist Lisa B. Lee. Lisa examined her ancestors and determined that after decades of research she had identified 77 out of those 1,022 ancestors for 7.5% found. Other genealogists have been counting this week as well. Crista Cowan from had identified the most so far with 365 (35.7%) identified.

Judy decided to sit down and examine her numbers. She did not include any women for whom she only knew the first name. She also did not include individuals whose identities had not been proven. Her total was 126 or 12.3%. Her first gap appeared in the fifth generation with a missing set of second-great grandparents.

After reading this I decided with a bit of dread to look at my own pedigree, built over more than two decades of research. The feeling of dread came from knowing how lucky I am. Eight generations of my pedigree (including myself) are completely identified. I have only two mysteries: a sixth-great grandfather and a seventh-great grandfather. That leaves only eight people missing out of my pedigree, for a total of 1,014, or 99.6% found.

Percentage of 9 Generations of Ancestors Identified.

My ancestry is French-Canadian. Two of my grandparents were born in Québec. The other two grandparents were the children of immigrants. They closely followed their Catholic faith, and the Catholic church records in Québec are incredibly complete. In addition, following in the French tradition, women kept their surnames throughout their lives. Even the death records of married women will identify them with their surname. This greatly reduces the number of mysteries as compared to researchers of ancestors who follow the English tradition.

The downside is that when we have problems there are never easy solutions. And there have been a number of them along the way. Records may survive, the handwriting is often difficult to decipher. The use of sobriquets means that surnames can change from generation to generation (my great-grandfather was the first to carry the surname Leclerc from birth to death). I am descended from a New England boy carried captive to Canada during the Queen Anne’s War that took extensive research to identify. I published that research in “From Webber to Ouabard: The Probable New England Origins of Joseph Philippe Ouabard dit Langlois of Cap St. Ignace, Quebec” in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register (159[2005]: 308–315.

Unfortunately, until DNA analysis gets significantly more sophisticated, it will be difficult to identify my two missing pieces. One is an illegitimate birth with no known parents. The other’s origins in France are unknown. Time to take a look at your pedigree. What’s your number?

U.S.S. Constitution Makes History Again

20 Aug 2012

Yesterday was a historic moment in Boston. The War of 1812 began on June 18 by a vote of the American Congress. On August 2, 1812, U.S. Frigate Constitution left her home port of Boston to patrol the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the area of the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

On 18 August an American privateer reported to Constitution that a British frigate could be found south of Nova Scotia. The following afternoon, she caught sight of the sail of Guerriere. They pulled alongside and engaged in gunfire at about six o’clock in the evening. During the battle, one of Guerriere’s crew witnessed their cannonballs bouncing off of Constitution’s sides and declared “Her sides are made of iron!” By seven o’clock, Guerriere’s masts were destroyed and her crew surrendered.

“Old Ironsides” is now the oldest commissioned warship in America. In 1881, a few years after passing the century mark, she returned to the U.S. Navy Yard from which she was first launched in 1797. She has been permanently berthed there ever since. To mark her bicentennial in 1997 she set sail under her own power for the first time since 1881.

Yesterday, for only the second time in more than 131 years, she set sail again under her own power to mark the anniversary of the War of 1812, and her battle against Guerriere.  She was towed out into Boston Harbor, and raised some of her sail for a short cruise. Because of her age, they do not use all of her sails, and tugboats remain at her sides.

Friends of mine (brothers) are extremely lucky. Two of their ancestors served on board Constitution. In the early part of the nineteenth century, she was stationed at Port Mahon on the island of Minorca, conducting a goodwill tour around the Mediterranean. At this time, officers on board U.S. Navy ships were members of the Navy, but crewmembers were recruited around the world to serve on the ships. They were not considered members of the Navy.

Martin Jose Fayas Pons and Rafael Coll Sintes were locals from Minorca who joined Constitution at Port Mahon. After serving on board for a few years, Constitution was ordered to return to America. Martin and Rafael decided to emigrate to America. Martin disembarked to get his wife and three children to bring them to America. Rafael was much younger and stayed on board the ship on her voyage home.

Martin settled in Charlestown with his family. Rafael, too, chose to settle in there. Whether or not it was to be near Martin is unknown. In 1853 Rafael married Martin’s daughter Madalena. Their daughter Grace is a great-grandmother of my friends.

Myke and Alan are extremely lucky individuals. How many people can stand on the deck of the actual ship that brought their ancestor to America in 1840? And yesterday, they got to see Constitution’s sails billow and carry her across the open water. You can read more about the events in “USS Constitution to Mark Anniversary with Rare Voyage” and see pictures in “Historic Day for the USS Constitution.”