Genealogy Blog

From the Blogs, September 28

28 Sep 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.

Leland Meitzler wrote about an interesting legal case this week.  The Hawaiian homeland program gives native Hawaiians with a 99-year lease for property at a cost of $1 per year. To qualify, one must be able to prove at least 50% native ancestry to qualify. An adopted man on Molokai is now suing the state to use DNA evidence as his proof. Read more, with a link to the original story on GenealogyBlog.

Randy Seaver wrote on interesting review on Monday. FamilySearch provides an opportunity for users to build their own family tree online. You can use this space to collaborate with others on common lines of research. This week, Randy discusses some of the issues surrounding using the tree, and provides useful feedback to the developers, in The Problem with FamilySearch Family Tree.

Dick Eastman found an interesting article by Roy Stockdill. Roy is a noted English genealogist and regular columnist for FindMyPast. Roy recently discussed problems with using transcribed records in genealogical research. Dick weighs in, and provides a link to the original article, in A Case Study: Don’t Believe Transcribed Records.

Patti Browning of Texas writes about her family history research on Consanguity. . . Kin-necting the Dots. A few weeks ago she wrote a compelling post about her grandmother, Minna Anna Louise (Papstein) Depperman. She uses great pictures to illustrate the story of “Grandma Minnie” from her birth in Germany in 1888 to her death in 1985. One of the family stories concerns the real parentage of one of the children. It is an excellent example of treating the facts as facts, without being judgemental. Read the full story in Grandma Minnie in Stories and Pictures.


Claudia Breland Blog


Claudia Breland is a librarian, writer, and a professional genealogist from Seattle. She has started the process of becoming a certified genealogist. She recently shared some of her thoughts about this process on her blog, saying “When I decided in January that I was ready to take the plunge and send in my preliminary application for certification as a genealogist, I had no idea of the benefits I would receive from making a concentrated effort to improve my skills in research and reporting.     One of the very real benefits I’ve gained is just the necessity (and luxury) of getting back to researching my own family again.” You can read the full post in Journey Toward Certification — Getting Back to My Own Family.

RootsTech 2013 Special Offer

27 Sep 2012

RootsTech has quickly become one of the major genealogy events of the year in the United States. Mocavo is proud to be a sponsor of the third RootsTech conference. This conference will be held March 21–23, 2013, at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

RootsTech 2013

RootsTech 2013 is bigger than previous conferences. There are now more than 250 presentations and workshops to choose from. In addition to the sessions for developers, there are many for genealogists. New this year is a Getting Started track for beginners.

Among the sessions for genealogists:

  • Digital Photo and Document Organization: Understanding Metadata Lab
  • Timeline Creation Applications
  • Evaluating Databases and Overcoming Their Errors
  • Basic Photo Repair with Photoshop
  • Your Library in the Cloud: A Guide to Using Digital Collections
  • Gaming and Virtual Realities: Attracting the Next Generation of Genealogists

On Thursday evening, there will be an opening reception at the Leonardo. Located in downtown Salt Lake City (in the former home of the Salt Lake City public library), the Leonoardo “is a contemporary museum that explores the unexpected ways that science, technology, art, and creativity connect.” The reception will be hosted by

One of the best features of RootsTech is the accessibility of the vast resources at the Family History Library. Attending the conference allows you an opportunity to take advantage of not only the books, microtext, and digital resources, but also the valuable assistance from the library staff. The library will be open extended hours on Friday evening for RootsTech attendees.

A full three-day registration is normally $219. Right now you can take advantage of an early-bird registration of $149. In addition, the RootsTech Facebook page is running a limited-time offer of an additional $20 off. Visit the RootsTech website for more details. And be certain to stop by the Mocavo booth in the expo hall to say hello.

An Amazing British Resource: GENUKI

26 Sep 2012

In March 1995 a new website dedicated to research in the British Isles. Seventeen years later, GENUKI is the oldest and largest website dedicated to research in this area. GENUKI is a “virtual reference library of genealogical information of particular relevance to the UK and Ireland.” It is a charitable trust (non-profit to Americans) and run by volunteers. It is a very valuable tool for those researching in the UKI.




The site is subdivided into the major regions: Channel Islands, Ireland, Isle of Man, England, Scotland, and Wales. The region pages provide information that applies to the entire area. Each region is subdivided into counties, then into towns and parishes within the county. As one would expect, the county pages provide county-wide information, while the town and parish pages provide the details for specific localities. Links at the top of each page allow users to easily navigate through the different levels of the site.

The regional pages provide information on a wide variety of resources. The England page, for example, has material for more than 40 different categories of information, from archives and libraries to town records.

The county pages are also very useful and informative. For example, among the material provided on the Oxfordshire page:

  • Lists of Archives and Libraries
  • Bibliography of important resources
  • Information about church records and civil registration
  • Genealogy specific resources
  • Maps
  • Probate resources
  • List of towns and parishes

The list of quick links on the home page is extremely useful if you are new to researching the British Isles, or new to the site itself. In addition to the  guidance for these two groups, a list of Frequently Asked Questions can assist even those who have been researching for awhile.

My two favorite quick links, however, are the gazetteer and the church databse. The gazetteer is a searchable database of place names in the UKI. You can limit your search by county, or search the entire database at once. You can search on partial words as well as full words. The results can be displayed on a map or a tabular table. You can also get a list of nearby places.

The church database can be of great assistance when trying to locate church records.  By putting in a place name, you can get a list of churches in the area. For example, I searched for Ecton, Northamptonshire, and received a list of 11 churches within three miles of the town. Currently the database contains parish churches that existed at the start of the 19th century, but there are plans to expand the database in the future.

Altogether, GENUKI is a premier tool for researching your ancestors in the British Isles. The site has a list of articles that have been written about it over the years. You may find it helpful to read some of them for more information.

“In their rememberings are their truths.”

25 Sep 2012

“In their rememberings are their truths.” ~Studs Terkel, Hard Times

One of the most important resources for genealogy is your own family. Ask questions. Interview people. Find out who and what they know. As genealogists, this is often the starting place for our research. We ask our parents about their parents and grandparents.

It is important to remember, however, that this is an important rule at any time in your research. It never hurts to go back to people and talk with them again. This is especially important when you find new information. I remember once, after discovering a reference in my grandmother’s baptismal record in Quebec that her grandparents were in Sanford, Maine, a major brick wall came tumbling down. I had been looking for her grandparents’ marriage for years. It turned out that they were married in Maine and returned to Quebec. I mentioned this in a casual conversation to my grandmother’s sister, who said “Oh, yes. We have lots of cousins in Maine.” It didn’t matter that I had asked her many questions about this couple, and she didn’t know much about them.

Just as important as interviewing family members is know how to do it. It is not just a matter of knowing which questions to ask, as that is extremely important. One must know how to phrase the question to get the best answers. There are many resources to assist you in this process. One of them comes from the Smithsonian Institution.

The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage is a valuable resource for genealogists.  In 2003, the Center published a guide to help people with oral interviews. The Smithsonian Folklife and Oral History Interviewing Guide provides some valuable tools and tips.

The guide is small, only 35 pages. Although less than a decade old, some of the information is dated. For example, most people today would use some sort of digital recorder as opposed to a tape recorder.

Some of the ideas will apply to communities as well as individuals. Recording the history of a community is almost as important to genealogists as that of individuals. Community histories help bring the circumstances of your ancestors’ day-to-day lives into better focus.

You can find out more about the Center on its website. The guide is available as a free PDF download online from the site.

The Myth of Ellis Island

23 Sep 2012

Perhaps the most iconic symbol of immigration to the United States is Ellis Island. Although only open for a little more than 60 years, it is the best known of all immigrant ports of entry in the U.S. During the time it was open, more than twelve million immigrants were processed. Originally only about 3.3 acres, Ellis Island expanded over time to 27.5 acres.

Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island.

People are often surprised to discover that Ellis Island was only opened in 1892. Prior to that, the immigration center at New York was Castle Garden, which was in operation from 1855 to 1890. In 1807 New York city ceded land at the Battery for a fortification. Castle Clinton was built, and was a primary defense through the War of 1812. Later it became the headquarters for the Third Military Division. In 1824 it became Castle Garden, a resort theater and restaurant. In 1855 Castle Garden was leased to the New York Commission of Emigration. The land of the Battery was extended, attaching the island to Manhattan. For the next 35 years, Castle Garden served as the immigrant processing station for New York.

In addition to serving as the largest immigration port in America, Ellis Island is home to perhaps the largest pervasive myth in American history. What is this myth? The fact that anyone’s name was ever changed at Ellis Island. Despite the widespread family stories, you will discover through your genealogy search, there is not a single documented occurrence of such a thing ever happening.

Most frequently, one hears the comment that the immigrants could not communicate with the English-speaking staff. The Anglo is accused of changing the name because he (and it is almost always a he) couldn’t spell it properly. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ellis Island was staffed by professionals who spoke dozens of languages from around the world. If the staff were unable to communicate with the immigrants, imagine the total chaos that would have reigned. Personally, I think such charges are an insult to the men and women who made Ellis Island their career.

I compare Ellis Island to taking a vacation on a cruise ship today. Those who have ever taken one know that you have to sign out whenever you leave the ship in port, and sign in when you come back aboard. That includes your final disembarkation. Now, what do you think would happen if you tried to get on the ship with one name, and use a different one when you went to get off the ship? Probably wouldn’t go over well, would it? The same thing happened at Ellis Island. You had to use the same name to get off as you had getting on.

This is not to say that the names of immigrants weren’t changed. It happened all the time. It just didn’t happen at Ellis Island. Once the immigrant settled in the United States, they might desire to Anglicize their name to fit in better. Or, perhaps they got tired of Americans not spelling the name the same way and chose a shorter or easier-to-spell name. As one whose last name sounds differently to Anglo ears than it is spelled, I can sympathize with this last group. All of these changes, however, happened after leaving Ellis Island, not during the immigration process.

What is most unfortunate is that despite the volumes that have been written by professionals on the myth, there are those who still will not see the truth. They are more committed to a false family tradition than to reality. Many people will read this very article and agree with everything I have said, but will say to themselves “He is completely correct. Except that it really did happen in my family.” I assure you it did not. In the 120 years since Ellis Island opened, not a single person has ever been able to find documentary proof of a name change at Ellis Island. 12 million entries, and not a single documented case. If the incidents of names being changed were as pervasive as family traditions would have us believe, it would seem that the documentary evidence would be plentiful. Yet it does not exist.

If you do find documentary evidence during your ancestry search that your ancestor’s name was changed at Ellis Island, please, by all means, let me know. I would be extremely interested. And you will become somewhat of a celebrity, for you would be the first to do so.

From the Blogs, September 21

21 Sep 2012

This week’s From the Blogs is a little different. Since most genealogists love history as well, I am highlighting some history blogs that I thought you might find interesting.

The History Blog writes about many aspects of history, primarily European. Recently he posted about a major rediscovery: the earliest color films. British photographer Edward Raymond Turner devised the earliest working method for creating color films in 1899. First stored at the London Science Museum, the have been at the National Media Museum for several years. Curator Michael Harvey decided to bring them back to life digitally. Read more in Earliest films shot in natural color digitally restored.

Executed Today is a blog about “history, sociology, biography, criminology, law, and kismet — an unrepresentative but arresting view of the human condition across time and circumstance from the parlous vantage of the scaffold.” Each day it tells the story of an execution that took place on that date. 1783: Mutinous prisoners of the Swift tells the story of six convicted criminals who were transported to America but returned before their sentences were up.

History Confidential tells interesting stories about little known facts in history. The topics can range widely from bathing in early America to the history of Barbie. A few months ago, the topic was the creation of one of America’s favorite breakfast cereals: Kellogg Corn Flakes.

Boston 1775 discusses “history, analysis, and unabashed gossip about the start of the American Revolution.” The topics are very wide ranging, discussing events, people, places, and more. This week, in Sopha, So Good, the history of the sofa as a piece of furniture in American homes is traced.

One of Martha Washington's Gowns.

One of Martha Washington’s gowns.

Two Nerdy History Girls is written by bestselling authors Loretta Chase and Isabella Bradford. From Colonial America to King George II; from housekeeping mysteries to Downton Abbey history, there is nothing they won’t discuss. They even recently dug up a 1921 video showing a housewife creating a bra from two handkerchiefs. One recent post of interest to me was Martha Washington discussing issues about having a private life while living a public one.

Mocavo Turns the Page with ReadyMicro Acquisition

21 Sep 2012



Today represents an exciting milestone at Mocavo.  Over our years in both the genealogy and technology industries, we have had few occasions to meet an engineer as talented as Matt Garner.  Matt has deep expertise in the genealogy industry and has few peers in the art of historical record digitization.  We are excited to announce that Matt and his incredible team at ReadyMicro have joined Mocavo.  The ReadyMicro team will continue to operate out of their facility in Orem, Utah and we will maintain our office in Boulder, Colorado, while also adding more employees in both locations.


Now you might ask, “why does a genealogy search engine need digitization?”  The answer is, “Mocavo is no longer just a genealogy search engine.”  From the day the company was founded, our mission has been clear: to bring all of the world’s genealogical information online for free and give everyone the ability to discover their family history.  Over the past several months, we have been working tirelessly to gather genealogical records and connect with other genealogical Web sites.  In the next few weeks, we will make several exciting announcements about these additions that are sure to please family historians.


The acquisition of ReadyMicro gives us the ability to partner with other stewards of genealogical information to help them digitize their records at a very low cost and even, in many cases, at no cost.  In an era where government cutbacks are forcing archives to shut their doors, we will provide a valuable resource to our partners that will enable them to rapidly and cheaply digitize their invaluable collections.


Welcome aboard ReadyMicro and welcome to the new Mocavo!

Storing Your Originals

20 Sep 2012

We live in the digital age. We scan everything to share it with family and friends. And while it is great to have digital copies of everything, we still need to worry about what to do with the originals. How do we keep these documents, photographs, and other materials so that future generations will be able to see and touch them?

Many people have lots of photographs collected in old shoeboxes. More of them are in old photo albums with highly acidic pages. Documents are folded up and torn. It is important to get these items into the proper conditions to preserve them.

The best thing to do is get them into acid-free containers. This will protect items from harsh chemicals that can be found in paper and cardboard. You will need:

  • Acid-free file folders
  • Acid-free envelopes
  • Acid-free boxes

Hollinger Boxes

These materials come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There are boxes made specifically for certain types of things. Photo boxes and albums, boxes for negatives, boxes for cartes de visite, boxes for slides and for stereoscopic images, envelopes for photos and documents, and more.

Photos and documents legal size or less should be put in individual acid-free envelopes or file folders. The folders/envelopes should then be labeled in pencil with the contents. Then they can be stored in acid-free boxes. They should be stored vertically, not horizontally, wherever possible.

Store the boxes in a closet on the main floor of your home. They should be kept far away from attics and basements, where they can be subject to extreme temperatures, humidity, and worse.

Where can you get these materials? There are a number of places available online where you can purchase acid-free storage materials. One of my favorites is Gaylord. When you visit the website, go to the Archival tab to see the products they offer that would help you with your storage needs.

This company supplies libraries, museums, and archives as well as individuals. Another excellent resource is Hollinger Metal Edge. The company was founded in 1945 and worked with representatives of the National Archives and the Library of Congress to create acid-free storage options for the industry. The gray cardboard document boxes that you see from various resellers are known as Hollinger Boxes as they were the ones to create them in the first place.

Many suppliers will have packages geared towards the consumer.  Utilize these resources to make sure that your great-grandchildren will be able to enjoy your original family documents and photographs just as you have.


Georgia State Archives Update

19 Sep 2012

Last week I wrote about the upcoming closure of the Georgia State Archives on November 1. The situation is, like many other similar tactics, turning into a political football. It seems destined to be part public relations war and part political brinksmanship.

This week seven out of the ten remaining employees at the archives were served notice that their employment would be terminated November 1. The three remaining employees (the archives director, a single archivist, and the building supervisor) would be left to handle all requests to access records.

Today, Governor Nathan Deal pledged to keep the archives open. In one of the greatest ironies of this tragic situation to date, the announcement came as he signed a proclamation celebrating October as Archives Month.

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 14,000 people had signed the petition to the governor to keep the archives open. If you haven’t signed it, be certain to do so today. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote an article today about the governor’s position.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The secretary of state and the governor seem to be at loggerheads. Hopefully this will be resolved quickly and the archives can remain open. Organizations such as the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the Society of American Archivists have all come out against the closure. It is important that genealogists join the historians and continue to apply pressure to keep the archives open. The coming weeks should prove very interesting.

“How do you have it figured?”

18 Sep 2012

In another of my periodic series on genealogy and detectives, we will today explore the fictional detective Ellery Queen. One of my favorite television shows when I was a kid was Ellery Queen (I am referring to the 1975–76 NBC show starring Jim Hutton, not the 1950–52 Adventures of Ellery Queen on the DuMont Network, which was a bit before my time).

Jim Hutton as Ellery Queen

Jim Hutton as Ellery Queen.

Ellery Queen has the unusual characteristic of being both a fictional character as well as a pseudonym. Cousins Frederic Dannay and Manford Lepofsky used the name as a pen name to write detective fiction. But Ellery Queen was also the name of their fictional detective who first appeared in 1928.

Ellery is the author of books in which he appears. He is a nerdy college graduate, son of a New York City police inspector, Richard Queen, and a woman from an aristocratic New York background who died before the series started. He investigates crimes because he finds it stimulating and a thinking challenge.

The formula for Ellery Queen mysteries was very simple.  There was usually an element of geography involved. There is a large supporting cast of characters involved. An unusual crime occurs. The investigation involves a complex series of clues that must be analyzed, deconstructed, and reconstructed. Among the clues are a number of red herrings that lead down wrong paths. Finally, after multiple incorrect solutions that lead us astray, and reexamination of all the clues, the correct solution is revealed.

Does this pattern sound familiar?  Could there be a better synopsis of genealogical research? Genealogical research is not just a matter of pushing a button and attaching trees. A researcher must gather pieces of information as clues and analyze the information. Sometimes the clues will point one way, and sometimes another. As the clues begin to add up, then patterns emerge. Eventually a conclusion can be reached.

In the television series, just before the final scenes, Ellery would appear alone and give a summation. For example:

“How do you have it figured? Was it the wife, or the comic, or the stripper, or the angel, or one of the long shots? Now, there’s something I should have caught the first day I came here. Once you figure out how, you’ll know who.”

Sometimes in genealogical research, it is important to review all of the evidence. And think about what is significant and what isn’t. Don’t get mislead by the red herrings. And in the end, you will find the true answer.