Genealogy Blog

Announcing Mocavo Plus 2.0

31 Oct 2012

In December of last year we launched Mocavo Plus, our paid subscription service, which includes all of the benefits of Mocavo Basic along with several additional research tools to help you make discoveries faster and with less effort.  Since then, we gathered feedback from the Mocavo Community and built several new capabilities to supercharge your research.

Today we are excited to share these new features with you.  In addition to Mocavo Plus Advanced Search and our Automated Search services we have added the following new features:

Discovery Alerts – Harness Mocavo’s powerful search engine by creating a Discovery Alert. You will get updates when new information about your ancestor is added to Mocavo. You can create Discovery Alerts from both your shared family tree and also by simply saving a search. Discovery Alerts save you from having to search over and over again for the same ancestors.  Instead we run your search automatically and email you when you have new results.

Browsing History – This has been one of our most requested features, so we know you’re going to love it.  With your Browsing History, you won’t waste time looking for something you’ve already found.  All of the search results that click on or rate get stored in your Browsing History for easy access in the future.  This way it’s easy to keep track of research that you want to explore further.

Advanced Document Search – We make it easy for you to find your ancestors in books and other documents in our collection.  Enter a search term and see it highlighted in the text of the book.  You can also easily find the next occurrence of that search term in the same book or document.  Give your eyes a rest and go straight to that needle in the haystack.

Smart Trees – Mocavo will fill in the gaps in your family trees for you. Do you know of a great-great-grandfather but can’t seem to get any leads on the great-great-grandmother? Or maybe you only know of three distant cousins but there is a fourth one as well! Mocavo Smart Trees will find these holes in your history and suggest new matches for you.

We want to also take this time to say a big THANK YOU to all of our loyal subscribers.  We are still a young company, but growing every day and working as hard as we can to help you learn about your family history.  We have a lot more up our sleeves and, with your help, we are working to bring all of the world’s genealogical information online for free putting everyone’s family history within reach.

Denizens and Citizens

31 Oct 2012

Starting in medieval times, those born within the area of a king or queen’s allegiance were subject to that king or queen (the Crown). The Crown may have had territory in multiple locations (such as in England and on the Continent). The first piece of legislation in England concerning citizenship was created in 1335 (Act 9, Edw. III, c. I).


U.K. Naturalization


With the passage of this act, the distinction between natural-born English subjects and aliens was first enumerated. Aliens were defined as persons of a foreign nation or allegiance. It also imposed extra taxes on aliens, whose rates were double those of English subjects. This raised additional revenue for the treasury while helping the Crown keep track of non-subjects in its domain.

Aliens who wished to have the rights of subjects had two choices: denization or naturalization. Denization provided some of the rights of subjects. Naturalization provided full rights.

Denizens were granted many privileges. While they did have to pay more taxes than subjects, they were not as high as aliens. Children born after denization were treated as subjects, but not those born prior. Most importantly, however, denizens had the right to buy land. They did not, however, have the right to inherit land. The Crown could also impose any conditions he or she desired to the denization. Denizations were granted by letters patent, and thus can be found on the patent rolls.

Naturalization could be obtained by introducing a private bill into Parliament. If the bill passed, the person was granted all the rights of a natural-born subject. The petitioner had to swear oaths of allegiance and supremacy to the English Crown. In addition, they were often required to take Holy Communion in the Anglican church. This effectively made it impossible for Catholics, Jews, or anyone else with a religious objection to the Anglican Church to become naturalized. Unlike denization, children born before the naturalization would become naturalized as well.

In 1844 the naturalization process was simplified greatly. The Home Office was now put in charge of naturalizing foreign. Between 1844 and 1873, naturalizations were also recorded in then close rolls. For more information on accessing denization and naturalization records, visit The National Archives.

Beware the Master Illusionists

30 Oct 2012

Erik Weisz left his Budapest birthplace to come to America with his mother at the age of four. Son of a rabbi, he rose to the pinnacle of success as a stunt performer,  under the stage name of Harry Houdini. He was a master illusionist and perfected the art of escape tricks. He was only 52 when he died of peritonitis from a burst appendix on October 31, 1926 (Halloween Day).


Unfortunately, mastering the art of illusion has been a talent all too common amongst many genealogists. This was especially common during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. In an era where it was more difficult to access original records, faking ancestries was much easier.

Perhaps no genealogical charlatan was worse than the infamous Gustav Anjou. After serving a prison term for counterfeiting, Anjou (the alias of Gustav Ludvig Jungberg), immigrated to the U.S. in 1890. He soon took up practice as a professional genealogist, working for many wealthy families to trace their ancestry. Unfortunately, later work has shown that Anjou willfully and intentionally falsified his reports while raking in thousands of dollars from the families.

In 1991 two articles concerning Anjou were published in the Genealogical Journal, the journal of the Utah Genealogical Association. They were written by noted genealogists Robert Charles Anderson and Gordon L. Remington, both Fellows of the American Society of Genealogists. Remington was able to identify Anjou’s illegitimate birth Anderson noted that Anjou’s work usually provided an amazing number of connections between his clients and early New England immigrants. His work included many geographical leaps of assumption. He did provide an array of citations to documents that were accurate. They actually existed and provided the information Anjou indicated. However, he interspersed citations to fake documents within them to “prove” the connections he purported.

Anjou was not alone in his corruption. Many works published in this time period also contained false or misleading information. In 1976, George E. McCracken, editor of The American Genealogist, published a list of some of the worst violators, whose work was so bad that “nothing they say should be accepted without clear and unmistakable verification. (“Towards an Index Expurgatorius” The American Genealogist, July 1976, p. 182):

  • Gustav Anjou
  • Charles H. Browning
  • C.A. Hoppin
  • Orra E. Monnette
  • Horatio Gates Somerby
  • Frederick A. Virkus
  • John S. Wurts

The problem is  that much of that work is now in the public domain and is spreading like wildfire through online family trees. It is critical to review all original records to ensure you have the correct ancestry. This is true even in published works. One never knows when a source citation may have been forged.


The Genealogy Event

29 Oct 2012

I just returned from a wonderful weekend in New York City. The primary purpose of the visit was to attend the Genealogy Event. This was the first genealogy program produced by Bridget Bray, an event planner in New York City.

The Genealogy Event

The event was two single-day events, held on Friday and Saturday at the Metropolitan Pavilion in downtown Manhattan. The location was easily accessible by subway and train from outer areas. It was very easy to find and spacious.

The format of the show was similar to that of Who Do You Think You Are? Live in London. The main attraction was an exhibit hall. There were short classes running throughout the day. The classes were short, a half an hour each. They were taught be knowledgeable professionals such as Judy G. Russell, Laura Prescott,  and Maureen Taylor. Some were also given by vendors, such as Lou Szucs and Juliana Szucs Smith from, and Bennet Greenspan from Family Tree DNA. There were 16 sessions on Friday and 24 on Saturday, held in two tracks.

There were thirty-one exhibitors in the hall. Many of the usual exhibitors were there, such as, FindMyPast, and Family Tree Magazine. There were also many smaller groups, from ethnic organizations to individuals promoting their books and software.

About 1,500 people attended between the two days. Positioning the classrooms in the exhibit hall, as they do at WDYTYA Live was good for the exhibitors. However, Olympia is a much larger facility so the sound is less distracting. It did get quite loud at times in the Pavilion as both rooms had sound systems.

As with all first-time events, there were some other problems. Over the course of a couple of weeks of trying, I was unable to order my tickets online and had to purchase them in person (adding to the cost).

No decision has yet been made whether the event will be held again next year. I’m certain that if it goes forward, Bridget will appreciate feedback from attendees, exhibitors, and members of the community about what worked and what didn’t, and how it can be improved. We all wish her the best of luck.


From the Blogs, October 26

26 Oct 2012

Horatio Gates

Portrait of Horatio Gates by Gilbert Stuart.

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

Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist, is one of my favorite bloggers. She takes writes about legal topics in plain English, making topics that my be difficult to grasp very easy to understand. This week she tackled a topic of importance to any genealogist. Do you have a right to take photographs in cemeteries?

Organizing paper has always been a challenge for genealogists. Nowadays the challenge is doubled as we have to create systems for not only our paper materials, but our digital files as well. Randy Seaver explains the process he uses for his digital files in My Ancestor Family File Folders and File Naming Convention.

Genealogists scan photographs by the thousands. But what about the challenges of negatives? Especially old black and white negatives of varying sizes? James Tanner provides some sound advice on the FamilySearch blog in Scanning Old Film Negatives.

Those researching their ancestors in England know that one of the challenges is that there is no way to access microfilm copies of old civil registers of births, marriages, and deaths. Certificates must be ordered from the government. Audrey Collins reviews the official website for ordering the certificates, which has just been updated, in .

The Battle of Saratoga, which took place in September and October 1777, was a defining moment in the American Revolution. Thanks to Washingon’s victory here, France allied itself with the colonists, providing them with much-needed supplies and forcing Britain to fight the war on multiple fronts. Horatio Gates was the general in charge of American forces against Burgoyne’s British troops. Unfortunately, the size of his ego led him into obscurity and he died in Manhattan in 1806. The exact location of his burial in Trinity Cemetery, as well as the grave marker, are lost to time. But thanks to a diligent tour guide, a new memorial has been placed in the cemetery to remember General Gates. The History Blog reports on this in Revolutionary War General Gets a Grave Marker.

The House at Ferry Farm

25 Oct 2012

Back in the 1990s, WalMart was planning an expansion in Virginia. A group of concerned citizens banded together and managed to block the land from commercial development. That piece of land had major historical significance. Back in 1738, Augustine and Mary (Ball) Washington brought their family, including six-year-old George, to live on the property, known as Ferry Farm.

In 1993, the George Washington Boyhood Home Foundation was created to develop Ferry Farm as a historical site. They arranged for the transfer of 36 acres to the Kenmore Association (today the George Washington Foundation).  In 1998 Congress passed a bill that included Ferry Farm as part of the George Washington Birthplace National Monument. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000.

Ferry Farm

Unfortunately, no structures related to Washington survive on the premises (which has grown to included 113 acres today). Archaeologists and historians have been researching the property, however. To date, more than 35,000 artifacts have been recovered from the site.

In July 2008, the Foundation announced that the site of the original Washington home had been located. Using evidence from seven years of excavation, the location of the foundation and cellars of the home had been confirmed. Eighteenth-century letters mentioned that the house burned on 24 December 1740, and archaeologists found material evidence to confirm the fire. In addition to the main house, which was much larger than original thought, the kitchen and slave quarters have also been located. Work continues to find the dairy, smokehouse, and warehouses.

In addition to the Washington-era artifacts, numerous Civil War-era items have been found. During the altercation, the Union army used the site as a staging area for the battle of Fredericksburg.

Preservation of historic site such as this is critically important to discovering our heritage. The work done in places like this documents not only the historical figures, but provides insight into how people of that time lived their daily lives. This can then give us an idea of how our own ancestors in the same area might have lived.

My Ancestor Was a Bastard

24 Oct 2012

The Society of Genealogists (SOG) in London provides a great deal of assistance to researchers in many different ways. In addition to their research library and website, SOG publishes  number of books and pamphlets to give researchers guidance. Among these books is a series of My Ancestor. . . books

My Ancestor Was a Merchant Seaman

This series focuses the genealogist on a particular aspect of research. This may be an ethnic group, religious background, occupation, or other grouping. Each volume is authored by an expert in that particular field.

The author dives in and dissects the subject in great detail. First there is a general introduction to the subject, explaining the history of the group. Then follows a discussion of various kinds of records that apply to the group, where they are, and how to find them. Some books have appendixes of other information that might be of assistance. Each book runs around 200 pages or so.

I have used a number of these books in my research. For example, in researching my Franklin book, I had the pleasure of chatting with the noted researcher Christopher T. Watts, who passed away this summer. I have used his book My Ancestor Was a Merchant Seaman (Co-authored with Michael J. Watts) in my research as well.

After a short introduction to the subject, the book quickly moves into detailed discussions of records. Among the topics covered are: Trade and Taxation; Military Connections; Legal Disputes: Registration of Merchant Seamen; Certificates for Sea Officers; Agreements, Crew Lists, and Log Books; War Service and Medals; Apprenticeships, Charities, and Pensions; Births, Marriages, and Deaths at Sea; Lloyd’s Marine Collection; Registers of Shipping; and Miscellaneous records.

Three appendixes are also included: Abbreviations, Codes and Forms used by the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen; Record Repositories and Their Holdings; References and Bibliography. A subject index makes it easier to find materials in the book. An addendum at the end rounds out the book, with last minute updates to information that were added when the book was reprinted.

The book helped me navigate my way to and through unfamiliar records. And I was able to get several additional clues to assist me with my research.  All of the for only £10 ($16 U.S.).

There are currently two dozens books in the series on a wide variety of topics, from My Ancestor Was a Bastard to My Ancestor Was in the Theatre. You find a complete listing, and order books online, from the Society of Genelaogists.

Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal

23 Oct 2012

When European  settlement of North America started pushing inland from the coast, transportation problems repeatedly occurred. The biggest problem was the Appalachian Mountains, 400 miles from the coast.  This made it difficult to transport goods as well as passengers. As early as 1768 proposals were put forth to to establish a cheap and safe way to overcome this obstacle.

A proposal for a waterway in New York was first put forth in 1807, but construction did not start until 1817. After eight long years of construction, the Erie Canal was finally opened October 26, 1825. From 1834 to 1862 it was enlarged to handle growing traffic.

Erie Canal

Portrait of the Erie Canal at Lockport, New York.

The Erie Canal had a major effect, not just on the development of New York, but of the entire United States. The canal starts on the Hudson River in Albany and runs through upstate New York to Buffalo, where it opens onto Lake Erie (from which it gets its name).  The Atlantic Ocean was now connected to inland America by a safe water route.

The canal stimulated immigration to New York. It took massive crews to clear the land and build the canal. Carpenters, stonemasons, and other construction workers were needed to build. Teamsters were needed to haul building supplies, as well as to haul the detritus away from the construction site. These people brought their families with them to upstate New York. As construction on the canal was completed, many followed to continue construction of the canal. Others stayed behind and settled the area permanently.

Once the canal was completed, immigration to the interior became much easier. It also became much cheaper. Transportation costs dropped by as much as 95%, putting migration within reach of many families who could not have previously afforded to move.

When tracing your ancestors back in time (and geography), keep in mind that they may have migrated through the Erie Canal. This is especially true for families who migrated prior to the Civil War. By that time, the railroads were becoming widely developed, and many families chose that method of travelling.

If you have ancestors in the interior of the country, and are having difficulty determining where they came from, start by looking at nearby waterways. Follow the waterways back to a major river, and from there back to the Great Lakes. Check the histories of major settlements along those routes, looking for evidence that your ancestors may have lived in one of these towns. Eventually, you may be able to fill in the missing pieces of your ancestors’ lives.

The Erie Canal was in use for almost a century. Over the years, many songs were created about the canal, including the popular Low Bridge (also known as Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal). In 1918 it was replaced by the much larger New York State Barge Canal. Today it is part of the New York State Canal System. In 2000 the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor was created by Congress, in commemoration of the significant part the canal played in the history of the United States.

Soulful Traditions

21 Oct 2012

Next week the Catholic church celebrates two important holidays: All Saints Day and All Souls Day. They are celebrated on November 1 and 2 respectively.

Officially the Solemnity of All Saints, All Saints Day is also called All Hallows Day and Hallowmas. The word “Hallow” means “to make holy.”It is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic Church. Its origins date back to the seventh century when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. In the ninth century, Pope Gregory III created an oratory at St. Peter’s basilica for the relics of the apostles as well as saints, martyrs, and confessors and moved All Saints’ Day to its current date.

All Souls Day is officially called the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. The date of the celebration was established by St. Odilo in the early eleventh century. In the fourteenth century Rome established the commemoration for the entire church.

Over the centuries, both of these holidays have come to be associated with remembering those who have gone before us. In addition to attending services at church, in many cultures other traditions evolved.

Pilgrimages to burial grounds are very common. In some places food is left for the departed. In England and Ireland the tradition of “soul cake” dates back to the Middle Ages. Cakes made with sweet spices with raisins or currants were set out as offerings for the dead. On All Saints Day and All Souls Day, children would go “souling,” begging for the cakes from door to door. A number of songs about this tradition have been popularized, including one by Sting.

Dia de los Muertos

In Mexico and other places around the world, Día de los Muertos is a major celebration. Family and friends gather together to pray for the souls of the departed and to remember them. Private altars may be built for the deceased. In Spain there are festivals and parades. Skeletons are an important part of the imagery for Día de los Muertos.

The night before Hallowmas was also known as All Hallows Eve. As early as 16th century in Scotland this was contracted to Halloween. The tradition of jack-o’-lanterns  can be traced to a Scottish custom of carving turnips into lanterns for commemorating the dead.

In Scotland and Ireland, the practice of guising involved children in costume going from door to door for food or coins in the nineteenth century. This tradition is first mention in North America in 1911 in an Ontario newspaper.

As we celebrate Halloween next week with trick-or-treaters at the door, take a moment to think about the origins of the holidays. Perhaps it would be a lovely time to make a trip to the cemetery to visit your family there.

In Which Areas Do You Have Research Interests for Your Family History?

21 Oct 2012

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked you in which areas do you have research interests for your family history. 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.