Genealogy Blog

From the Blogs, November 30

30 Nov 2012

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

UpFront with NGS, the blog of the National Genealogical Society, announced a new video in their ongoing series on the Voices of Genealogy. This one features Robert Charles Anderson, FASG. Bob has made numerous contributions to the field over his decades of work, most notably as director of the Great Migration Study Project, an analysis of immigrants during the seventeenth-century period known as the Great Migration. In this video, Bob discusses Building Bridges Between Genealogy and History. released a new website dedicated to newspapers this week. Today Judy posted an interesting discussion of the three big websites genealogists use for accessing newspapers:,, and Ancestry’s Among her points in Looking at the News Sites, of course, is a discussion of each site’s terms of use.

William Dollarhide was a guest blogger for Leland Meitzler at GenealogyBlog this week. Bill created a list of different types of resources genealogists should consult. He lists 150 different sources in categories such as personal/home sources; vital records; church records; newspapers; school records; and directories/censuses. Check them out in A Checklist of 150 Genealogical Sources.

Marian's Roots and Rambles

Marian Pierre-Louis writes several blogs. She recently posted an interesting story on her Roots and Rambles blog. She writes that “I know it might seem a little strange to write about headsets but interestingly enough headsets demonstrate the progress (at least technologically) that we’ve made in genealogy.” Read the entire story in Headsets and Genealogy.

John L. Bell’s Boston 1775 Blog is always interesting. This week he wrote three posts dealing with three important works about Thomas Jefferson. The three coalesce around a new book by Henry Wiencek entitled Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves. The book is the subject of fierce criticism. There appears to be a difference of opinion between scholars and a popular researcher. Read Bell’s posts in this order to get the most of the discussion: Debate Over Master of the Mountain; Academic History, Popular History, and Jefferson’s Slaveholding; and “Instead, he cites Annette Gordon-Reed?”The upshot is the importance of reading multiple histories of events, as everyone brings their own priorities and prejudices.

Folk Cures

29 Nov 2012

After a wonderful Thanksgiving week in New York City, capped by a visit to my brother’s family and seeing many old friends at my high school reunion, I’ve been holed up all week dealing with a nasty case of asthmatic bronchitis. This annual winter problem is a result of the genetic legacy from my maternal grandfather’s family.

Cardio-pulmonary problems are rampant in that family. My great-grandfather was younger than I am now when he died of asthma in 1920. When I go through my annual bout of breathing issues, I remember Anselm, and remind myself that no matter how miserable a process it is to go through, I am tremendously lucky to live in a time where we have medication to ease the way through and get me healthy again (it takes six different prescription medications to get me through a single bout).

Our ancestors, even as late as the early-twentieth century, did not have as wide access to drugs and medications as we do today. In early times, folk remedies were mostly used. Many involved plants with chemicals that produce the same (or similar) reactions as the chemicals in today’s pharmaceuticals. Most, however, were completely, or at least mostly, useless. By the late nineteenth century, patent medicines were all the rage. Again most of these were complete fakes containing alcohol, cocaine, or other drugs that masked the symptoms instead of providing a cure.

In 1996, the University of California created an . It was a result of more than a half-century of work by folklorists associated with the university. These researchers systematically documented practices and traditions that lead to folk medicine, some of which are still used in alternative healthcare.

The information in then database was culled from writings as early as the eighteenth century. Information came from diaries, scientific journals, popular magazines, treatises on plants and animals, newspapers, and other sources.  In all, more than 3,200 published works were consulted in tabulating the information. The majority of the information comes from American, European, African, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American populations.

The database is searchable by condition, method of treatment, healing specialists, supernatural entities, or other terms. The advanced search allows you to narrow your search by region of origin or ethnicity of origin among other items.

I searched for asthma as a condition and received numerous treatments, some of which may be helpful because of the properties of the ingredients. One remedy was to give asthmatics pounded garlic in milk. Garlic is known to help bolster the immune system in general. Another remedy, of African origin and used in the American lowland South, is to inhale the smoke of Jimson Weed. Jimson Weed is highly toxic when ingested, but the compounds in it can be very helpful in relieving the bronchial spasms in asthma.

Many of the treatments I found interesting, if not downright hilarious. One tradition from the Midwest is to cut a lock of hair and put it in a tree. Once the bark grew over it, the asthma would be cured. One early French remedy was to smoke a pipe. Given the inherent breathing problems in asthma, I cannot imagine how smoking a pipe helped, unless there were some native plant (such as Jimson Weed) that they smoked that opened up constricted airways. A remedy from Ohio was to give a broth of lizards boiled in milk to the sufferer. In the East Riding of Yorkshire, a sure cure for asthma was considered to be swallowing live snails as if they were oysters.

Check the database for conditions that your ancestors may have suffered from. You may be surprised at what they might have done to cure themselves. And be forever grateful for living in the age of pharmaceuticals.

What is Most Important To You This Holiday Season?

28 Nov 2012

The holiday season is here! Are you dashing through the snow and enjoying your winter wonderland? It may sound silly but we can all get so caught up in the holiday whirlwind of shopping for gifts, hosting and attending parties, and making sure the house is clean for those particularly picky guests, that we forget what this time is all about: family!

Over the next month we’ll be sharing our best ideas on activities for family gatherings. These suggestions can bring everyone closer together, get family members telling old stories, and making new memories. These ideas are simple, easy and most of all: FUN! It’ll get you in the holiday spirit and transform even the most steadfast scrooges into merrymakers. Check out our Facebook page here.  Please feel free to add your ideas too for fun projects at family gatherings! We’re excited to hear your feedback.


Check out Mocavo’s Facebook page every week for updates on the best family-oriented activities and let us help you bring the focus back on family this holiday season.


Marriage Law for Genealogists

28 Nov 2012

Marriage records are an indispensible part of researching one’s family history. Understanding the context of the records, and what that might or might not mean for the information contained therein, is extremely important. For those conducting research in England and Wales, a new resource is now available.

Rebecca Probert is a professor in the School of Law at the University of Warwick. According to her biography, “The unifying theme of my research is the boundary between marriage and cohabitation. This has two dimensions. The first is the way in which marriage is defined to distinguish it from cohabitation, or from non-marriage. The second is the question of whether legal rights should be accorded to relationships outside marriage and, if so, how such relationships should be defined. I am particularly interested in the historical definition and treatment of marriage, bigamy, and cohabitation.”

Probert has published a variety of journal articles and book chapters over the last view years, all dealing with the subject of marriage. Earlier this year Cambridge University Press published her book The Legal Regulation of Cohabitation, 16002010: From Fornicators to Family.

Marriage Law for Genealogists

This fall, however, she published a book of tremendous interest to family history researchers. Taking her years of experience in the field, she wrote Marriage Law for Genealogists: The Definitive Guide. The book is subtitled “What everyone researching their family history needs to know about where, when, who, and how their English and Welsh ancestors married.” The book  has six major sections:

  1. Why do Genealogists Need a New Guide to Marriage Law?
  2. Whether and Why Your Ancestors Married
  3. Who Your Ancestors Married
  4. How Your Ancestors Married
  5. When Your Ancestors Married
  6. Where Your Ancestors Married

Each of these sections is further subdivided, answering more detailed questions.

The book includes both England and Wales, as their laws were quite the same. Scotland, on the other hand, had quite distinct laws regarding marriage. 1600 is chosen arbitrarily as the starting point for discussion, as few researchers can go much earlier than that year. The major focus of the book, however, is on the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries.

For those who think they have all the answers about English marriage law, Probert has put together a quick quiz. Here is an interesting question for you: In what year did the first civil marriages take place? 1650, 1653, 1753, or 1836? Those familiar with English history might correctly have stated 1653. The Commonwealth Period briefly allowed for civil marriage. The School of Law website also has an interview with her about the book.

Marriage Law for Genealogists is available on Amazon (£8.99 in the U.K. or $14.99 in the U.S.).



History and Our Ancestors

27 Nov 2012

When reading about history, sometimes we forget about the impact that historical events can have on our individual ancestors. Even today, we may experience the effects without realizing it. This week, the city of Boston commemorates the 70th anniversary of one of the worst tragedies in American history. While many have never heard of it, I guarantee you know of some of the effects of the fire.

The Cocoanut Grove was built on Piedmont Street, near Park Square in downtown Boston, in 1927. It started life as a popular speakeasy. After going through difficult times in the 1930s, by 1942 it was THE place to be in Boston. The one-story building had a large dining room and ballroom with a bandstand. There were also several bar areas separate from the ballroom. The dining room had a retractable roof to allow guests to see the moon and stars during warm weather. In the basement were the kitchen, freezers, and storage areas, as well as a bar called the Melody Lounge. A small expansion had recently been added, with a foyer and cocktail lounge in the back off the ballroom.

Cocoanut Grove Floor Plan

The main entrance to the Cocoanut Grove was a single revolving door on Piedmont Street the lead to the main foyer in front of the dining area. On the night of November 30, 1942, the club was packed. Although licensed for only 450 people, it is estimated that more than 1,000 people were inside.

The club was heavily festooned with decorations of paper and cloth. At about 10:15 p.m. a bartender ordered a busboy to fix a light bulb in the back of the Melody Lounge. It is rumored that a soldier had unscrewed the bulb at the top of a paper palm tree. The busboy lit a match to see what he was doing. In seconds, the decorations started catching fire. The single public entrance was a four-foot wide stairway.

As terrified patrons rushed up the main floor, a fireball consumed the lounge and roared up the stairway. It burst into the crowded dining room. The revolving door quickly jammed, barring further escape. Emergency exits were not clearly marked. Many windows and doors were blocked over or locked. En exit door through the new lounge was an inward opening door that proved fruitless in the crush of people trying to get out. Many who escaped the building dropped to the round the minute they burst in to the open air. Burn victims were brought to area hospitals. Nearby Boston City Hospital alone received 300 victims in one hour, while other hospitals were never used.

After the fire was extinguished and firefighters entered the building, the found many bodies still sitting at tables, drinks in hand, undisturbed by the fire. The toxic fumes had killed them so quickly they didn’t have time to react.

The final death toll was 492 people, many of whom were never identified. Few families were untouched by the tragedy. Everyone had a sister, brother, son, daughter, aunt, uncle, cousin, or close friend who was in the Grove. For many who survived, their lives were never the same.

The legacy of the Cocoanut Grove is evident everywhere, although hidden to most people. Public venues (like theaters, restaurants, etc.) must have clearly marked emergency exits with outward-opening doors. The next time you go through a revolving door, look to either side. You sill see outward-opening doors with crash bars for emergency exits. Penicillin was first generally used on the burn victims to fight infection. Advances in medicine were made through the realization of the dangers of toxic fumes. Flammable decorations are no longer allowed in public buildings. Building codes are much more strictly enforced than they were before. You can read more about the Cocoanut Grove fire in many places, including the Boston Fire Historical Society.

Tragedies are awful things. But they left lasting impact on the lives of our ancestors. When researching, look further and see if you can find ways in which they may have personally affected your family.

Don’t Forget Your Own Story

26 Nov 2012

As I am writing this, I’m dealing with a bit of a respiratory bug. Welcome to wintertime! At least it didn’t show up until after my holiday trip! Last week I went to New York City with one of my best friends. We saw several Broadway and off-Broadway shows (Bare, Chaplin, and Forbidden Broadway if you really want to know). We also attended a recording of the SethSpeaks show for Sirius/XM Radio.

The holiday was spent watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in person for the first time, taking in the Lincoln movie, and a phenomenal dinner at a French brasserie.

On Saturday I spent time in my hometown, visiting my brother and his family. That night I went to my high school reunion before finally returning home on Sunday. My teenaged nieces asked me about my trip. They enjoyed hearing the stories of the parade and the shows I had seen. They also enjoyed hearing about the stories from my reunion.

Last week I talked about oral histories. My conversation with my nieces reminded me that as genealogists, we often overlook something very important with our family histories. Our focus is so often with our relatives, we forget about focusing on ourselves.

Equally as important as recording the stories of our relatives is recording our own stories. What was life like growing up? What were our holiday experiences? How did we experience school? All of the questions that we ask in our oral interviews are ones that we should also ask ourselves.

It would be good to have a list of questions put together and have someone ask you the questions. This may help trigger more memories. If you choose to just recite your answers without a questioner, be certain to record the question first, so that listeners will know what prompted your response.


Happy Thanksgiving!

21 Nov 2012

This week in the United States we celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday. We have come a long way from the original Thanksgiving feast, celebrated by the Pilgrims at Plymouth. It wasn’t even celebrated in November.

In the early fall of 1621 the 53 survivors of that first horrible year gathered to celebrate a successful harvest. Among the celebrants were fourteen teenagers, thirteen young children, and twenty two men, but only four married women: Eleanor ([–?–]) Billington,  Mary (Wentworth) Brewster, Elizabeth (Fisher) Hopkins, and Susanna ([–?–]) (White) Winslow. Massasoit, sachem of the Wampanoag tribe, brought 90 nearby natives to join in the celebration.

This celebration was an English tradition. Although they expressed their gratitude to God, they did not refer to this as a Thanksgiving. To the Pilgrims, “Thanksgiving” referred to a purely religious occasion. The first recorded Thanksgiving actually did not occur until 1623.

Individual colonies and states celebrated a kind of Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t until the Civil War that an official Federal Holiday would be celebrated. As the war was dragging on, Abraham Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving Day for the first time. It was to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November.

For more than 75 years, succeeding presidents followed the lead of Lincoln and declared the final Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving Day. In 1939, however, November had five Thursdays, and Franklin Roosevelt declared the holiday would occur on the fourth Thursday instead of the last. It was his plan to permanently move the holiday to the penultimate Thursday instead of the final one. In 1940 and 1941 he declared the holiday to be on the third Thursday instead of the fourth. This date change was parodied in the 1942 Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire film Holiday Inn.

At the time it was considered inappropriate to advertise for Christmas prior to Thanksgiving (my how times have changed!). With the country in the midst of the Great Depression, Roosevelt was hoping to stimulate the economy by giving retailers an additional week for people to spend money for the holiday.

Unfortunately, Republicans took this to be a great insult to the memory of Lincoln. Since the presidential declaration was not legally binding, not all areas followed the directive. Some continued to celebrate the holiday on the final week. Others actually celebrated both days as holidays so as not to have to choose.

As a result of the conflict, Congress in 1941 created an official Thanksgiving holiday. As a compromise between the two parties, the holiday was fixed to occur on the fourth Thursday in November. This meant that most years it would be the final week, but in some years (such as this year), the holiday would occur during the next-to-last week.

Whatever your Thanksgiving tradition, I hope you have a wonderful holiday. This year I shall be attending the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade for the first time. I’m looking forward to a wonderful time with good friends.

Tips for Taking Oral Histories

20 Nov 2012

Oral history is an important tool for genealogists. We often employ it, whether we realize it or not. Any time that you talk to a family member or client, and they convey information to you of any kind, you are conducting oral history.

Many of the genealogies compiled in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries were put together using oral history as a major component. Sometimes this was noted in the text, but, more often, it was not and the source of any particular piece of information remains unknown.

Oral HIstory Association

The Oral History Association (OHA), founded in 1966, is an umbrella organization for all those interested in oral history. Their membership includes academic scholars, archivists, journalists, librarians, local historians, students, and teachers from many fields. The OHA website contains a number of tips for conducting oral histories, including:


  • To prepare to ask informed questions, interviewers should conduct background research on the person, topic, and larger context in both primary and secondary sources
  • When ready to contact a possible narrator, oral historians should send via regular mail or email an introductory letter outlining the general focus and purpose of the interview, and then follow-up with either a phone call or a return email. In projects involving groups in which literacy is not the norm, or when other conditions make it appropriate, participation may be solicited via face to face meetings.
  • After securing the narrator’s agreement to be interviewed, the interviewer should schedule a non-recorded meeting. This pre-interview session will allow an exchange of information between interviewer and narrator on possible questions/topics, reasons for conducting the interview, the process that will be involved, and the need for informed consent and legal release forms.


  • Unless part of the oral history process includes gathering soundscapes, historically significant sound events, or ambient noise, the interview should be conducted in a quiet room with minimal background noises and possible distractions.
  • The interviewer should record a “lead” at the beginning of each session to help focus his or her and the narrator’s thoughts to each session’s goals. The “lead” should consist of, at least, the names of narrator and interviewer, day and year of session, interview’s location, and proposed subject of the recording.
  • Both parties should agree to the approximate length of the interview in advance. The interviewer is responsible for assessing whether the narrator is becoming tired and at that point should ask if the latter wishes to continue. Although most interviews last about two hours, if the narrator wishes to continue those wishes should be honored, if possible.

Post Interview

  • Interviewers should document their preparation and methods, including the circumstances of the interviews and provide that information to whatever repository will be preserving and providing access to the interview.
  • Information deemed relevant for the interpretation of the oral history by future users, such as photographs, documents, or other records should be collected, and archivists should make clear to users the availability and connection of these materials to the recorded interview.
  • The recordings of the interviews should be stored, processed, refreshed and accessed according to established archival standards designated for the media format used. Whenever possible, all efforts should be made to preserve electronic files in formats that are cross platform and nonproprietary. Finally, the obsolescence of all media formats should be assumed and planned for.

The holiday season provides many opportunities for conducting oral histories. Visit the OHA website for more tips to prepare for these opportunities.

Holiday Genealogy

18 Nov 2012

This week we in the United States celebrate the annual Thanksgiving holiday. Families gather in gratitude for all they have received in the previous year. Usually the festivities include gorging on copious amounts of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and other food.

As genealogists, we can use the opportunity of the holiday to propel our research forward. Any time when family gathers can provide us with such opportunities, but holidays seem to bring out the “Chatty Cathy” even more. Here are some ideas for getting some genealogy work in during Thanksgiving.

First, take the time to ask questions about the family and share family stories. My paternal grandfather loved to tell stories of the family. How I wish now that I had recorded more of these. Not only can they fill out the bland dates and places on a pedigree chart with anecdotes about the people, these stories can give you clues for further research.

Not all of these stories will be completely accurate. Remember the game of telephone? Sit in a circle and whisper something in the ear of the person next to you. Then they turn and repeat it to the person next to him/her. The process repeats until the last person tells the entire room what he/she heard. This usually has changed dramatically since the words left your mouth. The same thing happens when family stories are conveyed from generation to generation.

While you are listening to the stores, take the time to record them. May apps are available for iPhones and other mobile smart phones, as well as iPads and other tablets that make this process easy. Just turn on the app and place the phone in the middle of the people talking.

Another great idea is to break out the old family photographs. Show them to people. You can use them to start some of the conversations that we discussed above. Photographs can also help to trigger memories that may not easily come up otherwise.

Having family around looking at photographs is also a great time to help with one of the worst chores: identifying the people in photographs. All too often, we leave our photos unlabeled because we know who everyone is in the picture. But when we pass on, the names are lost to memory.

Have older family members look at photographs and tell you who everyone is. Number the photograph in pencil (Never with a pen!), and write down the names on a piece of paper, with notes numbered to match the photographs. This will allow you to record some stories as well as the names of the people in the picture.

Enjoy the holiday with your family. But, as a good genealogist, have fun by getting some research done as well. Even your family will enjoy it!

Thanksgiving Activities to Share With Your Family (Infographic)

18 Nov 2012

Check out our new Thanksgiving Infographic for some fun activities for the whole family during this holiday season and some exciting tidbits in regards to Thanksgiving Day History.  Happy Thanksgiving from Mocavo!