Genealogy Blog

Blog Posts for Genealogists, March 29, 2013

29 Mar 2013

Randy Seaver had an interesting case study in Geneamusings this week. He recently made a great discovery on FindAGrave, locating the burial of Samuel and Mary Ann (Underhill) Vaux. The FindAGrave information included full birth and death dates for both individuals in a Kansas cemetery. Unfortunately, no image of the gravestone was available. Checking the information against burial cards from that cemetery on microfilm at the Family History Library, he discovered a conflict in the death information for Samuel. Get more about this tory in How Can I Resolve This Evidence Conflict?

In his inaugural speech in January, President Obama mentioned the three great civil rights struggles of the past century and a half in his reference to Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall. The Library of Congress Blog recently posted about the Women’s Suffrage movement and the 5,000 women who marched on Washington, D.C., a century ago. The post also discusses a number of items in the LOC collections that can help researchers find out more information about the Suffragettes. Discover these resources in I Love A Parade.

The discovery of the remains of King Richard III in a car park in England was published around the world. This has lead to another disinterment. This one, however, is likely to prove that it is not the person it is purported to be. Ongoing rumors state that Alfred the Great is buried in the churchyard of St. Bartholomew at Winchester. There are numerous differences between the two cases, and it is highly doubtful that the remains actually are those of Alfred, but the remains were removed for public safety reasons. You can read more on The History Blog.

Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, had an interesting post about copyright this week. She discusses the implications of the Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley and Sons case by the Supreme Court last week. The decision dealt with people buying books in foreign markets then returning to the United States and selling them in the higher-priced market here. Learn more about what is and isn’t legal in .


The mystery of the disappearance of Italian WWII soldier Damian De Virgillio has finally been solved.


Damian De Virgillio writes the Knowing Nonno blog, documented his genealogical research. His Italian paternal grandfather disappeared in late January 1944. His grandmother searched everywhere, even attempting to enlist the Vatican in discovering what happened to her husband, but it would be three decades before even a vague clue turned up.  Decades later he picked up the search and made an amazing discovery about a shipwreck that took the lives of more than 4,100 people, including his grandfather. You can read the full story in For the Lost of February ’44, Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Annual Resident Listings as a Genealogical Resource

28 Mar 2013

I just did my civic duty today by filling out my census form. Quickly, easily, painlessly, and early. Now I know what many of you are thinking. “Early? He’s early by seven years!” But I’m not talking about the decennial census of the United States.

Each year the city takes a census of the residents. It is required to do so by Massachusetts law. Every resident aged 17 years or more must be counted. Census day is January 1 of each year.

The purpose of the census is twofold. First, it acts as a verification of registered voters in the city. Those who do not respond are removed from the rolls of active voters, and eventually their voter registrations are revoked. The results of the census are also used in municipal planning.

Each year about this a simple, one-page form is mailed to every address in the city. The form includes the ward and precinct numbers for the address, and lists the names and information of everyone who appeared at that address the previous year. Among the questions it asks:

  • Apartment Number
  • Name (of each resident age 17 or older)
  • Sex
  • Date of Birth
  • Occupation
  • Citizenship
  • Voter (party affiliation, Republican, Democrat, or Unafilliated)
  • Veteran
  • Address Last Year (if different from this year)

Another interesting question, asked at the bottom, is the number of dogs in the household.


2013 Boston Annual Resident Listing Census.


The city makes it so easy to meet this census obligation, you would really need to work hard to not meet it. You can return the form in the enclosed postage-paid mailer. You can go to the city website and fill it out online. Or, you can even call a special telephone number at city hall during regular business hours and they will take your information over the phone.

These residents listing are often accessible to the public. Sometimes they ae held at the city clerk’s office, and sometimes they are at the elections/voter registration office. They can act as a wonderful, modern-day family record.


Finding a Revolutionary War Soldier’s Portrait

27 Mar 2013

One of the great pleasure of being at the RootsTech conference last week (or any conference) is being able to talk to our Mocavo community members in person and hear about their research successes.

The Association of Professional Genealogists was also meeting in Salt Lake City this week. The annual Professional Management Conference took place on Tuesday and Wednesday, drawing professionals from around the U.S. and Canada, as well as New Zealand, Israel, and the U.K.

One of my favorite stories came from my good friend Maureen Taylor, the Photo Detective. Maureen is working on a new project based on her two books, The Last Muster (volumes I and II). The books are about photographic images of Revolutionary War images. She has often related stories to me about how she has used Mocavo to research these ancestors, and she told me an interesting new one:


Looking for new information on Eleazer Blake of Rindge, New Hampshire, I turned to Mocavo. Hits included 25 hits. On the right hand side of the page a user can select whether or not the match is the person they seek. Two documents and twenty-three web hits turned up for Blake including a 1906 Annual Report for the Town of Rindge. Among the details in the Librarian’s report is a paragraph about Blake memorabilia in the museum-his portrait, his musket and sword as well as personal papers. Many of these items can be viewed in the trailer for Revolutionary Voices: A Last Muster Film.


This is a great illustration of how you can use Mocavo not just to find birth, marriage, and death information, but also how to go beyond and add more meat to the bones of your family history. Imagine finding a portrait of one of your ancestors that you didn’t even know existed! To check out Mocavo for yourself, click here.



I wrote about Revolutionary Voices a few weeks ago, discussing the film being  co-produced by Maureen and award winning documentary filmmakers Verissima Productions. Their Kickstarter Campaign to raise funds for the production is going on through April 10. To view their informational blog or contribute to the Kickstarter campaign, visit



RootsTech 2013 Wrapup

26 Mar 2013

Well, RootsTech 2013 is now in the history books. A very exhausted Mocavo team is back home and back to work. It was such a busy few days. Not only did we have the team working in the booth demonstrating the site, we had people there scanning documents for our community members. And the development team was there on Friday to attend classes, network with their peers in the field, and meet with many of you, the Mocavo Community.

The thousands of attendees started arriving at the beginning of the week. Seats at the Family History Library were going much more quickly than they had the previous week.  I, unfortunately, was felled by a bug early in the week, but it didn’t stop the fun. The Association of Professional Genealogists held their annual Professional Management Conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. Outstanding presentations by such distinguished genealogists as Thomas Jones and Judy G. Russell were among the highlights.



On Wednesday my Mocavo colleagues arrived and we got to work setting up our booth space. By Thursday morning, staff could barely hold back the throng of individuals at the doors until the official opening time. Mocavo was offering free scanning to our community members who wanted to bring their items to the booth. We saw some fascinating material come through. If you couldn’t make it  and would like to have your materials scanned for free, check out the instructions for getting your material to us.

So many stopped by the booth so that we could answer their questions about Mocavo. Many basic users were especially curious about how Mocavo Plus works. If you were one of those who didn’t have the chance to get through the crowd, or if you want to know more about Mocavo Plus, you can find out more by taking this little tour. And if you have any more questions, please let us know. You can email us and a member of our support team will get in touch with you to answer your questions.

RootsTech 2013 was a great few days with many genealogists as well as developers and others. It provided a unique opportunity to talk to some of the people doing the behind the scenes work at many of your favorite companies. Our development team attended and got the chance to network with many of their peers. You can tell many of the developers. How many toned, twenty-something geeks do you see at NGS or FGS?

If you didn’t get the chance to join us at RootsTech 2013, I hope you will consider joining Mocavo in Salt Lake City for next year’s conference. We love the opportunity to interact with you in person.

Young Genealogist’s Discovery Surprises Etymologists

23 Mar 2013

Genealogists never know what they are going to find. Most of you have probably found a surprise or two when researching your family. On occasion, you can even find that your family has a link to something historical. This was the experience of Nathaniel Sharpe.

Bathgate, North Dakota, is a town of approximately fifty people up near the Canadian border. Twenty-two year old Nathaniel Sharpe, a Bathgate resident, has already been researching his family for a decade. Fortunately for Nathaniel, he is researching in the digital age, where many resources are available online.

Nathaniel is a descendant of John W. Putman of Batavia, New York. Nathaniel was searching online newspaper databases to find information about Putman. The Republican Advocate in Batavia provided him with some success, but not of the kind he was seeking.

Putman’s name appeared in the issue of March 8, 1836. It was in a blacklist of names compiled by local merchants. These individuals had left town without settling their debts. Next to Putman’s name was the word “skallewagg.” Because of the interesting spelling, Sharpe was not certain whether it was a version of the modern “scalawag,” or if the word meant something else entirely in that time period.



Finding the answer to that question set him off on an entirely new quest. He searched for the term, and came across a recent piece by an etymologist on the term scalawag that contained interesting information indeed. The earliest known use of the term was in John Russell Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms, published in 1848.  Sharpe’s discovery predated this by a dozen years.



Bartlett’s definition of the word was “a favorite epithet in western New York for a mean fellow; a scapegrace.” After the Civil War, the term was used frequently to denote a white Southerner who supported Reconstruction. Etymologists believe that the term is of Scottish origin.

Sharpe joined the mailing list for the American Dialect Society, impressing etymologists with his findings. No less than Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations called Sharpe’s work “outstanding research.”

It is heartening to see the work of a genealogist, and one so young at that, being respected by traditional historical and etymological scholars. Ben Zimmer wrote an article telling the story Nathaniel’s search and discovery in the Boston Globe. The entire tale is quite interesting.



Which states in New England do you have interest in?

23 Mar 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked which states in New England are you interested in? 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.


Book Review: Marriage Law for Genealogists: The Definitive Guide

21 Mar 2013

Understanding the law of the time and place in which you are researching will help you tremendously as a genealogist. Rebecca Probert is a genealogist. She is also Professor of Law at Warwick University in England. She is the leading authority on the history of marriage laws in England and Wales. After writing a number of scholarly works on the subject, she realized that a book on the subject written specifically for a genealogical perspective would be very helpful for researchers. Last year she published Marriage Law for Genealogists: the Definitive Guide.



I picked up a copy at Who Do You Think You Are? Live! a few weeks ago. The modest-sized book (156 pages), it is jam-packed with incredibly important information.  Now, there are many research guides for genealogists that touch on marriage records, so why do we need this new book?

Probert started having doubts about the accuracy of many of the claims about informal marriage arrangements and other tales of marriage and family. Ten years ago she decided to start researching to see what she could discover. She poured through statutes and case law, as well as literature. Like any good genealogist, she then dove in headfirst, examining records across the entirety of England and Wales, researching families and analyzing data.

The results of her research “have overturned many long-standing myths about how our ancestors were married. The simple but very clear findings are that the overwhelming majority of couples married in the Church of England, cohabitation was vanishingly rare, and informal marriage practices non-existent. This disproves man of the claims of a previous generation of historians . . . on which guidebooks for family historians have relied.” (p. 14)

Over the course of the past decade, she has published numerous academic papers on her findings. “But this book has a far broader remit than simply distilling my earlier research. The need for a completely new book on marriage law for family historians became apparent when I looked at the existing resources. Not to put to fine a point on it, I was consistently disappointed (and occasionally flabbergasted) by the inaccuracy of existing accounts of marriage law: even the best genealogy books and websites repeat basic errors of law; mistakes are unintentionally compounded as one author repeats and then builds upon another’s conclusions without consulting the primary sources; inevitably, minor misconceptions have snowballed into outright falsehoods, leading the poor genealogists who rely on them into a thoroughly erroneous understanding of their ancestors’ marital customs and their beliefs and motivations in this most personal and universal of areas.” (p. 14)

Probert conducted a great deal of her research via working with original records and microfilm, but it was the modern-day digital databases and record images that allowed her to easily conduct a massive study that was untenable for earlier generations of historians. I had the please of conversing with her for a bit at Who Do You Think You Are? Live! in London a few weeks ago. She clearly knows her subject well, and is very passionate about it.

Marriage Law for Genealogists: the Definitive Guide is a necessary work for anyone researching their ancestors in England and/or Wales. It is available from Amazon for $14.99 (US) or £9.99 (UK).

New! Announcing the Mocavo Learning Center

21 Mar 2013

Whether you are new to genealogy or have been studying your family history for years, we want to help. We are excited to introduce the Mocavo Learning Center, a resource that provides expert advice and best practices to aid you in your research. The Mocavo Learning Center includes instructional articles and tools – like forms and questionnaires – that will help you record and organize your research.

The Mocavo Learning Center contains the following helpful categories:

  • Getting Started: Are you new to genealogy and don’t know where to start? Let us help you get on the right track with detailed guides that walk you through each step of the family history research process.
  • What’s New on Mocavo: Discover new record collections as they are added to the Mocavo Community.
  • Resources and Records: Gain insight into many popular as well as lesser-known records and resources that bring you closer to discovering your heritage.
  • Resources by Location: Learn about multiple records and resources you will use when your research leads you to different areas of the world.
  • Tips & Tricks: Uncover little secrets that help make discoveries and break through your brick walls.
  • Family History Toolkit: View and print multiple genealogy forms that help you record and organize your research.

There is something helpful for every genealogist! Visit the Mocavo Learning Center today to learn how to get even closer to discovering your family’s story.


Engage a Professional to Propel Your Genealogy Research

19 Mar 2013

Sometimes in our research, the best path is to get some professional help. Now by this I don’t necessarily mean psychological counseling, I am referring to assistance from a professional genealogist. As part of my trip to Salt Lake City this week (which will culminate in the RootsTech conference on Thursday and Friday) I attended board meetings of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG). This is my second term on the board, having initially served a decade ago.



APG is one of the best resources around to help you find professionals who can provide much needed assistance. Everyone from beginners to researchers with decades of experience can benefit from such help. There are many routes that this can take.

First, and foremost, you can hire a professional to do work for you. One of the most popular reasons for hiring a professional is to do onsite research in a location that is not easily accessible to you. As many records as there are available online and on microfilm, there are many times more records that exist only in the original in government and private repositories. It can often be less expensive to hire a professional to go to the repository and research for you.

But professionals can be of more assistance than that. Many professionals speak at conferences and teach at workshops and institutes around the country. Attending a presentation or taking a class from one of them can give you the tools you need to do better research. And you will often (but not always) have the opportunity to ask them some questions that pertain to your personal research.

If you can’t attend a lecture or presentation, another option is often available to you. You can hire a professional for a private consultation. This will give you an opportunity to spend some targeted time in a one-on-one situation with the professional. This will give you time to go back and forth and ask lots of questions and advice. The consultation can be about a specific research problem that you have. Or perhaps you needs some general advice. Consultations can be done in person, over the phone, or even via online video chat.

Another reason to hire a professional is to have them help you to write a book about your family. This collaboration can range from reviewing your text to co-authoring the work with you to taking your research and writing the book themselves.

Professional genealogists can also be found that provide highly specialized services. Some can trace the history of your house. Perhaps you need someone to organize and/or guide you on a research or heritage tour of your ancestral home area. Perhaps you need someone to prepare the paperwork for you to join a lineage society, such as the Sons of the American Revolution or the Society of Mayflower Descendants.

When engaging the services of a professional genealogist, it is best to hire one who is involved in a professional organization. Members of the Association of Professional Genealogists (the largest organization for family history professionals) sign an ethics code that covers their services when working for you. Members of the Board for Certification of Genealogists and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists have had their research skills tested. Take advantage of the services of a professional to help boost your research.

What’s the Difference Between Holland and the Netherlands?

18 Mar 2013

Finding out that your ancestors were Dutch would be a great breakthrough, wouldn’t it? After all you would know where in Europe your ancestors came from, right? Would you believe that perhaps you wouldn’t? And perhaps, they weren’t from Europe at all?

The first problem we run into is whether your ancestors might have come from the Netherlands or from Germany. Those that come from the Netherlands are Dutch. Germany’s name in German is Deutschland. Her citizens are Deutsch. When Germans came to the mid-Atlantic, they became known as the Pennsylvania Deutsch, which morphed into the Pennsylvania Dutch. I did some research on a friend’s family awhile back. His great-grandfather’s nickname was Dutch, and he claimed to be of German descent. Other family members claimed that they were from Holland. My suspicions were that they were actually Dutch and not Deutsch (the first clue was that the family name begins with “Van der”), and I was eventually proven correct.

The next problem was to figure out exactly where in the Netherlands the family came from. Because, while we presume that the country is in Europe, the Kingdom of the Netherlands is composed of twelve provinces in northwestern Europe and as well as islands in the Caribbean. The provinces are: Drenthe, Flevoland, Friesland, Gedlerland, Groningen, Limburg, North Brabant, North Holland, Overijssel, Utrecht, Zeeland, and South Holland. The islands include Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten.



When researching my friend’s family, I determined that they came to upstate New York from Holland, Michigan. And from there, they came from the Netherlands. Many people confuse Holland with the Netherlands. As seen above, North Holland and South Holland are provinces within the kingdom. Saying that someone is from the country of Holland is like saying that they come from the country of Arkansas.

Knowing geography is critically important in genealogical research. The smallest of details can make a crucial difference in finding your answers. In the instance of my friend, knowing that the family was from Holland restricted my research to only two of the twelve provinces. This made it far easier to locate their village of origin.

C.G.P. Grey is a physics teacher in England. He has produced a number of videos explaining different subjects. Among them is the highly entertaining The Difference Between Holland and the Netherlands.