Genealogy Blog

5 Genealogy Blogs You Should be Reading

24 Jul 2015


There are many blogs out there. It can be difficult to find one to read that is informative and pertinent for you. Here are five genealogy blogs you should be reading that I have found interesting, and I think you will too.

  1. Rootsmithing: Genealogy, Methodology, and Technology

Drew Smith is an Assistant Library at the USF Tampa Library. He is also one half of the Genealogy Guys podcast, and a noted expert on genealogy and technology (he serves as chair of the Family History Information Standards Organisation). He posts periodically on his blog about a wide variety of subjects. Recent posts include A Few Tech/Genealogy Words You May be Typing/Using Incorrectly and In Support of Wikipedia.


  1. No Story Too Small

Amy Johnson Crow is a longtime professional genealogist. In her blog, she focuses on motivating people to tell the stories of family members. In 2014 she issued a challenge which she has continued to this year. 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenges individuals to wrote once a story once each week, choosing a different ancestor this week. This can be a great motivation for those trying to write more from their research.


  1. Kate’s Kin-nections

This is another example to help you write about your family. This is an example rather than a how-to. Kate Lowrie is a former president of the New England chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists. She writes this blog about her family specifically for family members. It is a great example of how easily you can put together a blog to share research with your family members.


  1. Elyse’s Genealogy Blog: On a Journey to Find My Roots

Elyse is a wonderful young lady from Southern California. A full-time teacher, she is a part-time professional genealogist. Her blog is a mix of travelogue, stories, and research tips. I enjoy reading it, especially since it brings a fresh young perspective. She has not been around enough to be jaded or stuck in a rut as we often can when we’ve been doing the same thing for decades. She only posts periodically, but they are interesting. Recent posts include Tracking “Maybe Ancestors” in OneNote and Why Researching Your Ancestors’ FAN Club is Important.


  1. Thinking Genealogically

Dave McDonald is a recognized expert in many areas. His blog is written in a folksy, easy-to-read style. He discusses his own adventures in researching his family’s stories. It is also an  mix of stories and research tips. Among his recent posts are There May be More, Ode to the Cell Phone, and Other Records in the Vault.

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24 Jul 2015


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Problems in Finding Towns of Origin

22 Jul 2015 ran an interesting story yesterday about town names called “25 Massachusetts Town Names That are Hard to Pronounce.” It showed how the names of some of our towns (many with Native American origins) are properly pronounced by locals. This reminded me of an issue that perpetually plagues genealogists, the problems in finding towns of origin.

For the most part, we are tracing families who migrated from one place to another. If you are lucky, your ancestors may have stayed in the same place for long periods of time. But for the vast majority of Americans, our ancestors moved multiple times through the generations. This results in having to identify numerous places where they lived.

One of the problems we have is that most often the records we use were not created in the original location. People are born in one place, marry in another, and die in a third. And in between they can live in countless other locations. Often we are looking at information about place of birth on a death record. The death could have been recorded hundreds of miles away or more, by people who had never heard of the places.

Another problem that genealogists run into is the accent issue. Usually when we discuss accents, the mind immediately jumps to non-English speaking immigrants from other countries. Letters are often pronounced differently, such as the v/w reversal between German and English. This can result in oddly-spelled versions of town names. Many of these individuals may not even be able to spell the name of the place where they came from.

In addition to these issues of foreign-born immigrants, we have the issue of internal migration. As the United States expanded from the east coast to the west coast, people moved from location to location. And regional accents became mixed. These accents can cause communication issues. A New York native living in Indiana and speaking with someone originally from the deep South may easily misinterpret the words he or she is hearing.

Another complicating factor is that information is often provided by a third party. This is especially true for death records, where information can be provided by children or grandchildren who themselves may never have seen the names of places of origin spelled out, only heard spoken.


Word Pronounciation


There is also another problem that the story illustrates. The final town, Worcester, is supposedly pronounced (wuh-stir). While some people call it that, many New Englanders pronounce it with a short letter i in the first syllable. And the regional propensity to drop the letter r at the end of the word results in a pronounciation similar to (wĭh-sta). So even in a particular region, pronounciation can be different.

Add these issues the propensity for Anglo record keepers for not being overly stringent in identifying these earlier origins and the genealogist’s job to identify origins can be quite challenging.


Five Essential Resources for New England Research

14 Jul 2015


Those who have ancestry in the New England states are blessed with many great resources. And the New England Historic Genealogical Society has been at the forefront of publishing research guides to help genealogists for more than a century. Here are five essential resources for New England research that we all should have, all brought to you courtesy of NEHGS.


  1. Genealogical Handbook for New England Research
    This guide has been the Bible for researching in New England for decades. Editing the fifth edition of this essential guide was my last project when I worked at NEHGS (ed: I did this as an employee, and make no money from sales of the book). Each of the six New England states has a chapter detailing the organization of basic records (vital, church, land, probate, etc.). It also provides lists of towns (existing and extinct), maps, contact information for vital, land, and probate records, and more.


  1. New England Marriages Prior to 1700
    Clarence Almon Torrey spent years poring over published materials on New England families to compile a 12-volume manuscript. The manuscript contains references to couples who lived in New England who were married in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. While Torrey’s manuscript has been published before, this is the first version to include all of his source references, allowing users to go back and review them for themselves.


  1. New Englanders in the 1600s, Expanded Edition
    First published in 2006, this work by Martin Hollick originally referenced sixteenth- and seventeenth-century individuals who appeared in compiled genealogies and scholarly journals between 1980 and 2005. In 2012, the work was updated and expanded to include material published through 2010. It is the best reference work for the most recent scholarship available on these early inviduals. It is extremely helpful for sorting out the problems in genealogists published earlier (many of which are easily available online) that have a great deal of incorrect information. Many of the problems have been corrected in the last 35 years, but not always easily available online. This is where Hollick’s book becomes indispensable.


  1. The Great Migration Directory
    For more than twenty years, The Great Migration Study Project at NEHGS has produced the highest-quality research on those who emigrated during the period from 1620 ­­­to 1640. Ten volumes have already been published, with detailed profiles of immigrants who arrived by 1635. The most complete list of immigrants for the entire twenty-year period has just been published in The Great Migration Directory. Immigrants are listed by the name of the head of household and includes the English or European origin (if known), date of migration, principal residences in New England, and the best available sources of information for the subject.


  1. Elements of Genealogical Analysis
    As head of the Great Migration Study Project, Robert Charles Anderson has developed a process for producing a genealogy sketch. In this new book, he shares the research process with us so we can learn how to conduct the best possible research. He shows us how to carefully examine our sources and records to ensure that we have clearly proven each linkage.

Journals for Genealogists

09 Jul 2015

Genealogical journals have been the bedrock of our research for more than a century. Since the New England Historic Genealogical Society started publishing the New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1847, our journals have stood for the highest quality research. In recent years, some have moved away from them, finding them boring or stuffy. Yet this does not change that they are one of the single most import secondary source of information for our research.

The advent of the internet age has made access to journals much easier over the last few years. Since many journals have been published since the turn of the century or earlier (not just the Register, but the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record among others), it is often possible to find early issue for free on internet search engines, and many can be found on Mocavo.

Ironically, while genealogists find these archived journals to be filled with valuable information, they find current issues less so. Unlike previous generations, they often do not see how individual issues of any journal could be of any use to them if their own family is not included in it. This is far from the truth.

Any given current issue of a journal is an amazing font of information to genealogists. First off, articles in scholarly journals are peer reviewed by some of the gest genealogists in the country. You can be certain if an article appears in a journal, it has been examined multiple times for logic and accuracy.

When reading a journal article, I read it first for the content. I read it straight through without looking at the footnotes. When I’m done, I go back and review it again, this time examining the footnotes. Footnotes reveal sources used, and often I find new resources, or those that are new to me. Footnote also include additional analysis that can help me learn more about analyzing information.

Another interesting exercise is to take an article and, using the footnotes, examine the original sources for yourself to see how the author came to his, her, or their conclusions. This is an excellent way of learning not only how to research, but how to write. And learning how to write is at least as important as learning how to research in genealogy. Many times we focus entirely on our research, but forget that communicating it to others is just as important. If we don’t tell people what we find, that information will be lost forever! And articles in genealogical journals are perfect examples of how to clearly communicate your findings.

Major New Source for Irish Research

08 Jul 2015

Today is an important day for those with Catholic ancestors who came from Ireland. The National Library of Ireland (NLI) has finally launched a long-awaited genealogy project. The microfilm collection of Catholic parish registers has been digitized and made available online.

Back in 1939, the NLI and the Bishop of Limerick started discussions about preserving the information in the church’s parish registers. Every parish agreed to have their records microfilmed. Civil registration began in 1864, but like many efforts around the world, it took several years for every jurisdiction to comply. Because of this, the decision was made to microfilm registers up through 1880.

It took more than a decade before microfilming began. Registers were brought to NLI, filmed, then returned to the parish. It took another twenty years to finish microfilming. In the end, more than 3,500 registers from 1,086 parishes were filmed.

In 2010 the 550 reels of microfilm were converted to digital images. About 373,000 digital images of pages from the registers were created. Last year, the NLI moved forward with the process of making the images available online. Noted Irish genealogist John Grenham provided assistance throughout these stages of the project.


NLI Catholic Parish Register


Now, as with all resources, there is good news and bad news when it comes to these registers. The best news is that there is a website dedicated just to the registers, and it is completely free for everyone to access. The bad news is that the registers are not searchable. One must navigate to the parish, then browse through the registers to get to the information. Unfortunately, this means that users must know the exact Catholic parish (not the civil parish) where their ancestors lived.

One can search for a parish, or locate it through a map. Variant forms of parish names are cross-referenced. And for each parish, you will find a list of available microfilmed records. Clicking on the film brings you to a viewer with images of the register pages. You can scroll through the entire film, or narrow the images by record type, year, and/or month. There are also a number of options for brightness, contrast, inverting, downloading, and printing the images.

If you have Irish Catholic ancestors, visit the National Library of Ireland’s Catholic Parish Registers website today.

Social History for Genealogists

06 Jul 2015

Understanding social history is as critical to genealogy as family history. Without the former, the latter is impossible. We might miss significant clues. Or worse, come to false conclusions. We also can miss out on getting a fuller picture of our ancestors’ lives. Being uninformed can be a major problem in genealogical research.

Prior to the twentieth century, history predominantly focused on the actions of famous individuals (mostly men), and their impact on society and the world. The main focus was political, economic, and international history. Then a new movement started called “new social history.”  This movement grew tremendously in the 1960s and 1970s, and brought a new focus to historiography. The focus is on the lives, actions, and experiences of ordinary individuals.

Social history is extremely valuable for genealogists. For example, a friend of mine recommended an excellent book to me many years ago: Inheritance in America: From Colonial Times to the Present. Based on a 1982 study at Rutgers University, this work helped me to have a greater understanding of the probate process. It is one thing to know the probate laws in the time and place in which you are researching. It is another to see a discussion of how these laws were implemented, and how the various cultural influences around the country impacted the laws and how they were implemented. This is exceedingly valuable information for a genealogist to know and understand.

Often we presume that our female ancestors were not allowed to own property, which is why deeds are always in their husband’s name. In reality, this was not always the case. Another book, Women and the Law of Property, which dates back to 1986, provides greater understanding. It details the circumstances under which women could and could not own property in America through the early nineteenth century. Knowing the laws that were in place at the time, combined with this information, one can often interpolate a great deal of additional information from records of the family.

There are many places to get works on social history. My favorite is Maia’s Books. Owner Martha crosses the country displaying a wide variety of books for genealogists, including a large number of social histories. In fact, both books I mentioned above I purchased from Maia’s Books. Check out her website for a large collection of social histories of all different kinds to help you in your research.


You Can’t Go Home Again – Especially Online

20 Jun 2015

Although I am now a Bostonian (and have been for a quarter-century), I was raised in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. The vast majority of the last three generations of my family has been focused in this area. Unlike many of my friends, who lived in a single house, my family moved a bit. Earlier this week, while down in Rhode Island for my cousin’s funeral, we took a side trip to drive by the house were I was spent my young childhood.


The house at 14 Barberry Hill Road where I grew up. (from the collection of the author, used with permission)

The house at 14 Barberry Hill Road where I grew up. (from the collection of the author, used with permission)


In looking for additional information about the house online, I was reminded of the many dangers of doing online property research, and why it cannot be relied upon.


  1. The property where I lived from ages 5 to 12 is in the town of Cumberland, Rhode Island. Like many small jurisdictions, the government does not have a lot of money. As such, there are no official records available online. This immediately is cause for concern. While not always 100% accurate, government records are a much better place to start.
  2. Since I had the exact address I did a Google search. At first I wasn’t certain I had the same place. Then I realized that the name of the road had changed. Not only that, but it was much longer. We built the house, and it was only the sixth one on the street. One more was built shortly before we moved. Today, there are more than a dozen. Fortunately the name of the street hadn’t changed much. And the house number had not changed. From drive-bys in the 1990s, I knew that they put small additions on the master bedroom and the kitchen, and installed an inground pool. These were visible on Google Maps.
  3. I found an online valuation company, Certified Revaluation Company, that showed the history of the home’s ownership back to my parents, the first owners. May parents sold the house in March of 1977, too far back to show the sale price online. The couple that purchased it owned it for 28 years, selling it only in 2005 to Paul Parks, Jr. and Et Ux Jean Russo-Parks. But the major problem is that the pool was said to be built in 1965. This is off by a factor of almost 20 years.
  4. I looked at Zillow and Trulia, two popular property valuation sites. Trulia states that the house was built in 1965, and is 1,968 square feet. Zillow also says that it was built in 1965, that it is 2,016 square feet, with a finished basement that is 1,864 square feet. That would leave 152 square feet for the entire main floor. Even if I didn’t know the house, I could tell that this is a mistake. They are also both incorrect about the year of construction. It was build over the winter of 1968/69.
  5. Even small, but important, details can be wrong. Other Google results took me to a website called This listed Jean Russo-Parks as a male and a religious leader at the Wesley United Methodist Church in the town of Lincoln. But the valuation site said that Paul Parks, Jr. and Jean Russo-Parks were married. Since same-sex marriage was not yet legal in Rhode Island in 2005, there is a conflict. A quick search found an obituary for Jean in 2011, confirming that she was indeed a woman.


When doing online property research, it is very important to follow up with research in original records at government repositories. So much of the information can be wrong. You can have the details completely wrong.

Filling in the Dash – And Much More

16 Jun 2015

Genealogists spend vast amounts of time fiiling in the dash of their ancestors. By dash, of course, I mean the en-dash that separates the dates of birth and death for an individual. While it can be exciting to be able to do this for our ancestors from times past, it is a sad duty to have to do it in the present.

Last week, my cousin Andrew passed away after a brave fight with cancer, brought on by chemicals he worked with when he was young. He is the second of the eighteen cousins on my mother’s side of the family to go, both far younger than they should have. I have just returned from the wake and funeral. While it was a time of great sadness, there were also great moments of reconnecting with family members whom we don’t get to see often enough.

It didn’t take long for the genealogist to pop out once I arrived. Andrew’s brother-in-law was standing in the hallway and we started talking. His son came over to say hello. I hadn’t seen him in many years. He is now thirty years old and lives not far from me in Boston. He is interested in his paternal heritage, which is Armenian. His grandmother’s side were survivors of the Armenian Genocide, whilst his grandfather’s side has been in the U.S. since the 1880s. We had an enjoyable discussion of resources, etc.

It didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to all of the relatives in the room. He had questions about who people were, and how we are all related. It was nice to see a younger family member be so interested. I also told him many stories of his great-grandparents (my grandparents) who both died before he was born. He was also astounded when I explained the age range in my generation spans more than forty years. His eldest uncle (and my eldest first cousin), Raymond, is sixty-three years old. He is two years older than our uncle, Roger, who is sixty-one. Roger’s twin daughters only just turned twenty years old a couple of weeks ago.

For me, it was a great opportunity to catch up on the younger generations. Three of my cousins are grandparents themselves. I was able to collect more information on these new additions to the family. It was also amazing to see the family resemblances. My cousins asked me to put together a video with pictures of their late brother, which I gladly did. They sent me the photographs, and as I was sorting them, I saw a Christmas picture from the early 1970s, and said to myself “What is my mother doing there?” Then I looked again and realized it couldn’t be my mother. It was actually my grandmother.

Wakes and funerals are difficult times. They are very frequently a mixed bag of emotions. Sadness is combined with the joy of seeing family members one hasn’t seen in awhile. I wouldn’t suggest breaking out a notebook and writing things down (although a simple reminder note or two has been known to make their way into my phone), but use the time to set definite plans to get together again in person soon. Then you can really get some genealogy done.


The picture of my cousins taken a few years ago (from the collection o the author, used with permission).

The picture of my cousins and I, taken a few years ago. (from the collection o the author, used with permission)


A few years ago, the first of my generation of cousins passed away. After the funeral, his brother hosted a get-together for the family. We laughed and cried some more, and talked. And I brought my camera. I got a photograph of my mother with her sister and brothers (probably the last one that will ever be taken of them). Then I got all of the children who were there into the picture as well (twelve out of the seventeen surviving cousins). I had copies made of both photographs for all of the cousins.

This time around, my cousin’s son and I will soon be getting together for dinner and researching into his Armenian roots. My mother’s cousin and I will be getting together soon so I can share information with her, and she can show me the wedding portrait of my great-great-grandparents back in the 1870s.

Using Historical Fiction and Non-Fiction in Genealogy

05 Jun 2015

Like many genealogists, I am a voracious reader. I still have my Hardy Boys books from when I was a young boy, and a collection of Star Trek books acquired over three decades. Agatha Christie’s many detective and Sherlock Holmes kept me company on many an evening. And as far back as I can remember, I have loved reading historical fiction and non-fiction. While these can be helpful, one must be careful when using them for genealogical research.

One of my favorite authors when I was a teenager was John Jakes. His eight-volume saga The Kent Family Chronicles that took the family of Philippe Charbonneau from mid-eighteenth-century France to early-twentieth century America got me hooked. Not surprising for a budding genealogist. When I was a bit older, I got hooked on the works of William Martin. He is a Massachusetts author of a number of works of historical fiction, many in the form of mysteries.

John Jakes

These authors represent the best of those who write historical fiction. They spend countless hours researching events, places, and people to put their works in the proper context. They mix real people with fictional characters. It is important to remember, however, that even the characters based on real people are participating in fictional events, in fictional ways. Even when the setting is events that actually happened, most of the specific accounts are fictional. One must be careful about incorporating this information into family history research.

While this may not be surprising, it may surprise you to learn that you must also be careful about incorporating non-fiction historical works. While dates and places of historical events are usually without question, other information is often subject to interpretation. Remember that in most cases, the victor gets to write the history. But in reality, there are often multiple versions of history.

For example, for my French-Canadian ancestors, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham was critical to every aspect of their life. At the end, France ceded Canada to Britain. This one battle changed the course of history on the entire North American continent. I have histories of this event that were published in the United States, Canada, and England. Each of them tells a different part of the story.

In addition, with the passage of time, new evidence often comes to light that changes the interpretation of events. Time and distance also can make a difference. It is often easier to view events with more impartiality. So be certain to read a wide variety of historical discourses before adding information to your family history.