Genealogy Blog

Don’t Get Caught Writing Historical Fiction

27 Oct 2014

One-hundred-fifty-six years ago today, in a four-story brownstone on East 20th Street in Manhattan, a boy was born who would one of the biggest impacts on the United States as any one individual ever has. Today, Theodore Roosevelt is most widely known for being the youngest president in history, his charge up San Juan Hill, his face on Mount Rushmore, and the phrase “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” But he was a great deal more than that.

From his youth, Teddy Roosevelt was part of the merchant class. He was well off and well-educated. He went to Harvard, and while a sophomore there his father passed away. Soon after graduating he married Alice Hathaway Lee. She died at their New York City home on February 12, 1884, two days after the birth of their daughter Alice. Later that same day, his mother died at the same home.



Image of Teddy Roosevelt from Wikimedia Commons.

Image of Teddy Roosevelt from Wikimedia Commons.


His political career began, naturally with the Republican Party. He started as member of the New York State Assembly in 1882. After the death of his wife, he went to the Dakotas for a few years where he lived as a rancher. He returned to public life, serving as a police commissioner for New York City, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, Vice-President and President of the United States.

What many people today don’t know is his dedication to all people. As he moved the ranks, he would continually come into conflict with fellow Republicans. As president he often came into conflict with the party. He felt a certain responsibility to look out for average Americans. He was known as the “trust-buster” for  bringing anti-trust lawsuits that destroyed virtual and actually monopolies, including Standard Oil, the largest oil company  at the time. He was also responsible for passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug act, improving health standards for everyone. He created the U.S. Forest Service, and during his presidency he turned 230 million acres into protected public lands. Although identified as a Republican, he more and more stood for progressive issue, and went on to form the Progressive Party in 1912.

Teddy Roosevelt is a perfect example of someone who doesn’t behave in ways we might expect. His background would lead us to assume that he would be a paragon of Republican values, supporting corporate America against the working class. Instead, he turned out to be a paragon of progressiveness. Creating a middle road that would lead to success for all.  When examining our ancestors’ lives, it is tempting to create personalities for them, assumptions based on what others like him or her might have done. Before making presumptions, be certain to have empirical evidence to support your conclusions, otherwise you will be writing historical fiction.

In closing, I would like to share with you one of my favorite quotes from Teddy Roosevelt: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

5 Great History Podcasts

23 Oct 2014


Podcasts are a wonderful way to learn. They can fun as well as informative. And what a great way to pass the time while commuting – or while doing your chores around the house. I listen to a number of podcasts. Some of them are just for fun (like Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!), while others are informative (such as Grammar Girl’s podcast). Here are five history podcasts that I think you might enjoy.

1. Journal of American History Podcast

The Journal of American History is the official quarterly publication of the Organization of American Historians. In 2008, they started an official podcast that now appears bi-monthly. Among the topics covered are “The Last of the Doughboys, The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War;” “Citizens of Nowhere: Fugitive Slaves and Free African Americans in Mexico, 1833–1857;” and “’Moving Byond Rags to Riches,’ New York’s Famine Irish Immigrants and Their Surprising Savings Accounts.”

2. Past & Present Podcast

In 2005, Colonial Williamsburg started a podcast to talk about the living history museum. The podcasts feature the men and women who work as interpreters, chefs, tradesmen, musicians, historians, librarians, curators, and so on. The podcast airs weekly, and you can listen, download, or read a transcript for each of the episodes. Some of the topics that you might find interesting include “The Bloody Battlefield,” about the life and duties of a military surgeon; “Spies in the Library,” about materials concerning 18th-century spies; and “George Washington Sneezed Here,” about colonial treatments for the common cold.

3. Stuff You Missed in History Class

This fascinating podcast comes to us from the folks at How Stuff Works. The subject matters vary greatly, from history mysteries, and hoaxes, legal history, and military history, to pirates, royalty, and shipwrecks.  Several new episodes come out each month, and an accompanying blog covers the topics of the podcasts. Recent topics of interest include the two-part “Ethan Allen” (about the Revolutionary War hero); “The Lady Juliana” (about women colonizing Australia); and “The Heathen School” (about the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut).

4. The History Chicks

Beckett Graham and Susan Volledweider are the History Chicks. They take an oftentimes humorous view at history, with a focus on the roles women have played. They have told the stories of Agatha Christie, Sybil Ludington, Carrie Nation, and life in Elizabethan times.

5. Rex Factor

This British podcast is a takeoff on the X Factor. It has been described as “a two-blokes-in-a-pub, light-hearted format marking all England’s monarchs and deciding if they have the Rex Factor or not. But actually the work behind it is impressive.” Over the past four years, the duo of Graham Duke and Ali Hood has covered all of England’s monarchs from the Saxon Alfred the Great through the current monarch from the house of Windsor, Elizabeth II. They are now preparing to start a series on the monarchs of Scotland.

Celebrate Family History Month with 5 Ideas for Creating Holiday Gifts

30 Sep 2014


Fall is my favorite time of year. In New England, we have a cool crisp days and evenings and the beautiful scenery from the foliage as the leaves as turn. Taking long walks on a sunny afternoon with the leaves crunching beneath your feet is the best way to enjoy this season. That said, nothing last forever. Fall will quickly be over and winter will soon be upon us. And we all know what that means. The holidays will be here before you know it!


The other great thing about this time of year is our celebration of Family History Month in October in the United States. What better way to celebrate that to start thinking about sharing your genealogical research with your family over the holidays. It takes time to look at your research get things together and create gifts based on your research to present to your family over the holidays. If you start now you just might have time to get them finished before the holidays hit. There are so many ways you can share your family stories with the current generations. Here are a few examples of gifts that you can create that will mean so much to them. Presents from the store are wonderful, but gifts from the heart like these, Means so much more.


Compose a Family Calendar
It is quite common to see people use use photographs of the family to create a calendar. As a genealogists, you can set up a 2015 calendar your family using the information found in your research. Taking information from your database that has important dates and places that hope meaning for your family and your ancestors and mark them on the calendar. The obvious ones to include our dates and places of birth marriage and death, but there are many more that you can add. For example, include dates when people moved from one place to another, or other significant events such as an ancestor changing jobs or receiving a promotion etc.


Decorative Family Tree
One way to share your ancestry with the family is to create a decorative family tree. There are companies out there, such as Family Chartmasters, that will take your data and create a lovely printed family tree. These can vary from fan charts too expensive descendent and relationship charts that can include images of your ancestors as well. There also vendors out there that can supply you with a template to create your own handwritten chart. A few years back, I found a chart on beautiful parchment paper with A hand colored fan chart in the shape of a tree at the top and A five generation Ahnentafel underneath. Since the empty blocks in the tree have the Ahentafel number in them, even non-genealogists can easily determine the relationships between people.


Write a Family History Book
What better way to share your research than writing your ancestors‘ stories and sharing them in a book. In today’s world of print-on-demand digital printing there are a world of options available to you. You can write a formal compiled genealogy, or put together an illustrated book with lots of stories and pictures. Or, you could even combine the two that has stories with a compiled genealogy at the end. The best part is that it doesn’t have to be the entire family. Just pick a few lines to discuss. You can do different lines at different times, and have gifts ready for many holidays into the future!


Make a Multimeda Presentation
It has never been easier to create slideshows and videos with your family history. There are apps and software programs to help you in many ways. Combing oral history interview recordings with photographs and narration, you can produce a very valuable gift. Don’t forget to add images of original documents as well. These can be just as interesting to your family members.


Create a Collage
There are many ways to create a collage. Many craft stores have ornate frames in the shape of trees that you can simple insert your photographs into. You can also create a collage with software and print it out as a poster or other large-dimension image to put into a single frame. You can also print a number of images in different sizes and get a number of individual frames to put them in. The recipients can then create their own collages when hanging the frames on a wall.

Three Tips for Self-Publishing Your Family History

05 Sep 2014


One of the great benefits of today’s technology age is how much easier it is to share our genealogical research. Self-publishing has come a long way in the last few years. Here are three tips for taking advantage of the wide variety of services for taking control of publishing your family stories.

1. Get editorial assistance.

It is a well-known truism that one cannot edit or proofread one’s own work. Our minds already know what we wanted to say, so when we try to edit or proofread ourselves, we miss many of the mistakes we have made. If you have a friend with editorial experience, you might be able to convince them to help you. But, if not, there are other options available to you. Editor World is one option. They can provide you with editorial assistance for a fee, with reasonable turnaround time.

2.  Pay for a designer.

Part of being creating a good publication is paying attention to the design. And I’m not referring to the cover design (which is the first thing everyone thinks of). I am talking about the interior layout of the book. This includes font, type size, margins, justifications, headers, footers, chapter breaks, and much more. Each and every one of these may sound inconsequential, but can have a major impact. What happens if you make the margins too small? Part of the text will be illegible because it will be in the gutter (where the pages attach to the binding), and part will be unreadable because the reader’s fingers will be blocking the text. A professional can put this together for you and you will have a fantastic product at the end. For more hints, read How Much Attention Should You Pay to Book Design.

3. Don’t violate copyright.

This may be the most difficult one to adhere to. You must be careful where you take information from, and how you use it. While facts (such as dates and places of birth, marriage, and death) are not copyrightable, the words used to convey that information are. Do not directly copy text but use your own words. Even more important are images. Remember that copyright currently lasts for 70 years after the death of the creator. All those family photographs in your possession? Copyright belongs to the person who took the photograph, and to his/her heirs. The key date at the moment is 1944.

Five Things I Learned in School About Genealogy

22 Aug 2014


This is back to school time. I remember a special August more than thirty years ago when I arrived at the University of Massachusetts for my first band camp. Little did I know then how much college and the band would impact my life. And decades later, I still keep up with numerous friends from that time. And many of the lessons I learned in school are ones that I use in genealogy all the time. Here are a few of them.

1. Be an information sponge.

School is a time for learning. So many new opportunities open up to us to learn about subjects that mean something to us (as well as more than a few subjects that we probably don’t care about, but could use). We benefit most when we open up to the various opportunities available to us. As genealogists, we benefit from all kinds of learning. Working with experienced researchers; taking classes; attending seminars and workshops; reading blogs, magazines, and journals; and many other opportunities teach us how to become better at finding our ancestors.

2. If it doesn’t fit, change your tactics.

It continues to amaze me that in this country we ask 18-year-olds who are entering college to pick a major concentration that will be what they do for the rest of their life. Who knows at that age? It is one of the major ironies of my life that I wanted to be a history major in college, but thought I would never be able to find a job where a history major would come in handy. Instead, I changed my major numerous times. At various times in college my major was computer science, communication studies, and legal studies before settling into political science with a minor in history.  When I didn’t like the direction I was taking, I changed directions. The same thing should hold true for genealogical research. If a particular avenue isn’t working, switch to something different. A new approach may help you solve the problem.

3. If you make a mistake, learn and move on.

Lord knows I, like most college students, made my share of mistakes. We’re human. Everyone makes mistakes. Certainly most genealogists have had the experience of breaking out the chain saw and hacking a few limbs off the family tree. The important thing is to accept the mistake. Even the most experienced genealogists have had to do some pruning. Often it is through no fault of your own, but simply because new evidence has been uncovered and shed new light on existing facts that end up changing or eliminating relationships. Don’t cling to incorrect family members. You never know what exciting things you will find in the new banches.

4. The more you apply yourself, the better your results will be.

In this day of computers and technology, more and more genealogists are relying on the technology to do the research for them. If a system tells them that something is a possible match, they take it as gospel and graft it onto the family tree. While these things clues are important, they should be treated as what they are: clues for further research to prove that they are correct. The same goes for those who blindly download GEDCOM files from others and attach the data to their own tree. Roll up your sleeves and get to work verifying information before accepting it as true. It is the only way to be certain the people in your family tree are actually your ancestors.

5. Friends made here are friends for a lifetime.

Three decades later, I still count friends I made in high school and college as near and dear to my heart. We remain close even if we lose touch for periods of time. Facebook has helped dramatically, especially during times of shared loss. The same is true of genealogists. I remain friends with people I met when I first started researching my family back in the 1980s. Who else will put up with all of your stories other than genealogists? But we also help each other. We listen and offer feedback. We bounce ideas off of each other. And we share resources and opportunities with each other. Get out from behind the computer and get involved with your local genealogical and historical societies. You will be ever the richer for it.


5 Tips for Using a Professional to Overcome Your Brick Walls

26 Jul 2014


I am often asked what professional genealogists do. My colleagues and I are also often asked “Why should I hire a professional genealogist? And why won’t they guarantee results?” The truth is that professional genealogists can be of tremendous help to you. Here are five tips to help you work with a professional genealogist to break down your brick walls.

1. What can a professional do for me?

Professionals have extensive experience. They have spent years educating themselves, researching, and are quite knowledgeable. Their knowledge of methodology and research techniques is usually quite great. But it is not just for research only that you can hire a professional. Many of them will also do consultations for a fee, giving you assistance on where to focus your research.

2. Why can’t I just do it myself?

We can’t all be experts on everything. Professionals often have extensive experience, sometimes in a very narrow area. Sometimes, especially with your brick wall problems, you may have run out of ideas. Professionals with their greater expertise, may be able to find new avenues for research. They also usually have access to vast networks of colleagues with whom they can consult for even further ideas. This can be a shortcut for you, potentially saving you years of time.

3. Why won’t a professional guarantee results?

Because there is no way to know how long it will take, if ever, to find the answers you are seeking. When you hire a professional, you are paying for their expertise and their time to search. Sometimes we find the answer in a day, and sometimes it takes years, and there is no way to know in advance how long it will take. This is especially true of brick wall problems, where you have already examined the easily available resources. It took me seven years to find one marriage record in my own ancestry. The solution only arose when I saw a single, unrelated, original record, that indicated the family had moved elsewhere for a time. Not only won’t a qualified professional guarantee you results, you should run away from one who dies. They are clearly more interested in taking your money than providing you with excellent research services.

4. What should I do before hiring a professional?

Put together a succinct description of exactly what you are looking for. Send it to the professional, asking to gage their interest in the project. You should ask for an estimate of how much time, and the hourly rate. You can negotiate a certain amount of time. As a rule, it is better to authorize a minimum of 3 to 5 hours. It will take awhile for the professional to get moving, and you don’t want to cut them off if they are hot on the trail of a solution for you. Most professionals will ask for a retainer when working with a new client. Don’t be afraid to ask for references.

5. How can I find a professional to help me?

In the United States, visit the Association of Professional Genealogists. They have the largest network of genealogists. You can search the database by place of residence, as well as by areas of expertis. Members of the Board for Certification of Genealogists and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists have undergone additional testing of their expertise. Member of all three organizations are required to agree to certain ethical standards, and you should certainly file a complain with the organizations if you feel that a professional has violated ethics in their work with you.


Share Your Story With the Future Through StoryCorps

28 Jun 2014

Summer is a great time for family history. Family vacations can include time for genealogy, with research, family visits, and outings to cemeteries. This summer, why not take some time to include participation in StoryCorps?

StoryCorps celebrated its 10th anniversary last fall. Since 2004, more than 80,000 people have contributed more than 50,000 interviews to the archive. They are creating a valuable genealogical resource for the future.

StoryCorps has a simple formula. Each recording includes two people who know each other well: family members, friends, etc. The two sit in the StoryCorps booth and talk for forty minutes. The subject is pretty much up to them, and topics vary widely.




StoryCorps has a commitment to documenting the stories of a wide variety of groups. They have a number of special outreach projects to document communities, including:

  • StoryCorps OutLoud (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered)
  • Military Voices Initiative (veterans, service members, and their families)
  • Historias Initiative (Latino/Latinas)
  • Griot Initiative (African Americans)
  • StoryCorps Legacy (those living with serious illness)
  • Memory Loss Initiative (those living with various forms of memory loss)

StoryCorps operates  permanent recording locations at Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco. It also operates a MobileBooth that travels  across the country every year to record stories. This summer it will be visiting Marquette and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Groups can also sponsor a portable recording station to be brought to their location.

For those who cannot get to a recording station (permanent or mobile), there is StoryCorps DIY. You can record and share your story online and submit it to StoryCorps.

The best part of StoryCorps the group’s commitment to preserving these stories for the future. All of the StoryCorps recordings are archived at The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. All recordings are available there

Unfortunately, only a selection of recording is available online, at the StoryCorps website. A podcast delivers access to more recordings, and StoryCorps recordings also air on National Public Radio.

Read more about the StoryCorps mission and how you can contribute on the StoryCorps website. You can listen to more stories on the NPR website. And think about spending some time this summer recording your story for the future.

Census History

24 Jun 2014

Census Bureau History


During Colonial times a number of censuses were taken, but they were small and local. It was not until the U.S. Constitution that the first large-scale census was taken. Article 1, Section 2, sets up the House of Representatives and reads in part:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifts of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. “

This was the foundation of our current census system. The United States was the first country to require a regular enumeration of inhabitants. The Constitution went into effect in June 1788 when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify it. The first Congress met from March 4, 1789 to March 4, 1791, and the enumeration began in August 1790. This first census had only five questions:

  1. Free White males of 16 years and upwards
  2. Free White males under 16 years
  3. Free White females
  4. All other free persons
  5. Slaves

As Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson was responsible for overseeing the taking of this first census. Enumerators had to provide their own paper, a tradition that would remain until 1830 when the first printed forms were finally provided. The total population in 1790 was 3,929,214 and cost $44,377.28.

By the 1940 census (the last publicly available census at the present time), the population had increased to 132,164,569, almost thirty-four times higher. The cost, however was more than fifteen hundred times higher: increasing to $67,527,000.

The population schedules included thirty-four questions. Two people (who randomly appeared on lines 14 and 29 of the schedule) were asked an additional sixteen questions. This was the largest number of questions of any publicly available census to date. It was not until the census of 2000 that more questions were asked (53 were asked that year). Censuses are released to the public seventy-two years after the enumeration. The 1950 census will not be released to the public until 2022.

Mocavo is pleased to have the census indexes for the 1790 through 1940 censuses available to the public for searching, part of our free forever campaign. For more information about the census, visit the Census Bureau’s website. You can search the entire set of census indexes for free on Mocavo.

Download Your Free Mocavo Military Genealogy Research Guide

24 May 2014

Memorial Day is the day when we take the time to celebrate and remember the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in our country’s armed forces. At Mocavo, you can explore more than 500 million names in our military collections for free.

With the help of Chief Genealogist Michael J. Leclerc, we created an educational Military Research Guide to help you navigate these important records. Uncover helpful research tips and a few military collections that can help you unlock the stories of the military heroes in your family tree.

Download Your Free Military Research Guide Now


3 Tips to Make the Most out of Your Family Reunion

08 May 2014

It’s that time of year again! The time when families gather together to celebrate their unique heritage at family reunions. Reunions offer one of best opportunities to share your stories, gather information and verify your research. The best way you can make the most out of your family reunion is to come prepared.

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1. Share Your Stories

One of the greatest gifts you can give to your family is taking the time to share your story. When researching our family history, it’s easy to get caught up in the stories of our ancestors, but it’s important to remember to document the important details of our own lives. Whether you take pen to paper and write down your favorite memories or take some time to make an audio or video recording of your favorite stories from the past, make sure to share these memories with your loved ones in person at your reunion. For more tips on preserving your own story, check out “For Future Generations, Say What You Need to Say.”

2. Gather Information

Family reunions offer the perfect excuse to set aside some time to talk with family members and discover their stories. Whether you already know a little bit about a person or nothing at all, it’s always a treat to be able to speak with family members in person. Download the Mocavo Family History Toolkit to access five helpful tips for interviewing family members and an interview question worksheet. Bring multiple copies of the interview question worksheet to your family reunion so you can take notes and keep your research organized.

Download the Mocavo Family History Toolkit Now

3. Verify Your Research

There is no better time to verify your research than when you can discuss your findings with family members in person. Make sure you bring a summary of your present research so you know which facts you need to verify with family members. It’s also important to bring a copy of a current pedigree chart and/or family group sheet(s) so that you can stay on track when sharing or confirming your research. Finally, make sure to bring blank pedigree charts and family group sheets just in case you need to make additional notes or start documenting facts for a new ancestor. Your Mocavo Family History Toolkit also has blank copies of pedigree charts and family group sheets that you can print out and bring with you to any family event.

Download the Mocavo Family History Toolkit Now

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