Genealogy Blog

Genealogy News and Blog Posts, November 21, 2014

21 Nov 2014

This week’s roundup of stories starts with a Medieval cat story, takes us to the Civil War, a discussion of taphophiles, and award-winning county clerk, and the different languages spoken in the United States. I hope you find them as interesting and informative as I do.

We all know that the Internet was created just so everyone can share cat pictures and videos, and an entire industry could popup around Grumpy Cat. Back in July 2011 a researcher at the University of Sarajevo was working with a fifteenth-century manuscript. As he moved through the volume, he came upon something quite surprising. A cat had clearly walked through ink and then stepped onto the pages, leaving its pawprints behind. He snapped an image, which has recently started making the online rounds. Read more of the story in Curious Cat Walks Over Medieval Manuscript.


Medieval Cat


USA Today recently ran an interesting piece on families connecting themselves back to the Civil War. Gloria Ramsaur has conducted guided tours of the McGavock Confederate Cemetery in Franklin, Tennessee. Many of those who fell at the Battle of Franklin are buried there, but she had no idea that her great-great uncle was killed at the battle. 97-year-old Maurice Johnson remembers as a young boy the many times he walked down to the general store. His mission was to collection the pension that was still being paid out for his grandfather’s service during the war; service which included the Battle of Franklin. Read more in Families Uncover Civil War Drama, 150 Years Later.

New York Newsday ran a terrific piece this week about “taphophiles.” These are individuals who love and appreciate cemeteries for their beauty, and promote them as destinations. This is especially important as older cemeteries, even the large ones, are filling up. They must find new ways to bring in revenue, and taphophiles are helping them. Read more in History, Landscaping, Architecture: Tales Told in NYC’s Cemeteries.

The McKinney Courier-Gazette reported this week on a remarkable achievement for the clerk’s office in Collin County, Texas. In an age where we are used to clerks making access difficult for researchers, the clerk and her staff were presented with the 2014 Best Practices Award from the national Association of County Recorders, Elections Officials and Clerks. They received the award for a project which provides online research tools for those search for their family in Collin County. Read more in Collin County Clerk Office’s ‘Genealogy Corner’ Gets National Recognition.

Slate published some interesting maps awhile back that show the languages spoken in each of the states. With the exception of seven states, the most popular language in every state was Spanish. In Hawaii, it is Tagalog; in Alaska, Yupik; In North Dakota, German; and in Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, it is French. It gets much more interesting when one discounts both English and Spanish. Check out these maps and more in What Language Does Your State Speak?

Nineteenth Century Facial Hair Fashions

19 Nov 2014

November has come to be known in recent years as Movember, a month where men grow moustaches and other facial hair to raise money to promote awareness of men’s health issues. It started in Australia in 2003 with a group of 30 individuals, and over the last decade has grown into a worldwide movement that has seen more than 4 million participants raising almost US $560 million. Even with the availability of razors, trends of being clean-shaven and wearing facial hair have changed through the years.

Straight razors have been around for millennia. Researchers have identified Egyptian razors from 4,000 BCE and from India around 3,000 BCE. Roman razors daring from around the first millennia BCE were the first to straight razors. Archaeologists have found foldable straight razors as far back as the 15th century. The so-called “cut throat” razor is still in use today. Not only does the James Bond character use them, but so does my barbershop, where the barbers finish every man’s haircut by using a straight razor to shave the back of his neck.

Jean Jacque Perret created the first razor designed to minimize injury. He placed a razor blade in a wooden sleeve (like a carpenter’s plane) to reduce the risk of cutting one’s self while shaving. What we think of as today’s “safety razor” came about in 1875. This led to King Gillette developing and selling the first razor at the turn of the 20th century.

The current fashion of men growing enormous beards is reminiscent of a similar fashion that occurred in the mid-nineteenth century. It all started in Britain with the British Army’s participation in the Crimean War. Prior to this conflict, men in the British Army were required to be clean-shaven. But the conditions during the war required the rules to change. When these soldiers returned home, their beards were seen as the mark of their bravery and service. It did not take long for them to become the fashion for all men in Victorian Britain.

Americans have long taken their fashion cues from Europe, especially from Britain. When American men saw images of the whiskers adorning the faces of their British compatriots, the trend took off here as well.


President Rutherford B. Hayes, a perfect example of the nineteenth-century beard craze. From Wikimedia Commons.

President Rutherford B. Hayes, a perfect example of the nineteenth-century beard craze. From Wikimedia Commons.


As with all things fashion, the trend did not last forever. It was around for about twenty years before starting to fall.  The downfall was brought on by two things. First, younger men began to see the fashion as belong to the previous generation and looked for a way to create a more modern look. Second, the availability of safety razors made the job of shaving much simpler.

You can find out more about razors in Waremakers’ Guide to Razors. And the BBC recently ran a piece on The Great Victorian Beard Craze that discusses the nineteenth-century fashion trend in more detail.

Genealogy Holiday Gifts Check-In

18 Nov 2014

Back at the end of September, I wrote about suggestions for sharing your family history research with your family for the holidays this year. With Thanksgiving upon us, this is a wonderful time to check in to see how much progress you are making creating your genealogy holiday gifts.

If you are working on a family calendar, you should at least be reviewing all of the special dates you want to include. Not all vendors allow you to customize dates, but plenty do, so be certain to select one that will allow you to insert all of your family’s important dates. Also shop around so you can get the best price.

Are you working on a decorative family tree to give as a gift? Hopefully you’ve been reviewing your data to have the charts created. Have you done your homework, though to find someone to make the charts for you? There are a number of places you can go. One of the best resources you can look at is Cyndi’s List, where Cyndi has created a section just for charts and forms (and it is three pages long!).


Cyndis List Charts


How is your book project coming along? Your draft should be well along at this point. If you haven’t started, it isn’t too late to start. As we discussed last time, it is not necessary to include your entire ancestry. Just pick a single line, or even just a single ancestral family. Focus on telling that story. And be certain to have someone review your work afterwards. Local colleges and universities are a fantastic place to find help. Hire an English major to proofread and lightly edit your work. It can be less expensive than hiring a professional, yet still give you quality work.

Have you decided to put together a multimedia presentation? By now you should be working on selecting images and video for your presentation. If you have old videotapes or films, you should be looking at converting them. You can invest in equipment to do it yourself, or get it to a vendor who can get them digitized for you quickly. Then you can focus the rest of your time on having fun playing with the presentation!

Finally, the last suggestion was to create a collage. This one takes much less time, and if you have not yet started you can certainly pick this one up any time in the next couple of weeks. Sift through your images to create the story you want to tell about your family. The sales coming up for the holiday season are the perfect time to look for just the right frames to put them in!

Genealogy News Stories and Blog Posts of Interest, November 14, 2014

14 Nov 2014

Welcome to our roundup of interesting genealogy news stories and blog posts. This week’s mix includes a different take on remembering veterans, supercomputing and genealogy, a warning about online trees, one man’s bit of family history at the post office, and the genealogy of wine.

This week in the United States we celebrated Veterans Day, a day set aside to honor those who have served their country in times of war and peace. But for many, there is a flip side to service. David Robison wrote a moving piece for the Globe and Mail about his grandfather, who served in World War II and spent the rest of his life dealing (or not dealing) with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Read his moving piece A Shameful Family History of War.

Geneticists have done remarkable work that is helping genealogists around the world. In addition, extensive work has been done on the ancient origins of humans. Conventional wisdom of recent times has shown tat two groups of people came together about 7–8,000 years ago as hunter-gatherers turned into an agricultural-based race. One group came from the olive-skinned hunter-gatherers who expanded north. These people were later joined by light-skinned, brown-eyed, European farmers from the Near East. Now a third group has been found: ancient northern Eurasians from what is today the area of Siberia. Find out more about their testing on bones thousands of years old, and how they found these results in Supercomputing Beyond Reveals Surprising European Ancestors.

Jim Beidler’s regular column in the Lebanon Daily News is always interesting.  This week he wrote about a topic that should be of concern to all genealogists: the dangers of online family trees. This week he focused on something he calls “carpenter trees,” with people taking information from different trees and melding it into a single tree. Discover the potential problems and dangers with this in Beware of Poorly Built Genealogy Trees.

The LeMars Daily Sentinel in Iowa offers a story of a different source for genealogy: the U.S. Post Office. Genealogist Harry Grey is the fifth-great nephew of Asher B. Durand (his grandmother was Effie (Durand) Grey). Durand was a member of the Hudson River School of artists in the nineteenth century. One of his paintings, “Summer Afternoon” was chosen to printed in a limited edition forever stamps by the post office featuring members of the Hudson River School. Read more in Stamp Offers Peek into Family History.


Closeup of chart of the genealogy of wine.

Chart of the genealogy of wine closeup.


Finally this week we have a different genealogical study. Julie R. Thomson contributed a story to the Huffington Post about the genealogy of wine. She talks about a chart created by Pop Chart Lab that shows the origins of the wide number of grapes used around the world to create wine today. Whether your preference is Merlot, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Muscat, you can find your wine here. Read more and check out the chart in The Genealogy of Wine is the Most Intimidating Family Tree We’ve Ever Seen.

Fireside Chat FGS Edition, Part 2, Now Live

12 Nov 2014

This week we have a wonderful new Fireside Chat for you. It is the second in our series of live interviews with professional genealogists from all over the country.  The interviews were recorded live at the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in San Antonio, Texas, last August.  This weeks guests are:


  • David Mc Donald, discussing church records
  • Paul Milner, providing tips on researching your ancestors in the United Kingdom
  • Billie Stone Fogarty, telling us about tracing migrating ancestors in the south
  • Patricia Walls Stamm, giving us insight into genealogy education
  • Michael Lacopo, a repeat guest giving us tips on Pennsylvania research
  • Lisa Alzo, who talks about self-publishing your family history research
  • Judy G. Russell, another favorite repeat guest, The Legal Genealogist and I had a conversation about copyright issues in family history research


You can watch this week’s chat on the Fireside Chat page. There you will also find links to all of the previous Fireside Chats, which you can view at your leisure. Fireside Chats are free to everyone and do not require a Mocavo subscription.

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Remembering Our Veterans

11 Nov 2014

Today is Veterans Day in the United States. Originally a day to commemorate the end of World War I (which occurred at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918), it now includes all those who have served or continue to serve in our armed forces.  One of the most important ways we can honor our veterans for their service is to tell their stories so that they are remembered. Never has this been more important than today. With less and less emphasis being placed on history in our schools, our youth don’t remember as much as they should about our veterans. Here are three stories from World War I through Vietnam whose stories should be remembered.

There was a time when every American knew the name Alvin York. Sergeant York was born in Tennessee in 1887. He was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War I despite his opposition. The conscientious objector went on to become one of the most decorated American soldiers of the entire war. During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (where my great-great uncle made the ultimate sacrifice), York led an attack on a German machine gun nest. The raid resulted in the deaths of 28 German soldiers, and the capture of 132 others (as well as 32 machine guns).  He would eventually be awarded the Medal of Honor amongst others. In 1941 Gary Cooper won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Sergeant York in the eponymous film story of his life, yet the average American today would be hard-pressed to name him, let alone discuss his service. Today his service is remembered and promulgated by the Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation.

During World War II, women served in a wide variety of positions to help the United States and the allied forces. One group in particular whose dedicated service is not recognized enough is the Women Airforce Service Pilots. During the war, more than a thousand women joined an Army Air Corps program. They became the first female pilots in our history. They flew aircraft between bases in non-combat situations. This freed male pilots to serve in the front lines. WASP pilots flew more than 60 million miles during the war, and 38 of them made the ultimate sacrifice. Today the libraries at Texas Woman’s University hold the official WASP archives.


Leonard Matlovich's gravestone in the Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C., from Wikimedia Commons.

Leonard Matlovich’s gravestone in the Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C., from Wikimedia Commons.


Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1943. He was the only son of his career Air Force father. Leonard followed in his father’s footsteps, enlisting in the Air Force in 1963. He served in Vietnam for several years, earning the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. In the early 1970s he ran very successful at training members of the Air Force in race relations, coaching other instructors around the country. Realizing that discrimination against gays and lesbians serving in the military was also wrong, he became the first gay man to sue the United States for the right to serve after he came out and was discharged. The Air Force lost the suit, but convinced Matlovich to take a monetary settlement instead of being reinstated to service, threatening to find other reasons to discharge him again. After he died from complications of AIDS in 1988, he was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. His headstone inscription contains a phrase that also appeared in his Time magazine interview years earlier: “When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men, and a discharge for loving one.” Five years later, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was instituted. It would take until 2010 before GLBT men and women would be allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military. For more information about his story, visit

These are just some examples of the bravery and heroism shown by the men and women who have fought to defend our country and what it stands for. By telling their stories, we remind ourselves and the next generation of their service, and express our eternal gratitude for it. Without them, we would not be the country we are today. Take the time to tell your family members the stories of your ancestors who have served through the generations.

Gettysburg Warrior Receives Medal of Honor 151 Years Later

06 Nov 2014

Today was a very special day in Washington, D.C. It was one of those rare days where everyone came together to do the right thing and remedy an old wrong. The Medal of Honor was finally presented to a most-deserving soldier. One who died more than a century and a half ago.

It was a hot and humid July day in 1863 in southern Pennsylvania, on the third day of what would turn out to be the bloodiest and most memorable battles of the war. The sun was shining, but the sky was filled with the smoke of cannon fire. Alonzo Cushing was a 22-year-old lieutenant from Wisconsin. A graduate of West Point, he served at many of the more well-known battles, including Bull Run, Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg.

Cushing was leading an artillery battery for the Union on that fateful day in Gettysburg. The Confederate charge was particularly brutal, with more than 10,000 infantrymen involved. He never gave up, continuing to urge his men to keep firing even after being wounded in the shoulder and in the abdomen. He used his own thumb to block a gun vent, eventually burning it off before he was felled by Confederate gunfire while still at his post. Today we know this incident as Pickett’s Charge, and recognize it as a turning point in the war.


Alonzo Cushing


The Medal of Honor was created in 1861 to honor those who have committed personal acts of valor and bravery above and beyond the call of duty, and to express the eternal gratitude of a grateful nation. Since it was first awarded in December 1861 almost 3,500 medals have been awarded. Nineteen individuals have been awarded two Medals of Honor for distinct incidents.

For whatever reason, Alonzo Cushing never received the Medal of Honor, which is often awarded posthumously. Because of time limits for nominations for the award, it took a special act of congress to have the award granted to him now.  Margaret Zerwekh is a ninety-four-year-old amateur historian who today lives on the original Cushing family farm in Wisconsin. For three decades she has been fighting to get Cushing the proper recognition.

Zerwekh managed to do something that few others have been able to in the last few years. She brought members of both parties in Congress to pass the necessary law to allow the medal to be awarded. Her meticulous research over the years was able to show them how richly Alonzo Cushing deserved this honor.

The Army Past Conflict Repatriation Branch worked overtime the last few weeks to identify living relatives for the ceremony. Neither Alonzo nor any of his brothers left any children, but they were able to a first cousin twice removed, 85-year-old Helen Loring Ensign from California. In a White House ceremony today, she received the much-belated thanks of a very grateful nation, and the highest military honor this country bestows for her cousin’s service.  You can read more in Lt. Alonzo Cushing, Hero of Gettysburg, Awarded Medal of Honor from NPR.

Preserving Historic Cemeteries

01 Nov 2014

Danvers in many ways is a typical Massachusetts town. It is on the larger size in population (ranking 70th out of the 351 cities and towns in the commonwealth). It does, however, have a more infamous pedigree than most towns. Originally it was Salem Village, part of the town of Salem and the location of the Salem Witch Trials of the seventeenth century. It rarely gets the publicity, however, and tourists still flock to the town of Salem each Halloween, even though it was not the location of the trials. Today the town is facing a problem that is starting to come before many towns and counties throughout the United States: preserving historic burying grounds.

In New England most towns had a cemetery near the village common, often associated with a church. Family cemeteries are less common, but for a variety of reasons individuals and small groups did often create their own burial grounds. Danvers resident Samuel Holten was a judge, a member of the Massachusetts legislature, and an ardent voice in the Sons of Liberty. He served in the Continental Congress and was a signature of the Articles of Confederation. When he died in 1814, his will dictated that part of his property be set aside as a “burying pasture” for his family and others that lived in the area.

For two hundred years residents of the town served on in the cemetery association. Many of the leading families gratefully served. These members created an endowment by selling plots in the cemetery, hundreds of them. Through the years, veterans of Americas wars from the American Revolution through the Vietnam conflict were buried there. It was well cared for. Flowers and other mementos were often left at graves.


Danvers Cemetery


Unfortunately, in recent years, things have changed dramatically. The cemetery ran out of space. All spaces were sold and revenues dried up. It became more difficult to get people to serve in the association. The cemetery is in need of major repairs, not only to burial plots, but to retaining walls and other structures.

In December, the last member of the association informed the town that she could no longer manage things. The endowment was down to $18,000, and she saw no way to raise funds for more without burial plots to sell. She asked the town to take over managing the cemetery.

The town, however, is not obligated to do so. It is a private burying ground. After the major repairs are done, annual maintenance costs are estimated to be $14,000. There is dissent amongst citizens of the town as to whether or not the cemetery should be taken over by the town, supporting it with taxes. But there is an overwhelming feeling that the cemetery does need to be cared for, especially given its historic nature.

This situation is becoming more and more common all the time. Historic cemeteries have run out of ideas to raise money for care. Towns and counties are being faced with having to take them over or destroy the final resting place of hundreds or thousands of residents. We must find creative ways to help these burying grounds survive, or face a tragedy of irreplaceable loss. You can read more about the story of Holten’s cemetery in Historic Danvers Cemetery Orphaned, Neglected.

The Witchfinder General

29 Oct 2014

‘Tis the season of witches, ghouls, and goblins. As we prepare for Halloween, our thoughts turn to these subjects. Here in Massachusetts, of course, our thoughts turn to Salem, where the infamous witch trials of 1692 started. But this was not the start of rumors of witchcraft. It started in England.

The Witchcraft Act of 1536 made it illegal to be a witch, but it was with the Witchcraft Act of 1604 that it became a serious crime. Witchfinders became very popular during this time. None was more infamous, however, than Matthew Hopkins.

Hopkins is shrouded in mystery. He is thought to be a son of a Puritan minister, born around in Suffolk around 1640, but no baptismal or birth record has been found for him. During the English Civil War, he anointed himself “Witchfinder General” and  staged a reign of terror over East Anglia.

He used numerous methods of torture against his victims. Among the most common were sleep deprivation, making accused witches march around night and day without rest. He used knives with retractable blades, allowing him to “insert” the blade into an accused witch without them feeling anything, a true sign of witchcraft. He also had the accused tied up and thrown into water. If they floated, they were witches. If they sank, it showed their innocence (albeit posthumous proof).

Hopkins started his interrogations in Manningtree and Mistely, and the trials were held at the assizes in Chelmsford. In his first trial he managed to have 28 women convicted. Four died in prison, but the rest were hanged. At one point during his terror spree, he saw 19 women hanged in a single day.


Discovery of Witches


The Salem Witch Trials here in America resulted in some 200 people being accused of witchcraft over an eighteen-month period. Twenty of these were put to death. Hopkins’ reign of terror also lasted eighteen months, but just the number of executed stands at 300. He penned a book entitled The Discovery of Witches was published in 1647. And all of this he accomplished while in his mid-twenties.

While his reign as “Witchfinder General” was brief, so was his life. He died at home in Manningtree, Essex, on 12 August 1647. While rumors were rampant about his death being caused by vengeful mobs, the reality is that he likely died of tuberculous. You can read more about him from the BBC in Matthew Hopkins, ‘Witchfinder General’ of East Anglia.


“All in the Valley of Death Rode the Six Hundred”

21 Oct 2014

This Sunday marks the 160th Anniversary of one of the most well-known and deadly battles in modern military history. Today the Crimean Peninsula is in the lower part of Ukraine, and once again the site of military unrest. In 1854, it was in the crossfire between the forces of Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire fighting to prevent Russian incursion into Europe. At the Battle of Balaclava, 670 British soldiers took on 5,240 Russian soldiers in the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Because of a miscommunication amongst the officers, the Light Brigade (composed of the 4th and 13th Light Dragoons, the 17th Lancers, and the 8th and 11th Hussars, took on a pointless endeavor. Completely surrounded and hopelessly outgunned, they never had a chance of beating the Russians. At the end of the charge, they had suffered 127 wounded, 118 killed, and an additional 60 taken prisoner. 335 horses were also killed during the action, leaving less than a third of the original forces still capable of fighting. The charge was immortalized by Alfred, Lord Tennyson that begins:

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
“Charge for the guns!” he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Conditions for injured soldiers during the Crimean War were amongst the worst in history. The war involved about 1 million troops of France, Britain, the Ottoman Empire, and their allies against the 710,000 troops of Russia and her allies. Britain and her allies suffered a mortality rate of more than 35%, while Russia suffered even more, with more than 55% of her troops dying.

Health conditions were appalling. Sanitary conditions were practically nonexistent. Far more men who initially survived their injuries would die as a result of infection and disease. Cholera and Typhus were rampant.


Florence Nightingale from Wikimedia Commons.

Florence Nightingale from Wikimedia Commons.


It was about the time of the Charge of the Light Brigade that 34-year-old Florence Nightingale arrived in Scutari in Turkey where many of the wounded were sent to hospitals there. She brought with her thirty-eight nurses: ten Roman Catholic nuns, eight Anglican nuns, nd twenty nurses from various hospitals. Within weeks this small group had brought some order to the chaos of the hospitals there.

By early 1855, Florence the death rate rose to 42%, including three of the nurses and seven of the doctors tending to the patients. In May, Florence visited the hospitals in and around Balaclava, tending to survivors of the Light Brigade amongst others. While there she fell ill with “Crimean Fever” (today identified as brucellosis). She became dangerously ill, but survived and return to Scutari, although she would return to Balaclava a year later. In August of 1856 she finally returned home.

A month after her return, she had an audience with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, discussing the need for health reform, especially in the military. Florence worked the rest of her life for increased health care, and recruiting women to work as nurses. Indeed, the next time you are in a doctor’s office or hospital and are being tended to by a female nurse, you can thank Florence for their gracious care.

In efforts were made to shed light on the poverty-stricken circumstances of many of the survivors of the charge. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, read his entire poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” for a recording on a wax cylinder by representatives of Thomas Edison. Martin Landfried/Landrey was a young trumpeter who survived the Charge. In 1890, he recorded the charge he and others sounded that fateful day, playing on a bugle that was used on the field at the Battle of Waterloo.