Genealogy Blog

Epigenetics at Work: the Blizzard of ’78 and the French Toast Alert System

27 Jan 2015

When I think of my ancestors living through winters in French-Canada, I realize how strong those men and women must have been. Challenging enough to live on the frontier, but to think of them doing it without modern tools, heat, food, etc., it is truly incredible. The northeast is currently getting by a blizzard of historic proportions. The last storm of this size recorded in Boston was in 2013, but the one that gets the most press, and lives strongest in our memory, is the great Blizzard of ’78. For those of us who lived through it, it was scary yet exciting; and very, very challenging. And a great example of epigenetics.

The severity of the storm was due to a confluence of circumstances that rarely occurs. The initial forecasts called for a typical nor’easter. For those who do not live in New England, a nor’easter is strong storm with very heavy precipitation and hurricane-force winds, and blizzard conditions (severe winds causing blowing snow that creates low-to-zero visibility lasting more than three hours). The names comes from the fact that the storm rides up the coast and the bands of wind and precipitation come circling around on land from the northeast. The storm was supposed to hit on Monday and last for a day.

The nor’easter reached hurricane-force winds of more than 85 miles per hour (with gusts going more than 110). It reached New England on February the evening of February 6. This was the night of a new moon, when tides are at their highest. The storm started inflicting devastating damage on coastal towns. A normal nor’easter lasts for six to twelve hours before dissipating. But this storm was anything but  normal. A high pressure system had worked its way down from Canada. It trapped the storm over New England for three days. An unprecedented thirty-three hours of precipitation hammered New England. In addition, a rare vertical formation of storm clouds resulted in thundersnow, with thunder and lightning across Long Island and Southern New England, where I lived.

It hit so fast and with so little warning that many people were trapped on highways trying to get home. Cars were abandoned everywhere as people sought shelter. At times during the storm, snow was falling at a rate of 4 inches per hour. By the time it was finished, more than 27 inches fell across New England.

The cleanup took days. Roadways blocked with snow and abandoned vehicles made the work slow and difficult. Some people did not get home for days. Although the storm ended on Wednesday, it took through the rest of the week to get things cleaned up in the aftermath. I remember walking through my neighborhood, a fairly typical suburban area. Snow was piled at the corners in drifts more than 10 feet high. There was simply no place to put it.

Fortunately, nowadays weather forecasting has gotten much better. We have warnings and are able to prepare. But the effects of the storm are still felt here in New England. It is certainly a great example of epigenetics at work. People tend to overreact to storms here now. Nobody really believes that the storms will be that short. They descend on supermarkets in hoards to stock up on food as if they will be locked up for weeks. And this happens even to people who were even born in 1978, as well as those who lived nowhere near New England during that year.

This has given rise to a standing joke that is now spreading to other areas of the country: the French Toast Alert System. The joke arose because for whatever reason, the three things that get cleaned out first at the supermarket are bread, eggs, and milk (a.k.a., the ingredients one needs to make French toast).  It even has its own Twitter account and Facebook page. FYI, the French Toast Alert System is supposed to remain at the Severe level through Wednesday morning. I hope you stocked up!

French Toast Alert System

Blog Posts for Genealogists, January 23, 3015

23 Jan 2015

This week’s interesting genealogy news come from some great genealogical and historical blog posts. Elizabeth Shown Mills warns us of census perils, Randy Seaver discusses his method for organizing digital files, Paula Stuart-Warren talks about the danger in sharing in genealogy, Polly Kimmett discusses the lost child from Mount Wachusett, and Peter Muise tells us about an eighteenth-century witchcraft trial.

We start with the inimitable Elizabeth Shown Mills. In the Evidence Explained blog this week she talks about math problems in the census. Specifically, the issue is around calculating dates of birth. When looking at ages in the census, researchers must take into account the census day when calculating a year of birth. Get her advice in Analyzing Census Records: Math Matters!

Genealogists’ paper files have been supplanted in many ways by digital files. This has just moved the organization problem from the physical world to the digital. Randy Seaver gives some great advice and explains the system he uses, which you may wish to adopt. Get the details in My Genealogy Digital File Folder Organization.

Paula Stuart-Warren has created a new, updated blog, Genealogy By Paula. And recently she wrote a very interesting piece about sharing. Genealogists love to share, but there is a drawback to it as well.  In her words, “Often the answer that helped you may mislead someone researching a different person, time frame, locality, or even nationality.” This is not a minor detail. It is very important. Read the full story in Helpful? Or Not? We Shouldn’t Share Genealogy Guesses.


Lucy Keyes


Polly Kimmett brings us the first of two folklore stories this week. In 1751, Robert and Martha (Bowker) Keyes moved their family from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, to the nearby town of Princeton, which was at that time on the frontier. Their farm lay on the side of Mount Wachusett. In 1755, their four-year-old daughter followed her older sisters to a nearby pond, where they were fetching sand for the house. Unfortunately, she never returned. A neighbor confessed on his deathbed to murdering the child, but did he really? Find out more, and get a link to the answer, in Lucy Keyes, the Lost Child of Wachusett Mountain.

Finally this week comes a story from Peter Muise’s New England Folklore blog. He talks about the John Brown family of Lynn, Massachusetts. In late 1692, John’s wife made him an Indian pudding (a type of sausage). Although the ingredients were appropriately white upon entering the pot, when removed it was dark red, like a blood pudding. Brown accused his neighbor, Sarah Cole, of witchcraft. They were brought before the magistrates in Salem soon thereafter, at the height of the witchcraft hysteria. Find out Sarah’s fate in The Proof is in the Pudding – Proof of Satan!

The Great Family Share Challenge

10 Jan 2015

We talked the other day about some tasks that every genealogist can do in 2015. But now I would like to throw out a challenge to you. If there is one area where genealogists often fall flat it is with sharing the results of their research. We often spend years finding out all sorts of interesting things about our family, without ever compiling the information and sharing it with our living family members. We often hear the stories of genealogists who have left tremendous amounts of information behind, only to have it thrown out by family members who didn’t know (or didn’t care) about what was contained in the files.

So for this year, I am issuing the Great Family Share Challenge. Spend 2015 sharing your family story. I would like everyone to consider taking this on in a way that is meaningful to you. But not in a way that will overburden you, or make you feel pressured.

For the challenge, you should pick at least twelve ancestors or ancestral couples. The goal is to research and share at least one story a month. Bring your ancestors to life so that other family members can discover their roots.

Sharing can take many forms. Don’t limit yourself. And you don’t have to use the same format for all of the sharing. One of the traditional ways you can share is to write a journal article. Many people are terrified of this idea, but really, there is no need for it. The editors of journals appreciate hearing from potential authors. You don’t have to go straight to the larger journals (such as the New England Historical and Genealogical Register or the National Genealogical Society Quarterly). Start with one of the smaller state journals, then work your way up. The editors will work with you to help shape your article for publication.

You could decide to create a book for your family. Start by writing individuals monographs for the families you select. At the end of the year you can combine the monographs into a single volume. You could trace a single line back for twelve generations. But you could also write about your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, which would involve eleven families.


Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 10.39.24 AM


Another option is to create slideshows or videos of your family. Use oral histories to narrate them, or write and record your own audio to use as the narration. Be certain to incorporate images of old documents as well as images of your ancestors.

You can also create a blog to make it easier to share all of these things. This may seem like a scary thing to some of you, especially those who are more technically challenged. But you would be surprised at how easy it can be. There are a wide variety of opportunities for you to create a blog. There you can share your written stories, videos, slideshows, pictures, and more. can offer you some advice on how to start a blog.

Once you have taken up the challenge, come back to this post. Tell us in the comments field how you have shared. Keep returning through the year to tell us how your are progressing. If you have created a blog, or other online presence, be sure to share the url with us so that we can visit and give you some support. Imagine how much you will have shared by the end of the year! Your family will be eternally grateful.

Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, January 9, 2015

09 Jan 2015

This week’s genealogy news roundup is a nice mix of blog posts and news stories. We start with a discussion of researching in newspapers, user comments about online family trees, the last of the nineteenth-century births, the fallacy of name changes at Ellis Island, and the opening of the oldest time capsule in America.

We start with a post from a relatively new blogger, Debbie Mieszela, the Advancing Genealogist. This week Debbie wrote about researching in newspapers. She especially emphasizes why you want to conduct a complete search, and why you should not limit yourself only to online databases. Get more information in Newspaper Research: The Importance of Being Thorough.

Randy Seaver at Geneamusings had a very interesting post this week. He wrote about the FamilySearch Family Tree and asked his readers why they weren’t using it more. The comments are very illuminating, and include a general discussion of online family trees. You can read these interesting comments in Why Aren’t Researchers Using the FamilySearch Family Tree?

My former colleague David Lambert at the New England Historic Genealogical Society wrote with sad news this week on the Vita Brevis blog. Bernice Marina (Emerson) Madigan was born in West Springfield, Massachusetts on 24 July 1899. After a life that was anything but brief, Bernice passed away last Saturday, 3 January 2015, at the age of 115. She was the fifth-oldest person in the world, and the last person left who was born in New England prior to 1900. Find out more, and who is left, in The End of an Era.

Those who know me know that one of my pet peeves concerns immigration. More specifically, the biggest myth in American history: that any name was ever changed at Ellis Island. Not a single immigrant ever had their name changed there. It never happened. Arika Okren wrote a good piece in Mental Floss discussing this myth. Read more in Why Your Family Name Did Not Come From a Mistake at Ellis Island.


Sam Adams Time Capsule


Finally this week we have a story out of my hometown of Boston. This week conservators at the Museum of Fine Arts opened a time capsule that was discovered on December 11. The capsule was discovered by workers doing renovations to the state house. It is believed to be the oldest time capsule in America. How old is it? It was originally put in place by Samuel Adams and Paul Revere when George Washington was president of the U.S. Placed into the cornerstone in 1795, it was temporarily removed during renovations in 1855, but put back into place with the original contents. Discover what was in the capsule in MFA Opens the Paul Revere, Sam Adams Time Capsule.

Modern Technology Identifies Irish Famine Shipwreck Victims

06 Jan 2015

The Gaspé Penninsula stands in the northern tip of Quebec, at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. It is a very remote area. In the first half of the 19th century, hundreds of ships sailed past her, carrying immigrants from the British Isles to Canada. In May 1847, at the height of the Irish Famine, it was also the site of a terrible tragedy.

The brig Carricks was transporting 167 passengers from Ireland to new homes in Canada. A difficult voyage under the best of conditions, the ship was wrecked in the Gaspé, about four miles from Cap des Rosiers. The crew suffered the lost of only one boy, but of the 167 passengers on board, only 48 survived. News of the accident was report in William Lloyd Garrison’s noted Boston-based anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator, carried news of the wreck (Vol. XVII, No. 25 (Whole No. 859) p. 69, col. 4).

Many of the dead were found along the beach the day after the wreck. They were buried in a common grave nearby and fifty years later a monument was erected in their memory. More than a century later, the ship’s bell washed up shore and was enshrined next to the monument.


Light tower at Cap Des Rosier in Quebec.

Light tower at Cap Des Rosier in Quebec.


The site of the wreck and recovery now lays within Forillon National Park. A few years after the Carricks was lost a lighthouse was erected at Cap des Rosiers to help prevent further tragedies. In 2011 a passerby came across some bones on the shore near where the wreck occurred. The bones were sent to a coroner who sent the bones for analysis. Careful study has shown that the bones likely came from four or five individuals, both adults and children. Investigators believe that they may have come from the common grave. Unfortunately, while oral tradition puts the burial site under the monument, the precise location was never recorded.

Many of the survivors settled in the nearby village of Douglastown, and their descendants still live there today. These individuals are concerned that the actual resting place be discovered. If these bones did come from the common grave, they do not want any more of their ancestors’ remains to be disturbed. They would like further investigation, and relocation of the remains if they are now too close to the water.

The bones are still at a government forensics lab in Montreal. They will undergo further testing, including DNA tests. Interestingly, one of the consultants who works  in the lab is forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs. Reichs is also an author and the inspiration for Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan, portrayed by Emily Deschanel in the Fox television show Bones. You can read more about this story in the original 2011 Globe and Mail story Bones Found on Gaspé Coast Could be of 1847 Shipwreck Victims, and in the update from last week, Human Bones Discovered on Gaspé Peninsula ‘Witnesses to a Tragic Event.’

Blog Posts for Genealogists, December 19, 2014

19 Dec 2014

This week’s roundup includes posts from five excellent genealogy bloggers. Judy G. Russell explains the term “ordinance” for us. Randy Seaver tells us about a couple of relationship graphics you might enjoy. Paula Stuart Warren discusses genealogy for the First Americans. Cari Taplin talks about submitting her BCG portfolio. And Debbie Mieszala talks about a very special genealogy research tool.

Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, starts off our roundup this week with a question submitted by one of her readers. He asked: “The law creating the Northwest Territory is always called the Northwest Ordinance. Why that? Why not, say, Northwest Statute? Or Northwest Law?” Judy explains the reason in The Ordinance.

Randy Seaver had a great post this week about relationship charts. Newbie genealogists and non-genealogists can often find it difficult to understand the complex relationships we deal with in family history research. He offers up a couple of resources to help you with these issues in Crestleaf Publishes “How Are We Related?” Family Relationship Chart.

Paula Stuart-Warren recently updated her website, closed out her old blog, and started a new one. Hew new website, Genealogy by Paula, provides information about publications, services, and upcoming speaking engagements as well as her blog. This week she posted about an interesting topic: Tracking the First Americans: Native Americans and Asian Influence.

Cari Taplin’s business is called Genealogy Pants (as in “fancy pants” or “smarty pants”). Those who are interested in becoming certified or accredited will find her recent post interesting. Having submitted her final portfolio to the Board for Certification of Genealogists this week, she discusses the experience, and offers some valuable tips for others. Read more in BCG Portfolio Madness.


V Bar Lazy 5


Finally this week we have a recent post by Debbie Mieszala. A longtime professional genealogist, Debbie discussed a very special gift she had gotten twenty years ago. The gift was a symbol written on a recipe card by her great-aunt. The symbol was the brand mark used by Debbie’s great-great grandfather. She talks about the genealogy journey this led her on in V Bar Lazy 5.

Forget-Me-Not Hour Interviews Michael J. Leclerc

17 Dec 2014

Last spring I wrote about Jane Wilcox’s radio show, The Forget-Me-Not Hour. Jane’s popular show, now available on demand through Blog Talk Radio, focuses on New York research and history, as well as general methodology.

Since I wrote that post, Jane has had a number of interesting guests and topics, including:

And today she added an interesting new subject: me. I did an interview with her, discussing my own history as well as Mocavo. Find out more about what Mocavo does, and what features are available. Among the topics we discussed:

  • My background
  • How I came to Mocavo
  • What is Mocavo
  • How is Mocavo different from and FamilySearch
  • How is Mocavo different from Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines
  • Genealogy Karma, our blog, Mocavo Fireside Chats, and other services Mocavo provides

You can listen to today’s episode, and all past episodes, on the Forget-Me-Not Hour page from Blog Talk Radio.

Forget Me Not Mocavo



Beyond the Christmas Cow: More Holiday Gifts for Genealogists

13 Dec 2014


The holidays are here. Still wondering what to get your genealogist friends and family? Is your significant other still asking you what you want for the holiday? Not certain what to ask for? Last year I wrote about Christmas Cows and other potential holiday gifts. Here are some different ideas that you can give for the genealogist in your life (or ask for from your own loved ones). While some won’t arrive in time for the holidays, the anticipation will be wonderful!

1. Professional Assistance
Everyone needs a little help now and then. Professional researchers are experts in their areas. Having them do some research for you may help you break down those brick walls. If you prefer to do the work yourself, you can still avail yourself of professional assistance. Many professionals, in addition to research, offer consulting services. You can get an hour or two of consultation time to help propel your research. Check the Association of Professional Genealogists for people who can help you out.

2. Subscribe to a Journal
Many people think that journals are not just for scholars and professionals. We can all benefit from reading them. Even if the articles are not about your ancestors, you can learn a great deal about resources useful to your research by seeing how authors solved their genealogical puzzles. One great journal is The American Genealogist, and independent journal founded by Donald Lines Jacobus.

3. Professional Video Creators
What better way to honor your family than to take your documents, photographs, and other images and turn them into a video? While there is lots of software out there to help you do it on your own, a professional can bring a level of design experience that most of us just do not have. There are many websites where you can find information on video professionals, while others have video editors bid on your project.

4. Heritage/Research Tour
There are many organizations out there that run heritage tours. These can give you a great look at the places your ancestors lived. Walk the very streets that they walked. See the churches where they were baptized and married. You might even be able to see cemeteries where your ancestors are buried. You can even throw in some research time at a repository or two. Collude with another family member so that your non-genealogy significant others can keep each other company as well!

5. One word: Etsy
If you’ve never heard of Etsy, now is the time to visit. It is a great place where creative people sell their wares. These individauls have their own “shops”, selling all manner of items, including many that are handmade and custom made. You can find a wide variety of items here that are of interest to genealogists. For example, a graphic designer from New York operates the Modern Trees shop, where you can order some very modern 5-, 6-, or 7-generation pedigrees. Look around and you are sure to find some interesting objects.

Bonds Forged from Disaster: The Halifax Explosion

08 Dec 2014

The connections between New England and eastern Canada date back generations to the eighteenth century. Differences between the governments of Great Britain and France (and later America) lead to tense relations at times in the early years, but since the end of the War of 1812, relations between the United States and Canada have overall been quite cordial.

Many Americans in the northern states that border Canada often have ancestry that traces back through Canada. In a great deal of instances one finds the ancestry going back into Canada, then leading back into the United States, following paths of immigration. Many New Englanders, for example, left to settle in Canada in the 1760s, followed by many more who were Loyalists once the American Revolution was over. As the Industrial Revolution progressed in the 19th and early-20th centuries, many descendants of these individuals immigrated down to America looking for work.

The city of Boston, however, probably has the closest ties of anyplace in the United States to her Canadian cousins. A horrible tragedy brought close relations even closer during World War I.

On December 3, 1917, the SS Imo out of Norway arrived at the harbor in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She was on her way to New York City to load relief supplies destined for Belgium. Her departure, scheduled for two days later, was delayed because the coal she used for fuel was delayed in arrival.

The war caused Nova Scotia to lift a ban on munitions in the harbor, or what happened  next may have been avoided. The SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship, arrived at Halifax on December 5. She was fully loaded with all kinds of explosives, there to join a convoy headed to Europe.

On the morning of the next day, the Imo, travelling too quickly and in the wrong side of the channel, rammed the Mont-Blanc at 8:45 a.m. This started a fire that quickly got out of control. Realizing the danger, the captain ordered all hands to abandon ship. She was only 40 yards from shore.  Unfortunately, she drifted closer and came to rest against a pier. Just after 9:04 am, less than twenty minutes after the collision, Mont-Blanc exploded.

The explosion was the largest in history to that time, and would only be superseded by the detonation of atomic bombs in World War II. Parts of the ship landed more than three miles away from the blast. A tsunami was created  when the water around the ship vaporized. More than 12,000 buildings in a mile and a half radius were destroyed.  More than 1,600 people died instantly, and hundreds more later died of their injuries. 9,0000 people suffered injuries.

Halifax Explosion

News of the explosion reached Boston by telegraph the morning of the explosion. The Massachusetts Public Safety Committee and the Boston Red Cross immediately sent a train fully-loaded with relief supplies to Halifax. In 1918, the city of Halifax sent a Christmas Tree to the city of Boston in thanks for the assistance. Today, the provincial government continues to supply a tree each year to the city. Last Thursday, our new mayor lit the annual present from our neighbors to the north for the first time, and enduring symbol of friendship between the two. The CBC has a website where you can learn a great deal more about the Halifax Explosion.

Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, December 5, 2014

05 Dec 2014

This week we bring you some stories from around the world. I hope that you find them as interesting and informative as I do.

We start this week’s roundup with a research tip from Michael John Neil I wrote about him last week in a list of blogs you should be reading. This week, one of his tips of the day discusses the importance of noting whether or not you have captured an entire document. Read more of the tip in Do You Have the Back of That Digital Image?

Next we have a cemetery story that ran in the Boston Globe last week. The story discusses a problem that is becoming more and more common in New England (and elsewhere). In Hartland, Vermont, a man moved into town and became quite successful. He bought a property to build a large home on it, but doing so would require moving a cemetery. He followed every rule, defended himself in lawsuits, and eventually succeeded in moving the cemetery. Now he may never build the home after all. Read more in Dream of a Manse on a Vermont Hilltop Runs Into Tradition, Suspicion.

Another, but more hopeful, cemetery story ran in the New York Times last week. An adovacy group, Mental Health America, is working with volunteers to help change laws in New York state that prevent people from placing names on the graves of those buried in mental health facilities, graves that were originally marked only with numbers.  Read more about their efforts in Restoring Lost Names, Recapturing Lost Diginity.

We close this week with two history-related stories. First, Dick Eastman noted a celebrated American. Mark Twain was born 179 years ago this week. While there are many photographs of Samuel Clemens, only one motion picture is known to exist. The cameraman is also as well-known as Mark Twain. His name was Thomas Alva Edison.  Dick as a link to the video in View the Only Video fo Mark Twain in Existence.


Shakespeare First Folio


And finally we close with a story that is known all too well by genealogists. How many times have we as genealogists come across items missing from repository shelves, or items that the staff themselves were unaware that they had? A library in Saint Omer, France, recently discovered a seventeenth-century book that had been hidden among its holdings for centuries. This was not just any book, however. It is a William Shakespeare First Folio. Published in 1623, only 230 are believed to still exist. Read more of this story in Shakespeare First Folio Found in French Library.