Genealogy Blog

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.

Is the British Royal Family Having DNA Problems?

02 Dec 2014

At the beginning of this year, it was proven that a body discovered in a car park in Leicester, England, actually was that of King Richard III. Mitochondrial DNA was compared with living descendants to confirm the identification of the remains. News agencies around the world today are reporting on new DNA findings, and of course, they are focusing on the sensationalistic.

The problem is that the y-chromosome DNA (passed down from father to son), does not match. Somewhere along the line, the father of one of the children was not the husband of the mother. This is what is known as a “non-paternal event.”

Unfortunately, sensationalists in the media are now wondering what this means for Queen Elizabeth II and the current royal family. Does she have the right to sit on the throne? No matter what the sensationlists say, the reality is that it is far more likely to be yes than no.

Because Richard III left no descendants, testing was done on modern-day individuals descended from his second-great-grandfather, Edward III. All of the living people tested are descended from Henry Somerset, the 5th Duke of Beaufort.  Unfortunately, their y-DNA does not match that of Richard III. Both Somerset and the current royal family share a common ancestor in John of Gaunt, the brother of Richard III’s great-grandfather, Edmund, Duke of York. Both of these men were sons of Edward III.

The issue of the non-paternal event is: where did it fall? The reality is that there are so many possibilities that the vast majority of them would not impact the royal family at all. It is also likely that the answer will never be known because it is so complex.

In the line of Richard III, for example, we have Richard III; his father Richard, Duke of York; grandfather Richard, Earl of Cambridge; and great-grandfather, Edmund, Duke of York. Any of these could be the non-paternal event.

How we have John of Gaunt, the common ancestor with the royal family. If John of Gaunt were not the biological son of Edward III, a case could be made that the Tudors were not entitled to sit on the throne, leading to questions about the sitting monarch.

However, between John of Gaunt and Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort (the common ancestor of those living descendants who were tested), there are 14 generations. That leaves fourteen additional possibilities. In other words, out of the nineteen possibilities for a non-paternal event, only one would have the possibility of impacting Queen Elizabeth II.

Trying to prove this would require massive testing of living male descendants of each branch in each of the fourteen generations from John of Gaunt just to see if the break possibly occurred there. But even then there are still are four other possibilities on the Richard III branch. It will be interesting to see if anyone would care to undertake such an endeavor. You can read more about this story in reports from the BBC and the Telegraph. The Telegraph story has an interesting chart that makes it easier to understand the lines of descent and where the problems might be.

Richard III Non Paternal Event




Honoring the Future With a Gift from the Past: The Balanchine Plant

25 Nov 2014

Last week the Wall Street Journal ran a story about the New York City ballet. George Balanchine is considered the father of American ballet. He was one of the most prolific choreographers of the twentieth century, co-founding the New York City Ballet and serving as balletmaster for more than 35 years.

Before he passed away in 1983, he gifted a rubber plant to one of the NYCB dancers, Karin von Aroldingen. Her apartment today is filled with a dozen plants made from cuttings propagated from the original plant Balanchine gave her. And she presents these to individuals she feels have made a significant contribution to ballet.

Receiving a cutting from the plant is considered to be a great honor. It celebrates the spirit of Balanchine himself. Those who receive them feel great pressure to care for and preserve the plants. Fortunately, rubber plants are easy to care for and grow quite well. They are simple to propagate, and some who have received plants have created new cuttings to pass on to others. It is possible that the plant will be able to be passed on for generations through these many cuttings, something not likely to happen with other types of plants. You can read more about the tradition of the plant in Forget Bouquets: In Ballet, It’s All About the ‘Balanchine Plant.’


Part of the Balanchine Plant.

Part of the Balanchine Plant.


Genealogists face a similar responsibility. As we collect information on our ancestral families, we feel the pressure to be certain they are not forgotten. We put together pieces of information gathered from long-forgotten records. Using that information, we are able to pull together stories of their lives. And by doing so, we are able to bring them to life again.

Knowing these stories can have a big impact on our lives. Understanding where we came from can certainly give us a greater understanding of our immediate family, as well as greater insight into ourselves. This is a great gift that we can also give to future generations.

By caring for these stories, preserving them, and passing them on to family members, we can help our descendants to know themselves better. And we can make sure that the stories of our ancestors are not lost for future generations.

Much like the Balanchine Plant cuttings, it is a great honor to not only receive the stories of our ancestors, but to pass them on as well. Thirty years after his death, Balanchine is still having an impact. Sharing your family’s story is one way to ensure that decades after you have passed, your descendants will still know their history.

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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