Genealogy Blog

Congratulations to the #MyStory Contest Winners!

28 Aug 2015

Congratulations to our three winners of the #MyStory writing contest and also a big thank you to everyone who participated. Mocavo really enjoyed reading all that unique stories that were submitted and we especially loved hearing how everyone found their ancestors.  Remember, all submissions will receive a week as a Mocavo Gold member for free.  Those will be issued soon.  The winners are posted below and will also be posted on our website.

First place and the winner of a $100 gift car and free year as a Mocavo Gold member is Nathan James with “Foreshortening.”

Second place and the winner of a $50 gift card and a 6 months as a Mocavo Gold member is Hanah Horlacher with “Mother’s Tears WWII.”

Third place and the winner of a $25 gift card and a month as a Mocavo Gold member is Sheryl Trudgian Jones with “A Man of Faith.”


Here is Nathan’s Story


It started with Stella Atkinson’s skirt. On the first day of school, she walked straight to the first desk in my art classroom with a two-inch black panel hanging like an afterthought at the end of her hem. I had her march right back into the corridor.


“Stella, your skirt violates dress code.”


“I’m sorry, Miss Wheatland.” Her cheeks reddened as she spoke. “I had a growth spurt over the summer. Mother did the best she could.”


“Well, why on earth didn’t she take you to Jessop’s for another?”


Stella shrank before me. When she brought her eyes back up from the ground, they didn’t go any higher than my chin. I noticed stitched-up tear on the shoulder of her white blouse.


“Daddy says people will always need food. It’s only temporary.”


I understood. Atkinson’s Grocery, southern California’s grocery franchise and Stella’s family’s business, was usually full to brimming with neighbors chatting about produce and cuts of meat. But that all changed. The aisles had grown quiet. I was convinced on my last visit that I had entered one of those “other dimensions” the pulp magazines were always writing about. Instead of people, cans of soup and cantaloupe occupied the aisles. The bins of vegetable were stacked higher than I was tall. The newspaper said that grocery stores were experiencing a surplus of goods on account of the stock market crash a few years ago. People just weren’t shopping there anymore, and the white collar business owners here in Whittier, California, began to feel the repercussions of what the newspapers call the Great Depression.


“I see. It’s fine, Stella. Go back to your desk and sketch the still-life I’ve set up.” I smoothed down my own plaid dress, folded a pleat in my favorite cotton cardigan.


Later, I broached the subject in the teacher’s salon. We discussed the little things they’ve noticed. Miss Frankenfield said she’d starting turning a blind eye to the students grabbing third and fourth servings during luncheon, and Mr. Petty told us of Norman Reilly, the student whose family pulled him from school without notice.


“It’s probably best if we relax the rules until the situation improves, Ruth,” Mrs. Grassell whispered as we walked back to class together.


Relaxing the rules proved easy as 1933 progressed. The dress code violations became too numerous to enforce, so we focused on other things: the talent of this year’s tennis team or Dorothy Gibbons’s prize science project. We let the signs of the “Great Depression” recede into the background. I thought about that on the day I taught my students about foreshortening– the illusion of objects receding from our perspective.



Dr. Steven Graves, “The Great Depression: California In the Thirties,”, 2015.


Read more by Nathan James on his blog

Again, thank you to everyone for participating and congratulations to the winners.


27 Aug 2015


Today is the last day to submit a story for the #MyStory writing contest, so it is time to rally.  Stories need to be submitted by 9pm  mountain time tonight in order to be eligible for the free one week membership and the grand prizes.  Winners will be posted tomorrow by 3pm mountain time.

Remember all stories need to be submitted to with a title and your name and email.  See more details about requirements for the story at

Best of luck to everyone who entered and thank you for your participation!

Get Ready for Mocavo’s #MyStory Writing Contest!

19 Aug 2015

Everyday life in the US has changed a great deal over the last century. Transportation moved from the horse and buggy to electric and internal combustion engines. Many went from working on farms to working in mills and corporate offices. At the beginning of the century, many died from illnesses that are now easily treatable. And millions of people relocated, looking for a better life in a new part of the country.  

When we search for our ancestors on Mocavo, we learn so much about their life. We learn about where they work, how many kids they had and where they lived. If we are lucky enough, we might even find an image of our lost ancestor.

Think about what it was like for those ancestors during the time they lived. Were they high or low on the social scale? What did they wear? Where did they work? How many children did they have? Did they have a car?

On Friday, Mocavo is launching a new contest where you get a chance to be your ancestor. Think about all these questions and put together a story about your ancestor’s life from their point of view.

So prepare yourselves and get your thinking caps on. Contest starts Friday and we cannot wait to hear your stories.

Contest details will be posted on Facebook and our website on Friday, August 21st.

Good luck!

Resources for African-American Genealogy

07 Jan 2015

Recently I received a question about resources for African-American research. I am familiar with the basics of this kind of research. But, more importantly, I know where to go to find the information I need. Here are three resources to help you with  finding your African-American ancestors.

1. African-American Historical and Genealogical Society
AAHGS was founded in 1977 by a group of historians and genealogists, including the noted genealogist James Dent Walker. Since it was founded, the organization has grown nationwide, and has twenty state chapters spread across the country. Each October the organization holds a conference specifically about African-American research. The 2015 conference will be held in Richmond, Virginia.


African American Archaeology


2. African-American Archaeology, History, and Cultures

One of the important parts of genealogy is understanding the cultural and sociological aspects of the societies in which your family lived. This website, created by Christopher C. Fennell, a member of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign, provides “convenient access to online presentations and resources concerning the subjects of African-American archaeology, history and cultures, and broader subjects of African diaspora archaeology.” The site covers a wide geographic area, including Asia, Britain, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, and South America, in addition to the United States.

3. Cyndi’s List

Cyndi Ingle runs the biggest and most valuable resource list on the web. Those researching their African-American ancestors will find valuable resources in more than two dozen categories. The “how-to” section alone has more than a dozen references to help you with your research. Other categories include immigration, emigration, and migration; medical and DNA; people and families; publications, software and supplies; slavery; military; newspapers; and much, much more.

African-American genealogical research can be very different from other kinds of genealogy. It is critically important to get off on the right foot, and understand where you are headed. These three

Chilling Ghost Stories + A Halloween Special Treat

31 Oct 2014


Halloween is here, bringing with it a haunting chill in the air, full of ghoulish creatures and frightening tales. Believe it or not, many of our ancestors wrote about their own unexplained encounters with the paranormal, often scribbling down their stories in their personal memoirs. Discover the accounts of strange ghostly figures and haunted houses in our collection of more than 240,000 historical books.

Browse our Historical Book Collection

View All Mocavo Collections

To help you get into the Halloween spirit here are some of our favorite ghost stories from the Mocavo collection.

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We Asked and You Answered! When did your ancestors immigrate to the United States?

20 Sep 2014

Last week we asked the Mocavo Community to share when their ancestors immigrated to the United States. Here is what you said!

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Danger in the Graveyard

05 Aug 2014

Dick Eastman ran a very tragic story last week about a Tennessee cemetery. An individual had used a wire brush to “clean” gravestones. He wanted to photograph the stones to add them to the Find A Grave website. In his ignorance, he did extensive damage to the stones, rendering some of the inscriptions totally illegible. Some of these damaged stones date back to the late-eighteenth century (the church was founded in 1780). Even more remarkably, he did so without the permission of the church to whom the cemetery belonged.

There are all sorts of purported methods for cleaning grave markers. Included in these are:

  • Ammonia
  • Baking Soda
  • Bleach
  •  Cornstarch

None of these should ever be used under any circumstances. Nor should you ever use any kind of abrasive, tools, or anything with a firm pressure. They can all cause permanent damage, potentially destroying the very inscriptions you are trying preserve.

In addition to cleaning, individuals try all sorts of methods for reading inscriptions on grave markers that might be eroded and difficult to read. Among the items people use:

  • Chalk
  • Flour
  • Shaving Cream

None of these should ever be used. The chemicals in shaving cream can do serious damage to a gravestone. In addition to using chalk directly on a grave marker, some people use chalk and paper to create rubbings of the original stone. Be aware that this can also cause damage the stones. In some localities, such as Massachusetts, it is now illegal to make gravestone rubbings.

The two best friends you have for reading gravestones are water, and a reflective surface, such as a mirror. I routinely bring a couple of bottles of water in my bag when I visit a cemetery. often the simple act of putting some water on the stone makes some of the etched words easier to read. I’ve even brought out letters and numbers that were completely illegible.

A mirror or other highly reflective surface works well also. This tool is best used on a bright, sunny day. Use the mirror to reflect light across the face of the stone. The shadows it creates may illuminated the illegible inscription. I’ve also used photographer’s reflectors to achieve the same effect. They are flexible and as they are not made of glass, there is no risk or dangerous breakage if you drop them. You can get them inexpensively through photo supply stores or Amazon.

The man who damaged those gravestones is now facing possible criminal charges, a Class E felony carrying a prison term of not less than one year and up to six years, plus financial penalties up to $3,000. Think twice before you make his mistake. For more information about working with cemeteries and gravestones, visit the Association for Gravestone Studies.

Gravestone Studies

Have you used any nonpopulation census schedules in your research?

28 Jun 2014

Preserving the Past Using Techniques from the Past

21 May 2014

In the seventeenth century, two settlements in Massachusetts grew up right next to each other. Cambridge and Boston were separated, however, by the Charles River. For more than a century and a half, the two towns were connected only by ferry service. It was not until 1793 that the first bridge was constructed to link them.

The West Boston Bridge was built by private investors who were chartered by the Commonwealth. They recovered their expenses and made a profit by the tolls charged to use the bridge, which remained in place until 1858. The bridge left Boston at the foot of the West End, near the present-day site of the Massachusetts General Hospital. It connected to the eastern part of Cambridge, which was very sparsely inhabited. After construction of the bridge, however, there was a building boom connecting Main Street to the bridge. Swamp land around the river was reclaimed to feed the building boom.

In 1898 the Cambridge Bridge Commission was formed to plan and build a new bridge. In addition to foot and vehicular traffic, the new bridge would need to accommodate trains from the Boston Elevated Railway Company. State and national rules and regulations required that the bridge be a drawbridge, although that would make it more expensive. It literally took an act of Congress to permit the building of a less-expensive and better-looking bridge. Construction took six years, and it was finally opened to traffic in 1906.

After more than a century of use, the bridge was in dire need of repairs, and is now in the middle of a $215 million project to replace structural elements and restore much of the historic character that has been lost over the years. The construction companies working on the bridge, however, are having quite the adventure. Because of the historic nature of the bridge, the project requires that all of the work must be done exactly as it was done when the bridge was first constructed.

There are multiple issues surrounding a construction project like this. The first, and most major, is that bridges are made differently now than they were a century ago. Late-nineteenth-century construction manuals have had to be studied to determine how the bridge was built so that it can be repaired properly.

One of the biggest changes: metalwork. In the early part of the twentieth century, the metalwork of buildings and bridges was fastened using rivets. Heated to thousands of degrees, and inserted into holes in the metal where, as they cooled, the metal would expand and hold the pieces together. Nowadays, this process is achieved using nuts and bolts. Construction workers have had to go to school to learn this outdated process.

Another problem is the granite used in the bridge. Rockport granite has not been quarried in more than 80 years, but it must be used in the bridge. First, it must match the granite already in the bridge. Second, the bridge’s nickname is the Salt and Pepper Bridge. This comes partially from the parapets on the bridge that look like salt and pepper shakers, and partially from the black and white flecks in the granite that look like salt and pepper. Fortunately, they were able to find a source.


Longfellow Bridge


It is nice to see building project such as these, that maintain the historical accuracy of monuments, buildings, and bridges, keeping them as close as possible to how they were when our ancestors walked over them. In 1927, the bridge was officially renamed the Longfellow Bridge. In 1845, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem about the original bridge, called “The Bridge.” Part of it reads:

Yet whenever I cross the river

On its bridge with wooden piers,

Like the odor of brine from the ocean

Comes the thought of other years.


And I think how many thousands

Of care-encumbered men,

Each bearing his burden of sorrow,

Have crossed the bridge since then.


I see the long procession

Still passing to and fro,

The young heart hot and restless,

And the old subdued and slow!


3 Tips for Overcoming Spelling Variations

02 Apr 2014


Variations in spelling are one of the major challenges of genealogical research. Because standardized spelling is a twentieth-century concept, there can be all kinds of ways to spell words. This includes names, which can make researching very challenging. Many online search engines can account for some spelling variations, but there are always twists that can confuse things (such as having the wrong first letter in a name, which totally throws off the entire soundex system). Here are some tips to get past spelling variations.

1. Phonetic
Think about how the names are pronounced. Are there different  ways to spell the same sound? For example, a letter c, ch, and ck might all be pronounced with the hard “k” sound. The same goes for the letter f and gh (think rough and tough). Consider variations such as these when searching.

2. Sound Shifts
Watch out for sound shifts, which can throw off even phonetic spellings. Names that are pronounced the same are not always spelled the same. And names that are spelled the same are not always pronounced the same. Regional and national dialects and accents can have a major affect on the way words are spelled. A perfect example comes to us from England, Connecticut, and North Carolina. Hertford is the shire town of Hertfordshire, England. The city of Hartford (capital of Connecticut) was named for it. The spelling changed because the English pronounce the “e” in Hertford similar to an “ah,” thus it sounds like “Hahrtford” to an American. The town of Hertford, North Carolina, was also named for the English town. It retained the English spelling, but the pronunciation has changed to “Hurtford.”  The same sounds and spelling shifts can happen in your family’s names (both given names and surnames).

3. Enlist Your Friends
One great way to get spelling variations is to hand friends a piece of paper and a pencil and ask them to write down the name you are looking for. Just tell them the name, don’t spell it for them. If they themselves are uncertain of how to spell it, ask them to write down every variation they can think of. By asking several friends to do this, you will undoubtedly find a few spelling variations you hadn’t thought of. This works best with someone who is unfamiliar with the name you are searching for. Indeed, asking non-genealogists is a great way to get variations because they don’t come with the same set of assumptions that family historians do. There may be more than one way to pronounce the name, for example Beaufort, North Carolina (pronounced Bowfort) and Beaufort, South Carolina (pronounced Bewfort).