Genealogy Blog

Celebrating 300,000 Databases with New Features

27 Mar 2014

Thanks to your support, free genealogy continues to gain a significant foothold in the family history community. One database at a time, we’ve brought more than 300,000 databases online to help you discover your story for free. As a way to say thank you, we want to share some exciting new features to help you break through your brick walls and customize your Mocavo experience.

Prioritize Your Search Notifications

It often feels like there aren’t enough hours in a day to dedicate to family history research. We know this problem all too well, which is why our search engine works day and night to find your ancestors among the thousands of new databases. Every week, we rerun some of your past searches to help you make new discoveries. We use a combination of factors to find the most relevant and exciting matches based on your search history. But so far we’ve been using our best guess and we know we can do better!

Today, I’m excited to announce that you now have the power to prioritize your search notifications. Simply select your favorite search terms and we’ll email you results based on those priorities, helping you make discoveries faster than ever.

Customize Your Search Notifications in Five Easy Steps

  1. After logging into your Mocavo account, click on your search notifications tab. You will see a list of all of your past search terms.
  2. Select your “favorite search terms” by clicking on the star next to each term. You will receive search notifications via email for each of your favorite search queries once every week.
  3. Remove a search term from your favorites, simply by clicking the star and it will move out of your favorites list into your “active list”.
  4. Organize your search terms by order of importance by dragging each term up or down with your mouse, or click the up/down arrows found on the right side of each search term.
  5. Deactivate a search term by clicking on the trash icon found at the right of your search term. Once deactivated, you will no longer receive search notifications for that specific query. You can always reactivate it by dragging the item back up to your active list.

Watch a quick tutorial video

Discover More Ways to View Your Results

As we continue to add millions of potential matches to our search engine, we want to provide different ways to quickly browse your results. Exclusively for Mocavo Gold members, you can find new search result displays under the Results & Summary Search Tabs. With so many new displays to choose from, making new discoveries has never been easier!

An Entirely New “Results Tab”

In the past, a search results page would only show you an excerpt of the content and an image preview with the matching word highlighted in yellow. Now you can uncover two more ways to easily scan your search results featured under the “Results Tab.” These new views will enhance your document viewing experience by revealing the important contextual details of a record page.

Full Image View

With Full Image View, you’ll see the full image of each record on your results page. You can view up to ten results and we will highlight your search terms so you can easily identify where they appear within the image.

Tile View

Don’t have time to view the entire page, but still want some contextual info? Try out the new Tile View. Revealing a smaller image than the full page view, you’ll be able to quickly browse all results without losing any necessary contextual details.

New Summary Search View

Summary Search View allows you to group your results by category and database title, making it a breeze to target the databases that spark your interest, and quickly avoid those that are irrelevant to your research.

You can select multiple filters in the sidebar to narrow the scope of your search and start making even more discoveries!

I thank you again for your support. I hope you like these new features and they help to make Mocavo even more helpful.  If you do have any other suggestions or feedback about these tools, I’d love to hear from you!

Hope for Hart Island

25 Mar 2014

Last fall I wrote about Hart Island in New York City, the largest potter’s field in the world. The island is under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Corrections. Prisoners from Ryker’s Island perform 1,500 burials each year of indigent and unknown individuals. Melinda Hunt has been pushing the city for some time to make it more accessible. Currently, visitors can only go as far as a gazebo by the docks. They cannot visit the graves of family members.

Two weeks ago, the New York City Council took the first step to rectify this situation. Five members of the council introduced legislation to transfer custody of Hart Island. Instead of being overseen by the Department of Corrections, the island would now be supervised by the Department of Parks and Recreation. Additional legislation would provide for regular ferry service for visitors. The goal is to return to the days when people visited cemeteries regularly, as places to celebrate the lives of those interred there.

By the early nineteenth century there were almost a hundred graveyards in Manhattan. As the island got more cramped, public health issues (as well as the desire to reclaim valuable real estate on the island) caused officials to relocate burial grounds to the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. But many areas that were originally burial grounds still have bodies buried there. Some of the old burial grounds are still parks. Famous landmarks, such as Bryant Park (next to the New York Public Library) and Washington Square Park, started out as burying grounds.

Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx and Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn are large garden cemeteries built in the mid-nineteenth century. They are home not only to New York’s elite, but also to every-day citizens. Even today, these cemeteries host tours, concerts, and other events for the public. They are beautiful and awe-inspiring.


Cenotaph for Augustus Lafayette Cowdrey, a lawyer and volunteer fireman killed during the great fire of 1845.

Cenotaph for Augustus Lafayette Cowdrey, a lawyer and volunteer fireman killed during the great fire of 1845. Private collection of the author, used with permission.


It is heartening to see a government work to preserve a burial ground in such a way. Not only do they seek to preserve it, but member of the New York City Council seek create a public space that will encourage people to visit and create recreational areas for people to enjoy.

This is a great change from many other stories that we see and hear about, where cemeteries are just plowed over or buried under concrete as development encroaches upon them. The New York Times is very supportive of this move by the city council. Last week they ran a piece on the opinion page that talks about the Hart Island situation. You can read it in The Graves of Forgotten New Yorkers.


5 Valuable Websites for British Research

22 Mar 2014



There are many resources available for researching your English ancestors. In addition to the obvious large websites, there are some lesser-known ones that you should keep in mind to help move your research along. Here are five that I often use.

This website is a joint project of S & N Genealogy, a large commercial genealogy website in the U.K., and The National Archives (TNA). Registers for Church of England parishes are kept separately from other registers. Other denominations are called non-conformist or non-parochial.  This site provides access to material from more than a dozen record groups at TNA for non-Anglican individuals. This is a pay-per-view website. Credits cost 50p each (about  US $.82). You must purchase 10, 20, or 40 credits at a time. Searching is free. You can search by forename and/or surname. You can use wildcards and/or fuzzy search. You can limit your search to an event type. The advance search costs 1 credit and allows you to limit the search to a single record group, and add a place name and/or year for the event.


The Association of British Counties

This group is a “society dedicated to promoting awareness of the continuing inmportance of the 92 historic (or traditional) Counties of the United Kingdom.” The website offers a great deal of information, but the most valuable to genealogists is the Gazetteer of British Place Names. The gazeteer contains more than 50,000 names of places of all size. Results provide the historic county name, the administrative county name, the district, police area, and U.K. country. There is also a link to a modern map showing the town with the historical county boundaries overlaid on it.


Deceased Online

Unlike other websites that have user-contributed cemetery information on it, Deceased Online contains data from statutory burial and cremation registers. The database includes the names of millions of people buried or cremated in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The searchable database is linked to images of the original registers.  Not only will you find information about the deceased, but details on the grave owner, other burials in the grave, pictures of some graves and memorials, and maps showing the locations of graves and memorials. Records date from 1850 to modern times. Searching is free, but you must purchase vouchers to view results. It costs between £1.50–2.00 (about US $2.50–3.30). The site recently launched an annual unlimited-access subscription for £89 (about US $147).


Society of Genealogists

Many may think that SOG is only good if you can go there in person. Not true. For example, if you can’t get to the library in person, you can utilize the society’s Search and Copy Service to have documents copied and sent to you. You can check indexes to their documents and pedigree collections to see if there is any information on surnames you are interested in. The Society is also digitizing many of their collections and making them available online for members.  Among the valuable data online are marriage licences, Boyd’s indexes, local histories, parish registers, monumental inscriptions, poll books, will extracts and indexes, apprenticeships and more. Membership is £50 or £32 (about US $53) for overseas members.


Richard Heaton’s Index to Digitalised British and Irish Newspapers Online

Mr. Heaton has been using newspapers in his research for thirty years. He has compiled this index from twenty-three online archives. The index is divided geographically into England (except London), London, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man. Each section is subdivided by city/town name and country name. It provides the publication title (and any variant titles), the name of the online collection where it can be found (with direct llinks to many of them, the format, whether it was free or pay, as well as the start and end dates. Some of the entries include additional comments.

Have you discovered any Irish heritage in your family history research

22 Mar 2014

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked, “In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, we would like to know if you have discovered any Irish heritage in your family history research?”

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To our surprise over 85% of our members have found Irish ancestors on either their father or mother’s side of their family! If you are looking for more information regarding your Irish ancestors, don’t forget that we have a ton of Irish databases all available for you to search individually for free. You can find all of our records from Ireland at We also have some helpful articles about Irish research in our learning center. Read about the Placenames Database of Ireland which currently contains the names of more than 61,000 townlands, almost 3,500 electoral districts, more than 2,500 civil parishes, and thousands of other names.

Be sure to take next week’s poll: “Do You Plan on Writing Your Own Obituary?


New Features from Mocavo

21 Mar 2014

We’re continuing to make giant leaps forward on our mission to bring all of the world’s historical content online for free! We’ve kept our promise to bring 1,000 new databases online every day, and there are now almost 300,000 databases available on Mocavo for the world to enjoy forever. In the spirit of this mission, I’m excited to announce that our transcription process is moving full-speed ahead, and we’re expanding our Search interface to give you more ways to browse your results!

New Summary Search View

With millions of potential matches added to our search engine every day, we want to give you multiple ways to quickly scan through your results and break through your brick walls. Previously, a search results page would show you an excerpt of the content and, if available, an image preview with the matching word highlighted in yellow. Today, I’m excited to announce Summary Search View; a new feature that we’re releasing in beta (and available exclusively to our Mocavo Gold members) that offers an entirely new way to view your search results. Summary Search View allows you to group your results by category and database title, making it a breeze to target the databases that spark your interest, and quickly avoid those that are irrelevant to your research.

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If you’re a Mocavo Gold customer, just run a search as you always have, but now you’ll notice a “Summary” tab just to the upper right of your results. Click that tab and you’ll see your results grouped by the Database title. You can also select multiple filters in the sidebar to narrow the scope of your search and start making even more discoveries!

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Try Summary Search Now

We still have a few bugs to sort out – it is a beta release, after all – but we wanted to give our Mocavo Gold customers a chance to test drive it in the meantime. Let us know what you think, and if you aren’t a Gold customer, start your 7-day Free Trial today!

First Transcribed Database Live and Searchable

We continue to make strides with our handwriting technology and we’re putting the finishing touches on our transcription tool! Comprising more than 11,000 handwritten words, the first transcribed database is live and searchable!

With this new technology, our search engine reveals results that include both typewritten and handwritten text. Now we have the potential to bring even more offline content online for everyone to enjoy for free, forever. Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 4.03.36 PM

We want to thank you again for all of your continued support and hope you have a lovely weekend full of discoveries.

Against the Odds – Love Protects Families During Deadly Draft Riots

19 Mar 2014

During the summer of 1863, things were quite tense in New York City. Poor Irish immigrants competed with free blacks for working-class jobs. At the beginning of the year, Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This inflamed passions, as many working-class whites feared even more competition for jobs.

Congress made the situation even worse, passing the first draft in American history. But wealthy men could pay a commutation fee of $300 (about $5,500 in today’s money) to hire a substitute to take their place. And because blacks were not citizens, they, too did hot have to register. This left many newly-naturalized men, especially Irish men, to be drafted with no escape.

The second drawing of draft numbers occurred on Monday, July 13, 1863, just days after the Battle of Gettysburg. A riot broke out at the drawing. Because the New York Militia had been sent to Pennsylvania, the small city police department was left alone to quell the riots that it was understaffed and ill-prepared to deal with. For three days, the city experienced the worst rioting in the nation’s history. One of the first casualties was the Colored Orphan Asylum at 44th Street and 5th Avenue. Hundreds of children were left without shelter when it was burned to the ground. Over the course of the riots, 11 blacks were lynched, and more than 100 others were killed.

Image of Draft Riots from Wikimedia Commons.

Image of Draft Riots from Wikimedia Commons.Riot



Recently, however, graduate student Virginia Ferris published an interesting piece in the American Journal of Irish Studies. She researched a number of families in New York after the riots. In 1870, less than a decade after the riots, she found 80 couples living in Manhattan’s eighth ward (an area which today includes SoHo and parts of Greenwich Village). What was so unique about these couples was that they were interracial couples.

What she discovered was that for many, their shared experiences as poor, marginalized people in the city overcame racial prejudices. Most of the couples were black men who had married Irish immigrant women. They built families and community all the while surrounded by negativity. What is very interesting is that while the riots raged in New York, they never reached the eighth ward. This area remained calm and peaceful, despite what was going on elsewhere. The families they had built helped to insulate them against the violence.

Stories like this show us how important it is to challenge our assumptions when we are researching. We often think that things like interracial marriage or illegitimate children are modern concepts. The truth is that there is very little new under the sun, and following the evidence can help you find the stories of your family.

Columnist Rachel L. Swarns recently wrote about Ferris and her work. You can read her piece, After Deadly Draft Riots, a Shared Experience Reshaped Families in Manhattan, in the New York Times.

Resources for Dutch New York Research

18 Mar 2014

I am in New York City today, meeting with the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society about their fantastic new guide for genealogical research in New York, the New York Family History Research Guide and Gazetteer. Although it has been delayed in production, it is in the final stages of preparation and should be available soon. In the meantime, I thought it would be very appropriate to discuss New York research today.

Back in 1974 the New York State Library (NYSL) was concerned with preserving valuable historical documents in its collections dating back to the early colonial period and settlement by the Dutch. Partnering with the Holland Society of New York, NYSL created the New Netherland Project. The purpose of the project was to translate the many surviving seventeenth-century documents into English and publish them.

Over the years, many documents were lost. The worst damage came during the 1911 fire at the state capital, which destroyed some 270,000 manuscripts. Fortunately, about 12,000 pages have survived the ravages of time to document that early period.

There have been many attempts through the years to translate the records to make them more accessible, starting back in the 18th century. Unfortunately, none of these was particularly successful. Indeed, one of them, by archivist Edmund O’Callaghan, saw the records dismantled from their original bindings and reassembled according to his own organizations system: something that would not occur today. Much of the early transactions were selective, including only those items deemed important by the translator.

In 1986, the Friends of the New Netherland Project formed to assist in raising funds and otherwise supporting the work. Today the group is known as the New Netherland Institute (NNI), dedicated to increasing understanding of our Dutch Heritage. In addition to supporting the publication of the documents, NNI provides educational programs, and resources for both students and teachers. Online, they have digital exhibitions and some of the published transcriptions are also available.


New Netherland Institute


Perhaps the biggest venture, however, started in 2009 with a visit from their Royal Highnesses Crown Prince William Alexander and Princess Máxima of the Netherlands. The occasion of their visit launched a major new project, the New Netherland Research Center (NNRC).

The NNRC is located in the New York State Research Library. It provides access to original source materials, translations of Dutch documents, and other resources. The NNRC also provides fellowships for scholars dealing working on the Dutch colonial period. The NNRC is now the group in charge of publishing translations of the early Dutch documents as well.

Those with roots in early New York have great resources available to them. Fortunately, there is also tremendous support for research with these documents. The good work of the NYSL, NNI, and the NNRC and their predecessors have opened up research to today’s English-speaking researchers. If you find their work helpful, consider supporting them with a tax-deductible donation. Pay it forward.

What to do With Thousands of Graves

17 Mar 2014

Genealogists are used to reading all sorts of horrific stories about the damage the march of time does to our history. Every time we turn around, there is another story of town records being destroyed, cemeteries being plowed over, and other damage. Many of these stories end up in our weekly roundup of news published on Fridays.  How nice, then, to see a story with a different kind of ending. A few weeks back, we included a story from Missippi about grave discoveries. Now comes more information.

The Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum was opened on January 8, 1855, in Jackson. During the Civil War, General Sherman took over the institution. After the war, African-Americans started being admitted. In 1900 the Asylum was renamed the Mississippi State Insane Hospital, and in 1930 it was replaced by the Mississippi State Hospital.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center was founded in 1955 in the state capitol of Jackson, and located on the former site of the asylum. Since that time, during various construction projects, the UMMC has discovered unmarked graves on the site. In each case, they carefully relocated the remains to the official cemetery area of the site.

In the 1990s, 66 coffins were discovered during a road improvement project. The UMMC partnered with the Cobb Institute for Archaeology at Mississippi State University to document the graves and relocate them to the cemetery.

Archaeologists have learned much. Most were interred with no personal items. They were buried without clothes, sometimes in shrouds and sometimes not. All of this indicates the bodies being linked to the asylum. They have been dated to the 1920s, relatively late in the history of the institution.

Recently, however, during surveys for a major expansion to the facility, workers discovered more burials. More than they originally conceived. Using ground-penetrating radar, more than 1,000 burials were found on the southern end of the property, and the same number of burials on the northern side.

It would cost millions of dollars to relocate that many remains, so the UMMC has placed their expansion on hold for the moment. But the archaeological research continues. And genealogists are now getting into the game, wondering what might have happened to relatives at the asylum. Working together, they are trying to identify remains and what happened to the inmate, often too poor for their families to claim them after death.

No matter the reasons, it is heartening to see a large institution working to preserve history. You can read more about the story at CNN in University is Digging into Mississippi’s Past with a Long Forgotten Graveyard or visit the Mississippi State Asylum Cemetery Project.

Mississippi State Asylum Cemetery Project

News Stories and Blog Posts for Genealogists, March 14, 2014

14 Mar 2014

Another week has come and gone. This week brings us a wide mix of stories. We find out about a World War II soldier’s reunion, a website for researching Irish ancestry, DNA testing, ways to use Facebook, and your favorite fonts. I hope you find them as interesting as I do.

Former Hudson, Massachusetts, police chief Alfred T. Cabral recently had a long-awaited reunion. In January 1944 he was one of the participants in the amphibious assault on Anzio, Italy. During the assault, under intense fire, he lost his dog tags. An Italian man walking along the beach found the tag and turned it over to the American cemetery last December. It was recently returned to him at a ceremony in Worcester, seventy years after the attack. You can read more of the story, and discover what he plans to do with the dog tag, in Veteran Proudly Reclaims His Dog Tag — 70 Years Later.

Donna Moughty  recently posted about John Grenham’s website, hosted at the Irish Times (a post she made from a cruise ship in the Caribbean). Although not a fan of pay-per-view websites, Donna explains the value of one part of this site. Find out more in Irish Ancestors Website.

Understanding DNA can be complicated. Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist, often discusses it on her blog. This week she have a very important discussion about autosomal DNA testing. She explains what it is, and why you need to expand your testing to maximize your results. Read more in Sibling Rivalry: Maximizing Autosomal Matches.

Paula Stuart-Warren discusses a wide variety of topics on her blog, Paula’s Genealogical Eclectica. This week she had an interesting comment about Facebook. Many people use it to keep track of their friends and what is going on in each others’ lives. But there are other ways to use it. And Paula talks about some of them, and gives you some Facebook pages you might find interesting if you have Minnesota research. Read about it in Facebook Has Helpful Pages You May Not Know About.


Font HIstory


Finally this week comes an innocuous but interesting story from the Huffington Post. We use our computers for so much nowadays. One of the nice things we can do with our digital writing is to use the different fonts available. But have you ever wondered where those fonts came from? Think that Times New Roman originated with the New York Times? Think again! Find out the answer to this, and others, in The Incredible Histories of Your Favorite Fonts.