Genealogy Blog

Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, July 3, 2014

03 Jul 2014

This week’s news roundup is coming a day early because of the Independence Day holiday here in the United States. This week’s stories include a review of seven apps you can use for your home library, a new crop of online law dictionaries, a family celebrating more than a century and a half in the same town, eight sensational female murderers, and the anniversary of an infamous fire in Irish history.

Emily VanBuren is going for a PhD in history at Northwestern University. She wrote a post for Gradhacker recently that genealogists will find very interesting. Family historians love their books. The problem is, once you reach a certain point, how do you remember whether or not you have a book on your shelf already when you are in the shelves of a used bookstore miles away from home? Emily reviews 7 Apps for Cataloguing Your Home Library.

The Legal Genealogist, Judy G. Russell, brings us an incredibly useful new resource. This week she wrote about a new project at the Georgetown University Law Library down in Washington, D. C. The staff there are working to digitize 87 titles and upload them for the public to use for free at Digital Dictionaries, 1481–1891. Read more in A Defining Moment.

Henry Brown was born in Scotland in 1834. Twenty years later he traversed the Atlantic Ocean to settle in Battle Creek, Michigan, seeking a better life. Over the past century and a half, six generations of the family have continued to contribute to the social fabric of Battle Creek, and the family is working to ensure that future generations remember their contributions. Read more about Henry Brown and his descendants in Living History: Brown Family Celebrating 160 Years in Battle Creek.

We all have black sheep in the family. Unfortunately, even the black sheep are better documented when they are men rather than women. This week Mental Floss ran an interesting piece of some of our female black sheep. The author detailed the stories of women who committed the worst of crimes: killing. But she does show that women’s stories can be recreated. Read more in 7 Sensational Murderers from History.


Four Courts Fire Dublin 1922


Lastly, Irish Central ran a report this week about an important anniversary. It was June 30, 1922, one of the worst days in Irish history. By the end of the day, Four Courts was ablaze and records detailing millennia were destroyed. Read more in Irish Family History: Ashes to Archives.

Free Records From Christ Church in Philadelphia

02 Jul 2014

Christ Church is one of the oldest churches in the city. It was founded as a Church of England parish in 1695. It is now a National Historic Landmark. By the 1750s Philadelphia had become the largest city and the busiest port in British North America.

Christ Church is located in the heart of Philadelphia. The parish was home to signers of the Declaration of Independence such as George Ross, Joseph Hewes, Francis Hopkinson, Benjamin Rush, and Benjamin Franklin. Because of its proximity to Independence Hall, it was also the parish of many who lived temporarily in the city, including George Washington. It was also the home parish of countless everyday people.

In 2005, the church received funds to catalog its archival holdings and artifacts in its collections, and to develop online databases for research. In 2012, the Pew Charitable Trusts provided funding to expand the online databases. These databases provide a great deal of valuable information for genealogists.

First and foremost is a database of information from the parish registers. It was created from an index created by the WPA in 1930. The records of St. Peter’s Church prior to its separation from Christ Church in 1832 are also included in the databases. Baptisms and Burials from 1709 to 1900 are included, as well as marriages between 1709 and 1913. It includes the names of the parties, parents for baptisms and burials of minors. You can filter or sort by the type of event. Citations to original volumes are included.

A valuable addition to the database is pew rentals from 1778 to 1785. Information includes the date due, the location of the pew, and the number of seats in the pew. For example, one finds in the database that Benjamin Franklin paid for two sittings in pew number 59 for each of the years included. They have also uploaded a seating plan from the 1760s.



Christ Church seating chart from the 1760s, showing Benjamin Franklin's pew (no 59), halfway down the right column.

Christ Church seating chart from the 1760s, showing Benjamin Franklin’s pew (no 59), halfway down the right column.


A second database allows you to search Vestry minutes. The records cover almost a century, starting with the earliest surviving records in 1717 through 1815. This database includes images of the original pages as well as a transcription. You can also browse through each of the three volumes, as well as searching across the entire span.

The third database searches for artifacts, archives, and other library materials. Besides a keyword search, an advanced search screen for this database provides a large number of terms you can search on.

If you have English ancestors in colonial Philadelphia, there is a good chance that they might have passed through the doors of Christ Church. Visit the the church’s website for free information that might help you with your family history research.

Preserving the Past in Licking County

01 Jul 2014

Six years ago Katy Klettlinger was a 26-year-old department of one. In November of 2008 she started working as the first records manager for Licking County, Ohio in the two centuries of its existence. When she first started, she discovered records in the courthouse attic that dated back to the Civil War era. The county now has a climate-controlled Records and Archives Center and an active records preservation program.

Since she started, more than a million documents have been removed from repositories around the country. They have been cleaned and processed, put into archival storage containers, and moved to the records center. They are also working to make the records more available to the public for research.

The first step in increasing access is creating a catalogue of holdings. About 70% of the materials in the record center have now been catalogued. And hundreds of thousands of documents have been digitized.


1836 court record from Licking County held at the archives.

1836 court record from Licking County held at the archives.


The official county website has a section dedicated to the Licking County Records and Archives. The catalogue is available here for searching. The catalogue can be searched by keywords, or an advanced search offering multiple fields such as title, description, dates, and more. Only a few images are available online, but search results provide links to order a copy of the record directly from the archives.

In addition to the catalogue, a number of other resources are available. Researchers can find

  • a history of the county
  • a history of the county infirmary
  • an index to burials in the county infirmary cemetery
  • a list of county records stored at other repositories

One of the newest additions is a guide to county court records at the archives. It traces the development of the courts from 1787 to the present. In addition to written information, there are some audio recordings as well.  The second section explains how to use these records. A blog contains periodic updates on the activities and records of the archives.

Since 2008, Katy has built the department from a single person to four people, working hard to preserve the past. This August, she will be moving on. She has taken a position with the state library. She leaves behind an excellent organization that is an incredibly valuable resource for genealogists and historians alike. You can read more about her in the Columbus Dispatch, and visit the Licking County website to explore the vast resources available for the county archives.


Share Your Story With the Future Through StoryCorps

28 Jun 2014

Summer is a great time for family history. Family vacations can include time for genealogy, with research, family visits, and outings to cemeteries. This summer, why not take some time to include participation in StoryCorps?

StoryCorps celebrated its 10th anniversary last fall. Since 2004, more than 80,000 people have contributed more than 50,000 interviews to the archive. They are creating a valuable genealogical resource for the future.

StoryCorps has a simple formula. Each recording includes two people who know each other well: family members, friends, etc. The two sit in the StoryCorps booth and talk for forty minutes. The subject is pretty much up to them, and topics vary widely.




StoryCorps has a commitment to documenting the stories of a wide variety of groups. They have a number of special outreach projects to document communities, including:

  • StoryCorps OutLoud (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered)
  • Military Voices Initiative (veterans, service members, and their families)
  • Historias Initiative (Latino/Latinas)
  • Griot Initiative (African Americans)
  • StoryCorps Legacy (those living with serious illness)
  • Memory Loss Initiative (those living with various forms of memory loss)

StoryCorps operates  permanent recording locations at Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco. It also operates a MobileBooth that travels  across the country every year to record stories. This summer it will be visiting Marquette and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Groups can also sponsor a portable recording station to be brought to their location.

For those who cannot get to a recording station (permanent or mobile), there is StoryCorps DIY. You can record and share your story online and submit it to StoryCorps.

The best part of StoryCorps the group’s commitment to preserving these stories for the future. All of the StoryCorps recordings are archived at The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. All recordings are available there

Unfortunately, only a selection of recording is available online, at the StoryCorps website. A podcast delivers access to more recordings, and StoryCorps recordings also air on National Public Radio.

Read more about the StoryCorps mission and how you can contribute on the StoryCorps website. You can listen to more stories on the NPR website. And think about spending some time this summer recording your story for the future.

We Asked and You Answered!

28 Jun 2014

Last week we asked which genealogy websites you used. Here are the poll results!




Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, June 27, 2014

27 Jun 2014

This week’s roundup of stories starts with the Legal Genealogist’s tale of a soldier scholar followed by a piece by Randy Seaver about WikiTree’s new DNA service. We then find a story about billionth image at FamilySearch, current world leaders’ family ties to World War I, and singer Demi Lovato’s grandfather.

We start with a story from Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist. We sometimes forget that even acts of the United States Congress can mention individuals by name. She found a 1912 act that allowed José Pasos Diaz of Nicaragua to attend West Point. Why was a foreigner going the U.S. Military Academy? And was he the only one? Find out more in Alien Admission.

WikiTree does not do DNA testing, but in recognition of the significant roll it is playing in some aspects of genealogy, the team there as developed a new product. The DNA Ancestor Confirmation Aid will help  users with even distant ancestral connections collaborate. Randy Seaver tested it and writes about his experience using it in WikiTree DNA Confirmation Aid Results.


FamilySearch Spiders


This month FamilySearch announced reaching the milestone of one billion images of records from around the world. Deseret News ran an interesting story this week about some of the records that have recently been added. Included in this is the story of the spider in the Catholic church records from Oaxaca, Mexico. Find out more about the spider in Ancestors, Actors, and Arachnids: Interesting Things in 1 Billion Historic Images.

World leaders will gather this week in Belgium to memorialize the start of World War 1 a century ago. Although it may seem like a long time ago, this is a war that saw the participation of many relatives of these leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister David Cameron. grandfathers, great-grandfathers, uncles, great-uncles, and more were all actively involved in the war. Some survived, and many did not. Read more in the Washington Post in Obama, Putin, Merkel: WWI is Family History.

Finally, we conclude with another family story. Singer Demi Lovato spoke openly about her grandfather for the first time this week on a television show honoring trailblazers in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community. He was a brave man, who told his family he was gay in the 1960s, a time where many lived in silence. It is by sharing stories like Demi’s that we can honor our GLBT ancestors. Read more in the Huffington Post in Demi Lovato Opens Up About Her Gay Family History.

Free Resource For Canadian Research: Héritage

26 Jun 2014 was established in 1978 as the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions. In 2005, they merged with  the Canadian Initiative for Digital Libraries and in 2008 with Alouette Canada to create The goal is to “create, disseminate, preserve, and sustain the knowledge base, scientific and cultural, of Canadian memory organizations in digital form to benefit all Canadians.”

Partnering with the Canadian Research Knowledge Network and Library and Archives Canada, one of their major projects is Héritage. This project is a “10-year initiative to digitize and make accessible online some of Canada’s most popular archival collections encompassing roughly 60 million pages of primary-source documents. Chronicling the country and its people from the 1600s to the mid-1900s, this collection represents a vast and unique resource for Canadian historians, students, and genealogists.”




In addition to genealogically significant materials, digitized collections include materials on aboriginal and military history, government documents, and landmark papers from individuals and organizations.

One of the major projects is to digitize existing microfilm. Among the materials already online:

  • Index to Passenger Lists, 1900–1908
  • Placide Gaudet Papers
  • Parish Registers for Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec
  • Notifications of Changes in the Names of Persons in Ontario
  • Manitoba and Red River Census Returns
  • Lower Canada Declaration of Aliens
  • Homestead Grant Registers

The viewer for the microfilm images is simple and very easy to navigate. It loads images quickly for viewing. You can zoom in and out and rotate images, and quickly move between images through a dropdown box. Unfortunately, at the moment, you cannot save images to your computer. But the good news is that using the site is completely free. Unfortunately, this means that there is a lot of advertising on the site, although it is not as intrusive as it could be.

The groups are working on a complete catalogue of materials that will be available through the Héritage collection. More than 35,000 microfilms from more than 800 titles will be available in the complete collection. Just under 20,000 films from 505 titles are in the catalogue to date. Of the estimated 60 million pages in the entire collection, slightly more than half are described in the catalogue, and a full 25% (15 million) are already available online.

If you have Canadian ancestors, you must check out the Héritage website. It is already full of valuable information, and will only get better over time.

5 Tips for Working With the U.S. Census

25 Jun 2014


Census records are one of the basic resources for genealogy. They can get you started on the road to finding your ancestors. Unfortunately, we often don’t get everything out of these records that we can. Here are five tips to help you get the most success from your work with these records.

1. Use All of the Information

We are eager to look at census records because they give us information about our family. They tell us where the family was living at a certain time, and how many people are living in the family. But we neglect to examine the details. For example, the 1820 census asks the number of people involved in agriculture, commerce, and manufactures. Finding a listing that shows individuals in multiple columns can spur additional research. Are there adult children working elsewhere? Is the head of house a farmer who also operates a mill on his property? These are very valuable clues that often go overlooked.

2. Use the Nonpopulation Schedules

When we discuss the census, we are usually referring to the population schedules. But in many years, these were not the only schedules that were filled out. You may also discover schedules that discuss:

  • agriculture
  • business
  • manufacturing
  • mortality
  • social statistics

Unfortunately, not all of the nonpopulation schedules have survived. Agriculture schedules for 1900 and 1910, for example, were destroyed by Congressional order.

Copies of many of these special censuses survive in public and private repositories on the state level. Not all of them have been microfilmed, and are not easily available online. Visit the National Archives for more information about the Nonpopulation schedules.

3. Read the Headings Carefully

This is a pitfall that is very easy to fall into. We think we know what something says, but we aren’t quite right in our interpretation. Most commonly, we read into things, and thus misinterpret the information. For example, questions 22 and 23 in the 1900 U.S. census ask if the person can read and can write. It does not ask if they can read or write English. Question 24 asks if they can speak English. But it is possible that one can read and write without speaking English. It is also possible to be able to speak English, while only being able to read and write in another language. Read the questions multiple times, and be certain you are not assuming or reading into them.

4. Read the Enumerator Directions

Knowing the questions is important, but equally important is to understand what the answers were supposed to be. Enumerators were directed to record people in specific ways. They were also directed to include or not include individuals based on very specific requirements. For example, the enumerator instructions for 1920 direct that U.S. citizens who are abroad temporarily were to be enumerated. The length of absence was immaterial, what mattered was that the person intended to return home eventually to live. Aliens who had left the country were not to be enumerated. Understanding these directions can help you determine why family members may (or may not) be included in a particular census. You can find the instructions at the Census Bureau website.

5. Use Census Bureau Resources

The U.S. Census Bureau provides a lot of resources that are helpful for genealogists. In addition to the history of each census, you can discover the history of the bureau itself, blank forms for each census, lists of questions asked, enumerator instructions, maps, legislation about the census, and more. Visit to take advantage of these materials.

Census History

24 Jun 2014

Census Bureau History


During Colonial times a number of censuses were taken, but they were small and local. It was not until the U.S. Constitution that the first large-scale census was taken. Article 1, Section 2, sets up the House of Representatives and reads in part:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifts of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. “

This was the foundation of our current census system. The United States was the first country to require a regular enumeration of inhabitants. The Constitution went into effect in June 1788 when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify it. The first Congress met from March 4, 1789 to March 4, 1791, and the enumeration began in August 1790. This first census had only five questions:

  1. Free White males of 16 years and upwards
  2. Free White males under 16 years
  3. Free White females
  4. All other free persons
  5. Slaves

As Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson was responsible for overseeing the taking of this first census. Enumerators had to provide their own paper, a tradition that would remain until 1830 when the first printed forms were finally provided. The total population in 1790 was 3,929,214 and cost $44,377.28.

By the 1940 census (the last publicly available census at the present time), the population had increased to 132,164,569, almost thirty-four times higher. The cost, however was more than fifteen hundred times higher: increasing to $67,527,000.

The population schedules included thirty-four questions. Two people (who randomly appeared on lines 14 and 29 of the schedule) were asked an additional sixteen questions. This was the largest number of questions of any publicly available census to date. It was not until the census of 2000 that more questions were asked (53 were asked that year). Censuses are released to the public seventy-two years after the enumeration. The 1950 census will not be released to the public until 2022.

Mocavo is pleased to have the census indexes for the 1790 through 1940 censuses available to the public for searching, part of our free forever campaign. For more information about the census, visit the Census Bureau’s website. You can search the entire set of census indexes for free on Mocavo.