Genealogy Blog

Five Steps to Create a Foolproof Research Plan

29 Apr 2014

Just like other projects, genealogical research works best when you have a plan. Learn how to create a research plan that will guide you throughout the research process and keep you on track as you dive deeper into your family history research.


1. Assess Your Initial Goals and Interests

Take a moment and think about what initially inspired you to start looking into your family’s past. Were you interested in a specific family member? Or was it just general interest in your family’s past? Assessing your initial goals and interests will help you choose an appropriate research path.

2. Evaluate the Information you Have Already Discovered

Once you have re-evaluated your initial family history interests, take a moment to review the information you gathered in the past. Often you will discover new avenues for research. Discovering new goals is completely normal and to be expected. The constant discovery of new information is one of the reasons why genealogy often becomes a lifetime hobby for many.

3. Create Research Goals and Objectives

The next step is to start creating research objectives. These are the building blocks that will help you solve the mysteries in your family history, and will help break down your search into attainable tasks. One of the best ways to create these objectives is to first focus on one or two of your goals.

An initial goal can be anything from looking for a specific person or family, to answering a research question about the living conditions of your ancestors.

Examples of Research Goals are:

  1. Locate the place from which my great-grandmother came.
  2. Complete the family group sheet for my great grandfather’s family.
  3. Identify when and where was my great uncle born.

Once you decide on the research goals that you would like to initially pursue, you can then create research objectives to help you discover your goal. For example, if your goal is to find out where your great-grandmother immigrated from, research objectives could include:

  1. When was your great-grandmother born?
  2. At which port did your great-grandmother arrive?
  3. Did she travel alone, or with family and/or friends?

All of the questions above are considered research objectives. Before you visit a repository or start your online research, take some time to record a few initial goals and two research objectives for each goal.

4. Identify Potential Record Sources

Now it is time to use your research log to record potential sources. Download your free research log now. A research log can help you keep track of the sources that you have already examined, and those you plan to use during your genealogical research. By diligently recording your research steps, you will be able to easily cross-reference new information with what you have previously found.

5. Examine and Record Your Sources

The information that you should record on your research log before you search includes:

  1. Name of your ancestor
  2. Your selected research objective
  3. Source to examine
  4. Repository or source location

Once you record all of this information on your research log, you are ready to start your search. After you have finished your search, record the following information:

  1. Source examination date
  2. Complete source citation (title, author, publication data)
  3. Notes on findings
  4. Whether or not you made a photocopy or transcription
  5. Whether this source requires further examination

After you have recorded this information in your research log, take the data relating to an individual relative or family such as dates and places, and transfer the information onto your pedigree chart, onto your family group sheet, and into your genealogy database and/or word processor. Each additional entry gets you one step closer to making new discoveries.

Don’t forget to download your free research log


Revoking American Citizenship in the Early Twentieth Century

24 Apr 2014

The great immigration waves in the second half of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century brought with them not only problems of immigration and emigration, but naturalization and citizenship. Exacerbating these problems was the xenophobic nature of many Americans, especially the men serving in Congress.

This week the Los Angeles Times published a story about the Expatriation Act of 1907. The story told the story of Elsie (Knutsen) Moren. Born in Minnesota, she married Carl Moren, an immigrant from Sweden. Under the provisions of the act, this caused Elsie to lose her American citizenship. Any U.S.-born woman who married an alien automatically lost her citizenship. This may help explain why you might find Alien Registration files for American-born women. But this story focuses on only one provision of the Act. It encompassed far more.


Expatriation ACct of 1907


On February 20, 1907, members of congress passed “An Act in Reference to the Expatriation of Citizens and Their Protection Abroad.” Like many acts of Congress, there were good provisions and bad provisions.

Section one dealt with the subject of passports.  Under these provisions, foreigners who had resided in the U.S. for three years and had made a declaration of intention to become a citizen could be issued a passport. The passport could be valid for only six months, and could not be renewed. It would entitle the holder to the protection of the U.S. government everywhere except the country of which he was a citizen prior to his declaration of intention.

Section two dealt with American citizens. Any citizen who took an oath of allegiance or became a naturalized citizen of a foreign state automatically expatriated himself and gave up his U.S. citizenship. Naturalized citizens who resided in their country of origin for two years after naturalization, or elsewhere outside the United States for five years, were considered to have renounced his citizenship unless proving otherwise to the Department of State.

In these years that just followed the Spanish-American War, and with worldwide tensions on the rise, Congress was also concerned about the ability to raise military forces. The provisions of this section for revocation of citizenship would not be valid during times of war.

Section three was the provision that stripped American-born women who married alien men of their citizenship. She would regain her citizenship when the marriage was terminated.

Section four provided that a foreign-born woman who had become an American citizenship through marriage would continue to be a citizen even after the termination of the marriage. If she were living abroad, she needed to register with a U.S. Consul within one year of the termination.

Section five provided that foreign-born children of alien parents would be granted citizenship upon the naturalization or resumption of citizenship of their parents, as long as the children were still minors. This citizenship would only become valid, however, when such children began to reside in the U.S.

Section six stated that foreign-born children of American citizens who continued to reside abroad would be required to register with a U.S. Consul their intention to reside in the U.S. and retain their citizenship. Additionally, they would be required to take the oath of allegiance to the United States “upon attaining their majority.” Remember that the age of majority was different in different time periods.

Section seven, however, is the most important to genealogists. It required that “duplicates of any evidence, registration, or other acts required by this Act shall be filed with the Department of State for record.”

The terms of the Expatriation Act of 1907 were relatively short-lived. The provisions concerning women were repealed in the 1920s. That Nationality Act of 1940 repealed the remainder of the provisions of this act. But while it was in effect, it generated records that are of tremendous importance to genealogists.

New Beginning or Jargon Central?

22 Apr 2014

The Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society was founded in 1885. In 1954 the Society dropped “State Archaeological and” from its name. Sixty years later, the organization is going for an even more radical change.

Yesterday the Ohio Historical Society announced that it is going to change its name to Ohio History Connection.  The name change is part of an effort to update and re-brand the organization.  Executive Director Burt Logan has been working over the last five years to turn around the agency, which was in financial troubles and losing members. He conducted a two-year study that showed Ohioans perceived the group as “exclusive and not having an image across the state that people find welcoming. . .”

Historical and genealogical organizations across the country are in similar situation. We live in a new era, and many people perceive our groups as stodgy and stuffy, as well as very closed and not open to new people and new ideas. In fighting these perceptions, groups are trying many new ideas.

In a report in the Columbus Dispatch yesterday, Logan sayd that “We want to move the organization out from behind the glass. We’re not dumbing down history; we’re making it more accessible.” He goes on to say that “The name change is not a panacea, but it sends a signal to a broad audience that we have entered a new day.”

I hate to contradict the gentleman, but to me the new name sounds exactly the opposite. It comes across as if the organization hired consultants to research the problem and they came up with a jargon solution.

Yes, names like XYZ Historical Society can elicit images of old-school paneled libraries with cigar-smoking gentlemen in suits. But there are plenty of groups that have rebranded without resorting to current trends in marketing verbiage.

What is more fascinating to me is that the name change comes during a period when in-person visits to historic sites are up 95%, and society membership is up 22%. While I applaud the desire to be more attractive, why the need for something quite so drastic at this point? And investing in a total name change is not inexpensive. Signage, brochures, stationery, etc. all need to be recreated.


Ohio HIstory Connection


The organization already has a website branded Ohio History ( Why not take the same route that groups like the Colorado Historical Society, which became History Colorado? This is a modern, fresh name that doesn’t run the risk of being trendy.

It has been 60 years since the last time the organization last changed its name. Somehow, the name Ohio History Connection just does not sound like a name that will stand the test of time.

The Death of Expertise? Part 2

19 Apr 2014

In the last newsletter, I wrote about an article I saw in the Federalist entitled “The Death of Expertise.” The article dealt with the problems in greater society that have come with the great equalization of the internet. In my post, I discussed how these same stresses are appearing in the genealogical community. Over the last couple of weeks, this post has created a tremendous amount of discussion in the blogosphere as well as social media.

Within two hours of the newsletter coming out, the first response piece was posted. Over the next days, numerous other pieces were posted, not only in response to what I said, but in response to what others had posted in response to my original post. It was amazing how far afield some of the posts went from the original topic. It is always heartening to see a post precipitate conversation. In this case it was interesting to see how the conversation turned down some curious paths.

It was interesting to see how some immediately jumped onto the “elitist” bandwagon. Expertise is not elitist. It is experience and knowledge, both of which are freely available to anyone. As Michael John Neil put it so well “I don’t believe in the existence of the genealogical elite and I don’t believe in the existence of the genealogy police.” I have the same experience as Michael. I’ve never met anyone considered themselves to be an “elite.” I have however, met a number of individuals who consider themselves genealogy police, putting themselves in charge of protecting the defenseless newbies.

Some of these folks have been very upset about experienced genealogists calling them selfish, and only interested in making money, and doing nothing to contribute and help others. First, I must say, anyone who thinks that professional genealogists make a fortune at their craft is extremely mistaken. Professionals work very hard to make a living.




That said, they also give a tremendous amount back to the community in general. They publish their work in peer-reviewed journals and other periodicals (for which they are paid nothing) that will help people in the future. The combined information published in the entire runs of these journals is an incredibly valuable, and irreplaceable, resource. Reconstituting family connections is sometimes very difficult, with no single document to prove a connection, and with extensive discussion needed to understand why something is so. This is the kind of information that is not easily included in online family trees at the moment.

They also make presentations and conduct workshops, often for little or no compensation. Quite frankly, the amount of pay speakers receive for a speaking engagement does not even begin to adequately compensate for the amount of time it takes to research and put these presentations together. They are not making a fortune doing it.

Why do we do these things? To help researchers of all levels. We want to help people learn how to research and find their family. Seeing the glint in peoples’ eyes as they learn a new concept, or have a new door opened in their mind, is a most wonderful experience. To say that experienced people do not care and do not share is patently untrue and insulting.

Another complaint I’ve heard is that the “elite” should stop “harassing” those people who don’t believe in things like source citations and stop forcing people to write a Harvard Ph.D.-worthy citation for every fact. Is there anything more self-destructive than not writing down where you found a piece of information so you can find it again? Those who discuss how to create proper citations are trying to help more experienced researchers do it in the best way possible.

But those tools are not for everyone, beginners especially. I, like most other professionals I know, do not tell beginners to go out and buy Evidence Explained and the Chicago Manual of Style and get cracking! I tell beginners to simple record exactly where they found the information so that they can find it again, because inevitably they will find another source that disagrees with their information and they will have to go back and look again. Even the doyenne of genealogical citations, Elizabeth Shown Mills, says the same thing. Recently she posted Sunday’s Sermon: Ten Citation Commandments for Intimidated Souls. Number 3 is “Thou shalt not be paranoid. Any citation is better than none at all.”

So, I say that expertise is still critical to our success as genealogists. From rank beginner to incredibly experienced, we ignore it at our own peril. Why? Because learning how to find your family from those who have gone before helps to keep you from making mistakes, and more importantly, ensures that the people you put into your online family tree actually ARE related to you.

Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, April 18, 2014

18 Apr 2014

This week brings an eclectic group of stories for you. From lost records to DNA to fashion tips and more, I hope you find them as interesting and informative as I do.

First up is a post from Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist. Today Judy writes about record loss. Even when a courthouse burned, there are quite possibly materials that survived. To illustrate her point, she discusses early records of San Francisco that survived the devastating earthquake that hit the city 108 years ago today. Read more in All Not Lost.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently raided the home of a 91-year old man in rural Rush County, Indiana. Don Miller has been acquiring artifacts for eight decades. In addition to Native American cultural objects, materials from Australia, China, Haiti, New Guinea, Peru, and Russia were also identified. The FBI is working to catalog thousands of these artifacts to determine their origin, how Miller came into their possession, and whether it is legal for such an item to be privately owned. Read more in Thousands of Artifacts Removed from Rural Indiana Home.

My friend Drew Smith recently posted an update to a horrific story coming out of Florida. The former Dozier School for Boys in Florida has been the subject of an ongoing scandal since bodies were discovered in unmarked graves on school grounds. An anthropology professor from the University of Southern Florida is leading a team building a DNA database to help in identifying the remains.  Read more in USF Builds DNA List to Help ID Dozier School Bodies.

Last month I posted about writing your own obituary. Apparently USA Today liked it, because they picked up on the topic as well: “Put it down to the ‘selfie’ lifestyle of social media, and to the aging baby-boomer generation’s enduring need to exert control over every facet of their lives, including the end. Or maybe it’s the triumph of the DIY movement.” Read the full story in The ‘Selfie’ Impulse Now Extends to Obituaries.


Men High Heels


File this one under “everything old is new again.” We all know that fashion trends are a never-ending circle. Ideas that were once new, go out of style, only to return to favor at some point in the future. Back in the 17th century, men wore shoes with heels, while women wore flats. Heeled shoes were considered masculine. They were used for riding, to lock one’s feet in the stirrups, making combat more efficient. Eventually the style changed over to women. Now the fashion trend is for men to wear high heels. Read more about the history in Why Did Men Stop Wearing High Heels?, and more about the recent trend in A Tall Order for Even the Most Fashionable Gentlemen: High Heels for Men are on the Rise.

How Often Do You Cite Your Sources?

18 Apr 2014

This week we would like to know

How long have you been researching your family history?

18 Apr 2014

We asked and you answered. Last newsletter we asked how long you have been researching your family history.

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We have quite a wide range of experience levels in our community! Over 60% of you have been researching for more than 15 years, proving genealogy can be a lifetime hobby for many. Don’t forget to take our next poll “How often do you cite your sources?”



Three Reasons Why Everyone Needs to Cite Their Sources

17 Apr 2014


We often hear people say that they don’t have to cite their sources because they are “only doing it for the family” or they “aren’t going to publish” their research. But there are very good reasons why you should want to cite your sources.

3. So Other People Can Follow You
Whenever I hear people say that they don’t intend to publish their work, I have to laugh. Because almost every one of them that has said that has also told me that they use a genealogy database program to keep track of their research. Not only that, but they create GEDCOM files, which they send to family and friends, or post them online. They don’t realize that this is also publishing. And when you publish in any way, shape, or form, you want people to be able to understand your research, and how you reached your conclusions.

2. So You Can Evaluate The Reliability of Your Evidence
Genealogists today have access to mountains of information for researching their family history. This information will provide you generous amounts of information, which you then have to evaluate. You may, for example, have a general year of birth from a census record. You then find a birth certificate that gives you an exact date of birth. By citing your sources you will be able to review where you to the information to determine what is the most accurate.

1. Because You Will Need to Find it Again
Above all else, your ability to find your source again is the biggest reason why you should record where you found the information. You may find two documents that provide conflicting information, so you will have to go back and look at your sources again. You need to be certain you didn’t make a typographical error of some sort when recording the information. I have a friend who has been a professional genealogist for more almost thirty years, and has been researching for almost forty years. One of her biggest regrets is that when she was a beginning researcher, she found the date and place of birth for her great-grandfather. Unfortunately, she didn’t record the source of the information. She has never been able to find it again. And people are publishing all sorts of conflicting information online, but she has no way to evaluate it all and come to the truth.

Is the Book You’re Reading Bound By Human Skin?

16 Apr 2014

As genealogists we often spend time in libraries, looking through manuscripts and old books for clues to our family and the places where they lived. These materials can include very old books, bound by hand. In addition to leather-bound books, some are bound in sheepskin or pigskin. But occasionally some were covered in something very different. Anthropodermic bibliopegy refers to the practice of binding books with human skin.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the practice became known among physicians, who used human skin to bind anatomy books.  The skin was usually taken from cadavers, but was sometimes taken from criminals. One common form was to take the skin of criminals who were sentenced to death and use it to bind the records of the criminal’s trial. This was seen as a punishment that would last even after death.

The Boston Athenaeum has a text in its collection titled Hic Liber Waltonis Cute Compactus Est. Published in 1837, it contains the memoirs of James Allen, a notorious highwayman and bank robber.  He once declared himself to be the “master of his own skin,” and the book was actually bound in his skin.

The Harvard University Libraries  hold at least two books bound in human skin.  A third book, oringinally thought to be bound in human skin, has since been proven to be bound in sheepskin. One of these books is Des Destinées de L’Âme by Arsène Houssaye, published in the 1880s.  He gave the book to a physician friend, Ludovic Bouland. Bouland loved books, and had Houssaye’s treatise on the soul and life after death and had it rebound. He used skin from the body of a deceased mental patient whose family never claimed her body. Bouland added the following note:

“This book is bound in human skin parchment on which no ornament has been stamped to preserve its elegance. By looking carefully you easily distinguish the pores of the skin. A book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering. . .”

The tanning process used on the skin to preserve it and make it fit for binding damages the skin to the point that DNA is not recoverable, so it is not possible to trace the origins of the “donors.” By the end of the Victorian era the practice fell out of use because it was so morbid.


Human Skin


You can read more stories online in Anthropodermic Bibliopegy, or The Truth About Books Bound in Human Skin, A Morbid Secret Lies Hidden Within the Beautiful Walls of the Boston Athenaeum, and Flesh-Crawling Page-Turners: The Books Bound in Human Skin.

And remember, the next time you are in a library and using a very old book, the binding may not be what you think it is.

Preserving Your Story is Now Easier than Ever

15 Apr 2014

In October, we announced the Free Forever Revolution and committed to bringing 1,000 databases online for free, every single day. We’ve kept that promise every day since.

In January, we added 10,000 databases in a single day to put our total count at more than 200,000 databases available online for the world to enjoy.

In March, we reached a major milestone when we hit 300,000 databases and we are still going strong.

Along the way, we’ve been improving our product and launching new features designed to help you make more discoveries, faster.

As exciting as the last six months have been, believe me, we’re just getting started.

Preserving Your Story is Now Easier than Ever

The next frontier for Mocavo is to make it as easy as possible for every one of you to bring your family’s historical content online and available to share with the world. Every family history book, photo, letter, pamphlet, brochure, or directory you’ve ever gotten your hands on; we want to help you bring it online for your relatives to discover, near or far, close or distant. Let’s get every single piece of it online for free.

But how?

Early last year, we announced our Free Scanning program that allows you to mail us all of your books, documents, and photos. We scan in the materials, provide you with a digital copy, and add it to our index. To date, through the Free Scanning program, the Mocavo community has added more than 40,000 historical documents to our search index. That’s 40,000 documents packed with family history that will be free, forever.

But what about the content you’ve already scanned in yourself? How can you get that added to our index? We wanted to make it even easier for you to contribute content to Mocavo, so we’ve completely redesigned the Contribute section of our site.

Now, all it takes is a few simple clicks to upload your documents to Mocavo! We will process your content, add it to our index so that all of the text within your documents is completely searchable, and then you can show off your hard work to your loved ones and collaborate with family members to make even more discoveries!

Wouldn’t it be nice if your ancestors had left more of a paper trail? Upload your documents now and gain the peace of mind knowing that when you share your content on Mocavo, your story will be securely preserved forever.

Upload my documents now

You can also watch a quick tutorial on the collection manager tool here