Genealogy Blog

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

03 Jan 2014

Happy New Year! This week’s roundup of blog posts and news stories covers a wide variety of topics. From two-hundred-year-old gossip to word origins to the award-winning Legal Genealogist, we are starting off the year with some interesting topics.

We start off this week with a post in the Abroad in the Yard blog that I learned about from Elizabeth Shown Mills. An antique desk recently sold at auction was crafted by John Shearer for “an honest Dutchman of the name of Philip Stover in Frederick County, Maryland.” It revealed an interesting note that in addition to praising Stover, had quite disparaging things to say about John Mitchell and Sarah Skags. As Elizabeth pointed out, this reinforces the concept of a “reasonably exhaustive search.” One would not need to have “check furniture built in the time period and place my ancestor lived for hidden letters” on your list of things to search for. But one needs to be open to the possibility that new evidence could turn up at any time. Read more about the desk in Scandalous Gossip Found Hidden in 1808 Desk.

Wednesday’s New York Times had a great story about another hidden resource.  An archivist intern at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Manhattan discovered a twelve-page document misfiled with some bills from a colonial-era doctor. The bills were supposed to be discarded in the 1970s. Fortunately, they were not. The misfiled document turned out to be the draft of a letter concerning the problems between Britain and America. It was written in 1775 by Robert R. Livingston who would be engaged by the Continental Congress the following year to be one of the authors of a document we now know as the Declaration of Independence. Read more in Letter Tied to Fight for Independence Found in Museum Attic.


NYT Letter in Museum Attic


I missed this story that came out this summer on about Irish DNA studies. Although the Irish are known as a Celtic race, apparently the reality is a bit more complex. Apparently, although having many common origins with the British peoples, the Irish appear to be more closely linked with the Basque area of Spain instead of the Celts. Read more about this story in DNA Shows Irish People Have More Complex Origins Than Previously Thought.

A few weeks ago the Business Insider ran an interesting story about etymology. A reddit user posted a series of maps showing the etymology of certain words. The maps show Europe and parts of northern Asia and northern Africa. The map for the word “orange,” for example, shows that in western Europe it comes directly from Sanskrit. Eastern Europe, on the other hand, derives it from a word meaning “apple from China.”  Northern Europe, southwestern Europe, and the Middle-East, however, derive their words for orange from the fact that it was introduced to those areas by the Portuguese. Check them all out in These Fascinating Maps Show the Origin of Words We Use All the Time.

Finally we close out this week with Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist. Congratulations are in order for our favorite lawyer/genealogist/blogger. Back in November, Judy received a message from the American Bar Association Journal that her blog had been chosen as one of the top 100 law blogs by the editors of that prestigious journal. These top 100 were put out to a vote to see which would be the top blog in each category. After 4,000 votes were tallied, The Legal Genealogist won in the niche blog category! Congratulations to Judy on this well-deserved win. Her posts are always topical, interesting and make legal subjects easily understandable to everyone. No one deserved this honor more. You can read about it in It’s a Win!

Genealogy Resolutions for 2014

02 Jan 2014

Happy New Year! 2013 is in the past, and 2014 is in the present, although, of course, much of it still lies in the future! It is time for that favorite of pastimes making your genealogical New Year’s Resolutions.


Remember Small


You may have read some of the many articles dissuading people from making New Year’s Resolutions. Since most people don’t follow through on their resolutions, why bother? You will only end up quitting within a week. I think these naysayers are to quick to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

The real problem is not that people don’t stick with their resolutions. The major issue is that they were not realistic when creating them in the first place. Too often, we are overly optimistic. We think “if I don’t set the bar high enough, it won’t be real.” Actually, we should be thinking just the opposite. If you want to stick with it, make your goals attainable and realistic. Make sure that you don’t have a large number of huge resolutions that will take you 12 months to achieve.

Another major issue is the sheer volume of resolutions. Many people make a list of resolutions for the coming year that rivals War and Peace in length. If you try to tackle too much, you will certainly fail. Think of it this way: if you try to carry too many packages at the same time, you will surely drop some, or drop all of them if they make you trip and fall. Keep your resolutions to a modest number, and you will have a chance at attaining them.

Once you have your list, time to sit down and examine it. Can you do any more trimming? Remember, you can always add to your list as the year progresses, but if you start out with too long a list it will discourage you. Now look at the ones you have left. Divide them into three groups: short, medium, and long term.

Time to do some scheduling. You know that for all intents and purposes, nothing much will be accomplished after Halloween. After that Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, and a multitude of other holidays and events will get in the way. So, realistically, you have 10 months to accomplish things.

To make things easier, break the year down into quarters (Jan.–Mar.; Apr.–Jun.; Jul–Sep.; Oct–Dec.). We have already discussed the uselessness of trying to schedule major projects for November and December. Use October as a review and finalize month. That conveniently leaves us with three segments of three months each.

Take your list, and spread the items out. Put at least one medium-term and one or two short-term items in each quarter. Then figure out where to put your one or two long-term items.

Now look at each one of these items and come up with some action items for each one. Make sure you have a few action items each week. Put them into your calendar. Don’t forget to account for holidays, birthdays, vacations, business travel, and other events that might get in the way of accomplishing your tasks. Some ideas are:

Start a blog for your family, chronicling your research

  • Write a pamphlet
  • Put together a slide show
  • Document new findings
  • Get your genealogical certification or accreditation

This entire process should take you very long. But once you follow these suggestions, you will be setting yourself up for a great deal of success. Happy 2014 to all of you!

Happy New Year!

28 Dec 2013

2013 is winding to an end, and what  a year it has been.  Another amazing year, with many ups and downs. But, all things considered, I have moved forward with many things over the last twelve months.

Back in February I presented at the RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City. I also got to spend a few extra days with friends doing research before the conference started. From there, it was off to London for the Who Do You Think You Are? Live! show. This year I was one of the presenters in a main theatre, discussing the English relations of Benjamin Franklin.

Thanks to my wonderful colleague, Alex, a got a great deal on a hotel in Grosvenor Square, next to the American Embassy, for a week. Despite being the victim of credit card fraud and having to deal with that from overseas, it was a wonderful trip. I got to see Berkley Square (they lied, no nightingales singing). And I ventured up to the city of Northampton to visit the Northamptonshire Record Office, where I made some wonderful discoveries!

Michael speaking in the Celebrity Theatre at Who Do You Think You Are? Live! in London. (from the collection of the author, used with permission)

Michael speaking in the Celebrity Theatre at Who Do You Think You Are? Live! in London. (from the collection of the author, used with permission)

Unfortunately, I got sick in England, and with my intense travel schedule, I couldn’t shake it for months. It caused me to miss the NGS conference in Las Vegas, which would have added another new state visited for me. Fortunately, I was doing better to attend the Institute for Genealogical and Historical Research in Birmingham in June. And in August I visited Michigan for the first time. A NASCAR race at the Michigan Speedway that caused my friend Kim Harrison and I into a detour that felt like a ride through the set of Deliverance, but eventually we made it to the FGS conference in Fort Wayne. The best part was getting to spend time with my good friends researching in the library. And Cyndi Ingle was finally able to join us, which made it even more fun! And this year’s holiday season was made extra special by a visit from my dear friend Audrey Collins in London just before Christmas.

2013 was an excellent year at Mocavo also. We launched thousands of new databases to help you with your research. And we added other new features for propelling your family history work. One of the most popular is our bi-weekly Fireside Chats, where I talk with leading genealogists about various topics in genealogy and family history. And, very exciting, we gave you a little preview of the work we have been doing with handwriting recognition. More details about that will be coming in 2014.

I hope your 2013 was filled with great progress in your genealogical research. Take a few moments to review everything you got done this past year. And I hope that 2014 will be filled with much more progress in your research. On Thursday we will discuss goal-setting for the coming year, so be certain to check out that column! In the meantime, Happy New Year!


How far back can you trace your family history?

28 Dec 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked how far back you could trace your family history. A majority of our Mocavo community members were able to get back to at least the 17th century! Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take our next poll: “Are you going to make any New Years resolutions?



2013 In Review: Top News and Blog Posts

27 Dec 2013


Each Friday I write a roundup of news stories and blog posts that are of interest to genealogists. Many of these stories are extremely popular. Some discuss news in the genealogical community, while others are simply human interest or historical interest. And some are just plain fun! This week, as we come to the end of 2013, I would like to share with you and remind you of some of the most popular stories of the year.

1) Freedom of Information: Residents Only

Back in May the Supreme Court issued a decision of tremendous importance to genealogists, and one that was flying under the radar. In the case of McBurney vs. Young, SCOTUS decided that the states have no obligation to fulfill Freedom of Information requests for individuals not resident in that state. This decision has a tremendous access on our ability as genealogists to access records. Judy G. Russell, The Legal Genealogist, as usual, was able to break down the story for us and explain it in plain English.

2) Surprising Ancestral Origins Revealed by DNA Testing

DNA and genealogy was much in the news this year. In July I posted about one of the more interesting articles I had come across. Lee Rimmer wrote in the Abroad in the Yard blog about some fascinating discoveries from DNA testing. Among the more interesting findings were a group of Chinese villagers with DNA from a lost Roman legion; African DNA in Yorkshire, England; and how y-DNA testing of Hitler’s grand-nephew reveals possible Jewish ancestry.

3) 22 Maps That Show How Americans Speak English Totally Different From One Another

In June, Business Insider published this interesting story by Walter Hickey (a BI reporter, not the retired archivist from the National Archives and Records Administration. Professors Bert Vaux and Scott Golder conducted a study on how words are pronounced by Americans. Ph.D. student Joshua Katz took their findings and made some incredible graphic representations of these differences.

4) My Kind of Town, Stink Onions: The Literal Meanings of Places in the U.S., Mapped

Also in June was an interesting piece in Slate. Who knew that I live in St. Heraldwolf’s Stone in the Land of the Little Big Hills? Or that one of my best friends hails from Adders Falls in the Southern Land of Friends? Cartographers Stephan Hormes and Silke Peust, That’s who! They have researched the meansing of the names of cities, town, states, and provinces across North America, from Canada down to Northern Mexico, and have created a map that shows these names intead of the modern ones we are used to. FYI: I live in Boston, Massachusetts, and my friend Jeremy is from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. And Stink Onions is the meaning of Chicago.

5) Scathing Obituary Goes Viral, Reveals Abuse, Neglect and This Woman’s Obituary is the Best Thing You’ll Read Today

In September I made a post about two obituaries that couldn’t have been more contrasting. The obituary of Marianne Theresa Johnson-Reddick screamed across the internet. Her children clearly had nothing but painful memories of her, saying that she “is survived by her 6 of 8 children whom she spent her lifetime torturing in every way possible.” Many newspapers, including USA Today, reported on it. You can read the full obituary in the Reno Gazette-Journal.  In contrast, the children of Mary Agnes “Pink” Mullaney, couldn’t have had better things to say about their mom in her obituary. They say that “we were blessed to learn many valuable lessons from Pink during her 85 years, among them: Never throw away used panty hose . . . “

2013 in Review: Top Mocavo Blog Posts

26 Dec 2013



As the year winds down, I wanted to share with you again some of our most popular blog posts from 2013. While not necessarily the top five, these posts represent some of the most-viewed posts of the year. I hope you find them interesting again.


1. Genealogy and Ethics: Play Nice and Don’t Plagiarize

The blogs have been lighting up this week with stories about copyright violations and plagiarism. These issues have always been a problem, but the easy communication of the internet has exacerbated the issue, making it ever more easy to take the work of others and claim it for your own.

2. 5 Reasons Why You Can’t Find Your Person Online

Sometimes when we are searching for our ancestors in online databases, we just can’t find them. No matter how hard we look, or what databases we search, they just won’t appear. There are many reasons why this might happen. Here are a few.

3. Read All About It: Five Newspaper Databases to Help Your Research

Newspapers are a valuable resource for genealogists. They, of course, provide access to marriage records, birth announcements, and obituaries. But beyond that, newspapers can provide information about your ancestors’ social activities. They can also help provide context for your ancestors. Looking at the advertisements, for example, can give you a sense of what the cost of living in the time and place where they lived. Here are five websites that can provide access to newspapers for your research. The vast majority of the newspapers in these databases are unique to each site.

4. Four Common Pitfalls to Avoid

As you begin your research, there are a few genealogical pitfalls that you will want to avoid in order to help make your search successful. Be on the lookout for circumstances that can potentially hinder your search or send you down the wrong path in the future. Many of these situations center on an important point: the broader you make your search, the more success you may have. If your search is too specific, then you limit yourself to far fewer results to evaluate. This, in turn, leads you to far fewer paths for investigation in the future. Keep these pitfalls in mind so as to avoid any unnecessary confusion or frustration throughout your research.

5. Five Must-Read Blogs

There are many genealogy blogs out there on the interwebs. Trying to keep track of all of them ban be challenging. Here are five blogs that I consider to be among the best reading in the field. They cover various aspects of genealogy, and will give you great help.

The Many Faces of Santa Claus

23 Dec 2013

Perhaps one of the most iconic images of Christmas in America is Santa Claus. A round, cherubic man with a long white beard and a hearty laugh. Accompanied by his six (or sometimes seven) reindeer, he travels the world delivering presents to good little girls and boys. But such was not always the case.

The Separatists of Plymouth Colony and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony abhorred Christmas. They viewed it as a vestige of the Anglican Church they were trying to leave behind or change. This is typical of non-conformist churches in Britain, such as the Baptists, Congregationalists, Prebyterians, and Quakers. Anglicans and Lutherans, however, followed practices similar to the Catholic church. One of the major complaints of the Puritans and Separatists was that Christmas was too papist.

This attitude prevailed throughout the northeast until the nineteenth century, but in the south it was different. Unlike the northeast, the Anglican church was predominant. Holiday celebrations were festive events with decorations in homes and churches. The season was filled with music, singing, and dancing. Many of the songs would be unrecognizable today. But the carol Joy to the World, by Englishman Isaac Watts dates back to 1719 and was often sung.

By the nineteenth century we start to see a number of traditions from different parts of the world come together into the image of Santa Claus that we see today. Saint Nicholas was a fourth-century bishop whose passion was caring for and giving gifts to the poor. By the Middle Ages, children were given presents on his feast day, December 5.

The Christkindl was promulgated by Martin Luther as a replacement for St. Nicholas. In many Germanic countries of Europe the Christkindl represented the Christ child, bringing presents to children each December 24. This practice was brought to America by German immigrants, but the English speakers heard this pronounced differently, and by the nineteenth century we have Kris Kringle appearing.

In England, Father Christmas dates back to the days of Henry VIII. A large man in green and scarlet-red fur-lined robes, he was the representation of the good cheer and festivities of Christmas. Since England no longer celebrated St. Nicholas’ feast day, the appearance of Father Christmas moved to December 25.

In France, it was Pére Noël who brought presents. Children left their shoes by the fireplace with carrots or other food for his reindeer. Pére Fouettard travels with Pére Noël, reminding him of how well-behaved a child was during the past year.

In the low countries of the Netherlands and Belgium, it is  “De Goede Sint” (the Good Saint), Sinterklaas, who represents the season. Dressed in the red and white robes of a bishop, a red mitre, and a gold crosier, the white-bearded Sinterklaas oversees the giving of presents. He is accompanied by Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), who carries Sinterklass’ book.

It is the more well-known Clement Moore who penned “A Visit from St. Nicholas” in 1823 who brought us the sleigh and flying reindeer landing on the roof, as well as the image of Santa Claus that we have today. The nineteenth-century cartoonist Thomas Nash brought Santa Claus to life in Harper’s Weekly.

As the nineteenth and twentieth centuries progressed, bits of each of these traditions combined to become the image we have today. Father Christmas’ hefty size and scarlet robes that became brighter red. Sinterklass’ red mitre became a pointy, fur-trimmed hat. Pére Noël’s shoes became stockings. And Clement Moore’s reinder, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder (now Donner), and Blixem (now Blitzen), still ferry him around the world.


Charles W. Howard made a lifetime career out of playing Santa Claus. Starting with his 4th-grade portrayal at the turn of the century, he became a popular portrayer of Santa in stores, parades, and other events. From 1948 to 1965 he was the official Santa Claus for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In 1937, he founded the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School to teach others how to best portray this beloved character. The school is still in operation today, in Midland, Michigan.

175,000+ New Databases in less than 3 Months

20 Dec 2013

It’s been almost three months since we announced our Free Forever mission. We’re excited to share that our total database count has quickly zoomed to more than 175,000 databases and we’ve got even more surprises planned for January.

New Search Slider for Mocavo Gold Members
Search Sliders enable you to customize your search results to better find the information you seek. We’ve already received wonderful feedback from many of you regarding the first two search sliders that we announced last month: Freshness and Keyword Appearance. Today we are excited to announce the third search slider called Dataset Size. With this slider, you will be able to sort your results depending on the size of the database. If you would prefer to search for your ancestors in smaller databases, such as the Orange County, Texas Birth Index, slide the bar to the left. If you would rather search for your ancestor in bigger databases such as the Social Security Death Index, slide the bar to the right. Use all three of the search sliders to customize your search results to discover your ancestors even faster with less effort.


Many of you have signed up for Mocavo Gold in support of our cause, and enjoy searching 175,000 databases at the same time. As always, Mocavo Basic users can search these databases individually for free. Mocavo Gold offers you automated searching, the ability to run global searches across all of our databases, and a number of other great features.

Interested in giving Mocavo Gold a test run?

Try Mocavo Gold for free for 7 days.

This is a special time of the year when we often get to spend more time with family and loved ones. From the Mocavo family to yours, we wish you Happy Holidays!

Cliff Shaw

News Stories and Blog Posts for Genealogists, December 20, 2013

20 Dec 2013

This week we have some intriguing blog posts for genealogists from the internet. From the Event to DNA to paper sons and daughters,  this recent crop of stories covers a wide variety of topics. I hope you find them as interesting as I did.

First up is a post by English blogger Tony Proctor. He provides a very interesting discussion of the research process. He asserts that we would benefit from event-based thinking, as many events involve multiple individuals, some of whom may or may not be critical to the event in and of itself. I found it a fascinating conversation. You can read more in Eventful Genealogy.

The Irish Times recently ran a story about recent happenings in Irish genealogy written by the noted genealogist John Grenham. He updates us on what’s happening at the Irish Genealogical Research Society, RootsIreland, a major new National Archives of Ireland venture, and This last is the most exciting, as they will soon be launching a new version of the indexes to vital records in Ireland. Read more in What’s On the Horizon?

Legal Genealogist Judy Russell brings us another DNA discussion. This time she Talks about some new features available from Family Tree DNA and 23andMe. 23andMe has adjusted their calculations for Ancestry Composition, which may change some of your percentages. And Family Tree DNA has released the Matrix: a new tool for comparing results. Read more in Updated DNA Tools.

Diane Webb wrote an interesting piece this week in the Newnan, Georgia, Times-Herald. She has been working on some cemeteries with the Coweta County Genealogical Society. One is a pauper cemetery where they are trying to identify burials. The other is a cemetery with some destroyed markers trying to identify family members to approve erecting new ones. She also points out the difference between a graveyard and a cemetery. Read more in Genealogy: Paupers’ Cemetery Being Researched.

Chinese Paper Sons

The Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882 was repealed 70 years ago this week. But for sixty years, Chinese laborers were barred from entering the country. Many Chinese families are paper sons and daughters. These were immigrants with falsified documents declaring them to be related to Chinese-Americans already here, thus being allowed to enter the country as an exception to the ban. The result is thousands of families with made-up surnames. Find out more from National Public Radio in Chinese-American Descendants Uncover Forged Family Histories.

Help us make Mocavo better and you could win a $100 Amazon shopping spree

19 Dec 2013

At Mocavo we are working hard to create a genealogy resource that is helpful and relevant to you. Please help us make Mocavo better by taking the time to answer our short survey. Today we will be asking you questions about pricing and transcription tools.

As a token of our appreciation, once you complete this survey, you will be entered into our sweepstakes for the chance to win a $100 Amazon shopping spree! Winners will be contacted through email by December 30.


Thank you for your feedback,
-The Mocavo Team