Genealogy Blog

Trace Your Ancestors’ Journeys in 17 Million Immigration Records

27 Aug 2014


Many of us share a common experience as descendants of immigrants who came to America in the 19th and 20th centuries. Faced with many opportunities and challenges, our ancestors uprooted themselves in hopes of making a better life for their families. Immigration records can help you trace their journeys and how their lives changed once they arrived at their final destination. As a Mocavo Basic member, you can individually search more than 17 million immigration records for free in our immigration collections.

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Preserve the Pensions Fun Walk Contest

26 Aug 2014

One of the biggest projects in the genealogical community at the moment is the Preserve the Pensions project. A joint effort of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Archives and Records Administration, Fold3, and, the project will eventually capture 7.2 million images of documents from more than 180,000 files.

This week at the FGS conference, there will be a special event for Preserve the Pensions. This Saturday, August 30, on the last day of the conference, the Federation is having a Fun Walk. Four well-known genealogists will walk from the convention center to the Alamo and back, as a fundraiser for the Preserve the Pensions project.


Preserve the Pensions Fun Walk


Judy G. Russell of The Legal Genealogist blog, Ed Donakey from FamilySearch, and D. Joshua Taylor and Kenyatta Berry from the Genealogy Roadshow will take the one-mile walk. They will be competing to see who can raise the most money for the project.

If you are at the conference, you can be there to see them off at 6:30 a.m. All of the money raised will go for digitizing records. Not only that, but your dollar will go much further than usual. Every dollar raised will be matched by the Federation. Then, will match the doubled amount dollar for dollar. So a $25 sponsorship will turn into $100 towards the project. This amount will fund almost 450 images!

If you are attending the conference, you can pay in person at the Preserve the Pension booth. But you don’t have to be there to donate! Everyone can contribute by visiting the Preserve the Pensions donation page. Be sure to check off one of the four genealogists walking in the “Honors and Tributes” section. And remember, the four of them are having a contest, so choose wisely!

Solving Your Genealogy Problems Like Magic

23 Aug 2014

David Kwong is an amazing young man. He gets to make his living doing things he loves and feels passionate about.  He is both a magician and a cruciverbalist. In fact, he received a degree from Harvard University in the history of magic. And he has something to teach us about genealogy problem solving.

He was fortunate to work at DreamWorks, in the animation story department. He then went on to found The Misdirectors Guild. The guild is “an elite group of magicians who are specialists in all areas of subterfuge, including stage illusion, sleight of hand, puzzles, and heists.” The guild consults with television and motion picture creators to help them with illusion and deception in their shows and films, including last year’s Now You See Me.

David is also a cruciverbalist: one who excels at crossword puzzles. In fact, he is so good at them that he is now regularly creates crossword puzzles for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and other publications nationwide.


Magic and Crosswords


David presented an official talk at the Ted Conference in 2014., in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the publication of the first crossword puzzle. In his excellent presentation, David discusses why he believes that magic and puzzles are the same: “because they both key in to one of the most important human drives: the urge to solve. Human beings are wired to solve; to make order out of chaos.”

He then goes on to tell the story of how he arrived at this conclusion over time. He quotes research studies that show that human beings have a primitive urge to solve. It is intrinsic to who we are, as basic as eating and sleeping.

This could partially explain our urge to do genealogy. After all, what is family history research but a giant puzzle waiting to be explored and mapped out, filled with problem after problem and challenge after challenge. Often the answers to our research questions are simple. But frequently, we are presented with a chaotic mass of conflicting information and arbitrary or missing data that we must sift through to come up with our solutions.

Now, in his presentation he does an incredible trick. He shows how we as humans are so driven to solve problems and create order out of chaos that it often happens in our minds without our realizing it. I won’t give away the trick and the solution, because it is truly amazing.  And just when you think it is over, he unveils another twist.

But once you watch it, think about how this works in your genealogical research. Sometimes you don’t even realize how your mind is working in the background, and all of a sudden the answer jumps out at you, right? Now you know why. Watch David’s talk  Two Nerdy Obsessions Meet — And It’s Magic. Prepare to be amazed.


We asked and you answered!

23 Aug 2014

Do you have any ancestors who fought in WWI?



Five Things I Learned in School About Genealogy

22 Aug 2014


This is back to school time. I remember a special August more than thirty years ago when I arrived at the University of Massachusetts for my first band camp. Little did I know then how much college and the band would impact my life. And decades later, I still keep up with numerous friends from that time. And many of the lessons I learned in school are ones that I use in genealogy all the time. Here are a few of them.

1. Be an information sponge.

School is a time for learning. So many new opportunities open up to us to learn about subjects that mean something to us (as well as more than a few subjects that we probably don’t care about, but could use). We benefit most when we open up to the various opportunities available to us. As genealogists, we benefit from all kinds of learning. Working with experienced researchers; taking classes; attending seminars and workshops; reading blogs, magazines, and journals; and many other opportunities teach us how to become better at finding our ancestors.

2. If it doesn’t fit, change your tactics.

It continues to amaze me that in this country we ask 18-year-olds who are entering college to pick a major concentration that will be what they do for the rest of their life. Who knows at that age? It is one of the major ironies of my life that I wanted to be a history major in college, but thought I would never be able to find a job where a history major would come in handy. Instead, I changed my major numerous times. At various times in college my major was computer science, communication studies, and legal studies before settling into political science with a minor in history.  When I didn’t like the direction I was taking, I changed directions. The same thing should hold true for genealogical research. If a particular avenue isn’t working, switch to something different. A new approach may help you solve the problem.

3. If you make a mistake, learn and move on.

Lord knows I, like most college students, made my share of mistakes. We’re human. Everyone makes mistakes. Certainly most genealogists have had the experience of breaking out the chain saw and hacking a few limbs off the family tree. The important thing is to accept the mistake. Even the most experienced genealogists have had to do some pruning. Often it is through no fault of your own, but simply because new evidence has been uncovered and shed new light on existing facts that end up changing or eliminating relationships. Don’t cling to incorrect family members. You never know what exciting things you will find in the new banches.

4. The more you apply yourself, the better your results will be.

In this day of computers and technology, more and more genealogists are relying on the technology to do the research for them. If a system tells them that something is a possible match, they take it as gospel and graft it onto the family tree. While these things clues are important, they should be treated as what they are: clues for further research to prove that they are correct. The same goes for those who blindly download GEDCOM files from others and attach the data to their own tree. Roll up your sleeves and get to work verifying information before accepting it as true. It is the only way to be certain the people in your family tree are actually your ancestors.

5. Friends made here are friends for a lifetime.

Three decades later, I still count friends I made in high school and college as near and dear to my heart. We remain close even if we lose touch for periods of time. Facebook has helped dramatically, especially during times of shared loss. The same is true of genealogists. I remain friends with people I met when I first started researching my family back in the 1980s. Who else will put up with all of your stories other than genealogists? But we also help each other. We listen and offer feedback. We bounce ideas off of each other. And we share resources and opportunities with each other. Get out from behind the computer and get involved with your local genealogical and historical societies. You will be ever the richer for it.


Mocavo’s Back to School Special: Free Access to Universal Search Weekend

21 Aug 2014


What better way to top off Mocavo’s Back to School Week than with an Open Access to Universal Search weekend? Usually you need to be a Mocavo Gold member to search all of our databases at once, but for this weekend only, you can search more than 420,000 databases to your heart’s content. Kick start your research today and see who you will discover.

Start Searching Now

If you would need a little help getting started, check out the Mocavo Gold Faceted Search Tutorial.

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Don’t forget, you must be logged in to your Mocavo account to take advantage of the Open Access weekend.

These premium search features are generally available to Mocavo Gold members. If you decide that you enjoy the premium features of Mocavo Gold, consider joining our revolution and becoming a part of the Mocavo Gold community.

We wish you a successful weekend full of discoveries!

Why Your Brain Makes Typos

19 Aug 2014

I admit to being a bit of a nerd. One of the ways I satisfy my nerd impulses is to read magazines like Condé Nast’s Wired. There are always so many interesting stories, like a recent one on The Strange Blowpipe 19th Century Minuers Used to Analyze Ore.

As a writer, I was particularly intrigued by a story that ran last week about spelling errors. Nick Stockton is a technology and nature writer and has written for The Atlantic as well as Wired and numerous other publications. Last week Wired published his piece “What’s UP with That: Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos.”


Catch Typos


We all hate typos in our work. Whether it is a Facebook post, an email, a text message, or when writing your family history, spelling errors drive us crazy. In Stockton’s words:

“Typos suck. They are saboteurs, undermining your intent, causing your resume to land in the “pass” pile, or providing sustenance for an army of pedantic critics. Frustratingly, they are usually words you know how to spell, but somehow skimmed over in your rounds of editing. If we are our own harshest critics, why do we miss those annoying little details?”

The truth is that it has nothing to do with how smart we are. It has to do with how our brains work. When we are writing, our brains takes the simple parts like pushing keys to make words and sentences, and automates them so that they can focus on the more complicated tasks of conveying our ideas in the overall work of sentences and paragraphs. Thus, it is fairly easy to accidentally type the wrong letters.

This is the same reason why we cannot edit ourselves. When you proof your own writing, your brain already knows what you were trying to say. Because of this, we may see things that aren’t really there, and we can easily miss typographical errors and worse.

This is why editors and proofreaders exist. To review our work and help us from putting anything out with a big mistake in it. One of the suggestions Stockton received from an expert is that if you want to try to catch your mistakes, to make it look very different by changing fonts or background colors to make it more challenging for your brain. The best way, however, is to have someone else review your work for you. That way you won’t have to trick your brain. Read the entire piece for more information.

100 Years of Countless Bad Hairdos, Prom Queens, and Priceless Memories

18 Aug 2014


It’s that time of year when summer vacation ends and children across the country return to their classrooms for another school year. Mocavo wants to help you celebrate with our Back to School Week, highlighting some of the community’s favorite yearbook collections and pictures. Throughout the week, make sure to check out our Facebook page to see what some of your favorite celebrities looked like during their awkward years.

And don’t forget, as a Mocavo community member, you have access to the largest free online collection of yearbooks. That’s free access to more than 8.3 million pages of cheesy grins, bad hairdos, and heart-warming memories. See what your ancestors looked like, what their passions were, and what they dreamed for the future.

Browse Yearbooks Now

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Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, August 15, 2014

15 Aug 2014

This week’s roundup of stories comes to us courtesy of Facebook. Many of my friends post interesting (as well as humorous) links, so for this week’s collection I browsed over Facebook to see what had interested my friends. I hope you find these stories as interesting as I do.

The first story, posted on Feedbox, was posted by my friend Thomas MacEntee. Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington, painted in 1796, was commissioned as a gift for the William Petty FitzMaurice, the Marquess of Lansdowne, who was British Prime Minister during the final years of the American Revolution. Today known as the Lansdowne Portrait, it was saved by Dolly Madison during the burning of Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812. Today it hangs in the East Room of the White House. And it contains a rather drastic error in it. Find out what the error is and why it is there in One of the Most Famous Paintings in the White House Has a Huge Spelling Error.


Lansdowne Portrait from Wikimedia Commons.

Lansdowne Portrait from Wikimedia Commons.


Thomas posted another interesting story this week about how technology has changed the way people interact. Children today now spend almost 7.5 hours staring at computers. And 87% of teachers report that they now are more easily distracted and have short attention spans. Alok Deshpande, founder of Umenta/StoryCall (a company that help families preserve and capture their stories), wrote an interesting post providing five suggestions for the best ways to reach younger generations with your stories. Read more in Bridging the Generation Gap.

Elizabeth Shown Mills shared an interesting post this week written by Rita J. King and shared on LinkedIn. King is a cofounder of Science House, an organization that helps organizations foster collaboration. She shared five very valuable tips for writers. They apply whether you are writing fiction or your family history. Discover more in Kill Your Darlings: Five Rules for Writers.

My friend Mark Andrew Davis provided a link to a post in the New York Times blog, The Upshot. Gregor Aisch, Robert Gebeloff, and Kevin Quealy took census information from the University of Minnesota Population Center to create some very interesting graphic charts. State by state, they chart the places of birth of the population and how it changed from 1900 to 2012. Each chart has a sliding bar to show you what the numbers were in any given census year. Check out your states of interest in Where We Came From, State by State.

Finally comes a post from my friend and former NEHGS colleague, Chris Child. This week the world suffered an incredible loss with the death of comedian Robin Williams. Chris enjoys researching famous individuals and public figures. Chris has done some interesting work that shows Robin was a cousin of three United States presidents through their common descent from William Armistead of Virginia. Get the details at Notes on Robin Williams’s Ancestry.