Genealogy Blog

Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists September 19, 2014

19 Sep 2014

This week we have a variety of stories and sources for you.I hope you find them as interesting and informative as I do.

We start with a new book about he Civil War. The New York Times ran a preview of the full review that will appear this Sunday.  Laird Hunt has written Neverhome, a novel about a woman disguised as a man who fights for the Union in the Civl War. During his research, he discovered stories of ancestor Thomas Goatley Laird, who supposedly rode home from the war on the same horse he rode into the war with. He also discovered a box of family letters from that period. Read the preview in Civil War (and Family) History, and don’t forget to check the Times on Sunday for the full review.

Next we have another story about soldiers. Recently the cemetery in Yorktown, Indiana, held a cemetery to honor two soldiers buried there: one from the Revolutionary War and one from the War of 1812. Brothers Larry and Garry Applegate knew that there was an Applegate buried in the cemetery, but it was not until they heard of the ceremony that was about to happen that they did the research to confirm that yes, indeed, they were descended from War of 1812 veteran John Applegate. Read more in Family Finds Its History in Cemetery Ceremony.

The Legal Genealogist Judy G. Russell had an excellent piece this week about laws. Understanding the laws of the time and place in which you are researching is critical to properly identifying your ancestors. This week, Judy talks about the names of statutes, and how the popular name (such as the Homestead Act) are not necessarily the official name of the legislation, which may make it difficult for you to find it. Read more in Popularizing the Statutes.


Chromosome Mapper


Kitty Cooper writes a blog that focuses on genealogy and genetics, as well as gardening. Recently she wrote about how friends had created a wonderful illustration for a presentation on DNA. They used a chromosome mapper that Kitty created awhile back. The mapper shows where certain parts of your DNA comes from. Check out the chart in Using the Chromosome Mapper to Make a Four Generation Inheritance Picture, and you can see how you can make your own with her Ancestor Chromosome Mapper.

Finally, last week I reported that Canadian genealogist John D. Reid was conducting his Rockstar Genealogists survey again this year. This week he released the results. Congratulations to Judy G. Russell, Robert Estes, Janet Few, Steven C. Smyrl, Dick Eastman, and Shauna Hicks who led the packs in their individual categories. Find the full lists of the top ten for each category in this survey at Anglo-Celtic Connections.

5 Tips For Finding Your Ancestors’ Occupations

17 Sep 2014



One of the ways we can make our ancestors come to life is by identifying their occupations. There are a number of different ways you can find this information. One of the first sources that come to mind is directories, which often list occupations as well as addresses. Here are a few sources that perhaps you haven’t thought of, or that you might think of using in a different way.

1. Probate Records

Yes, when a person’s estate is entered into probate, the record usually records the occupation and place of residence with the name of the deceased. But sometimes it does not. And even if it does, you can still find more details about his occupation by examining the full record. Most especially, look for the inventory of the estate. The inventory will usually list all possessions, including those used for following one’s occupation. Examining the list of tools can help you to determine your ancestor’s occupation. You might even be able to discover more specifically what trade it was. For example, you might know what an ancestor was a smith, but was he a blacksmith, whitesmith, or goldsmith? Examining the tools may help you determine this.

2. Land Records

Once again, a person’s occupation is often listed at the start of the document. But other clues can lurk in land records. For example, look at the property being purchased. Is it farmland? Is it meadow that might be used to feed livestock? Are they are buildings on it? What types of buildings? Farms? Tenements? A forge? All of these can provide clues to the occupation of your ancestor.

3. Assessor’s Records

Tax records are a huge boon for genealogists, and very underutilized in many areas. Not only can they put an ancestor on the ground in a particular place and time, they can tell you a great deal more about the ancestor’s life. By looking at what types of taxes are being paid, you can often get clues to an ancestor’s occupation. Taxes for large amounts of livestock, for example, could be a clue that the ancestor was a farmer. Or there might be taxes for different kinds of manufactures.

4. Association/Organization Records

Many social organizations were created by members of professions. Members practiced the same, or similar occupations. Determining what organizations your ancestor belonged to may help you determine what occupation they followed. For example, The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry (commonly called “The Grange”) is a fraternal organization promoting “the economic and political well-being of the community and agriculture.” An ancestor who was a member of the Grange might have been a farmer, or any of a number of occupations involved in agriculture.

5. Local Histories

Many local histories mention any number of people involved in particular occupations. The odds are even greater of a mention if your ancestor was the sole practitioner of an occupation in the town where he lived, such as the village blacksmith. They are also a wonderful source for identifying the associations and organizations mentioned above that formed in the area where your ancestor lived.

Travel Back in Time to See What Life Was Like for Your Ancestors

16 Sep 2014

Family history is a rich subject that spans across many centuries. One of the most exciting parts of researching our ancestry is the ability to trace multiple lines as far back in time as possible. At Mocavo, you can access record collections and historical information that span the 1700s, 1800s, 1900s, 2000s, and more! Discover the rich history of your family’s past now.

Start Searching Now

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Using Indexes to Expand Your Research

13 Sep 2014

The twenty-first century has brought a boon to genealogists. Records are constantly being digitized and placed online. Because of the expense involved in digitizing records, however, it is a time-consuming process. In the meantime, many indexes are being made available online and these can be very helpful.

Many record sets were prepared with their own indexes from the get-go. We’ve all seen land, probate, and vital records with indexes at the back of each volume. Many agencies created cumulative indexes over time as well. And some created them as they went along. In Massachusetts, for example, the index to the statewide vital records was created in five-year increments starting all the way back in the 1850s.

Indexes can contain a wide variety of information. At a minimum, one usually finds the surname and the page number on which it appears. Sometimes you might get the given name as well as the surname.

If the index covers multiple volumes, you should see the volume letter or number as well as the page, and sometimes you will see a year (although years are often included in the title of multi-volume indexes). Records that include multiple parties, such as land records (which have both grantors and grantees or mortgagors and mortgagees, etc.), many have multiple sets of indexes.




Some indexes are in alphabetical order, usually by surname. Some, however, just group the names together by the first letter (i.e., all names starting with a letter A together, all with a letter B together, etc.). You will also find indexes that are simply in chronological order, or in order by page number. Multi-volume indexes are occasionally grouped by volume letter or number as well. They can appear with each volume subdivided as mentioned above, or the above groupings might be subdivided by volume letter or number.

Indexes can also contain a great deal more information. You might, for example, see the exact dates of transactions, or the date the transaction was registered. Vital records might include the names of parents and/or spouses. The names of the towns, villages, or townships where the event took place might also appear.

Images of indexes can sometimes help you find information that is hidden, with spelling variations that don’t always appear when you search for them. In addition, indexes are often available for modern time periods, where the records themselves are not available online. They even be closed to the public, and the indexes may be the only information you can access. In the worst of all scenarios, the actual records may be destroyed, and published indexes may be the only information that survives. A perfect example of this are those of Devonshire, England. Bombing in during World War II destroyed these records (among others) in 1942. Aside from some individual records abstracted before the bombing, the only surviving records are the published indexes.

News Stories and Blog Posts for Genealogists, September 12, 2014

12 Sep 2014

This week’s roundup of news stories covers a variety of topics, from the very serious to the more lighthearted. Discover how much money was raised at the FGS conference to preserve pensions from the War of 1812 and an effort to get Congress to award the Medal of Honor to a Civl War soldier, then comes a discussion of our approach to non-paternal events revealed by DNA. We end with a couple of more lighthearted pieces that discuss genealogy and music as well as a new map of the United States.

We start this week’s roundup with a follow up about the Preserve the Pensions walk in San Antonio. When the Legal Genealogist, Judy Russell, offered to have people who couldn’t attend the conference sponsor her walking, it was to help raise money for the Preserve the Pensions Project, working to digitize the War of 1812 pension files. The total at the moment — more than $20,000. With the matching contributions from FGS and, that’s worth almost $85,000. But they’re not finished yet. Read more in The Final Tally.

First Lieutenant ALonzo H. Chushing was a brash young man, fresh out of West Point. He was in command of an artillery brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg, and performed quite heroically. It ended with the ultimate sacrifice. Historians have been pushing for him to be awarded the Medal of Honor, but today it literally takes an act of Congress. Find out more in A Gettysburg Hero.

Kerry Scott writes the Clue Wagon blog, covering a wide variety of topics. This week she went on a well-deserved rant. She talks about the presumptions we make when DNA illuminates a “non-paternal event” in the family tree, and how wrong it is of us to do so. Excellent writing, and a good read in Can We Stop Calling Grandma a Whore?

We close with a couple of fun stories. First is an interesting piece that was published a few months ago in the Cornell Daily Sun. The Sun is a student-run newspaper at Cornell University. Contributor Henry Staley wrote a piece about a different kind of genealogy — the genealogy of music. He writes that “below I seek to show the degree to which the memorable pop musicians of the ’60s and ’70s were engaged in conversations with former thinkers or writers. I organize these conversations by thinker or movement.” Read more in On the Genealogy of Musicality.

Mental Floss has created an interesting new map. They took a map of the united states and redrew drew it.  The new map reflects fifty renamed states that are equal in population, although the geography is hardly of similar size. With names lik Menominee, Canaveral, and Shiprock, it is a very interesting map. Check it out in The U.S. Map Redrawn as 50 States with Equal Population.


New US Map


Vote in the 2014 Rockstar Genealogists Survey

11 Sep 2014

Rockstar Genealogists 2014

John D. Reid of Ottowa, Ontario, has once again started his Rockstar Genealogists survey. Since 2006 he has been writing the Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections Blog. He writes on a wide variety of topics of interest to those with Canadian or UKI roots.

For the past three years, John has run a Rockstar Genealogists poll. He solicits contributions from his readers to compile the initial list of nominees. The qualifications are:

“those who give ‘must attend’ presentations at family history conferences or as webinars. Who, when you see a new family history article or publication by that person, makes it a must buy. Who you hang on their every word on a blog, podcast or newsgroup, or follow avidly on Facebook or Twitter?”

Once again, I am quite honored to be one of the nominees. To be considered in the same company as Cyndi Ingle, Paul Milner, J. Mark Lowe, George Morgan, Drew Smith, and Curt Witcher, among others, is a tremendous privilege. It also includes noted genealogists from the UKI and such as Else Churchill, Bruce Durie, Fiona FitzSimmons, Michael Gandy, John Grenham, and John Titford.

One of the things I like about this contest is that it shows off many high-quality genealogists that you may or may not be aware of. Check out the list of nominees. Do you know every name? Can you identify what they do? Try looking for some of the individuals whose names are unfamiliar to you. If they write a blog, read some of their posts. Look for books they have authored or edited. Check their calendar to see if and when they are speaking near to you so you can attend one of their presentations. Explore your horizons.

Voting is going on over the next couple of days, and the results will be published next week. There are a couple of questions to answer for demographic purposes, and then you will see the list of nominees to vote on, presented in alphabetical order. You can see the list of names here, or go directly to voting here.

And thank you, once again, to John for running the survey. And thank you to his readers for the nomination. And congratulations to all whose names appear on the survey. Your very nomination proves that you are touching many people with your work.


Aaron the Ripper? DNA Identifies Most Infamous Murderer

10 Sep 2014

Two things that love to capture the public’s eye are conspiracy theories and unsolved mysteries. 126 years ago, terror reigned in Whitechapel, London, as a murder spree went on. At least five women were murdered in a very grisly fashion. Police investigators at the time were unable to identify the murderer. In September 1888 a letter was sent to the Central News agency, claiming to be from the murderer. It was signed “Jack the Ripper,” giving notoriety to the murders that has lasted for more than a century.

Over the years, conspiracy theorists have come up with many candidates for Jack the Ripper.  They run a wide range of possibilities. One man, Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, was actually in Newgate Prison at the time the murders occurred: an unlikely candidate at best. Others accused include the noted author Lewis Carroll (who penned Alice in Wonderland among others) and even Prince Albert Victor, grandson of Queen Victoria, who was not even in London when the murders occurred, as well as many other unlikely candidates. Forty-eight-year-old Russell Edwards of London became fascinated with the mystery, and has spent fourteen years looking at the evidence. And he believes that he has finally solved the mystery forever.

Back in 2007, Edwards saw a shawl going up for auction. It was being sold by descendants of acting Sergeant Amos Simpson, one of the policemen who dealt with the murder of Catherine Eddowes. He took the shawl for his wife, but the wife, horrified at its origins, never wore it. It was placed in storage and handed down through the generations, until it was placed on display in a Scotland Yard museum. It went to auction in 2007.


Jack the Ripper


Edwards purchased the scarf, and brought it to Jari Louhelainen for testing. Louhelainen is a biology professor at LIverpool John Moores University. He conducted DNA testing on the shawl, and found a match with the mitochondrial DNA of a living family member of an original suspect.

Aaron Kosminski had immigrated to England in 1881, fleeing Poland’s Russian overlords. Police at the time of the Ripper murders never gathered sufficient evidence to prosecute Kosminski. He was eventually committed to a number of lunatic asylums. He died in an asylum in 1899 from gangrene.

Edwards is now writing a book about his investigation and solution to the crime. There are, of course, many detractors and skeptics. While a healthy amount of skepticism is good, I am a bit bewildered by some of it. In an article in USA today, an American professor, Dan Krane, says “That piece of specific DNA profiling is not the kind of test the general public is familiar with. . .” and “the statistics for that time of test are much less reliable. There’s a greater chance that somebody other than the victim might coincidentally have the same markers.” Granted, testing has improved greatly over the last few years, but many genealogists will be happy to have a conversation with the good professor about what lay people do and do not know about mtDNA testing. And, quite frankly, he seems to be confusing the victim’s DNA with the murderer’s DNA.

In the end, we need to know exactly when the testing was done and how many markers were tested in order to determine how accurate the identification is. And, most likely, that information will come to light in Edwards’ new book. Until then, criticism is useless and likely to make the critic look more foolish in the end.

You can read more about this fascinating story in the Guardian and in USA Today.

Clothing Yourself in Sources

09 Sep 2014

One of the biggest things we have to teach and reinforce with beginning genealogists is the concept of citing your sources. Many think that this is some sort of high-brow, scholarly concept that they don’t need to do because they are “only doing this for the family.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

There are many reasons for citing your sources, including allowing others to retrace your path, and to determine the accuracy of your sources. But the most important reason for keep track of where you find every bit of information is to benefit yourself and your own research. At some point in your research, you will discover conflicting information about an ancestor. And you will need to go back to the original sources to try to resolve the conflict. If you haven’t written down where you got the information in the first place, you may have a heck of a quandary on your hands. I have one friend who is still looking for the source of the information she has about her great-grandfather’s date and place of death, because she didn’t write it down. More than 30 years after she first started researching, she still has not been able to find that source, nor has she been able to find any source at all!

One of the challenges about citing the sources of your information is the many difference variations there can be for a single source. For example, one can find:

  • The original document.
  • A microfilmed version of the original document.
  • A digitized version of the microfilmed version.
  • A digitized version of the original document.
  • A published book of information extracted from an original document.
  • An electronic database of information extracted from on original document.
  • An electronic database of a published book of information extracted from an original document.
  • An electronic database of information extracted from a microfilm version of an original document.
  • An electronic database of information extracted from a digital version of an original document.
  • An electronic database of information extracted from a digital version of an microfilm version of an original document.

It is important to note exactly what version of a record you are examining and that provided the information to you. It can get confusing, especially since you also want to make note of the original source as well. This is especially important when you are using digital versions online. Companies often reorganize their websites, or they can even go out of business. Referencing the original record allows you to be able to find another copy elsewhere if necessary.


ESM Citations and Clothing


These multiple notations are called “layered citations.”  Elizabeth Shown Mills provides some guidance for sifting through this maze. In her recent QuickLesson 19 on the Evidence Explained website, she uses the metaphor of clothing to explain how it works. Check it out in QuickLesson 19: Layered Citations Work Like Layered Clothing.

What’s in a Name? Searching for Surnames

06 Sep 2014

When we get involved in family history, it is because of our desire to know more about our family history. Where did we come from? Who were our people? What did they do? Often we wonder “What does my name mean?”


A great deal of study has gone into the origins of surnames. For the most part, surnames started developing in Europe toward the end of the Middle Ages. Prior to that time, people lived in small villages. Because the population was so small, every individual was known and family names were unnecessary.

Surnames developed differently in the various parts of Europe, however. In some places, such as Scandinavia, surnames developed as a system of patronymics. Thus Jan, the son of Erik, would be known as Jan Erikson. But Jan’s son Heinrich would be known as Heinrich Janson.

In England, surnames developed from a variety of different sources. They could devise from physical traits, locations, occupations, or more. A man who worked with metals, for example, would become John Smith. One who lived by the water might become Charles Rivers. Surnames were passed down from parent to child.

In Spain, surnames developed from similar sources. But another tradition was added to it. Children carried the surnames of both parents. When a female married, she dropped her mother’s name in favor of her new husband’s name, which was then attached to her father’s name. This tradition continues today. My friend Chris Child’s wife, for example, is Arlene Ovalle-Child.

Surnames also developed in a similar fashion in France. Jean Brunette would be a man with brown hair, while François Lamontaine would be a man who lived on a hill. But a tradition developed in the French military of giving individuals nicknames. This was an easy way to differentiate between individuals of the same name. Jean Brunette dit Jolicoeur, for example, would be a man who was always in a good mood.

This tradition of “dit” names was carried by colonists to New France. The number of colonists there was very small, and it made it easy to differentiate between different individuals of the same name. From generation to generation, however, this caused surnames to change. Individuals might drop the original surname in favor of the dit name, or they might drop the dit name altogether. My own surname, for example, is a well-known surname in France. However, in my family, my great-grandfather was the first to be born a Leclerc. His father was baptized as Abraham Houde dit Clair, married as Abraham Clair, and died as Abraham Leclerc. Abraham’s ancestor Gervais Houde married a woman named Jeanne Petitclerc. Their descendants carried the name Houde dit Clerc or Houde dit Clair. Some reverted to using Houde, while others became Clair, Leclair, LeClair, Clerc, LeClerc, Leclerc, and more.

It is important when trying to research your family to not jump to conclusions. Even Englishmen changed their names on occasion. Don’t assume that your family name has always stayed the same. It is entirely possible that it has changed through the centuries. Only by going back as far as possible can you know for certain what the family name was, and where it originated.

When did your family immigrate to the United States?

06 Sep 2014

This week we would like to know a little bit more about your family’s immigration history. Check back next week to see how you compare with the rest of the genealogy community.