Genealogy Blog

What's in a Name? Most and Least Popular First Names

03 Jun 2014

Nate Silver is best known as the statistician who accurately predicted the dramatic loss of Mitt Romney in the last presidential election. Last week he write a very interesting piece about ages based on first names.

He used information from the Social Security Administration and coordinated it with actuarial tables, to examine age distributions. Actuarial tables are used by the Social Security Administration and the insurance industry (among others). Abstracting the information, he was able to make a number of calculations.

Using the name Joseph, he determined that the peak year for boys to be given the name Joseph, from 1900 until today, was 1914. About 39,000 were named Joseph that year. But the median age of all males named Joseph is 37 years old. A quarter of living men named Joseph are 21 and a quarter older than 56. Half are between 21 and 56.  He then looks at Brittany, which was a common name in the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s.


Names and Ages


When I first read about this, and the fact that the data stretched back to 1880, I was concerned. I was afraid that the information might be coming from the Social Security Death Index. That might skew the results, as so few people are in it during the early years. It turns out, however, that the information comes from the Social Security applications, which makes it more accurate (as far more people filed those forms than received distributions).

Nate made a series of charts showing the median ages for the 25 most common names. For the men, Joshua is the youngest, with the median age around 22. The oldest are men named George or Donald, with a median age of 59. Michael falls in the younger half, at number 10 on the list (age 41).

There is a far greater age difference amongst the women. The youngest group are women named Emily, with a median age of only 17. The eldest of the top 25 is Dorothy, with a median age of 74.

The youngest male name overall is Liam, with a median age of 3. The eldest male name is Elmer, with a median age of 66. For females, the youngest name is Ave, with a median age of 5. Eldest overall if Gertrude, with a median age of 80.

One of the most interesting charts is the Deadest Names. These are the most common first names of individuals born since 1900 who were deceased as of January 1 this year. For women, Mabel was the overall winner, with 90.8% deceased. For men, Elmer once again took first place, with 79.2% deceased.

The entire piece is very interesting. You can read it in How to Tell Someone’s Age When All You Know is Her Name. You can also go to the Social Security website and from the 1880s through the 2000s.

Three Pivotal Mistakes Genealogists Make

31 May 2014


Genealogists are no more immune from making mistakes than anyone involved in any other pastime. With practice, we can move past many of them. But even experienced genealogists can fall into bad practices. These are three major mistakes (all avoidable) that genealogists commonly make. Watch out for them!

1. Believing Without Seeing.
The internet age has brought with it many new methods of publishing. Online trees are ubiquitous. Many genealogists publish their research on blogs or personal websites. The problem is that many of these are not sourced. Without knowing where the information came from, there is no way to know how accurate it is. Even information that has source citations should be verified for accuracy, especially when it comes from a source with which you are unfamiliar. After all, anyone can make up sources to lend an air of accuracy to their work. Take the time to go back and look at the original sources, and don’t believe the compilation until you see them. When it comes to genealogy, the old Russian saying “Trust, but verify” is the way to go.

2. Speed Reading and Assuming.
Reading and understanding documents is key to successfully finding your family. But one must be careful when reading and analyzing records. It is very easy to read through them too quickly and miss critical information. Even worse, though, is not carefully reading and scrutinizing exactly what the document says, as well as what it implies. All too often, we do not take the time to carefully analyze the information, and we jump to assumptions. Does that will really prove who the mother of the children is, or is she simply named as the wife of the decedent along with this children? Taking the time to carefully read and think outside the box (by speir at dh support). What are all the possibilities for relationships outlined in a document? Once you think of all the possibilities, then you can rank them in terms of probability, and continue the search for additional evidence to confirm your theories.

3. Trying to do it All Online.
Back in the 19th and early-20th centuries, genealogical research required a lot of travel and correspondence to examine and obtain copies of records. As the twentieth century progressed, microfilm copies of records became more readily available. No longer did one have to flip through the pages of original census volumes, reading page after page while looking for one’s target family. Now it could be done on microfilm. And many records were abstracted and published in books and periodicals. Materials were easier to examine, and copies could now be widely distributed at many different repositories. Unfortunately this also brought with it a mentality that one would only look at books and microfilm to research, greatly limiting one’s options. This mentality has easily transferred to websites and online resources. But the ready access to so many online materials has made this mentality worse than ever before. Despite wide access to a variety of resources, it is currently simply not possible to trace all of your ancestors with online resources only. The amount of material available online is only the very tip of an enormous iceberg of information available in original government and private repositories. The most successful researcher are wise enough to use a combination of online and original materials to identify and verify their ancestors.

How many genealogy education programs/conferences do you hope to attend this year?

30 May 2014

We asked and you answered! Have you used DNA in your research?

30 May 2014

Last week asked if you have used DNA in your research. Turns out quite a few of you have!



Turns out more than 80% of our community members have used some sort of DNA test in their research. The most popular categories included AncestryDNA and FamilyTreeDNA. If you are interested in finding out more about how DNA can help your research, check out our most recent Fireside Chat with DNA expert Blaine Bettinger at

News Items for Genealogists, May 30, 2014

30 May 2014

This week’s roundup of stories is an eclectic mix. We start with a piece by the from the Huffington Post about Conrad Hayer, who made photographic history in 1852. Next we go to the Spanish Conquest in Peru before travelling to the truth behind an 1815 quote about education in America. Then comes a piece in USA Today about modern-day interest in genealogy before we take a humorous look at 16 English words from earlier times that we no longer use.

In the collections of the Maine Historical Society lies a daguerreotype taken in 1852 of Conrad Hayer. Although this makes it among the oldest photographs ever taken, it is Conrad himself who makes the image so valuable. He is one of the subjects in Maureen Taylor’s book The Last Muster. He is the only known veteran of the Revolutionary War who served under George Washington (and crossed the Delaware River with him) to have his photograph taken. What makes him historically significant (in addition to that) is that when the daguerreotype was taken, Conrad was 103 years old, making him the earliest-born person to ever have his photograph taken. Read more in the Huffington Post in This is Conrad Hayer, A Man Who Made Photographic History at 103 Years Old.


Conrad Hayer


Francisco Pizzaro led the conquest of the Inca Empire in Peru in 1532. Archaeologists have now made some interesting finds about exactly how significant this was. The impact was far more significant than the conquering of a people. It actually changed the Earth itself, causing the loss of a great deal of land. Read more about how this happened in Spanish Conquest Altered Peru’s Shoreline, New Research Shows.

Gregory Rodriguez recently wrote an opinion piece about genealogy that was published in USA Today last week. In it, he discusses the fact that “before the civil rights movement. . . the study of family history was largely the province of white social climbers and racists. He also discusses how the field has changed into the last forty years. Read more in Roots of Genealogy Craze.

Many families have heirlooms passed down from their ancestors. These can include dresses, gloves, jackets, and other items of clothing, as well as tablecloths, napkins, placements, and other family linens. All too often, we neglect to take proper care of these. The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently ran a story about a workshop held by the Shaker Historical Society in Shaker Heights, Ohio, about proper preservation techniques. Learn some of their tips in Shaker Historical Society Teaches Proper Care of Heirloom Textiles as Links to Family History.

Finally this week we have a story from Mental Floss about English words that have fallen out of use. Words like lettice-cap ( a device for curing headaches), nimgimmer (a surgeon who cured the pox) and fribbler (a man who likes a woman, but simply refuses to commit to her) were once common, but haven’t been commonly used in ages. Genealogists would probably use mumpsimus quite a bit. Originally from Middle English and meaning “an incorrigible, dogmatic old pedant,” the word evolved into  an incorrect opinion that someone clung to. Discover more in 16 Weird Forgotten English Words We Should Bring Back.

Your Hall Pass to Your Ancestors

29 May 2014


It’s the time of year when students across the country are donning caps and gowns and taking their first steps as graduates. During this time of year, it’s easy to wonder what our ancestors were like when they were in high school or college. Luckily for us, yearbooks provide a unique glimpse into their youth. As you flip through the pages of your family members’ yearbooks, pictures and descriptive captions illustrate who they were, their passions, and dreams for the future.

As a Mocavo community member, you have access to the largest free online collection of yearbooks. That’s open access to more than 8.3 million pages of cheesy grins, bad hairdos, and heart-warming memories.


We hope you enjoy exploring our yearbook collection and have a great weekend full of discoveries.

Will Photos Actually Damage Our Memories?

28 May 2014

One of the best parts about genealogy is passing on memories to the next generation. My grandfather was quite the storyteller. I remember him sitting in his armchair, smoking his pipe (or a cigar), and listening to his tales about the family. Pépère was very proud of his French-Canadian ancestors, used to tell us about them all the time.

Photographs are a great way to prompt memories. I have a wonderful picture of me walking my grandparents up the aisle at my sister’s wedding twenty years ago. It was their parish church, Notre Dame de Sacre Coeur in Central Falls, Rhode Island; the same where they had celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary just two years earlier.


Michael J. Leclerc with Joseph Alfred and Mary Laura (Dube) Leclerc, August 20, 1994. From the collection of the author, used with permission.

Michael J. Leclerc with Joseph Alfred and Mary Laura (Dube) Leclerc, August 20, 1994. From the collection of the author, used with permission.


Much has changed in those intervening years. That was a time where one still brought film to be developed and prints of photographs made. It was a time before mobile phones put cameras in everyone’s pockets. And those cameras now capture images like never before. But in taking all of those pictures, we may have actually been undermining ourselves.

Maryanne Garry is a professor in the school of psychology at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.  She specializes in real-life memory distortions. In her own words, she is “interested in how we can come to believe we saw or did something that we never did, and how we decide whether our memories are true or false.”

As part of her research, she has spent years studying the effects of photography on childhood memories. This is especially significant in light of the pervasiveness of photos nowadays. Her findings are somewhat troubling. Her research shows that parents who take all these photographs of their children are spending more time with the picture taking and they are forgetting to enjoy the moments themselves.

Compounding this problem is the fact that people end up with thousands of images that just get thrown into a piece of software. There they sit and rarely does anyone take the time to label them, tag them, and organize them. This all leads to fewer memories for the children.

Linda Henkel, a psychologist who studies human memory at Fairfield University in Connecticut.  She conducted an experiment with students at the university and discovered a “photo-taking impairment effect.” Instead of relying on their own memories, their brains were relaying on the external prompt of the photograph, which left the students with fewer memories.

National Public Radio recently did a story about their work. You can listen to it on All Things Considered in “Overxposed? Camera Phones Could be Washing Out Our Memories.

The True Meaning of Memorial Day

27 May 2014

On May 5, 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic (an organization of veterans who served for the Union during the Civil War) established Decoration Day, encouraging people to decorate the graves of those who died during the war with flowers. A ceremony was held at Arlington National Cemetery. GAR members walked through the cemetery placing flowers on all graves, whether Union or Confederate. The event became an annual day of remembrance. After World War I, it was expanded to include those who died in all wars.

In many instances, death came instantaneously. But in many instances, death may have taken longer and been much more painful and torturous. They died far from home, and often with little or no company. Many of them, even in death, were not able to return home.

There is no question that those who made the supreme sacrifice are deserving of this special honor. Unfortunately, as is happening in many places in our modern world, we are forgetting the true meaning of Memorial Day.  As we zoom through life, we do the expedient thing, paying little attention.

Over the last few days, I have seen many people remembering family members who have served over the years. I think it is tremendously important to thank those who fought and served. My own family has had many who served: my grandfather, Theodore Edward Morin, who served in the Navy’s Merchant Marine with his brother Emil, during World War II; my great-uncle, Leo Dupre, who was an Army seargant when he was captured by the Germans and sent to a prison camp; my uncle, William Smith, who was a U.S. Marine during Vietnam; my brother, Dennis Leclerc, who served in the Air National Guard; my cousin, Richard Gagne, who served in the Air Force; my cousin, Eric Leclerc, who is still serving and just returned from another tour in Afghanistan.

But, while their service was important and deserves to be honored, yesterday was not the day to remember them. That day will come in the fall, when we celebrate Veterans Day.

Yesterday was the day to remember those whose sacrifice went further than anyone else. They deserve a special day, all to themselves. All of the Gold Star Mothers out there deserve a special day to have all Americans honor that sacrifice made their sons and daughters. They will never get to hold them again, or see them marry and have children. Their grandchildren will never again know the embrace of their father or mother.

My family has seen these deaths as well. My great-uncle, Éloi Morin, died at the Battle of the Argonne in World War II. My grandfather’s cousin, Albert Leclerc, died when his ship, the U.S.S. Chevalier was torpedoed by the Japanese near the Solomon Islands. One lies in a peaceful cemetery in France, the other at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.


Eloi Morin Gravestone


Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address, took special note of the significance of the contribution of those who lost their lives in battle, and perhaps best summarizes my feelings that Memorial Day needs to continue to be about those who died in service:

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Those who serve in our armed forces are so important to us as a country that they are the only ones who have not one, but two Federal holidays int heir honor.  So please, let us keep Memorial Day for our honored dead. And keep Veterans Day for all those who served, especially those who were lucky enough to come back to us.

Download Your Free Mocavo Military Genealogy Research Guide

24 May 2014

Memorial Day is the day when we take the time to celebrate and remember the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in our country’s armed forces. At Mocavo, you can explore more than 500 million names in our military collections for free.

With the help of Chief Genealogist Michael J. Leclerc, we created an educational Military Research Guide to help you navigate these important records. Uncover helpful research tips and a few military collections that can help you unlock the stories of the military heroes in your family tree.

Download Your Free Military Research Guide Now


Taking Care of Veterans: Your Ancestors’ Military Pensions

22 May 2014

When researching our ancestors who served in the military, one of the most popular places we look is for pension files. The thing to remember is that not only were those who served eligible for pensions, but in some instances the spouse, children, or even the parents of those who served also might have received pensions.

The Revolutionary War ended in 1783. The first Federal law regarding pensions was enacted 29 September 1789, when the United States government took over from the states payments made to soldiers who served during the Revolutionary War. In 1836, Congress finally allowed for unmarried widows to receive a pension based on her husband’s service.

November 11, 1906 dawned chilly and clear in Plymouth, Vermont. Esther (Sumner) Damon was a ninety-two-year-old widow who had suffered fro years from “senile debility.” She had recently developed bronchitis which took her life that day. More than 130 years after the start of the war, Esther was the last surviving Revolutionary War widow, and the last to be receiving a widow’s pension. Her husband, Noah Damon, was 75 years old when they married in 1835, and she only 21. He, himself, died at the age of 92 in 1858. She was 38 years old at his death, and remained his widow for 48 years. At the end of her life, she was  not only receiving a pension from the state of Vermont, but also receiving support from chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution.


Obituary of Esther (Sumner) Damon, "Burlington Free Press" November 11, 1906.

Obituary of Esther (Sumner) Damon, “Burlington Free Press” November 11, 1906.

Pensions continued to be paid for a service in a variety of conflicts. Those who served during the War of 1812, and their widows, were also given pensions. (The Federation of Genealogical Societies is currently spearheading a campaign to have these files digitized and made available online for free) But others received pensions also. Those who served in the Indian Wars (Black Hawk War, Creek War, Florida War, etc.) and the War with Mexico also received pensions.

1861 is the dividing line. Those who served prior to the Civil War were treated in one category and those who served from the Civil War onward were in another. One major change was that pensions were granted to those dependent on the one who was serving. Children might receive pensions, as well as parents who were depending on the soldier for support.

Pension laws were amended from time to time, and it is important to understand the laws to understand whether or not your ancestor was qualified to receive a pension. Conversely, if you know that your ancestor was receiving a pension, knowing the laws in place at the time that they were receiving pensions can help you extrapolate additional information.

As for the Civil War, when was the last pension payment made to a survivor? It has not yet been made. 84-year-old Irene Triplett of North Carolina still receives a monthly payment based on the service of her father, Private Moses Triplett, in the Union Army during the Civil War. More than a century and a half after the start of the conflict, the government is still paying benefits. (The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story on Veteran’s Benefits that you might find very interesting.)