Genealogy Blog

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.)

Discover Your Family’s Heroes in Millions of Military Records

22 May 2014


Memorial Day is almost here. 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. One of the best ways to honor your family’s heroes is to discover and share their story. At Mocavo, all of our records are free all of the time. This weekend, explore more than 500 million names in our military collections. As a free Mocavo Basic member, you can search any individual military database to your heart’s content. To get you started, we want to share a few collections that will help you unlock the stories of the military heroes in your family tree.

View all Military Collections Now

Browse All Records Now

Military Collections

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 3.30.18 PMScreen Shot 2014-05-22 at 3.30.11 PM Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 3.30.31 PM Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 3.30.03 PM Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 3.30.41 PM

We add more than 1,000 new databases each day, so there is always something new for you to discover. If you would like to search all of our collections from one convenient location, consider giving Mocavo Gold a try. Mocavo Gold also provides advanced search tools that allow you to narrow your results by category, increase and decrease the number of results per page, and search on additional fields like location and life event.

Try Mocavo Gold for free now

We wish you a happy Memorial Day and hope you enjoy exploring your family history this weekend

Preserving the Past Using Techniques from the Past

21 May 2014

In the seventeenth century, two settlements in Massachusetts grew up right next to each other. Cambridge and Boston were separated, however, by the Charles River. For more than a century and a half, the two towns were connected only by ferry service. It was not until 1793 that the first bridge was constructed to link them.

The West Boston Bridge was built by private investors who were chartered by the Commonwealth. They recovered their expenses and made a profit by the tolls charged to use the bridge, which remained in place until 1858. The bridge left Boston at the foot of the West End, near the present-day site of the Massachusetts General Hospital. It connected to the eastern part of Cambridge, which was very sparsely inhabited. After construction of the bridge, however, there was a building boom connecting Main Street to the bridge. Swamp land around the river was reclaimed to feed the building boom.

In 1898 the Cambridge Bridge Commission was formed to plan and build a new bridge. In addition to foot and vehicular traffic, the new bridge would need to accommodate trains from the Boston Elevated Railway Company. State and national rules and regulations required that the bridge be a drawbridge, although that would make it more expensive. It literally took an act of Congress to permit the building of a less-expensive and better-looking bridge. Construction took six years, and it was finally opened to traffic in 1906.

After more than a century of use, the bridge was in dire need of repairs, and is now in the middle of a $215 million project to replace structural elements and restore much of the historic character that has been lost over the years. The construction companies working on the bridge, however, are having quite the adventure. Because of the historic nature of the bridge, the project requires that all of the work must be done exactly as it was done when the bridge was first constructed.

There are multiple issues surrounding a construction project like this. The first, and most major, is that bridges are made differently now than they were a century ago. Late-nineteenth-century construction manuals have had to be studied to determine how the bridge was built so that it can be repaired properly.

One of the biggest changes: metalwork. In the early part of the twentieth century, the metalwork of buildings and bridges was fastened using rivets. Heated to thousands of degrees, and inserted into holes in the metal where, as they cooled, the metal would expand and hold the pieces together. Nowadays, this process is achieved using nuts and bolts. Construction workers have had to go to school to learn this outdated process.

Another problem is the granite used in the bridge. Rockport granite has not been quarried in more than 80 years, but it must be used in the bridge. First, it must match the granite already in the bridge. Second, the bridge’s nickname is the Salt and Pepper Bridge. This comes partially from the parapets on the bridge that look like salt and pepper shakers, and partially from the black and white flecks in the granite that look like salt and pepper. Fortunately, they were able to find a source.


Longfellow Bridge


It is nice to see building project such as these, that maintain the historical accuracy of monuments, buildings, and bridges, keeping them as close as possible to how they were when our ancestors walked over them. In 1927, the bridge was officially renamed the Longfellow Bridge. In 1845, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem about the original bridge, called “The Bridge.” Part of it reads:

Yet whenever I cross the river

On its bridge with wooden piers,

Like the odor of brine from the ocean

Comes the thought of other years.


And I think how many thousands

Of care-encumbered men,

Each bearing his burden of sorrow,

Have crossed the bridge since then.


I see the long procession

Still passing to and fro,

The young heart hot and restless,

And the old subdued and slow!


100 New Record Indexes Added Today

20 May 2014

Since announcing our Free Forever Revolution in October, we have added more than 350,000 databases online to help you discover your story. To thank you for supporting us in our mission, today we are adding an additional 100 record indexes to the usual 1,000 databases we launch every day. These indexes document more than 10 million records from a variety of countries including the United States, Canada, France, New Zealand and more.

View all new collections now

Browse our entire collection

New Collections

With more than 1,000 databases added each day, there is always something new to discover! Looking for an easier way to sort through all of our historical content? With Mocavo Gold, you can enjoy exclusive access to a bunch of advanced and automated tools that will help you make discoveries faster, with less effort.

Try Mocavo Gold for free now

We hope you have a wonderful week full of lots of research success!

Five Free Websites I Can’t Research Without

17 May 2014


While there are many pay website that we use for our research, there are also a great number of free websites (like Mocavo) to help you. Here, in no particular order, are five websites that I find invaluable in my research, and each and every one of them is free to use. And if you’ve used these before, perhaps you’ll take this as a good reminder of the resources you should be using more frequently.

1. WorldCat

As much as we would like it to be, not everything we need to conduct our research is available online. WorldCat is the best way to identify published and unpublished materials. The search engine at contains information on more than 2 billion published works in repositories around the world. The ArchiveGrid section has information on more than 2 million manuscript resources around the world. You can build a bibliography to bring with you to a repository to save time there.

2. WorldGenWeb

USGenWeb started in 1996. Over the course of the last almost twenty years it has spread around the world. Armies of volunteers have transcribed records, compiled reference information, and keep the web pages running. It is a wonderful place to start, and to find information that may not be easily available elsewhere. Many of these pages are run by (or are contributed to by) local residents who are tremendous experts on that particular area, and may know of specialized resources not available elsewhere. Start at WorldGenWeb and navigate to the area of the world you are interested in.

3. American Memory

The Library of Congress is one of the largest repositories in the world. Twenty years ago they started the American Memory program to digitize materials from the collection. While these collections may not directly have genealogically valuable information, but they can add a tremendous amount to understanding your family. Local histories, oral histories, music, sports, recreation, and more are all represented. LOC is in the process of moving collections to a new system, so be certain to check both areas to find what you are looking for.

4. Cyndi’s List

Cyndi Ingle is one of my personal heroes (don’t tell her, it will just go to her head). For almost two decades she has been publishing a list of websites of interest to genealogists. From a simple one-page handout for her local group, Cyndi’s List has grown to a website with more than 330,000 links. And all of it is done by Cyndi herself (despite what people may think about her large staff of paid employees). You can browse through categories listed alphabetically, or search for what you seeking.

5. Boston Public Library

Now, in reality, you should insert the name of your local public library. As a Bostonian, I’m lucky to have the BPL as mine. Your local library likely provides access to a wide variety of subscription databases. Some of these will be restricted to onsite use, but others you will be able to access remotely. BPL, for example, provides me access to databases like 19th Century British Newspapers, 19th Century U.S. Newspapers, American Historical Newspapers, Early American Imprints, JSTOR,  Index to Early American Periodicals, and more. Visit your local library and get your library card.

We Asked, You Answered! How Far Are You Traveling for Genealogy Research this Season?

17 May 2014

Last week we asked how far you planned on traveling for genealogy research this summer. Looks like a lot of you will be able to get away this season!



More than 70% of you plan on doing some kind of travel for your genealogy research. Whether you’re traveling to a local repository, or an ancestral homeland, if you are looking for some tips for your summer genealogy travel, make sure you download the Summer Research Genealogy Research Guide. The best way to have a successful research trip is to ensure you prepare your research before hand. The more organized you are before you go, the more time you can spend researching when you reach your final destination.

Have You Used DNA in Your Research?

17 May 2014

News Stories and Blog Posts for Genealogists, May 16, 2014

16 May 2014

This week we have a great crop of news stories and blog posts for you. Judy Russell discusses the benefits of using special collections. The Genetic Genealogy Standards Committee has released some standards for public comment. Dick Eastman discusses a scanner that might be helpful for genealogists. Fold3 announces some free access. And Cyndi Ingle has started a new blog. I hope you find these stories as interesting and informative as I do.

Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist, recently made a terrific post about the value of special collections. These collections are usually unpublished, and can contain a wide variety of information. And these are resources that, in Judy’s words, “aren’t — and, in our lifetimes, likely won’t be — online.” Read more in A Special Kind of Collection.

A group of genealogists whose research incorporates DNA has been working over the last few months to develop standards to help researchers who are just entering the world of genetic genealogy. Among this group are noted genealogists Blaine Bettinger, Melinde Lutz Byrne, Michael Hait, and Debbie Parker Wayne. This week the group released a list of standards so that they can obtain feedback. The time period for public comment lasts only until June 15, 2014, so if you are interested, read the document and provide your feedback to the group.

Genealogists use a wide variety of cameras and scanners in their research. This week Dick Eastman discussed a new scanner that could be every genealogist’s dream. The Hovercam Solo 8 takes extremely high-resolution documents, purported to be better than any other document scanner. Best of all, it folds down into a package that is only 1.5×3.5×11.4 inches, and weighs only a tad more than 2 pounds. Read more in The $349 Hovercam Solo 8: Possibly the World’s Best Document Scanner?




Fold3 (a division of provides a wide variety of military records online. As part of their WWII offerings, there is a virtual representation of the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, listing the names of those who lost their lives. There is also a section to create “Hero Pages.” These are special pages to honor those who fought in WWII. They offer the opportunity to upload images and stories, as well as attach records, creating a memorial for those who served. Fold3 has started the process by creating pages for all men and women who enlisted in the U.S. Army between 1938 and 1946. In honor of Memorial Day, Fold3 is making all of their WWII materials available to everyone for free until the end of the month.

Finally this week, we end with the inimitable Cyndi Ingle of Cyndi’s List. She recently created a new category, Evernote for Every Genealogist. Now she has started a new blog that she herself authors, dedicated to helping genealogists use Evernote for all variety of things. She even writes the blog on, the blogging platform powered by documents in Evernote.

Genealogists Have Rights Too!

15 May 2014

One of the major problems facing us as genealogists is access to records. Without proper preservation, records will not be available to us in the future. On top of that, we have to fight with legislators on every level who are trying to close access to materials for drummed-up political reasons that have nothing to do with reality. Witness Congress’ action this year in closing the SSDI, purportedly to protect consumers from fraud. The legislation will have a minimal effect on fraud. It was designed to provide political cover for legislators, and succeeded only in limiting access to records needed for genealogical research.

The Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) is a project of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. As the name suggests, RPAC works to ensure that genealogists will have access to necessary records both today and in the future.




Last week at the NGS conference in Richmond, RPAC announced an important new initiative. Working with the Association of Professional Genealogists and the Board for Certification of Genealogists, RPAC has created a “Declaration of the Rights of Genealogists.” It reads as follows:


WHEREAS, Americans have pursued the research of their family heritage since the beginning of our country; and

WHEREAS, millions of Americans derive enjoyment from genealogical exploration, consistent with the pursuit of happiness recognized by the founders of our country in our Declaration of Independence; and

WHEREAS, Americans derive substantial emotional benefit from genealogical exploration into their heritage; and

WHEREAS, many Americans derive financial benefit from the practice of professional genealogy and have performed such throughout this nation’s history; and

WHEREAS, genealogists make meaningful contributions to the fields of forensic genealogy, identification of kinships, determining the facts in legal cases such as probate court, cases involving tribal and other relationships; and

WHEREAS, thousands of historical and genealogical societies, libraries, museums, and other institutions and associations have been established throughout our land to assist all Americans in the pursuit of their family heritage; and

WHEREAS, genealogy adds substantially to the ethnic, cultural, and racial richness of which our country is composed; and

WHEREAS, the American people have recognized that the right to open government and unfettered access to the records of our government are rights which find expression in the constitutions and legislation of our federal and state governments and which enrich the lives of all Americans; and

WHEREAS, genealogists have been at the forefront of efforts to protect and preserve the precious records and documents of our genealogical and historical heritage; and

WHEREAS, genealogists, no less than other Americans, are vitally concerned for personal privacy and safety from untoward acts that diminish our freedom; and

WHEREAS, most records, including vital records, have, for all of our nation’s history, been substantially open to access,



That we, the undersigned genealogists, in pursuance of our individual and collective rights as Americans, do hereby




That genealogists possess the right to the pursuit of genealogical exploration through unfettered access to the records of our government; and

WE CALL upon our governmental representatives to recognize our rights by;

PRESERVING the freedom of the American people to access the public records of our government in a timely and orderly manner through appropriate legislation; and

REFRAINING from legislation which would prevent or render extraordinarily difficult access to the public records, principally birth, marriage, and death records collected by our state and federal governmental agencies; and

PROMOTING those principles that enhance, not diminish, our freedom of access to records; and

CELEBRATING with genealogists the valuable benefits of exploring, researching, and compiling the histories of our families, and as a result, the history of our exceptional nation.

Hundreds of genealogists signed the declaration at last week’s conference. It will also be available for additional signers at the IAJGS conference in July, and the FGS conference in August. If you will not be attending either of these conferences, you can sign the document online.

There is no greater initiative to protect us at the moment. Take a moment to read and sign it today!

Before Modern Medicine: The Trial and Error of American Medicine’s Wackiest Remedies

14 May 2014

Yesterday I wrote about the amazing Phineas Gage. His survival was nothing short of miraculous, especially given the shortcomings of medicine in the mid-nineteenth century. We at Mocavo have put together this infographic to show you some interesting medical practices of the past.