Genealogy Blog

We Asked and You Answered!

13 Jun 2014

Last week we asked how many genealogy education programs/conferences do you hope to attend this year. More than 60% of the community plans on attending at least one genealogy program/conference this year!




What other genealogy websites do you use?

13 Jun 2014

3 Tips for Sharing Stories with the Next Generation

12 Jun 2014


This week has been very busy preparing for my concerts this weekend.  Our guest artist for this show is Alex Newell who plays U’nique on Glee. He has been a joy to work with. The music tells the tales of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Civil Rights Movement through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As part of the concert, videos will be playing behind us and on either side with images from the past century.

One of the songs we are singing is That’s What Friends are For. Several of the younger members of the chorus standing near me did not understand why the image on the screen as we sing this song is of the AIDS Quilt being displayed on the Mall in Washington, D.C. I explained to them that the song was best known for the version sung by Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder that was released in 1986 as a fundraiser for AIDS research.

The fact that they did not know this reminded me of the importance of teaching the next generation about our history. The same thing goes for families. We spend a great deal of time researching, but often we do not spend enough time sharing our history with the next generation. Here are some tips to help you.

1. Talk to Family Members

Take opportunities at family gatherings to tell younger members of the family stories about their ancestors.  Be certain the stories are age appropriate, so as to retain their interest in the stories. Birthdays, funerals, weddings, and anniversaries are popular occasions for these discussions. You might consider, however, having a party for no reason other than getting the family together. Then use the opportunity for the older generations to share stories with the younger ones. This can also give you lots more new information for your research.

2. Record Your Stories

While you are having these parties, use the opportunity to video the stories everyone is telling. What better way to present the stories than to show later generations their ancestors telling stories in their own words. You can also do some special one-on-one interviews between you and a family member. You might also try recording you or other family members telling stories to only one or two of the younger generation. With today’s multimedia options, there is no end of things you can do with the recordings.

3. Write the Stories Down

Recording stories in more than one medium is important.  Some people prefer to watch videos while others might prefer to read the stories. You can also print out your collection of stories and donate them to your local public library and/or genealogical society. This will ensure that future generations will have access to them.

Southern California Jamboree Now Coming to You

11 Jun 2014

I’ve just returned from the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree in Burbank. It was a wonderful few days, filled with lots of exciting presentations. This was the 45th annual Jamboree, and this is one group that gets it right.


Jamboree Logo

Year after year, they return to the same hotel. Among other things, this allows them to get better rates for rooms that can be passed down to the participants.  They also have formed a wonderful bond with the hotel staff, which allows them to grow and do different things every year.

The society itself has been moving into the twenty-first century, including providing webinars to their members. They have now extended this to the conference as well. Many organizations offer audio recordings of presentations. In addition to the audio recordings, the Jamboree provided DVD recordings of a number of sessions. Among the sessions recorded were:

  • Jana Sloan Broglin, Effective Use of Wills and Estates in Your Research
  • Thomas MacEntee, 7 Habits of Highly Frugal Genealogists
  • Leland Meitzler, Westward Migration Routes of Northeastern Colonial America
  • Randy Whited, Sprinkling Weather into Your Family History

You can purchase audio recordings now from the Conference Resource Media website. The video recordings have not yet been posted on the site, but should be there soon.

They also did Livestreams of a number of sessions. Among these were:

  • Judy G. Russell, Dowered or Bound Out: Records of Widows and Orphans
  • Blaine Bettinger, DNA and the Genealogical Proof Standard
  • F. Warren Bittner, Proof Arguments: How and Why?
  • Bennett Greenspan, The Future of Genetic Genealogy
  • Cyndi Ingle, The Internet: A Genealogist’s Printing Press

They also streamed a presentation I made about New England research. These videos are available to you to watch for free from now until July 5, 2014. You can see a complete list and watch the videos online.

Congratulations to the entire team that produced the conference. Special congratulations go out to Paula Johnson Hinkel and Leo Myers, who retired as chairs of the conference after years of dedicated work that has made it the successful event that it has become.

Make New Discoveries with the Social Security Death Index

10 Jun 2014


One of the major starting points for genealogical research is the Social Security Death Index. Used by the Social Security Administration for coordinating benefits, the SSDI contains a wealth of information about your family members who have died in the last forty years, including their first name, last name, age, address, and more. As a Mocavo Community Member, you can search more than 88 million death records found in the Social Security Death Index to your heart’s content for free.

Search the Social Security Death Index Now

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We hope you have a lovely week full of new discoveries.

A Rose By Any Other Name

09 Jun 2014

Last Tuesday I wrote about a piece that Nate Silver did concerning first names. This made me wonder, who has studied surnames? Interesting enough, at the same time I was wondering this, a friend posted a story from PBS that originally ran back in 2001, but is totally on point.

The POV series on PBS airs documentaries with a “Point of View.” In 2001, the series broadcast The Sweetest Sound, from filmmaker Alan Berliner. His goal in making the film was to explore identity through our names. He examines the historical origins of names and their roles in society.

The film is a personal look at what his name means to him. But as he takes that journey, he shares a lot of interesting information with viewers. And he discusses concepts and ideas that we all have thought of. Such as being confused with someone else of the same name. In the end, he states that “I can’t separate it from who I am, or what I do. And one day, it will be impossible to separate it from who I was, and what I did.” As he makes this statement, images flash on screen. Gravestones and squares from the AIDS Quilt. And it transitions to the New England Holocaust Memorial, with its millions of numbers of those who died at the hands of the Nazis.

One of my favorite parts of the film is when he visits the National Archives and talks with Marian Smith from the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service and Barry Moreno, a librarian at Ellis Island National Monument. They explode the greatest myth in American history: that any name was ever changed at Ellis Island. I have written about this before, and it is one of my big pet peeves. It never happened, and to date, not a single person has been able to provide documentary evidence contrary. He goes into detail about the problem, starting with the statement that “this could be the subject of an entire film.”

In the closing credits, he took pity on people whose names always appear in the middle or the end of the alphabet. So, when he presented his “Thank You” list, he had the names scroll by in reverse alphabetical order, from Z to A. Among the genealogists who appeared on the list were Eileen Polakoff and Gary Mokatoff.


Sweetest Sound


As part of the airing, PBS created an interesting database.  Extracting data from the 1990 and 2000 U.S. censuses, they created a database of the most popular surnames. The Census Bureau published two lists, one from each census, that contained the surnames that occurred 100 or more times.. The list from 1990 contained 88,799 names while the one from 2000 had 151,671. Interestingly, the number from 2000 includes about 90 percent of the population. But it only covered about 3 percent of the surnames! The official tally contained more than 6 million surnames, of which about 65 percent were listed for only one person. Thus, 97 percent of surnames in the U.S. did not appear on this list.

I searched the How Popular is Your Last Name? database for my surname and discovered that in 1990, it was ranked number 6,074, but by 2000 it had dropped to 10,639.  You can search the database for your own surname the on the PBS website. And you can watch The Sweetest Sound on Netflix or Amazon Instant Video.

Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, June 6, 2014

06 Jun 2014

From the gravely serious to the lighthearted, this week’s collection of news stories and blog posts will keep you thinking. We have the story of a Civil War soldier’s remains, photographs of D-Day, the Legal Genealogist defining “exit,” and using DNA to give us a picture of our ancestors, the Nintendo family tree.

First comes a story from Maryland that my friend Amy Crow posted to Facebook. A human skull sat in the basement of a family’s house for the past sixty-five years, until recently, when they tried to auction it off. The auction was stopped because the house is located in Gettysburg, and more specifically, it was the site of a military hospital during the Battle of Gettysburg.  Read the more of the story in Auction of Civil War Soldier’s Remains Sparks Outrage, Bidding Canceled.


Civil War Soldier Auction


This week marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasions of Normandy that was the beginning of the end of World War II. Operation Overlord was the largest invasion by sea in military history, involving more than 156,000 Allied troops. Photographer Peter Macdiarmid has taken modern photographs of locations in France and England to match archival images of the days leading up to, during, and immediately following the invasion. Truly remarkable visions. The Guardian has a weekly Then and Now series, and featured Macdiarmid’s photos this week in D-Day Landing Scenes in 1944 and Now.

Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist, regularly reports on terminology we may be unfamiliar with. This week she discusses the word Exit. Not, of course, the way out of a building. She is referring to the legal term exit. So what does the word refer to in legal terms? Find out by reading Exit Here.

The BBC reported on an interesting development in genetic genealogy. American Mark Shriver and Belgian Peter Claes have made major progress and a very interesting project for genealogists. They are working to take genetic and physical data from living people, and determining what their ancestors looked like. Read more and watch a video in Genetic Genealogy: Looking for the Faces of Our Ancestors in DNA.

Finally this week, a bit of fun. Freelance graphic designer Vin Lauria loves both history and Nintendo. So he decided to put all of his talents together. After all, Nintendo has been around for 125 years, long before modern video games. So what did he do? He created the Nintendo Family Tree. Starting with early arcade games, he traced the evolution of eight generations of Nintendo games. So if you want to know who the grandfather of Super Mario Brothers is, visit Ninentendo’s Familiy Tree is Massive.

Goin’ to the Chapel: Mocavo Marriage Databases

04 Jun 2014


On our ancestors’ wedding days, family members came together to celebrate and bear witness to the joining of two families. Marriage records come in many forms; some are church records and others are government records that document the details of the marriage and of the bride and groom. Now you can trace the marriages in your family with access to nearly 15,000 marriage databases for free at Mocavo.

Browse Marriage Records Now

View All Mocavo Databases


We hope you enjoy exploring our marriage databases and have a wonderful week full of discoveries.

More Maps for Free

04 Jun 2014

For many years, USGenWeb has been providing a valuable resource to the genealogical community. Volunteers have transcribed untold records across the  country and make them available to the public for free. The USGenWeb is promoting their new website for maps.

The United States Digital Map Library was started in 1999 to provide access to “useful, readable, high quality maps.” The library contains both archival maps, and newer maps created from new and historical information. Maps are subdivided into three groups.


US Digital Map Library


The first group, US Maps, contains maps of national interest. Included here are an 1845 map of North America, two maps that show U.S. principal meridians and baselines and a excerpts from a 1910 reference atlas of the world that includes maps of each state and of many large cities.

The second section, State and County Maps, breaks the country down in to the fifty states. By clicking on a state (either on a U.S. map or in the text links next to it), one is brought to a page that shows what is available for that particular state. In addition to state and county maps, some states have local maps as well. Not all states have maps.

The third section is a very interesting one. It contains Indian Land Cessions to the United States. These are treaty maps compiled by Charles C. Royce. They were published as the second part of the Eighteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1896­–97, published in 1899.

While this all is a very worthwhile project, there is a part of the website that I find troubling. Their Submissions section includes information in the copyright area that is incorrect and misleading. They say that “In placing maps in the Archives, the following general guidelines have been used. . .” The first guideline reads (emphasis theirs):

“ALL items with an ORIGINAL publishing or copyright date prior to 1923 are public domain. Anyone, including the United States Digital Map Library, may use them and distribute them freely.”

This seems to be a strict reading of the copyright law, which is fine and accurate. But it leaves out other, equally important, points of law. Copyright is not the only issue here. I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that one can distribute images only if one is in possession of the original map/atlas/etc. and makes original images of them. Those images are then copyrightable to the creator. Many of these maps are located in libraries, archives, and other repositories or on other websites.  Users typically must adhere to terms of use (whether using a website or visiting a repository in person). Without permission from the owner of the original, one opens one’s self up to legal problems. One cannot, for example, go into a library and take photographs of maps and atlases willy-nilly and publish them online. The Legal Genealogist, Judy G. Russell, writes extensively on the topics of copyright as well as terms of use. Check out her blog, and before you make images of out-of-copyright material available online, be certain to consult an attorney to be certain you aren’t putting yourself at risk.

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.