Genealogy Blog

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.



Phineas Gage: Nineteenth-Century Neurological Miracle

13 May 2014

September 13, 1848, was a cool, crisp day around Cavendish, Vermont. A crew from the Rutland and Burlington Railroad had been working hard all day to clear some black rock. It was 4:30 in the afternoon. Suddenly the sounds of gunpowder exploding fills the air, and in an instant, mild-mannered 24-year-old Phineas Gage enters the history books.

Whenever one must rely on a group of people to record an event, it is inevitable that there will be disagreements about the details. What we do know is this, Phineas was distracted by something as he was tamping a hole filled with gunpowder. His tamper created a spark, and the resulting explosion sent the tamper hurtling through his skull, passing clean through. The first miracle is that despite the tamper passing through his brain, Phineas survived.

He remained conscious throughout the ordeal and immediately afterwards. He received medical care from multiple physicians very quickly. The next day he recognized his mother and uncle when they visited, but in a few days the complications set in. His face swelled, he developed an infection in his brain, and lapsed into a coma. After weeks of touch-and-go, he eventually healed.


Phineas Gage


While he clearly suffered problems, he did go on to enjoy life. He eventually moved to Chile, and then the San Francisco area to live with family members. One day in 1860, after plowing, he was particularly tired. The next evening he suffered a seizure. They became more frequent and intense, until one took his life on May 21.

Doctor Harlow, one of the physicians who originally treated him, brought him to the Harvard Medical School for an evaluation shortly after he recovered. After Gage’s death, Harlow corresponded with his family, and in 1866 finally convinced his sister to have Phineas’ skull preserved. The family disinterred the body, had the skull removed, and delivered it and the tamping iron to Harlow, who wrote an account of what happened to Phineas.

Unfortunately, the media took the story of Phineas and dramatized it to the point where the truth could often barely be discernible. And modern scientists have often placed their modern-day thinking on the events of the past. Recent studies of Phineas, his skull, the tamper, and other evidence, have shed a great deal of new light on what happened, not only during the incident but in the years that followed as well. Recent studies by scientists and doctors have managed to settle some of the controversies of the past, separating fact from fiction, and correcting the results of previous work, some done as recently as the 1990s.

Even today it would be incredibly lucky for someone to survive the injuries that Phineas received. That he could do so in the time before modern medicine, without antibiotics and other life-saving medications and treatments, is nothing short of miraculous. I have actually seen his skull and the tamper, which are today on display in the library of the Harvard Medical School. You can read more about Phineas’ story, and modern scientists’ examination of the evidence, in Phineas Gage, Neuroscience’s Most Famous Patient, on Slate.





Forget-Me-Not Ancestry: Helping You with New York Genealogical and Historical Research

12 May 2014

Forget Me Not Ancestry

Traveling over the last couple of weeks I got to see many of my friends and colleagues. One of these was the very personable New Yorker Jane E. Wilcox.

Jane is the proprietor of Forget-Me-Not Ancestry. She is a researcher, presenter, and author. She has a bachelors degree in English and history, and a masters degree in Journalism. One of her major projects has been researching and writing From England to America: The Odyssey of the William and Margaret Wilcockson Family which will be published next year.

In 2010 Jane started airing her radio show Forget-Me-Not Hour: Your Ancestors Want Their Stories to Be Told on WHVW 950 AM in Poughkeepsie, New York. The show continues today, and is easily accessible to everyone, no matter where you live, online at

Jane airs two shows a month, one each on the first and third Wednesdays. Each week is dedicated to a different focus. The first week of each month, viewers can  “Hear from scholars, archivists, government officials, curators, authors, and others who are keeping the history and genealogy of the Hudson Valley in New York and beyond alive and well.” The third week of the month you can “join nationally-known genealogists, authors, bloggers, historians, and more on this show focusing on the rest of the U.S.”

Past shows include:

Jane often follows up the shows with a post about the subject in her blog.

In addition to her radio show, Jane makes live presentations on various genealogical and historical subjects. Most recently she presented at the National Genealogical Society in Richmond. She also conducts research for clients in many different areas.

Check out her website, and listen to some of her shows on BlogTalkRadio. I think you will find them interesting and informative.

Celebrate Mother’s Day with a Free Access Weekend

09 May 2014


Mother’s Day is right around the corner and what better way to celebrate your mom than to help discover and share her story. From now until Monday at midnight, we are opening up our universal search to all members of the Mocavo community. Usually you need to be a Mocavo Gold member to search all of our databases at once, but for this weekend only, all Mocavo members have the ability to search more than 340,000 databases to their heart’s content. In honor of Mother’s Day, spend some time discovering the stories of the important women in your life.


Many of you have signed up for Mocavo Gold in support of our cause, and enjoy searching more than 340,000 databases at the same time. As always, Mocavo Basic users can search these databases individually for free. Mocavo Gold offers you automated discoveries, the ability to run universal searches across all of our databases, and a number of other great features.

Join our revolution and upgrade to Mocavo Gold.

We wish all of you a very happy Mother’s Day and hope you enjoy your free access weekend.

P.S. Having problems accessing universal search? Here are some helpful tips.

3 Tips to Make the Most out of Your Family Reunion

08 May 2014

It’s that time of year again! The time when families gather together to celebrate their unique heritage at family reunions. Reunions offer one of best opportunities to share your stories, gather information and verify your research. The best way you can make the most out of your family reunion is to come prepared.

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1. Share Your Stories

One of the greatest gifts you can give to your family is taking the time to share your story. When researching our family history, it’s easy to get caught up in the stories of our ancestors, but it’s important to remember to document the important details of our own lives. Whether you take pen to paper and write down your favorite memories or take some time to make an audio or video recording of your favorite stories from the past, make sure to share these memories with your loved ones in person at your reunion. For more tips on preserving your own story, check out “For Future Generations, Say What You Need to Say.”

2. Gather Information

Family reunions offer the perfect excuse to set aside some time to talk with family members and discover their stories. Whether you already know a little bit about a person or nothing at all, it’s always a treat to be able to speak with family members in person. Download the Mocavo Family History Toolkit to access five helpful tips for interviewing family members and an interview question worksheet. Bring multiple copies of the interview question worksheet to your family reunion so you can take notes and keep your research organized.

Download the Mocavo Family History Toolkit Now

3. Verify Your Research

There is no better time to verify your research than when you can discuss your findings with family members in person. Make sure you bring a summary of your present research so you know which facts you need to verify with family members. It’s also important to bring a copy of a current pedigree chart and/or family group sheet(s) so that you can stay on track when sharing or confirming your research. Finally, make sure to bring blank pedigree charts and family group sheets just in case you need to make additional notes or start documenting facts for a new ancestor. Your Mocavo Family History Toolkit also has blank copies of pedigree charts and family group sheets that you can print out and bring with you to any family event.

Download the Mocavo Family History Toolkit Now

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1,000 New Navy Cruise Books Added Today

07 May 2014

Our pursuit to bring all of the world’s historical content online free forever is only growing stronger. In October of 2013, we committed to launch 1,000 new databases every day, and we’ve kept that promise every day since.

As a way to say thank you, we wanted to do something extra special for the Mocavo community. So, today alone, in addition to the 1,000 databases we launch every day, we are adding nearly 1,000 Navy Cruise Books to our current collection of more than 340,000 free databases.

Browse Navy Cruise Books Now

Navy Cruise Books offer a unique glimpse into the daily lives of Navy sailors. Similar to high school or college yearbooks, they were created by volunteers aboard a ship to help commemorate a particular deployment. Candid photos and portraits of the ship’s crew members breathe life into their daily experiences, while biographies and stories reveal a first-hand account of what life was like at sea. Images range from documenting moments of their daily routines (such as strategizing and reporting for duty), to more casual images that capture soldiers having a good time while acting in talent shows, winning pie eating contests, and more. We picked out some of our favorite images to help get you started.

Browse Navy Cruise Books Now

Navy Cruise Books Graphic

We hope you enjoy browsing all of the exciting new databases and have a wonderful week full of discoveries.

3 Essential Travel Tips for A Successful Journey

03 May 2014


We recently put together our Summer Research Guide, filled with resources and tips for your summer genealogical research travel. I am sitting in my hotel room in Sandusky at the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference writing this post, and thought it would be nice to toss in a few more travel tips for you.

1. Be Prepared for Unexpected Emergencies

You never know what will happen on the road. This week, while in Fort Wayne, I broke a tooth quite badly. I found the right kind of dentist, and they quickly took care of me. But, as part of the intake process as a new patient, I had to provide them with a list of all medications I am on, and their dosages. What if this happened to you? What if you were injured and had to go to the emergency room? Could you provide the physicians with the information they need to take care of you? I was prepared. I keep a list on my phone of all my current medications and the dosage, my physician’s name and contact information, etc. Even if I had difficulty speaking, I could bring up the list for the medical staff.

2. Check the Hotel Amenities

This is especially true if you will be gone for more than a few days. I’m on the road for two weeks. Who wants to pack that many clothes? Both the hotels I’m staying at here in Sandusky and the one in Richmond have guest laundry facilities. By taking a couple of hours out of my schedule to wash clothes, I saved a great deal of space in my luggage. I only had to pack enough clothes for a few days, instead of two weeks. This is especially important to me, as I must also carry my computer, projector, and other electronic equipment for my presentations.


3. Explore Alternate Travel Options

It is not just about the destination, it is also about the journey. After the OGS conference, I need to head to Richmond for the NGS conference. In Sandusky the closest airport is in Cleveland, about an hour or so away. With having to be at the airport two hours early, plus the flying time, I estimated I would spend at least half or more of Sunday travelling to Virginia. Looking at Amtrak, I found that there was a station right here in Sandusky, just a few miles from the hotel. Better yet, the train to Richmond involved switching at Union Station in Washington, D.C. Not only did I book the train, but I booked a bedroom for the 13-hour trip. The price was comparable to a night in a hotel, and breakfast and lunch are included. And going this way, I am able to spend one night in D.C. and go to the National Archives to research for the day on Monday before heading out to Richmond. Explore different options for you. You may be surprised at how easy it is to add a bit more adventure to your travels.


How Often Do You Cite Your Sources?

03 May 2014

We asked and you answered. Last newsletter we asked how often do you cite your sources?

Cite Your Sources

Last week’s question touched on a very important step in our genealogy research process – citing your sources. It’s wonderful that 48% of you are citing your sources every single time. To find out why citing your sources is so important, check out Chief Genealogist Michael J. Leclerc’s article entitled: Three Reasons Everyone Needs to Cite Their Sources. In his article, he acknowledges that many of people often say they are “only doing it for family” or they “aren’t going to publish their research.” However, it is important for people to cite their resources for so many reasons. Read his article to find out more!

Need an easy way to organize and cite your sources? Download this simple research log to ensure you cite all the appropriate information about each record and ancestor you research.

And also don’t forget to take this week’s poll: How far to you plan on traveling for your genealogy research this summer?

How far do you plan on traveling for your genealogy research this summer?

03 May 2014