Genealogy Blog

We Asked and You Answered!

28 Jun 2014

Last week we asked which genealogy websites you used. Here are the poll results!




Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, June 27, 2014

27 Jun 2014

This week’s roundup of stories starts with the Legal Genealogist’s tale of a soldier scholar followed by a piece by Randy Seaver about WikiTree’s new DNA service. We then find a story about billionth image at FamilySearch, current world leaders’ family ties to World War I, and singer Demi Lovato’s grandfather.

We start with a story from Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist. We sometimes forget that even acts of the United States Congress can mention individuals by name. She found a 1912 act that allowed José Pasos Diaz of Nicaragua to attend West Point. Why was a foreigner going the U.S. Military Academy? And was he the only one? Find out more in Alien Admission.

WikiTree does not do DNA testing, but in recognition of the significant roll it is playing in some aspects of genealogy, the team there as developed a new product. The DNA Ancestor Confirmation Aid will help  users with even distant ancestral connections collaborate. Randy Seaver tested it and writes about his experience using it in WikiTree DNA Confirmation Aid Results.


FamilySearch Spiders


This month FamilySearch announced reaching the milestone of one billion images of records from around the world. Deseret News ran an interesting story this week about some of the records that have recently been added. Included in this is the story of the spider in the Catholic church records from Oaxaca, Mexico. Find out more about the spider in Ancestors, Actors, and Arachnids: Interesting Things in 1 Billion Historic Images.

World leaders will gather this week in Belgium to memorialize the start of World War 1 a century ago. Although it may seem like a long time ago, this is a war that saw the participation of many relatives of these leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister David Cameron. grandfathers, great-grandfathers, uncles, great-uncles, and more were all actively involved in the war. Some survived, and many did not. Read more in the Washington Post in Obama, Putin, Merkel: WWI is Family History.

Finally, we conclude with another family story. Singer Demi Lovato spoke openly about her grandfather for the first time this week on a television show honoring trailblazers in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community. He was a brave man, who told his family he was gay in the 1960s, a time where many lived in silence. It is by sharing stories like Demi’s that we can honor our GLBT ancestors. Read more in the Huffington Post in Demi Lovato Opens Up About Her Gay Family History.

Free Resource For Canadian Research: Héritage

26 Jun 2014 was established in 1978 as the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions. In 2005, they merged with  the Canadian Initiative for Digital Libraries and in 2008 with Alouette Canada to create The goal is to “create, disseminate, preserve, and sustain the knowledge base, scientific and cultural, of Canadian memory organizations in digital form to benefit all Canadians.”

Partnering with the Canadian Research Knowledge Network and Library and Archives Canada, one of their major projects is Héritage. This project is a “10-year initiative to digitize and make accessible online some of Canada’s most popular archival collections encompassing roughly 60 million pages of primary-source documents. Chronicling the country and its people from the 1600s to the mid-1900s, this collection represents a vast and unique resource for Canadian historians, students, and genealogists.”




In addition to genealogically significant materials, digitized collections include materials on aboriginal and military history, government documents, and landmark papers from individuals and organizations.

One of the major projects is to digitize existing microfilm. Among the materials already online:

  • Index to Passenger Lists, 1900–1908
  • Placide Gaudet Papers
  • Parish Registers for Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec
  • Notifications of Changes in the Names of Persons in Ontario
  • Manitoba and Red River Census Returns
  • Lower Canada Declaration of Aliens
  • Homestead Grant Registers

The viewer for the microfilm images is simple and very easy to navigate. It loads images quickly for viewing. You can zoom in and out and rotate images, and quickly move between images through a dropdown box. Unfortunately, at the moment, you cannot save images to your computer. But the good news is that using the site is completely free. Unfortunately, this means that there is a lot of advertising on the site, although it is not as intrusive as it could be.

The groups are working on a complete catalogue of materials that will be available through the Héritage collection. More than 35,000 microfilms from more than 800 titles will be available in the complete collection. Just under 20,000 films from 505 titles are in the catalogue to date. Of the estimated 60 million pages in the entire collection, slightly more than half are described in the catalogue, and a full 25% (15 million) are already available online.

If you have Canadian ancestors, you must check out the Héritage website. It is already full of valuable information, and will only get better over time.

5 Tips for Working With the U.S. Census

25 Jun 2014


Census records are one of the basic resources for genealogy. They can get you started on the road to finding your ancestors. Unfortunately, we often don’t get everything out of these records that we can. Here are five tips to help you get the most success from your work with these records.

1. Use All of the Information

We are eager to look at census records because they give us information about our family. They tell us where the family was living at a certain time, and how many people are living in the family. But we neglect to examine the details. For example, the 1820 census asks the number of people involved in agriculture, commerce, and manufactures. Finding a listing that shows individuals in multiple columns can spur additional research. Are there adult children working elsewhere? Is the head of house a farmer who also operates a mill on his property? These are very valuable clues that often go overlooked.

2. Use the Nonpopulation Schedules

When we discuss the census, we are usually referring to the population schedules. But in many years, these were not the only schedules that were filled out. You may also discover schedules that discuss:

  • agriculture
  • business
  • manufacturing
  • mortality
  • social statistics

Unfortunately, not all of the nonpopulation schedules have survived. Agriculture schedules for 1900 and 1910, for example, were destroyed by Congressional order.

Copies of many of these special censuses survive in public and private repositories on the state level. Not all of them have been microfilmed, and are not easily available online. Visit the National Archives for more information about the Nonpopulation schedules.

3. Read the Headings Carefully

This is a pitfall that is very easy to fall into. We think we know what something says, but we aren’t quite right in our interpretation. Most commonly, we read into things, and thus misinterpret the information. For example, questions 22 and 23 in the 1900 U.S. census ask if the person can read and can write. It does not ask if they can read or write English. Question 24 asks if they can speak English. But it is possible that one can read and write without speaking English. It is also possible to be able to speak English, while only being able to read and write in another language. Read the questions multiple times, and be certain you are not assuming or reading into them.

4. Read the Enumerator Directions

Knowing the questions is important, but equally important is to understand what the answers were supposed to be. Enumerators were directed to record people in specific ways. They were also directed to include or not include individuals based on very specific requirements. For example, the enumerator instructions for 1920 direct that U.S. citizens who are abroad temporarily were to be enumerated. The length of absence was immaterial, what mattered was that the person intended to return home eventually to live. Aliens who had left the country were not to be enumerated. Understanding these directions can help you determine why family members may (or may not) be included in a particular census. You can find the instructions at the Census Bureau website.

5. Use Census Bureau Resources

The U.S. Census Bureau provides a lot of resources that are helpful for genealogists. In addition to the history of each census, you can discover the history of the bureau itself, blank forms for each census, lists of questions asked, enumerator instructions, maps, legislation about the census, and more. Visit to take advantage of these materials.

Census History

24 Jun 2014

Census Bureau History


During Colonial times a number of censuses were taken, but they were small and local. It was not until the U.S. Constitution that the first large-scale census was taken. Article 1, Section 2, sets up the House of Representatives and reads in part:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifts of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. “

This was the foundation of our current census system. The United States was the first country to require a regular enumeration of inhabitants. The Constitution went into effect in June 1788 when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify it. The first Congress met from March 4, 1789 to March 4, 1791, and the enumeration began in August 1790. This first census had only five questions:

  1. Free White males of 16 years and upwards
  2. Free White males under 16 years
  3. Free White females
  4. All other free persons
  5. Slaves

As Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson was responsible for overseeing the taking of this first census. Enumerators had to provide their own paper, a tradition that would remain until 1830 when the first printed forms were finally provided. The total population in 1790 was 3,929,214 and cost $44,377.28.

By the 1940 census (the last publicly available census at the present time), the population had increased to 132,164,569, almost thirty-four times higher. The cost, however was more than fifteen hundred times higher: increasing to $67,527,000.

The population schedules included thirty-four questions. Two people (who randomly appeared on lines 14 and 29 of the schedule) were asked an additional sixteen questions. This was the largest number of questions of any publicly available census to date. It was not until the census of 2000 that more questions were asked (53 were asked that year). Censuses are released to the public seventy-two years after the enumeration. The 1950 census will not be released to the public until 2022.

Mocavo is pleased to have the census indexes for the 1790 through 1940 censuses available to the public for searching, part of our free forever campaign. For more information about the census, visit the Census Bureau’s website. You can search the entire set of census indexes for free on Mocavo.

A New Chapter for Mocavo

23 Jun 2014

Today is an exciting day for genealogists everywhere as we’re announcing that Mocavo has been acquired by Findmypast/DC Thomson Family History. This is a groundbreaking development for the industry and a major turning point in Mocavo’s quest to bring all the world’s historical information online for free. The wonderful folks at DC Thomson Family History share our vision of the future of family history, and we couldn’t be more excited to join them.

For the past few years, the Mocavo team and I have dedicated ourselves to bringing innovation and competition to an industry that is sorely lacking in both. From the very beginning of Mocavo’s history, we had this burning desire to figure out how to organize all of the historical information disparately spread across the Web. Not long ago, even with a hard-working and incredibly talented team, our service wasn’t resonating with users and our business wasn’t working. In October of last year, we decided to do something audacious and bold – something never before tried in the industry. We launched our Free Forever revolution and this became the day when Mocavo’s soul was born. Everything turned around once we put a stake in the ground and stood for free genealogy (and now Mocavo is growing rapidly, putting more than 1,000 free databases online every single day and more users discovering us than ever). We have our loyal and supportive users to thank more than anyone!

One of the immediate benefits of the acquisition is that we’re putting the complete US Census index online for free (forever!), making us the first commercial provider in history to ever do this. Search the United States Federal Census Now.

The next few months are going to be incredibly exciting as we bring together two companies with enormous resources, content, and technology to bring you more of what you love. Nothing on either site will be going away – just getting better (and quickly!).

Lastly, we could not have done this without the support of our loyal community members. We appreciate your dedication and patience, and we look forward to helping you discover even more of your family’s story.

Mocavo Acquired By Findmypast: A New Chapter Begins

23 Jun 2014

 London, UK, 23 June 2014. Findmypast, the leading British family history company, announced today that it has acquired Mocavo, the fastest growing genealogy company in the US.

Findmypast, the leading brand in the DC Thomson Family History portfolio, has been at the forefront of the British family history market for over a decade. It has an established collection of 1.8 billion historical records and an extensive network of partners including the British Library, the Imperial War Museum, the Allen County Public Library and Family Search.

Founded by Cliff Shaw in 2011, Mocavo is a technological innovator in the genealogy industry. Its highly sophisticated search engine brings together, in one place, a diverse range of sources, such as family history record indexes, school and college yearbooks, church records and biographies, which help millions of family history enthusiasts to fill in blanks in their family trees and add colour to their family stories.

This acquisition, coupled with the recent tender win of the 1939 Register for England and Wales and the purchase of, forms an important part of the growth strategy set out by Annelies van den Belt, CEO of Findmypast, and her new team.

Together Findmypast and Mocavo will create one of the fastest growing global genealogy businesses. The two companies will provide customers with easier access and more relevant information to help add colour and depth to family history.

Additionally, they both remain committed to delivering on Mocavo’s promise to provide free access to family history records on an individual database level forever. Toward that commitment, Findmypast is announcing today that the full indexes to the US Census from 1790 to 1940 are available for free at

Mocavo will become a fully-owned subsidiary of Findmypast. It joins the Findmypast family of brands including the British Newspaper Archive, Genes Reunited and Lives of the First World War.

Annelies van den Belt, CEO of Findmypast, said: “Findmypast’s strategy is about growth and the US market is key. Our purchase of Mocavo, combined with our existing US customer base, gives us an excellent platform for expansion in the world’s number one genealogy market. Together we can provide a dynamic family history experience that offers customers the opportunity to make a real connection with their family heritage.”

Cliff Shaw, founder and CEO of Mocavo, said: “We are thrilled to join forces with Findmypast and become a part of their family of leading brands. The combination of our companies will provide family history enthusiasts with unprecedented access to the stories of their ancestors. Expect Mocavo to grow stronger with Findmypast’s support and to continue to drive innovation in the family history category.”

Joshua Taylor, newly appointed Director of Family History, Findmypast, said: “Our heritage and rich record collections coupled with Mocavo’s sophisticated technology will make for a powerful combination enabling us to offer our customers even more ways to unlock the fascinating stories within their family history.”

News and Blog Posts for Genealogists, June 20, 2014

20 Jun 2014

Our weekly roundup of stories has some fascinating topics this week. We start with the top five questions about Irish genealogy, then move to the identification of a prolificly photographed mystery man, a new organization called GRANDMA, some wonderful resources via the Legal Genealogist, and an incredible map of the Mississippi.

We start with a piece from IrishCentral. They recently held a Q&A session on their Facebook page, and saw a huge number of inquiries. The team compiled a list of the five most commonly asked questions and answered them. Included in these questions are: Where do I start? Where in Ireland did my family come from? When did my family come to America? How do I get back further? and What does my surname mean? Get the answers in The Top Five Questions About Irish Genealogy.

Back in 2012 photo historian Donald Lokuta came across a set of silver gelatin prints, all thank in photo booths, and taken between the 1930s and the 1960s. He located collectors that had other images that matched his. Hundreds of photos were eventually uncovered. The joined collections were part of an exhibit at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University. This led to online coverage, which led to identification of the mystery man. Read about it on Gizmodo in The Mystery Man in Those 445 Photobooth Pics Has Finally Been Identified.

Dick Eastman reported this week on the creation of a new genealogy resource. The California Mennonite Historical Society has created a valuable database of more than a million individuals in eastern Europe. The new Genealogy Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry is called by the acronym GRANDMA. Read more from Dick in GRANDMA: the Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry.

The Legal Genealogist, Judy G. Russell, has given us a treasure trove this week. Between Monday and Thursday, she each day highlighted a different source of images that are free to use. Some of these images are quite amazing. And on Friday, she gave us a bonus post about how to do safer searches for images on Google and Bing. Read all five posts at The Legal Genealogist.

The Vault is the history blog published by Slate. Recently Rebecca Onion, who runs the blog, talked about a nineteenth-century map of the Mississippi River. By the 1860s the river was filled with steamboats. The original map is eleven feet long and was sold to tourists. The map is incredibly detailed, down to listing the names of landowners along the river. It starts in Minnesota, with the lakes and rivers that are the source of the great river, and traces it down to the head of the river at New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta. Read more and see the entire map in Scroll Down the Mid-19th-Century Mississippi River Using This Super-Long Map.

Mississippi River Map

I’ll Drink to That

18 Jun 2014

Alcohol has been part of the American experience from the very beginning. Christopher Columbus actually brought sherry with him on his voyages in the fifteenth century. When the Mayflower headed to the New World, she was loaded with more beer than water.

During the colonial period, alcohol was made from many things: carrots, tomatoes, onions, beets, celery, dandelions, and more. From earliest times there were laws to regulate the sale of spirits. New England was practically built on the triangle trade, which relied on their distillation of molasses into rum.

Colonists who lived in rural areas had access to relatively clean water. But in the more populated areas, especially the cities, the waterways were filthy. They were far more commonly used as sewers than a source of drinking water. The water they did drink was put in bottles and casks at cleaner sources and brought into the cities. And alcohol, also packaged in bottles and casks, was also readily available.

During the Revolutionary War, Americans were looking for a replacement for rum made from molasses brought in from other British colonies. This paved the way for the creation of bourbon. It did not take long for whiskey and bourbon to supersede rum as the beverage of choice.

By 1790 the per capita consumption of the equivalent of 90 proof alcohol was 3.5 gallons per year. By 1830 this had risen to 4 gallons. This was twice the level it is now (in 2007 the level was 2 gallons).

Remember that these numbers are per capita, which includes every man, woman, and child in America. In reality, while children consumed some (very watered down) alcohol, and women drank a share, the vast majority of this was consumed by men. That puts the consumption among those who actually did drink much, much higher.


Alcohol in Early American Republic


To find out more about America’s love affair with alcohol (and discover some very interesting facts), read Alcohol and Drinking in American Life and Culture from SUNY/Potsdam. You can also watch a C-SPAN video by history professor Alan Taylor at the University of California/Davis as he teaches his students about Alcohol Use in the Early American Republic.