Genealogy Blog

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.

A Question of Geography

17 Jun 2014

Two-hundred thirty-nine years ago today, one of the pre-eminent battles in American history took place. And one of the biggest misnomers in American history started.


Bunker HIll Monument


In June 1775, Boston was held by British troops. At that time, Boston was on a peninsula, with only a small neck of land connecting it to the mainland at Roxbury. The neck was fortified for defense from the very beginning.  In 1774, General Gage created heavier fortifications and added a ditch that filled with water at high tide, effectively turning Boston into an island.

Hills in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Charlestown overlooked Boston. By June 1775, British officers were about to send troops to these hills for additional protection. On June 13 colonial leaders learned of the plans and created a defense plan.

The village of Charlestown was located on another peninsula, which protruded into Boston Harbor on the north side of Boston. On the night of June 16, 1,200 troops under the command of William Prescott crept into Charlestown to fortify Bunker Hill, overlooking Boston.

Once the initial work started on Bunker Hill, Prescott and other officers, including engineer Richard Gridley decided that it made more sense to locate the fortifications on nearby Breed’s Hill. Breed’s Hill was closer to Boston than Bunker Hill. They built a large redoubt there during the night.

Their work was noticed by the British just before dawn. General Clinton urged an early attack via Charlestown Neck that would allow them to starve out the Colonials and cut off their avenue of retreat. But the remaining generals, including Burgoyne, Gage, and Howe were determined that the Colonials were no match for British regulars, and that a direct attack would be quick and easy.

The British assault started at 3 p.m. By 5 p.m., the colonists had retreated across the neck, and the British controlled the hill. But the victory was Pyrrhic at best. The retreat was orderly and in control, not a wild flight by the Colonials. In fact, Colonial forces ensured that the British could not surround them, allowing fleeing forces to escape.

That day, 2,400 Colonial forces met more than 3,000 British regulars. The Colonials suffered losses of 115 killed, 305 wounded, and 30 captures (20 of whom later died). British forces, however, were decimated. Among the 226 killed were 19 officers. And 828 were wounded, including 62 officers. Colonials casualties were only 19%, while more than a third of British troops were killed or injured, including a large number of officers. Even though they lost that day, overall victory went to the Colonials. The fact that they inflicted far more damage than they themselves suffered galvanized the colonies and gave them confidence that the British forces were not infallible.

But forevermore that battle would be known as the Battle of Bunker Hill. On the fiftieth anniversary of the battle, in 1825, the Marquis de Lafayette laid the cornerstone for a monument to the battle. Geographically, however,  the Bunker Hill Monument even today stands on Breed’s Hill, perpetuating one of the greatest misnomers in American history.

What Happens When the DNA Lies?

14 Jun 2014

DNA Helix


DNA has become very important to genealogical research. We use it to determine new leads for brick walls, to identify cousins, to identify the maiden names of women, to identify “non-paternal events,” and more. All of this evidence is predicated on the fact that, aside from identical twins, every person’s DNA is unique, and that Y-DNA and mtDNA are passed from parent to child. But what if there is more to the story? What if there are other possibilities? What if there are problems with the DNA that provide false results?

Lydia Fairchild was 26 years old, living in Washington state. She was unemployed, and applied for public aid. In order to prevent fraud, the state of Washington requires all applicants and their families to submit to a DNA test. Shortly after taking the test, Lydia was summoned to the Department of Social Services.

The DNA test showed that while the children were related to each other, and her boyfriend was proven to be the father, she had no genetic connection to the children. Not only was she denied assistance, but she was now liable to charges of welfare fraud, and having her children taken away from her.

Despite the plethora of evidence to show her pregnancy and birth certificates for the children, DSS didn’t care. She even had her gynecologist testify on her behalf. None of it was accepted, as DNA was considered infallible.  Another round of DNA tests was ordered using different labs. The results were the same: she was not genetically related to her children.

She didn’t know at the time, but across the country, here in Boston, Karen Keegan was in need of a kidney transplant. Her family members had blood tests to see if they could donate a kidney. Her doctor called her and told her that her DNA did not match that of her children. DNA samples were taken from all over her body, and finally they were on the road to solving the mystery.

Occasionally things happen to fetuses in a mother’s womb. Sometimes two eggs are fertilized, which usually results in twins. But on rare occasions the eggs fuse together to create a single fetus. But that fetus carries two distinct genetic codes: one from each egg.

Because of Keegan’s story in the New England Journal of Medicine, Fairchild did not lose her children. But what about the descendants? Will this someday create problems for genetic testing? What happens if the DNA tests show no or more distant relationship?

The stories of Fairchild and Keegan were told in a recent story on ABC News (She’s Her Own Twin), but it does not mention what kind of DNA testing was performed. The NEJOM article goes into great deal about the testing, but quite frankly I don’t know enough about DNA testing to understand it, but you can read it in Disputed Maternity Leading to Identification of Tetragametic Chimerism. It certainly raises some questions about DNA testing for genealogical purposes.

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!




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.