Genealogy Blog

Hidden Ancestors and “Original” Records

25 Jun 2013

Last week I had the opportunity to talk to my young cousins about our family. Twin daughters of my mother’s youngest brother, they are only eighteen years old. They unfortunately never knew either of my grandparents, who had both died long before they were born. It was an interesting conversation, sharing stories about our grandmother, whom I still miss to this day.

One of the stories I was able to tell them was about Mémère’s family and her immigration to the United States from Canada. You see, my grandmother is my most recent immigrant to the U.S., and her great-grandfather is my earliest immigrant to the U.S. A very unusual occurance.

Marie Cea Yvette Ruel was born in the tiny town of St. Norbert in Arthabaska County, Quebec (today the town of Norbertville). She was a wonderful Christmas present for her parents, born on December 20, 1914.

She was the fifth of seven children of Joseph Ruel and Yvonne Durand. Their eldest child died at two weeks old. Joseph and Yvonne’s eldest five children were born at St. Norbert. They were both born their, as were their siblings. When I first started researching, I had a great deal of difficulty, however, finding the marriage records of Joseph’s parents, Ferdinand Ruel and Mary Célanire Ferland. I asked my grandmother’s sister, Mary, and her brother, Marcel, if they knew anything about their grandparents, but they were the youngest two children and didn’t remember much.


The Joseph Ruel Family: (front) Yvonne, Marcel, Joseph; (back) Mary, Renaud, Simonne, Roger, and Yvette (the author's grandmother). From the private collection of the author, used with permission.

The Joseph Ruel Family: (front) Yvonne, Marcel, Joseph; (back) Mary, Renaud, Simonne, Roger, and Yvette (the author’s grandmother). From the private collection of the author, used with permission.


Back in the late 1980s I did not have easy access to microfilm of the Quebec parish registers. I wrote to St. Norbert and asked for the baptismal records of my grandmother, her parents, and her siblings. I also asked for photocopies of the original records, if possible. I included a generous donation for the parish, and soon was rewarded with a thick envelope.

As I looked through the paper, I found the photocopy of my grandmother’s baptism from the original parish register. The page started with the end of another baptismal record. That record had the end of a marginal note that said “Célanire Ferland à Sanford, Maine” [Celanire Ferland at Sanford, Maine]. This was the first connection if had ever seen between the family and Maine. I quickly wrote back to the parish and asked for a copy of the other record, which turned out to be the baptism of my grandmother’s cousin. I was then able to piece together the story.

I turned to Maine and, lo and behold, there was the marriage record of Ferdinand and Célanire. It seems that Célanire’s parents, Seraphin Ferland and Marie Louis Camiré decided to leave Quebec in the 1870s. This was not unusual in this time period, as many farms were completely depleted and the economic prospects were far better in New England. They packed up the family and headed down to Lewiston, Maine. Ferdinand came down to Lewiston and married Célanire. He then brought her back home to St. Norbert, where they raised their family.

As a side note of caution: years later I went back to the microfilm of the parish register, and the marginal note is not there. The copy of the registers that was microfilmed was the one that was sent to the archives. If I hadn’t asked for a photocopy of the original from the parish, I might still be looking for my great-great-grandparents. Be wary when deciding that you have actually looked at the “original” record.

It took several years of researching to discover this tidbit, which finally opened up the entire Ruel and Ferland ancestries for me. When I told Aunt Mary about this, she said “Oh yes, we have cousins up in Maine.” So, my earliest immigrants to the U.S. came shortly after the Civil War, while my most recent immigrant, their grandson and his family (including my grandmother), arrived a half century later.

Drew Smith Appointed First Chair of FHISO

24 Jun 2013

Last January Mocavo became a founding member of the Family History Information Standards Organisation, Inc. (FHISO). The group was formed to address the need for global information standards in the field of genealogy. GEDCOM is based on old technology and has badly needed replacing for a long time.

The BetterGEDCOM idea was started in 2010 by a group of professionals after sharing genealogical information turned the data into a mangled mess. An ad hoc committee of members of BetterGEDCOM came together to form FHISO, which now sponsors the BetterGEDCOM wiki and it will become a part of their efforts moving forward.


Drew Smith


The first chair of the FHISO organisation has now been appointed. My good friend Drew Smith, currently an FHISO member representative from the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), will become chair on July 1. He is currently chair of the technology committee for FGS, and brings a wealth of experience to the position.

Drew holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering and a Master of Science in Industrial Management from Clemson University, and a Master of Arts in Library and Information Science from USF. He is an Assistant Librarian with the Academic Services unit of the University of South Florida (USF) Tampa Library, and serves as the liaison librarian to the USF School of Information. He has taught graduate-level courses in genealogical librarianship and indexing/abstracting, and undergraduate-level courses in web design. Drew earlier worked for academic computing departments at USF and at Clemson University (South Carolina).

The appointment of the first FHISO chair is significant. It marks the transition from the organisational phase to an active phase. FHISO has also issued a call for papers to start the process of moving forward with developing information standards for the field. The Mocavo team is looking forward to participating in this work, and I , personally, wish Drew great success in his new position. I have no doubt he will do well.

News Stories and Blog Posts for Genealogists, June 21, 2013

21 Jun 2013

Following are some recent news articles and blog posts about history and genealogy. I hope you find them as interesting and informative as I do.

Harold Henderson’s Midwestern Microhistory blog has a post that I think should be required reading for everyone. In “Good enough” citations? We can do better., Harold discusses a topic of immense importance, and almost equal controversy. There are those who think that only professionals need to use citations. Many of this comes from fear of the difficulty of creating them. Harold explains exactly why they are so important, and why not using them is not exactly the greatest idea.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz ran a heartbreaking story this past week. Tamara Berkowitz, 85, spent most of her life believing that her entire family was killed during the Holocaust. She was only 12 when she last saw her parents, who were killed by the Nazis. She never knew that she had dozens of relatives who survived, including her maternal grandparents who had for the U.S. in 1913. They, in turn, thought she had been lost. A genealogist recently traced the family and was able to locate a number of her first cousins still alive. Unfortunately none of them seems to be interested in meeting her. You can read more of this sad tale in The Lost Branch of the Family Tree, Found After the Holocaust.

Bertram Lyons is an archivist at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. He enjoys giving advice to individuals about preserving their own materials. This week he published the third article in a series in the New York Times, answering questions about preserving manuscripts and videos among other things. Get his advice in Tips on Archiving Family History, Part 3.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation was created in 1949. The trust works to educating the public about preservation. NTHP also maintains 28 historic sites throughout the country, such as Woodlawn Plantation in Virginia and the Glass House in Connecticut. Each year,  the Trust releases a list of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places. This year’s list was just released, and includes sites of interest to African-American, Puerto Ricans, and Chinese Americans among others.


US Name Meanings Map


This week’s entries end with a very interesting piece from Slate. Who knew that I lived in St. Heraldwolf’s Stone in the Land of the Little Big Hills? Or that one of my best friends hails from Adders Falls in the Southern Land of Friends? Cartographers Stephan Hormes and Silke Peust, that’s who! They have researched the meanings of cities, towns, states, and provinces across North America, from Canada down to northern Mexico, and have created a map that shows these names instead of the modern ones we are used to. Check it out on Slate in My Kind of Town, Stink Onions: The Literal Meanings of Places in the U.S., Mapped. FYI; I live in Boston, Massachusets; my friend Jeremy is from Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Stink Onions is the meaning of Chicago.

New York State Family History Conference Registration Deadline Approaching

20 Jun 2013

One of the parts of my work that I love is being able to travel, teaching people new ideas and trick for researching their family history. While it is a terrific feeling to help people find their ancestors by assisting them directly with their search, teaching them how to find things for themselves is even better, as they are no longer reliant on someone else to find information.

This September I will be joining two of my favorite groups, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, and the Central New York Genealogical Society for the first New York State Family History Conference. Mocavo is one of the participating sponsors of the conference, which will be held in Liverpool, New York, just outside of Syracuse, on September 20 and 21, 2013.


New York Family History Conference


This will be a very exciting educational opportunity for participants. In addition to myself, speakers include Laura Murphy Degrazia and Karen Mauer Green, co-editors of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record; Eric Grundset, director of the DAR Library in Washington; D. Joshua Taylor from FindMyPast; Paula Stuart-Warren; and librarians and archivists from the New York Public Library, New York State Archives, and New York State Library among others.

Each of the two days has ten presentations in two tracks. One track deals with methodology and resources specific to New York. The other track covers general methodology and resources, including working with technology. On Friday morning I will be speaking on how to use Mocavo to find your New York ancestors. There is a luncheon each day, as well as a dinner on Friday evening. I will be the Saturday luncheon speaker, discussing “Lessons for the Twenty-First Century Researcher.”

The early-bird registration discount deadline is quickly approaching. Those who register by July 1, 2013, will  get a discounted rate of $90 (for NYGBS and CNYGS members) or $115 (for all others). After that the price goes up to $115 and $140 respectively.

You can get general information about the conference, venue and hotel, etc., at You can read more about the program, and get registration information on the website. Space at the conference is limited, so register quickly before you get locked out.

Happy Juneteenth!

19 Jun 2013

Today is a holiday in the United States. And if you are an American and don’t know that, you either live in the 15% of the country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday, are lacking in your knowledge of American history, or both. Time to learn more about the Civil War.

On September 22, 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves in the states that were part of the Confederacy. The proclamation took place on January 1, 1863. As you would imagine, those states chose to ignore it.


Union General Gordon Granger from Wikipedia.

Union General Gordon Granger from Wikipedia.


Texas was particularly obstinate, and even after the surrender of the Confederate forces after the defeat of Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865. Two months later, on June 18, Union General Gordon Granger entered Galveston, taking charge of the state. The next day, June 19, he issued General Order Number 3, which said  that “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

Former slaves rejoiced in the streets, celebrating their newfound freedom. The following year, former slaves in Texas celebrated Juneteenth for the first time. Throughout the nineteenth century, the celebration spread among African-American communities. As they migrated, they brought their traditions with them and it spread throughout the country. During the early part of the twentieth century, as African-Americans moved northward and into large cities, it became more difficult to continue their celebrations, as the owners of the mills and factories where they were employed were reluctant to give them time off for the holiday. The Great Depression contributed to the decline. But, as the Civil Rights movement gained speed in the latter half of the century, Juneteenth returned to importance.

Juneteenth is celebrated in many different ways. Barbecues, prayer services, and speaking programs are among them. Many use the occasion to share their family history research or to start their own genealogical work.

Today 42 states observe Juneteenth. Only Arizona, Hawaii, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and South Dakota do not recognize the holiday. Some are now pushing for a national holiday endorsed by the federal government.

To learn more about Juneteenth, visit, which has a history and stories about the holiday. Another useful resource is the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.

History vs. Privacy: Can They Survive Together?

18 Jun 2013

I read a horrifying article in the New York Times yesterday that threatens the very idea of historical research, not to mention destroying genealogy as we know it. And if you think this is overly dramatic, guess again.


NY Times Privacy Initiative


The digital age has brought us an unprecedented age of communication. Official government websites provide access to original records. And commercial websites are also providing resources at an incredible rate. Social media websites allow us to keep in touch with each other. I have lost count of the number of people in my past that have come back into my life through Facebook and other websites. Not to mention the amount of genealogical research I have been able to do.

Now imagine a world where these resources were unavailable. Worse, still, imagine a world where the records don’t exist at all! The European Union is looking at legislation that could achieve just that.

Unfortunately, this age of communication has not come with a better sense of judgement. Many people put information out there that they are ashamed of. Certainly there is more than one photograph floating around that someone doesn’t want to see published. There are also those who are trying to put the past behind them by trying to wipe it off the face of the Earth. This ranges from people who make minor mistakes in high school to those who commit serious crimes as adults.

All of these people are working to erase themselves. They feel that they should have the option to remove themselves from the internet. This includes search engines, newspaper websites, social media, and more. It could even extend to government records.

The European Union is considering legislation that would grant to individuals a “right to be forgotten.” This would allow people to delete references to themselves online, whether they created the references or not. Major internet companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and more, are valiantly fighting this legislation. It is one thing to allow people to delete their own content, it is another thing entirely to allow people to delete content created by others.

The technology companies have now found an ally in l’Association des Archivistes Français (the Association of French Archivists).  The AAF argues that email, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media websites contain the “correspondence of the twenty-first century.” They rightly fear for future historians. “If we want to understand the society of today in the future, we have to keep certain traces.”

This fight will likely continue for awhile. And it will spill over to America and the rest of the world. This is a difficult challenge for us as genealogists. The best part of genealogy is being able to flesh out ancestors. Imagine being able to erase yourself from the record. Descendants might not even know you ever existed. Imagine how poor a place that future would be.

Three Tips for Getting Past Database Indexing Problems

15 Jun 2013



Online databases have been an incredible boon for genealogical research. We now have access to so much more information than previous generations of researchers. Unfortunately, not all databases are created equally. And no matter who creates them, the indexes are never perfect. There will always be misreadings, illegible entries, and typographical errors. These defects can wreak havoc with the search engine, however. It can be extremely frustrating to not be able to find people in databases where you know you person should appear. Here are three tips to help you overcome these problems.

1. Use Your Wildcards
Most websites with databases allow for you to use wildcards in the search engine. Common wildcards are an asterisk [*], which is often used to replace any number of characters, and a question mark [?], which is often used to replace a single letter. Unfortunately, while wildcards can be very helpful, they can also cause problems for you in your search.

The asterisk (or similar wildcard) can actually return too many results. This can overload the search engine and cause it to not return any information at all. In such instances, try to use more of the single-letter-replacement wildcards. This can help you continue to get wildcard results without overloading the system.

2. Ask a Friend to Help
Sometimes when I’m at my wits’ end trying to find someone will call a genealogy friend. Although their words of support and encouragement are wildly helpful in dispersing frustration, there are other ways my friends can be of assistance. I try to choose a friend who is not familiar with the name I am searching. I then ask them to spell the name for me. They will often come up with multiple variations, often ones that I have not yet thought of. In addition to generally trying out these variant spellings, using the individual-letter wildcard mentioned above, may give me different results than my own searches, and reveal the name.

3. Browse
Sometimes, no amount of searching will reveal the people you are seeking. In these instances, it is best to browse through the records. By searching through and reading entries individually it is possible that you will be able to see the names pop out. Databases with images are the best, because you are reading the originals, not someone’s interpretation of it. Some databases do not even allow for you to browse, which can make things more difficult. But if you can browse, you will have a valuable tool to help you get past the indexing problems.

Introducing Mocavo Fireside Chats for Plus Members

15 Jun 2013

Is your family history research starting to feel a bit dull? Liven up your genealogy research and join us for Mocavo Fireside Chats. Mocavo Plus members are invited to join our Chief Genealogist, Michael J. Leclerc, every other Wednesday for a live video chat.

Tune in to Mocavo Fireside Chats to uncover:
• Expert advice and helpful research tips and tricks
• Exclusive interviews with expert genealogists and researchers
• How to get the most of Mocavo and other genealogy resources

Discover a new way to approach your genealogy research every other Wednesday with Chief Genealogist Michael J. Leclerc, starting on Wednesday June 26th with our first Mocavo Fireside Chat!  More details will come to you in a separate email next week.

This week we would like to know which, if any, Mountain states you have an interest in?

15 Jun 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked which, if any, Mountain states you have any interest in. Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take the next poll and see how you compare with your fellow genealogists.


Poll Results: Mountain States

News Stories of Interest to Genealogists, June 14, 2013

14 Jun 2013

Following are some news stories of the last few weeks. I hope you find them interesting and informative.

The National Library of Wales is very supportive of genealogists. Among the materials available online is their entire collection of probate records A few weeks ago, the library suffered a devastating fire on their roof. Unfortunately, because it was a regular work day, a number of collections were upstairs being process. 140 crates of materials were damaged by smoke and water, and some were destroyed. Read more in the BBC’s National Library of Wales Identifies Fire-Damaged Archives.

Back in the Fall of 2010, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) announced a major initiative with the University of Virginia Press. NHPRC agreed to provide funding to create a new website that would provide access to the published papers of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. One hundred ninety-six volumes are almost ready, and will launch soon at

Fort Sheridan cemetery in Highland Park, Illinois, has burials dating back to the 1890s. U.S. Army officials are working to digitize the cemetery’s burial records as well as photographing all of the thousands of headstones in the cemetery. The database is slated to go live next year, along with a smartphone app to help visitors find individual graves. You can read about it in the Chicago Tribune in Army Prepares to Digitize Fort Sheridan Cemetery Records.


Americans Speak English Differently Maps


Genealogists know that Americans speak with many different accents. Professors Bert Vaux and Scott Golder conducted a study on how words are pronounced by Americans. Ph.D. student Joshua Katz took the results of their study and made some incredible graphic representations of these differences. You can see these in the Business Insider in 22 Maps That Show How Americans Speak English Totally Different From One Another.

Finally this week is an opinion piece in the Grand Island Independent in Nebraska. Editor Pete Lethelby wrote an opinion piece that discusses genealogy, and really explains it. Using examples from his own and his wife’s families, he explains that “Every family history has an abundance of tragic and triumphant stories, of wars, of sailing overseas, of settling a new country. They were composed by soldiers, builders, writers, doctors, entrepreneurs and pioneers.” and that “World, national and state history has been recorded in books and is taught to students of all ages. But it is the family histories, yours and mine, that puts a human face on our larger history.” Read the full piece in Genealogy Puts a Human Face on History.