Genealogy Blog

Consultations at RootsTech

30 Jan 2014

We are looking forward to joining our friends at the RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City next week. We are very excited to announce a new opportunity that will take place in the Mocavo booth (#617).

Have you ever had a brick wall that is simply a question about tips for researching a particular problem? Our bi-weekly Fireside Chats feature questions from Mocavo members each show that are answered by Chief Genealogist Michael J. Leclerc and his featured guest. Next week at RootsTech, we will be offering the opportunity for RootsTech attendees to ask their questions live.

Each day at RootsTech, from 11:30 A.M. to 12:30 P.M., Michael will be in the booth offering five-minute consultations on your genealogical questions. Consultations will be performed on a first come, first serve basis. The consultations will be video-recorded for future Fireside Chats. Please be prepared with a very brief summary of your problem when you arrive.

If you don’t have a chance to visit us in the RootsTech exhibit hall, remember you can always submit your questions to our bi-weekly Fireside Chat series. To submit a question, simply email us at or select “submit a question” at Fireside Chats happen every other week on Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. EST.

We are looking forward to seeing you next week in Salt Lake City. Come visit us in the exhibit hall!




What You Can Do to Save Net Neutrality

28 Jan 2014

Recently the genealogical community has been dealing with the repercussions of limits to the Social Security Death Index. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about something far more insidious and potentially lethal to the field. A federal court has declared that current Federal Communication Commission rules on net neutrality are not allowed under the law as it exists today.

These rules were set out by the FCC in 2010 to prevent internet service providers from manipulating access to websites. This court ruling will allow your service providers (such as Comcast, Time Warner, etc.) to charge you more to access websites. It will also allow them to prevent you from accessing websites, promoting some businesses over others.

That piece that I wrote, Imagine a World Without Cyndi’s List, FindAGrave, and NEHGS, has proven extremely popular. Michael John Neill wrote a potential future scenario in Slowing Down Until it Just Fades Away. He illustrates how this could impact genealogy, but this isn’t just about genealogy. This is about the entire internet, every website you use.


MJN Net Neutrality


Many of you have written to us asking what you can do to keep this from happening. There are a couple of steps you can take to stop this travesty.

First, contact the FCC. You can send them a letter via USPS to

Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington , DC 20554

In addition, if you visit the contact section of the FCC website, you will see additional information. The FCC is run by five commissioners: Chair Thom Wheeler, Mignon Clyburn, Jessica Rosenworcel, Ajit Pai, and Michael O’Reilly. The email addresses for each of these individuals is available on the website, as well as telephone number for the FCC.

Another thing you can do is to contact your elected representatives. The big internet companies have been hoping for this to happen. One way to keep it from happening is to have laws enacted to stop it. The highest priority is to contact your U.S. Senator and Representative. But don’t stop there, send messages to your governor, and your state legislators as well., the official web portal for the U.S. government, has links to help you contact all of these individuals.

Tell them that you believe in Net Neutrality. Tell them that internet service providers are essential services whose access needs to be guaranteed for all Americans just as telephone companies and cable providers are regulated, to make sure that everyone has access. Ask them to be certain that laws are enacted to make this happen.

Copyright and the Oral Interview

25 Jan 2014

One of the great genealogy tools has always been interviews with individuals. In times past these interviews were done on paper; either by an in-person interview with the interviewer recording responses, or by correspondence with the subject penning his responses.


Once recorders became widespread for consumers in the mid-twentieth century, oral interviews became very common. Armed with tape recorders, genealogists set out to record the stories of family members in their own stories before they were lost forever.

With the coming of consumer video recorders  in the 1980s, interviews took on a different angle. Now we could easily record their faces while they were being taped. This vastly increased prep time, as people were now concerned with their appearance.

The technology era has made recording and sharing such interviews even easier. Cameras and video recorders in our phones make it very simple and easy to create interviews with our family members.

The important thing is to ask every subject to sign a form giving you permission to use the recording any way you like. If you do not do that, you are very limited as to what you can do. You can use it for your own purposes, but sharing it, putting it online, or selling it in any way would not be allowed.

The agreement need not be extraordinarily complex. You must give the. Interview subject something in exchange for their agreement. This is called consideration. The consideration can be anything. It can be as simple as $1 or “love and affection.” Or it could be a larger financial amount. The exact form of the consideration does not need to be enumerated in the agreement.

Be certain that the agreement gives you all the rights you need to do whatever you wish with the recording. Most people will be fine with this. Some may require that you submit the final format to them for approval. Others may require you wait until after their death to release it.

Get a lawyer’s assistance to create a general document that you can use over and over again. If you have already conducted interviews without a signed document, go back and ask the subjects to sign a copyright agreement.

If the subjects of past interviews are deceased, your safest bet is to have their heirs sign the agreement. All of the the heirs. Because the interview subjects’ words are copyrightable, you must get permission to use them.

Where in the UKI (United Kingdom and Ireland) are your ancestors from?

25 Jan 2014

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked where in the UKI (United Kingdom and Ireland) are your ancestors from. More than 50% of our members have UKI ancestors from England and Scotland. Those researching their roots in Britain are often surprised at the large number of resources available to them. And more and more resources are being made available online each and every week. Over the last couple of months, a number of announcements have been made about resources that are very exciting. If you are interested in learning more about your British ancestry, then be sure to check out Chief Genealogist Michael J. Leclerc’s post: “The British Are Coming! New Resources for UK Research

Researching nineteenth- and twentieth-century immigrant ancestors can be tricky. Resources and records can be different than other types of research. And the most important thing is doing all you can to identify exactly where the ancestors came from, as most records in Europe are local and decentralized. If you are interested in tips for how to find your ancestors in immigration records, don’t miss: “5 Tips to Solve your Immigration Puzzles“.

Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take our next poll: “Have you used your genealogical research to help with family health issues?


Genealogy Opens New World for Rare Disease Sufferers

23 Jan 2014

Imagine that you are a professor of medicine at a distinguished university with a long career in the field.  Now imagine that one day you are struck with illness that progresses “mercilessly from excruciating to torture” over the course of several years. What do you do next? You strike out on a rare path and fall into a world of genealogy that will make medical history. This is the story of Dr. Janine Jagger.

Dr. Jagger’s journey started three years ago. She started having severe symptoms of abdominal pain and fever. These attacks were ceaseless, and she consulted with her doctor. Over the course of time, she submitted to all manner of diagnostic tests, yet all came back negative. She was desperate.

At the end of her rope, she documented her own case history and sent it to physician colleagues and friends around the world, desperately hoping for an answer. One of her colleagues suggested that a rare disease had not been ruled out. Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF) is so rare that he had never even seen a case in his very long career.

FMF is a genetic inflammatory disorder. Some of the symptoms matched and some did not. The disease occurs in families of Middle Eastern ancestry, such as Turks, Armenians, Jews, and Arabs. The disease is also potentially lethal. Her doctor thought it was worth pursuing.

There is no cure for the disease, but there is a treatment.  A drug called colchicine made of autumn crocus. Although there is no test for FMF, the drug only works on that disease. Alleviating symptoms by taking the drug is considered a diagnosis. She started taking the drug — and it worked.

This opened up a major mystery. How in the world did she get this disease? Scientists have identified the origins of the disease in the Middle East about 500 BCE. Over two and a half millennia, people had scattered across the globe. DNA studies have revealed about 60 mutations as markers for the disease, but many, like Dr. Jagger, did not have any of them. She turned to her family history.

She started with the most well-documented ancestor: a great-grandfather named William Smith Young. Born on Long Island in 1829, Young was a steamboat captain ferrying passengers from Massachusetts to New Jersey through the Long Island sound. Newspaper accounts of an accident his ship was involved in provided key evidence: that he was ill from symptoms that matched FMF.


Advertisement for steamship Narragansett, Capt. Young's ship involved in an accident in 1880 that helped solve the mystery.

Advertisement for steamship Narragansett, Capt. Young’s ship involved in an accident in 1880 that helped solve the mystery.


She immediately started tracing other descendants of the captain and found 25 cousins suffering all manner of similar ailments, including one other woman who became diagnosed with the disease as a result of Dr. Jagger’s communication with her.

Genealogical research shows that the disease was possibly carried here by the earliest settlers of Long Island, from whom Captain Young descended. More research is necessary, but the hunt is on. More and more descendants are now finding relief from the long suffering the disease has brought on. And genealogical research is the key. I would like to thank my friend Barbara Matthews for bringing this story to my attention. You can read more about Dr. Jagger’s fascinating journey in the Huffington Post in All I Want for Ramadan is My Own Mutation.

Another Myth Perpetrator: Jefferson Fish and the Fallacy of Name Changes

22 Jan 2014

Yesterday I gave you some tips for researching nineteenth- and twentieth-century immigrants. I rarely write about the same issue two days in a row, but today brought something that I just cannot ignore.

Elizabeth Shown Mills posted an interesting article on her Facebook page today.  The article was published a couple of years ago in Psychology Today by Jefferson M. Fish, Ph.D. Dr. Fish is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at St. John’s University in New York City. He has published more than a dozen books dealing with race, culture, therapy, and drug policy among other subjects.

Back in 2011 he published a multi-part series in Psychology Today on names. The five articles dealt with:

Dr. Fish covers some interesting subjects. He addresses the many ways in which names create preconceptions for us. Just because someone is named Cohen, for example, he or she is not necessarily Jewish. Another problem he discusses is the issue of first names that produce gender ambiguity. As genealogists, we are, or course, quite used to this.

Unfortunately, Dr. Fish shows a lack of knowledge and research in the second part of the series, which deals with last names.  Partway through, he states: “Individuals do exist who haven’t changed their names, whose immigrant ancestors didn’t have their surnames changed for them at Ellis Island, and both of whose parents share the cultural ancestry suggested by the surnames.”

In this one statement, Dr. Fish serves to promote a tremendous fallacy. It is the biggest myth in American history that people’s surnames were changed at Ellis Island. This never happened. Ever. There is not a single documented case of anyone getting a name change upon entry.


Ellis Island


Passenger manifests were created when people were getting on board the ship. Upon their arrival, immigrants were processed at Ellis Island by a massive group of professional staff who spoke a multitude of foreign languages.

The reality is that names were changed AFTER the immigrants’ arrival. The reasons for changing one’s name were many and varied. Many wanted to sound more American. This was especially true in the first half of the twentieth century. With Germany as the enemy in World Wars I and II, many families with Germanic surnames changed to avoid the prejudice against them. Family with complicated names that were difficult to spell may have changed their name simply because they were tired of correcting people. And the English-speaking recordkeepers in America did not really care about how immigrants spelled their names, accounting for many varied spellings in the surviving records.

It is not just that individuals do exist whose immigrant ancestors didn’t have their surnames changed for them at Ellis Island. Every person whose ancestors arrived at that port has a name that was not changed there, whether it was changed later or not. Dr. Fish would have been better served had he done any investigative work among those who are the experts on names: genealogists. It certainly would help put more confidence in the rest of his work.

5 Tips to Solve Your Immigration Puzzles

21 Jan 2014


Researching nineteenth- and twentieth-century immigrant ancestors can be tricky. Immigration resources and records can be different than other types of research. And the most important thing is doing all you can to identify exactly where the ancestors came from, as most records in Europe are local and decentralized. Here are some tips for researching these ancestors.

1. Local and Church Histories

Many immigrants settled in places where family and friends had already settled. This was the case even in large cities like New York. A city block might be inhabited by numerous families from the same (or nearby) location in Europe, some related (even distantly) to each other. In addition, ethnic churches may hold clues for the origins of an immigrant family. For example, the French would go to one church, Italians to another, Irish to another, etc. Even though the churches might all be Catholic, the exact information included in the records may differ from church to church. Research the histories of these areas and churches to determine if  there were a large number of immigrants from a specific location.

2. Social Organizations

Many immigrant groups founded social and mutual aid societies. Check the location where your ancestors lived to see what organizations were around that served your immigrant group. Then contact them to see what records they may have. Many of them may include information on exactly where your ancestors came from. Masons, for example, often recorded what lodge a transferred member came from. Even if you have to trace back through several lodges, you may eventually get back to his home village.

3. Derivative Citizenship

Many people have trouble locating naturalization records for there family. Often, it is derivative citizenship that is the culprit. This is a special kind of citizenship. When an immigrant male naturalized, his wife and minor children would also become naturalized. This is known as derivative citizenship; it is derived from someone else’s naturalization.

4. Voter Registration Records

One of the requirements for voting in the U.S. is that you be a citizen. When registering to vote, one had to produce evidence of one’s citizenship. For most people this is a birth certificate proving one was born here. For naturalized citizens, however, one had to produce evidence of naturalization. The date, place, and court of naturalization are usually recorded. This is especially helpful for those with derivative citizenship, as that information will be for their father or husband.

5. Ports of Arrival

Often we think that ancestors who came from Asia went to Pacific ports, and those who came from Europe entered in Atlantic ports. This is not always the case. Be prepared that your ancestor may have arrived far away from a port where you might think they would arrive, or even where they eventually settled. Many even arrived in North America by going into Canada before eventually going to the U.S. I have a friend whose grandfather went left Slovakia to arrive in British Columbia, entering the U.S. in Montana, spending a few years there with cousins, before moving to New Hampshire. Not necessarily the first migration route that comes to mind is it? It is important to keep an open mind when looking for your family.

Document Your Family History

20 Jan 2014

By Michael J. Leclerc

Today we celebrate and honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., We here in Boston have a special affiliation with him, as he spent five years here at the Boston University School of Theology. It was here that he met a beautiful young student at the New England Conservatory of Music named Coretta Scott. Martin Luther King, Jr., lead a movement whose greatest result is a legacy of nonviolent change. He is a perfect example of how one voice can change the world. I would like to share with you some of his quotes that speak to me.

Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1964, from WikiMedia Commons.

Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1964, from WikiMedia Commons.


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”


Perhaps the three that I find most pertinent however, are the following:


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

To our good fortune, many entities feverishly documented the powerful words of Martin Luther King Jr. throughout his inspirational journey. It is partially because of this documentation that his story will live on and his words will continue to inspire future generations.

Today, as we commemorate the courageous words of Martin Luther King Jr., we must also remember our own family members who sought justice throughout their lives. Although their stories may have gone undocumented, many of us know of family members who had the courage to fight for a better life for future generations. Unfortunately, as time passes, many of these inspirational stories remain untold and are left to pass with those who carry them.

So here is my challenge to you. It is our responsibility, as family history researchers, to document the words of our families, past and present. Do not let these stories go untold; take the time to talk to your family members and record their stories, so their words can continue to inspire your family for many generations to come.


Open Access to Global Search Until Sunday at Midnight

17 Jan 2014

In October 2013, we announced our Free Forever Revolution and made a commitment to launch 1,000 new databases every day. And we’ve kept that promise every single day since. There are now more than 212,000 databases on Mocavo – more than any other genealogy service – and in fact, more than 80% of what’s available on Mocavo isn’t available anywhere else.

We’ve received a ton of amazing feedback and to thank you for all the support, we want to do a couple special things for the Mocavo community.

Instead of just the 1,000 databases we’ve promised, today we’re launching more than 10,000 new databases online for free.

Browse all new databases now

We’re also opening up Global Search to all of our Mocavo Basic members until midnight on Sunday!

All of our content is available for free, but to search it all at the same time using Global Search we normally ask you to upgrade to Mocavo Gold. This weekend, as another way to say “Thank You”, Global Search is available to everyone. Now is the time to find your family!

Try a few searches on Mocavo today

Jessica Lanan Watercolor

Win a Professional Illustration of a Family Photograph

As you browse the millions of records on Mocavo, it’s hard not to notice the beautiful artwork that graces our pages. Last year, I came across the whimsical work of professional illustrator, Jessica Lanan. Her enchanting watercolors breathe life and beauty into the stories of our ancestors. Blending the past and present, Jessica transforms historical moments into elaborate works of art that captivate the Mocavo Community.

Jessica Lanan Family Photo

In honor of your support of our Free Forever mission, we would like to share Jessica’s talents with the Mocavo community by offering to bring your family story to life in a watercolor illustration. Perform a search on Mocavo this weekend and you will be automatically entered to win an original painting of a family photograph by our professional illustrator, Jessica Lanan. Our winner will be notified by email by Wednesday, January 22.

Start Searching Now

We hope you have a wonderful weekend full of discoveries.

Blogs Posts and News Stories for Genealogists January 17, 2014

17 Jan 2014

Welcome to this week’s roundup of news stories and blog posts for genealogists. This week’s crop moves from Google Earth for genealogy to family history writing tips from the Library of Congress to the importance of taking time to preserve the important part of your family history. I hope you find them as interesting and informative as I do.

Eric Stitt had an interesting post this week on his Genealogy through Google Earth blog. H is using placemarkers on Google Earth to mark the final resting place of all of his family members. He has special cemetery project going with placemarkers for the cemeteries he has visited, and keeps a list of those he wants to visit. Find out more about his cemetery project in Placemarkers . . . Cemeteries.

Video gamers will be very excited about an upcoming game for Playstation that has a genealogy component. Over My Dead Body 2 will now have an interesting twist: characters can only live for two years. Over time you will be dealing with generations of the family. Find out more about this interesting upcoming game in Over My Dead Body 2 Offers Detailed Genealogy Features for Players.

James Sweany is head of Local History and Genealogy in the Humanities and Social Sciences Division of the Library of Congress. This week he had a guest post in the Library of Congress Blog. He provides advice on how to write genealogy, and also encourages you to send a copy to LOC to ensure it is preserved. Find out more in Write Your Family History — And Send it to the Library of Congress!


LOC Family History


Wine is many things to many people. Dave McIntyre told an interesting story this week in the Washington Post: “Wine is bottled memory. Each vintage tells a tale of a hot summer or rainy fall, an anniversary or romantic vacation. Sometimes it’s not the year but the winery that provides the memory: of a long-ago visit and conversation with the winemaker, perhaps. Or, in Tom Natan’s case, of the French Resistance heroine who helped his father’s family escape the Nazis.” Read more of the story in A French Wine Evokes Family Ties.

Finally this week comes a very important story from Pat Mulso in the Albert Lea Tribune in Minnesota. Pat writes of the memories of the death of a father, and the bravery of a mother’s reaction. But the important advice is this: “Does your family know how you feel about them, about life or stories of your childhood? Don’t put off telling those you love how you feel or what is important to you. If you can’t say it, then write it down, but somehow preserve the thoughts and make it possible for those after you to know you. Traditions will bring warm memories for a lifetime.” Read the full story in Take Time to Preserve Your Family History.