Genealogy Blog

Imagine a World Without Cyndi’s List, FindAGrave & NEHGS

16 Jan 2014

This week federal courts dealt a serious blow to Net Neutrality. There has barely been news coverage about this, but let me assure you, it is one of the most serious issues of our time. And as a genealogist, you should be incredibly concerned about it. Because, unless something changes, your ability to research is about to be seriously curtailed. Imagine if you had to do your research without Cyndi’s List; Linkpendium; Ancestry.com; Mocavo; MyHeritage; FamilySearch; Find a Grave; NEHGS, NYGB, NGS, or any other genealogical society; or Eastman’s Online Genealogical Newsletter. That is the future we are facing.

So what is this confusing topic of Net Neutrality? One of the basic precepts of the internet has been equal access for all. No matter how large or small your company or your web presence, your ability to reach customers was the same as everyone else. This week federal courts ruled that current FCC rules maintaining Net Neutrality are illegal. What does this mean?

It means that internet service providers (ISPs)can now charge whatever they want for access. They are also free to make deals with individual companies to provide “fast” access to their website, while dropping other websites to such a crawl that one would not be able to properly use them. This will give these large companies the ability to shut out other websites.

This will limit the ability of new organizations to come along and introduce new products. No one would be able to see them. They would not have the opportunity to grow. Cyndi’s List started with a single page of links and now has millions of links to valuable sites around the world. Find a Grave was just a few transcriptions. Who doesn’t go there looking for death information? Even Ancestry.com started as a small website and grew.

And what about genealogical societies? How many of them have local records and resource information available online? They would never be able to pay the extortionate charges that ISPs would charge.

Imagine a world where the internet is run by the cable companies. You can only access websites by paying them a fee. Much like cable fees now, you could have access to certain low-value websites for a small fee, but have to pay much larger fees to access others.  And they control what you can, and cannot, see.

All of this is quite preventable. But we need to let people know how much we support Net Neutrality. The FCC can write new rules, classifying ISPs the same way they classify telephone companies, forcing them to provide equal access to all, and limiting what they can charge. Visti FCC.gov and let them know what you think. Contact your representative and senators also and let them know. You can also contact your state representatives and senators to let them know your feelings on this issue, and press them to institute legislation as well. Read more about Net Neutrality on CNN.

Net Neutrality CNN

Mocavo Database Spotlight: Must-Search Military Collections

15 Jan 2014

In yesterday’s blog post, Michael offered some new tips for exploring you ancestors’ military past. Today, we’d like to call your attention to some interesting military collections on Mocavo that might be of interest to you.

Military

National Parks Service Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database

Offering more than 6 million individual records, the Soldiers and Sailors database provides information about the men who served during one of America’s deadliest battles, the Civil War. Although this helpful database was not accessible through the National Park Service website during the government shutdown, you will always have uninterrupted, free access to these records on Mocavo.

Fitch’s Home For Soldiers Index, 1863­–1940

Not only can military records provide information about an individual ancestor, they can also provide information about an ancestor’s family. Founded by Benjamin Fitch on July 4, 1864, Fitch’s Home for Soldiers and Orphans housed soldiers and children of soldiers who fought primarily in the Civil War, Spanish American War, and World War I. Also known as Noroton Home, Fitch’s Home was located in Darien, Connecticut, and received limited aid from the State of Connecticut until 1887 when the state assumed control and renamed the home Fitch’s Home for Soldiers. Due to its limited facilities and the increase of returning veterans, the Veterans Home and Hospital Commission relocated the home in 1940.

Arkansas, World War I Discharge Records Index, 1917–1918

As Michael mentioned yesterday, County courthouses are often a hidden treasure trove of military records, and one that is rarely thought of. During WWI, Arkansas counties kept a record of Draft discharges. From 1917–1918, different counties collected more than 36,000 cards of men and women who served in World War I. These discharge records from the Arkansas History Commission offer a wealth of information that can help add context to the lives of your ancestors.

US National Archives, Awards and Decorations System File, Dec 1965–Nov 1972

It is often very exciting to discover an ancestor who received an award for exemplary service. This dataset contains information on the awards and decorations of honor that were awarded to allied foreign military personnel, soldiers, sailors, and U.S. military officers. During the American Civil War, the Medal of Honor was established as the highest military decoration given by the United States government to members of the armed forces. In order to receive such a medal, the individual must have risked their own life “above and beyond the call of duty in action” against the enemy of the U.S. Many military decorations were also awarded during the Vietnam War, which took place between the years of 1955 and 1975.

War Records of the Knickerbocker Club, 1914­–1918

Sometimes books about the military can provide the most contextual information about those who served. In honor of the soldiers who served in WWI, the Board of Governors of the Knickerbocker Club, a gentleman’s club in new York City, appointed a committee whose responsibility was to gather the names of the members who had served in WWI. The first attempt to compile this information was deemed unsuccessful, but in September 1919 Francis R. Appleton, Jr. successfully undertook the project. He created a questionnaire that asked for a full report on each soldier’s war activities. To his delight, he received 298 completed surveys and 165 photographs of members who served. It took over a year to compile and validate the information Appleton had gathered, however, in 1921, the book was finally published. A unique publication, this book provides short, detailed stories about many soldiers. And, as a special treat, many excerpts include an original photograph of the soldier.

Sometimes, it can be tough to find your ancestors in specific military records, but don’t get discouraged, Remember, you can often discover information by thinking outside the box and diving into databases that you’ve never seen before. We hope that these must-search collections can help you get one step closer to discovering your family’s story.

Look Beyond the Obvious: 3 Alternative Ways to Approach Military Research

14 Jan 2014

Military records are very valuable for genealogical research. Sometimes, however, it helps to look beyond the obvious. We can get absorbed in pension files for the Revolutionary War and Civil War, or draft registrations for World Wars I and II, but there are a number of other places to look as well.  Here are three tips for military research to get you thinking.

military-medals

1. Other Wars

We tend to think most frequently of the “major” wars that America has been involved in. The Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII, etc. But we have been involved in many other altercation as well. The Marine Hymn embodies these wars in its lyrics: “From the Halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli, we will fight our country’s battles on the land and on the sea.” “The Halls of Montezuma” refers to the Battle of Chapultelpec during the War with Mexico. “The shores of Tripoli” is a reference to the Battle of Derna during the First Barbary War.

The Quasi-War with France (1798–1800), First Barbary War (1801–1805), Second Barbary War (1815) and the Boxer Rebellion (1900) are examples of other altercations involving American forces. There were also numerous interactions between the 1780s and the 1890s that are collective known as the Indian Wars. There are dozens of other military actions in the first century and a half of America’s existence. Check for service in some of these other actions for your ancestor.

2. Bounty Land

The federal government started giving Bounty Land to those who fought in the Revolutionary War. They continued to do so for those who fought in the War of 1812, War with Mexico, and the Indian Wars. But one thing to remember is that not all who served claimed the land that they were entitled to. Sometimes it went to their heirs (widows and/or children). And even if they did claim the land, they did not necessarily move there.  They may have claimed the land, but sold it to speculators or to others wanting to move there, and stayed right where they were the entire time. Just because your family never left Connecticut, it does not mean that they didn’t own and sell land in Ohio that they received as bounty land. Always look for these transactions, as the people with whom they bought and sold the land may turn out to be relatives or neighbors.

But bounty land predates the Federal Government. Massachusetts, for example, created seven townships in 1728 for veterans of King Philip’s War (also known as the Narragansett War). These townships were called Narragansetts Township No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Today these towns are Buxton, Me.; Westminster, Mass.; Amherst, N.H.; Goffstown, N.H.; Bedford, N.H., Templeton, Mass.; and Gorham, Me., respectively. The land at Goffstown was considered unsuitable, and was replaced by land that is today Greenwich, Mass. If your ancestor was an early settler in one of these towns, it is possible that they (or their father or grandfather) fought in King Phillip’s War.

3. County Courthouses

County courthouses are a hidden treasure trove of military records, and one that is rarely thought of. After all, who ever heard of one county drafting an army and attacking another?

County courthouses can hold valuable information for you, however. During the Civil War, for example, many towns and counties kept lists of those who served. There may also be information on assistance that was provided to family members of soldiers. Those who served in World War I and World War II often filed copies of their discharge papers with the county clerks. This was recommended so that a copy of their papers would be available locally if needed. Often they were filed with land record volumes.

The British are Coming! New Resources for UK Research

11 Jan 2014

Those researching their roots in Britain are often surprised at the large number of resources available to them. And more and more UK research 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.

The London Gazette is the oldest continually-published newspaper in the U.K. It was first published on 7 November 1665 as The Oxford Gazette when King Charles II moved from London to Oxford to escape the great plague. The name changed the following year when the King moved back to London. It is an official journal of record of the British government. The Edinburgh Gazette was first published in 1699, and The Belfast Gazette in 1921. These newspapers are an official publication of the government. They contain many notices of interest to genealogist such as bankruptcies, military promotions, probate records, ship movements, and more.

A few weeks ago, The Stationery Office announced that the entire run of all three newspapers will now be available online. You can search and view PDF pages of historical copies of the newspaper. You can print the documents or save them to your computer. Visit www.gazette.co.uk for more information, or to search the newspaper.

 

Copy of the London Gazette discussing the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Copy of the London Gazette discussing the Great Fire of London in 1666.

 

The National Archives (TNA) at Kew will be offering a series of webinars over the next few months to help researchers. The first will take place on January 20. Well-known records specialist Audrey Collins will conduct a webinar on using Discovery, the new catalog. Topics of future seminars are:

  • Army Muster Lists
  • Emigration Records
  • Medieval and Early Modern Records
  • Victorian Workhouses
  • Battalions and Regiments in the First World War

If you can’t make it for the live webinar, each will be recorded and made available on the website at a later date. Pre-registration is required. You can find out more on the TNA website.

Finally comes a very exciting development in records access. Prior to 1858, he ecclesiastical courts of the Church of England handled probate matters for England. The Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) was the highest ecclesiastical court in the land. It has jurisdiction for the entire country in certain probate matters, and handled all matters for wealthy individuals; individuals who owned property in more than one diocese in Canterbury or in both the provinces of Canterbury and York; and people who died outside of England. During the interregnum (1649–1660), all other courts were abolished, and the PCC was the only court to administer probate of an estate. Many of the estates the PCC administered dealt with individuals who had emigrated to the New World or elsewhere.

The PCC wills are now available on Ancestry.co.uk. This covers almost 500 years of probate matters, from 1384 until the abolishment of the ecclesiastical courts’ jurisdiction over probate. No matter where your ancestor lived in England, you must check the PCC as well as the local jurisdiction to find potential probate records.

Will You Have Any New Year’s Resolutions?

11 Jan 2014

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked if you were planning on making any New Year’s resolutions. A majority of community members will not be making any resolutions this year. If you decide to change your mind, check out Michael J. Leclerc’s article “Genealogical Resolutions for 2014” to uncover simple ways to create resolutions that will stick. Remember the key to creating New Year’s Resolutions that will stick will be to make sure your goals are actually attainable. As for your most difficult New Year’s resolutions, try to break them up into smaller goals. This will help your goals feel more attainable. Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take our next poll: “Where in the UKI (United Kingdom and Ireland) are your ancestors from?

genealogy-resolutions-jan092014

News Stories and Blog Posts for Genealogists, January 10, 2014

10 Jan 2014

Once again it is time for our weekly roundup of blog posts and news stories for you. This week’s crop discusses a wide range of topics, from Judy G. Russell advising us to just say no to grammar to the origins of Ashkenazic surnames. I hope you find them as interesting and informative as I do.

We start off with a recent admonition from the Legal Genealogist, Judy G. Russell. She explains why it is wrong to ask website subscribers to use their subscriptions to obtain information so you can avoid paying. “For the person asking for that Important Document, it’s freeloading. . . Pure and simple, it is taking something without paying for it.” The reality is that it costs money to provide access to documents, and stealing them makes it more difficult for companies to provide that access. Especially when there are other ways to access the information without stealing it. Read more in Just Say No.

Back in 2008, Teresa Elms wrote the Etymologikon blog. She talks about “language, linguistics, logic, and life.” One of her posts involved a very interesting chart. It shows the languages of Europe and how closely they are related to each other. There are a number of clusters, such as Slavic, Romance, and Germanic. Some of the clusters are large, and some are small. It certainly provides insight into words and language. You can learn more and see the chart in Lexical Distance Among the Languages of Europe.

Grammarly had an excellent piece in the Huffington Post recently to help you with your writing. The editors discussed a number of different problems that are very common to new and/or inexperienced writers. One of the most abused punctuation marks is the comma, and several of their tips deal with these issues, as well as articles and run-on-sentences. Check out 7 Grammar Mistakes You’re Probably Making to help improve your writing.

Kathleen (Hayes) (Rollins) Snavely of Syracuse, New York, made history yesterday. Born 16 February 1902 in County Cork, Ireland, Kathleen yesterday become the longest-living Irish-born person in history. She is now 111 years and 328 days old. The previous record holder was Katherine Plunkett who was born in County Clare 22 November 1820 and died at County Louth 14 October 1932. Read more about Kathleen’s journey in 111-Year Old Syracuse Irish Woman the Longest-Lived Person in Irish History.

 

Oldest Irish Person

 

Finally comes a story from Slate about the history of surnames for Ashkenazic Jews. The Ashkenzi lived in Europe, especially Eastern Europe. They did not take surnames until much later than other groups. While some German-speaking Jews started using surnames as early as the 17th century, the vast majority of European Jews did not do so until they were forced to. The Austro-Hungarian Empire started in 1787, and the process continued for more than half a century until it was completed by Russia in 1844. The origins of the surnames that they took were numerous, but some more popular than others. Read more in Jewish Surnames Explained.

A Stitch in Time: Heirloom Quilt Reunites a Family More Than a Century Later

09 Jan 2014

We are used to using documents and records to research our family history. But sometimes we use heirlooms and objects to assist in the search. And oftentimes it takes a widespread search to locate all of the information. It is not unusual to find that pieces of the puzzle rest in different branches of the family.

Jan Frazier of Pekin, Illinois, is a genealogist. She is also a quilter. One of her possessions is a quilt she inherited from her grandmother. She didn’t know much about the quilt, but she did know that it was made from the velvet fabric used to line coffins and was extremely heavy.

One day she brought it to her quilting group. Her friends were quite impressed by the fabric and the unusual stitching used to put it together. They were certain it was quite old, and challenged her to find out more about it. And what genealogist could resist such a challenge?

She consulted various experts from funeral homes, upholsterers, and a quilt appraiser. She determined that the cloth was more than a century old. The appraiser said it was one of the heaviest she had ever appraised. Six months later, her local newspaper ran a story about the quilt and her search. The story was seen by Diane Ayers, who lives more than 150 miles away.

Diane had her own quilt, passed down from her great-great-grandmother. But more importantly, she had the story behind the quilt. The great-great-grandmother was working on a quilt as a wedding present for her son’s wedding. She was joined by her two sisters, who made quilts for their children.

Jan believed that the quilt came from her great-grandmother whose maiden name was Dully. She enlisted the assistance of a cousin who is working on a book about the family. They immigrated to the United States from Bavaria almost 150 years ago, and using the information about the family, they were able to locate the third quilt.

This is a perfect example of how collaboration is key. It also shows how objects and heirlooms can assist in confirming familial relationships. The answers are not always on paper. Sometimes they can exist in the most interesting areas. And they can reunite disparate branches of the family that have long ago lost touch.

Jan’s story is very interesting. You can read more about her journey, and the reunion between different family members (and find out who had the third quilt) in Quilt Helps Woman Find Her Family History.

Heirloom Quilt Story

 

Have We Lost Access to the SSDI?

08 Jan 2014

There has been a great deal of talk in the last few weeks about the Social Security Death Index. That the U.S. Congress finally decided to pass a law and it had such an impact on us as genealogists was bad enough, but to do it in a rush at the end of the year has left many people with some confusion around what did and did not occur. While much has been written, I thought I would take a stab at my understanding. I’m certain my friends and colleagues will let me know if I have misunderstood anything.

 

ssdi-serp

 

What happened in December?

As part of the process to pass a budget for this year, both houses of Congress included a section that closes public access to the SSDI for three years after a death occurs. The terms went into effect on January 1.

Does that mean that I can no longer access the SSDI?

No, that is not what it means. It means that, at least for now, deaths added to the SSDI will not be publicly accessible until three years have passed (e.g., deaths in 2014 will be available in 2017.

So no one can access the SSDI for three years?

There is an exception carved out for those who need to access it for legal reasons. The exact method of access, and who will be allowed to access it and why, have yet to be determined. Those are regulations that will be worked out over the coming months.

So now we cannot access any records after 2011?

No. The law was not made retroactive, it started on January 1, 2014. Those records will be available in 2017. But the last three years have been made public, and as far as we know are not subject to closure. Mocavo has no intention of removing any records from our version of SSDI. That said, we will not be able to add any more records until 2017.

In summary, for the most part the impact will not be major for the vast majority of genealogists. It will make things more challenging for a time as we see how the new regulations are implemented. But, for the vast majority of people it is not the worst thing in the world to have to wait a few years to access information. Most states have limits on access to birth, marriage, and death records already. This is only one more restriction. It is our hope that the forensic genealogists who need access to the SSDI will be able to have access under the exception carved out by Congress.

We must, however, be vigilant. We cannot allow more records to be closed. Especially in the clumsy way that the SSDI was closed. The purported reason for closing access is to prevent identity theft, but it stands no chance of doing that. It is the Social Security Administration that must do more to work with agencies to verify deaths to prevent identity theft.

Happy New Year: Fireside Chats Now Open to Everyone!

08 Jan 2014

We want to share with you some exciting news. Over the last few months, we’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback surrounding our Mocavo Gold Fireside Chat series.

As we start the New Year, we want to thank you all for your continued support of our Free Forever mission. Today, in appreciation, we are excited to offer our Fireside Chats to the entire genealogy community for free, forever!

Every other week Chief Genealogist Michael J. Leclerc interviews leading genealogists to discuss all aspects of family history. Tune in to get free advice and helpful research tips that will take your research to the next level. You will also have the opportunity to get your very own family history questions answered by these expert genealogists during the chat.

Fireside Home

Some of our past Mocavo Fireside Chat guests and topics have included:

  • Using photographs and images for research with Maureen Taylor;
  • Exploring the world of railroad workers with Paula Stuart-Warren;
  • Tracking down your ancestors with locality experts such as Dr. Michael Lacopo (Pennsylvania and Germany); Kris Rzepczynski (Michigan), and Diane Gravel (New Hampshire).

And wait til you see the talent in our next series of Fireside Chats! It all starts next Wednesday, January 15, 2014, at 1:00 p.m. when Michael’s special guest will be the one and only Thomas MacEntee. Michael and Thomas will be discussing genealogy blogging and what some future trends are for genealogy.

Visit www.mocavo.com/fireside to view all of our Fireside Chats.

A Challenge for 2014: Three Steps for Sharing Your Family History

07 Jan 2014

So we are off on a New Year. And, as we discussed last week, I hope you have put together some goals for your genealogical research in 2014. I’ve been working on mine, and BOY will 2014 be a busy one for me!

One of the things I think is very important is sharing your family history. I have heard way too many stories of genealogists whose life work is accumulated in file cabinets, boxes, and bookshelves, only to have it tossed out by family members after the genealogist passes away. This is a true tragedy.

One of the major problems is genealogists who feel they can’t share their research until they are “done.” Let me tell you from my many years of experience that only rarely will you ever be “done.” There will always be a new line, a new question, additional evidence, etc.

The moral of the story is, don’t wait to be “done.” Share as you go. Put together bits and pieces of the family story into smaller stories. As you put more and more of these stories together, you can eventually put together the bigger picture of your family.

 

3

 

Take these three simple steps to start sharing your research with your family so your work won’t be lost.

1. Format

Decide what form you want your sharing to take. The world of the Internet has given us many new options for sharing. Select a family to look at and review the materials you have for that family. Do you have written stories? Original documents? Images of records? Oral interviews? Here are some formats you can utilize:

  • Monograph This is a traditional way of publishing. Write up your family in a traditional genealogical sketch format. You can focus on a single family unit (parents children, and grandchildren), or expand it to include more of the lineage. You can have these printed at your local copy shop relatively inexpensively, and give them to the family.
  • Blog Creating a blog is very simple nowadays. In addition to sharing information about your family, you can write about your research process. Even distant family members will be able to easily follow your research, and it makes it even easier for them to find you and get in touch to share research.
  • Slide Show/Video If you have lots of images, video, and/or oral interviews, you can easily create a slide show or simple video to share. Be certain when putting these materials together that you are not violating anyone’s copyright.

 

2. Schedule

Put your project into your calendar. Scheduling time to work on it on a regular basis will make it easier to accomplish. You won’t have to constantly remember and try to fit it into your schedule once it is filled with other items.

 

3. Review

Periodically review your progress. This is even more important if you have multiple projects going at the same time.  Periodic reviews will also ensure you make headway on each task. You can reevaluate your project and guarantee success.

Follow these steps and you will be surprised how quickly you will make progress. And as you finish one project, you will be able to start on the next one.

For 2014 I would like to give you a challenge. Pick at least one project. One story. And start writing it up and putting it together to share with your family. Try it for at least a few months, and see how much progress you make. Your family will be so grateful to hear the stories of their history!