Genealogy Blog

Why You Can’t Do All Your Research Online

11 Feb 2014

I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things after ten days in Salt Lake City. The RootsTech Conference was a terrific gathering of genealogists and techies discussing the present and future of the field. It was a great opportunity for learning, as well as meeting with new and old friends.

One of the major reasons I went to Salt Lake City the week before the conference was, of course, to take advantage of the research opportunities in the Family History Library (FHL). I was astounded at how slow the library was when I was there. There were nowhere near the number of patrons I have seen in the past.

Over the last decade, the Internet has blossomed with resources for genealogists. Websites such as Mocavo are indispensible for finding all of the information you need to research your family. None of us would want to go back to the pre-Internet days of research now that so many resources are available to us on the other side of a computer monitor, mouse, and keyboard. But the internet is not the all-in-one research tool that many think it is.

In one of the sessions, a speaker stated: “I’m relying on the internet to reveal all the secrets of my family tree to me. Now why do I rely, and so many others, rely on Internet research? Well, first of all, like many of you, I work long hours, and can only research on nights and weekends, which is usually not when archives are open. Second of all, the time and costs to travel are hard, which means that actually going to the archive or former family location is actually the last resort, not the first option.”

As any experienced researcher will tell you, this is a path that will fill your research with unnecessary brick walls. The unfortunate truth is that not everything is available online. It takes onsite research in archives, libraries, and repositories to obtain as much information as possible about your family.




Many books have been published with compiled genealogies, extracted and abstracted records, and more. But many of these books will not be available online in your or my lifetime. Why? Copyright! Books are protected by copyright for long after the death of the author. And big corporations are only getting governments to extend that period, not abbreviate it. There are ways to access these materials, however. How? By going to your local public library (which almost always have some night and weekend hours) and asking for an inexpensive (and sometimes free) interlibrary loan. This allows your library to borrow materials from other repositories for you.

Digitizing records is time consuming and expensive. Governments are putting modern records online quickly because they are already in electronic form. But older, historical materials are slower to come online.

Even with the vast resources of FamilySearch, digitizing is taking awhile. Last year, they estimated that it would take more than 300 years to digitize the items in their collection. Since that time, they have partnered with other organizations to help speed the process up, but it will still take more than 30 years before everything is available. Do you want to wait that long to access records that might break down your brick wall?

This is why I was at the FHL researching in person. By Tuesday I was joined by hundreds of other researchers, and by Friday evening the place was packed wall to wall with researchers cranking away to microfilm, scanning microfiche, reading books, and a few on computers. I came away with hundreds of images of original records that are not even available in extracted form online.

And while in-person visits to archives and repositories need not necessarily be the first stop, relegating them to the “last resort” pile will do nothing but ensure frustration for you. Research smartly, and use online resources and offline resources together to obtain as much information about your family as you can. Then you will have the most successful research experiences.

Changing the Rules for Tracing Cancer in Your Family

08 Feb 2014

There are as many different reasons for researching family history as there are genealogists in this world. Many of us are interested in where we came from. For some it is a way to personalize an interest in history. But for many, the reasons are significantly more important.

In many cases, individuals are researching their family because it is quite literally a matter of life or death. For a large number of individuals, the impetus for starting to research their family is for medical and health reasons. Others learn of health issues as they start researching, and seek to discover more.

When I started my research twenty-five years ago, I already knew of medical conditions that ran in my family. I knew that cardio-pulmonary issues have afflicted several generations of my mother’s family. Both of my siblings had asthma and allergies growing up. While I escaped them as a youth, they came in big-time as an adult.

Amazingly, though, we are remarkably cancer-free on both sides of my family. I have so far found only two cancer deaths in my family. One was my paternal grandfather. Although he died of cancer, he did not develop it until he was 87 years old. (although this still means I must be checked out regularly as I move past the half-century mark). The other person in my family was my great-great-grandfather (whose son was the great-grandfather who died of asthma). He died of cancer at 63.

Doctors have for a long time set the standards for tracing family history of cancer at three generations (anything more than three generations and the genetic risk is no greater than the general gene pool). U.S. News and World Report reported today, however, that the American Society of Clinical Oncology has changed the rules.

After studying the evidence, ASCO determined that the impact of heredity on cancer is most accurate in close relatives. Close relatives are those related within two degrees. Now, one must look only at

  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts and Uncles
  • Nieces and Nephews
  • Half-siblings
  • Grandchildren

It is important to remember that family history includes not only your ancestors, but at descendants as well. This is significant For more information about the announcement, read the “Health Day” article Only Close Family History Needed for Cancer Risk Assessment. You can find out more information about cancer from the American Cancer Society.

American Cancer Society


Have you used your genealogical research to help with family health issues?

08 Feb 2014

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked, “Have you used your genealogical research to help with family health issues?” More than 50% of our members have used some type of family history evidence to help with family health issues. Forty-one percent of our community members have no used genealogical research to help with family health issues.

It is important to remember that family history includes not only your ancestors, but your descendants as well. Your family health history can be very significant to the health of future generations in your family. In many cases, individuals are researching their family because it is quite literally a matter of life or death. For a large number of individuals, the impetus for starting to research their family is for medical and health reasons. Others learn of health issues as they start researching, and seek to discover more. You can find out more about how family health histories can affect your future generations in the following articles: “Changing the Rules for Tracing Cancer in Your Family” & “Angelina Jolie’s Adventure in Family History

Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take our next poll: “Are you planning on taking advantage of all RootsTech has to offer?


Family History Research & Health

20,000 New Databases Added Today

06 Feb 2014

In October 2013, we announced our Free Forever Revolution and made a commitment to launch 1,000 new databases every day. With the support of the Mocavo Community, we’ve kept our promise by adding more than 150,000 databases to our existing collection in less than four months.

Today, as a thank you to the entire Mocavo community, we are stepping it up and adding more than 20,000 databases in one day, bringing our total count to all time high – more than 250,000 databases!

Staying true to our mission, you can now enjoy free access to over a billion of records that will help you discover your story and pass it on.

Start Making Discoveries Now

Search the 20,000 databases we added today

Search all 250,000 databases 

Must-Search Collections

Search over 12,000 BMD Databases
Birth Marriage, Divorce, Obituary & Cemetery Indexes, and more
Search over 993 Databases from Australia
BMD, Immigrant Registers, Criminal Indexes, Probate & Estate Record Indexes
Search over 36,000 Yearbooks
Elementary, High School & College Yearbooks
Search over 23,000 Databases from Massachusetts 
BMD, Directories, Letters, Newspapers, Personal Histories
Search over 4,500 Military Databases
Casualties, Draft, Enlistment, Pensions, Service Awards & Honorable Mentions






We hope you have a weekend full of discoveries!

Sharing Your Family History Using Multimedia

06 Feb 2014

The final preparations for the RootsTech conference are happening today. The classrooms are being prepared. The exhibitors have arrived, and are setting up their spaces in the Expo Hall. And the speakers are making their final tweaks to their presentations, even as major technical presentations are being made today.

Almost 120 sessions will be held over the course of the four days. The subjects cover a wide variety of topics from the highly technical, to introductory technologies for genealogists. Unfortunately, due to the winter weather in much of the central and eastern parts of the country, some sessions are in danger of being cancelled or postponed because of the difficulties some speakers are having in getting to Salt Lake City.

If you couldn’t make it to Salt Lake City this year, there is good news for you. Over the course of the next three days (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday), one session in each time period has been selected for livestreaming (or slightly-delayed streaming) over the Internet. Among the well-known presenters being livestreamed are D. Joshua Taylor, Lisa Alzo, Randy Whited, and . . . Michael J. Leclerc.

Sharing with Multimedia


If you are not doing anything this evening at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time (5:00 p.m. Mountain Time), you can go to and watch my presentation. In Sharing Your Family History With Multimedia I will be discussing the three driving forces behind using multimedia: Story, Content, and Format.

I am including here an updated version of the syllabus for you to download and use during the presentation (or when watching it online afterwards): Sharing Your Family History Using Multimedia. I hope you enjoy the session and hope you find it helpful for your research. For a complete list of live-streamed sessions, visit If you can’t watch the sessions live, you can watch them on the RootsTech archive page.

5 Tips for Attending a Conference

04 Feb 2014

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m here in Salt Lake City this week for RootsTech. It is a large conference, and Mocavo is one of the sponsors. We will have a booth in the exhibit hall, so please be certain to stop by and say hello to us. And, as we announced last week, we will be offering quick research consultations in our booth each day, so please take advantage (see Consultations at RootsTech for more details). I would like to offer you a few tips for attending a genealogy conference.




1. This one is a bit tardy for you if you going to RootsTech, but one of the things I like to do when attending a conference is to arrive early or stay a few days afterwards. This gives me an opportunity to take advantage of the research repositories in the area, and to be a bit of a tourist and sight-see. And I usually talk a few friends into doing the same thing, so we have a great time together!

2. I am always astonished at the number of people I see at conferences wearing heels. And this goes for men as well as women. Now, most men at a conference do not wear 4-inch stiletto heels, but men’s dress shoes often come with a small heel that can be just as irritating. Much of your time at a conference will be spent walking on cement floors, even if it does have a small bit of carpeting on it. Wearing sensible shoes with lots of support will make your life much easier. And comfortable shoes with support can still be tasteful and stylish too.

3. Most people review the schedule in advance to see which sessions they would like to attend. I suggest going a step further and compare the sessions to the map of the venue. Classrooms in convention centers can be spread far apart from each other. Look at which sessions are in close proximity at the same time, and in the periods immediately before and after. This will allow you to minimize walking by attending sessions that are close to one another.  And knowing what Is nearby can allow you to move to a different session you are interested in if the one you are in does not meet your needs.

4. To take the best advantage of your time in the exhibit hall, leave a session a few minutes early. As long as you do it extremely quietly, with the least amount of disruption, the speaker likely will not mind. What is troublesome for us is when someone sitting in the middle of the second row gets up and makes a huge ruckus when leaving. If you place to leave early, sit at the end of a row near the entrance to the classroom. That way you can depart quickly and easily causing minimal disruption.

5. Many conferences now have apps for your smartphone or tablet. Make sure you download it. The apps provide you with easy access to a great deal of information, including session schedules and maps, exhibitor lists, exhibit hall maps, etc. If you don’t want it taking up room on your phone for a year, just delete it once the conference is over. If you do keep the app from year to year, be certain to check for any updates prior to the next year’s conference so you don’t experience any difficulties.

Why Should I Read the Original Records?

03 Feb 2014

I’ve been in Salt Lake City for a few days in anticipation of the RootsTech conference that will be held here later this week. And I’m taking the opportunity to get some research in on the Franklin family in England while I’m here.

Over the course of Friday and Saturday I spent many long hours  reading through Northamptonshire parish registers from the 1500s and 1600s. I’m on the trail identifying a large number of family members who have never been identified before in the family of Benjamin Franklin.

Along the way I was reminded of the importance of checking the originals instead of relying on transcriptions. I was very fortunate to find some abstractions of marriage and baptismal records from Northamptonshire parishes. The first thing I did was to photocopy of map of the county from The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers. I then looked at the abstracted records and divided them into three parts: pre-1600, 1600–1650, and 1651–1700. I used colored pencils to mark each parish where marriages took place in each of these time periods. I used a different color for the parishes of Ecton and Earls Barton where Benjamin’s father and grandfather came from.


My map of early Franklin marriages in Northamptonshire, England.

My map of early Franklin marriages in Northamptonshire, England.


I was then able to see where the surname was focused in the early period, and where it spread to from there. Most of the pre-1650 marriages belong to Benjamin’s family, but using this map, I was able to identify a second early cluster. By examining the original parish registers, I was able to identify relationships, as some identified the home parish of individuals who married elsewhere. This allowed me to tie more people to one of the two clusters.

Another thing I was able to do by examining the original registers was to identify baptisms and burials that had not yet been abstracted. Once again this allowed me to tie more branches of the family together, especially when I was able to find a couple marrying in one parish but dying in another. I was even able to find birth records that showed either a second marriage for some individuals, or a second person with the same name living in the parish for a time.

Now, reading the original registers takes practice, but it is not impossible. I hear from people time and again that they do not like to read original records (especially older ones) because they have trouble reading the handwriting. My response to that is that it takes practice, and if you never do it, you will never be able to read them. But if you don’t do it, you are relaying on extractions and transcriptions made by others, and there may be errors or omissions. And often there are huge gaps in transcriptions. For example, many English parish registers were abstracted into the International Genealogical Index (IGI) and are available on But in Northamptonshire, only 88 of the 345 parishes (25%) were abstracted. And of these 88 parishes, only 47 were abstracted from the start of the parish. This means that for research purposes, only a 13% chance of finding your early ancestor in the Northamptonshire parish registers by searching the IGI.

The only solution is to read the original records. And the piles of information I have found by doing so are amazing. I have more work to do, especially since the second cluster may yet prove to be related to Benjamin Franklin’s family. Back to the reading the microfiche.

Bethany Children’s Home Record Collection Goes Live

01 Feb 2014

In April of last year we awarded the first ever Mocavo Community Digitization Grant to the Bethany Children’s Home in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania. We committed to provide up to $25,000 in digitization services to preserve historical records and make them available for free access. Today we are delighted to announce that those important historical records have been digitized and are now free forever at Mocavo.

Bethany Children’s Home is a regional ministry serving over 300 youth and their families every year in Eastern Pennsylvania. The home began in 1863 as one man’s dream. On a trip home from Norfolk to Philadelphia, Rev. Emmanuel Boehringer passed through the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam, where 25,000 men lay scattered across the countryside dead or wounded. As he stopped to help bandage their wounds, many of the men asked: “What will become of my children?” And thus Rev. Boehringer’s dream for an orphans’ home was born.

Bethany Children's Home Collection

Upon returning to Philadelphia, he began taking orphans into his own home at 702 Morris Street. On September 21, 1863, the home’s first resident, six year-old Caroline Engel, arrived at the Boehringer home. Originally called “The Orphans Home of the Shepherd of the Lambs,” the organization began to grow and by 1867 it had found a new home in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania, where the name was officially changed to Bethany Children’s Home.

Bethany Children's Home Collection

A previous resident of Bethany from 1937-1952, Carl Bloss, initially returned seeking genealogical clues and answers regarding his paternal family, but found that Bethany had no archival program in place. In 2009, Carl began volunteering to organize and properly preserve their significant collections, which include photographs, 16mm motion picture film, scrapbooks, documents, and registers.

Over the past year Mocavo has been working to digitize and transcribe two ledger books containing information about the children who were residents of the home between 1863-1990. The Book of Life, a chronological record of children admitted since 1863, and the two-volume Book of Children, the beginning of a records page for each child from 1886 to 1906. These eventually became a records file for each child, many included a photograph upon entering, admittance information, adoption or foster home, discharge information and other writings pertaining to the child.

Bethany Children's Home Collection

We are inspired by the work that the volunteers at Bethany Children’s Home have done to preserve this information, and are excited to help bring this valuable content online for the rest of the world to experience. We hope you will enjoy learning about the Bethany Children as much as we have enjoyed preserving these documents for posterity.

“Bethany Children’s Home is honored to be the recipient of the first Mocavo Community Digitization grant. We thank our archivist, Carl Bloss, for his diligence and commitment to the preservation of Bethany’s rich history. Bethany appreciates Mocavo’s dedication to make historical records available online, free of charge. We recognize that through this project our records will be accessible on a global level to help people locate family members and trace their ancestry; and we are excited to be able to share this information with those searching,” said Bethany Children’s Home CEO, Kevin J. Snyder.

For more information on the Bethany Children’s Home, please visit

Search the Bethany Children’s Home Record Collections Now

Search Bethany Children’s Home Book of Children One Index

Search Bethany Children’s Home Book of Children Two Index

Search Bethany Children’s Home Book of Life Index

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.