Genealogy Blog

Finding Adopted Ancestors

05 Nov 2013

November is National Adoption Month. The month was founded to bring awareness to adoption as an option for couples to have children. Activities are funded by the Children’s Bureau, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


National Adoption Month


Adoptions play an important part in family history. Sometimes we know that there is an adoption. Perhaps it was a parent or a grandparent who was adopted. Sometimes it is further back in the family history. You may have discovered it by reading a compiled genealogy of the family. Or, perhaps a census record identifies a child as an adopted son or daughter.

Sometimes, however, we are unaware of the adoption. Perhaps a DNA test reveals a “non-paternal event.”  This is the technical term for y-chromosome DNA that does not match that known DNA of male-line descendants of a particular individual.

All too often, when hearing of a non-paternal event, people’s thoughts turn to one thing: adultery. The thought is that at some point in the family history, a wife stepped out on her husband and bore a child fathered by someone else. Such is not always the case, however. It is at least equally as likely that at some point in the family history, a child was adopted into the family. This would create the same problem.

Prior to the 1930s and 1940s, adoption was a very informal process. Children were often placed with other families when their parents had died or could no longer take care of the entire family. Young girls would help around the house. Young boys would help the father with his trade, be it farmer, blacksmith, or merchant.

Sometimes, especially in the case of a child whose parent(s) have died, there may be some official paperwork. The probate court may have issued guardianship papers for a child who had lost one or both parents. But this did not always happen. Arrangements may have been unofficial, especially if the deceased parent(s) left little or no monetary estate.

Quite often, however, these arrangements were completely unofficial. Relatives or friends would take children in, and they would eventually be adopted as full family members. But no legal paperwork was ever filed. This can make it more difficult to identify the birth parents.

The first thing to do when a non-paternal event appears is to try to determine at what point this event occurred. The best way to do this is through DNA tests. Look at individuals who are descended from different sons in each generation. As this is done at each level, you will be able to determine in which generation the event occurred. The next step is to look at your family’s DNA and see what surname it does match. Check DNA databases to discover your match.

Once you have a generation and a surname, you can start examining traditional genealogical resources. Look for a family with the surname of your DNA match living in the area where your ancestors lived. Then look for births of children to that DNA match family. And look for deaths of one or more parents in the same time period.  This may help you to identify your DNA ancestors.

Bring Out Your Dead: A Hallowmas Challenge

02 Nov 2013

This week was filled with death. It is the Christian tradition of Hallowmas. Halloween on October 31, All Saint’s Day on November 1, and All Soul’s Day on November 2. Those of Mexican descent celebrate Dia de los Muertos in commemoration of the dead.

Nathan Murphy started something with the genealogy bloggers this week when he posted an interesting piece about death. He posted a five-generation pedigree chart with no names, simply the causes of death. Judy G. Russell of course picked this up and posted her own four-generation chart. Judy added ages at death for those in the fourth generation.

So I have picked up the challenge and created my own five-generation chart. Mine includes not only causes of death, but ages at death for everyone.




My French-Canadian ancestors kept excellent records. I have the death dates for all of my ancestors for five generations save one. Unfortunately, the death records in Quebec did not include causes of death, so a number of individuals have unknown causes of death.  Among these is my great-great grandfather who died at 57 (his daughter, my great-grandmother, died of cancer at 52). Another is a great-great grandmother who died at 48.

I went through the information in these records and did some statistical analysis of the information. There is one great-great-grandfather for whom I have not yet found a death record, but I do have a clue about when he may have died. For the statistical analysis I assumed that he died then, at the age of 77, of unknown causes. Both of my parents are still living, so the analysis comes from the 28 individuals in the previous three generations (my grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents.

The youngest death was for a great-grandfather who died of asthma at the age of 44. The oldest was my paternal grandmother, who died just weeks short of her 100th birthday. The average age at death (calculated by adding up the ages of death and dividing by the total number of people) was 69. The median age at death (calculated by listing the ages from lowest to highest and looking at the number in the middle of the list) was 71/72.

I then looked at the numbers for each of my four grandparents and their ancestors (seven people in each branch). For my paternal grandfather’s ancestry, the youngest age at death was 48 and the oldest was my grandfather at 88. The average age was 75, and the median was 79. For my paternal grandmother, the oldest death was my grandmother at 100 and the youngest was her mother, who died at 52. The average age at death was 75 and the median was 80.

My maternal side is quite different. On my maternal grandmother’s side, the youngest age at death was a great-great grandmother at 60. The oldest was a great-great grandfather at 86. The average age at death was 73, and the median was 72. My maternal grandfather’s family, however, is not so long lived. The youngest death was my great-grandfather at 44, and eldest was a great-great grandmother who died at 90. The average age at was 64 and the median was 63, however, if one gets rid of the  90-year old, the median drops to 54 and the average to 60.

The greatest number of people died in their 70s (7) and 80s (7).  One died at 90 and one at 100. Of the rest, almost a quarter (22%) died in their 40s (2) or 50s (4). Five died in their 60s.

Among the causes of death, one died of asthma, one of complications of diabetes, and two from complications due to dementia. Four (15%) died of heart-related issues and four from cancer. Twenty-five percent (7) died of unknown causes. At least two of these were likely due to a serious health issue or accident, given their young ages at death. The best news is that one-third of them died of old age (defined as someone who lived to be 80 or more).

Take a look at your own family history. Compile those causes of death and analyze that information as you would other genealogical data. What can you glean from it? What can it tell you?

Have you visited or otherwise used resources from the Family History Library?

02 Nov 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked if you had visited or otherwise used resources from the Family History Library. Most of you have at least visited your local family history center or accessed materials on FamilySearch. Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take our next poll.


Pedigree Analysis: Do You Have the Correct Answers?

29 Oct 2013


The plethora of online trees available trees makes has been a boon to genealogical research. It also makes pedigree analysis more important than ever.  Pedigree analysis involves examining the information on your ancestry to ensure that your information is as accurate as possible. Follow these four steps any time you add new information to your family tree, and it doesn’t hurt to go back and review periodically.

1. Does the Chronology Work?

Are there any obvious problems with the chronology? Are there women giving birth at age 80? Are men fathering children at age 6? Is anyone born 20 years before their grandparents? You would be surprised at the strange information that creeps in if you don’t pay careful enough attention. Check periodically that there are no obvious chronological errors.

2. Do the Dates and Places Make Sense?

Chronology alone isn’t enough. Examine the dates in the context of the places. It is physically impossible for someone to be in two places at once. Prior to the late-nineteenth century, families did not usually travel widely back and forth. Migration usually went west from the east coast. Finding children born every other year in Massachusetts, then Iowa, then New York was not something one would find happening in 1840. Be certain that the information is likely or even possible!

3. Do the Names Agree?

Be very careful that you have the right names. This is especially important with wives/mothers. If the names of mothers of mothers do not agree in the birth records for all of the children, you need to check to make sure there aren’t two men in town with the same name wife wives who have different names. Or one man who had two different wives. You might even have a woman with multiple forenames the she used alternately.

4. Is the Evidence Sufficient?

Have you done a reasonably exhaustive search? A reasonably exhaustive search means that you have examined all of the available resources for the information. This does not mean you have only looked for records on the internet. Have you also looked to see if microfilms of original records are available?  Have you also checked with the town or county to see what records might be there that have never been microfilmed, digitized, or transcribed? Don’t limit your search, or you may miss valuable information that will help you solve your research problems.


Celebrate Your Discoveries with Mocavo’s Family History Month Sweepstakes

28 Oct 2013


As Family History Month comes to a close, it’s the perfect time to celebrate your discoveries! Whether you used Mocavo to uncover a hidden relative, tackle a brick wall, or fill in the missing pieces of a family mystery, we want to hear your success stories. Inspire your family, friends, and fellow researchers by sharing your discoveries in Mocavo’s Family History Month Sweepstakes and you could win a $150 gift card.

How to Enter

Simply send your Mocavo discovery story to by Friday, November 01, 2013. Please ensure your story does not exceed 250 words in length and relates to the contest’s theme. All family history stories are important, and thus sweepstake entries will not be judged. The grand prizewinner will be selected by a random drawing.

What Can you Win?

The grand prizewinner will receive a $150.00 gift card.

Your story will also inspire other researchers in our bi-weekly newsletter and Facebook page.

Esteemed author Studs Terkel once said, “storytelling is a form of history, of immortality too. It goes from one generation to another.” Sharing your story preserves your heritage for generations to come, and we are looking forward to celebrating your discoveries with you.

Good luck!

From Sephardic Jews to Popular First Names: Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, October 25, 2013

25 Oct 2013

This week’s roundup starts with “mathematical genealogy” being used to calculate the number of Sephardic Jews today. We move on to another series of term definitions from The Legal Genealogist, commentary on genealogy television from Cyndi Ingle, a letter from a famous 10-year-old Perkins School for the Blind student, and closes out with a seris of maps showing the most popular names for girls from 1960 to the present.

I love Wired magazine. They had a very interesting story this week about Jewish genealogy. Last year Spain decreed that the country would create a fast track to citizenship for Sephardic Jews. These are descendants of the Jews who were expelled from the country in 1492. Only 20% of modern Jews identify themselves as Sephardic, but a Georgia Tech biologist wondered how many would have Sephardic ancestry. Using mathematical models he determined that the likelihood is that all modern Jews actually have Sephardic ancestors, even if they do not identify as such today. Get the full story in The Universality of (Sephardic) Ethnicity, As Explained by Mathematical Genealogy.


Sephardic Genealogy


The Legal Genealogist, Judy G. Russell,  continued her series of term definitions this week as she travelled the high seas on a genealogy cruise. This week’s terms included malas, landlockedjubilacion, stews, and autosomes. Now you may think you know what some of these terms mean. For example, landlocked refers to land with no access to water, right? And stews are delicious brothy meals, right? In both instances, from a legal perspective, you would be wrong.

Cyndi Ingle of wrote an interesting piece recently on the Cyndi’s List Blog. It has been almost twenty years since she first went online in 1995. At the time the internet was just starting to take off, and there was a lot of cynicism about it. Now, similar thoughts are surrounding the latest trend in genealogy: television programs geared towards family history. Read more in Why Genealogy on TV is a Good Thing.

The Massachusetts Historical Society had a great post in their blog, The Beehive. A member of the collection services team was processing the papers of George E. Ellis, a nineteenth-century Unitarian minister and historian from Boston. While working with the collection, a particular letter caught her eye. A student at the Perkins School for the Blind in South Boston had written Ellis (along with many others) in 1891 to solicit donations for four-year-old Tommy Stringer, a fellow student who was deaf and blind and whose family could not support him. The strident support of Stringer’s cause: 10-year-old Helen Keller. Find out more and see the letter at Helen Keller in Boston.

Finally this week is an interesting series of maps from Jezebel.  They show the most popular names for girls born in the United States from 1960 to day. The maps show the most popular names in each state for each year. You can blow up each map to make it more readable. A slide show at the top of the article runs through the maps on an endless loop. The big winner for names is Jennifer, which held the top rank for a decade and a half from 1970 to 1984. View them at .

A Moveable Feast: Not Just Hemingway’s Memoirs

24 Oct 2013

Hemingway Moveabel Feast

Nowadays when people hear the words “moveable feast” they are likely to think of noted author Ernest Hemingway’s stories of his time in Paris in the 1920s. Moveable feasts, however, are very important in genealogy. Many dates in pre-eighteenth century documents are stated in terms of feast days.  These are church holidays, many used to commemorate the various men and women the Church desired to honor. Started by the Catholic Church, it was continued by the Anglicans when they splintered from the Catholic Church.

Some of these feast days are fixed. Examples are the feast days for the Venerable Bede (May 25), Joan of Arc (May 30), and Mary Magdalene (July 22).  Others are “moveable feasts.” These feasts occur on different dates, depending on certain variables. The most significant of the moveable feasts is Easter Sunday.

The date for Easter Sunday changes on every year. On any given year it can occur as early as March 21 or as late as April 25. The origin of this celebration lies with pagan celebrations of the goddess Eoster. The early Catholic church joined the stories of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus to the pagan festivals honoring Eoster. Thus the date became locked to the lunar calendar. It falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after the vernal equinox. The equinox usually falls on March 21.

Other feast days occur in relation to Easter. Thus the change of the date of Easter impacts Ascendsion Day, Whitsunday, and Trinity all change based on the date of Easter. Because of these moveable feasts, the dates on documents or mentioned in documents can vary widely. Whitsunday, for example, falls on Pentecost, that is, the seventh Sunday after Easter. In 2012 that was may 27, in 2013 it was May 19, and in 2014 it will be June 8.

When reading an old document, it is important to know whether or not a feast day named is moveable. If it is a moveable feast, you will have to determine what day the feast fell on by doing the calculations for determining the feast day.

You must be careful to calculate properly when converting from a moveable feast day reference to an actual date. When recording these dates in your family, it is best to record the actual stated reference, putting the translated date in square brackets afterwards. And example would be:


John Smith and James Jones appeared in court for an altercation that occurred between the two of them on Whitsunday [29 May], 1569.


Recording the date this way ensures that you have the correct date in your records.

Setting the Bar: Half a Century of Genealogical Standards

23 Oct 2013

I’ve just returned from ten days in Salt Lake City. The Board for Certification of Genealogists and the Fellows of the American Society of Genealogists had their annual meetings there the weekend before last. Many of us professionals joined them. It was a fun week, and a great opportunity for us to socialize without the pressures of conferences, where our schedules are filled with making presentations, having meetings, attending luncheons, etc.

On Saturday evening their was a dinner and presentation by The Legal Genealogist, Judy G. Russell. The occasion was the start of a year of events celebrating the 50th anniversary of credentialing in genealogy. Both the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) and the forerunner of the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen) were started in 1964.

Recognizing the need for standards in genealogical research, the Board for Certification of Genealogists was founded in 1964 by the Fellows of the American Society of Genealogists. The purpose was to develop standards for research, to help genealogists understand the pitfalls and problems that one can easily fall into when researching.




At the same time, the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also understood the need for standards. After much discussion they started the program for testing genealogists and awarding the Accredited Genealogist credential. In 2000, the church transferred the accreditation program to ICAPGen, an affiliate of the Utah Genealogical Association. Today ICAPGen is an independent non-profit testing organization.




Many people think that certification and accreditation are just for professionals. This is very far from the truth. Certification and accreditation are for anyone who wants to be confident in their research skills. Now, this process is not for beginning genealogists. But once you have been researching for awhile, you might consider going through the process. By the end, you will be quite certain that your research skills have brought you to a place where you can be confident in your findings.

Take a moment to visit the BCG and ICAPGen websites and see what the testing process is all about. Each of them has a different process. Each offers different resources to help you prepare for the process. While most people chose one program or the other, there are a few folks who have gone through the process for both, and are both certified and accredited.

Back Up Your Facebook

22 Oct 2013

Backing up your computer should be old hat. There are many ways to have the information on your computer stored elsewhere, allowing you access to your data if you have a sudden computer failure. But what about the information you have on Facebook?

We post many things on our walls: comments, websites, what we ate for lunch. We put up pictures of ourselves and family members. We post videos as well. Think of Facebook as a modern-day diary of your life. Don’t you want to keep a copy of that diary?

Enter the convenient archive feature on Facebook. You can download the information from your Facebook account. Downloading is easy. Simply click on the gear icon in the upper-right hand corner, and go to Account Settings. In the General Account settings you will see Name, Username, Email, Password, Networks, and Language. But underneath that, in fine print, you will find a link labeled Download a copy of your Facebook data.

Click on that link and you will go to the download page. Enter your password to start the process. As a security measure, an email will be sent to you notifying you that the archive download is being prepared, and to notify Facebook if you haven’t requested the download. Once the archive is ready to download, you will receive a second email. Click the link in that one and the download will happen automatically.


Facebook Archive


Once you open the zip file, you will see a folder on your desktop called facebook-[yourfacebookname]. Within that you will see some sub-folders and an html filed called “index.html.” Double-clicking the index file will open it up in your browser, and will give you access to all of the material that was downloaded (and stored in the sub-folders).  Your profile, contact information, settings and security information will be there. More importantly, you will discover all of the posts you have made to your wall, the photographs and videos you have uploaded, the events you have been invited to, and the messages you have sent.

Unforunately, not everything is downloaded. You won’t find items you’ve shared from other peoples’ walls. And, sadly, you won’t find any of the witty commentary from your friends on your posts.

Even with these drawbacks, it will still be a great way to look back at your activities. When I downloaded my archive I was able to see back in time to the first posts I made back in the summer of 2008 when I first joined Facebook, all the way up through the posts I made this morning.


Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Diamonds: Mourning Jewelry

19 Oct 2013

Mourning jewelry has been around for a very long time. Memorial rings for deceased individuals date back to the Roman Empire. In modern times, evidence of mourning jewelry dates back to the fifteenth century. It reached its zenith in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In early times, people would often leave money in their wills to purchase mourning jewelry for family and/or friends. William Shakespeare left money in his will for his friends Hamnet Sadler, John Hemynges, Richard Burbage, and Henry Cundell to purchase memorial rings.

For most people, the rings would be made of brass. These were more economical and affordable. For people who were more well-off, the rings might be made of silver or gold. For very wealthy people, the rings might be encrusted with jewels, such as rubies or diamonds.

Born in London in 1717, William Parsons matriculated from Eaton in 1735 and obtained a position as midshipman in the Royal Navy. He married in 1740, and shortly thereafter joined the British Army as an Ensign. He was addicted to gambling, which caused him to consistently lose his money. He ended up being arrested when he resorted to forgery. Although sentenced to death, his family and friends got the sentence reduced to transport. Arriving in Virginia in winter, he found conditions not to his liking and attempted to return home in summer. He continued his illegal ways, and was sentenced to Newgate, eventually being executed for his crimes in February 1750. A few days before his death, he ordered that a diamond mourning ring be made with the inscription “William Parsons, ob. 11 Feb. 1750-1. Æt. 33. When this you see Remember me.” to be delivered to “a certain young Lady, as the last Token of his Affection for her.” (His story was told in The New-York Gazette in the Weekly Post-Boy, August 26, 1751, No. 449, p. 1–2).

Originally, these rings were simple hoops. As time progressed, they were embellished with mottos, such as “Memento Mori” (Remember that you will die). Sometimes they would be adorned with the name of the deceased and his/her birth and death dates. More complex rings were engraved with symbols like those used on gravestones.  Skulls, coffins, skeletons, urns, and more might be engraved on the rings.

While rings were most popular, many different types of jewelry could be made. Pendants, charms, bracelets, and more were also created as mourning jewelry.

Victorian Mourning Hair  Jewelry


As time marched on into the Victorian era, a new type of mourning jewelry became popular. This jewelry was made from the hair of the deceased. Rings, earrings, bracelets, pretty much all kinds of jewelry could be created by weaving the hair. Metals were often used for decoration or practical matters, such as clasps. (You can read more about this in The Victorian Obsession with Hair, Result: Mourning Jewelry)

Modern companies are putting a new twist on this. You can purchase jewelry of all sorts which can be filled with the ashes of a loved one. Modern technology even allows you to go one better. There are firms, such as LifeGem, which will take your cremains and turn them into diamonds, which can be incorporated into any type of jewelry you wish. The diamonds can be created in different sizes and cuts. Prices can range from $2,000 to $20,000, depending on the carats, cut, and color.

When looking through jewelry pieces you may have inherited, examine it carefully. You may be looking at a piece of mourning jewelry, created in memory of a treasured friend or family member.