Genealogy Blog

Changing the Rules by Living Longer

17 Dec 2013

Jesse and Elizabeth (Goodell) Sawyer of Belvidere, Illinois, were married 11 February 1819 in Watertown, Jefferson County, New York. He was twenty-three and she twenty-five when they were married. On 11 February 1869, their family and friends gathered with them in Belvidere, Illinois, to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. It was such a rare occasion that a pamphlet was published telling their story, and tracing their family back to the earliest New England settlers: Fiftieth Anniversary of the Marriage of Jesse Sawyer and Elizabeth Goodell (Utica, N.Y.: Roberts, Book and Job Printer, 1869).

Their son Joel read a speech that said, in part “ In behalf of your children and more remote relatives and other friends, I congratulate you on this hopeful beginning of the second half century of your married life. You have now reached a point that few of us can ever hope to reach. You have passed a period of life, that few individually and fewer still in pairs, can hope to pass. . .” (p. 8)

Now we think nothing of people living well into their 70s and 80s. Even the 90s are not hugely unusual, and centenarians are not as rare as they once were, although it is still a remarkable achievement. My paternal grandparents were married for 68 years before my grandfather, Joseph Alfred Leclerc, died in 2000. My grandmother, Marie Laura Dube, was just a few weeks shy of her 100th birthday when she passed away. Today marks 102 years since she was born. At the time she was born in 1911, the average life expectancy of a woman in America was 54 years. She lived almost twice that.


Joseph Alfred and Marie Laura (Dube) Leclerc at their 60th Anniversary in 1992, with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. (From the collection of the author, used with permission)

Joseph Alfred and Marie Laura (Dube) Leclerc at their 60th Anniversary in 1992, with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. (From the collection of the author, used with permission)


As we live longer and longer, these stories are becoming more and more frequent. Marshall Kuykendall was twenty years old when he eloped with nineteen-year-old Winnie MacNab and got married before a justice of the peace on February 14, 1929. In 2012 they celebrated their 83rd wedding anniversary. Their daughter, herself, celebrated 56 years of marriage last year as well. The Catholic News Agency reported on their long marriage in 2011.

In addition to increased stories of people married for longer and longer, increased life expectancy means another change in genealogical research. We have to keep our eyes open for marriages that occur much later in life than they used to.

Ted Parsons’ wife Linda passed away in the early 1980s. One of his friends, Jean Reed, was a staunch support for him. Eventually they fell in love. They have lived together ever since, and finally married recently in New Malden, Surrey, in England. This is a fairly common story, but what makes it more interesting is that Ted and Linda were married for 50 years before she died. And Ted is now 98, while his never-before-married blushing bride Jean is 90. Their combined age is 188 years. You can read about them in the Mirror.

As amazing as that sounds, they do not hold the record for the couple with the largest combined age to marry. That distinction was awarded last year to Americans Allan Marks and Lillian Hartley of Palm Springs, California. He was 98 and she 95 when they married last year on February 29; a combined age of 193 years. You can read their story in USA Today.

Christmas Cows: Interesting Holiday Gifts for the Genealogist

14 Dec 2013

Tick-tock, tick-tock. There are only 10 more days until Christmas, and 12 more days until Kwanzaa. Many of you may be wondering what to get your genealogy family and friends for the holidays this year. Or perhaps your family wants to know what to get for you. Earlier this week we gave you some creative ideas for gift giving. Check out these five additional ideas for something different in gift giving this holiday season.

1. Gift Certificate to Powell’s Books

It is easy to go to and buy the latest publications on a topic. But sometimes one wants to find a little-known older work. While many very old works are available online, the text of books that are still protected by copyright are not easily accessible that way. Based in Portland, Oregon, Powell’s Books is a great resource for used books. I have found many treasures there both in walking through the stacks of their brick-and-mortar stores and on the website. As a plus, they sell new books as well, so a gift certificate there will go a long way.

2. Conference Registration

Education is important for genealogists. Every time you find new ancestors in a different location, you have to start from scratch, learning how to research in that area. One of the best way to learn is to attend seminars and conferences with your fellow genealogists. Giving a registration to one of these educational events is a great holiday gift. It can be to a one-day regional or state event, or one of the multi-day national conferences sponsored by the National Genealogical Society or the Federation of Genealogical Societies.

3. Pictures from Home

Travelling to ancestral homelands can be difficult to schedule and costly. One way around this is to hire a photographer near where your ancestors lived. Hire them to visit your ancestral village to take photographs of the church, town square, ancestral home, etc. The cost can be a lot less than travelling there yourself. Be certain to get references for people whom you have not worked with before.

4. Donate to a Genealogical/Historical Society

Local historical and genealogical societies never have enough money. Make a donation to one of these groups in a location that is of interest to your genealogist. Even the smallest of donations can go a long way to help them. And, since most of these organizations are non-profit, you get a tax deduction for your donation as well.


Christmas cow


5. Horses, Cows, Sheep, Lambs, or Fund a Business

I have a friend who gives gifts through Heifer International. This organization has been working for 70 years to help those in need to end hunger and poverty around the world. Pick an ancestor. If your recipient had one who was a farmer, you can purchase livestock in his/her name. Everything from a single share of a sheep, to an entire ark full of animals. Or, in honor of an ancestor who was a merchant, you could help fund a small business to empower women in need. Were there carpenters or laborers in the family’s past? Help a family get roofing materials, bricks, concrete, and other building supplies to build strong homes. Give a gift through Heifer in honor of your genealogist’s ancestors, and make a difference in the world.

Do you plan on giving any genealogy related gifts this holiday season?

14 Dec 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked if you were planning on giving a genealogy related gift this season. Most of our community members do not seem to be in the genealogy gift giving spirit. Twenty-five percent of our users do plan on making a gift for family members this holiday season. Need ideas for a homemade gift? Check out our special holiday gift giving infographic. Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take our next poll: “How far back can you trace your family history?


News Stories and Blog Posts for Genealogists, December 13, 2013

13 Dec 2013

Following are some news stories and blog posts for genealogists I’ve come across recently. I hope you find them interesting and informative. Topics range from 400,000 year old humans to Napoléon Bonaparte.

Last week the New York Times ran a story about DNA recovered from a 400,000-year-old thigh bone in Spain. It is causing scientists to re-evaluate previous theories of human evolution, as it was not, as expected, Neanderthal DNA. It was closely related to a much more recent species of humans, the Denisovans. Read more in Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins.

Six student at De Mountfort University in Leicester, England, have created an amazing video. The three-minute video allows viewers to fly through Tudor London, seeing what the city looked like prior to the Great Fire of 1666. They used maps of that era to create the street patterns, and signs of genuine business created from descriptions in diaries of the period. Read more and watch he video in Prize-Winning Animation Lets You Fly Through 17th-Century London.

Noted genealogist Paul Milner published a review of a great new book of interest to those with Irish ancestry. The book uses 271 high-quality images and text to discuss a century of Irish history, from the era of the Irish famine through the start of World War II. Read what Paul has to see about this brand new work in Book Review: The Irish: A Photohistory 1840­–1940 by Sean Sexton and Christine Kenealy.

Last week I talked about the story of a lost cemetery in upstate New York that had a happy conclusion. This week, however, the focus moves to Prince William County, Virginia. The Board of Supervisors and the school district have been involved in some shenanigans to push through an action to remove bodies from a local cemetery so that the land can be turned into a football field for a local high school. Read more in the Washington Post in A Family History Trampled for a Football Field.




Napoléon Bonaparte is apparently alive and well, sat least accruing to the government agency responsible for the annual census taken in France. The agency recently sent a letter addressed to:

Bonaparte, Napoléon
3 Rue Saint Charles
Ajaccio [Corsica]

This address is right next door to Napoléon’s actual birthplace, which is today a museum. Read what the current occupant of that address did with the letter in Napoleon Receives Letter From French Census Bureau.

Fate and the Genealogist

12 Dec 2013

Our family histories are filled with simple quirks of fate that can send families off in new directions. If not for a single decision, your family’s life would have been much different. And who knows, perhaps you might not even exist?

We all have our special interests in genealogy. There are those who get very excited about having royal ancestry. For me, it is an interesting side note, but not hugely of interest to me.  Although very few of us can actually prove it, most of us who are of European ancestry probably have some sort of royal ancestry. The reason for this is quite simple.

For the most part, only one individual can become king or queen. It is usually the eldest who ascends to the throne (son or daughter will vary depending on the monarchy). His or her siblings and their children become lesser royals. Lesser royals marry into the nobility. But once again, only the eldest can inherit the title. Lesser nobles become landed gentry. The younger children of the landed gentry end up marrying commoners. So within a few generations, the youngest children go from being royalty to becoming commoners. And most of us have ancestry filled with commoners, some of who trace back to those royal ancestors. Unfortunately, in most instances, this is so far back it is difficult or impossible to prove.

Sometimes, however, the trajectory changed. For example, Elizabeth II was never supposed to be the Queen of England. King George V and his wife, Mary of Teck, had five sons and a daughter. Upon George’s death, their eldest son Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David ascended to the throne as King Edward VIII.

Edward, however, was destined for a short reign. From the beginning, he did not pay attention to accepted conventions. Within months he proposed marriage to Wallis Simpson, a divorced American waiting for her second divorce. This threw the nation into a constitutional crisis. The prime ministers of the United Kingdom and many of the dominions disapproved of the monarch’s marriage to a divorced woman. The Archbishop of Canterbury also objected, based on the Church of England’s oppositions to remarriage of divorced persons whose original spouses were still living.



King Edward VIII opening Parliament in 1936, from Wikimedia Commons.


Great-grandson of the longest-reigning monarch in British history, Edward’s reign was one of the shortest. Less than a year after ascending the throne, Edward abdicated seventy-seven years ago yesterday, on 11 December 1936, “for the woman I love.” They married in 1937 and remained so until his death in 1972.

Edward’s abdication thrust his younger brother Albert unexpectedly onto the throne as King George VI. Since George VI had no sons, his eldest daughter Elizabeth ascended to the throne upon his death. Interestingly, Elizabeth’s grandfather George V also was never supposed to be king. His elder brother Albert was heir to the throne when he died of pneumonia at the age of 28. Neither father nor son were supposed to be king.

In our own family, we see similar circumstances. And eldest son dies and the second son inherits the family farm instead. One family makes the decision to leave their native land behind and emigrate to America. Another family makes the same decision, but unfortunately chooses to travel on board H.M.S. Titanic. When researching, take a moment to look at the decisions and circumstances of your ancestors’ lives. See how much things may have been different, for better or for worse, had it not been for circumstances or the decisions they made.

Four Steps to Creating the Perfect Holiday Gift for Your Family

11 Dec 2013

Hoping to be the supreme gift giver this holiday season? Use these four simple steps to hone your skills and get off to the right start when creating the perfect holiday gift to celebrate your family and its unique history. Also, if you’re running out of time to make a gift this holiday season, here are some extra gift ideas that are guaranteed to excited family members and friends.

4 Step Holiday Gift Giving guide-2

Keeping Records Safe

10 Dec 2013



Dick Eastman posted an important story on his blog today. It concerns the destruction of records by the Clerk of Court for Franklin County, North Carolina. The records had been forgotten in the cellar over time, and covered a period from the 1840s through the 1860s. You can read more about what happened in a story by the Heritage Society of Franklin County.

This story is sad, but can be used as a cautionary tale. Records languish, forgotten in basements, attics, and storage areas in courthouses, city and town halls, and other government repositories. There are a number of reasons why this happens.

In most instances, it is not an intentional effort to hide records. The problem begins with a lack of proper storage space. Many government offices are small, out of date spaces. With all of the government cutbacks, there is often not enough money to pay for proper office supplies, let alone the furniture and space for the proper storage of records.

With the lack of space, government offices and agencies will find places to store older, little-used records. Often records are separated and placed in multiple locations. And these locations are not good for long-term storage, such as basements and attics.

Records languish and are forgotten because there is no need to access them on a regular basis. When government officers and employees are replaced, institutional memory goes with them. New employees may have no idea the records even exist, let alone where they are located.

When the records are found, there is a tendency to think that they are unnecessary, and to get rid of them. Unfortunately, a major issue is a lack of understanding of what records are important for genealogists and historians. Even archivists are not always aware of what “valuable” records are.

There are several things you can do to help save these records. The first thing to do is to educate the custodians of the records. The reason why so many of these problems happen is a lack of education. So teach them, for example, why dog registrations are valuable genealogical records (because they establish the presence of a person in a particular location at a particular time and place). Don’t try and do it alone, though.

As an individual, no matter how nice and friendly, it will be more difficult and challenging for you. Get your local historical and genealogical societies involved in the process. Work together to come up with a plan to educate government officials.

It is best to approach them in a friendly, non-threatening manner. Explain that other jurisdictions have had major problems, and you want to work with them to get their needs met before any issues arise in your area. And that is the key: approach them BEFORE a problem arises. Working with them this way is much easier than the adversarial positions that occur when trying to resolve issues in the heat of a controversial problem. Then you can make it a win-win scenario for everyone!

I Can Trace My Family to Adam and Eve: Not!

09 Dec 2013

Few things are as frustrating to professional genealogists as people who claim to have traced their ancestry back to Adam and Eve. In fact, when someone comes up to me or writes to me explaining how fortunate they were to be able to do that, I immediately excuse myself. I try to do it without appearing rude, but anyone who believes that they can trace their ancestry that far back is not someone who is seriously interested in family history. They are interested in collecting names, and clearly do not care whether or not they are really related to them.


"La Temptation," ca. 1869. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. From the collections of the Library of Congress.

“La Temptation,” ca. 1869. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. From the collections of the Library of Congress.


As a rule, most Americans whose ancestors immigrated here early in the development of the country might be able to trace their ancestors back to the seventeenth century. If you are lucky enough, you might be able to trace your ancestors back across the pond to Europe. Unfortunately, many disreputable people in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries published a lot of undocumented information on European ancestry, much of which was completely made up out of whole cloth and has no basis in reality.

If you are fortunate, and can prove the genuine origins, you may be able to trace your ancestors into the sixteenth century. But for the vast majority of people, this is as far back as you can go. If you are lucky enough to have ancestors who were of the merchant class or higher, you might be able to identify additional relationships further back through probate and other records. But the church records that we depend on for much of the information did not exist earlier than this.

Although Cromwell ordered in 1538 that all baptisms, weddings, and burials were to be recorded, it is not until around 1558 that most records survive. Starting in 1597, a copy of the records was to be made and sent to the Bishop each year, greatly enhancing the number of records that survived.

In Catholic countries, the Council of Trent is the critical moment. The Council, which convened from 1545 to 1563, enacted the first law for recordkeeping in all Catholic parishes. Baptisms and marriages were recorded for almost all parishioners. Unfortunately, the book of the dead was not as meticulously kept in many areas, and there are many holes in the records.

Those who can prove their ancestry (and please not, I said “prove” not “find in some undocumented post”) back through the gentry to the royal families of Europe will be able to trace their ancestries further back. Yet even these start to have difficulties and problems when you start moving backwards through the Middle Ages (the 5th though the 15th centuries).

Anything prior to this time is pure supposition, with wide-ranging gaps. And leaps of six or seven hundred years are not exactly conducive to quality work. Stick to documentable facts and do your research, and you will have ancestors that you can reliably prove to share with your family.

Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, December 6, 2013

06 Dec 2013

Following are some blog posts and news stories that I’ve found interesting and informative. I hope you enjoy them as well.

Jim Beidler always has interesting pieces in his “Roots and Branches” column in the Lebanon Daily News. Recently he wrote about a case of double-serendipity. A dinner in memory of our late friend John Humphrey led him to a discussion with a fellow genealogist who had found a Bible from an ancestor while perusing an antique store. More serendipity occurred when Jim discovered that the owner of the Bible was also related to him. Read more in A Case of ‘Second-hand Serendipity.

Heather Wilkinson Rojo writes the Nutfield Genealogy blog about New England and other places. She recently wrote a compelling story about her husband’s family in Spain. His grandfather was one of dozens of people from the area of the village of Aranda de Duero executed by the forces of Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Recently the bodies were disinterred from their mass grave and reinterred in the local cemetery. Read more of the story in An Emotional Turn of Events.

A different, and sadder, case of serendipity occurred in the United Kingdom. A married couple had felt an “inevitable attraction” to each other from the moment they first met. Both were adopted and neither had any idea who their birth parents were. The couple married. Unfortunately, they later discovered that they were actually twins who were separated after birth when they were put up for adoption. The case has caused Parliament to start changes in adoption regulations to prevent such tragedies from occurring again. Read more in Married Couple in the UK Discover They Are Actually Twins Separated at Birth.

We are so used to hearing about horrible stories about old cemeteries being lost to the ravages of time and development or vandalized by thugs, it is nice to be able to present a story with a happy ending for a change. Two genealogists were recently looking for their Revolutionary War ancestor’s grave in Washington County, New York.  They found it in a neglected family cemetery on a local farm. Fortunately, the farmer agreed to having the cemetery preserved. Read more in History Plowed Under: Descendants Discover Revolutionary War-era Graves on Farm.


Lone Ranger


Finally, we have a story that will be interesting for those who grew up in the mid-twentieth century with the words “Hi, ho, Silver!” The television show was the successor to the Lone Ranger radio series. It all started with a 1915 Zane Gray novel. But how many know the real-life man whose story inspired the legend of the Lone Ranger? Born into slavery in 1838, Bass Reeves became the first African-American Deputy U.S. Marshall in Arkansas and the Indian Territory. His story is fascinating. You can read more in The REAL Lone Ranger.

The End of Prohibition

05 Dec 2013

Seventy-one years ago today, on December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, officially ending Prohibition. The only attempt in our nation’s history to legislate morality, the 18th Amendment, prohibiting alcohol consumption, was a dismal failure on all fronts. No only did it not end alcohol consumption in the United States, it cost the Federal and state governments billions of dollars while it was in effect. The experiment officially ended at 5:32 p.m. EST on December 5, 1933 when the state of Utah voted for repeal. Many of our ancestors were involved in Prohibition, including those in the Temperance Movement that lead up to it, and those who made moonshine and became “rumrunners” while it was in effect. Here are some interesting facts and figures about Prohibition.

America's Hangover