Genealogy Blog

This week we would like to know what, if any, Southern states you have any interest in

04 May 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked which, if any, Southern states you have any interest in. Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take the next poll and see how you compare with your fellow genealogists.

Southern States

Blog Posts and News for Genealogists, May 3, 2013

03 May 2013

Here are some interesting news stories and blog posts published recently. I wanted to share them with you, and hope you find them as informative as I do.

The “starving time” winter of 1609–10 in Jamestown was a terrifying period for the colonists. This week, archaeologists held a press conference at the Smithsonian Institute where the showed the reconstructed skull of a 14-year-old girl recovered from the site of the fort at Jamestown. The skull bore the distinct signs of butchery, indicating that the colonists resorted to cannibalism during that trying winter. Of the total population of 300, only 60 survived. You can read more of the story in Jamestown Cannibalism Confirmed by Skull from ‘Jane’ in USA Today.

The Legal Genealogist has been a busy bee this week. She has been speaking and writing on topics from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries. Those with New York ancestry might be especially interested in today’s post, Going Dutch. Judy discusses resources available for Dutch-American law.

Dick Eastman had an interesting story this week from The Netherlands. In 2011, bones were discovered on a beach. Groote Keeten is in Noord-Holland and was the site of a little known battle in 1799. Researchers identified the body a s amember of the Coldstream Gueards based on the uniform it was wearing. Now they are trying to identify him. Read more in Mystery of the British Soldier Found in the Dunes of Holland.

Audrey Collins had an interesting post recently about records from the Old Bailey. It seems that in 1844  there was an organized crime ring operating to defraud the Bank of England. They worked to get large amounts of money that were held in dormant accounts. The case ended up in the newspapers of the time, and the Old Bailey must have been filled during the trial, You can read more in Old Bailey Online — The Will Forgeries.


Capones Controversy


Finally, genealogy is stirring up a controversy over in television land. The Reelz Channel is a cable channel that broadcasts programming about movies, as well as syndicated and original programming. They air a reality show called “The Capones,” which features Dominic Capone and his mother Dawn running the family pizzeria and restaurant. Dominic is purported to be the great-nephew of Al Capone. This claim is being challenged by Chris Knight a.k.a. Chris Capone, who claims to be the grandson of the famed mobster. Read more in War Brewing Over Gangster Reality  Show.


Changing the Rules of Research: Twins Born 87 Days Apart

02 May 2013

One of the more interesting challenges in my own genealogy is the family of Noël Durand and Esther Poisson of Gentilly, Quebec. He was twenty-two years old and she twenty-five when they married there 25 October 1842. Their first child was Charles, baptized at the church there 31 July 1844 “né hier” (born yesterday).  The godparents were Pascal Poisson and Rosalie Durand (siblings of Noël and Esther). Their next child was a daughter, Marie Louise. She was born 18 September 1844 and baptized the same day. Her godparents were Charles Comeau and Lucie Poisson (sister of Esther).  That was not a typo. The second child was born six weeks after the first child.

I was reminded of this conundrum when I read in the Huffington Post the story of Maria Jones-Elliott and her husband Chris of Ireland. Maria was only twenty-three week along in her pregnancy, carrying twins, when her water broke. Daughter Amy was born June 1, 2012, four months premature. She weighed little more than a pound. On August 27, doctors induced her labor and Katie was born during the 36th week of her pregnancy. After months in an incubator and intensive care, Amy became a healthy young girl. The Elliotts will soon appear in the Guinness Book of World Records for twins being born the farthest apart.


The Elliott family of Ireland with world-record setting daughters Amy and Katie, born 87 days apart.


Even fifteen or twenty years ago, it is unlikely that Amy would have survived. Even Katy would have been in extreme danger. But advantages in technology and medical care have made it possible for these children to not only survive, but to thrive, and to go on and live full, healthy, happy lives.

In the past thirty years we have seen many changes that will affect that way people do genealogy in the future. Many of the rules we have used in the past will go away. In the past, for example, it is highly doubtful that any woman would have a child after the age of fifty. Now, thanks to technology, 60- and 70-year-old women are bearing their own grandchildren.

Couples are marrying later than they used to. Years ago, first marriages occurred in the early-to-mid twenties. Today, it is not unusual to see first marriages occurring in someone’s mid-to-late thirties. Advances in technology and medicine have made it easier and safer for women to give birth later in life.  And while we have always dealt with the question of tracing the birth lines of adopted children, now we have the specter of tracing the lines of sperm and egg donors. And the name of the mother on a birth certificate may be the name of a surrogate carrying the child, who has no biological relationship to it whatsoever.

These issues will greatly change the way genealogists research in the future. But it sill won’t help me figure out this issue of two children born six weeks apart in 1844. Both records clearly state the names of the parents and the dates of birth of the children. Still going to take me some time to figure that one out!

A Technologically Advanced Resource for Geography: The David Rumsey Map Collection

01 May 2013

Throughout his long career in business, David Rumsey maintained a number of outside interests. In 1980 he began building a collection of historical maps and cartographic materials for North and South America. He retired from real estate in 1995, and created Cartography Associates. With more than 150,000 maps, his is one of the largest privately-held map collections in the United States.

In 1995 he started sharing his collection with the public for free online through a dedicated website. The site has since won numerous awards, including a Webby Award for technical achievement.

There are numerous ways to view the maps. The Luna Browser provides a great deal of functionality. Of particular interest to genealogists, you can make annotations on the map images and share them with others. You can also create a widget for the map and embed it elsewhere.

The website also takes advantage of Google. Use the MapRank search to navigate to the area you would like to see maps of. The results then appear as a list of maps with thumbnails in a pain on the right side of the window. If you move your cursor over the list, the specific area of that map will appear highlighted on the Google map.


Example of Google Maps incorporation with David Rumsey maps.


The incorporation of Google Earth is even more interesting. Hundreds of maps have been georeferenced. In this process, GIS (geographic information systems) software takes points from the old maps and matches them to the same points on street maps, modern maps with national and state boundaries, and modern satellite images. The images of the old maps are then placed over the curved Google Earth map, curved to fit the curvature of the Earth’s surface.

A similar process was used with Google Maps. More than 120 maps have been incorporated into the Google Maps interface. This interface does not require downloading the Google Earth software to your computer. In earlier times, tools were not as sophisticated and perceptions of one’s surroundings were not always accurate. Because of this, in both the Google Earth and Google Maps interface, some of the early maps had to be distorted a bit to fit the modern contours.

If you are a fan of Second Life, you can take advantage of the Rumsey maps in the virtual world. The location is called the Rumsey Map Islands. Included in the interesting items here are two 100-meter tall globes, the Grand Canyon, 1836 New York City, and the Yosemite Valley (in both 2-D and 3-D). Hundreds of additional maps are also available there.

Check out the collection at Enjoy the multitude of ways in which maps can help you with your research. And just enjoy some really cool technology.

The Louisiana Purchase

30 Apr 2013

Today is the 210th Anniversary of the largest territorial acquisition in U.S. history: the Louisiana Purchase. A highly controversial move in the United States, Jefferson’s acquisition doubled the size of the nascent country overnight. It set the stage for the nineteenth century theory of Manifest Destiny, that the U.S. would come to control the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The territory of the Louisiana Purchase has a long and storied history. The first European settlement in this area was La Nouvelle-Orlèans, today the city of New Orlans. It was founded in 1718 and named for the Duke of Orlèans, Regent of France. Settlements continued up the river and spread down from what is today Quebec, Michigan, and Illinois. All of this territory was considered part of the colony of New France.



In 1762, France and Spain signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau. France had lost Canada to the British. This was part of the Seven Years’ War, known as the French and Indian War in North America. The agreement covered the territory of Louisiana, which spread from the Appalachians to the Rockies.

The following year, Britain, France, Portugal, and Spain, officially ended the Seven Years’ War with the Peace of Paris. Also called the Treaty of Paris, the agreement was signed 10 February 1763. As part of the agreement, France ceded Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Tobago to Britain, as well as all of Louisiana east of the Mississippi, except for New Orleans. Under the Treaty of Fontainebleau, the western part of Louisiana and New Orleans were ceded to Spain.

This left France with no holdings in mainland North America. They did preserve fishing rights off of Newfoundland, and retained the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River as a place to cure the fish before transporting it. Those two islands remain part of France today.

Under the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso, Spain returned the Louisiana Territory to France in 1800. In 1801, Napoleon sent a military force to secure New Orleans. In 1803, Napoleon offered the territory to the U.S. for the sum of $15 million. This is equivalent to more than $306 million in 2013.

The American Revolution had shown the strategic importance of the port of New Orleans. Thomas Jefferson’s representatives quickly agreed to the purchase, realizing its potential significance to the United States. The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed 30 April 1803.

Unfortunately, there was great opposition to the purchase at home. Many were worried about alienating Britain, which whom the French were at war. Others thought it was unconstitutional, because the U.S. Constitution did not provide for the U.S. to purchase additional territory. Still others were concerned about granting U.S. citizenship to the French and Spanish “foreigners” who lived in the territory. There were also questions as to whether or not France even had the right to sell the territory to the U.S. under the terms of its agreement with Spain.

In the end, everything worked out. The U.S. acquired the territory, and Jefferson immediately sent out three parties to survey the territory. Among these was the famous Lewis and Clark expedition. Today, the land of the Louisiana Purchase is part of fourteen states: Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. This area opened up extensive settlement for Americans in the 19th century, and its availability no doubt changed the course of U.S. history.

Confederate Memorial Day

29 Apr 2013

Today is Memorial Day. I know what you are thinking. “Memorial Day isn’t until the end of May, dope!” Well, today is a very special Memorial Day. In the state of Mississippi, today is celebrated as Confederate Memorial Day. Today, thirteen states have some sort of commemoration for Confederate soldiers.

Ladies Memorial Associations started appearing all over the South after the end of the Civil War. In the spring of 1866, the Columbus, Georgia, group decided that it would be good to set aside a day to honor those who had fallen for the Confederacy. They wrote letters to other groups in the South to suggest they follow suit.

One of the members chose April 26 as the date they would commemorate the soldiers. She chose that day because it was the first anniversary of General Joseph Johnson’s surrender to William Tecumseh Sherman at Bennett Place in Durham, North Carolina. On April 26, 1865, Johnson signed terms of surrender which disbanded the Confederate troops in North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. This accounted for almost 90,000 troops, and was the largest surrender of the war. Many Southerners marked this as the effective end of the Civil War, which would not officially end for two more weeks.

Today the eleven states of the Confederacy (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia,  Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia)have a time to honor Confederate soldiers. In addition, two border states that did not secede also have a day to honor fallen Confederates: Kentucky and Maryland. The dates of observance vary from state to state. Commemoration dates include the Jefferson Davis’ birthday and Robert E. Lee’s birthday in addition to the Johnson surrender. In some it is a fixed date, while in others it is moveable.



No matter what side your ancestors fought for during the war, it is important to remember that all of the soldiers, both North and South, were fighting for a cause they sincerely believed in. And many of them made the ultimate sacrifice. There is a memorial for Confederate soldiers in the Arlington National Cemetery. An inscription on the monument reads:


Not for fame or reward

Not for place or for rank

Not lured by ambition

Or goaded by necessity

But in simple

Obedience to duty

As they understood it

These men suffered all

Sacrificed all

Dared all—and died.


O Canada: How Her History Affects Recordkeeping

25 Apr 2013

Canada has had an interesting history. Parts of it have belonged at different times to France and to England. As a result, the kinds of records available vary from providen to province. It is critical to have a basic understanding of Canadian history before you undertake research there so you can understand what records are—and are not—available.

The area of Newfoundland and Labrador was founded as a England’s first territory in the New World in 1583. It was settled first by English, later joined by a large number of Irish. This area followed a British system of recordkeeping. It did not join Confederation until 1949.




The area that is today the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, was originally settled by the French. Knows as Acadia, this territory has a great deal of fertile farmland, as well as the large fishing industry. Acadia was ceded by France to Great Britain in 1710. After that, the legal system changed from the French system to English common law. If you are researching your French ancestors in the Maritimes, you will likely need to be familiar with both sets of records.

France continued to hold a large territory in North America even after ceding Acadia. The largest settled part of this territory was the area that is today the province of Quebec. In 1759 the Battle of the Plains of Abraham was fought near the city of Quebec, and the French forces lost to the British. Quebec was officially ceded to Britain by the terms of the Peace of Paris in 1763.

Britain was now faced with a problem. British North America now stretched from Hudson’s Bay down to Georgia. But it was not a settled and peaceful area. France and England had been at war for so long that each considered the other a mortal enemy. The Acadians who remained behind were still bitter over their loss to Britain. And the French-Canadians of Quebec were a recently conquered people.

On top of these problems the “southern colonies” stretching from New England to Georgia were experiencing widespread political unrest. Britain may have had the greatest army on the earth, but her leaders knew that if the entire continent broke out in rebellion, they would never be able to be victorious everywhere. Indeed, their forces could be stretched so thinly that they would face defeat everywhere.

Parliament decided to try to ameliorate some of these problem by pacifying the French-Canadians. In 1774, the Quebec Act was past. Among its terms, it allowed the French Canadians to pay their tithe to the Catholic curch instead of the Anglican church. It also implemented a dual legal system. Criminal law would henceforce be under the English system. But civil law, which impacted far more people on a day-to-day basis than criminal law, would continue to follow the “coutume de Paris” (the custom of Paris). These legal systems applied to all inhabitants in the colony, whether of French origin, English, or other.

The Quebec Act did achieve the desired result of pacifying the French Canadians who did not pick up arms against the British. Unfortunately, it was considered one of the Intolerable Acts by those southern colonies, and led directly to the start of the American Revolution two years later. The Coutume de Paris was followed in Quebec until 1866 when it was replaced by a version of the Napoleonic Code, still in French tradition and not English. When Confederation occurred in 1867, the other provinces (Ontario, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick) followed English law. This remained true for the other provinces as they joined Confederation.

Knowing just a small bit of Canadian history will benefit you greatly in your genealogical research. Knowing the timeline of the province in which your ancestor lived will alert you to different record sets that might be available. It may also alert you to the fact that you have to learn a foreign set of records (such as Quebec’s notarial records) in order to find more information about your people.

Vital Records in the United States

24 Apr 2013

Registration of vital records in America dates back to the seventeenth century. It was an outgrowth of a sixteenth-century requirement that Anglican churches keep records of the baptisms, marriages, and burials that took place in their parishes. The first known law in the colonies on this matter was passed by a Grand Assembly held at James City (now Jamestown), Virginia, in 1632. This law provided that each parish would send either a minister or warden to court each year on June 1 to present a record of the christenings, marriages, and burials that occurred during the precending year.



The General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first to acknowledge the difference between church marriage, baptisms, and burials and civil marriages, births, and deaths. In 1639 they required the town clerks of the colony to make a record of civil marriages, births, and deaths that occurred in the town each year. Other colonies in New England quickly followed this path.

Unfortunately, none of the above laws was wildly successful. Despite establishing legislative carrots (registration fees payable to the clerk) and penalties (for clerks who did not comply), recordkeeping was nowhere near complete. This is not terribly surprising, giving the intense population movements that were occurring in the early years. Huge numbers of individuals spend short amounts of time passing through towns and cities on their way to “greener pastures.”

It was not until the nineteenth century that compliance was greater, with the passage of new laws. The great concern was public health. Proponents argued that accurate statistics were required to address issues of disease. After a great cholera epidemic in 1831–32, England and Wales started requiring civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths in 1837.

One man in American history can be given credit for the system of vital records registration that we have in the United States today: Lemuel Shattuck. The Massachusetts merchant was a great believer in public health issues. He used the English civil registration law to create model legislation for a civil registration law in Massachusetts, which went into effect in 1841. Even then, compliance wasn’t complete until the General Court enacted stiffer legislation a decade later to ensure that every locale in the state would be in compliance.

In 1849 the federal government brought Shattuck to Washington to help design the 1850 census. Thus was born some of the major census improvements, such as the listing the names of every individual in the household. This was also the first census to collect information on deaths in the past year in a special mortality schedule.

In 1855 the American Medical Association called upon its members to encourage each state to start collecting vital records. In 1879 Congress established the National Board of Health. The U.S. Public Health Service determined when a state had reached 90% completeness with vital records registration. Massachusetts and New Jersey achieved instance compliance for death registration in 1880. It took the longest for states to achieve compliance with registration of births. South Dakota was the last of the continental U.S. to achieve this status, in 1932 (Alaska was dead last, not achieving compliance until 1950).

Today, each state determines rules of access to these records. Access varies widely from state to state, and researchers need to be careful to research to discover exactly which records they will, and will not, have access to.

A Rose by Any Other Name: 5 Tips for Using Onomastics in Your Research

23 Apr 2013


Sometimes when researching our ancestors we need to rely on onomastic evidence. Naming patterns can be very helpful in proving relationships. Unfortunately, many of the so-called “rules” of naming children are not hard and fast rules.

1. In New England, it is often said that in colonial times, the rule for naming one’s children goes as follows:

  • First son for husband’s father
  • First daughter for wife’s mother
  • Next son for wife’s father
  • Next daughter for husband’s mother
  • Next son for husband
  • Next daughter for wife

Other children would be named for the siblings of the husband or wife, etc. While this is a lovely fantasy, it is far from true. Sometimes people named their children in this pattern. But just as often it is completely random. If you have no idea who the parents of a couple are, the names of the children can be used as clues. However, do not use the “rule of naming” as a hard and fast rule. It is at least equally likely that the third or fourth son might be named for the husband’s father.

2. In addition to familial names, children were often given the name of a strong Biblical figure, such as Josiah or Samuel. Puritans often named their children after virtues such as Temperance.

3. Those with Catholic ancestors know that the church has some rules. The current Catholic Catechism says:

“In Baptism, the Christian receives his name in the Church. Parents, godparents, and the pastor are to see that he be given a Christian name. The patron saint provides a model of charity and the assurance of his prayer.”

In addition to saints, names from the Old Testament are often used. Take note of the name used, and look of the history of that saint or Biblical figure. This often

4. While middle names are uncommon among American Protestants until the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Catholics often carried multiple first names even back in the sixteenth century.

5. Those researching their French-Canadian ancestors will notice a pattern in naming practices. First is that almost everyone is baptized with multiple first names. The one that appeared closest to the surname is the one that, for the most part, they used in everyday life. The first name given in baptism was almost always Joseph for boys and Marie for girls (for the parents of Jesus). Then other names would follow.

For example, my paternal grandfather was Joseph Alfred Leclerc. He went by Fred or Freddie his entire life. Unfortunately, at the end of his life, a new priest was assigned to the parish. At his funeral, most of us knew that Fred was probably about to burst up through the coffin and smack the priest. The priest kept talking about what a good guy old Joe was and how much we would miss him. My grandfather absolutely hated the name Joe.

In addition to Joseph and Marie, the child would often take the name of the godparent (godfather for boys, godmother for girls). The grandparents would often serve as godparents for the first child (or later children). One nice thing is that any familial relationship between the child and the godparents is usually given in the record.

Keep these tips in mind when using onomastics for researching your ancestors. While they can be used as additional evidence, there are no hard and fast, unbreakable rules.



For Future Generations, Say What You Need to Say

20 Apr 2013

As someone who has been involved in instrumental and choral music since I was a teenager, I enjoy Glee. This week’s episode was a particularly powerful one. It was the first time a show geared towards teenagers dealt with the issue of school shootings. No spoilers here, but the episode ends with the kids together on the stage singing Say What You Need to Say.

This made me think even more about how times have changed. When I was in high school, the worst thing I had to worry about was getting shoved into a locker. Or trying to fit in with the other kids. My nieces, however, have to worry about crazy people carrying guns in and shooting people. It is a fact of life for them.

So what does this have to do with genealogy? Plenty. Genealogists spend so much time researching our ancestors. After you find the details of birth, marriage, and death, you move on. You dig through resource after resource to build a picture of your ancestors’ lives. And then you bump into a nagging professional like me, who reminds you to gather all your research and share it with the family. You want your ancestors’ life stories to be remembered.



If you are lucky, in your research you will come across family letters, diaries, journals, or other personal papers that give you direct insight into your ancestors’ lives. You can hear first-hand they felt and thought, what their experiences were as they travelled through life and what it meant to them. Unfortunately, many of us do not have those resources available to us. And without those personal insights, it is difficult to know what really happened.

But how often do you think of your own life story? Do you keep a diary or journal? Have you written down vignettes from your life. What was it like for you as a child in your family? How did things change for you as an adult? Was there a “black sheep” in the family? If so, why was he or she considered to be that?

Personally, I think it is important to share these stories. I want family members not yet born to know what it was like for me growing up knowing I was different from everyone else. What was it like as a gay kid in an era when it was considered wrong and shameful? There is no doubt in my mind that within another generation, people will look back at that as we look on the proponents of racism and slavery, and family members in the future won’t have first-hand experience with it anymore.

I want them to know why I am the only family member to not appear in my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary photograph. I want them to understand the good times and the bad my family has gone through dealing with my brother’s degenerative disease that will cut his life short. I want them to know what it is like to have a sister who stopped speaking to me years ago because of her prejudices. I want them to know how grateful I am to have parents who support their children so strongly.

Sometimes talking about ourselves and our own lives is something we are afraid to do. We worry too much about what other people think. The reality is that your story is your story, your truth is your truth. No one can better explain what your life was like than you. If you are afraid that living people will be hurt or angry with you, that’s fine. You don’t have to share those stories today if you don’t want to. But you can write them down or record them. Then give them to a repository. You can even restrict access to them until after a certain time period has passed (such as 75 years after your death, when most people old enough to care now will also be gone).

It is so important to share your stories with the future. Think of you feel when you read a diary or journal from someone long dead. It gives you insights into them that you cannot get otherwise.  And your family’s descendants will love you for having left a record of them. None of us knows how much time we have here, but we do know that it is always a finite amount. So say what you need to say, and leave it for posterity.