Genealogy Blog

Do you plan on doing anything to celebrate Family History Month?

19 Oct 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked if you were planning on doing anything to celebrate family history month. Most of you had plans to work on a brick wall problem and also share your research with other family members. Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take our next poll: “Have you visited and/or used resources from the Family History Library?”


From Hemingway to Hack Genealogy: Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, October 18, 2013

18 Oct 2013

In this week’s roundup of genealogical stories and blog posts, we cover a variety of interesting topics: a new documentary looking into the family history, especially the family health history of actress Mariel Hemingway, potential naming patterns to look for in your ancestry, a discussion of family history and online auctions, a “term of the day” series from The Legal Genealogist, and an interview with yours truly on Hack Genealogy.

Researching one’s family health history can be an important facet of genealogy. A new documentary from Oprah Winfrey and Oscar-winning Barbara Kopple looks at actress Mariel Hemingway, and the history of mental health issues in her family that lead to the suicides of seven family members, including her sister Margeaux and grandfather Ernest Hemingway. Find out more about Running From Crazy, and watch a clip, in New Documentary Digs Deep Into Hemingway Family History.

Michael Fisher writes about naming patterns in the Mariposa, California, Sierra Sun Times. Among other items, he discusses the particular practice of “re-using” names. When one relative dies (even a sibling), it is very common to see another child being given the same name as the deceased. Read more in A Family Affair — Naming Customs.

A new website in Scotland looks to help people find everything from the jacket they left at a bar last night to lost family heirlooms. places things into three categories: Lost & Found; Antiques, Retro and Collectibles; and Genealogical Heirlooms & Provenances. Best of all, it is free for private individuals to list items on the site. Discover more about this new website in How Do You Join the Worlds of Family History and Online Auctions? Lost Property Glue!

The Legal Genealogist ran an interesting series this week. Each day she explained a different term from the legal world that genealogists might encounter. Monday she discussed test-paper, on Tuesday it was quarter-day, Wednesday was wyte; Thursday, toft, and she finished the week today with journey-hoppers. One of them deals with the price-fixing of yarn. Guess which one?


Michael Hack Genealogy


Finally, this week, we end with a story from Thomas MacEntee’s new Hack Genealogy website. He has been running a series of interviews with professional genealogists, including Lisa Alzo from New York and Josh Taylor from findmypast. Today he ran an interview with the Mocavo’s Chief Genealogist a.k.a. me. If you are interested in hearing more about my favorite app, the technology I use personally, or my general thoughts about a wide variety of genealogical topics (including my genealogy super power), you can read Michael Leclerc: How I Hack Genealogy.

5000+ New Databases in 5 Days

17 Oct 2013

I’m happy to report that we’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response to our announcement last week – it really struck a chord with the community. They’re excited that when content goes online at Mocavo, it’s free forever. I also told you last week that we would release more than 1,000 databases every day – and we’ve kept our promise. In just the past five days, we’ve brought online more than 5,000 databases, all of them free forever, including family and local histories, vital records, city directories, newspapers, yearbooks, and more.

See the 5000+ databases we’ve added in just 5 days – or just today.

Many of you have signed up for Mocavo Gold in support of our cause, and are enjoying searching these new 5,000 databases all at once, plus more than 100,000 more. And, as always, Mocavo Basic users can search these databases individually for free.

Mocavo Gold offers you automated searching, the ability to run global searches across all of our databases, and a number of other great features. This means that you can search the Texas Death Index (or more than 100,000 other databases) to your heart’s content without paying a dime. If you want to search them all at once, join our revolution and upgrade to Mocavo Gold.

Stop the Presses: How University Publishers Can Help Your Research

16 Oct 2013

As genealogists we understand that social history is equally as important to our research as family history. Traditionally, history has focused on leaders, the famous, and other prominent individuals. Social history, on the other hand, examines the experiences of average people in the past.

Since most of us are descended from more of the average individuals and fewer of the world leaders, social history can be very helpful. Looking at the lives of individuals in a similar social position can give you a greater understanding of your own ancestors. Since many college and university faculty now concentrate on social history, college and university presses are a great place to find these resources.

College and university presses often publishes works by the faculty and staff of their own school, but you will often find them publishing books from independent historians as well as the faculty and staff of other institutions. They also publish books that would never be published by a major house like Houghton Mifflin or McGraw-Hill, because the audiences for the book are too small for them.

When I was at the New York State Family History Conference recently, The Cornell University Press had a booth there. Among the titles that were displayed:

  • All Men Free and Brave: Essays on African American Freemasonry
  • Becoming German: The 1709 Palatine Migration to New York
  • Islands of Holiness: Rural Religion in Upstate New York, 1790–1860
  • New York City, 1664–1710: Conquest and Change
  • Vanishing Ironworks of the Rampos: The Story of the Forges, Furnaces, and Mines of the New Jersey-New York Border Area

The University of Massachusetts Press recently published One Colonial Woman’s World: The Life and Writings of Mehitabel Chandler Coit. Mehetabel (1673–1758) started life in Roxbury, Massachusetts and ended it in Connecticut. Her diary, which she started in 1688 and continued into the 1740s, is one of the earliest (if not the earliest) surviving diary of a woman in America.

Here are some examples of other titles that might be of interest to genealogists:

University Presses


One way to find these publishers is to visit the website of the Association of American University Presses. The association has been around for more than 75 years and more than 130 publishers are members.

College and university presses have had difficulties lately because of the shrinking budgets of libraries, their typical audiences. By reaching out and purchasing their books (and encouraging your local library to purchase them), you will help to ensure that they will continue to produce these valuable works for some time to come.

Extra! Extra! Check Out the Northern New York Historical Newspapers

15 Oct 2013

Almost fifty years after it was created, the Northern New York Library Network (NNYLN) is doing a wonderful job at providing resources for the libraries in the region. NNYLN covers the counties of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis, Oswego, and St. Lawrence. Among the resources that are very valuable to genealogists is the Northern New York Historical Newspapers Database.


Northern NY Newspapers


The database is an ongoing project to digitize historical copies of newspapers in the area. It currently contains more than two million pages from sixty-five newspapers published across the seven counties; from the Adirondack Mountain Sun (Lowville) to the Watertown Re-Union. St. Lawrence County currently has the largest coverage, with eighteen titles. The coverage includes not only community newspapers, but college newspapers, such as those from SUNY Potsdam and Jefferson Community College.

The date range varies greatly from location to location and paper to paper. The earliest newspaper is the Plattsburgh Republican, which started in 1811. In 1942 it joined with the Plattsburgh Daily Press, which started in 1894, to become the Plattsburgh Press-Republican. Coverage is complete for both earlier papers, and covers the merged paper from 1942 through 1998. The most recent issues are for the North Creek News Enterprise, which has issues through 2009 in the database.

The search is fairly simple. You can do a keyword search using one or more words. You can search for any appearance of the keywords, the exact phrase, or do a Boolean search. The “stemming” feature looks for variations, such as “fishing” when you are searching for “fish.”

The results appear in a list with links to the papers. The link names include the name and date range for the newspaper. An image of the newspaper page appears in a pane on the right. The image is an Adobe PDF file. The control bar appears at the bottom of the pane if you roll over it with your mouse. By clicking on the Adobe logo on the right, you can open up the full menu bar of control options.

The viewer allows you to read backwards and forwards through the paper. You can save a PDF of the entire page, or a zoomed-in version with just the part of the page you are interested in. You can also print it out or email a copy of the image to yourself or anyone else.

If you don’t see a newspaper you would like to have on the database, they welcome suggestions. There is a link right on the home page to send the ideas for additional newspapers to digitize and add to the database.

It is groups like this that are making research so much easier for us. If you use the site often and find it useful, consider making a financial contribution to the project. That will ensure that they can continue to add to the database.

3 Ways to Access Family History Library Materials Remotely

14 Oct 2013

I’m off to the Family History Library this week to join many of my friends and colleagues. The annual meetings for the Board for Certification of Genealogists and the American Society of Genealogists were held here last weekend. Many others of us have joined them for a week of research and collegiality. It is a welcome respite from our usual get-togethers which happen at conferences. There our time is filled with meetings, giving presentations, working in exhibit halls, etc. This week is a time when we return to the fun of research, which is how we all got started with this professional work in the first place!Family History Library

The Family History Library is one of the best repositories in the world in which to do research. It is five floors of floor-to-ceiling books and microfilms filled with all manner of records and historical information from around the world. And the best part of it is that you necessarily need to come to Salt Lake City to access it.

1. FamilySearch has been working for years now to convert their collections to digital format and make them available online. Many people don’t realize exactly how much material is available on the website. Simply go to the Search page, then scroll to the bottom of the page. Selection a geographic location, and you will be presented with a large list of records available online for that locality. Each location can be further subdivided (by country, state, province, etc.). Searching these databases individually can give you more productive results than the long list you will get from searching a large locality. You can also do a separate search for a large number of books.

2. FamilySearch also operates a large network of more then 4,600 Family History Centers (sometimes called FamilySearch Libraries or FamilySearch Centers) around the world. Like the Family History Library, they are free and open to the public to use. Each FHC has some portion of the microfilms and microfiche held at the FHL. If your local FHC doesn’t have the films you need, you can borrow them from the main library in Salt Lake City. You will also find reference books, and access to many subscription websites. The size of the FHCs varies widely, as does their individual holdings. Use this map to find the location nearest to you.

3. Another great option for obtaining records from FHL is to use their copy service. If there is no FHC near you, and no public library nearby that has the material you are looking for, you can order copies from FHL. They cannot look to see if your ancestor is in the record or book. They can take requests for specific records or books. They will copy no more than 10 pages or 10% of the total, whichever is less. For more rules, or to order a photocopy, check out their Photoduplication Services.

News and Blog Posts for Genealogists, October 11, 2013

11 Oct 2013

This week has a varied assortment of news stories and blog posts. The DAR moves into the 21st century, the earliest Kodak photographs, and exploration of our brains and creativity, the accidental fame of noted historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and a new take on one of the Salem witches are the subjects for this week. Enjoy!

George Eastman released his Kodak 1 camera 125 years ago. It was designed to be used by amateurs, and was found in many houses. The Huffington Post is reported on a museum in the U.K. that is creating a Flickr channel for many of its early Kodak images. Many of them show day-to-day life, but others are quite interesting. You can see some of them, and find out how to access more, in Photographs Take With Kodak’s First Commercial Camera Are Now 125 Years Old.


Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 11.41.18 PM


The Daughters of the American Revolution had a major announcement in their blog last weekend. Starting January 1, 2014, NSDAR will accept DNA evidence in conjunction with documentary evidence as genealogical proof for membership. The Genealogy Department is releasing guidelines for inclusion of Y-DNA with applications. Because Y-DNA cannot be tied to only a single individual, potential members will need to also use traditional evidence for acceptance. Read more in DNA Evidence for DAR Applications and Supplementals.

Fast Company magazine publishes many stories about innovation and creative thought. A recent article in their Work Smart column provides fascinating insight into how our brains work. Author Belle Beth Cooper discovered ten things about our brains, including the fact that we are more creative when we are tired, and stress can change the size of your brain. Read this fascinating information and more in Why We’re More Creative When We’re Tired and 9 Other Surprising Things About How Brains Work.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is a Pulitzer-prize winning historian from Harvard. When she was a graduate student, she published an article in the American Quarterly that would ensure her own notoriety. In the article she wrote “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Since then the words have appeared on all size and shape of materials from coffee mugs to posters to t-shirts and more. She recently spoke about how she arrived at that statement. You can read more in “Accidental Slogan” Leads to Study of Women in History.

Finally this week comes another post by Peter Muise on the New England Folklore blog (last week I discussed his oldest Apple Pie recipe post). This week he talked about the Salem witch trials. He analyzed the life of Abigail Hobbs, from her childhood in Casco, Maine, to her appearance as one of the accused witches in Salem. His conclusion was rather unique: “I like to think that Abigail Hobbs was a just free-spirited teenager growing up in a dangerous time.” Read his full analysis in Abigail Hobbs: Poor Little Witch Girl.

Mocavo Introduces Free Forever – Join us in the revolution!

10 Oct 2013

When I founded Mocavo several years ago, I had been dreaming of building this company for over a decade. I wanted to bring all of the world’s existing genealogy information under one roof – and then start hosting even more content online for free. We just needed a business model to support those goals and sustain the costs associated with hosting billions of records and images. We’ve finally figured out how to do it, and it’s with unbelievable excitement that I can finally say: When Mocavo brings content online, it becomes free forever. Let me be clear – I didn’t just say free for now, I said free forever. We’re making a radical departure from the status quo of how content is controlled in the genealogy industry.

But wait! Mocavo is a business. How can you afford to do this?

Our paid product, Mocavo Gold (formerly Mocavo Plus), charges for automated searching, the ability to run global searches across all the databases on Mocavo, and a number of other great features. You’re paying for speed and convenience to make discoveries faster, but we’re not charging you for the content. This means that you can search the Texas Death Index (or tens of thousands of other databases) to your heart’s content without paying a dime. If you want to search them all at once, join our revolution and upgrade to Mocavo Gold.

How can I trust that content on Mocavo will be free forever?

We are committed to free genealogy unlike any other company – it’s part of our history. When I founded GenForum in 1997, I said the site would be free forever. To this day, it’s still free. Everything else I’ve done in the industry is now free (GenCircles, Family Tree Legends, BackupMyTree). When we announced our partnership with FreeBMD earlier this year, we also announced that we had joined the Open Genealogy Alliance (and we are still the only genealogy company to have done so). Openness is in our DNA and we’ll continue to demonstrate our commitment to the cause.

We need your help to fuel the revolution!

Even though we don’t charge for content, we still need to pay for our 500+ servers and the employees who improve our product everyday. By deciding to upgrade your account to Mocavo Gold, you’re supporting our mission to bring the world’s genealogical information online, for free.

We have some exciting things we’re working on for the community that we’ll announce over the next month or so:

  • Starting today and every day, we’ll be releasing more than 1,000 entirely new databases into our genealogy search engine. And we’ll do this every day from here on out (as long as we can find the data, we’re going to keep bringing it online for free). You’ll know because we’ll send you updates on all the great new stuff we’ve added. These databases become free to the public forever. Browse some of our tens of thousands of existing databases here:
  • You’ll see us begin to release more of our software as open source projects, in an effort to provide the genealogy community with the tools it needs to bring more content online for free. Tell us what you need to get this content organized and accessible – and we’ll help you host it and bring it online with our commitment that it stays free forever.
  • There’s a lot of work to do! If you’d like to help us in our mission, please email so we can all start bringing more of our history online – to be free forever.

I founded Mocavo with the belief that information wants to be free. With your help, free genealogy can make a serious foothold in this industry. We’ve got an incredible ability with Mocavo to finally do it right, and I’m asking you to join me in this mission. Over the past 10 years, I’ve dreamed of putting all the world’s historical information online for free to benefit the community and future generations.


Join us as we build a new future for genealogy, one free database at a time. The Internet was the first revolution in genealogy – let’s work together to build the next one.

Come try a search at Mocavo – it’s better than ever.

Sign up for Mocavo Gold, and for a limited time only, save an additional 50% off the regular price.

Making a Difference for Genealogy

10 Oct 2013

Tomorrow is National Coming Out Day.  As GLBT people, we  are one of the few minorities that is invisible unless we speak up. In honor of the day, I thought it might be interesting to talk today with some of my friends and fellow genealogy professionals who also happen to be gay. I am often asked about the Gay Mafia in genealogy. The truth is that there is no such thing. There are a number of professional genealogists out there who are openly gay. We serve on the boards of local, state, and national genealogical organizations. I think part of this is that as members of a minority community, we are used to donating our time to organizations. It is natural that this transfers over to our professional work as well.

The three people I talked to are of different ages and from different parts of the country. Three of us make our livings solely from genealogy, while one is a full-time university librarian and a professional genealogist. One of us is married, one is in a long-term relationship, one is in a new relationship, and one is single.

Thomas MacEntee, from Chicago, prefers to refer to himself as a genealogy professional instead of a professional genealogist, as he does not take clients. He focuses on education, writing, and lecturing, with some consulting services as well. His newest venture is the Hack Genealogy website. His research interests include New York, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Huguenots. Drew Smith of Tampa, Florida, (one of the Genealogy Guys) focuses on genealogy and technology, DNA, and social media also. His ancestry is mostly southern, with a bit of Yankee thrown in. Nick Gombash, from suburban Illinois, says that “My absolute passion is anything related to Hungary, but particularly nobility research.”

I was surprised to discover that I am the old-timer when it comes to research. I started 25 years ago, Thomas and Drew about 20 years ago, and Nick started 13 years ago. Each of us has spent many hours volunteering in various capacities. I couldn’t begin to list all of the activities each of us has been involved in, but one thing Thomas, Drew, and I have in common is that we have each served on the board of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. And in 2010 Nick founded the Hungary Exchange as a means of providing free access to indexes and records for researchers. It now has more than 600 members.


Thomas MacEntee

Thomas MacEntee

Thomas has also been asked about the “gay genealogy mafia.” When I asked him how being gay might have influenced his work in genealogy, he said:

“To me, it makes sense that there would be many gay men and women in the field since, for the most part, our demographic has the availability of more disposable income and more personal time to commit to a hobby like genealogy since many of us opt not to raise children. While my being gay – and self-identified as gay – has not always been easy, for the most part, there has been general acceptance from the genealogy community and, what might surprise some, strong support from my LDS friend. I have had some vendors refuse to work with me because of the “gay issue” but I figured that was their loss and besides, it is a free country and if that is why you don’t want to work with someone, that’s your choice. Same thing goes with acquaintances – if you can’t be friends or socialize with me because of my sexual orientation, that is your loss.”


Drew Smith

Drew Smith


Drew’s response was:

“Because I don’t have children of my own, genealogy has represented to me a way that I can give back to my family. One of the things that I like best about being involved with the genealogical community is that it is an interest that I can share with my husband, George G. Morgan, who is a passionate genealogist.  We enjoy researching, writing, presenting, and volunteering with genealogical societies together.  I think the listeners to our Genealogy Guys Podcast can tell that we have a lot of fun doing it together.”


Nick Gombash

Nick Gombash


Nick replied that “I don’t believe being gay has had any effect on my interest in genealogy. However, since beginning researching my family tree, I have developed a strong circle of fellow gay Hungarian genealogist friends with whom I am extremely close to. It’s through them that I’ve not only been able to talk about our mutual interest in Hungarian genealogy, but we’ve also been able to be a support system for one another.”

For myself, I think that being gay has impacted my genealogy. For one thing, I went into research knowing that one should never assume anything. You never know that secrets may be hiding, in the closet or elsewhere.

When I first got the idea for this piece, I thought I would talk to both men and women. But as I moved forward, I realized that I couldn’t think of any openly lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered women who are professional genealogists. I turned to several of my friends and colleagues, and none of them had heard of any either. In a field that is dominated by women participants, I find it very telling.

When I think about the contributions to genealogy made just by this small group of four men, it makes me proud. Proud that we have made, and continue to make a difference. By writing, by teaching, by giving advice, by researching, by providing access to materials. By moving us all forward. And there are many more of us out there. I am extremely proud to be a member of this group, and extremely grateful to be able to call each of them not only a colleague, but a friend.


Dum-da-dum-dum: “All We Want Are The Facts, Ma’am”

08 Oct 2013

In another of our continuing series on learning genealogy methodology from detectives, this week we explore the advice of the great Los Angeles Police Department detective, Sergeant Joe Friday.


Jack Webb as Joe Friday, from Wikimedia Commons.

Jack Webb as Joe Friday, from Wikimedia Commons.


Joe Friday is one of the most well-known fictional members of the LAPD ever. Created by actor-producer Jack Webb, Joe Friday started life on the radio with Dragnet in 1949. Two years later, it made the transition to television, running for eight years. Dragnet returned in 1967 and ran until 1970. Generations of American instantly recognize the introductory music and the phrases that started each episode.

“The story you are about to see is true, the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

This was included because to the viewers, some of the stories they saw stretched credulity. As genealogists, we run into this situation continually. But just because something stretches believability there is no reason to instantaneously dismiss it. The proper way to treat possibilities for solutions is to rate them from most probable to least likely. Saying that a scenario is least likely is not the same as dismissing it. You should continue to research and look for more evidence. As you find more information, you will likely slide different hypothesis around on the scale.

“This is the city. Los Angeles, California.”

The big three of real estate: location, location, location! One of the reasons that producers explained where Dragnet took place was so that viewers would understand why some of the stories unraveled they way they did, or why some of them even occurred at all. It is important to be aware of where you are researching. Then, understand the resources and records that are available for research in this location.

“My name is Friday — I carry a badge.”

In genealogy, knowing who you are looking for, and what they do for a living, is critical. Occupation is one way to differentiate your ancestor from another person with the same name. If you are fortunate, they will follow different professions. This will give you the opportunity to know which records pertain to your ancestor, and which pertain to another individual of the same name.

Far beyond these words, however, the most instantaneously recognizable phrase associated with Joe Friday is:

“Just the facts, Ma’am.”

Now, there are two reasons why this phrase is pertinent to genealogy. First, obviously, is that we are obsessed with facts. We use facts from records to prove or disprove our theories. Our research is filled with a search for facts.

But more importantly, this phrase is the perfect example of how we must be very careful in our research. Just because someone said something, it is not necessarily true. The truth is, Joe Friday never uttered that phrase. It actually comes from a parody by satirist Stan Freberg. What Joe Friday really said was “All we want are the facts, Ma’am,” or the slight variation “All we know are the facts, Ma’am.”