Genealogy Blog

Rules of Thumb, and One for the Record Books

18 Nov 2013

When researching, there are a number of rules of thumb we go by. For example

  • Men usually get married for the first time around 24.
  • Women don’t give birth after age 44.
  • People usually marry someone who lives relatively close to them geographically.
  • A generation is usually about 25-35 years.

The important thing to remember about these rules of thumb is that they are not concrete, and they are not correct 100% of the time. They are only rough guidelines.

One example is the icon of motherhood to a generation of Americans, Carol Brady. Actress Florence Henderson was born in Indiana on Valentine’s Day, 1934, youngest of the ten children of Joseph Roberts and Elizabeth Pauline (Elder) Henderson. Joseph was a tobacco sharecropper from Kentucky. Elizabeth was 37 years old when Florence was born. Joseph, however, was far older than his wife. Born about 1870, he was 64 years old when his youngest daughter was born.

Now Joseph was the second-eldest of his parents’ eight children. His father, Thomas, was 28 when Joseph was born. At Thomas’ birth sometime around 1842–1844, there were only 26 states, and John Tyler was the president.

John Tyler was the tenth president of the United States. In 1840 he was elected vice-president on the ticket with William Henry Harrison. Harrison was only in office for a month when he caught a cold, which quickly turned into pneumonia. On April 4, 1841, Harrison became the first of our presidents to die in office and Tyler became the first man to become president who was not elected to that office.

This was not the only distinction that Tyler would hold in the history books. A native Virginian, he was elected as a strict states-rights Whig. In 1861, when the first states were starting to secede, he tried to broker a compromise that would preserve the Union. Unfortunately, his efforts failed, and he went on to become one of the architects of the Confederacy. He was a member of the House of Representatives of the Confederate States of America at the time of his death in 1862, giving him the distinction of being the only American president to be part of the Confederate government.


President John Tyler, from Wikimedia Commons.

President John Tyler, from Wikimedia Commons.


John Tyler holds another distinction in the history books as well. He was born in 1790, and in 1853 fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler with his second wife. Lyon would also go on to marry twice. At the age of 71, with his second wife, he fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr. and at 75, Ruffin Tyler. 89-year-old Lyon, Jr., and his 85-year-old brother Ruffin are still with us and going strong, 223 years after their grandfather was born. Lyon recently made a presentation about his family to the DAR chapter in Dyersburg, Tennessee. He started by talking about his grandfather’s father, who was the roommate of Thomas Jefferson at the College of William and Mary. You can read more about his visit in the Dyersburg State Gazette.

Remember that it is important to follow rules of thumb in your research. But it is important not to make them so hard and fast that you miss the truth. The real story may be far more interesting.

Have You Discovered Any Skeletons in Your Family’s Closet?

16 Nov 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked if you had discovered any skeletons in your family’s closet. It turns out that over 70% of us have found skeletons in our closet! At least we aren’t alone :) Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take our next poll: “In honor of Veteran’s Day this week, have your ancestors served in the military? (click all that apply)”


30,000+ New Databases & Exclusive New Features

15 Nov 2013

Today we celebrate just one month since we announced our Free Forever mission. We’ve put more than 30,000 new databases online in just 30 days. Our total database count has quickly zoomed to more than 138,000 and we’ve got so much more planned.

Introducing Search Sliders for Mocavo Gold Members
Search Sliders enable you to customize our search algorithms to better find the information you seek. There are two sliders we’re announcing today, but there are more in the works. The first slider, called Freshness, allows you to filter your results to only items added to Mocavo in the past year, 6 months, 3 months, month, week, and day. This is great, if you want to focus your search on only recently-added content. The second slider, called Keyword Appearance, allows you to limit your search to just titles or just content. A title-only search might be good to try if you want more direct hits for your name. A content-only search is great, if you think your search will appear deep inside the content – and maybe the titles are throwing that off a bit. We have 3 more sliders that we’re working on that we’ll announce in the next few weeks.


Improved Search Result Previews
When you search on Mocavo, book results return a small search result preview with your search terms highlighted. Sometimes, we found that it was zooming in on the wrong areas (if you searched for John Carter, it would zoom in on another Carter, even though John Carter did appear somewhere else on the page). We’ve greatly improved the algorithms that decide where to zoom in. We hope this will speed up your ancestry search!


Special Announcement on November 20th
You heard it here first. On November 20th, we’ve got a very special announcement that we believe will delight genealogists everywhere. We’re secretly cooking up some fascinating new stuff for our users, and we’re almost ready to reveal it. Stay tuned!

Many of you have signed up for Mocavo Gold in support of our cause, and enjoy searching 138,664 databases at the same time. 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.

Killing History Featured in Huffington Post

14 Nov 2013

This week was an exciting one for us here at Mocavo. On Wednesday I had my first byline in the Huffington Post. I wrote about the dangers of not teaching our children to read and write in cursive.  It was published in the HuffPo “Impact” section, where you can “discover worthy causes, find ways to take action, and read truly inspiring stories. Hear from social good experts and share how you can make an impact.” Read Killing Cursive is Killing History. If you like it, or even if you disagree with it, please leave a comment. Let’s see if we can start a discussion about the impact of cursive writing on our history, and our future!



Learn The Address

13 Nov 2013

Next Tuesday is a significant anniversary in the history of our country. It is the sesquicentennial of one of the most famous speeches ever delivered in American history. On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln stood and delivered a brief speech at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The major speech of the day was a two-hour oration by Edward Everett, former Congressman, Senator, Governor of Massachusetts, and Ambassador to Great Britain. But it was Lincoln’s simple, and brief, statement that has gone down in history as the Gettysburg Address.

The speech was a master work of genius. In only ten sentences, he managed to summarize the meaning of the entire war. In a case of “understatement of the century,” Lincoln stated that “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” It turns out that the world did not remember Everett’s words (indeed, the average American could not even tell you that Everett spoke there). But the sacrifices at Gettysburg are known by every schoolchild in America. And the preamble of “Four score and seven years ago. . . “can be recited by almost every American. The full text reads:


Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


Learn The Address


Ken Burns is filming a PBS documentary on a school in Vermont that requires all of its students to memorize and deliver the address each year. He has also issued a challenge to all Americans to learn the words to the address in time for the 150th anniversary next week. He has filmed famous people giving the address, from Rita Moreno and Whoopi Goldberg to all living U.S. presidents. He is also encouraging everyday American to film themselves delivering the address. The recordings will be added to his Learn the Address website along with those of the presidents and others. What a fantastic way to honor the sacrifices made by our ancestors during the Civil War!

Five Must-Read Blogs

12 Nov 2013



There are many genealogy blogs out there on the interwebs. Trying to keep track of all of them can be challenging. Here are five blogs that I consider to be among the best reading in the field. They cover various aspects of genealogy, and will give you great help.

1) News: Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter

Dick Eastman does a wonderful job of getting information out there. If something is happening in the field of genealogy, he will hear about it and let you know. You can also find great reviews of books, and software. Dick also leans on his decades of experience in the computer industry to discuss issues around technology.

2) DNA: The Genetic Genealogist

If you don’t know the difference between x, y, mt, and autosomal (and even if you do), then this blog is for you. Blaine Bettinger brings his experience in biochemistry to explain genomics to you in plain English. There is a certain level of technical language that always has to accompany scientific topics like this. But Blaine does his best to keep the dry talk to a minimum and to make it easy to comprehend for the average reader.

3) Technology: Hack Genealogy

Over the last few years Thomas MacEntee  has made quite a name for himself in incorporating technology and social media into genealogy. This year he launched Hack Genealogy, dedicated to “re-purposing today’s technology for tomorrow’s genealogy.” As Thomas describes it,  “Hack Genealogy is about sharing technology resources, discussing our personal interactions with technology, and moving the entire genealogy community forward in terms of how it embraces technology.” I recently had the pleasure of doing an interview for Thomas for the site.  You will find a great deal of technology news and advice here.

4) The Law: The Legal Genealogist

Just as scientific topics (such as DNA) can be dry and boring, discussing the law can be a major snooze. Not so whenever Judy G. Russell is involved. She makes ever topic interesting and informative. Mixed in with her discussion of legal topics are personal stories that resonate chords in any reader. This is one of the blogs I read most frequently, and I’ve obtained invaluable information from Judy’s personal, and sometimes humorous, discussions.

5) Opinion: RootDig

John Michael Neill writes multiple blogs, and it took me a moment or two for me to decide which to highlight here. But RootDig is one that I truly enjoy. Michael John calls it like it is, and takes people to task for mistakes, errors, and problems, as well as providing kudos to those who merit it. He also shares experiences from his own research that can help you with your own brick walls. One of my recent favorites was Don’t Forget to Include Why You Didn’t Include It.

Thank You For Your Service, Veterans!

11 Nov 2013

Today is Veteran’s Day.  The day has its roots in World War I, often called The Great War or The War to End All Wars. A cease fire was declared that would start at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. After the war, November 11 was celebrated as Armistice Day, a day to honor veterans of the war and promote international peace. Unfortunately, the War to End All Wars didn’t, and after World War II and Korea, the name was changed to Veterans Day, a day to honor all veterans.

My family has a long history of men who served in the U.S. armed forces. In World War I, a great-great-uncle, Éloi Morin, served as a private in the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division of the U.S. Army. He gave his life at the Battle of the Argonne, along with more than 100,00 of his comrades.

Although to the best of my knowledge neither had ever been on ships before, my grandfather and his brother both served in the Merchant Marine during World War II. During times of war, the Merchant Marine serves as an auxiliary to the U.S. Navy, helping to transport troops and supplies. Uncle Emil was a diver, going down to check for mines and other underwater hazards for the ships and troops. My grandfather was a mechanic, so as one would expect from the armed force bureaucracy, he was made a cook on a ship for the duration of the war.

My great-aunt Mary’s husband, Leo Dupre, served in the U.S. Army. Enlisting as a private, he quickly moved up the ranks to corporal, and on to staff sergeant and eventually a sergeant first class. Uncle Leo was 26 years old on April 10, 1965, when he was hiding in an abandoned farmhouse in the French countryside. Seeing German soldiers headed to the house, he sent his men out the back while he remained to delay the oncoming men. He was captured and spent three months in a prisoner of war camp before being liberated by Allied forces. My great-uncle Marcel Ruel (brother-in-law of my grandfather and Uncle Leo) also served during the war, in the U.S. Navy.


Newspaper notice of my Uncle Leo's capture. (from the collection of the author, used with permission)

Newspaper notice of my Uncle Leo’s capture. (from the collection of the author, used with permission)


My Aunt Rita’s husband, uncle Bill Smith, proudly served in the U.S. Marines.  My cousin Richard Gagne joined the U.S. Air Force. My brother served in the Air National Guard for a number of years. One of his proudest moments was guarding Air Force One when President Clinton made a visit to Rhode Island. The proud tradition of service continues today with my cousin, Eric Leclerc, who is currently serving in Aghanistan.

I am tremendously proud of all of these men in my family who stepped up to protect us, and to ensure the survival of our republic. Some of them made the supreme sacrifice, and some saw horrors that we cannot even imagine. We owe all of our veterans a great debt of gratitude, and remember their service on this Veteran’s Day.

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.