Genealogy Blog

History vs. Privacy: Can They Survive Together?

18 Jun 2013

I read a horrifying article in the New York Times yesterday that threatens the very idea of historical research, not to mention destroying genealogy as we know it. And if you think this is overly dramatic, guess again.


NY Times Privacy Initiative


The digital age has brought us an unprecedented age of communication. Official government websites provide access to original records. And commercial websites are also providing resources at an incredible rate. Social media websites allow us to keep in touch with each other. I have lost count of the number of people in my past that have come back into my life through Facebook and other websites. Not to mention the amount of genealogical research I have been able to do.

Now imagine a world where these resources were unavailable. Worse, still, imagine a world where the records don’t exist at all! The European Union is looking at legislation that could achieve just that.

Unfortunately, this age of communication has not come with a better sense of judgement. Many people put information out there that they are ashamed of. Certainly there is more than one photograph floating around that someone doesn’t want to see published. There are also those who are trying to put the past behind them by trying to wipe it off the face of the Earth. This ranges from people who make minor mistakes in high school to those who commit serious crimes as adults.

All of these people are working to erase themselves. They feel that they should have the option to remove themselves from the internet. This includes search engines, newspaper websites, social media, and more. It could even extend to government records.

The European Union is considering legislation that would grant to individuals a “right to be forgotten.” This would allow people to delete references to themselves online, whether they created the references or not. Major internet companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and more, are valiantly fighting this legislation. It is one thing to allow people to delete their own content, it is another thing entirely to allow people to delete content created by others.

The technology companies have now found an ally in l’Association des Archivistes Français (the Association of French Archivists).  The AAF argues that email, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media websites contain the “correspondence of the twenty-first century.” They rightly fear for future historians. “If we want to understand the society of today in the future, we have to keep certain traces.”

This fight will likely continue for awhile. And it will spill over to America and the rest of the world. This is a difficult challenge for us as genealogists. The best part of genealogy is being able to flesh out ancestors. Imagine being able to erase yourself from the record. Descendants might not even know you ever existed. Imagine how poor a place that future would be.

Three Tips for Getting Past Database Indexing Problems

15 Jun 2013



Online databases have been an incredible boon for genealogical research. We now have access to so much more information than previous generations of researchers. Unfortunately, not all databases are created equally. And no matter who creates them, the indexes are never perfect. There will always be misreadings, illegible entries, and typographical errors. These defects can wreak havoc with the search engine, however. It can be extremely frustrating to not be able to find people in databases where you know you person should appear. Here are three tips to help you overcome these problems.

1. Use Your Wildcards
Most websites with databases allow for you to use wildcards in the search engine. Common wildcards are an asterisk [*], which is often used to replace any number of characters, and a question mark [?], which is often used to replace a single letter. Unfortunately, while wildcards can be very helpful, they can also cause problems for you in your search.

The asterisk (or similar wildcard) can actually return too many results. This can overload the search engine and cause it to not return any information at all. In such instances, try to use more of the single-letter-replacement wildcards. This can help you continue to get wildcard results without overloading the system.

2. Ask a Friend to Help
Sometimes when I’m at my wits’ end trying to find someone will call a genealogy friend. Although their words of support and encouragement are wildly helpful in dispersing frustration, there are other ways my friends can be of assistance. I try to choose a friend who is not familiar with the name I am searching. I then ask them to spell the name for me. They will often come up with multiple variations, often ones that I have not yet thought of. In addition to generally trying out these variant spellings, using the individual-letter wildcard mentioned above, may give me different results than my own searches, and reveal the name.

3. Browse
Sometimes, no amount of searching will reveal the people you are seeking. In these instances, it is best to browse through the records. By searching through and reading entries individually it is possible that you will be able to see the names pop out. Databases with images are the best, because you are reading the originals, not someone’s interpretation of it. Some databases do not even allow for you to browse, which can make things more difficult. But if you can browse, you will have a valuable tool to help you get past the indexing problems.

Introducing Mocavo Fireside Chats for Plus Members

15 Jun 2013

Is your family history research starting to feel a bit dull? Liven up your genealogy research and join us for Mocavo Fireside Chats. Mocavo Plus members are invited to join our Chief Genealogist, Michael J. Leclerc, every other Wednesday for a live video chat.

Tune in to Mocavo Fireside Chats to uncover:
• Expert advice and helpful research tips and tricks
• Exclusive interviews with expert genealogists and researchers
• How to get the most of Mocavo and other genealogy resources

Discover a new way to approach your genealogy research every other Wednesday with Chief Genealogist Michael J. Leclerc, starting on Wednesday June 26th with our first Mocavo Fireside Chat!  More details will come to you in a separate email next week.

This week we would like to know which, if any, Mountain states you have an interest in?

15 Jun 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked which, if any, Mountain 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.


Poll Results: Mountain States

News Stories of Interest to Genealogists, June 14, 2013

14 Jun 2013

Following are some news stories of the last few weeks. I hope you find them interesting and informative.

The National Library of Wales is very supportive of genealogists. Among the materials available online is their entire collection of probate records A few weeks ago, the library suffered a devastating fire on their roof. Unfortunately, because it was a regular work day, a number of collections were upstairs being process. 140 crates of materials were damaged by smoke and water, and some were destroyed. Read more in the BBC’s National Library of Wales Identifies Fire-Damaged Archives.

Back in the Fall of 2010, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) announced a major initiative with the University of Virginia Press. NHPRC agreed to provide funding to create a new website that would provide access to the published papers of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. One hundred ninety-six volumes are almost ready, and will launch soon at

Fort Sheridan cemetery in Highland Park, Illinois, has burials dating back to the 1890s. U.S. Army officials are working to digitize the cemetery’s burial records as well as photographing all of the thousands of headstones in the cemetery. The database is slated to go live next year, along with a smartphone app to help visitors find individual graves. You can read about it in the Chicago Tribune in Army Prepares to Digitize Fort Sheridan Cemetery Records.


Americans Speak English Differently Maps


Genealogists know that Americans speak with many different accents. Professors Bert Vaux and Scott Golder conducted a study on how words are pronounced by Americans. Ph.D. student Joshua Katz took the results of their study and made some incredible graphic representations of these differences. You can see these in the Business Insider in 22 Maps That Show How Americans Speak English Totally Different From One Another.

Finally this week is an opinion piece in the Grand Island Independent in Nebraska. Editor Pete Lethelby wrote an opinion piece that discusses genealogy, and really explains it. Using examples from his own and his wife’s families, he explains that “Every family history has an abundance of tragic and triumphant stories, of wars, of sailing overseas, of settling a new country. They were composed by soldiers, builders, writers, doctors, entrepreneurs and pioneers.” and that “World, national and state history has been recorded in books and is taught to students of all ages. But it is the family histories, yours and mine, that puts a human face on our larger history.” Read the full piece in Genealogy Puts a Human Face on History.

Not Really Royalty: Les Filles de Roi (King’s Daughters)

13 Jun 2013

The colony of New France never developed as quickly as the English colonies to the south. By the start of the 1660s, the population of the colony was only 2,500. In comparison, the population of just the New England colonies at the same time was 68,000. To add to the problems, the female population was exceedingly small.

It is one thing to convince men to move to a colony in the wilderness. With living conditions so deplorable in Europe, they had far better chances for improving their lot in the New World. And they were unafraid of working hard to build society in the wilderness. Women, on the other hand were far less eager to do so.

Thus, the Crown created a program to get more women to New France to support the colony. The “Filles de Roi” (King’s Daughters) initiative on the part of the French Crown was not the first time such a thing had been tried. The English and Spanish before them had conducted similar programs in Virginia and the West Indies respectively. The term was used to indicate that the girls had state support to emigrate, not that they had any royal or noble ancestry.

Under this program, the Crown paid for the transportation of the girls. They were also given supplies to help them in their new homes, including clothes, stockings, gloves, a bonnet, needles, thread, scissors, knives, two livres in cash. Upon their arrival they also were taught cooking, sewing, knitting, how to make medicines, etc. This helped to make them even more attractive as wives.

The men who immigrated to New France tended to come from rural areas. Not so the Filles de Roi. The girls who were recruited for the program tended to come from more urban settings, including Paris. Almost two thirds of the girls had lost one or both parents. Many came from hospitals and convents where they were places as orphans.

Once they arrived in New France, it was time to find a husband. In France, fathers found husbands for their daughters, who married the man they were told to marry. In the colony, however, the tables were turned. The government instituted many restrictions on the activities of single men, while providing many inducements to married couples, including financial rewards to families with many children. The nuns who watched over the girls after they arrived were eager to find good matches for their charges. And there were more single men than marriageable girls available. Single men eager to find a match sometimes spent a year or more creating a house and home for their new brides.

When it came time to select a wife, men were looking for an attractive woman, but even more, they were looking for sturdy women who could bear children, grow crops in the garden for the family’s food, and be an active participant in the family’s life in the wilderness. But in the end it was up to the potential wives to agree to the match.




Between 1663 and 1673, seven hundred sixty eight Filles de Roi went to New France. In Canada, being a descendant of one of the Filles is akin to being a Mayflower descendant in the U.S. This year marks the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the first girls in New France. The American-French Genealogical Society in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, is celebrating by offering a chance for descendants to submit their pedigree for a book. Participants get a certificate and a lapel pin.

Jumping the Pond: Five Strategies for Finding Immigrant Origins

12 Jun 2013

One of the biggest challenges in researching the origins of immigrants is getting them back to their place of origin. Passenger lists and naturalizations are the first place we look for. But they are often unavailable. Then it is time to turn to other resources that can provide valuable information — or not.




1. Church Records
The records of churches can provide detailed information about immigrant origins. Start with the type of church they attended. For example, people who attended a Polish Catholic church are more likely to be from Poland. The ecclesiastical records (e.g., baptisms, marriages, and burials) may tell you where the couple originated. Administrative records, such as membership rolls, may also give you clues to origins as well.

2. Obituaries
Death notices and obituaries can be extremely valuable. Although they will more commonly name only a country, they can sometimes provide exact places of origin. You must be careful not to trust the information outright, however. Remember that the information in obituaries often comes from the survivors, not the deceased. And people who come from small, rural communities will often give the name of the nearest large municipality once they arrived in America. This same warning goes for other resources as well.

3. Grave Markers
We are used to thinking of grave markers providing the names of the deceased, and dates of birth and death. But they can also provide much more information. For example, Jewish grave markers will often have the names of the father of the deceased, written in Hebrew. But grave markers can also provide immigrant origin clues. They may provide places of birth as well as the date. Just remember that the place of birth may not be the place from which the immigrant left his or her original home country.

4. Organizational Records
Social organizations of all kinds can provide valuable information on origins. Membership records for groups such as the Masons can be very helpful. These records won’t usually tell you where someone is born, but they will often give the name of the place from with they came to the United States. Mutual benefit organizations proliferated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many of these groups were based on nationality or ethnic origin, and their records may provide more specific information about places of origin.

5. Compiled Genealogies — Maybe!
Many authors of compiled genealogies include information on immigrant origins. Many genealogies published in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries included information on European origins, especially those with origins in the U.K. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these are undocumented. Even worse, the origins are incorrect. Unscrupulous researchers at the time made up entire lineages (or made vast assumptions, linking families hundreds of years apart with no evidence). If you see an immigrant origin in one of these genealogies, you need to conduct research in primary source material to ensure that the lineage is correct. In most instances, it will likely be easier to start from scratch entirely. Modern published genealogies that meet the scholarly standards of sources are more trustworthy, but in most instances you may want to review the original sources to be certain that the authors interpreted them correctly.

New Resource: “Documents for Genealogy and Local History”

11 Jun 2013

Government agencies, private repositories, and other groups are putting images of original records online in droves. Doing this is making it so much easier for us to research. It has also brought a new emphasis to being able to read and understand these documents.

The History Press has come out with a new book by Bruce Durie to help with this process. The almost-450-page Understanding Documents for Genealogy and Local History is brimming with information to help researchers work with old records. Although the primary focus is on documents from England, Scotland, and Wales, the techniques will help with old documents from any of the countries that were part of the British Empire.


Understanding Documents


The books is divided into three parts: Reading the Documents, The Documents, and Glossaries. Reading the Documents is perhaps the most valuable section. It is subdivided into seven chapters of background information that researchers need to understand in order to be able to read old records.

The first chapter goes into great detail about transcribing and paleography. After review the best practices for transcriptions, the rest of the chapter deals with handwriting. From hands to letters, abbreviations, to numbers, the book explains concepts and provides numerous examples for each to help users read documents.

The biggest part of the first section, however, is dedicated to Latin. Many early documents are written in Latin. The obvious ones are church records, but many legal documents were also written in Latin. Those who learned classical Latin in school may have a leg up, but the early-modern Latin in which the documents genealogists use are written is very different from classical Latin. This section provides everything you need as a genealogist to understand the language.

Additional chapters explain more fundamentals of records: Dates and Calendars; Money, Coinage, Weight and Measure; Inscriptions and Gravestones; Heraldic Documents and Artefacts; and Gaelic Words in Scots and English.

Part II provides more than one hundred pages of examples of records from Scotland, England, and Wales. Many of these records, such as Old Parish Registers, wills, indentures, and deeds, are records you might be familiar with Others, such as entails, sasines, retours, fines, final concords, and Manorial documents, will likely be new to you. Each chapter includes explanations and as well as examples of originals, as well as transcriptions.

Part III contains three valuable glossaries:

  • Latin and Scots: Legal and Genealogical Dictionary
  • Latin: Glossary of Forms of First Names and Surnames
  • Latin: Glossary of Place Names

As you get better and better at reading records, you will to turn to these glossaries time and again to help you.

I purchased a copy of this book when I was in London at Who Do You Think You Are? Live! in February when it made its debut. It is now available on for £12.80, or on for US $26.20. It will be money very well spent.

I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do: Wedding Traditions

10 Jun 2013

Weddings are a time of joy and celebration. Abba’s  I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, has been a wedding staple for decades. Families come together to celebrate the unity of the couple, creating a new family themselves. And there are many different traditions that come along with weddings. Some of them come from interesting places.

Wedding bouquets are filled with gorgeous flowers. Their scents perfume the air, and add beauty to the festivities. Not so much their origins. The practice of wedding bouquets likely started during the time of the plague. During that time, people held herbs such as garlic and dill up to their faces to ward away the disease.

Bridal veils first started to ward off evil spirits. The Romans used fire-colored veils to ward off the spirits. As time moved on, the veils served a different purpose. Marriages were arranged by the parents, and sometimes the bride and groom had never seen each other before. The veil prevented from the groom from recoiling at the site of his bride and perhaps trying to escape the marriage.




In America, “jumping the broom” is best known as an African-American wedding  tradition, brought by slaves from their native Africa. Caucasian families with a tradition of jumping the broom might presume that there is an African-American in their ancestry. But the practice was not limited to Africa. People from the Celts to the Romani also followed the practice.

Jewish weddings have many traditions. Getting married under the Chuppah or the Hora, a traditional dance where the bride and groom are lifted into the air on chairs. Perhaps one of the most well-known traditions is breaking the glass. A drinking glass is wrapped in a napkin, and the groom stomps on it to break it. This serves to all as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem. It also serves as a reminder of the fragility of relationships.

Bridesmaid dresses started by having the bridesmaids dress like the bride to confuse evil spirits trying to sabotage the wedding. By the Victorian era, the bridesmaids wore dresses similar to, but not identical to the bride. As commercial dyes became more available, the dresses turned into the hideously-colored and styled dresses that we have so often seen over the last few decades. The best thing that can be said about them is that they ensure that the bride is the most beautiful woman at the wedding.

There are many wedding traditions, all with different origins. Many of them, if you trace their origins, may give you clues to where your family came from. In the meantime, you can read more stories in 10 Wedding Traditions With Surprising Origins.

Blogs for Genealogists, June 7, 2013

07 Jun 2013

Following are some recent blog posts and news stories of interest to genealogists. I wanted to share them with you, and hope you find them interesting and informative.

Alisdair Wilkins had a great post on the science and science fiction blog io9 this week. Ever since that fateful summer day in 1969 when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, there has been controversy over exactly what he said. Was the phrase “One small step for man. . . “ or “One small step for a man . . .” Wilkins reports that researchers believe they have solved the question, and blame the problem on his being from Ohio. Read more in Neil Armstrong Didn’t Misspeak on the Moon. That’s Ohioans Talk.

Irish Genealogy News reports on the release of a new website that launched last week from the London Metropolitan Archives. The Great Parchment Book of The Honourable The Irish Society is considered to be the Domesday Book of Derry. It is a 1639 survey of estates managed by the City of London through the Irish Society and the Livery Companies. A fire at the Guildhall in 1783 destroyed most of the early records of the Irish Society, and damaged much of what was left. The Great Parchment Book was severely damaged by the fire, and has been unavailable ever since. Modern technology is allowing LMA to restore the book as much as possible, digitize it, and make it available to researchers. Read more and visit the original in Start Exploring Derry’s Great Parchment Book.


NYC Color Film 1939


Dick Eastman reported on an interesting YouTube video this week. The Romano Archives in Italy has discovered a home movie of a French tourist taken in 1939. What is unique about this film is that it is in color. The relatively short film shows scenes from across Manhattan in full color. Read more in 1939 In Color Looks Like it Was Filmed Yesterday.

Harold Henderson took on an important topic in his Midwestern Microhistory blog. When writing, genealogists are often tempted to use the words I or We, which can create a travelogue feel to the piece. In “I” and “We” in Genealogy Writing, Harold provides some advice about when it is appropriate to use each.

Finally, the fabulous Legal Genealogist Judy Russell gives us another important lesson about copyright. She takes the lead from Michael John Neil who recently wrote about a quilt created by his aunt that is now in a museum. Are images of the quilt covered by copyright law. Read Judy’s detailed answer in Copyright and the Quilt.