Genealogy Blog

A Moveable Feast: Not Just Hemingway’s Memoirs

24 Oct 2013

Hemingway Moveabel Feast

Nowadays when people hear the words “moveable feast” they are likely to think of noted author Ernest Hemingway’s stories of his time in Paris in the 1920s. Moveable feasts, however, are very important in genealogy. Many dates in pre-eighteenth century documents are stated in terms of feast days.  These are church holidays, many used to commemorate the various men and women the Church desired to honor. Started by the Catholic Church, it was continued by the Anglicans when they splintered from the Catholic Church.

Some of these feast days are fixed. Examples are the feast days for the Venerable Bede (May 25), Joan of Arc (May 30), and Mary Magdalene (July 22).  Others are “moveable feasts.” These feasts occur on different dates, depending on certain variables. The most significant of the moveable feasts is Easter Sunday.

The date for Easter Sunday changes on every year. On any given year it can occur as early as March 21 or as late as April 25. The origin of this celebration lies with pagan celebrations of the goddess Eoster. The early Catholic church joined the stories of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus to the pagan festivals honoring Eoster. Thus the date became locked to the lunar calendar. It falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after the vernal equinox. The equinox usually falls on March 21.

Other feast days occur in relation to Easter. Thus the change of the date of Easter impacts Ascendsion Day, Whitsunday, and Trinity all change based on the date of Easter. Because of these moveable feasts, the dates on documents or mentioned in documents can vary widely. Whitsunday, for example, falls on Pentecost, that is, the seventh Sunday after Easter. In 2012 that was may 27, in 2013 it was May 19, and in 2014 it will be June 8.

When reading an old document, it is important to know whether or not a feast day named is moveable. If it is a moveable feast, you will have to determine what day the feast fell on by doing the calculations for determining the feast day.

You must be careful to calculate properly when converting from a moveable feast day reference to an actual date. When recording these dates in your family, it is best to record the actual stated reference, putting the translated date in square brackets afterwards. And example would be:


John Smith and James Jones appeared in court for an altercation that occurred between the two of them on Whitsunday [29 May], 1569.


Recording the date this way ensures that you have the correct date in your records.

Setting the Bar: Half a Century of Genealogical Standards

23 Oct 2013

I’ve just returned from ten days in Salt Lake City. The Board for Certification of Genealogists and the Fellows of the American Society of Genealogists had their annual meetings there the weekend before last. Many of us professionals joined them. It was a fun week, and a great opportunity for us to socialize without the pressures of conferences, where our schedules are filled with making presentations, having meetings, attending luncheons, etc.

On Saturday evening their was a dinner and presentation by The Legal Genealogist, Judy G. Russell. The occasion was the start of a year of events celebrating the 50th anniversary of credentialing in genealogy. Both the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) and the forerunner of the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen) were started in 1964.

Recognizing the need for standards in genealogical research, the Board for Certification of Genealogists was founded in 1964 by the Fellows of the American Society of Genealogists. The purpose was to develop standards for research, to help genealogists understand the pitfalls and problems that one can easily fall into when researching.




At the same time, the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also understood the need for standards. After much discussion they started the program for testing genealogists and awarding the Accredited Genealogist credential. In 2000, the church transferred the accreditation program to ICAPGen, an affiliate of the Utah Genealogical Association. Today ICAPGen is an independent non-profit testing organization.




Many people think that certification and accreditation are just for professionals. This is very far from the truth. Certification and accreditation are for anyone who wants to be confident in their research skills. Now, this process is not for beginning genealogists. But once you have been researching for awhile, you might consider going through the process. By the end, you will be quite certain that your research skills have brought you to a place where you can be confident in your findings.

Take a moment to visit the BCG and ICAPGen websites and see what the testing process is all about. Each of them has a different process. Each offers different resources to help you prepare for the process. While most people chose one program or the other, there are a few folks who have gone through the process for both, and are both certified and accredited.

Back Up Your Facebook

22 Oct 2013

Backing up your computer should be old hat. There are many ways to have the information on your computer stored elsewhere, allowing you access to your data if you have a sudden computer failure. But what about the information you have on Facebook?

We post many things on our walls: comments, websites, what we ate for lunch. We put up pictures of ourselves and family members. We post videos as well. Think of Facebook as a modern-day diary of your life. Don’t you want to keep a copy of that diary?

Enter the convenient archive feature on Facebook. You can download the information from your Facebook account. Downloading is easy. Simply click on the gear icon in the upper-right hand corner, and go to Account Settings. In the General Account settings you will see Name, Username, Email, Password, Networks, and Language. But underneath that, in fine print, you will find a link labeled Download a copy of your Facebook data.

Click on that link and you will go to the download page. Enter your password to start the process. As a security measure, an email will be sent to you notifying you that the archive download is being prepared, and to notify Facebook if you haven’t requested the download. Once the archive is ready to download, you will receive a second email. Click the link in that one and the download will happen automatically.


Facebook Archive


Once you open the zip file, you will see a folder on your desktop called facebook-[yourfacebookname]. Within that you will see some sub-folders and an html filed called “index.html.” Double-clicking the index file will open it up in your browser, and will give you access to all of the material that was downloaded (and stored in the sub-folders).  Your profile, contact information, settings and security information will be there. More importantly, you will discover all of the posts you have made to your wall, the photographs and videos you have uploaded, the events you have been invited to, and the messages you have sent.

Unforunately, not everything is downloaded. You won’t find items you’ve shared from other peoples’ walls. And, sadly, you won’t find any of the witty commentary from your friends on your posts.

Even with these drawbacks, it will still be a great way to look back at your activities. When I downloaded my archive I was able to see back in time to the first posts I made back in the summer of 2008 when I first joined Facebook, all the way up through the posts I made this morning.


Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Diamonds: Mourning Jewelry

19 Oct 2013

Mourning jewelry has been around for a very long time. Memorial rings for deceased individuals date back to the Roman Empire. In modern times, evidence of mourning jewelry dates back to the fifteenth century. It reached its zenith in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In early times, people would often leave money in their wills to purchase mourning jewelry for family and/or friends. William Shakespeare left money in his will for his friends Hamnet Sadler, John Hemynges, Richard Burbage, and Henry Cundell to purchase memorial rings.

For most people, the rings would be made of brass. These were more economical and affordable. For people who were more well-off, the rings might be made of silver or gold. For very wealthy people, the rings might be encrusted with jewels, such as rubies or diamonds.

Born in London in 1717, William Parsons matriculated from Eaton in 1735 and obtained a position as midshipman in the Royal Navy. He married in 1740, and shortly thereafter joined the British Army as an Ensign. He was addicted to gambling, which caused him to consistently lose his money. He ended up being arrested when he resorted to forgery. Although sentenced to death, his family and friends got the sentence reduced to transport. Arriving in Virginia in winter, he found conditions not to his liking and attempted to return home in summer. He continued his illegal ways, and was sentenced to Newgate, eventually being executed for his crimes in February 1750. A few days before his death, he ordered that a diamond mourning ring be made with the inscription “William Parsons, ob. 11 Feb. 1750-1. Æt. 33. When this you see Remember me.” to be delivered to “a certain young Lady, as the last Token of his Affection for her.” (His story was told in The New-York Gazette in the Weekly Post-Boy, August 26, 1751, No. 449, p. 1–2).

Originally, these rings were simple hoops. As time progressed, they were embellished with mottos, such as “Memento Mori” (Remember that you will die). Sometimes they would be adorned with the name of the deceased and his/her birth and death dates. More complex rings were engraved with symbols like those used on gravestones.  Skulls, coffins, skeletons, urns, and more might be engraved on the rings.

While rings were most popular, many different types of jewelry could be made. Pendants, charms, bracelets, and more were also created as mourning jewelry.

Victorian Mourning Hair  Jewelry


As time marched on into the Victorian era, a new type of mourning jewelry became popular. This jewelry was made from the hair of the deceased. Rings, earrings, bracelets, pretty much all kinds of jewelry could be created by weaving the hair. Metals were often used for decoration or practical matters, such as clasps. (You can read more about this in The Victorian Obsession with Hair, Result: Mourning Jewelry)

Modern companies are putting a new twist on this. You can purchase jewelry of all sorts which can be filled with the ashes of a loved one. Modern technology even allows you to go one better. There are firms, such as LifeGem, which will take your cremains and turn them into diamonds, which can be incorporated into any type of jewelry you wish. The diamonds can be created in different sizes and cuts. Prices can range from $2,000 to $20,000, depending on the carats, cut, and color.

When looking through jewelry pieces you may have inherited, examine it carefully. You may be looking at a piece of mourning jewelry, created in memory of a treasured friend or family member.

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.