Genealogy Blog

For Future Generations, Say What You Need to Say

20 Apr 2013

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

This week we would like to know what, if any, South-Atlantic states you have any interest in.

20 Apr 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked which, if any, South-Atlantic 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.

Bethany Children’s Home Awarded Mocavo Community Digitization Grant

20 Apr 2013

In November of last year we announced the first ever Mocavo Community Digitization Grant.  We committed to provide up to $25,000 in digitization services to preserve historical records and make them available for free access. Today we are delighted to announce the recipient of the Mocavo Community Digitization Grant is the Bethany Children’s Home.

Bethany Children’s home is a regional ministry serving over 300 youth and their families, every year, in Eastern Pennsylvania.  The home began in 1862 as one man’s dream. On a trip home from Norfolk to Philadelphia, Rev. Emmanuel Boehringer passed through the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam, where 25,000 men lay scattered across the countryside dead or wounded. As he stopped to help bandage their wounds, many of the men asked: “What will become of my children?” And thus Rev. Boehringer’s dream for an orphans’ home was born.

Upon returning to Philadelphia, he began taking orphans into his own home at 702 Morris Street. On September 21, 1863, the home’s first resident, six year-old Caroline Engel, arrived at the Boehringer home. Originally called “The Orphans Home of the Shepherd of the Lambs,” the organization began to grow and by 1871 it had found a new home in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania, where the name was officially changed to Bethany Children’s Home.

A previous resident of Bethany from 1937-1952, Carl Bloss, initially returned seeking genealogical clues and answers regarding his paternal family, but found that Bethany had no archival program in place. In 2009, Carl began volunteering to organize and properly preserve their significant collections, which include photographs, 16mm motion picture film, scrapbooks, documents, and registers.  This past January, Mr. Bloss submitted a very unique proposal to Mocavo to digitize two ledger books containing information about the children who were residents of the home between 1863-1990. The ledger books contain a wealth of information including pictures of the children that resided in the home, their birth date, baptism and christening information, details about their birth parents, adoption records, and much more. After reviewing the many worthy submissions that we received, we knew that Bethany Children’s House would be the perfect recipient of the Mocavo Community Digitization Grant.

We are inspired by the work that the volunteers at Bethany Children’s Home have done to preserve this information, and are excited to help bring this valuable content online for the rest of the world to experience.  We have begun work on digitizing these records and will make them available for free at later this summer.

If you have any questions about this story, or about the Mocavo Community Digitization Grant, please feel free to contact us at

The New England Regional Genealogical Conference

18 Apr 2013

I’m on the road again. Up in Manchester, New Hampshire, for the twelfth New England Regional Genealogical Conference (NERGC). The conference regularly attracts hundreds of attendees. There are many reasons that this is one of the well-liked large conferences in the country.

NERGC was started more than twenty years ago. The six New England states are a very compact territory compared to other areas of the country. But even within this area, New Englanders tend to have a very localized mentality. I was born in Rhode Island, the smallest state in the Union. There is a mentality there among many that if you have to drive for two hours, it should be a weekend trip.



In addition to the statewide societies, there are many small organizations throughout the region. These small groups with tiny budgets do not have the resources to put together large events. The thought was that if they banded together, they would be able to bring in national-level, high-quality speakers to the region.

The first NERGC was held April 25 and 26, 1992 in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. The next was held in 1994 in Manchester, New Hampshire. One of the tenets of the group was that the conference would move around with each state taking a turn hosting the conference. This worked well for awhile, but the conference has now grown so large that there are no facilities in Vermont large enough to accommodate it.

I have attended every conference since the third in Burlington, Vermont, in 1995. For awhile I had the pleasure of serving on the planning committee. It definitely has a different vibe and feeling than other similarly-sized events. And, conference after conference, it is increasingly successful.

I have lost track of the number of doomsayers over the last few years prophesying the “end of the conference as we know it.” Frankly, I’ve been listening to such talk for well over decade. Yet attendance at NERGC continues to grow. Attendance at the last conference in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 2011, grew 14% over the previous one. And the totals for this year’s conference are already higher than Springfield, with two more days of walk-ins to be added.

One of the major reasons for the success of the conference is the teamwork. There is no doubt that it can be challenging sometimes to organize things with dozens of organizations involved. However, so many groups having a vested interest in the success of the program makes a major difference. And the program is very carried and interesting, with topics and speakers not often heard elsewhere.

Attendees come from all over the country for this fantastic opportunity. If you have New England roots, you should consider attending the 2015 conference. It will be held in April 2015 in Providence, Rhode Island. I will definitely be there.

U.S. Federal Census Records Quirks: Part II

17 Apr 2013

Yesterday started a two-part series on U.S. Census records. They are one of the basic building blocks of genealogical research. Abstractions, transcriptions, and even images of original records abound on the internet. These tips can help you understand the records and use them better in your research.

When researching census records, we primarily think of the population schedules. These are the lists of families and their personal information that we most often use. However, there are a number of other schedules that might be available. In the U.S. federal census, for example, the non-population schedules started in 1810 with the census of manufacturers. Later censuses included agricultural mortality, social statistics, and the seven schedules in 1880 that covered the Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent classes (known colloquially as the Triple Ds), Unfortunately, not all of these records survived for all locations. Many of those that did survive are not at the National Archives, but at state archives and libraries or other repositories.



Once you have found your ancestors in the record, it is important that you be able to find them again at some point in the future, especially if conflicting evidence arises (as it is wont to do). When citing your source, be certain to include the traditional identifying information (i.e., type of census; census year; town, county, and state; enumeration district (if applicable); dwelling and family numbers (if applicable); line number (if applicable); and page number). Images of original census records are getting easier and easier to find onlinee, and that information will allow you to easily find the record again, even if it is no longer available on the website on which you originally examined it.

Sometimes you may have difficulty reading the digital or microfilm image of the census record, and you may wish to examine the original. This is especially true for the 1910 census, the microfilm of which was very poorly done, leaving thousands of pages illegible. The surviving official copies of the federal censuses from 1790 to 1870 are on file at the National Archives. The 1880 schedules were returned to the states. The 1890 census was almost completely destroyed by fire and subsequent water damage. In 1956, facing a massive storage problem, Congress authorized the destruction of the original schedules for the censuses from 1900 through 1940. The problem with the 1910 microfilm masters was not discovered until after the destruction of the original records, leaving us with massive problems for that year.

Census records can be very helpful in your research. Understanding the various quirks about them will be critical to your success. Knowing what is there and what is missing will help you know where to turn to next.

U.S. Federal Census Records Quirks: Part I

16 Apr 2013

Census records are one of the basic building blocks of genealogical research. Abstractions, transcriptions, and even images of original records abound on the internet. These can help you make great strides in finding your ancestors. Today and tomorrow will be a two-part series of information that can help you utilize them better.



With electronic databases it has never been easier to find your ancestor in the census. Sometimes you cannot find the individual you are looking for, no matter how hard you try. There are any number of reasons for this. They may not have been enumerated (perhaps there were away, or just didn’t like to talk to “government men”). Their names may have been misread when the census was indexed. Also quite common, depending on where and when you are searching, are missing schedules. For example, the 1790 schedules for Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Virginia are missing. And in 1800, the census schedules for the city of Boston (among others) do not survive. If you can’t find the person, be certain that the schedules for the time and place you are researching actually survive.

Sometimes, you may have the opposite problem. You may find what appears to be your ancestor listed more than once in the same census. It may give you pause to ask, is this even possible?The answer is yes. There are any number of reasons someone might be enumerated more than once. This is particularly common for children, especially in rural areas. It took a few weeks to take the census, and enumerators did not always follow the rules given to them. Children would sometimes be visiting relatives (aunts, uncles, grandparents) or be working for neighbors. It is not unusual to find them enumerated in their own family, as well as the family where they were working and living. People also may have moved around census time, and might be enumerated at their old address as well as their new address.

Tomorrow, in part two, we will discuss some other quirks of the census and how knowing about them will help you work with these records better.

United We Stand

15 Apr 2013



I had written a blog post today talking about the Patriots’ Day holiday, it’s significance, and the running of the Boston Marathon. The television was on in the background, with the Boston Marathon results playing. Before I could upload the post, horror unfolded in front of my eyes. Explosions at the marathon.

We don’t know yet all the details about what happened. We do know that we were the victim of a terrorist attack. Domestic or foreign we do not know. But we do know this.

This is a day that in Massachusetts commemorates the first shots of the American Revolution. It is a day when we remember the heroic men and women who stood up to oppression. It is a day when we remember those who, though outnumbered by a well-trained military, prevailed in battle.

Just as our ancestors fought, we will fight. And we will find the people who are responsible for this. They will be brought to justice.

And know this: they have already lost this war. We will not be intimidated by their cowardly actions. But we will stand strong. And we will move past this.

Bostonians will move on. And we thank the rest of the country for your support. Just as our ancestors stood strong, we will stand strong. The terrorists have already lost this war.

Blog Posts for Genealogists, April 12, 2013

12 Apr 2013

Following are some posts from genealogy blogs and newspapers that I want to share with you. I hope you find them interesting and informative.

Judy Russell announced on Monday a major breakthrough for genealogists. While the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has done some great things for us as individuals, it has made life as genealogists much more difficult with new restrictions on record access. The Department of Health and Human Services has finally agreed to new terms regarding public access to death records. Read the full story in Breakthrough for Medical Genealogists.

Audrey Collins of The National Archives (UK) contributed an interesting piece to the TNA blog this week. She compared American census records with UK census records. She has several keen observations, including “. . . since many Americans have British or Irish roots, and when I am answering their research enquiries on British records it helps to know a little about the kind of records they are used to.” This is a valuable lesson for librarians and professional genealogists of all kinds. Her keenest observation about the two censuses, however, is “. . . perhaps the greatest difference is one which is not immediately apparent: the way that the census was taken in the first place.” The post is available on the TNA blog.

Thomas MacEntee is a very popular genealogy blogger. Among his many activities is running the Destination: Austin Family blog. This week he had a very interesting post about twenty-first century genealogists. Each of his points was very valid, and interesting, but it was his summary that I found most interesting: “As many of us use different tech tools in searching our ancestors and we work to share them with others in the genealogy community, perhaps we need to avoid terms and labels that can be divisive such as ‘21st Century Genealogist.’ ” Read the full post at Reasons to Stop Saying “21st Century Genealogist.”



Interesting news came from New Brunswick, Canada, this week. An anthropology professor has teamed up with provincial archaeologists for a special project. Using 3d software, they examined and photographed eighteenth-century gravestones at Fort Gaspareaux National Historical Site. The new technology allowed them to recreated the eroded carving on some of the stones to reveal names and other information that are now all but illegible to the naked eye. Find more of the story at 18th Century Tombstones Deciphered with New 3D Technology.

Wendy L. Callahan writes the New England Genealogy blog. She describes herself as “an urban and steampunk fantasy author, Pagan writer, homeschooler, and genealogist from Massachusetts, currently living in England with my husband, son and daughter, black-headed caique, and three cats. . .” She recently posted Climbing My Family Tree in which she describes her three-prong approach to genealogical research: Tackling the Brick Wall, One Branch at a Time, and Tying Up Loose Ends.

Review: Spell It Out

11 Apr 2013

Whilst in England I stopped at the British Library to do some research. And of course, not visit would be complete without a stop by the gift shop. Perusing the shelves of books (yes, real-live paper books), I found a very interesting title which I couldn’t resist purchasing.



David Crystal is that author of a number of works on English. Among these titles are The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, The Stories of English, The Fight for English, Txting: the gr8 db8, and The Story of English in 100 Words. The book I purchased is his latest, Spell It Out: The Singular Story of English Spelling.

Crystal is a well-known expert, and this book is no exception. He explains that “The origins of the English writing system lie in the alphabet the Romans used for Latin. The task of adaptation was a priority for the monks in Anglo-Saxon England.” (p. 12). He starts with the twenty-three-letter alphabet in use in these earliest times and continues into the twenty-first century.

The explanations of how different spelling variations have crept into the English language are remarkable. They also make spelling variations much easier to understand. From doubling letters to differentiate between short vowel sounds and long vowel sounds to those that crept in from French and Latin, one comes to a great understanding of the English language today.

Peppered throughout are quotes from famous real-life and fictional individuals, from Winnie-the-Pooh to Ogden Nash. One of my favorites comes from Nash about name spellings:

“. . . I get confused between the Eliot with one L and One T, and the Elliot with two Ls  and one T, and the Eliott with one L and two Ts, and the Elliott with two of each. How many of my friendships have lapsed because of an extra T or a missing L . . .”

Among the more interesting discussions are one revolve around spelling noises (such as argh, ugh, or blech) and one that explains abbreviations. His last chapter discusses the future of spelling, in which he says “The most interesting question is whether the internet will allow us, in effect, to wind the clock back to an earlier and more regular period of English spelling, and introduce a modicum of spelling reform.

The forty-eight chapters and two appendices are short, and jam-packed with information. But they are also written in an easy-to-read style (although, admittedly, some of the concepts are so convoluted one might have to re-read a couple of times to fully grasp the significance of what is being said).

Spell It Out is a valuable addition to any genealogist’s reference library. By understanding how spelling developed and changed over time, it can make it easier to read old documents. It is available from for $15.63 (U.S.) or £8.44 (U.K.).

Gesher Galicia: A Great Resource for the Poland/Ukraine Area

10 Apr 2013

Gesher Galicia is an American non-profit organization dedicated to genealogical and historical research in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire province of Galicia. This territory lies today in eastern Poland and the southwestern Ukraine. While the primary focus is on Jewish families, many of their materials cover other religious, cultural, and ethnic identities as well.




The organization is very active in providing resources to help researchers. Some of these are available to members only, while others are available to the general public. The good news is that even if you need to become a member to access, it is relatively inexpensive at $25 for a  year.

The Galician Archival Records Project (GARP) is the umbrella for all of the group’s research projects. The projects focus on the towns in Galicia and local records that are more difficult to obtain. The group works with professional genealogists to research in Austria, Israel, Poland, Ukraine, and the United States to unearth records of interest. To date 150 towns have been included, and more are added as interest and funding are approved. Research on a new town can be initiated for a donation of only $250, which is matched by the organization.

There are currently four major initiatives:

The Austrian State Archives Project
In 2011, Gesher Galicia starting collecting materials from the Staatarchiv (state archives) and the Kriegsarchiv (war and military archives).

The Vital Records and Census Project
Vital records held in Polish archives that are more than 100 years old have likely been indexed by JRI Poland. Because of this, Gesher Galicia focuses more on the records held in Ukraine. There are also Polish records not available through JRI.

The Cadastral Map and Landowner Records Project
Galesh Galicia has been working since 2007 to scan and make available cadstral maps from the Central State Historical Archives in Lvivi, Ukraine. The organization has also been working to make land records available as well.

A fourth initiative, The Stanislawow 1939 Census and Passport Applications Project, will start soon.

The abstracted records are available in the All Galicia Database. The cadastral maps can be viewed in the Gesher Galicia Map Room. There are a half-dozen regional maps dating from 1775 through 1938. Dozens of nineteenth-century cadastral maps are available for various towns.

If you have ancestors in Galicia, you will want to check Gesher Galicia. The groups resources will be helpful to you, whether your ancestors were Jewish or not.