Genealogy Blog

Blog Posts and News for Genealogists, May 10, 2013

10 May 2013

Following are some recent stories and posts about genealogy and history that I found interesting and informative. I want to share them with you.

Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, shares an interesting story about last week’s Supreme Court decision that is of major importance to genealogists. In the case of McBurney v. Young, the court decided unanimously that freedom of information is a service provided by the states, and not a right enjoyed by the people. The case dealt with Virginia, but the decision applies throughout the country. States are no longer required to provide information to non-residents. Laws limiting access to residents are also in place in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Tennessee. Read more about the impact to genealogists in Freedom of Information: Residents Only.

Michael Hait had an important post in Planting the Seeds last week. Genealogists do a lot of writing to share their research results. But one of the biggest problems facing us with our writing is when to use the present tense and when to use the past tense. It can be frustrating to communicate clearly. Michael shares some rules from Ben Yagoda, professor of English and journalism at the University of Delaware. There are two basic conventions to apply for when to use the past tense and when to use the present. You can find out about them at Historical Writing and When to Use the Present Tense.

John L. Bell’s Boston 1775 blog is always very interesting. Last week  he ran a two-part series on Bunker Hill. The posts are an interview with historian Nathaniel Philbrick, author of the recently-published Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution. The book beings just after the Boston Tea Party and ends with the evacuation of Boston upon the arrival of General Gage and his troops. It is a stimulating conversation that ranges from the truth of legends from the battle to Philbrick’s casting of great actors from the past for a film version of the book. You can read the full interview in Q& A on Bunker Hill with Nathaniel Philbrick, Part I and Part II.

There were several stories this week about a fascinating discovery by British scientists. A team of University of Reading linguists has been examining words in English, Russian, Portuguese, Italian, and more. They have determined that these modern languages descend from a single ancestral tongue that existed about 15,000 years ago. They looked at a handful of words in several languages that are very similar in sound, appearance, and meeting. We of these words are considered “ultraconservative” and would likely still sound familiar to our far-off ancestors. Read more in The 15,000-Year-Old Ancestral Language that Birthed English and Russian.


EOGN Adam and Eve


Finally comes a subject near and dear to my heart. Dick Eastman posted yesterday about the fallacy of ancient ancestry. Nothing is more frustrating to professional genealogists than hearing someone tell us how they have traced their family tree all the way back to ancient Rome, or worse, still, to Adam and Eve. This is 100% impossible. Unfortunately, many people see these false pedigrees in out-of-copyright genealogies and believe them without investigating further. In I Have My Family Tree Back to Adam and Eve, Dick discusses articles by Nathan Murphy, a Senior Research Consultant in the LDS Genealogical Department, and Robert C. Gunderson, Senior Royalty Research Specialist there that discuss the impossibility of such pedigrees.

North American Dialects and Fonetik Speling

09 May 2013

There is an interesting meme making the rounds of Facebook this week. It is a map of North American English Dialects, Based on Pronunciation Patterns. Rick Aschmann operates a website,, that includes a lot of genealogy information. His interest in dialects has led him to find some very interesting data.  Thus, he created the page with the map, and a whole lot of other useful information as well.

According to Aschmann, there are eight dialects in North America:

  • Canada
  • Northern New England
  • The North
  • Greater New York City
  • The Midland
  • The South
  • North Central
  • The West

These regions do not necessarily conform to generally accepted locations. For example, Boston is included in the Northern New England dialect, while the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts is geographically located in Southern New England. There is a small map, and then a full-scale version that is much easier to read. It allows you to get in and see subsections of the regions, as well localized versions of dialects.


North American English Dialects Map


The next section is a Dialect Description Chart. This chart explains the dialects. The eight regions are divided into subsections and sub-subsections (such as the St. Louis Corridor, a subsection of the Inland North, which is a subsection of the North). There are some interesting  observations, such as making Downtown New Orleans a subsection of Greater New York City. The chart is cross referenced to the maps, so you can easily move back and forth.

He then provides a Guide to the Sounds of North American English. He explains the phonemic guide employed on his site, and why he used it. He asks the question “How many vowels are there in American English?” Then he moves on to explain the difference between the vowel letters (a,e,i.o, and u) and vowel sounds, of which there are 16. He then goes on to illustrate those sounds. This is followed by a discussion of the 24 consonant sounds.

At the bottom are audio samples of many local dialects. A number of them are YouTube videos of famous peoples: singers, politicians, actors, such as Alison Kraus, Jimmy Carter Jack Kemp, Clint Eastwood, Alicia Silverstone, Merv Griffin, and Bill Elliott.

Just before this section, however, is a part of particular interest to genealogists. Aschmann includes a section where words are spelled phonetically. For example:

“Awl əv thə sowndz wee hav awlredee diskust aar shohn in thə chaarts bəloh. Thee ohnlee speshəl kairəktər yoo stil haf tə mes withh iz “ə” and thats not too haard tə kopee intə yər tekst. Thee ohnlee thhing not in theez chaarts thət iy səjest yoo doo iz tə riyt thə fiynəl ‘s’ sownd az “ss” tə keep peepəl frəm thhingking its a ‘z’ sownd. Thair aar too igzampəlz əv this in thə nekst pairəgraf.”

This is exactly how many of our ancestors wrote. Their spelling was based on what they heard, not from any standard education in English grammar and spelling. Understanding the dialect of a particular area my help you to interpret original records of the time, especially those written by individuals with less education. This site can be a great help to you with this.

Tracking Your Genealogy Library: iBookshelf

08 May 2013

Genealogists tend to be pack rates in many different ways. We also have a tremendous eagerness to learn. This combination tends to lead to very large collections of books and journals of all types. After a while, it can be difficult to remember exactly which books one has in one’s collection. This can lead to trouble when you are out at a conference or seminar with book vendors and you can’t remember whether or not you already own a book. There are a number of solutions to this, including a variety of apps. One of my favorites is iBookshelf.




iBookshelf is the top-rated book database app in iTunes. It will allow you to keep track of your collection, and access it in a number of different ways. Entering your books can be done a number of ways. You can scan a book’s ISBN (International Standard Book Number) bar code, and the database will automatically search for the information about the book: title, author, genre, cover image, etc. Once scanned, an editing page will appear, allowing you to add additional information.

One field that will come in very handy if you have as many books as I do is location. I have eleven bookshelves located in seven different locations in four rooms. The location field allows me to quickly understand exactly where my books are so I can easily lay my hand on it. You can mark a books as read or unread, so you can see what your reading list looks like. You can enter pricing information for each book, which will show you the value of your library (which can be a scary thought).  A comment field allows you to put all kinds of descriptive information about each title.

You can also enter a book by keying in the ISBN number directly. The database also allows you to import CSV (comma separated values) files. As genealogists, we tend to acquire many works that were published prior to the establishment of ISBNs in 1965. For these books, you can enter the author’s name or title, and the database will search for the rest of the information. If it cannot be found, you can continue to add the remainder of the information manually.

Genealogists are a friendly lot, and we are often lending our books to friends and colleagues. iBookshelf allows you to mark a book as lent out, and make a note in the comments field that tells you to whom you lent it. You can also mark a book in your possession that you borrowed, and note from whom you borrowed it.

The app allows you to look at your collection by title, author, genre, status, rating series, format, and whether or not you’ve read it. You can also create collections (e.g., reference, census, Smith family, Massachusetts, etc.) and view the titles by collection.

The developer, Josh Pressnell, has created a YouTube video that illustrates various features of the app. He also eagerly appreciates feedback from users, not only about how well the app works, but where there are opportunities for improviement. He also appreciates suggestions for additional features and is constantly working to update the app to incorporate such suggestions.

iBookshelf is available for iOS or Android for $1.99. There is a free version that allows you to test it out with limited titles. Also available are My Box Office (which tracks your movies) and CD Tracker (for your CD collection). The My Library app ($3.99) combines all three of these into a single app.

Everything Old is New Again: Municipal Projects versus Private Enterprise

07 May 2013

Everything old is new again. Today in America, our Congress is split on exactly what role government should play in supporting citizens. Back in the mid-nineteenth century, the same discussion was occurring right here in Boston.

The population of the city was growing massively. The population of Boston doubled in the eighteen years between 1830 and 1848 alone. By this time, water had become a critical issue for the city. Only half of the city’s houses had their own wells, and many of these were dry. Of the remaining, none had water that was soft enough to use for tasks such as laundry.

Two options faced the city, which needed to determine which would serve the city better.  The first option was to build a publicly-funded  works that would bring water in from Long Pond in Framingham and Natick that, once constructed, would continue to be run by the city. The other option was to contract with private businessmen to build and operate a waterworks that would bring water in from Spot Pond in Stoneham.

The question was quite a contentious one. In 1795, the Boston Aqueduct Company started pumping water from Jamaica Pond in Roxbury (now a part of the city), but by the mid-nineteenth century, only 1,400 (mostly affluent) families were part of the service. The question that faced Bostonians was higher taxes to support  the project, or depending on private enterprise not to charge extortionate rates.

Cities such as New Orleans, Buffalo, and even nearby Providence had all opted for the private enterprise route. But from the beginning of the debate in the 1820s, the concern of many was that the water supply should be public. Josiah Quincy, Sr., in his 1826 mayoral address pointed out that businesses would do nothing without a mind to profit, therefore creating cheap infrastructure to cheap water while charging high rates to the best customers.


Celebration at the Boston Common Frog Pond in 1848  for the city's new waterworks.

Celebration at the Boston Common Frog Pond in 1848 for the city’s new waterworks.


The debate was contentious and took decades. After the first public referendum in 1845 failed by a narrow margin, a campaign for the public option entered high gear. A second referendum passed the public option by more than 90%. In October, 1848, Mayor Josiah Quincy, Jr., (son of the 1826 mayor) presided over a ceremony at the Frog Pond in Boston Common. A valve was turned, and water started gushing high into the air.

More than a century and a half later, water still gushes from the center of the Frog Pond. The water now comes from the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts. And the question of whether it should be a municipal operation or a private one still arises from time to time. The Boston Globe recently ran an interesting story about this subject, Boston’s Water: Public or Private? In many ways, the fact that we are still having such discussions is a commentary on our society in general. Our ancestors faced these questions, and though they had settled them in 1845. And here we are.

Give Your Mom Her Matrilineal Line for Mother’s Day

04 May 2013

Mother’s Day is a day set aside to honor mothers, maternal bonds, and the contributions that mothers make to society. Mother’s Day is celebrated on various dates in different countries> In the UK, Mothering Sunday is the fourth Sunday of Lent. In the U.S. and Canada, it is celebrated on the second Sunday in May (this coming Sunday).

There are many ways to honor your mother. Flowers, chocolates, and dinner out are often given to Mom on her day. What about sharing some genealogy this year? Put together some information on her matrilineal line. That’s her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great grandmother, etc.


The author’s grandmother, Mary Cea Yvette (Ruel) Morin (1914-1982). From the collection of the author, used with permission.


My mother’s matrilineal line goes back ten generations to the first female immigrant, Jeanne Soyer:

Generation 1: Aline Anita Morin, b. 1944 at Central Falls, Rhode Island; m. 20 June 1963 at Cumberland, Rhode Island, Omer Alfred Leclerc.

Generation 2: Marie Céa Yvette Ruel, b.  20 December 1914 at St. Norbert d’Arthabaska, Quebec; d. at Cranston, Rhode Island, 29 December 1982; m. 10 August 1933 at Central Falls, Theodore Edward Morin.

Generation 3: Yvonne Albert Durand, b. 3 March 1888 at St. Norbert; d. 19 April 1960 at Central Falls; m. 28 August 1906 at St. Norbert, Joseph Ruel.

Generation 4: Zepherine Lavigne, b. 12 June 1848 at Gentilly, Quebec; d. 1 October 1919 at St. Norbert; m. 13 July 1869 at Gentilly, Joseph Durand.

Generation 5: Julie Baril, b. 16 March 1819 at Gentilly; d. there 23 May 1854; m. there 27 February 1843 Alexis Rivard dit Lavigne.

Generation 6: Marie Angèlique Catherine Roberge, b. 1 August 1780 at Pointe de Levy, Quebec; d. 11 April 1825 at Gentilly; m. 24 November 1800 at Gentilly, Joseph Baril.

Generation 7: Marie Louise Levasseur, b. 11 January at Pointe de Levy; d. at Gentilly 3 December 1809; m. 30 June 1777 at Lévis Jean-Baptiste Roberge.

Generation 8: Marie Anne Journeau, b. 3 September 1725 at Longue-Pointe, Montreal; d. 10 September 1812 at Pointe de Levy; m. (1) 27 April 1746 at Pointe de Levy, Louis Levasseur; m. (2) 7 January 1795 at Pointe de Levy, François Bourget.

Generation 9: Marie Ursule Alarie dit Grandalary, b. 6 February 1701 at Neuville, Quebec; d. by 1746; m. 19 August 1721 at Notre Dame in Quebec City, Jean-Baptiste Journeau.

Generation 10: Louise Thibault, b. 18 May 1667 at Sillery, Quebec; bur. 18 December 1749 at St. Augustin, Quebec; m. 17 February 1681 at Neuville René Alarie dit Grandalary.

Generation 11: Jeanne Soyer, b. ca. 1636 in France; d. 20 April 1699 at Neuville; m. ca. 1660 in France Michel Thibault.

My mother’s mother came to the United States as a young girl with her family in 1927. She worked in the textile mills before marrying my grandfather and raising her family. Her father worked at a number of jobs, and spent many years as a baker. She comes from a long line of farmers.

Through Alexis Rivard dit Lavigne (husband of Julie Baril, Generation 5), she is descended from the original seigneurs of Gentilly. Her immigrant ancestor Jeanne Soyer came to New France as a young woman with her husband and young daughter. The exact origins of Jeanne and her husband, Michel Thibault, are unknown. It is known that she came from La Rochelle, on the western coast of France. Michel was from the neighboring province of Poitu. Both of these locations were bastions of Protestantism in the 16th and 17th centuries. Many Protestants tried to escape persecution in France by going to the New World. Unfortunately, the Catholic Jesuits were given large amounts of territory and virtually all Protestants were forced to abjure and become Catholic. It is entirely possible that Michel and Jeanne fell into this category.

This year, do something different for Mother’s Day. Why not give your mother the gift of some of the stories of the women in her ancestry. They will likely give her a new sense of pride in her origins. And it is much less fattening than chocolate!

Mocavo Announces Genealogy Karma

04 May 2013

Back in 1999, a fantastic resource was established to bring together members of the genealogy community all around the world. The brainchild of Bridgett and Doc Schneider, Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) was created to help genealogists collaborate with the genealogy community to document their research, while also offering genealogists a way to give back to a community that had helped them in the past. RAOGK quickly turned into a global organization. The group’s volunteers were able to help thousands of genealogists make progress in their family history research.

Bridgett Schneider courtesy of RAOGK Wiki

The ROAGK website went offline in 2011 because of a computer disaster. Sadly, Bridgett Schneider passed away later that year, and the website was never able to come back online. In tribute to Bridgett and Doc Schneider and all of the participants in RAOGK, many volunteers have created programs similar to ROAGK to help bring together the expertise of the genealogy community. Doc and Bridgett’s legacy and the efforts of thousands of volunteers inspired us to create a place for researchers to come together and collaborate to help other members of the genealogical community.   

Today, at Mocavo, we are excited to announce the launch of Genealogy Karma. Modeled after Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, we hope to empower the Mocavo community and connect researchers all around the country. If you’re looking for documents, records, or photos from an ancestor who lived far away, we will connect you with family history volunteers who can do this research for you in other cities. Likewise, if you’d like to give back to the Mocavo community and have a little time to donate, you can sign up as a volunteer.

To begin visit

To request help:

1. Simply click on “I need to request help.”

2. Select the county for your request.

3. Create a short title and add a detailed explanation of your request so that others can help find what you’re looking for.

4. Tag your request to help others discover it. For example, you can tag your request as “photo”, “birth record”, or “tombstone”.

5. You can also select to be notified if someone replies to your request.

6. Post your query.


To Volunteer:

1. Simply click on “I want to be a volunteer.”

2. Select the counties that you can help with.

3. Submit your information.

4. We will then let you know when there are opportunities to help other genealogists in your area.


Similar to surname groups, genealogy karma has a new twist that allows the most valuable content to float to the top of the page.

You can vote positively or negatively on each question and answer.  As a result, the most popular questions and most relevant answers rise to the top so that you don’t have to dig through heaps of information to find the good stuff. Next to each question or answer within Genealogy Karma, you will see arrows.  If you find a request you are interested in or response that is particularly helpful, you can “vote it up” so that more people will see it. If you find a request to be wildly off topic or unhelpful or if you think an answer is inaccurate, you can “vote it down” so that it will migrate to the bottom of the page. The topics at the top of the page will be the ones with the highest number of “up” votes so that you can quickly see the most valuable questions and answers.


Check out Genealogy Karma and take advantage of the vast network of Mocavo community members spread far and wide. Let us know what you think in the comments below or by emailing us at


UPDATE: After receiving some much appreciated community feedback, we decided to remove the floating/voting system mentioned above. Thanks to the Mocavo community for your feedback on this feature!



This week we would like to know what, if any, Southern states you have any interest in

04 May 2013

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

Southern States

Blog Posts and News for Genealogists, May 3, 2013

03 May 2013

Here are some interesting news stories and blog posts published recently. I wanted to share them with you, and hope you find them as informative as I do.

The “starving time” winter of 1609–10 in Jamestown was a terrifying period for the colonists. This week, archaeologists held a press conference at the Smithsonian Institute where the showed the reconstructed skull of a 14-year-old girl recovered from the site of the fort at Jamestown. The skull bore the distinct signs of butchery, indicating that the colonists resorted to cannibalism during that trying winter. Of the total population of 300, only 60 survived. You can read more of the story in Jamestown Cannibalism Confirmed by Skull from ‘Jane’ in USA Today.

The Legal Genealogist has been a busy bee this week. She has been speaking and writing on topics from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries. Those with New York ancestry might be especially interested in today’s post, Going Dutch. Judy discusses resources available for Dutch-American law.

Dick Eastman had an interesting story this week from The Netherlands. In 2011, bones were discovered on a beach. Groote Keeten is in Noord-Holland and was the site of a little known battle in 1799. Researchers identified the body a s amember of the Coldstream Gueards based on the uniform it was wearing. Now they are trying to identify him. Read more in Mystery of the British Soldier Found in the Dunes of Holland.

Audrey Collins had an interesting post recently about records from the Old Bailey. It seems that in 1844  there was an organized crime ring operating to defraud the Bank of England. They worked to get large amounts of money that were held in dormant accounts. The case ended up in the newspapers of the time, and the Old Bailey must have been filled during the trial, You can read more in Old Bailey Online — The Will Forgeries.


Capones Controversy


Finally, genealogy is stirring up a controversy over in television land. The Reelz Channel is a cable channel that broadcasts programming about movies, as well as syndicated and original programming. They air a reality show called “The Capones,” which features Dominic Capone and his mother Dawn running the family pizzeria and restaurant. Dominic is purported to be the great-nephew of Al Capone. This claim is being challenged by Chris Knight a.k.a. Chris Capone, who claims to be the grandson of the famed mobster. Read more in War Brewing Over Gangster Reality  Show.


Changing the Rules of Research: Twins Born 87 Days Apart

02 May 2013

One of the more interesting challenges in my own genealogy is the family of Noël Durand and Esther Poisson of Gentilly, Quebec. He was twenty-two years old and she twenty-five when they married there 25 October 1842. Their first child was Charles, baptized at the church there 31 July 1844 “né hier” (born yesterday).  The godparents were Pascal Poisson and Rosalie Durand (siblings of Noël and Esther). Their next child was a daughter, Marie Louise. She was born 18 September 1844 and baptized the same day. Her godparents were Charles Comeau and Lucie Poisson (sister of Esther).  That was not a typo. The second child was born six weeks after the first child.

I was reminded of this conundrum when I read in the Huffington Post the story of Maria Jones-Elliott and her husband Chris of Ireland. Maria was only twenty-three week along in her pregnancy, carrying twins, when her water broke. Daughter Amy was born June 1, 2012, four months premature. She weighed little more than a pound. On August 27, doctors induced her labor and Katie was born during the 36th week of her pregnancy. After months in an incubator and intensive care, Amy became a healthy young girl. The Elliotts will soon appear in the Guinness Book of World Records for twins being born the farthest apart.


The Elliott family of Ireland with world-record setting daughters Amy and Katie, born 87 days apart.


Even fifteen or twenty years ago, it is unlikely that Amy would have survived. Even Katy would have been in extreme danger. But advantages in technology and medical care have made it possible for these children to not only survive, but to thrive, and to go on and live full, healthy, happy lives.

In the past thirty years we have seen many changes that will affect that way people do genealogy in the future. Many of the rules we have used in the past will go away. In the past, for example, it is highly doubtful that any woman would have a child after the age of fifty. Now, thanks to technology, 60- and 70-year-old women are bearing their own grandchildren.

Couples are marrying later than they used to. Years ago, first marriages occurred in the early-to-mid twenties. Today, it is not unusual to see first marriages occurring in someone’s mid-to-late thirties. Advances in technology and medicine have made it easier and safer for women to give birth later in life.  And while we have always dealt with the question of tracing the birth lines of adopted children, now we have the specter of tracing the lines of sperm and egg donors. And the name of the mother on a birth certificate may be the name of a surrogate carrying the child, who has no biological relationship to it whatsoever.

These issues will greatly change the way genealogists research in the future. But it sill won’t help me figure out this issue of two children born six weeks apart in 1844. Both records clearly state the names of the parents and the dates of birth of the children. Still going to take me some time to figure that one out!

A Technologically Advanced Resource for Geography: The David Rumsey Map Collection

01 May 2013

Throughout his long career in business, David Rumsey maintained a number of outside interests. In 1980 he began building a collection of historical maps and cartographic materials for North and South America. He retired from real estate in 1995, and created Cartography Associates. With more than 150,000 maps, his is one of the largest privately-held map collections in the United States.

In 1995 he started sharing his collection with the public for free online through a dedicated website. The site has since won numerous awards, including a Webby Award for technical achievement.

There are numerous ways to view the maps. The Luna Browser provides a great deal of functionality. Of particular interest to genealogists, you can make annotations on the map images and share them with others. You can also create a widget for the map and embed it elsewhere.

The website also takes advantage of Google. Use the MapRank search to navigate to the area you would like to see maps of. The results then appear as a list of maps with thumbnails in a pain on the right side of the window. If you move your cursor over the list, the specific area of that map will appear highlighted on the Google map.


Example of Google Maps incorporation with David Rumsey maps.


The incorporation of Google Earth is even more interesting. Hundreds of maps have been georeferenced. In this process, GIS (geographic information systems) software takes points from the old maps and matches them to the same points on street maps, modern maps with national and state boundaries, and modern satellite images. The images of the old maps are then placed over the curved Google Earth map, curved to fit the curvature of the Earth’s surface.

A similar process was used with Google Maps. More than 120 maps have been incorporated into the Google Maps interface. This interface does not require downloading the Google Earth software to your computer. In earlier times, tools were not as sophisticated and perceptions of one’s surroundings were not always accurate. Because of this, in both the Google Earth and Google Maps interface, some of the early maps had to be distorted a bit to fit the modern contours.

If you are a fan of Second Life, you can take advantage of the Rumsey maps in the virtual world. The location is called the Rumsey Map Islands. Included in the interesting items here are two 100-meter tall globes, the Grand Canyon, 1836 New York City, and the Yosemite Valley (in both 2-D and 3-D). Hundreds of additional maps are also available there.

Check out the collection at Enjoy the multitude of ways in which maps can help you with your research. And just enjoy some really cool technology.