Genealogy Blog

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.

Express Your Gratitude to Genealogical Repository Staff

09 Apr 2013

We have all had difficult experiences with government employees at repositories. They provide little assistance, and can be antagonistic towards genealogists. Some come by it honestly, through the terrible experiences genealogists have put them through, while others may just be born that way. Every once in awhile, however, you come across someone who is incredibly special.

Such a person is Walter Hickey of the National Archives/Northeast Region. For decades Walter has been the shining star of Waltham. Standing at the ready in the research center, no question is too big or small. From beginner to professional, Walter always makes certain you understand the answer.

I first met Walter almost twenty years ago. A friend of mine introduced him to me as the authority on Federal records. That didn’t begin to describe it. There is not a federal record set dealing with New England that Walter doesn’t know about. And the few that he doesn’t know as much about, he knows where to find the answers.

Whenever he is making a presentation, the room is jam-packed. He brings his tremendous sense of humor to his presentations, thoroughly entertaining his audience while educating them at the same time. And they are chock-filled with images of the records he is discussing.

During the course of my research on the Franklin family, Walter has been instrumental in pointing out some lesser-used records that might be of assistance to me. And I have thrown more than one complicated question at him, and he was always willing to help. Even when he didn’t have the answer right away, he would take it with him and quickly get back to me with a response (even if the response meant that I was out of luck).


Photography by Jay Sage of Walter Hickey at the Opening of the 1930 Census at NARA/Waltham in 2002.


One of my favorite moments, however, was when he helped me locate a naturalization record. A member of my family knew nothing of her birth father, as her parents divorced when she was a toddler. Walter helped me located a naturalization for her father’s mother, an Italian immigrant who was widowed during World War II. The amazing thing is how much the family member looks like her grandmother. (You can read a 2004 article be Walter in NARA’s Prologue magazine where he discusses naturalization records in New England online).

Walter decades of service, Walter is retiring from NARA. Although he would be the first to say that no one, including him, is irreplaceable, he will leave a tremendous hole there which will not be easily or soon filled. He is the kind of person we as genealogists treasure working with. Someone who goes the extra mile every time.

Walter, my friend, thank you so much for your years of service. If anyone has earned retirement, it is you. We will miss you at NARA, but hopefully we will see you around the genealogy world from time to time. Enjoy!

Whenever you are at a repository, take note of the people who are helpful. Take an extra moment to ensure that you express your gratitude to them. If they really go the extra mile, make sure you let the person’s supervisor know as well. Not only will you be expressing your gratitude, but you will be showing that not all genealogists are unappreciative jerks, and you will pave the way who go there in the future.

Spring Cleaning for Genealogists

06 Apr 2013

Spring is here. Of course, those of you with allergies don’t need me to tell you this. The pollen factories are hard at work. We have been holed up all winter, and now that the good weather is returning, it is time to do spring cleaning. It is not just the spring cleaning of your house — but your genealogy as well. Taking some time to organize and clean up your research will help you be even more productive in your research projects.



Start with your books. Are your shelves organized? Can you easily put your hands on the books that you need? Dust them, rearrange them, make them work for you. Do you have so many books that they over flow onto the floor? Put your most frequently-used books on the open shelves. The rest you can put into storage. Look at the nearby closets. Perhaps you can add some shelves inside the closet. You can also put them in plastic tubs. Remember to keep them out of the damp basement or ultra-high temperature attic, which can destroy them over time.

While you are organizing your books, think about creating a database of your library. One of the major benefits of this is that when you are shopping at a conference, or in a bookstore, or even online, you can easily figure out which books you already own and keep you from purchasing duplicates. There are many apps that you can use to create the database. One that I like is iBookshelf. It is available for IOS with an Android version due out soon. You can enter books by scanning the barcode, manually entering an ISBN number, or simply putting in an author or title to import information on a book. This is especially important for genealogists, as we tend to own many older books that were published before the use of ISBN numbers and barcodes which have only been around since the 1970s.

Now it is time to move on to your files. Start with that stack of paper that needs to be organized and filed. Many genealogists no longer keep any paper records. While I have far less paper than I used to, I still have paper files. When working on a book project, or an article, I often have paper in addition to electronic files. And for my own family, I have a large assortment of wedding invitations, greeting cards, death cards, letters, and more. Unfortunately, the paper can often accumulate into piles. Now is the time to sift through it. Organize it, and put it into files to make it more easily accessible. There is no one correct way to set up your files. The important thing is for you to use a system that will work for you. If you use one that you find clunky and uncomfortable, you won’t use it and you won’t stick with it.

As you are working with your paper files, consider your electronic files as well. Try to set up an electronic filing system that matches and enhances your paper filing system. That way you can include electronic copies of some of your paper files, and vice versa. As with the paper filing system, use an electronic filing system that works for you. Whether you base it on surnames, record types, projects, or whatever works for you. Sift through the electronic files for files that you no longer need and delete them. When you are done with that, use a disk cleaning software to go through your computer and get rid of unnecessary garbage files that are clunking up your machine. I use Clean My Mac, and I was able to remove 7 gigabytes of unneeded files from the MacBookPro, recovering a huge amount of space.

Finally, once you have done all of your electronic cleaning, it is time to backup your computer. I have a secondary drive that automatically backs up my machine. If you do that, I highly recommend that you also use an online back service, such as Carbonite. This will automatically back up all of your files onto secure servers and allow you to recover them on a moment’s notice in case of an emergency. For your protection, be certain to back up your computer every month going forward.

Just as you set aside time to do Spring cleaning around your house, schedule specific time to spring clean your genealogy as well. This will ensure that you get the most out of your research, and help prevent disasters with your files.


Blog Posts for Genealogists, April 5, 2013

05 Apr 2013

Following are some interesting stories and blog posts that I thought would be interesting to genealogists.

This week starts off with an interesting post by Randy Seaver in Genea-Musings. It was one year ago this week that the 1940 census was released to the public. Randy looks back on this event and what it meant to the genealogical community. You can read it in The 1940 Census — One Year Ago!

Fox News in the District of Columbia had an interesting story this week about John Blue. His dad taught him how to use a metal detector. In 2005 he found an identification ring that belonged to a Union soldier in the Civil War. Researchers were unable to identify the soldier at first, but recently there was a turn of events that allowed Blue to get in touch with collateral descendants of the ring’s owner. You can watch the story at Man To Return Civil War Identification Ring to Soldier’s Family After Found with Metal Detector.


Levi Schlegel’s identification ring.


Judy Russell’s subtitles can be quite informative. I particularly enjoy “The language of the law. Part Latin, part Anglo-Saxon, all confusing.” This week she explained a term that I myself have never seen before: coparceners. One of her readers cam across the term in a deed, and Judy, of course, was prepared with the answer for him. Find out the definition of the word and see a sample of its use in The Coparceners.

Denise Barrett wrote an interesting piece for the Moultrie Creek Gazette. She was inspired by her trip to the RootsTech 2013 conference, where she heard a great deal about large databases sites. She was surprised at the lack of discussion around personal archives. She discusses all of this in The Future of Family History.

John Newmark’s Transylvania Dutch blog encompasses quite a bit more than just Transylvania and Dutch ancestors. Last week he posted a short discussion about Politics, Religion, and Genealogy. John says “There are some who think discussions of politics and religion don’t belong on a genealogy blog, but I disagree. Politics and religion are hopelessly intertwined with family history research.” It is an interesting conversation, with links to similar posts he has made.

Mocavo Announces Surname Groups – Find Answers to Your Family History Questions

05 Apr 2013

John Donne (and Jon Bon Jovi) said that no man is an island. With Mocavo’s newly introduced Surname Groups, you don’t have to be stranded on your own genealogical island. Mocavo’s Surname Groups help you tap into the collective knowledge of thousands of other genealogists who have also stumbled through the same genealogy quandaries perplexing you.

Some of you may be familiar with Mocavo Forums, which we launched late last year.  Mocavo Surname Groups are the result of feedback and experimentation from Mocavo Forums, which are now retired.  If you posted any questions in Mocavo Forums, be sure to check out the new Surname Groups. There’s also a new twist in our Surname Groups 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 a Surname Group, you will see arrows.  If you find a question 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 question 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.


Aside from the convenience of being able to see the most valuable information right at the top of the page, there are some other cool tidbits in Mocavo Surname Groups:

  • You can tag your query by specific regions or types of genealogical research.
  • You can edit your queries, if you wish to update information
  • You can also post comments to queries, instead of just answers if you have a question about a query or need some clarification.
  • A reputation score is attached to each Mocavo community member. You can earn reputation points if your answer is voted up or accepted, and you also earn points when you post a query or accept an answer.
  • Best of all, in the answers or comments, you can add photos or documents for easy reference.

Check out Mocavo Surname Groups and let us know what you think in the comments below or by emailing us at

Digital Detritus: What Will Happen to Your Electronic Files When You’re Gone?

04 Apr 2013

In the old days, genealogists have file cabinets and boxes bulging with notes, photocopies, and other paper. Our bookshelves were crammed so full of books there was no available space. They usually overflowed onto the floor nearby. As twenty-first century genealogists, our files are no longer just paper. Nor are they just limited to our computers. Our iPads (or other tablets), mobile phones, and other electronic devices are bulging with files and applications. Music, movies, e-books, and more are crammed into every available memory space or the cloud.  Last year, consumers spent $4.5 billion on these materials.

Unfortunately, as in many instances, the law is lagging far behind reality. A recent article by Katy Steinmetz in Time magazine brought this issue to light. In “From Here to E-ternity: What Happens to Your Virtual Things When You’re Gone?” (181 [2013], no. 5: 54–55, available online to subscribers at, Steinmetz discusses the current status of the law surrounding your digital assets (the electronic books, movies, music, software, etc., that you purchased in your lifetime).



In times past, the things were much easier. You bought tangible items: books, record albums, CDs,  videotapes, DVDs, etc.). At your death you are free to dispose of these items in any way you like. You can donate them, leave them to love ones, have them sold, or throw them in the trash. In today’s digital world, however, things are not that cut and dried.

Digital assets are not as easily distributed. Part of the problem is the Cloud. As more and more of these items live in the cloud, it gets more difficult. Laws have not kept up with this radical new concept, and you (and your heirs) can be in for a rude awakening.

25% of books sold in America today are e-books. Think of how many you have purchased for your genealogical research. The problem is that many of these are actually licensed, not sold to you as they were in the past. Because they are licensed, they are in a grey area in terms of whether they can be transferred to someone else after your death.

Apple’s iTunes has billions of dollars in sales every year. Thousands of music recordings, television shows, movies, and more are downloaded every day. Apple, however, has no policy on whether your iTunes collection can be willed or transferred to someone else.

Flickr is one of the largest photo sharing sites around, with more than 6 billion pictures uploaded to the site so far. The company is now owned by Yahoo, whose policy is that if you leave written consent and your password, your materials can be transferred to your survivors. In the absence of those, however, your heirs can only request that the account and its contents be permanently deleted.

Vudu is another seller of movies and television shows, as well as converting DVDs to digital movies. The company’s official policy at the moment does not allow any of your content to be transferred to your heirs.

This is a complex and changing area. You should check with your attorney about what you can do with your digital assets, and how you can best preserve them and leave them for your heirs.