Genealogy Blog

Blog Posts for Genealogists, May 24, 2013

24 May 2013

Following are some recent genealogy blog posts that I enjoyed reading. I would like to share them with you; I believe you will find them interesting and informative.

Kirk Woosley Patton is a native Kentuckian, and runs Fincastle Ancestry Research. In his blog recently he wrote about the Appalachian Mountains. Kirk discusses a very important point that many researchers forget: geography is important. The Appalachians proved a formidable barrier to western migration.

The Catholic Gene blog is run by a group of researchers involved in researching Catholic ancestors. Denise Levenick wrote a post on The Books They Leave Behind: Preserving Family Bibles and Religious Books. It is a great primer on how to take care of old family books. Perhaps her most significant observation: “Avoid storing books or other family keepsakes in basements, garages or attics where extreme temperature and humidity changes can cause permanent damage.”

Richard Phillips wrote a great post last week on the Civil War Emancipation blog.  One hundred fifty years ago, the Confederate Congress passed the Confederate Retaliatory Act. The act reinforced an earlier proclamation by Jefferson Davis that black Union soldiers would be denied the usual protections of prisoners, and white officers of such regiments would be charged under state laws with inciting servile insurrection.


Daily Genealogy Transcriber


My friend Michael John Neill writes several blogs. One of my favorites is the Daily Genealogy Transcriber. Each day he provides small handwriting samples to help people practice reading old records.  This week, his Who is Buying and Selling? Post is a great example of how you need to understand the rules of writing in the time period in order to read the words properly.

Finally, this week wraps up with a post by Randy Seaver. On Monday he talked about an extremely significant collection of records that was just released by FamilySearch. Those with New England ancestors were excited this week to learn of the release of land records from all 14 counties in Massachusetts. The database is not yet searchable, so Randy walks you through the process of accessing the materials in Massachusetts Land Records, 1620 – 1986, Available on FamilySearch—Digital Microfilm.

Mononcle Eloi: The Ultimate Sacrifice

23 May 2013

As this week comes to a close, in America we are preparing to celebrate Memorial Day. It is a day where we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country in the armed forces. I’m sure a lot of you have discovered ancestors who served in the armed forces during your genealogy search. Last year I wrote about my grandfather’s cousin, Albert Leclerc, who died at the age of 19 in World War II. This year, I would like to share the story of my maternal grandfather’s uncle, Eloi Morin.

My great-grandfather, Anselme Morin, was the eldest son of Onésime  Morin and his second wife, Céline Pelletier of the small town of Saint Calixte de Kilkenny, in the mountainous region north of the Saint Lawrence River across from Montreal.  Mononcle Eloi (mononcle is French for uncle) was born there September 10, 1887, the eighth of Onésime and Céline’s eleven children, and their youngest son.


Eloi Morin as a young man, from the collection of the author. Used with permission.

Eloi Morin as a young man, from the collection of the author. Used with permission.


Shortly before the turn of the century, the family moved to the mill village of North Grosvenordale in the town of Thompson, Windham County, Connecticut. Eloi was fourteen years old when his parents died only months apart in 1902. Eloi and the others worked in the cotton mills in Thompson.

He was living in the village of Taftsville in the town of Norwich in 1917 and working in the Ponomah Mills when he registered for the draft in World War I. He was described as medium height and build, with brown eyes and light brown hair. He was thirty years old, single, and living with another single man.

Although a British subject, Eloi enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army, and was assigned to the 116th Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division. This division was known as the “Blue and Gray,” because it was based out of Virginia and contained men from states on both sides of the Civil War. Eloi’s unit was sent to Europe in the summer of 1918.

They immediately were involved in heavy action in France. In September they were part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. During the offensive, the 116th saw massive casualties. One of the casualties was Mononcle Eloi, who died On October 21. He is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne, France. The cemetery holds the largest number of American military dead in Europe, 14,246. The vast majority of these are victims of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.


Eloi Morin Gravestone


My grandfather, Theodore Edward Morin was the twelfth of Anselme’s thirteen children. Throughout my ancestry search, I discovered that he was born in North Grosvernordale on March 23, 1915. Eloi served as godfather for his nephew. When he enlisted, Eloi named my grandfather Eddie as his beneficiary. Because Eddie was a minor, the funds were held in trust by the court.

My great-grandfather died in 1920 at the age of 44, leaving his widow with thirteen children. Records in North Grosvenordale show that that she repeatedly petitioned the court for some of the money, which she used to help feed her family. The majority of the money, however, came to my grandfather when he turned twenty-one.

Theodore Edward Morin married Marie Cèa Yvette Ruel at St. Matthieu’s church in Central Falls, Rhode Island, on August 10, 1933, when they were both eighteen years old. They worked in the mills there. Three years later, they received the money from the trust. They used it to buy a small farmhouse in the town of Cumberland, which was more rural, so that their children wouldn’t have to grow up in the city.

There was an archway between the hallway and the living room of my grandparents’ house. My grandparents hung a portrait of Mononcle Eloi, dressed in his military uniform, on the wall in their living room. My grandfather died in December 1969. My grandmother kept the portrait up, and it was still hanging their when my grandmother died, almost half a century after my grandparents bought the house. She never forgot that it was Eloi’s generosity that allowed she and Eddie to raise their family in the country, rather than the city. This year on Memorial Day, I will pause to remember the dramatic difference this man made in my mother’s family.

The First Steamship to Cross the Atlantic

22 May 2013

Many Americans and Canadians are descended from those who immigrated here in great waves during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. These people crowded into the steerage decks in the bowels of steamships, escaping poverty and looking for opportunity in a new world. But the age of steamship travel was actually ushered in decades before the mass transportation that began with a race between the Washington and Britannia in 1847.


S.S. Savannah

S.S. Savannah


Robert Fulton’s first steamboat voyage took place in 1807. Captain Moses Rogers took note of this. In 1818, the Savannah was being built in New York when Rogers convinced the shipping firm of Scarbrough and Isaacs from Savannah, Georgia, to purchase her. He persuaded the company to convert her from a sailing packet to a steamship to make the first transatlantic steamship service.

In addition to her rigging, she was outfitted with a steam engine and paddle wheels. The wheels’ paddles were made with chains instead of bars to hold the paddles. In that way, they wheels could be removed from the water and stored on deck when not in use. Savannah was not a large ship, and could not carry enough fuel to run on steam power for the entire trip. She was designed for the engine to carry the ship along when the winds died, and sailing ships were left immobile in the water.

Savannah was outfitted with sixteen staterooms. Each stateroom had two births, allowing her to carry up to thirty-two passengers. Quarters for women and men were separated. There were three fully-furnished salons for the passengers. Her accommodations were considered quite luxurious for a packet ship.

She made her initial trial in New York harbor on March 22, 1819. She cruised for two hours, testing her engines also. On March 28, 1819, she set sail for her home port of Savannah, Georgia. She reached port on April 6, having used the steam engine for 4.5 hours of the trip. On May 11, President James Madison, on a tour of arsenals and fortifications along the coast, took a tour on Savannah. Her maiden voyage was set for May 20, but was delayed when one of her crew, arriving back to the ship drunk, fell off the gangplank and drowned.

There was great fear among the public about the ship. In New York, she was called a “steam coffin,” and Captain Rogers had to go to Connecticut to outfit her with a crew. In Georgia, the fear continued. No merchants were willing to place cargo on what they considered to be such a risky venture. And no passengers were willing to risk their lives on the voyage. Sadly, she left on her maiden voyage on May 24 with only her crew aboard.

On her voyage she passed numerous vessels. More than one of the ships, seeing smoke on the horizon, gave chase thinking that it was a vessel on fire. None were able to overtake the ship. On June 18, she was stuck off the coast of Cork, having previously used all of her fuel and with no wind to carry her. Hundreds of boats of all sizes sailed out to meet her. On June 20 she made her way into Liverpool harbor.

During her European stay, she visited Sweden and Russia as well, where the Prince of Sweden and Norway and the Emperor of Russia visited her. She remained in Europe for three months, departing for home on September 29. After being away more than six months, she arrived back home on November 30, 1819.

Unfortunately, a massive fire swept through the city of Savannah in January 1820, and the ship’s owners were forced to sell her. Her new owner removed the engine and sold it. She then went into service as a packet ship running between Savannah and New York. Unfortunately, she ran aground on Long Island on November 5, 1821, and was broken up.

This week marks the 194th anniversary of Savannah historic voyage. In her short life, she proved that it was possible to cross the ocean in a steamship. Unfortunately it was not yet economical because of the amount of fuel a steam engine required. In addition, the public was fearful of going out on the open sea in a steamship. It would take almost three more decades for these issues to be resolved and for commercial steamship travel to become viable.

Preserve the Pensions To Give Away Research Trips

21 May 2013

The Preserve The Pensions Project has announced that it is running a Genealogy Road Trip Contest. The Project is looking to generate more support for the project.

Preserve the Pensions is a joint venture of the National Archives and Records Administration, the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and The project was started last year to commemorate the Bicentennial of the start of the War of 1812.


Preserve the Pensions


The Project is working to digitize the pension files for those who served in the War of 1812, which are among the most-requested items at the National Archives. The goal is to digitize 180,000 files, creating 7.2 million images. These records will then be made available online to the public for free. At this point, more than 586,000 images have been created. The images are being uploaded incrementally as they are being created.

This week they are giving away $2,800 worth of prizes, including two genealogy research trips. The trips are to either the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The prizes include one week’s accommodation, a $200 meal card, and a $50 copy card for the repository.

You can enter the contest by liking the Project’s Facebook page, or by subscribing to the e-newsletter.

It costs $0.45 to digitize each page. has generously agreed to cover the costs of 50% of the digitizing. With this gift, a donation of $45 will cover the costs of digitizing 200 images. Every penny counts, and all images will always be available for free to the public, so consider making a donation. As an added incentive, if you donate between now and August, you will be entered into a drawing to win a beautiful handmade quilt.

The Last Angel of Bataan: Celebrating an American Hero

18 May 2013

Every day we lose another member of the Greatest Generation — those who fought in ways large and small to defend freedom in the world during World War II. There are many stories and heroes that came from the war, and too many of them have been forgotten, especially those involving women. One of those, Mildred (Dalton) Manning, died at the age of 98 in March. She was the last surviving member of a brave group of women, the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, they turned their attention to the Philippines. The United States had large bases there. U.S. Army and Navy nurses were stationed at Stanberg General Hospital in Manila, as well as other hospitals nearby. A few weeks later, at the start of the Battle of the Phillippines, 88 nurses escaped from Manila to Bataan and Corregidor. Eleven Navy nurses were captured and sent to a Japanese internment camp at Santo Tomas.

Many of the nurses who escaped were assigned to hospitals in Bataan. For four months, they tended patients in open-air wards in the middle of the oppressive jungle. Over the course of the next four months, they administered to 6,000 patients, dealing not only with wounds and injuries but malaria, dysentery and more.

In April 1942, as Bataan was about to fall, those nurses were ordered to the island fortress at Corregidor. There, hospital wards were located in tunnels under the fortress. On April 29, a small group of army nurses were evacuated. The last remaining navy nurse and some more army nurses were evacuated by submarine four days later.

On May 6, Corregidor fell to the Japanese, and the 66 remaining nurses were captured. On July 2, they were sent to Santo Tomas. The internment camp was located on the campus of the University of Santo Tomas. U.S. Army Captain Maude C. Davison, age 57, took charge of the nurses. She insisted that they wear their uniforms and maintained regular duty schedules the entire time they were prisoners.

In May 1943, the navy nurses were transferred to the Los Baños camp, where they became known as “the sacred eleven.” The nurses remained prisoners for two and a half years. Their rations at the camp dwindled over time. By the end of 1944 they were on a diet of 960 calories a day. Then the civilian Japanese government turned control of the camp over to the Imperial Japanese Army. The army reduced it even further to 700 calories per day.

On February 3, 1945, more than four years after the nurses evacuated Manila, Santo Tomas was finally liberated by General Douglas MacArthur’s forces. Three weeks later, Los Baños was also liberated. The women, on average, had lost 30% of their body weight during their imprisonment.  But through it all, the 77 brave women persevered and all of them survived.


Some of the Angels of Bataan being evacuated after the liberation of the internment camp at Santo Tomas.

Some of the Angels of Bataan being evacuated after the liberation of the internment camp at Santo Tomas.


During the course of the war, their story had been used to promote recruitment and war bonds sales. By the end of the war, almost 60,000 women volunteered as nurses, more than half of whom also volunteered and served in active combat zones. Sixteen were killed in service. One of the escapees wrote a book, and three movies were made about their story: Cry ‘Havoc’ (MGM, 1943), So Proudly We Hail! (Paramount, 1943), and They were Expendable (MGM, 1945).

These women were the first large group of American women in active combat. They remain the largest group of American women ever taken captive and imprisoned in wartime. There is a shrine to those who served at Bataan and Corregidor at Mount Samai, and a bronze plaque  was dedicated there in 1980:

TO THE ANGELSIn honor of the valiant American military women who gave so much of themselves in the early days of World War II. They provided care and comfort to the gallant defenders of Bataan and Corregidor. They lived on a starvation diet, shared the bombing, strafing, sniping, sickness and disease while working endless hours of heartbreaking duty. These nurses always had a smile, a tender touch and a kind word for their patients. They truly earned the name—THE ANGELS OF BATAAN AND CORREGIDOR.

Mildren Manning was the of these brave, selfless women to survive. After her release, she was promoted to lieutenant. She toured the country promoting the sale of war bonds. It was on this tour that she met the man who would become her husband. In a notice of her death that appeared in the March 25 issue of Time magazine, she is quoted as having once said “I have never been bitter. If I could survive that, I could survive anything.”

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

18 May 2013

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



Blogs and News for Genealogists, May 17, 2013

17 May 2013

Jennifer  R. James had a terrific post on the Huffington Post College Blog this week. With roots in Philadelphia, she wanted to work on her family history when she began graduate school at Drexel University. Unfortunately her white American mother (of English and German descent) and her Indian immigrant father became involved in a contentious divorce. This caused her difficulties, complicated by her multi-racial identity. Then one of her professors assigned family history as an assignment, and things started to change. Read more in Tangled Roots: Racial Identity and Family Trees.

Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, has an ongoing series about terms of use for websites. This week she discusses the terms for using the new The site has moved from a focus on records to a focus on sharing information. As Judy says, when a website encourages people to upload material, it is time to examine closely the site’s terms of use to see what they will do with what you upload. And Judy lays out the terms for FamilySearch in plain English for you. Read the full story in FamilySearch: Sharing is Forever. You can read Judy’s review of Mocavo’s terms of use in Terms of Use: Mocavo.

The National Geographic Daily News reported on a story out of Iceland about the Vikings coming to America—and taking a Native American when departing. Mitochondrial DNA (passed from mother to child) studies have found a number of people in Iceland with a genetic variant that is very similar to one found almost exclusively in Native American populations. The DNA seems to have appeared about 1000 C.E., about the time that Vikings were known to have sailed to America. Read more in American Indian Sailed to Europe With Vikings?


Carolyn Barkley


This week the genealogical community lost a good friend, Carolyn L. Barkley. She was well-known and well-liked, and a popular face at genealogical conferences around the country. Dick Eastman ran a lovely tribute yesterday that was written by Craig Scott. Carolyn wrote the Genealogy and Family History blog. She shared from her deep breadth of knowledge gained in her many years as a librarian as well as a genealogist. Her last post was made two weeks ago. In Searching for Your Collegiate Ancestor, she discusses resources for finding family members who attended college or university. While you are there, take some time to look at some of the many other posts she made you can learn a lot from her.

There are several new television shows involving genealogy that are about to start airing. The first is Christopher Guest’s new HBO show Family Tree. Last week June Thomas wrote a review of the show.  She sums it up by saying “That’s not to say that Guest is doing for family history what he once did for clapped-out rock bands, community theater, dog shows, folk music, or the Oscars. Although the eight-part series follows Tom Chadwick (Chris O’Dowd in charming loser mode) as he tries to learn more about his ancestors, its real subject is the international family of comedy.” You can read the full review in Christopher Guest’s Family Tree is Really About the Genealogy of Comedy.

Angelina Jolie’s Adventure in Family History

16 May 2013

Family history has been very much in the news the last few days. More specifically, family health history. On Tuesday actress Angelina Jolie wrote an editorial for the new York Times in which she informed the world that due to a family history of cancer she is having a series of surgeries to prevent getting cancer.

Angelina’s mother, Marcheline Bertrand, died in 2007 at the age of 56 after an eight-year battle with ovarian cancer. Bertrand’s own mother, Lois (Gouwens) Bertrand, died at the age of 45. With this family history, Jolie had some genetic testing done. These tests revealed exactly what she was afraid of.

Her tests revealed the presence of the BRCA1 gene. Having this gene meant that her chance of getting breast cancer had increased to 87%. She also had an almost 50% chance of getting the ovarian cancer that had killed her mother.

Faced with these odds, Angelina made a courageous decision. At the age of 37, she elected to have preventive surgeries that would remove her breasts and ovaries, even though she is currently perfectly healthy. Removing them now dramatically drops her chances of getting cancer to less than 5%.

Even more courageous than her decision to have the surgery was her decision to be very public about it. She penned an editorial for the New York Times that was quickly picked up by news agencies around the world. She knows that her decision will likely prompt others to get tested, and hopefully save their lives as well.

As genealogists, we are becoming more and more aware of how DNA testing can help us. Often our focus is on the help it can give us in confirming or denying lineages through mitochondrial or y-DNA. In addition to keeping you healthier, knowing your family health history can also save your life.

Being alert to the fact that you carry a gene is only part of the story. It is important to know your family health history, as that can increase or decrease your chances of developing an illness. For example, the general odds of getting multiple sclerosis are .01% (one-tenth of one percent). But if your sibling or parent has the disease, your odds increase to 33%.


My Family Health Portrait


When researching your family history, you have all the tools you need to track your family health history as well. Death certificates are a great source of clues. Examine not only the cause of death, but the contributory causes as well. Check obituaries that might also give clues. Family stories, either oral or written, can also help you. Look for colloquialisms (such as references to someone in the family having “sugar,” which means that they had diabetes). The United States Surgeon General has a free online tool, called My Family Health Portrait, that you can use to help with your research.

Advances in technology are making it much easier to take care of our health. And the Affordable Care Act is forcing insurance companies to cover the costs of genetic testing like the testing Angelina Jolie had for those at high risk. Combining those tests with your talents as a genealogist can make a big difference in your life, and the lives of your family members.

Gaudeamus Igitur: Five Tips for Researching at Colleges and Universities

15 May 2013

Many of us look back fondly on our college days. But our current thoughts can end up being focused on alumni associations sending us messages for money. But even if you never went to college a day in your life, the resources of your local colleges and universities can be very helpful to your genealogical research.


Houghton Library at Harvard University.

Houghton Library at Harvard University.


Colleges and university, as bastions of learning have a wide variety of resources available for research. Their resources for general history, social history, and the law are a treasure trove for genealogists.

1. Open to the Public
Many people don’t’ realize that college and university libraries are often open to the public. State schools and colleges are almost always available to anyone who wishes to use them. But even private schools often welcome anyone. Harvard University, for example, is arguably the most elite school in the country. Their main library, Widener, is generally open only to students, faculty, and staff. But that is only one of dozens of the university’s libraries, many of which are open to the public. I have

2. Newspapers
The United States Newspaper Project is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities with technical assistance from the Library of Congress. One library from each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, is designated as the official repository for newspapers in that state to be preserved by the USNP. In many locations, the library is a college or university library. The USNP website has a list of participating libraries.

3. Government Documents
The Government Printing Office maintains the Federal Depository Library Program. The FDLP is mandated by Congress to provide public access to information published by the government. Each state has multiple repositories that serve as depositories, many of them are college and university libraries. By law, access to government documents is free and accessible to any member of the public. You can find an FDLP library near you on their website.

4. Manuscript Collections
One of the greatest resources for genealogists are manuscript collections. Colleges and universities will often have incredible resources for you. Large or long-lived employers, such as factories or hospitals, might donate their records to the school. There may also be important groups or organizations that your ancestor volunteered for or worked with. For example, the Houghton Library at Harvard University has records of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), the first and largest Christian missionary movement in America.

5. Online Databases
College and university libraries will often have subscriptions to large online database collections that are not available as individual subscriptions. They run from well-known collections, such as the American Historical Newspapers Database, to the more esoteric (but still valuable), such as Early English Books Online (1475 – 1700). These databases may help you not only with names and data, but also with reference works that can teach you more about resources and help you to understand them better.

Not everyone can be as lucky as I am to live in the city of Boston, which has one of the largest number of colleges and universities in the country. There are 31 schools in the city itself. When you add in the bordering towns in the metropolitan area there are 58 colleges and universities. Take advantage of your local schools to access their tremendous resources.

Will Some DNA Testing Become a Felony?

14 May 2013

The Boston Globe’s Kevin Hartnett contributed a thoughtful piece on DNA and privacy. According to the law, if you abandon something (e.g., throw it in the trash), it becomes free for anyone to grab. Perhaps you have seen people picking through trash barrels, looking for deposit bottles. Or people picking up furniture or other items left by the curb. This is all perfectly legal.


DNA Helix


While most everything we discard is done so by a conscious choice, have you ever given thought to how much of yourself you throw away? I mean that in the literal sense. When you go to a coffee shop you throw away your disposable cup afterwards; and perhaps a plastic knife, fork, or spoon as well. Each time you do this, some of your cells are thrown away with it.

And included in these cells is your genetic material. Your DNA can be retrieved from it. Police have already started using techniques in criminal cases, in the event a suspect refuses to surrender a DNA sample. A case is actually in front of the Supreme Court this session that will determine whether a suspect can be compelled to surrender a DNA sample during an investigation.

This is bringing up all sorts of questions regarding our right to privacy, however. While the DNA is technically abandoned, it also contains information for which we have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The law, unfortunately, is in a particularly grey area right now.

Some are pushing to have new laws passed. Elizabeth Joh, a professor of law at the University of California at Davis is arguing for a particularly strong effort. In 2011, she penned an argument in the Boston University Law Review that conducting genetic sequencing on someone’s DNA without their consent should be classified as felony theft.

Clearly this has tremendous ramifications for genealogists. DNA testing is quickly proving extremely important for genealogical research. If such laws pass without exceptions, it could prove very difficult to trace DNA on people you could not prove were deceased. Suppose you found a brush with hair in it that you wish to have tested to help prove lineage. If you could not prove the owner was deceased, you would be committing a felony to have it tested. And would the right to privacy die when the person dies?

Kevin Hartnett published an interesting piece in the week’s Boston Globe that touches on this subject. His focus is on the legal and criminal ramifications, but the discussion is worth reading. And those interested in DNA testing will want to keep track of what lawmakers will be doing around this matter in the future. You can read his article,  The DNA In Your Garbage: Up For Grabs, online.