Genealogy Blog

Revolutionary Voices: Maureen Taylor and Her New Film Project

24 Jul 2013

My guest on today’s Mocavo Fireside Chat was Maureen Taylor, the photo detective. We had a wonderful and exciting chat about photographs and genealogy. One of the things we talked about was her Last Muster project.

The Last Muster began more than a decade ago when someone showed her a photograph of a man who had fought in the Revolutionary War. She wondered how many others from that period were photographed. She was quickly hooked and work began on the first volume. Each book is filled with photographs and profiles of men and women from the Revolutionary War period. And now she is working on her new film project.

I wrote about Revolutionary Voices back in March, when they started their kickstarter campaign. It was incredibly successful and they raised the funds to start moving forward with filming. Over the last few months the cameras have been rolling in New York and New England, visiting the homes, places of worship, and places of burial for these individuals, as well as historical societies and libraries that have manuscript and artifact holdings of these men and women.


Still from a Revolutionary Voices filming shoot, courtesy of Maureen Taylor.

Still from a Revolutionary Voices filming shoot, courtesy of Maureen Taylor.


Those of you who have never done a film shoot will appreciate the recent blog posts  by Pam Cooper. She talks about the filming they have done recently.  Those of you who have never been on a shoot will find it interesting. Did you know that most of the work takes place before the cameras even appear onsite? Research has to be done, storyboards created, locations scouted and examined for appropriateness.

Read all about this process on the blog. And check back over the next few days. They will be adding video clips from the filming that I have heard are quite entertaining and informative.

The best news for the production is that they have now gotten 501 (c) 3 status through the Center for Independent Documentary. This means that from now on, anyone who donates to the production can take a tax deduction for the donation.

If you are at all interested in the Revolutionary War period, check out the Revolutionary Voices website. I guarantee you will like what you see.

Read All About It: Five Newspaper Databases to Help your Research

23 Jul 2013

Newspapers are a valuable resource for genealogists. They, of course, provide acess to marriage records, birth announcements, and obituaries. But beyond that, newspapers can provide information about your ancestors’ social activities. They can also help provide context for your ancestors. Looking at the advertisements, for example, can give you a sense of what the cost of living in the time and place where they lived. Here are five websites that can provide access to newspapers for your research. The vast majority of the newspapers in these databases are unique to each site.


Chronicling America


Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers
This database from the Library of Congress is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program (a program between LC and the National Endowment for the Humanities). The NDNP awards grants to select and digitize 100,000 newspaper pages from microfilm. The database now includes almost 7 million pages of newspapers from 25 states.

Early American Newspapers, 1690­–1922
Free through institutions
Early American Newspapers (from Readex) contains the runs of nearly 1,600 newspapers from each of the fifty states. The database is available only to institutions, not individuals. But access to the database is usually granted to individuals freely by public and private libraries. Some institutions even allow you to access the database remotely from your home. There is a major caveat to accessing this database, however. It is subdivided into nine series. Not all libraries subscribe to all nine of the series. The Boston Public Library, for example, subscribes only to the first three series.

GenealogyBank (from Newsbank) contains more than 6,100 newspapers. They date from 1690 to today. In addition to the newspapers, subscribers get access to historical books and documents and the Social Security Death Index.. Subscriptions are available on a monthly or yearly basis.

Newspaper Archives
NewspaperARCHIVE (from Heritage Archives) contains tens of millions of newspaper pages from 1607 to the present. Each month they add about 2.5 million new pages. These newspapers include each of the fifty states, as well as newspapers in Canada and the United Kingdom. You can subscribe month-to-month, or a get a six-month subscription.

British Newspaper Archive
The British Newspaper Archive (from BrightSolid) contains almost 7 million pages of newspapers in the British Isles from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. Access is either through pay-per-view credits or in subscription packages of 2-day, 7-day, 30-day, or 12-month access. All but the 12-month access have restrictions on the number of pages you can access. Access to the newspapers in this database is also being incorporated into BrightSolid’s other brand, FindMyPast (both the and websites).

I Just Can’t Wait to be King

22 Jul 2013

Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. This afternoon Duchess Kate gave birth to an 8 pound 6 ounce baby boy. One nice thing about being a part of the royal family is that you don’t need to be a genealogist. There are legions of people out there doing the work for you. Would that we were all so lucky.

Now once the American Revolution was over, the new country was faced with creating all of the rules for setting up its own government. One faction wanted to create a monarchy and anoint George Washington the first king. Fortunately Washington himself as well as numerous others were opposed to creating a new monarchy. This turned out to be a good thing, since Washington had no children and his death would have thrown us into a constitutional crisis by 1800.

Despite this, Americans have an uncanny fascination with the British royal family, and royalty in general. Perhaps this is because we have no royalty of our own. The closest we come is the Kennedy family, members of which have served in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate since 1947 (save for the year 2012).

A number of genealogists are interested in royal ancestries as well. And the interest is not limited to the British monarchy. France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Spain, the Low Countries, and more all have (or had) royal families.

For those interested in Royal families, you might find some databases created by Brian Tompsett at the University of Hull to be interesting. From the Roman and Byzantine worlds to modern Europe, he has information on thousands of royal families. Check out his Directory of Royal Genealogical Data (some of the links are broken, but most still work).


UK Coat of Arms


The new baby, who has not yet been named, is third in line to the British throne, after Prince Charles and Prince William. He will be the forty-third monarch since William the Conqueror in 1066. Queen Elizabeth shows no signs of slowing down. Remembering what happened to her uncle and her father, she is unlikely to abdicate and will reign until her death. She will likely remain on the throne another 5 to 15 years. If she is still on the throne in January 2017 she will become the longest- reigning monarch in British history, surpassing her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. Prince Charles’ reign will likely be quite short since he is unlikely to ascend to the throne until he is at least in his 70s.

Given the longevity of both of his parents, Charles will likely reign for ten to fifteen years or so. William will likely not ascend to the throne until he is in his 50s, and given the increasing human lifespan will likely reign for four or five decades himself. Barring major illness or accident, this means the child born today is likely to suffer the fate of his grandfather Charles and not ascend to the throne until he is in his 70s. It also means that it will although only fifty years passed between Victoria’s reign and that of Elizabeth II, the monarchy will not likely see another queen on the throne for close to a century after her passing. Today’s new prince may not ascend the throne until 2080 or later. He will be singing “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” for quite some time.

Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, July 19, 2013

19 Jul 2013

Following are some recent news stories and blog posts on historical/genealogical topics. I hope you find them as informative as I do.

Officials in Albemarle County, Virginia, are coming under fire for destroying records created by the WPA. These records included photographs and family histories of people living on property in Albemarle County during the Great Depression. State guidelines only require materials created prior to 1904 to be turned over to the Virginia State Library. They never attempted to contact any other organizations to see if they would be interested in the materials. Read more in Historians Decry Officials in Va. County for Tossing Depression-era Land Records in the Washington Post.

Postcards have been a part of our culture for more than a century. I personally send postcards to my nieces as often as I can when I’m on the road. And I love to get postcards of some of the places I visit because they often have stellar images that I cannot easily create myself. The U.S. Postal Service reported a high of 4.5 billion postcards being delivered in 1951. But in 2010 that number had fallen to 1.44 billion, even fewer than were delivered at the height of the Great Depression. The easy availability of smartphone cameras has had a huge impact on the postcard business. Read more in Digital Images are Crowding Postcards Out of the Picture in the Providence Journal.

J.L. Bell had an interesting post on Boston 1775 this week. He talks about history being rewritten because of perceptions. John Box was an eighteenth-century Boston ropemaker. But when the history of King’s Chapel was written, his niece was quite offended by this description. The reason? The Industrial Revolution changed our perceptions of a what a job is. Box owned a ropeworks. His own obituary identified him as a ropemaker because that is how things worked in the eighteenth century, but as the nineteenth century progressed, terms changed as a manager or overseer layer was added to businesses. Read more in John Box: Not a Ropemaker?

Next we have a tale of genealogical serendipity. Genealogist Dennis Pramstaller was surprised a couple of years ago when a total stranger mailed him an 1860s German Bible that belonged to Pramstaller’s great-grandfather. In 1915 his great aunt Selina Pramstaller and her friend Tillie Esper wrote a note, stuffed it in a bottle, and set it afloat in the St. Clair River. A diver found the bottle last year, but could not locate any living family members. Last month a newspaper article about the find caught Pramstaller’s attention and the dozens of descendants of the two women will gather. Read more in Bottled Message from 1915 to Bring Families Together in USA Today.


Mass 54th Honored

This week Massachusetts residents commemorated the one-hundred fiftieth anniversary of the Civil War battle at Fort Wagner in South Carolina that decimated the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Led by Robert Gould Shaw, the Massachusetts 54th was the first African-American unit in the Union army. The massacre of the 54th was popularized in the Matthew Broderick movie Glory. Present at the commemoration was 91-year-old Winifred Monroe, the last surviving granddaughter of Henry Monroe. Henry was a 13-year-old drummer for the 54th and survived the decimation of Fort Wagner. Read more in Governor Patrick Honors Famed 54th Mass. Regiment at Boston Globe subscribers can view a longer version of the article in Valor of Black Regiment is Honored.

Historic Discovery in Harvard Library: Signatures of Revolutionary-Era Bostonians

18 Jul 2013

Librarians and archivists can be in charge of anywhere from hundreds to thousands or even millions of documents in their collections. It can be challenging under the best of circumstances to keep track of all of those moving pieces. Older facilities have to contend with even more issues. Through the years, multiple cataloging systems were likely used. And every time materials are recataloged, they have to be arranged on the shelves according to the new system. There is no repository anywhere that hasn’t lost track of items through the year because of miscataloging or mis-shelving.

Even as august an institution as Harvard University, with its vast financial resources, is not immune from these problems. Members of the cataloging team at Houghton Library made a major discovery on the shelves recently. Historians had long known that a meeting of townspeople in 1767 had Bostonians creating a non-importation agreement, where they would not purchase imported goods. This was in response to the Townsend Acts which levied heavy tariffs on British goods in the colonies.

What the Houghton catalogers found was a set of eight sheets that delineated the agreement not to purchase imported items. It was dated at Boston October 26, 1767. The list of items that would not be purchased included dozens of items, including hats, gloves, cloths, cordage, watches, silversmiths and jewelers wares, silk, cotton, velvet, thread, lace, snuff, mustard, malt liquors, household furniture, chaises, coaches, anchors, and more. The agreement was to take effect December 31, 1767.

The best part is that these eight pre-printed pages are filled with the signatures of hundreds of Bostonians. The document contains the names of well-known Bostonians such as Paul Revere, who clearly was the first singer, with a large signature and flourishes a la fellow Bostonian John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence nine years later. His riding partner William Dawes also signed the document. But it is important to note that not all of the signatories were the rebellious type. The names of a number of loyalists also appear. A number of the signers attached notes, such as “for one year,” to their names. Perhaps most notable are the names of women, interleaved among the men. These women were signing independently of their husbands or fathers, of their own volition.

The town of Boston had an adult population of about 7,000 individuals at the time. More than 650 people signed the document. That is almost 10% of the adults in the town. When you consider that the vast majority of the adults were married to each other, this may represent as many as 15 to 20% of all the families in the town.


Elizabeth Franklin Signature


The pages are filled with well known Boston family surnames, such as Berry, Brattle, Call, Emmons, Farmer, Gibson, Gill, Greenough, Kneeland, Nowell, Pierce, Pool, and Williams. I, of course, looked for the names of member of Benjamin Franklin’s family who still resided in Boston at the time, and found a number of them among the signers, including Thomas Dawes, Jr., Samuel Emmons, William Homes, Jr., and Barnabas Webb. Interestingly, on the last page of the document is the signature of a woman named Elizabeth Franklin. To the left, in pencil, is written “sister of B.F.” with a hand-drawn finger pointing to Elizabeth’s name. This is patently incorrect. Franklin’s sister Elizabeth died in 1759, and her surname was Douse at the time of her death. While Franklin had two sisters-in-law named Elizabeth, these women would have been about 70 years old by 1767, and the crisp and clear signature appears to belong to a much younger woman.

The staff at Houghton has digitized the pages and made them available online to the public. You can view them on the Harvard University Library website.

A New Genealogy Research Tool: Hack Genealogy

17 Jul 2013

Thomas MacEntee is one of the busiest genealogists in America. He speaks across the country and around the world, in person and via webinars. And he does wonders working with bloggers in the genealogical community. And now he is up to something new and different.

Today Thomas launched his new website, Hack Genealogy. A hack is a solution for a problem.  A life hack is a technique for solving everyday problems. So what is Hack Genealogy? According to Thomas, “Hack Genealogy is about ‘re-purposing today’s technology for tomorrow’s genealogy’ and a little bit more. Hack Genealogy is more than just a list of resources. Hack Genealogy provides information on emerging technology inside and outside the genealogy industry. Hack Genealogy wants readers to understand how others succeed in genealogy.”

  • The  Cool GenStuff section is updated daily. There are three areas of this section:
  • Genealogy and Technology News
  • New Apps, Programs, and Websites – Oh My!
  • Technology for Genealogy Group on Facebook


Hack Genealogy


The Resources section provides links to websites with information about helpful products, services, apps, and more. These are divided into subcategories such as Apps, Death Records, Expense and Finance Management, Gadgets, Maps, Project and Task Management, Search, Scanning, and much more. The list can be sorted by link, category, or the date added.

Thomas has included some educational videos as well. His “explorinars” are done from the perspective of the viewer watching over his shoulder. He has plans to add other webinars and educational guides in the near future.

Other future sections include:

  • Discussions and Issues
  • GenBiz Buzz
  • How Do You Hack Genealgy? Interviews
  • Product Reviews

Thomas is very knowledgeable and popular. He is one of the smartest and savviest people in the field. I’m certain he will have much success with this new endeavor. Check it out at

Going to the Chapel: Tips for Finding Marriage Records

16 Jul 2013

Marriage records are a great resource for genealogists. These records played an interesting role in my weekend. Last Saturday I had honor of conducting the wedding of my friends Mike and Joseph. It combined elements of various traditions from an American Buddhist and a Chinese Christian. On Sunday I went with friends to Brimfield, Massachusetts, to a very large antiques show. One of my deals was an 1817 English marriage certificate from St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster.

Civil registration of marriage records can contain a lot of helpful genealogical information. But in many localities, it isn’t enough. For example, not all jurisdictions ask for the names of the parents or the birthplaces of the bride and groom. Fortunately there is quite often a church  marriage record for the couple that might provide more information.


Wedding Officiants


Unfortunately, there is often no direct correlation between the information in the record and a specific church. But you can use that information to locate additional records of the marriage. The place to look is the officiant. In addition to the name of the person conducting the ceremony, there is often a title or acronym for a title. For example you might see:

  • Justice of the Peace or J.P.
  • Minister of the Gospel or M.G.
  • Priest
  • Rabbi
  • Clergyman

The use of the title rabbi would pretty clearly indicate that the couple was Jewish. By the same token, the title minister of the gospel is a clear indicator of a Protestant denomination. Unfortunately it does not necessarily indicate a particular denomination. The same is true of the title clergyman.

When people see the word priest they immediately think of Catholics. While Catholic clergy are called priest, it is not the only denomination to do so. Episcopalians for example, also use the term priest. In this instance the title is insufficient to determine which church the marriage took place in.

One way you can find the church is to take the name of the officiant and look for him or her in a city directory. Look for the name in the alphabetical listing first. If there is no indication of the denomination there, look for a listing of churches in the business section. The church listings often include the clergy assigned to that church. You can also take the street address of the clergyperson (from the marriage record or the alphabetical part of the directory) and match that to one of the churches.

Of course, sometimes weddings are not conducted by any type of clergy. If the officiant was a justice of the peace, for example, there will be no church record as there was no church service. The only official record of the marriage will be the civil registration.  You might, however, look for the personal papers of the justice of the peace. He or she might have kept a personal record of the marriages he or she conducted.

I fall under none of the above categories. I received a special license from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to conduct the wedding. The civil registration is the only record there will be of the marriage.

Genealogy and Ethics: Play Nice and Don’t Plagiarize

13 Jul 2013

The blogs have been lighting up this week with stories about copyright violations and plagiarism. These issues have always been a problem, but the easy communication of the internet has exacerbated the issue, making it ever more easy to take the work of others and claim it for your own.

First, lets clear up some confusion. The facts concerning your ancestor are not copyrightable. Anyone can write about your ancestor and post information about their dates and places of birth, marriage, and death, and so on. But the words you use to put your ancestor into context are your work.




The same thing goes for research practices and methodology. There are many presenters, authors, and bloggers out there in the genealogy world. And genealogical resources are genealogical resources. There are only so many ideas about how to use a census. The census fields are the same. But each of us writes in a slightly different way about it. And our words belong to us, and others cannot use them without our permission.

It is permissible to use excerpts of another person’s work conditionally. It is important to set off the text so that it is clearly a quotation of someone else’s work. It is equally important to cite the source of the quote, including the author’s name and where it was published.

Failing to do this shows indicates to the world that you are well aware that what you are doing is wrong. It is probably illegal and most definitely unethical. It shows that you are not a person to be trusted and certainly not one who should ever be listened to.

For some reason we in the genealogical community have failed to do our part to protect ourselves and each other. Lawsuits are expensive, and quite often the unscrupulous person manages to escape punishment. But certainly we can do more to point out the problems when they occur.

If you suspect that someone is “borrowing” the words of others, do a little bit of checking. One easy way to see if someone is using the words of others that are already online is to use a search engine. Copy a stretch of text and do a search for it. The only exact hit should be the person whose work you read. If you get others in the top few hits that are word for word the same (or almost entirely word for word), a problem clearly exists.

The best way to deal with this problem is not to throw accusations around. Contact both authors and request an explanation as to why the wording is identical. Perhaps they collaborated on the piece, and agreed that each could use the wording in their work. Include the date and time that you viewed each piece, and if there is a date of publication, include that as well.

If plagiarism is uncovered, do your best to help the person or group who has been victimized. Be willing to back the victim up. If you believe that someone has plagiarized you, you might find some recourse at the Association of Professional Genealogists or the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Members of those organizations are bound by ethics agreements. Some people purposely do not join those groups specifically so they cannot be held accountable to the ethics agreements, so be especially wary of those types of individuals.

Most importantly, if you suspect plagiarism, don’t just sit idly by and do nothing. Talk to the people involved and bring it to peoples’ attention. But do not throw accusations around directly without proof. Working together this way, we can help keep the plagiarists and cheaters out of genealogy.

Which Mid-Atlantic States do you have an interest in?

13 Jul 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked which, if any, Mid-Atlantic states you have any research 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.



News and Blog Posts for Genealogists, July 12, 2013

12 Jul 2013

Here is this week’s roundup of blog posts and news stories for genealogists. I hope you find them interesting and informative.

Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, was a sleepy village in the Eastern Townships until last week’s devastating train derailment. If you haven’t heard yet, an unmanned oil train slid town into the town, derailing and setting off an explosion that killed 50 people. Now comes news of the infrastructure destruction. Sadly, one of the buildings completely destroyed in the fireball was the town’s library and archives. The Star has the full story in Lac-Mégantic Casualties Include Quebec Town’s History.

Six months after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the Dutch were set to free 30,000 slaves on the tiny island of Suriname in the Caribbean. The planters in Suriname were very nervous about the effect the freedom would have on the economy of the island. Recently papers have come to light showing exactly how far the Dutch government went to try to get American freedmen to come to the island to settle. Read more in Holland’s Plan for America’s Slaves in the New York Times.


Royal Family Tree USA Today


The world is watching and waiting for the birth of the latest heir to the British throne. Any day know, the child of Will and Kate will make an entrance into the world. USA Today has put together an interesting little family tree on the Royal Family, showing all the descendants of King George VI (1895–1952) and Queen Elizabeth, formerly Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, mother of the current monarch (1900–2002). You can check it out at All In the Royal Family.

Judy Russell is always a font of information. This week the Legal Genealogist introduced us to some terms from a legal document that might be misleading. The first is stone boat, which is not made of stone and not a boat. The second is whiffletree, which is not a tree and has nothing to do with whiffleball. Find out what these terms mean in Stone Boats and Whiffletrees.

We started this week with a fire, and we are ending with a fire. Today is the fortieth anniversary of the great fire at the National Archives’ National Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. The first firefighters to arrive were forced to retreat because their facemasks were melting in the heat. The fire burned out of control for more than 22 hours, and it would take five days from the time of the first alarm until the last units went out of service. 381 men from 42 different fire departments battled the blaze over those five days. The destruction was severe, with the records of many WWI and WWII soldiers destroyed. Read more about the fire in the National Archives blog at One Fire, 5 Days, and 381 Men.