Genealogy Blog

Scrolling Through History

07 Oct 2014

Scholars at Harvard University have been working on a very special project.  A cross-department cooperative effort between students in a course from the Committee on Medieval Studies and Harvard Divinity School  and those in a course at the Program in General Education has produced some intriguing analysis as well as records preservation.

Harvard’s libraries have many incredible items in their collection, some dating back millennia. Among their collections are scrolls from the Middle Ages.  The students got together to work on some of these scrolls.

The students from “Scrolls in the Middle Ages” and “Making the Middle Ages” met with the Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts to examine and select a scroll to research. Digital images of the scrolls were taken for the students to use. According to a story in the Harvard Gazette, Library Technology Services  is working with HarvardX (a group dedicated to implementing new technology at Harvard) to crate better image viewing and annotation tools.

“Next-generation digital images are made using archive-quality, high-resolution photography that precisely reproduces the color of the original object on-screen. The images show close detail, such as brushstrokes and texture. They are presented as panoramic, stitched-together graphics, rather than pages, so that students can focus on particular areas but also see the larger context of a piece.”


Kings of England Scroll

Closeup of scroll MS Typ II, a genealogy of the ancient Kings of England, worked on by Emerson Morgan.


The end result of the students’ work was twofold. First, an exhibit of scrolls was prepared for display at Houghton Library. One of the students, Emerson Morgan, is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in historical musicology. He worked with a scroll that details the genealogy of ancient Kings of England. Part of his work was to prepare the scroll for display. Unfortunately, the scroll is too long to fit  in the case if completely unrolled. This meant that he had to decide which sections to display. He said that the process “ . . . raised interesting questions about stories and how they are chopped or parsed.”

Those same questions often face genealogists. When we are telling our family stories, we must sift through all of the information we have accumulated. Which land transactions to we include? Do I include this part of the story, or omit it for something more (or less) provocative?  And how will those decisions impact others’ views of our ancestors?

The second result of the students’ work is online versions of the scrolls that are free to access. Some are available in on online Museum exhibit. Others are available through the Page Delivery Service offered by Harvard Libraries. You can read more about he students’ work and the scrolls in Scrolls and Scrolling: Digital Tools Key to Projects in Medieval Studies.

Aunt Mary Joins the Greek Gods and Changes Genealogy

04 Oct 2014

Daniel Ruth, a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times, wrote an interesting piece last month.  A few years ago, his wife’s Aunt Mary asked her, when the time came, to travel to Mount Olympus in Greece to spread her ashes. When the time came, Ruth and his wife faced an intense challenge.

First they needed to deal with all of the paperwork involved in carrying cremated remains out of our country and into another. Mountains of bureaucratic red tape needed to be climbed and processed in order to obtain the appropriate permission from both governments.

Then there was the tiny detail of climbing the mountain, an activity not exactly in their daily exercise regime. Getting to the top of the mountain is no mean feat for anyone. It is frequently dangerous. In fact, just days after they made the trek, another climber died in a 600-foot fall.

And, upon their arrival at Litohoro, a final surprising challenge met them. The weather changed their plans. There would be no rest. If they wanted to hike the mountain, it would need to be immediately. Ultimately, they were able to scale the mountain and spread Mary’s ashes over a ridge. In Ruth’s words: “A gentle breeze carried Aunt Mary into eternity, into the embrace of the Greek gods.” You can read more of their adventure in Aunt Mary Joines the Greek Gods for Eternity.




Stories like Aunt Mary’s are becoming more and more common. For a variety of reasons, people are no longer going the traditional route for their post mortem plans. And it will change the way genealogists in the future research.

I’m not referring to cremation. That has been common for a century at this point. It is what happens to those cremains that has changed. In days past, cremains would be buried in cemeteries. Sometimes they are buried in family graves alongside coffins. Many cemeteries have a special area for cremated remains called a columbarium, or they might have an urn garden.

But today, many people are opting to have their ashes spread elsewhere, in places that have some sort of significance to them. The remains of John F. Kennedy, Jr., for example, were spread at sea. The ashes of comedian Robin Williams who died this summer were scattered in San Francisco Bay.

Many eco-conscious people are now opting to have a “green burial” or “natural burial.” The remains are not embalmed, and buried in biodegradable containers. Usually the graves are unmarked.

How is this changing genealogy? One of our major resources for research are grave markers. Many cemeteries have seen their inscriptions transcribed and published over the years. And website like FindAGrave and BillionGraves have made it even easier to view grave markers and transcriptions of the inscriptions. Often these inscriptions are the only records of death that we have.

These new forms of burial leave no markers. Not only will there be inscription to transcribe, but genealogists will be robbed of another wonderful experience. During my research I have visited the final resting places of countless individuals. Each time I am able to pause and reflect on who they were and what they accomplished in life. The feeling will not be the same for those whose remains are spread to the winds or the water, like Aunt Mary; JFK, Jr.; and Robin Williams. Our research, and our experiences, will never be the same.

Blog Posts for Genealogists, October 3, 2014

03 Oct 2014

This week we have a mix of blog posts from genealogists. Dick Eastman warns us about a potential records access problem, Randy Seaver writes about a new free genealogy database search engine, Diane Boumenot shows how to break down brick walls, Lisa Louise Cooke discusses “Family Tree Etiquette,” the Legal Genealogist finds a new branch on the family tree a bit close to home, and Valerie Hughes makes a plea for others not to write her obituary. I hope you enjoy them.

Connecticut has often been a problem for genealogists. Dick Eastman reported yesterday about another access proposal going before the state legislature. The bill, if it becomes law, would allow city and town clerks to require advance appointments for genealogists to research. This could have a devastating impact on records access. Read more in Genealogists Shouldn’t Need Town Hall Appointments.

Brick walls are one of the biggest curses in family history. We can spend years trying to tear them down and move past them. Diane Boumenot gives us a great lesson in how to move past your brick wall. Using the example of how she ultimately identified her third-great grandmother, and tracking her from Rhode Island to Connectict to Alabama to Missouri and back to Rhode Island. Learn some necessary techniques in How I Solved the Hannah Andrews Brick Wall.

Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems podcast is very popular. And her website provides even more information. This week she had a great post about the etiquette surrounding the use of private versus public family trees. She debates the merits of each, and provides an answer as to which is best in Family Tree Etiquette: Online Private vs. Public Trees.

Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist, writes many valuable pieces for genealogists. This week, however, brought us a very special piece, and a very special reminder for all of us. When she was young, she discovered a half-brother she didn’t know she had. She eventually was able to track him down, met him, and form a relationship with him. But she came within a hair’s breadth of missing that opportunity. The takeaway is: don’t wait. You never know when you might be too late. Read the full story in Finding Evan.


Don't Write My Obituary


Finally this week we have a story from professional genealogist Valerie Hughes. She writes this week about obituaries. More specifically, she writes about how often there is such little information in an obituary. She has come up with a perfect solution. She is writing her own life story. And she is challenging each of us to do the same. Find out more in Please Don’t Write My Obituary!

Join Us at the Genealogy Event

02 Oct 2014

If you live in the New York area or the northeast, I hope you’ll consider joining me at the Genealogy Event in New York City in a couple of weeks. This is the third year for this event, and every year it builds on what has come before. This time around is no different.


Genealogy Event


The largest change is a new location and a new partner: the National Archives/New York City. Friday and Saturday will offer thirteen general sessions, each 30 to 45 minutes long.  Topics include:

  • British and Irish Records
  • Brick Walls
  • Heirloom Preservation
  • Lineage Societies
  • Military Records
  • Organization
  • Photos

There will also bet 20 advanced sessions, lasting 45 minutes to an hour. Among the subjects being discussed:

  • Cartography
  • Genealogical Proof Standard
  • German Genealogy
  • Google Images
  • Jewish Genealogy
  • Probate Research
  • Reading Old Documents

The speakers represent a variety of fields, and bring excellent knowledge and expertise. Besides myself, they include James M. Beidler, Elaine Collins, Denise Levenick, Maureen Taylor, and more.

Sunday is a special day dedicated solely to the subject of DNA. The day is divided in half. The morning is dedicated to four beginning sessions.  The afternoon, however, will cover advanced topis, including adoption, yDNA, and an ask-the-expert panel.

There will be a vendor area for you to explore genealogy products and services. I will be there with my Find My Past colleagues Elaine Collins and Brian Donovan to answer your questions about Mocavo and Find My Past.

One of the unique things about the Genealogy Event is the pricing structure. You have the option to pay for the general sessions or for individual advanced sessions. There are also VIP options that give you priority access and special benefits.

The Saturday sessions will take place at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in lower Manhattan, the home of NARA/New York City. Sunday’s DNA Day will take place nearby at the India House Club. Find out more about this and how you can join the hundreds of people who will be there at


Celebrate Family History Month with 5 Ideas for Creating Holiday Gifts

30 Sep 2014


Fall is my favorite time of year. In New England, we have a cool crisp days and evenings and the beautiful scenery from the foliage as the leaves as turn. Taking long walks on a sunny afternoon with the leaves crunching beneath your feet is the best way to enjoy this season. That said, nothing last forever. Fall will quickly be over and winter will soon be upon us. And we all know what that means. The holidays will be here before you know it!


The other great thing about this time of year is our celebration of Family History Month in October in the United States. What better way to celebrate that to start thinking about sharing your genealogical research with your family over the holidays. It takes time to look at your research get things together and create gifts based on your research to present to your family over the holidays. If you start now you just might have time to get them finished before the holidays hit. There are so many ways you can share your family stories with the current generations. Here are a few examples of gifts that you can create that will mean so much to them. Presents from the store are wonderful, but gifts from the heart like these, Means so much more.


Compose a Family Calendar
It is quite common to see people use use photographs of the family to create a calendar. As a genealogists, you can set up a 2015 calendar your family using the information found in your research. Taking information from your database that has important dates and places that hope meaning for your family and your ancestors and mark them on the calendar. The obvious ones to include our dates and places of birth marriage and death, but there are many more that you can add. For example, include dates when people moved from one place to another, or other significant events such as an ancestor changing jobs or receiving a promotion etc.


Decorative Family Tree
One way to share your ancestry with the family is to create a decorative family tree. There are companies out there, such as Family Chartmasters, that will take your data and create a lovely printed family tree. These can vary from fan charts too expensive descendent and relationship charts that can include images of your ancestors as well. There also vendors out there that can supply you with a template to create your own handwritten chart. A few years back, I found a chart on beautiful parchment paper with A hand colored fan chart in the shape of a tree at the top and A five generation Ahnentafel underneath. Since the empty blocks in the tree have the Ahentafel number in them, even non-genealogists can easily determine the relationships between people.


Write a Family History Book
What better way to share your research than writing your ancestors‘ stories and sharing them in a book. In today’s world of print-on-demand digital printing there are a world of options available to you. You can write a formal compiled genealogy, or put together an illustrated book with lots of stories and pictures. Or, you could even combine the two that has stories with a compiled genealogy at the end. The best part is that it doesn’t have to be the entire family. Just pick a few lines to discuss. You can do different lines at different times, and have gifts ready for many holidays into the future!


Make a Multimeda Presentation
It has never been easier to create slideshows and videos with your family history. There are apps and software programs to help you in many ways. Combing oral history interview recordings with photographs and narration, you can produce a very valuable gift. Don’t forget to add images of original documents as well. These can be just as interesting to your family members.


Create a Collage
There are many ways to create a collage. Many craft stores have ornate frames in the shape of trees that you can simple insert your photographs into. You can also create a collage with software and print it out as a poster or other large-dimension image to put into a single frame. You can also print a number of images in different sizes and get a number of individual frames to put them in. The recipients can then create their own collages when hanging the frames on a wall.

The Last of the Centenarians

29 Sep 2014

Margaret (Coen) Clarke of County Galway was 101 years old when she died in 1875. She led a typical life. She married young and had twelve children: eight boys and four girls. At the time of her death, she had seventy-nine grandchildren. Little did she know that she would one day end up in the Guinness Book of World Records.

James and Hubert, realizing as young men that the family farm could not continue to support the large family emigrated to America in the 1920s. Charles was taken into the Black and Tans in 1921, and the following year he was a founding member of An Garda Siochana, the national police force for the Republic of Ireland.

Daughter Madge (Clarke) Fanning is the last surviving sibling. And what do she, James, Charles, and their brothers Joe and Pat all have in common? Like their mother, each lived to be more than 100 years old.


Clarke Family Centenarians


The first to die was Charles, who died in 2002 at the age of 100. Joe, born in 1901, died the same year, the day after celebrating his 101st birthday. Pat died in 2005, a few months short of his 102nd birthday. James died in 2009, just shy of his 103rd birthday.

Madge recently celebrated her 100th birthday. She has eight children, fifteen grandchildren, and sixteen great-grandchildren. The family has filed paperwork with Guiness for the world record after Madge’s birthday, pushing the Clarkes past a UK  family with four siblings who lived to be centenarians.

With people living to be older and older, one might think that this record will not stand for long. While that may be true, we also need to take into account that families have also gotten smaller and smaller and smaller. As family size shrinks, it will be difficult to have enough siblings passing the century mark.

You can read more about the Clarkes  in Five Member of This Family Lived to see 100 and They’re Hoping It’s a World Record. The one truly sad thing is Margaret’s story. Although she lived to be 101, she did not die of old age. She was out shopping for a new dress for the wedding of one of her grandchildren and got into a car accident. Who knows how long she might have lived?

Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, September 26, 2013

26 Sep 2014

This week’s genealogy news roundup includes  a new, major DNA project, cancer and family history, LDS members getting free access to databases, a review of genealogy apps, and a fun story about historical facts that sound bizarre but are actually true.

Dick Eastman announced a new DNA project that launched this week in Wales. CymruDNA Wales (Cymru is the name of the country in Welsh) is partnering with other organizations in a major study. The ultimate goal of the project is to answer the question to determine where the Welsh come from. Read more in New Welsh DNA Project is Announced.

Similarly the New York Times reported on a study of Ashkenazi Jewish women and breast cancer. A new study shows that even those who had no family history of the cancer tested positive for the genetic mutations that cause breast cancer. Most Jews in the United States are Ashkenazi, so this story has wide ramifications. Get the details in Study of Jewish Women Shows link to Cancer Without Family History.

Deseret News reported today on something we’ve heard about for awhile. FamilySearch has partnered with Ancestry, FindMyPast, and MyHeritage to digitize and index more content. As part of that work, LDS members will now receive free access to those websites, saving them almost $900 each year. Get more of the story in FamilySearch Provides LDS Members with Free Subscriptions to Commercial Family History Websites.


Randy Seaver Online Trees


Randy Seaver had an interesting piece on Geneamusings yesterday. He participated in a Google hangout with DearMyrtle on Wednesday. The group discussed genealogy software, online family trees, and apps.  Eight software programs, seven online tree providers, and seven mobile apps were discussed. Read more in Which Family Tree Programs Sync and Have Mobile Apps?

Finally this week, we wrap up with a rather fun story from BuzzFeed. Staffperson Mike Spohr wrote a piece awhile ago gathering interesting facts that may sound strange, but really happened. He curated stories from around the web, including how anthropologists believe that as many as 600,000 people were put to death for witchcraft in the Medieval Era; a Papal persecution of cats and how this led to the Bubonic Plague that killed almost a third of Europe’s population; and how the Austrian army attacked itself in 1788.  Read all of these stories and more in 51 Historical Facts That Sound Like Huge Lies but Are Actually True.

New Website for Ellis Island

23 Sep 2014

I remember the first time I ever saw the Statue of Liberty. It was the summer of 1986. The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation (SOLEIF) was formed by President Ronald Reagan in 1982. Lee Iacocca, head of Chrysler Corporation led an effort that raised $600 million for the repair and preservation of the Statue, Liberty Island, and the immigration facilities on Ellis Island.

The foundation spent four years renovating the statue. Architects and engineers worked with historians to develop the plans implemented by almost 1,000 laborers. Liberty’s torch was replaced, her insides strengthened, and new elevators were installed. Liberty Island was closed for four years while they conducted the restoration.

Liberty Weekend was held over the Fourth of July in 1986 to celebrate the reopening. Activities were held over four days. The largest flotilla of tall ships in modern times passed by to honor her in Operation Sail. The Closing Ceremonies were held on July 6 at Giants Stadium. A number of my friends performed in the Liberty Band, with representatives of colleges and universities around the country. Some of us went down to see the ceremonies in person. I had never seen such fesitivities. In addition to the band, we got to see Gene Kelly, Shirley Maclaine, Liza Minelli, Patti LaBelle, the Pointer Sisters, the Four Tops, and more. I didn’t get to visit Ellis Island that weekend (way too many people trying), but I did get to see her from the shore for the very first time. Even from the distance, she was quite imposing (I finally got to visit the statue in 1988, and paid a return visit on the Fourth of July this year).


Michael Leclerc visiting the Statue of Liberty July 4, 2014. (From the collection of the author. Used with permission.)

Michael Leclerc visiting the Statue of Liberty July 4, 2014. (From the collection of the author. Used with permission.)


Four years later, Ellis Island was reopened, and in 2001 a website was established that provided access to more than 51 million passenger arrival records. After more than a decade in service, the website itself is undergoing a renovation.  SOLEIF recently launched a beta version of the new website.

The new site is cleaner, and easier to navigate. You can search by passenger’s name or by ship. Results include a textual transcription of the manifest, an image of the original manifest, and information about the ship (including images of ships that docked here).  If you see mistakes in the way your ancestor’s name was indexed, you can request a correction to be made.

If you have an existing account on the old website, you will need to select a new password when you log in to the new site. Other than that, you should have no problems accessing the site.

Remember that this is a beta site, which means some things may not always be working. And other parts may change as they conduct tweaks. The good news is that OLEIF is actively soliciting feedback about the site, and welcomes your comments. Check out the new site at

George and Lizzie’s Long Journey Home

20 Sep 2014

This is a story of a nineteenth-century couple who travelled the country, and how they ended up in my living room on their way to reuniting with their family in Arizona.

George Sefton Crouse was born in Middleburg, Maryland, on March 12, 1862, eldest son of John Lewis Crouse and his wife Mary Margaret Sefton. John was a physician, and George spent his youth in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

He later moved to Ohio, where he married Elizabeth “Lizzie” Matilda Grimmer. She was born in Carthage (today a part of Cincinnati), Ohio, on May 26, 1863. She was a daughter of Andrew and Dorothea (Ludwig) Grimmer, who had immigrated from Germany.

They married in 1882 and the first few of their children were born there. By 1900 she had born 6 children, but only 3 remained alive. In the early 1890s they decided to make a great move and relocate the family to Montana. It may have had something to do with the economic depression that seized the country in 1893. About this time, they had their portraits taken. They were quite possibly made to give as keepsakes to family members being left behind.

By 1900 George was a food grocer in Great Falls. By 1910 he was working as a foreman at a smelter. But they owned their home free of a mortgage. George was just 56 years old when he passed away in Great Falls on October 12, 1918. Lizzie joined him on September 25, 1950, thirty-two years later. They are buried there together in the New Highland Cemetery.

So how did George and Lizzie end up in my living room? And why are they going to Arizona? It all started a visit to eBay. I was on a very specific mission looking for something. And along the way, I fell into the eBay trap. I clicked on one of the links that “might be something you might be interested in.”

There were two faces staring back at me. Clearly nineteenth-century charcoal portraits. And, they were identified, including the first, middle and last names of  what was likely a married couple (not 100% certain since on the woman’s portrait it provided only her maiden name. Knowing that there was a great likelihood they could end up gracing the wall of an Applebees or other restaurant, I bid on the portraits and won them. I asked the seller where she had obtained them, and she informed me that she found them at a Goodwill store.



George Sefton Crouse and Elizabeth Mathilda Grimmer (From the collection of the author, used with permission.)

George Sefton Crouse and Elizabeth Mathilda Grimmer (From the collection of the author, used with permission.)


I then started searching for descendants to whom I could return them. It did not take too long to piece together their three daughters and to find living descendants. Within days I actually found 2 men in their fifties, first cousins and descendants of George and Lizzie’s eldest daughter. I discovered that one of the cousins was a genealogist. He, clearly, would be the perfect person to return the portraits to.

John has a family tree online, and heads up a DNA study for his patrilineal line. Unfortunately, I was having difficulty obtaining current contact information for him. So I sent the word out to some of my friends who I thought might be able to help.

While waiting for their response, I asked my friend Maureen Taylor, the Photo Detective, to help me. I told her about finding the portraits on eBay. She responded with “eBay is like Las Vegas for genealogists.” I couldn’t agree more. Sparkly things everywhere and it is very difficult not to get sucked in!

Maureen looked at the portraits for me, and determined that the photograph from which they were made was likely taken in the early 1890s. There are characteristics from the 1880s present, but some of the details were not around until the 1890s. This fits in perfectly with the move to Montana, thus my assertion that the portraits were taken to give to family members remaining behind in Ohio.

In the meantime, my friends in the DNA genealogy pulled through and found current information for me. I was able to finally make contact with a descendant. The portraits are now on their way to Arizona, where John now lives, repatriating them to the family.

In the end, it cost me about $80 to purchase the portraits, have them shipped to me, and ship them to John. The biggest portion of this was the shipping because the portraits were so large. I did not ask for remuneration, but did ask if he would please consider making a donation in that amount or more to the Preserve the Pensions Project. So the next time you are at a Goodwill, or yard sale, or on eBay, take a look around. Perhaps there is something there that you can repatriate to descendants of the owners.

We Asked and You Answered! When did your ancestors immigrate to the United States?

20 Sep 2014

Last week we asked the Mocavo Community to share when their ancestors immigrated to the United States. Here is what you said!

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