Friday, December 16, 2011

South Carolina searching

Have I written about South Carolina research?
I know, I am usually extolling the amazing records for the northeastern states, or sometimes the location of their transplanted descendants, California.

Well. I am also enthusiastic about records for the southern states, especially since history has not always preserved those records very well.

One site that is beyond compare is South Carolina Department of Archives and History. The searchable database is not easy to find, even when you find the main website. So I am giving you the direct url to the part that you need :link

Once into the database, enter your search terms, usually by last name, and choose "or" not "and" for the counterpart, so that you will actually see some results. The results are indexes of archived material, with names that tell many stories (lists on slave transfers, on land deals, and so on). The great finds are the "online images available" results. One click and you see a scan of an original plat map, with boundaries, names, original longhand.

From before 1700 on--and as long as you like history, you don't even need to find someone in your family tree to get a kick out of the excellent documents. And if you are looking in South Carolina for someone from the distant past, this is a site  to put in your radar.
Image source:

Friday, November 25, 2011

How is FTDNA Family Finder doing these days?

Family Finder at FTDNA is doing very well lately. Most customers have many matches, and can get at least some sense of their family history. Customers correspond with their matches who help to narrow down who might be those elusive ancestors in the family tree, or at least where they might they have come from, and so on. It is not yet easy to find a new ancestor, but it is clear that as the matches increase (more customers) that those family trees will become easier to define.
And the FTDNA forums always have good posts, with up-to-date information and discussions about all of the aspects of finding matches, communicating with matches, and making sense of the genetics behind it all.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Abstracts of wills don't tell the whole story

Will abstracts are great, but the material is incomplete. Sometimes inferences are made by researchers that cause all sorts of complicated confusion on family trees online.
I find the will of Lucas Teeple to be a good example.

Just one of the problems in putting together the Teeple/Vosseller connection of Somerset, New Jersey, has been the confusion caused by misinterpreting the will abstract.
The  abstract indicates that "Peggy" is a daughter. But somehow this daughter "Peggy" has been identified by researchers as the wife.  She is actually a granddaughter of Lucas.  Mary is the wife. Peggy is the granddaughter.
Sometimes we can't get hold of the wording of a will, and thus we have to rely on an abstract. But the will transcription, or even better, the will scanned,  is always the best option.
Even with the will transcription, I have found two versions. One has Lucas giving guns to his grandsons, and the other has him giving guns and animals to his grandsons.

The abstract:
Lucas Teeple, of Bridgewater, whose will, dated 20 Aug 1764 (codicil, 16 Nov 1773), prob. 26 Jan 1774, names wife Mary and ch.:
      I John and his son, Luke
     II Christopher and his eldest son, Luke
     III Peter and his son, Luke
     IV Ursula, m. John Appleman
      V Peggy and her sons. Sons-in-law John Meyer and Jacob Fusler, and the latter's son, Luke

The will itself, as transcribed:

New Jersey Calendar of Wills, 1771-1780
New Jersey Archives, First Series, Vol 34, 1931

p. 144 (from Lib. L, p. 85)
     1764, Aug 20. Dieppel, Lucas, of Bridgewater Township, Somerset Co.; will of. The 120 acres of land where I live to be sold, and my wife to have 1/3 the amount and £100 more. Eldest son, John, the land where he lives that joins William Graham, and contains 50 acres. After my wife, Mary, has been paid, then the rest to be given to my sons, Christopher Teaple and Peter Teaple, and my son-in-laws, Jacob Fusler and John Meyer. Daughter, Ursula, wife of John Appleman, a silver tankard. Executors - son, Christopher Teaple and John Appleman. Witnesses - Andrew Leake, Daniel Castner, Sidney Berry.

     1773, Nov 16. Codicil. My wife, Mary may live on the place, and my son's daughter, Peggy, who lives with us, to have a good outset when 18. My son, Christopher's eldest son, Luke, to have my gun. My son, Peter's son, Luke, a gun, and my son John's son, Luke, £3. My son-in-law Jacob Fusler's son, Luke, £3. Witnesses - Daniel Castner, Jacob Castner, Philip King. Proved Jan. 26, 1774.

     1774, Jan 19. Inventory, made by John Haas and Daniel Castner. Bond due from John Teeple, Jacob Lang and George Teeple for £70

Journal articles online for Keuka Lake/Crooked Lake

A great find for the Finger Lakes researcher:
If you have an interest in the Keuka Lake/ Crooked Lake region of New York, there is an excellent resource for the history of the area and of specific individuals who lived there. It is called The Crooked Lake Review. There are also articles about the Seneca Indians, and cultural matters such as the introduction of Christianity. I found a scanned diary for a settler in the area, and many other fascinating works. The authors know how to write, and have done their research.
While many historical organizations ask for fees for articles, and do not put the articles online, this organization has put all the articles online for free. Just click on a date and see what was published. Or search for any term in the search box.
Article title examples include: "Counterfeiting: a Rochester Way to Wealth," "The Pioneer Settler upon the Holland Purchase, and his Progress," "Welcome to Iroquoia: A Review of the Literature," "St. George, the Serpent, and the Seneca Indians."
Image from:

Friday, November 11, 2011

When jumping over the pond, look to rootschat!

Rootschat is an amazing website for searching for ancestors in the United Kingdom. The site is extremely well organized, and searches are very easily done. You can look in an area, or by surname. Beyond that, it is a very convivial place to exchange information. Researchers help each other with a very high level of expertise. I have had some excellent help in breaking through brick walls. And even beyond that, there is an element of camaraderie. When you register, you get a simple profile, and if you take a look at the posts, you will find people helping people and having fun doing that. If you are going to research any ancestor in the UK, and you can't find all that you need, this is a site to be sure to check in to. It is free.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

HIR search

A very simple website for comparing autosomal DNA results against those of many other individuals is Leon Kull's HIRsearch. You submit your data from the testing company, and you are welcome to use a pseudonym. You can compare your results on any chromosome or you can see overall the names of your best matches, and to what degree there is a match.
Strangely, the website seems to be falling off of the general radar for search engines, yet can still be accessed through links on other websites.


Update December 2011: HirSearch is once again easily found with search engines. Thank goodness!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Jacob Jennings Brown and his adopted children

Jacob Jennings Brown was appointed commanding General of the U. S. Army in 1821, following his successful leadership in the War of 1812. He was also founder of the town of Brownville, Jefferson County, New York.

What is less publicized about him is that he and his wife, Pamelia Williams Brown, who had many children of their own, became adoptive parents of at least two children whose parents were close friends of his. In both cases of adoption the natural parents had died as young parents, and had left their young children orphaned.

One of these children is Mahala Bellows, who married William Dillin. She was born in 1804 in New York. Another adopted child in the Brown family is William Waffle, born 1787. He married Mary Baxter. Both of these adopted children later named one of their own daughters Pamelia, after their adoptive mother.

I wonder how many more there may be?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Orleans, Vermont resources

Orleans, Vermont is one of those genealogical watersheds. It is a place Rhode Islanders and Bay Staters passed through, and you can find a lot of significant colonial names there in that late 1700 and early 1800 period.

There is a useful website, called, interestingly, North East Kingdom Genealogy of Vermont. Although they encourage visitors to subscribe for a low fee, browsing is indeed free, and browsing will get you access to all the names in the census and cemetery transcription data. There are excellent gleanings of marriage and death notices from old newspapers dating back to the early 1800's.

Image from rootsweb

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What is gedmatch and what can it do for me?

Gedmatch is an excellent website which can be useful to anyone researching a family tree. There are many possibilities.

If you have had your autosomal DNA tested there are lots of fun things to do.

But, even if you have never had your DNA tested, you can still use one section of Gedmatch. That is the gedcom matching section. You just load up your gedcom (family tree), and if you don't have one, it may be worthwhile to buy  a program like Family Tree Maker because of its great versatility. If you don't want to do that, there are some free alternatives for creating gedcoms. Just check around online. Once you have done that, you load the gedcom  up and it will automatically be compared to many other gedcoms to see where there might be names, dates,  and places in common. Some of  the results will seem silly--Jamie Johnson from Tennessee  is matched against Jamie Johnson of Wales, and they have nothing in common. Other matches will prove more intriguing. You can just scroll though the results to see where something looks like a good match. If you find a distant cousin, you may find that there is a chance to get more information on your ancestors, either by contacting that person, or by looking at other information on the cousin's tree.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Massachusetts Witch Trials: draw your own conclusions

Want to read the arrest warrant for John Alden? Yes, the one who loved Priscilla. You can see that, and there is more...and more fascinating stuff in very old court records.

Did you know that you can look at Massachusetts Court records of the Salem witch trials? The transcribed records are available through the Salem Witch Trials and Documentary Archive Transcription Project. 

The archive site also has other court records, and if you have any ancestors from Salem, you may find their names there as judges or as complainants, or defendants or even as witnesses.
 Another site with excellent transcriptions is: .Salem Witch Trials

Read the actual petitions of accused "witches." I put that word "witches"  in quotes because there were no witches in Salem, just victims of bad behavior on the part of their neighbors and countrymen.
I find the witch trials fascinating, and have pored over them to learn more about the time and events in Salem.

It is all there, and you can read the words as they were  recorded.
In my opinion, the court records always provide a great view into society and motives.
Image taken from Famous American Trials.(

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Francis De Pau and the slave trade

Francis De Pau, born 1773 in Bayonne, France, is well known in Northern New York for his financial successes, his shipping line, and his marriage to Sylvie de Grasse. A ship was named after him, and so was a town in Jefferson County, New York: Depauville. He lived in Trinidad, in New York, and in South Carolina, and married the daughter of  the French Count DeGrasse in New Jersey.

My research on this individual can serve as a useful model for successful research via the internet.

In hoping to find more information about him and his family, I used many forms of his name and places he had lived in search engines, and then built on the information that popped up. I found that as the administrator of an estate, he had sold a slave, so I then checked his name in connection to the slave trade.

What little information did appear was quite informative, and it came from an unlikely website.  Some business papers De Pau wrote are up for sale for quite a bit of cash at an auction site, believe it or not. Sometimes these obscure marketplaces are indeed where we can find the best authentic information. The papers are written to a captain of a ship, and are very revealing about the degree to which De Pau was a corrupt slave dealer.  He reveals his tactics for taking over a ship and acquiring slaves, and  describes the number of slaves to obtain and what their height may  be.
His family was very interesting, and  has inspired stories of intrigue and romance in the area where the French once settled in Jefferson and Lewis Counties, New York, but I had never heard of this side of him before.

As always, back to the original documents for the best information. De Pau reveals in his own hand what kind of businessman he was, and now those papers are, ironically, worth quite a bit of money--tens of thousands.

 I found scanned images of his papers and long descriptions of them at the website "Goldberg Coins and Collectibles."

The image of the ship Francis DePau is taken from

Friday, October 7, 2011

Bucks County, PA resources

There are many excellent resources for Bucks County, PA. Somehow it seems that the original settlers had great success in establishing large families with many descendants.

Many Quakers lived there, and there were immigrants from Scotland via Ireland, and from India, Holland, Germany, and Sweden as well, way, way back in time, beginning in the 1600's.

The PA GenWeb Archives for Bucks County is one of the best of all the GenWeb archives, with excellent abstracts of wills, which are well-indexed.   The abstracts themselves are excellent. They will really help you link your family connections together. You can find the wills in complete form by using the website. The wills are not yet indexed there, but you can combine the indexing done at PA GenWeb Archives with the documents at FamilySearch with good results. The will abstracts at the Bucks County Genweb Archives cover time periods from the early 1700's to the early 1800's.

Also very useful is the website PARoots.

A few additional resources for later years can be found on google books, but not all pages will be shown online.

There are also excellent biographies, area descriptions, and the like online for Bucks and Philadelphia counties.

George Williams Brown,  a prolific writer from the area, has written a number of books on people he knew or heard about in the history of that area. Many of the books can be found digitized online.

Just takes some looking, but a lot of what you may be looking for in Bucks County is digitized.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New way to order microfilms at LDS Family History centers, which is updating its records and its accessibilty at a breakneck speed (which I have to applaud) has recently changed procedures for ordering microfilms to be viewed at its centers. Instead of sending checks by mail, or walking into a Family History Center to fill out order forms, everything is now done online. Go to and you will find that you need to set up an account (quick and easily done) and then you can go ahead and order your microfilms online. As I was advised, it is very important to designate the family history center at which you wish to view the films. Otherwise, a center is chosen for you, and as was pointed out to me, it might be one that is open one day a week by appointment. So just do a little planning, a little clicking, and you have your order in and your hopes up for good results when you get to see the films!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Civil War Lookalikes on Ebay and other websites

You can see it for yourself at the daily beast:
Comparing past and present, there is a new fascination for looking for similarities between people in civil war era photos, probably mostly cabinet portrait photos, and people well-known in the present time. Similarities in facial appearance have been noticed between John Travolta and a civil war era man, and between Nicholas Cage and another civil war era individual. The attention that was drawn to the photos  had an effect on raising the prices on the old photos. Who does your civil war ancestor look like?

In case you haven't been checking out Ebay for cabinet photos and old Bibles (often described in enough detail to add info to your family tree), it might be time to give it a glance.

In any case, what a great way to collapse time through images.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Caring about our ancestors

We care about our ancestors, and we feel attached to them. Well, we are, genetically, and through whatever they have managed to pass down in terms of outlook and philosophy and tradition. But why do we care about the family members who led less than exemplary lives?

Perhaps it is the same phenomenon as we find in our own families--we are attached. Whatever the story is, whatever the path is, that person is ours.

As a friend of mine once said, I love my ancestors as I love my children. They belong to me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Revolutionary War Pension applications and where to find them

Where do you find those Revolutionary War Pension applications and what do they hold? They are great sources of information, often providing details of the residences of the applicant, names of members of the family, and the applicant's memories of service. It can be a genealogical gold mine. Most applications appeared in the 1830's, after an act to relieve the financial burdens of Revolutionary Patriots was passed. Some applications are from family members, because the soldier has already passed away. Others are in the words and writing of the patriot himself.
I have found that the American Ancestors website (also known as NEHGS) has summaries of these applications, including indexes of names for each application. That is very appealing, but of course it makes the reader want to see the entire application. The reader wonders, why was so and so mentioned? Let's see it and read it! The indexed applications at American Ancestors are provided by Fold3. The indexes will allow readers to see the pension applications in their entirety for a subscription fee. But it turns out that has many of these pensions scanned as well.
Consequence? For those who have subscriptions, the Fold3 may not be necessary for this particular type of genealogy resource.
It is always uselful to check here and there to see if you can get access to information that you had expected to pay for.
Other great alternatives include free census information available from The USGenWeb Census Project at (, and vital records that are compiled by volunteers for the State GenWeb websites.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gedmatch and the matches of matches...

Now that more people are testing, there is less guesswork and more constructive logic involved in finding common ancestors with Family Finder or Relative Finder matches. When you can see matches for matches on Gedmatach, you can start plugging in possible ancestral names. All you have to do (well yes, it takes some time) is to build the family trees of each match, and see where convergences appear likely. Challenging, but in a fun, doable way. This is where Family Finder and Relative Finder have so much potential for success. They provide the matches, and online websites like provide forums for pushing info on those matches as far as possible. One by one, American ancestors will be found, named, and included in our trees.

Monday, September 19, 2011

War of 1812 Pension Requests

Fold3, formerly called Footnote, has taken on the task of scanning War of 1812 Pension applications. It appears that it is a large project that has barely begun, but the quality of the records, and the information that can be gleaned from them is certainly valuable. I have looked at the indexing of the records and have read over some of the records. My ancestors don't show up yet, but I do look forward to reading about them when they do turn up. The records can be searched by name, and then are sorted by state, which is pretty helpful. The detailed information in the application is very nice to see, and since it has all been scanned, every bit of that detail is available, from the way the signatures were written to the notes here and there on the sides. The information is much more inclusive than the simple abstracts of payment information I have seen to date in free sites. It is offered free to the public so far, and is very timely, as we will soon be ready to recognize the 200th anniversary of that war.
Image source: tao.221.wordpress,.com

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What offers, and now what sister site has available

Update February 2014: Gedmatch now has a utility which is even more useful than the one described below--see my recent post of 2/21/2014. It is now possible to triangulate chromosome segments. Once you see it, you will see why this is a fantastic advance. has a lot to offer and it can only get better as time goes on. What is it useful for? It is useful for getting more out of the autosomal DNA results (RF and FF)  that you get from FTDNA or 23andme.

People who have tested can sometimes make contact with potential relatives through the company they test with to try to find the common ancestor. But matches don't always respond to requests, and they don't always post a gedcom. By using the utilities on, you can at least see, (through the triangulation utility), who your matches match. Of course they will match many individuals who have nothing to do with you. But you may be able to work with the names that are there to narrow down geography, or even to find matches in common. For example I might see that my match Mary Jones, who doesn't respond to my email requests, matches five people with ancestry that I can at least identify (from their posted gedcoms or from their posts on genealogy forums) as from the southern States.

The triangulation utility is only one of the many options on gedmatch. You can also use the chromosome browser to compare where you match with all of your matches on each chromosome. This can point to common ancestry for some of the matches.

The chromosome painting is an amazing feature. You can see the genetic ancestry as matched with populations for each chromosome. If you find you have unusual matches on 17, for example, you may see on the chromosome painting, that that particular chromosome matches a population that is quite different from the majority of your projected ancestry.

Another utility at is the gedcom comparison. You can upload a gedcom, which requires no genetic testing whatsoever, and have the names and dates compared to those of other gedcoms.

And now there is a sister site: You can sign up for a project and load up your results to see how they compare to others looking for commonalities. Projects include Lost Colony/Melungeon. Roma/Gypsy, Quaker, and Ashkenazi, all very interesting areas of research.

These are only some of the great features at and its sister site.

I have no business affiliation with the website. As a researcher, I think it is just great.

The reliable or unreliable narrator of family history

Researching family history is highly involved with use and understanding of narrative discourse. We often discuss the reliability or unreliability of the narratives (stories, biographies, notes, etc.) that we read as we conduct our research.

I am reminded of Seymour Chatman's communication model, which describes the relationship between narrator and narratee (who is actually a part of the "story" in a sense, and beyond to the implied reader (intended but not necessarily personally known by the teller) and the real reader, as addressed by the real author and the implied author. Without getting into the intricacies of the model, and without trying to aim for perfect application of the concepts, I would like to consider the interesting aspect of reliabilty in the telling of stories.
I  like to be very open-minded about clues, because I know that I will double-check every lead that I find. I can reject anything later, but I'd like to have a good look at it first. And I enjoy finding illogical stories almost as much as I enjoy putting a family tree together step by step, logically.

I recently came across a public family tree online that had some information that looked helpful. I hadn't seen anyone else who had that connection. My first clue that I might be dealing with an unreliable narrator came when I saw that the Revolutionary War service papers were from Virginia, and attached to a man from New England. It wasn't time to reject the information, but time to be a little more cautious. I then saw that the son was born several years after the father died. Then I knew that the tree owner was of the habit of attaching information to a name, without verifying that the information or checking to see if there might be other men of the same name. So I knew that this was an unreliable narrator, as created by the real author of the tree, and that the stories told would not be helpful to me. The owner of this family tree was very eager to prove that the ancestor had served in the war, and was probably a little too eager to do so, missing some truth in the process of writing the tale.

There are many reasons that we have unreliable narrators to inform us about family history. Some are working hard, but are not checking their information; some are attached to what they hope will be the truth. Some are working with good information that seems logical, but it may not be the best information. I think of all of genealogical research as the result of the best work that has been done at the moment, and any of it may be adjusted, improved, or reversed with better information.

There can be unreliable narrators at any time--now and in the past, and the stories of people real and fictional can be told and retold. The burden is on the reader to decide whether to enjoy the story for what it seems to be, or to question the narration and double check the details of the content. If your informer appears to be attached to a narrative rather than to facts, that is lovely, but will not help you build or expand your family tree.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Cemetery Visits--you never know what you will find

Cemeteries are places where you find those tiny details that you can't find online. You will see how the family plot is organized, giving clues to family and community relationships. Even better is reading the wording on the tombstones. Not only does it provide a moment of connection with those who walked before us, but it also sometimes provides details no one has reported or transcribed. There may be a birth year, a place of origin, a list of children.

 Find A Grave is rapidly making photos, and thus the information from the wording on tombstones,  more accessible than ever before, but there is no substitute for seeing it yourself.

In some cemeteries  I've visited I have been amazed to see family histories delineated. Leander, son of Henry and Sarah, born in___, brother to_____ and so on. Monuments can have very detailed and intricate wording. One of my ancestors, a naturalist, is the only one in her family to have a rock as a headstone, instead of the traditionally carved headstone. It speaks volumes.

A wonderful news story about a woman's visit to a cemetery in  Pennsylvania, and her discovery of the revolutionary war service of her ancestor is described in the following news story:, under the heading Genealogy buffs tour Tulpehocken region of Berks:  on the website A special gravestone was found there, in Tulpehocken, with an inscription in German, the kind of thing you are not likely to see included in a transcription record. The article explains , " In Christ Lutheran cemetery, they wandered among tombstones that predate the Revolutionary War."

Included was a stone dedicated to Regina Leininger, a child who was taken captive by Indians in 1755. She lived with them for eight years, and was identified by her family because she remembered a hymn her mother taught her.

"Allein und doch nicht, ganz allein," it reads.

Roughly translated, it means: "I am alone, yet not alone, for Thou art near."
(end citation)

Personally, my translation would be more along the lines of  "alone, and yet not completely alone."

For those cemeteries that you can't get to, Find A Grave (  has excellent cemetery and headstone information. It is a good first place to look online for this type of information. I keep checking back, and find more and more photos of gravestones AND information provided by descendants which gives relationships. Just today I learned that my suspicion that Esther, married to Robert Fenner of Fairfield, Herkimer, New York, had the maiden name of Fellows, was indeed correct. So I was able to update that branch of the family tree.
If you have a chance, you can also see if the cemetery you would like to know more about has its own listing of burials, either online or as a written record which can be viewed.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gedmatch is now doing admixture...and chromosome "painting!"!

There is a new and wonderful addition to the website. It is an admixture feature, now in beta version. For example, it will show your percentages, as measured in your DNA, of what compares to populations such as West European, South Asian, etc.  For Americans with varied ancestry, it provides a very interesting glimpse into family history.
Just very recently, a feature called "Genetic Admixture Painting" was added. It is amazing. It gives you a lot of bang for your buck when you test your DNA because it expands your options for using the raw data.

 If you have loaded up your autosomal test results onto, you can just put your kit number into the admixture feature, and there it is. Very interesting, and convenient. Whether it is accurate or not, and bear in mind that it is in its beta version, it certainly gives more of a breakdown into different reference populations than the Population Finder at FTDNA.
Click on the image to see the breakdown.
I look at these admixture breakdown results, wherever I can find them, as informative and fun. As admixture testing improves, results will improve. For now, at least in my opinion, it is to be seen as helpful, but not definitive, in identifying the backgrounds of ancestors.
Comments on the FTDNA forum indicated that the results are comparable to results done on the same samples with other analysts--geneticists, testing companies, scientists. It is important to take the time to look at the reference populations to get an idea of what the percentages mean. The reference population for West Asian might not be what you think of as West Asian, for example.

It is very useful to sign up for the blogs of Dienekes Pontikos, and to look at what he has done with his data. For those of us for whom analyzing numbers is not a natch, it is also useful to check out what professionals and amateurs have to say about all that at some of the forums such as Another useful forum is at FTDNA.
Even more fun is the chromosome breakdown, showing the percentage of admixture on each chromosome! Take chromosome 22, for example. It will show say 22 % East European, 40% West European, 10 % East Asian, and so on. Again, not taking it as perfect science, I do plan to use it with the chromosome browser AND match results to see if I can get a better idea of my ancestry, especially as it compares with that of my matches. The image above is a sample of a chromosmome painting result. The image is provided courtesy of John Olson, of

The Genetic Admixture Painting shows your chromosomes, one by one, brought to life with vibrant colors indicating where on each the segments best match the reference populations. It is gorgeous and fun to look at while pondering one's possible ancestry. The picture below is of admixture.

Image from google images, originally from Dienekes Anthropology blog. The  results for admixture on are based on the data and work of Dienekes Pontikos.

The utilities are free, and well worth looking into for anyone who is looking for more ways to analyze autosomal DNA test results.

Update April 7 2012: DNA forums is now gone.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Rev. war Pension applications--be sure to read to the end

The Revolutionary War pension applications are either fascinating to read or blah blah blah, depending on whether you want to slog through all the battles and who led them, and the witnesses as to the identity of the applicant. I usually scan for genealogical information.

I heartily recommend that the reader read through, or page through to the last pages. Once in awhile there is a  letter there from the government to a descendant who has inquired about the ancestor.

The letter usually sums up whether the pension was granted or not, what service was held to be valid, and which family members were mentioned in the application. Since it is a typed letter, rather than the longhand of the application, it is easy to read and confirms the names the reader may have seen. But a bonus is that a more recent descendant of the family, namely the person inquiring, has been named.

By putting this person's name into the family tree, the reader may be able to confirm relationships and expand the extended family branches. The letter is, of course, dated, and provides an address for the inquiring descendant's abode. All of this can prove valuable to the modern day descendant or to a researcher of the same family.

Friday, September 2, 2011

DNA fits very well into the rhythms of the ancestor search

I am having so much fun looking at  DNA matching that I have to write about it again. DNA testing fits so well into the genealogy search.

I knew it would be interesting to get some DNA results when I first did the testing. But my fear was that the results would lose their novelty. That is where I had such a pleasant surprise. The testing works incredibly well as an interactive process, and the potential for that type of searching is only going to increase.

Especially with autosomal DNA tests, you can look at gedcoms of matches, and work on matching the paper trail. You can check back against the chromosome matches. The more matches you have who overlap in one area, the  more chances of finding a common ancestor there. It is just fascinating, and  when you run into dead ends, new matches come along (well, honestly, not usually quite that punctually, but still, often enough). You can contact your matches and collaborate with them if they are so inclined., which is free, offers wonderful options for looking at all your chromosome matches visually, to see where there are overlaps (chromosome browser) and the triangulation utility can show you who matches your matches (a great feature, especially for the non-communicative matches). And then there is the comparing on HIRSearch and its companion page on facebook, and then there are all the Y-DNA projects to check out as well. Finding distant cousins is not easy with this method, but it does work, and is extremely rewarding.

I have already identified the common ancestors of several of my distant cousins (as identified by the testing company), and look forward to the fun of tracking down more.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Footnote--going through some changes--a lot of changes

It almost seems like an April Fool's joke, but it isn't April. is going to change its great name and its focus.  Footnote is a great resource. The scanned records have excellent detailed information, and make great reading, even if you stumble upon records that apply to someone you have never heard of. And they can be very helpful if you find records pertaining to the ancestor you look for. Many of the records are free. It is an amazing source for those elusive southern records.I recently learned that is are going to be increasing its number of military records dramatically, and that the company  wishes to highlight this change in focus with a name change. They will now be called Fold3 as a reference to the flag and patriotism. Say what? At first I thought--oh they are going to completely change and they won't have the great material they always provided, but I checked myself and thought--better to hope this is a good move for the company and for researchers. Well, then I read Megan Smolenyak's article for the Huffington Post on the topic, and realized it might be time to get worried about the future of She articulates her concerns about the change very well at: In the same post, she comments on the changes at google news archive, one of my favorite archives. Apparently searching the site is becoming more and more difficult. Ah, and what did I recently hear about collaboration and cooperation being the wave of the future in genealogy. Au contraire--we may have to hone our old library skills. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Names and how they change!

One of those caveats of which we often need to be reminded, is that last names were not always spelled consistently, and they often morphed a bit into new names. Even just two generations back, I have ancestors whose last names varied (as written by family members themselves) with the ending of an "e" or no "e," and a "ch" or a "k." And this was done in a family full of schoolteachers.
While recently looking at some potential matches with autosomal DNA, I came across the name "Gonsalis" or "Gonsales." That didn't seem to be a name that would fit with what I was looking for in terms of a typical Northern New York surnme, so I discounted it. Later, I looked into it, not wanting to leave any stone unturned. Well, "Gonsalis" went through some interesting mutations, one of which is "Consaulus,"and a variation on that--"Consauls. " That puts a whole new spin on the search process.
"Consauls" and its variations are common in Northern New York, and make a good fit for a DNA match. Those bearing that surname may well be unaware of the Spanish origins it suggests.
It is important to treat historical names as flexible in their orthography, and to think about what permutations there might be out there. I certainly doubt that the census informant for each household checked with the census-taker that the names were spelled correctly. So I often look at a whole page or two of census names to see what kind of speller I am dealing with. Is it particular, or phonetic, or rather hastily recorded? Flexibility allows the researcher to catch opportunities for finding what might be missed with a rigid approach to spelling. We can't apply our expectations of browsing through today's phone book to searching yesterday's census and property records.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Moses Van Campen: a colonial with Native American learning

In his own words and quaint spelling, Moses Van Campen, who was taken captive by Native Americans during the Revolutionary war, said that “I was nurtured in the school of the rifle and the tomahawk.” Van Campen lived from 1757 to 1849. He was born in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, but grew up  in Northampton County, Pennsylvania.  As a child he spent a good deal of time interacting with Native Americans, as was natural in that place and time.  However, as was also commonplace, his family was attacked by Native Americans in 1780. He was taken prisoner, but escaped within a week that first time. He was taken prisoner a second time by Seneca Indians in 1782 at Bald Eagle Creek in Pennsylvania.  After running the gauntlet, he was treated very well, and when he returned to his own community, he did not forget the Native American ways that he had learned as a child and as a captive. He remained friends with the Native Americans, and integrated their ways into his own life knowledge and experience.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Melungeon Conference this summer

If you know about the Melungeons, you are a bit ahead in understanding one of the interesting unresolved questions in American history. If you don't know about the Melungeons, you will. They are a very interesting (from a genetic, cultural, and historical point of view) group of people with ancestry in the Appalachians. They have a variety of genetic traits that have been interpreted by themselves and by others in a variety of ways. They are variously termed descendants of an ancient Portuguese colony, Native American, African-American, Jewish, Arabic, South Asian, or a mixture of some of the above. There are unusual diseases that are more common to their group than to the general public. They know there is something just a little different, and they have been trying to identify what that something is. When I came across the topic of the Melungeons for the first time I thought that it would be genetics that would provide the answer. It seems that the Melungeon researchers have looked in that direction, and are beginning to see some results. The results should become clearer and clearer as more and more take DNA tests to see what Melungeon heritage holds, and eventually we will all have a rich story of just who these settlers of Appalachia were. It is important to bear in mind that there are now three important ways to test DNA ancestry relationships: Mtdna, Patrilinial DNA, and autosomal DNA, which will be very helpful because it extends over more breadth.  A recent conference of Melungeon heritage was held in Swannanoa, North Carolina. It is becoming a hot topic, so stay tuned!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Name Index for New York Quaker meetings

Swarthmore College has an excellent website for Quaker records. It is just this kind of information that is valuable and accessible that needs to be used and publicized. While it can be kind of fun to order microfilms of Quaker meetings and to pore through the meeting minutes, learning about the people who were "mou" (married out of unity) and/or dismissed, it is certainly time-consuming and is not guaranteed to yield the precise names you are looking for. Swarthmore College has an excellent index of many such microfilms for New York Quakers, but even better, James E. Hazard has indexed all records of New York meetings by the names of the people mentioned at them.Just by looking at these detailed indexes, you may be able to find the vital (or other) records you are looking for.
I can see, for example, when I look at the index for Galway Monthly Meeting,  that Mary Ann Close is "dec"." in 1861. I can also see that she is daughter of Nathaniel and Cynthia Brown, and that she was of Mayfield. By checking abbreviations against a glossary on the website, I see that "dec" means "deceased." The year and month of the record are also listed. So without ordering or reading a single microfilm, I can get some good information for a family tree. If you know you had Quaker ancestors in New York, you will want to take a look at this index. The indexes can be found at the Hazard Project:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Adoptions and DNA

Even when records are sealed, and birth parents don't reveal a thing, adoptees have one good way to track down their biological origins. So far, this generally means narrowing down the field of possibilities so that distant cousins can be identified through autosomal DNA matching. For one man, it meant actually locating his sister and mother. Both he, an adoptee with no information, and his sister, who had remained with her birth mother, had no idea that each had a sibling. But both had chosen, quite independently, of course, to sign up for autosomal DNA testing through 23andme. He wanted to locate family, and she had an interest in genealogy. She could tell by the degree of matching that she had a sibling, and contacted him. Their mother confirmed that she had given a son up for adoption. The story has just been reported by CTV News of Canada at
As more and more people sign up for autosomal testing, adoptees will have better and better chances to uncover their biological families, something that was never forseen at the time that adoptions were designated sealed.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Those three brothers who came to America--probably not a myth and not just hogwash

Don’t discard the baby with the bathwater. Family narratives are valuable. Bits of information and great stories will not determine who your ancestors are. But they truly are a great place to start the search, and should never be discarded. Even if you decide all your ancestors’ stories were hoaxes, you have not proven and learned everything. You still need to find out why the story was created, or how it originated. And the stories just might be true, in some way or another. You might get lucky with a story that is easily verified, or you might have to be very creative in exploring options for where its germ of a narrative came from.

I keep seeing examples of how the three brothers myth is proven through paper trails and/or DNA.
Stories that are handed down might be made up of whole cloth, but I always look to see if there is a grain of truth, or even more.  Stories were retold over generations, not because they were fascinating fiction, but because something about them made sense to the narrator and the listener. Stories do change over time.  Those of us who hear the stories don’t accept them the way we might a newspaper article.  We are intrigued, drawn in, and we want to know what about the story is true, and what it tells us about our ancestors.
A story with no immediately clear supporting evidence is not a platform for building information on an ancestor. But it is a prompt to look for 1) supporting evidence, 2) the reasons the story was told and that it persisted, and 3) what about the story might be true.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Matrilineal Descent: Finding the ancestry of the mother of your mother of your mother, etc.

The DNA studies on surnames seem to be taking center stage. The testing and results do provide a great deal of information, and both are useful to all of us who research.

But matrilineal testing is just as doable, and just as valuable. Mtdna testing does not have the advantage of following a surname, and it is therefore more challenging to follow a line. However, as more and more people test, there will be more lines to follow, and the changing names (with each generation) will be very revealing for family histories. The best test, FGS, for the distinct matrilineal line, the mother of one's mother of one's mother, etc. will provide excellent clues both to heritage and to possible ancestors. If you get a perfect match, it isn't possible to know just where the common ancestor lies along the chain. It could be in recent generations or in ancient generations.

However, checking paper trails against those of the match can help to narrow that down. As more people test, results will show more obvious connections. The tests for HVR are also useful, and will show general history of heritage. None of these tests, of course, will show the genetic contributions of those who married into the matrilineal line.

Important to watch for in publicly posted family trees is  a name that doesn't belong--i.e. a name that has been assumed to it into the matrilineal line but is actually a name from a male who married into the line. I see it all the time, and it is an understandable mistake, as tracing a matrilineal line perfectly takes a lot of dedicated effort.

We hear a lot about the surname studies and the surname matches. I hope that mtdna testing (which can be done on males and on females) will catch a wave of interest, and will begin to attract the kind of interest that has been accorded the patrilineal testing.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Native American Baptismal records at Fort Hunter, New York

If you enjoy looking at Native American  records (often difficult to find) , or if you may have Mohawk ancestors from the Fort Hunter area  in northern New York,  you might like to look at a transcription of a few of the baptismal, marriage, and funeral records from  Queen Anne’s  Chapel at Fort Hunter. Fortunately, many of these records have been preserved from the Register Book, and can be seen free online. The Register book begins in 1734. Many names are Native American, and some are not. It is an excellent record, although you must watch out for variations in spellings. “Surties, “ for example, means “sureties,” the people who guarantee the marriage contract or who stand with the parents at a baptism.
The website with the transcription can be found at: It is part of a very good site on local history  for the Three Rivers area hosted by rootsweb.

Other selections from the original record can be found elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fraktur online: family history details

German Fraktur are beautiful old images with family history information (actually Fraktur is a type of script, but it is also this type of art/family history).

Sunday, August 7, 2011

California is Gold: see the excellent birth and death indexes

I love starting a search in California. Every since loaded up the California Birth Index and the California Death Index, it is just the best place to begin. Both indexes often list the maiden name of the person listed, and that is just pure gold in terms of confirming family relationships or beginning to look for maternal ancestors. Let's say I look for the birth of  (fictional name) Jacob Green. I see that his mother's maiden name is Pettigrew. So I'm off to the census and marriage records to find Pettigrews married to Greens who lived in California. It leads to a good success rate.

It is perhaps a bit intrusive, as the listings do cover many living persons, but let's hope for ethical searching. 

The searches are very easy. Just go to the birth/marriage/death records search, and either put in the name, or call up one of the indexes.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hidden census records

The census records you find on for the U.S. census are a useful, and  the scanned records cover every decade from 1790 to 1930 (except some early records and  1890-with some exceptions, and a few other omissions due to lack of records).

It is useful to be aware that there may be a few more census records that will be useful to you out there, including State or county census records. Parts of these may have been transcribed and are available, if you know where to look. In New York, for example,

New Horizons Genealogy has free searchable census records by county. See There are records for many years in years not covered by the U.S. census.

State census records on microfilm are indexed online by the New York State Library. You can see which records are available by county and year You should be able to order them from LDS centers. For the index, see

And for Jefferson County I have a favorite site: Alice Corbett's, which has some towns for the 1855 census. See: She has many other interesting and searchable items on the website--all involving Jefferson County history. The 1850 census is also there.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Guiltless Greed

I won't go into all the rewards of searching at once.
One of the great benefits of ancestor searching is the opportunity to feel guiltless greed.

We aren't looking for real gold, nor are we taking away from others. We aren't even neglecting to be helpful. The greed is productive. And we get to feel sheer greed.

We get an ancestor's name and what do we want? His or her parents--two more ancestors and the opportunity to trace those two lines back.  And no harm done. Nothing has been taken, and if we share the research, we have felt the OPPOSITE of greed.

Not bad.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Why do people research family history?

I took a look at the reasons people give for researching family history. I looked at the writings of Alex Haley, and posts on forums at and boards. I synthesized the answers I found, and although I think there is much more to be said on the topic, here are some of the reasons given.

To make history more personal
To leave a mark
To have an important topic to discuss with older family members
Unanswered questions about one's heritage
Looking for a sense of fulfillment
Fascinating to read and learn
The moment of serendipity, and then to experience that again, and again finding more and more nuggets of gold
A sense of belonging

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Northern New York Historical Newspapers digitized

Lake Bonaparte
Photo to the left by J. Stephen Conn. Photo above from
A great digitized resource that serves as a useful companion to Old Fulton NY  Postcards, is Northern New York Historical Newspapers, a site that provides for free searches of historical newspapers by county. Counties with digitized newspapers include: Oswego, St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Franklin, Clinton, Essex, and Lewis.  The kind of information you can get there is just exceptional, including advertisements, legal matters, and social notes. One of the most useful is the social brief which tells of an individual who visits a cousin. That can be very useful for sorting out relationships in a family tree.

Reading about the way things once were is also a treat. For example, the February 6, 1872 Watertown Re-Union has an article on Joseph Bonaparte's (yes, brother of Napoleon) purchase of land at Natural Bridge, Lewis County, where he built an estate in the early 1800's. And why not? The area is indeed beautiful. Especially pleasant are the easy searches of the newspapers.
See and enjoy. Image below from New York State Department of Enviromental Conservation at


Mistakes can be gold--don't disregard them!

Skimming and scanning, searching and clicking-- diligence pays off. Even misinformation can be helpful. Why is it there? Two possiblities--it is an egregious, pointless error, or much better, it is a mixed up clue! Before dismissing what seems to be garbage, consider why it might be there. Sometimes it does take a few minutes to discover that, yes, someone is on the wrong track. But once in awhile gold is hidden in those mistakes. For example, I could find no clues whatsoever as to the maiden name of one of my ancestors. I knew her husband, Jacob Van Allen, had been married twice. All the children were from the elusive ( and unnamed at the point of my researching) female ancestor, Mariette Kimball.

I found a detailed family tree with another woman, Jane Pawling, listed as married to Jacob in 1802. I checked and double-checked with the census. It just couldn't be.  In the census record, Jane Pawling was listed as a second wife, mother of no children, married to Jacob in 1802 (yes the census provided all of that information).

According to the mistaken family tree record, Mariette Kimball married Jacob in 1846. That was certainly not possible. Mariette had died by then. I knew Jane was the second wife. The researcher knew the names. They were absolutely correct, at least as far as being wives of Jacob. Painstaking work on my part after the find proved that Mariette was my ancestor, the first wife, not the second as listed by the mistaken researcher. Mariette was mother of all of the children. Jane was not mother to any of them.

The mistake was a great clue. It was probably of no particular interest to the researcher which wife was which. But it was everything to me--one more name that I could confirm as an ancestor. And I couldn't have found it otherwise.

This is my favorite example, but this type of error does happen quite a bit. So take care to absorb a bit of misinformation before dismissing it. It might be the clue you want, the clue that will take you to information for your family tree.

The record of the Van Allen family, with mainly excellent and correct information can be found at:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Native American Ancestors, sort of?

Image from:
Many American families have some sort of version of a story of Indian ancestry, and sometimes it really doesn't seem possible or logical. The family history doesn't add up, or DNA just doesn't show that direction.

But consider this--many of our families or their friends may have had an Indian "adoption," often a kidnapping of a colonial  American child who might be returned or rescued years later. In the meantime, the child learned Native American language and customs, which could be integrated into the family history later. So the great great grandma or great great uncle may have been temporarily Indian, learning language and customs that the family would learn later. Even if it wasn't a direct ancestor who had this experience, it may have or been a neighbor or friend, and still have had an impact on the family.

One example of an adoption occured in the Schell family of Herkimer County, New York. Young twins Henry and Marks Christian Schell were kidnapped by Native Americans during American and British hostilities in 1782 at age 11.They learned the native language of their captors, and learned their customs. They later came under the care of a British captain, and years later they were returned to  their family in Herkimer.  The twins remained friendly with Native Americans for the rest of their lives, and surely shared with  their own families stories of their years with the adoptive Native American families.

Just a few examples of colonists who were kidnapped and then returned (or chose not to return) to their families:
Mary Jemison (see an online story at
Eunice Williams (see the wiki bio at
The Shell/Schell twins (see the short bio written by a descendant of one twin at

This post was commented on by IndianCountry  And was posted at SNI Talks ( a blog devoted to the Seneca Nation):
Additional information on the captivity experience (addendum Aug 25, 2011): In his own words and quaint spelling, Moses Van Campen, who was taken captive by Native Americans during the Revolutionary war, said that “I was nurtured in the school of the rifle and the tomahawk.” Van Campen lived from 1757 to 1849. He was born in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, but grew up  in Northampton County, Pennsylvania.  As he grew up he spent a good deal of time with Native Americans, as was natural in that place and time. However, his family was attacked by Native Americans in 1780. He was taken prisoner, but escaped within a week that first time. He is taken prisoner a second time by Seneca Indians in 1782 at Bald Eagle Creek in Pennsylvania.  After running the gauntlet, he was treated very well, and when he returned to his own community, he did not forget the Native American ways that he had learned as a child and as a captive. He remained friends with the Native Americans, and integrated their ways into his own life knowledge and experience.

Several sources for this information include: a story from the Andover News of 1928 as reproduced online:

And the website: Moses

Image source:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Historical Newspapers in California: Digitized and free to view

Worth checking out--
The California Digital Newpaper Collection is quite amazing. It is one of those free, searchable sites which can yield fascinating information about history as it was recorded way back when. And who knows, if you have an ancestor in Alta California, he or she might show up in a search. A project of the University of California, holdings include newspaper articles from 1846 to 1922. Search terms are highlighted in the article.
The searchable website can be located at:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Searching in Cornwall: Updated May 2012

Update April 2012: See link directly below for amazing index of bastardy bonds, lease information, wills, and more. There are lots of names and details for many of the entries, and it is searchable by name.

Cornwall Council: Cornwall Record Office Online Archive

If your ancestors were in Cornwall, that may be pretty far away to do your searching. As usual, the internet is your friend. And in Penwith, Cornwall, it is especially friendly, because there are amazing online resources, and I am finding that more and more resources keep appearing.

A great place to start your search is with a board (no fee involved) devoted to Penwith, Cornwall ancestry searching. You can post your surnames and questions, and you can search for anything that has been posted previously. The admins are very helpful, and everyone who posts seems to help each other out. There are also very good lists of related resources. Knowledge of the families in Penwith is expanding greatly as new information is added.
I have found it very useful, and will continue to peruse the boards.
Check it out at:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

All caps SURNAMES? on your family tree--I think NOT

As I scan the internet looking for what others suggest for genealogy searches and trees, I find many suggestions to use all caps for the surnames. Some people use all caps just for their particular line, so that it stands out on a huge tree. Others use it for all last names.

No, I am thinking, it is not the best way to go,  but maybe I should have an open mind. I don't like the all caps approach, but maybe there is something to it. It did not take me long to find some validation for my point of view. Tamura Jones, in the online article:  Five Freaky Features your Genealogy Software should not have, emphatically states that names should always be properly cased, as they are names, and should be spelled correctly as names. I agree. All caps last names is almost like all caps posts, which we justifiably call "shouting." However, it is helpful to have a visual marker for the direct line of the person who begins the tree (from the youngest generation-i.e. now).

While I am against all caps in general, I think having temporary markers for a line can be useful.

The article by Tamura Jones can be found at:

Ontario, Canada Marriages

If your ancestors were in or near the Ontario area, you may want to look at the excellent records at the Marriage Records section of the Ontario Vital Records Statistics Project. It is worth looking at if your ancestors were from Northern New York as there was frequent travel from NY to Canada and vice versa. The records are seachable by year or by name, and often have the home town of the bride and groom, their parents' names, and the names of witnesses.  This information can be a huge boost to confirming relationships and dates.
This portion of the excellent database can be found at

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Crystal Ball thinking about social networking: G+

There is certainly a lot of buzz in the air about "G+" by google. Still in its trial phase, not all of us have tried it. Checking out the recent business news about genealogy research, I noticed that a founder and statistician of appears to be interested in what direction this social networking feature will go. Paul Allen of FamilyLink and performed an unofficial analysis to see how the gender breakdown looks for using G+ so far. His results showed a higher percentage of females than did another study. It is very interesting to see how interest in and use of social networking is paralleling and combining with the family history arena.

News sources: Article by Tom Cheredar on Venture Beat July 16, 2011:
and article by David Gomez on TG Daily:

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Google News Archive--a good resource for really old news

Google News Archive, a historic newspaper project,  was a great resource for records in the form of news articles. One of the topics dealt with at Genealogy in Time is the “Death of the Google News Archive.” That was sad news to hear, that the archives project had not been continued, but the good news is that many of the original articles that were archived are still accessible. The articles that were already digitized can still be accessed at: I immediately entered a name for an ancestor I knew had appeared in old news articles: Edward Salisbury of Rhode Island and New York. I knew the story of his powder horn, how it had been carved, and saved, and how it had taken the force of a bullet in the 1758 so that he had miraculously not been killed, had been in the newspapers. The powder horn, really one of the earliest to ever be carved, still exists. I found two wonderful articles on Edward Salisbury, the battles he fought in,  and the powder horn immediately.

So, thanks to Genealogy in Time, I know that the digitization project was dropped, but I also know that some valuable articles are still there for the reading.
If you want to check out their blog, see

Why I love The Office and snowy, scrappy Scranton

One of the reasons I enjoy watching The Office, aside from the hilarity, is that it is set in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I’m not from Scranton, but some of my ancestors lived there, and I feel that I can get a closer glimpse into their lives by getting a sense of where they lived. A sense of place, what we crave in our searching for our roots.

Every place has  its idiosyncracies--the jargon, the attitudes, the special foods, the in-jokes, and often, a certain insularity. Just as it is fun and interesting to travel and absorb a bit of culture, it is fun and interesting to try to travel to another place and time.

 I know the actors and all the events are filmed in LA, but the opening scenes are authentic Scranton, and the working mind set seems to be pretty much what I would expect to find there. Every once in awhile there is a reference to the Irish population, whether it be an actor’s name or a meeting in a bar, and the struggle to keep a dying business alive in a tough economy is certainly something one would find there.

I can’t spend lots of time trying to get a sense of place for all my ancestors, as they lived in many places and I do have other things to pursue, but when I do make a small effort to understand the geography and the culture of the time, I find it rewarding. It gives me a pleasant sense of tucking into a time and place.

Mini-versions of finding out what it was like to live in a place and time include checking into court records, reading town and county histories, finding images of locations, and reading a few local biographies. The State GenWeb is often helpful for a short imaginary tour of an area. Understanding the history of the naming of a town or county is an easy way to get into the history.

When I want a really quick sense of place I find a map image of a town (I either find the "map" designation on the toolbar, or I search for the town  + map) and then I look to see what other towns are nearby. I might be familiar with some of them. I look for water routes, as those would have been important to my ancestors. Did they migrate along them, fish along them? Then I expand the map image so that I have a good geographical context for the town. I might be able to see what attracted settlers to the area.

Given a little more time, I will look up historical maps. Sometimes I am even fortunate enough to find plat maps with names of landowners of a specific time period. The historical maps show the towns and/or properties that existed at the time of the map-making, and the writing style and artistry and accuracy or lack thereof add to the charm of sensing that I am sliding into the past for just a moment.

Shared on Storylane Oct 2012

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Genealogy and work and buzz

How will business interests affect the resource and networking possibilities for those of us building family trees?

That’s an interesting question. Here are some thoughts on one little change—the loss of “expert connect” at

The changes in the family history research industry are fairly obvious. It is growing and changing. We see commercials from every day. The databases there have grown very nicely, and the search mechanisms have also steadily improved. I love how the Family Tree Maker program now interfaces with I can’t rely on the hints, since that is what they are—hints, not facts, but they are helpful enough that I click on them more often than not.

I do think it is a shame that the expert connect service was discontinued. It was a wonderful system of offers and bids, and great communication in the process. Clients could choose the service provider they wished, and the researchers could bid on any project. I think the variety of possibilities was a very positive situation. You might find a researcher who specializes in one type of records  bidding on creating a family tree for an area in which they did not specialize at all, simply because he or she could see that they understood the resources needed for that client’s tree.  Or you might have ten providers bidding for one client's project. The client decided which offer is most attractive.  There was even sub-contracting, which worked efficiently. One person would research, and the other  would retrieve records that the researcher  couldn’t  access geographically. 

I found it a very lively marketplace, and I was sorry to see it go.  I enjoyed bidding, researching, and participating in a dynamic environment where clients clearly appreciated the results they got (see the reviews for the providers--very positive)

One of the main benefits of expert connect was the buzz. Everyone involved was excited about genealogy, and everyone was connected to in some way, whether as a researcher, a client, or as both. People were talking about their family trees, and there was certainly incentive to use the website often.

I know that the decision was made for business reasons, and I hope that the company does well. I have been subscribing long enough and enjoying results long enough to know that it is a valuable site for me to use.  But I also hope we can find more great marketplaces to support interaction between researchers and those who wish to have the research done for them.  And I hope that there will be many more places for genealogy buzz!

Friday, July 15, 2011

You need to add this resource: New York Census of 1905

If you knew where your New York ancestors were in 1900 and in 1910, you may want to see where they were in 1905. This record is now available at

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The wintery summer of 1816: The year with no summer or "Eighteenhundred and Froze to Death"

Without television or the internet, the clouding of the sky and the extreme cold in 1816 must have been unpleasantly baffling to residents of the Eastern States. The climactic conditions resulted from an eruption of the Volcano Tambora in 1815 in Indonesia. This was no ordinary eruption. It was huge, causing local devastation and deaths, and spreading ash in the atmosphere around the world. Newspapers published in Vermont and New York (as accessed digitally on America's Historical Newpapers. Archive of Americana at Newsbank), provide good records of the eruptions and the immediate casualties in the area, but I don't know if there was any understanding of the cause and effect relationship to the overcast skies and unusual climate conditions in the Northeastern States in 1816. There was snow in June, and chilly weather that affected farming.  President Thomas Jefferson noted the extreme cold in his weather diary. Another diarist, Adino Brackett of New Hampshire wrote:
"This past summer and fall have been so cold and miserable that I have from despair kept no account of the weather. It could have been nothing but a repeatation [sic] of frost and drought."
[Citation from].

Many settlers chose to move westward at that time. One famous sojourner was Joseph Smith, of Mormon fame, who moved from Vermont to New York. How did your ancestors fare in 1816? It wasn't a census year in the United States, but we can look to migration records to see if that might have been a trigger for travel. And if not, we can know they weathered a difficult time.
Image of volcano is from

Illinois marriages--search them in about a minute!

If you are looking for an ancestor who may have married in Illinois, there is an excellent resource which is very accessible. The Illinois State Achives has an easily searchable marriage index. If you want to see all the marriages possible for a last name, in case the first name is mispelled or somehow different from what you expect, you can just search by that last name. There are good directions for using the website, and when you are ready, you can just click on "Search the Statewide Marriage index now."  The website is the Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, 1763-1900, and is located at You can search statewide or by county. If I am looking for the bride of Chicago photographer C.D. Mosher, for example, I just plug in the last name Mosher for the groom, and the results show me that there are two men named Charles D Mosher who married in Illinois. By looking at the names of the brides, the counties they married in, and checking census records, I can take the next step in identifying his wife and their ancestors.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rhode Island cemteries: amazing documentation

Rhode Island searches can be difficult, with missing records here and there, and many names repeated over generations. It is so close to Massachusetts that the residents could be in one or the other in any given year. One of the resources I appreciate very much is the Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries transcription project. It is completely free and completely searchable. The search mechanism is a little unusual, but by trial and error it can be understood. The information that is in the database is of  tremendous help in confirming marriages, locations of residence, and dates of death,  Not only is there information about the people buried in the cemeteries, but there are also excellent descriptions of the cemeteries. which can be that last little clue in finding information for the family tree. The cemetery index is a part of the Rhode Island GenWeb, and is located at: From Aldrich to Whipple and more, many Rhode Island ancestors are listed here.

Who's your daddy's daddy? FTDNA y-dna projects-- excellent resource

I love to peruse the y-dna projects at FTDNA every once in awhile. The y-dna projects surname trace paternal lines in father of the father of the father of the father ad infinitum fashion. Generally a last name will continue throughout the entire line, but this is not a hard and fast rule. There are those non-paternal events, including adoptions.
he surname project page can be found at:

You can look at the projects without having any involvement in them whatsoever. Just choose a name, open up to the project, and you may be directed to the project page off-site, or there may be a page on-site. You can read about the project and its goals, and then click on  one of the "results" tabs. You will see that the individuals who tested will be grouped by haplotype. You don't need to understand all the jargon to get that the groups that are together have the most in common in their y-dna. You can check all the last names you can think of in your line, and see not only what the genetic background is, but also you'll see some of the geographical locations listed for the participants' ancestors. It is fascinating to see the history of each name line, and I think it is especially great for some of the American Colonial lines.

My suggestion is to take a look, just browse around and start learning about what is going on with the projects. Then another time, see if you can draw some conclusions about the y-dna lines you are interested in. You can see all sorts of last names from MacBean to Sanchez, and lots more.

Another place to find many of these DNA surname projects is at,

In addtion to the surname projects at FTDNA, you will see that the company also has geographical projects and mtdna (along the maternal line). Even if you don't think DNA testing is for you, there is a lot to learn by looking at the project results. You might see that one or anther of your surname lines  line is originally from England, or from South America. And there can be a number of origins, since we all have so many ancestors!

One of the more practical results for genealogy has been that lines can be sorted out from one another.

We often hear the story that three or four brothers came to America. Sometimes that is true and sometimes it isn't. Projects can help to demonstrate whether Sam who emigrated to Georgia, and Solomon, who emigrated to Pennsylvania, and John, who emigrated to Canada, are in the same line with the same surname, or in different lines with the same surname.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

James A. Van Allen: famous descendant of NY Van Allen family

You can find famous people in the census, of course. Their names were recorded along with everyone else's. Samuel Clemens is there--look him up!

The Van Allen family hails back to the Netherlands. They were early settlers in New York, and were known for fur hunting and trading.
Biographies for James A. Van Allen are available online, as they often are for those who have achievements, so I learned through reading them that he was born in 1914 to parents  Alma Olney and James Alfred Van Allen.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Discovering the identity of Mrs. Phelps of LeRay Mansion

LeRay Mansion
While looking through old family photos, I decided to look everywhere I could for clues as to who they were. I looked at the back of each photo to see if there might be a comment or the name of the photographer. On this particular photo I found the words, "Mrs. Phelps of LeRay Mansion." Well, that seemed less than helpful.

I didn't know who Mr. Phelps was in the first place. But I did know something about the LeRay Mansion, built for French land speculator Jacques Donatien LeRay de Chaumont who lived for a time at the  mansion he had built for his family in Jefferson County, New York. That was back in the heyday of the parties and business affairs of French nobility who had fled their  homeland (and the Revolution there) and  happened upon this beautiful corner of the world.

 I used a search engine to look up some information on the mansion, and as I clicked back and forth between the description there, the Jefferson County GenWeb cemetery listings, and the census, I found my answers.

The site I looked at explained the ownership over time of the mansion, and I was able to put the names together to make some sense.

William Phelps, born about 1789 in Connecticut,  married Eliza Brown, who I could determine was a relative in my family tree. She is listed in Bartlett Files  for the township of LeRay, in the Jefferson County, New York GenWeb (a cemetery transcription), as William's second wife.

Looking at every detail on a photo can be helpful, from the location of the photographer to the city to a scrawled note such as "Mrs. Phelps of LeRay Mansion."

Picture credit: Fort Drum website.