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# Tuesday, 18 March 2014
Genealogy Tips for Tracing Female Ancestors
Posted by Diane

March is Women's History Month, so it seems a good time to share tips and facts from Legal Genealogist Judy G. Russell's "Female Ancestors and the Law" chat for our Family Tree University Virtual Genealogy Conference last month.

You can get in-depth advice on researching women in your family in our Finding Female Ancestors Family Tree University course, which starts Monday, March 24. We also have a Discover Your Female Ancestors value pack with an Independent Study version of that course, plus a video class, a cheat sheet and more. 
  • Judy opened the chat with this interesting tidbit: Under common law, a girl could be betrothed at age 7. She was entitled to dower at age 9. She couldn’t choose a guardian until she was 14 or serve as executrix until 17, and wasn’t of full age until 21. But she could be married off at age 12.
  • A married woman was called a feme covert, which literally means a woman hidden behind the identity of her husband.

  • Judy recommended Black's Law Dictionary as a good resource for finding out what laws governed women's lives in the places your ancestors lived. It was first published in 1891, and you can see the 2nd edition, published in 1910, for free here. Look for printed editions at large libraries and law libraries.

  • A widowed woman would have to be named guardian of her own children in a probate court, or the court might name a male relative to look after the children's inherited property (even if they still lived with their mother).
  • An underage woman usually had to have a male guardian's permission to marry. Look for a record with the couple's marriage record.

  • Early divorces often had to be approved by state legislatures; look for these records in legislative records (usually at a state archive).

  • Prenuptial agreements, often found with deeds or court records, weren't uncommon, even early on.
  • Land records are excellent for researching women. A husband had to sell land, even if the wife had inherited it from her father, but the wife had to sign off on it. That's called her "dower" right (not to be confused with a dowry), and it was intended to provide some means of support for a woman whose husband had died.

  • "Property" transfers of slaves, usually in chancery or equity courts, also can be a source of information on female heirs.
  • Chat participants have had luck finding maiden names in children's birth, marriage and death records; and in male ancestors' wills. Several said that sons in their families received the mother's maiden name as a middle name.
  • One chatter reminded us not to assume that someone listed by initials in a record (such as M.A. Smith) is male.
I also wanted to share this post from the New York History Blog, about a New York law, in effect until March 20, 1860, that kept married women from having any legal control over money they earned.

PS: Here's where you can find out about our Fall 2014 Virtual Genealogy Conference, happening Sept. 19-21.

Female ancestors | Research Tips | Sales
Tuesday, 18 March 2014 15:31:53 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, 25 March 2013
Genealogy Records for "Hearing" Your Revolutionary War Ancestors' Voices
Posted by Diane

Did your ancestors fight in or witness the Revolutionary War firsthand? Family Tree Magazine contributing editor Maureen A. Taylor shares the records she's found especially helpful in doing research for her forthcoming documentary "Revolutionary Voices: A Last Muster Film," a project with award-winning documentary producers Verissima Productions:
  • Diaries and letters: This is Eleazer Blake, an apprentice in a wheelwright shop in Rindge, NH, who kept a diary.

In his diary, he mentions the Battle of Lexington and Concord as well as details of his everyday life. These statements let you relive parts of his life. Though your Revolutionary War-era ancestor may not have been a diarist, the writings of his contemporaries will help you understand the tense times he lived in.
  • Pension applications: While some men exaggerated their wartime exploits in their Revolutionary War pension applications, other documents make for painful reading. James Allen Jr. of Maine applied for a pension several times, but lacked proof of his service. Allen’s brother submitted a deposition with a plea on his brother’s behalf: “I have no doubt my brother served in the Army of the Revolution as he has always stated to me, and I know that he has for the last 20 years or more been trying to obtain a pension.” (The November 2008 Family Tree Magazine has online resources for pension and other military records, as does our Family Tree University course US Military Records: Trace Your Ancestor's Service.)
  • Memoirs: Seneca chief Chainbreaker, also known as Gov. Blacksnake or Tash-won-ne-ah, dictated his life story to a neighbor, relating how he served for the British in the bloody Battle of Oriskany in New York. George Avery wrote in his memoir that being taken prisoner at Royalton, Vt., in 1780 was a turning point. “I felt the evil of my life and the Divine Justice of Providence.” Use WorldCat, which includes the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (1986 and later), to help you find published and unpublished memoirs in library collections.
Don't forget about women of the Revolutionary era: They left behind personal writings, pension documents and memoirs as well. The stories of their lives as daughters, wives and widows can also be found in materials left by their fathers, brothers and husbands. (Family Tree Magazine's Ultimate Tracing Female Ancestors Collection can help you learn more about the women in your family tree.)

You can hear more life stories about the Revolutionary War generation by following Maureen's Revolutionary Voices: A Last Muster Film project. Find out how you can help make the film happen here.

Female ancestors | Military records | Research Tips | Social History
Monday, 25 March 2013 08:23:48 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, 12 February 2013
I think I've got it!, or, Cluster Genealogy Works!
Posted by Diane

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about my third-great-grandmother's hard-to-read maiden name in her divorce case file from 1879 to 1881. Many of you offered suggestions for searching for her family in the 1850 and 1860 censuses—thank you!

I tried those searches and I kept examining the case file for clues ... and I'm 98 percent sure I have the maiden name! It shows that cluster genealogy works. Here's how it happened.

I saw this in my third-great-grandmother Mary Frost's testimony:

Her oldest child—my great-great-grandfather—George, stayed with Mary's sister (unnamed here) and worked for the sister's husband, George Hartke, in his grocery store.

I searched for George Hartke on and found this in an 1878 city directory for Covington, Ky.:

I then found his family in the 1880 census, under "Harke":

My great-great-grandfather is listed in the household as "nephew." Interestingly, he's double-enumerated in his mother's household in 1880:

I turned my focus to George Hartke's wife and Mary Frost's sister, Elizabeth. Death records often name parents, especially in the 20th century (Mary's doesn't, though), so I looked for Elizabeth's. Lo and behold:

Let's take a closer look:

Elizabeth's Oct. 22, 1931, death certificate reports her parents as Henry Wolking and "Eliz." Evers, both born in Germany. I did some more census searching and believe the informant, "Mrs. Henry Harke," is Elizabeth's daughter-in-law.

I still haven't found the Wolkings for sure in 1850 and 1860 census records. My best candidate so far is this Wolkins family in 1850:

The father's name doesn't match, which isn't great but also isn't a deal breaker—he could've gone by his middle name or the census taker could've talked to a neighbor, or Mrs. Henry Harke could have been wrong on the death certificate. This family does have a Mary, Tilda (the divorce records refer to Mary's sister Matilda) and Lizzie of the right ages.

Learn more about how to use cluster genealogy in your research from our on-demand webinar, Using Cluster and Collateral Searches to Beat Brick Walls, presented by Thomas MacEntee. It's available in

Originally posted at the Genealogy Insider blog. | census records | Female ancestors | Research Tips | Webinars
Tuesday, 12 February 2013 11:48:11 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Tuesday, 05 February 2013
Tabloid Divorces Have Nothing on These Ancestors
Posted by Diane

Last week I promised to tell you how I got my third-great-grandparents’ divorce record. 

It went on my genealogy to-do list after a random search of historical newspaper website GenealogyBank resulted in newspaper notices when my third-great-grandmother filed for divorce in 1879 (below), and again when the divorce was granted two years later.

You know when you think something is going to be a big ordeal so you procrastinate, then when you finally get the ball rolling it turns out to be a piece of cake and you wish you did it ages ago?

I had checked, and USGenWeb to see if I could get digital or microfilmed copies. Nope. So I thought I’d have to figure out which of the two county courthouses to go to, find time to make the trip, get a babysitter, search out the records, and so on.

When I started planning a visit and called the courthouse (after first checking online for info on old records), the nice lady there said, “Oh, we don’t keep records that far back,” at which point I may have made strange choking sounds. Then she continued, “You’ll have to call the state archives in Frankfort.” 

I checked the Kentucky State Archives’ website and learned it does have divorce records from the time and place I needed, and you can print a request form to fill out and send with a $15 fee. Easy peasy.

A few days later, I had an email from a state archivist. The file was 103 pages(!) and I’d need to send an additional fee for copies of the whole thing.

When I called to pay over the phone, I asked the archivist what’s typically in a historical divorce file, just to make sure I wouldn’t be ordering a bunch of blank pages. She flipped through and said it looked pretty meaty, with lots of depositions. “We’ll get this copied today and sent out tomorrow,” she said.

After a few days impatient days, The Big Envelope was in my mailbox.  The first page had this on it:

I spread out the pages on the counter, squinting at the handwriting and trying to glean all the clues I could—such as my third-great-grandmother's maiden name—while protecting them from my 2-year-old's applesauce splatters.

"Meaty" is an accurate description. So far I've found all the makings of a tabloid-worthy divorce: accusations of cruelty and mental instability (along with a physician's testimony about my ancestor's "cycles"—I guess doctor-patient confidentiality was still in the future), custody fights, and insinuations of an improper relationship between my third-great-grandmother and a younger man.

I'm still going over the papers and I'll blog more later about genealogical clues I discover (that way I can call it work). 

Thinking about researching your ancestors' court records? Click here for tips on finding the right courthouse.

Then check out our courthouse research guide digital download, available in

Depending on the type of court records you're looking for, you'll also find in-depth help in our Using Guardianship Records in Genealogical Research video class with Marian Pierre-Louis and our Using Criminal Court Records on-demand webinar with Judy G. Russell.

court records | Female ancestors | Libraries and Archives | Research Tips
Tuesday, 05 February 2013 09:11:39 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, 28 January 2013
I Found the Maiden Name—But What Is It??
Posted by Diane

So I finally got my hands on a copy of the divorce case for my my third-great-grandparents, Thomas and Mary Frost (more later about how I got it). As I hoped, it has her maiden name!

There's just one problem—I can't read it, exactly:

Alanis Morrisette would call this situation ironic.

I searched for Mary Wol*am (the wildcard * can stand in for more than one letter). Some of the possibilities are Wollam, Wolam, Wolham, Woldham, Woltam and Wolfram.

I even found an 1850 census record for a Wollam family living in Ohio with a Mary of the right age, born about 1840. But this family has no Matilda, one of Mary's sisters, who gives her name but not her age in a deposition for the divorce case. The same family (I think) in later censuses doesn't have a Matilda, either, and is no longer in Ohio. (My third-great-grandparents married in Cincinnati in 1865.)

I can't find a family in the census that fits Wolham, my first thought when I read the name. And no luck yet in my search for a Wol-something-am (or a Frost) marriage record.

I've looked through the rest of the 103-page file for another maiden-name mention and can't find one, though the writing is really hard to make out in places. I need to spend some quality time with the document.

Are you searching for a female ancestor's maiden name? Check out our new Family Tree University course Finding Female Ancestors (I'm planning to!), which starts this week—it's open for registration through Friday. You'll get help developing a research strategy for female ancestors, teasing out maiden names and more.

Here's the link to learn more about the Finding Female Ancestors course.

court records | Female ancestors
Monday, 28 January 2013 12:30:21 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [21]
# Wednesday, 05 September 2012
Finding Female Ancestors, Searching Online and More: Tips From Virtual Genealogy Conference Experts
Posted by Diane

We're holding live, free Facebook and Twitter chats with our Family Tree University Virtual Genealogy Conference expert presenters to give you sneak peeks at the genealogy tips you'll get from this online family history conference.

We've got three chats to go:
  • Today, Wednesday, Sept. 5, at 4:30 p.m. ET, join our Tweet-up on Twitter with Gena Philibert-Ortega, who'll be talking about social history and tracing immigrants (we'll be using hashtag #FTUVC).
  • Stop by our Facebook page Thursday, Sept. 13, at 1 p.m. ET to get Rick Crume's advice on tracking down ancestors in UK civil registration records and Ireland's Griffith's Valuation.
Remember to translate the chat times into your time zone. You don't have to be a Facebook or Twitter member to see the chats, but you must be a member to post a question.

The chats we've already had are chock-full of research help! Here's where to find them:

The Family Tree University Fall 2012 Virtual Genealogy Conference, taking place online Sept. 14-16, gives you access to 15 video classes, live chats, our exclusive conference message board, and our virtual exhibit hall (where you can win prizes by being part of our exhibitor scavenger hunt).

To learn more, visit (Pssst!: You can save $50 on conference registration with coupon code FTUVCFACEBOOK.)

Family Tree University | Female ancestors | Genealogy Events | Genealogy Web Sites | immigration records | Research Tips | Social History | Social Networking
Wednesday, 05 September 2012 12:34:13 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, 29 August 2012
Finding Females and Cramming Canadian Genealogy
Posted by Tyler

In this guest post, Presenter Lisa A. Alzo breaks down her sessions on Canadian immigration records and tracking down evasive female ancestors at the Family Tree University’s Fall 2012 Virtual Genealogy Conference:

Secrets to Tracing Female Ancestors

When I started my genealogy research over 22 years ago, I began with a female ancestor: my maternal grandmother. This was before the Internet and without the luxury of FamilySearch, the Ellis Island Database or Nothing like starting out with a challenge! But I used the information available to me—family documents, interviews, church records, court documents and microfilm—as well as made trips to the library and visited the places she had lived. I was thus able to learn the details of her life, which I chronicled in my book Three Slovak Women. In my Virtual Conference session, “Secrets for Tracing Female Ancestors”, I will reveal my secrets for locating and using online and offline resources, and will share other tips and tricks you’ll need to find the elusive women in your family tree!

Canadian Immigration Records

As a child, my family would visit my father’s cousin in Ontario, Canada. At the time I fleetingly wondered why he lived so far away, but never questioned it until I became a genealogist and began tracking down clues about my Alzo ancestors. Curiosity led me to investigate sources in Canada, with some very interesting and surprising results! If you have ancestors who immigrated to Canada (or even think it’s a possibility), then join me for the session Canadian Immigration Records, where I’ll walk you through the basics of searching in the Great White North. You’ll learn about websites, databases and printed resources to help you locate passenger lists, border crossings and other immigration records, as well as search secrets to draw your ancestors out of hiding!

Learn more about the Fall Virtual Conference.

Canadian roots | Family Tree University | Female ancestors | French Canadian roots
Wednesday, 29 August 2012 15:45:13 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, 27 July 2012
Genealogy News Corral, July 23-27
Posted by Diane

  • I wanted to point you to the Ancestry Insider's interesting post about indexing errors on 1940 census websites. The Ancestry Insider has seen more user complaints about's index than FamilySearch's, and I'd have to echo that observation (mostly in blog comments and on Facebook). His post includes's answers to questions about its indexing and auditing processes, and the index augmentation that helps users find records despite indexing difficulties.  
  • This fall, the National Archives will open its new New York City location in Lower Manhattan, in the Alexander Hamilton US Custom House at One Bowling Green (the former facility was on Varick Street in Greenwich Village). The new location will expand the facilitiy's usefulness for research and education, with a welcome center, research center, learning center for school groups, exhibition space and public programs area. Read more about the new location here.
  • Military records subscription site Fold3 has released a new collection of Navy Casualty Reports, 1776-1941, documenting deaths of US Navy personnel in wartime and in accidents outside of war.

    The casualty reports include records of those who were killed, injured, wounded, diseased or imprisoned, but most report only deaths.The records include four titles: Deaths Due to Enemy Action (includes deaths during the Civil War aboard the Cincinnati and in Andersonville prison, and more), Drowning Casualties (1885-1939), Lost and Wrecked Ships, Explosions and Steam Casualties (1801-1941), and Ordnance Accidents, Aviation Accidents, and Miscellaneous Records. This collection is currently free to search. | census records | Female ancestors | Fold3 | Genealogy books | Military records | NARA
Friday, 27 July 2012 14:36:03 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, 16 July 2012
Finding Female Ancestors, Cloud Back-ups and Going to the Library: Tips From Our Online Genealogy Records Workshop
Posted by Diane

Participants in last week's How to Research in Genealogy Records online workshop shared tips and asked questions in daily chats about everything from researching in libraries to backing up genealogy data.

Just for you, I smuggled out a bunch of tips on finding women ancestors, backing up your data in the cloud and preparing for a library research trip:

Finding female ancestors
For a hard-to-find female ancestor, go sideways by researching her children, husband, siblings and other family.

Family Tree Magazine editor Allison Dolan shared Sharon DeBartolo Carmack's advice from way back in our April 2001 issue:
"Historian Elizabeth Fox-Genovese said that the 'history of women cannot be written without attention to women's relations with men in general and with 'their' men in particular, nor without attention to the other women of their society.' ... Those who successfully find the maiden names and parents' names of female ancestors aren't focusing their research efforts on just the woman in question."
Allison also shared her favorite websites about women's history and genealogy:
Backing up your computer "in the cloud"
Online community editor Tyler Moss and Sunday chatters exchanged ideas for cloud back-ups. He uses Dropbox, which offers 2GB of free storeage plus more if you can get others to join the service. Subscriptions start at 100GB for $9.99 per month.

To use Carbonite, you pay a subscription fee (starting at $59 per year per computer) to have your computer automatically sync with your backup on the cloud.

SugarSync is a backup service that lets you start with a free 5GB account.

Google has some storage options starting with 5GB of free space.

Tyler also shared this article on cloud storage systems from tech site Gizmodo.

Preparing for library research
In the chat I facilitated on genealogy research at libraries and archives, folks shared what they bring with them to the library.

I take change for copiers, $1s or $5s in case I need to buy copy cards, a flash drive for saving digital images if the library is so equipped, notepad, pen, a snack (to be consumed where permitted), catalog printouts for materials I want and any necessary family tree info.

Others recommend a personal scanner or phone with a camera, laptop, sweater and sticky notes. Tyler even comes prepared for long research sessions with a chair cushion.

Some libraries don't permit scanners, cameras, sticky notes or other items, so check the website or call ahead.

We were all impressed with one chatter's description of her master genealogy to-do list: She keeps a spreadsheet with columns for
  • the information sought
  • title of the item needed
  • holding library
  • catalog number
  • format (book, microfilm, etc.)
  • priority level (high, medium, low)
... and more. She can easily sort the list by library name and priority. I need to try this!

Fall 2012 Virtual Conference
You, too, can take online genealogy classes from experts and be part of exclusive chats and message board discussions with other researchers—it'll all be part of Family Tree University’s Fall 2012 Virtual Conference, Sept. 14-16.

Learn more about the Virtual Conference on

Female ancestors | Libraries and Archives | Research Tips | Tech Advice
Monday, 16 July 2012 15:34:38 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Tuesday, 08 May 2012 Adds WWII Cadet Nursing Corps Records
Posted by Diane has added more than 300,000 WWII Cadet Nursing Corps Card Files dating from 1942 to 1948.

The United States Public Health Service supervised the Cadet Nurse Corps Program to train nurses during the war. The records name more than 124,000 women between the ages of 17 and 35 who participated in the program. Eighty-five percent of all nursing students in the United States were a part of the Cadet Nursing Corps. (Read more about the Cadet Nurse Corps program here.)

The Corps was non-discriminatory; members included American Indians, African-Americans and even displaced Japanese Americans.

The records include corps membership cards. Different versions were in use over the time period, but usually include at least the name of the cadet, serial number, name of the nursing school or hospital, address of the school, and dates attended.

You can search this collection at

Looking for a WWI Red Cross Army Nurse? Get research tips on | Female ancestors | Military records
Tuesday, 08 May 2012 13:16:42 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, 08 March 2012
Tips for Finding Female Ancestors
Posted by Diane

March is Women’s History Month, so let's seize the opportunity to talk about finding women ancestors. Learning their maiden names can be a big problem, especially when you're researching before the era of consistent vital records.

For me, birth and death records, when they're available, have been a source of maiden names. Carefully examining census records also has helped: In two cases, I've found a female ancestor's elderly mother or father living in the daughter's household.

Here's a roundup of free articles that focus on finding women ancestors:

You'll discover more research strategies and details of our female ancestors' lives with the tools in our Women's History Month Value Pack, specially priced at $29.99 (a 59 percent discount) in March.

Female ancestors | Research Tips | Sales
Thursday, 08 March 2012 10:06:06 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [23]
# Thursday, 05 May 2011
Resources for Finding Your Female Ancestors
Posted by Diane

Happy Mother's Day to the moms out there and those on my family tree, including my great-grandma (here in the early 30s, holding one of her little ones) and my grandma (the little girl with her hands folded in front of her).

One of your biggest brick walls, you tell us, is finding the women in your family tree. That’s because historical records tend to name men more often, and women generally changed their names when they married (though those from some cultures, such as Italians, usually used their maiden names on official records).

This Mother’s Day, we want to help you learn more about your female ancestors’ lives. These free articles on give tips and resources to aid your search: 

And here are some resources for finding female ancestors from

Remember: Order anything from and get FREE our "Memories of Mom" digital download from the forthcoming book My Life & Times by Sunny Jane Morton (available October 2011). This offer ends Monday, May 9.
Female ancestors
Thursday, 05 May 2011 09:39:28 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Thursday, 28 April 2011
Ideas for Mom on Mother's Day
Posted by Diane

I have Anna Marie Jarvis to thank for my upcoming breakfast in bed this Mother's Day (my first as a mom). She established the day in 1908 with backing from Philadelphia merchant John Wanamaker. The state of West Virginia declared the holiday in 1910, and the rest of the states followed suit.

Mother’s Day is coming right up on May 8, so I’ve been dreaming up gift ideas a family history-minded mom might go for. Here are some I’ve come up with:

Framed photo: If you have one of those three- or four- (or more) generation photos of moms in your family, that would be perfect. Or a picture of you and your mom. Or maybe find pictures of you, your mom and her mom at about the same age, and frame them together.

Photo gifts: Use a digital photo and a website such as Shutterfly or Snapfish to create anything from coffee mugs to mousepads.

Family Tree: Create a decorative family tree with photos. You can use your genealogy software to do this, or download a decorative tree from a site such as FamilySearch, then print and fill it out. Several sites let you fill out a tree online and either print it for free or order a professionally printed version. Here’s our roundup of sites for generating or ordering a decorative family tree

Family history or memoir book: Try the fill-in book Family Tree Legacies  or Grandma’s Memories, which has prompts to help mom share her life stories. 

Mom advice: Books such as 150 Tips and Tricks for New Moms, All About Mom or A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers might have just the advice or inspiration a mom in your life needs.

Genealogy helps: You can find all kinds of items at to help mom discover her roots. If you're not sure where to start, try a State Research Collection  for a state she’s searching in, or our Organize Your Genealogy Life! CD to help her keep her research shipshape. 

How are you honoring your mom this year?

Female ancestors | Genealogy fun
Thursday, 28 April 2011 16:37:48 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 01 March 2011
Celebrate Women's History Month By Finding Female Ancestors
Posted by jamie

March marks National Women's History Month, a celebration of the often overlooked contributions women have made to history. The month evolved from National Women's History Week, established in 1978 by the Education Task Force of Sonoma County, Calif., to coincide with International Women’s Day.

In 1981, Congress issued a joint resolution supporting Women’s History Week. In 1987, the National Women’s History Project petitioned Congress to expand the celebration to the entire month of March. Since then, the National Women’s History Month resolution has been approved every year with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Celebrate Women's History Month by researching your female ancestors.  Here are a few of our online resources:

Female ancestors
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 12:12:14 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, 22 February 2011
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Episode 3 Recap
Posted by jamie

Spoiler Alert: If you don't already know what happened during Rosie O'Donnell's episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” you are about to find out.

Rosie O'Donnell often asked her grandmother about a specific photo hanging in her house, but her grandmother was tight lipped about the woman. O'Donnell knew she was somehow related to her, but didn't know much beyond that. So she began her "Who Do You Think You Are?" journey by researching the mystery woman.

She starts looking in the 1900 census, finding her great-grandparents Michael and Ellen Murtha. The census indicates Michael was born in French Canada and his parents were born in Ireland. O'Donnell steps back father to the 1880, but shows Michael living in Brooklyn with a different woman — his first wife Anna.

This leads O'Donnell to Manhattan, where she finds the death certificate for Anna Murtaugh, a variation of the Murtha surname. The cause of death is listed as an explosion of an oil lamp. O'Donnell searches neighborhood newspapers for write-ups about the incident, discovering Anna was holding her infant daughter during the explosion.

Catholic church baptismal records revealed Anna's daughter to be Elizabeth Murtha, who lived through the accident and eventually had many children and grandchildren. Tracing the line forward, O'Donnell is reunited with Elizabeth's grandchildren, her second cousins. They confirm that the mysterious photo is Elizabeth's mother Anna.

After solving that mystery, she travels to Quebec to search parish records for Anna's husband and O'Donnell's great-grandfather Michael Murtha, listed as Michael Murtaugh in baptismal records. Michael's parents are listed as Andrew Murtaugh and Anne Doyle. O'Donnell searches a local newspaper to find the obituary for Anne, which lists her birthplace as Kildare, Ireland. For more on searching newspapers, see our Finding You Family in Old Newspapers on-demand webinar.

O'Donnell then heads to Ireland to find out more about the Murtaughs. Many people emigrated from Ireland at the height of the potato feminine, and Andrew and Anne were among them.

Searching Poor Law Union minute books for a mention of the family, O'Donnell discovers two men sponsored the Murtaughs passage to Canada. The Poor Law Union only provided assisted immigration for severely impoverished families during the feminine. To qualify for assisted immigration, a family would have to live in a work house for at least a year. For more on tracing your Irish roots, see our Irish heritage research guide.

"WDYTYA" airs Fridays at 8pm EST on NBC. Check the Genealogy Insider blog for a brief recap of each episode, and post a comment to be entered to win in our Discover Who You Are sweepstakes!

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Church records | Female ancestors | Newspapers
Tuesday, 22 February 2011 10:48:38 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Thursday, 19 August 2010
Happy 90th to the 19th Amendment!
Posted by Diane

Yesterday was the 90th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment to the US constitution. I’m especially partial to this one because it granted women the right to vote, declaring “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Tennessee, where we are right now for the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference, is the state whose General Assembly passed the suffrage amendment by one vote Aug. 18, 1920. By becoming the 36th state to ratify the amendment, Tennessee assured the approval of the three-fourths of the states—the final requirement necessary for ratification.

Assemblyman Henry T. Burn from McMinn County provided the tie-breaking vote. He originally planned to vote against the 19th amendment, but a letter from his mother changed his mind.

“I notice some of the speeches against," she wrote. "They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don't forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. [Carrie Chapman] Catt put the "rat" in ratification.”

The next day, Burn told the Assembly that he changed his vote because "a good boy always does what his mother asks him to do."

Read about the long struggle for women’s suffrage and the passage of the 19th amendment on these sites:

Female ancestors | Social History
Thursday, 19 August 2010 21:28:10 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, 12 August 2010
Genealogy Q&A From Our Ask the Editors Webinar
Posted by Diane

Thanks to everyone who attended last night's free “Ask the Editors” webinar! We had a blast, and we hope to do it again.

I wanted to share the questions attendees asked—and our answers, of course, enhanced with links to resources we mentioned and a few new ones. But first, because Allison, Grace, Lindsay and I started the webinar with an introduction, blog readers can “meet” most of us on our staff page. Get to know Lindsay here. And now for the main event:

Q. How would I find a 1905 death certificate from Mexico?

A. Civil registrations in Mexico (akin to vital records in the United States) started in the mid- to late-1860s, though records may not be complete. In most cases, records were kept on the municipio level and you can request copies from the local civil registry (addresses are in FamilySearch’s Mexico research outline). Older records may have been transferred to a local or state archive.

Before writing, see if the record is in an online index or on microfilm. Many Mexican death records are indexed on the FamilySearch Record Search Pilot Site. Search the Family History Library online catalog for microfilmed civil registration records or indexes, as well.

You’ll find more advice in our Mexico Research Guide digital download, available from

Q. I can't find my ancestor’s birthplace. Different censuses give different locations, and I don’t know his parents’ names. Where should I look?

A. It’s not unusual for a person’s birthplace to be inconsistent from one census to the next. The trick is to go beyond census records. Many sources will give a place of birth, so continue researching the person in any record you can get your hands on. Bibles, baptismal records, newspaper birth announcements, military records, passports, naturalizations and death records are a few sources that often name a person’s birthplace.

See which places are mentioned most often, and focus there. You may find online birth indexes such as those for Arizona, Minnesota, Missouri or South Dakota. Websites such as and FamilySearch often have vital records indexes, too.

Get in-depth information and online search demos in our recorded webinar Vital Records: Researching Your US Ancestors' Births, Marriages and Deaths, available from

Q. How do you trace a child named Jane Doe who was a foundling, and was adopted?

A. Adoptions weren’t always formalized in courts—sometimes a relative or neighbor would take in the child. For a formalized adoption, look into guardianship records (court records of hearings to determine who would care for a minor). Also look for an amended birth certificate, changed to reflect the child’s adoptive rather than biological parents.

Another good resource is newspapers. Finding an abandoned child would be a newsworthy event and may have received press coverage and follow-up articles. Also see the resources in our adoption toolkit and the “Early Adopters” article in the February 2007 Family Tree Magazine (available as a digital issue).

Q. How do you find a grave site when the cemetery doesn’t know where the stone is?

A. Try looking in the cemetery for plots of relatives and those of the same last name, since family members are often buried together. Also search for burial indexes, many of which were created years ago—perhaps before the cemetery lost track of the burial record or the stone was overgrown. In the 1930s and early ‘40s, the Works Progress Administration indexed cemeteries in many communities; you’ll find a free WPA cemetery database at Access Genealogy and printed indexes at public libraries and the Family History Library. The Daughters of the American Revolution also has collected cemetery and other records for years.

A webinar attendee suggested the researcher look for burial permits, which many counties would issue before a grave could be dug, as well as funeral home records. Just this week, I got a letter from a reader who found a permit that a deceased’s relative's second husband had obtained to have the remains moved to his own family plot.

Q. Several of my lines have “daughtered out.” What is your advice for researching women?

A. Our female ancestors just don’t show up in as many records as our male ancestors did, so sometimes you get to a point where you can’t trace a family line back past a woman. Allison emphasized the importance of not focusing just on the female ancestor, but also researching her husband, children, siblings, parents and neighbors. Records of these people may lead you to a maiden name and other information about the woman. Because people often married those who lived nearby, researching the husband’s family may lead to records of interactions, such as land transactions, with your female ancestor’s family.

See our list of records that often reveal details about female ancestors.

Q. What will increase my chances of success in your photo calls?

A. As Allison explained in the webinar, which photos end up in the magazine or another project is partly luck, for example, say we need a wintry photo for a January calendar page, and you’ve sent in a photo of kids sled-riding on a snowy day. Or sometimes a project calls for a vertical or horizontal orientation.

Another thing we look for is a photo with a clear focal point to draw the viewer’s eye. “Compelling” is a good word to describe a photo that makes someone want to pick it up and look at it longer. (We’re always happy when someone picks up the magazine!) Pleasant, open expressions on faces (we know outright smiles are rare in old pictures), a steady gaze, or cute kids are often compelling. Photos with unusual or surprising subject matter also can be compelling.

If we’ll be reprinting the photo at a relatively small size, we’ll want to make sure viewers can still easily discern the subject matter in the pictures (in this respect, photos of large groups of people might be at a disadvantage). But we hope you’ll upload your photos to our Flickr pools regardless—we love seeing them, as do others.

Cemeteries | census records | Female ancestors | International Genealogy | Photos | Vital Records
Thursday, 12 August 2010 15:30:10 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, 08 October 2009
Genealogist Finds Michelle Obama's Slave Ancestor
Posted by Grace

Family Tree Magazine contributor Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak and The New York Times have uncovered documents revealing first lady Michelle Obama's great-great-great-grandmother, a slave named Melvinia. Through probate records, photographs and local histories, the sleuths have pieced together a picture of the life of Melvinia, who labored on farms in Georgia and South Carolina, and her first son, Dolphus—Obama's great-great-grandfather—who became a carpenter and owned his own business in Birmingham, Ala.

The story is absolutely fascinating. You can learn more about it in The New York Times, in ABC's news report, and make sure you watch the below video from Roots Television.

African-American roots | Celebrity Roots | Female ancestors | Videos
Thursday, 08 October 2009 12:36:44 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, 16 March 2009
Show and Tell: All-American Girls League Player Card
Posted by Diane

Phyllis correctly guessed the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) player whose card I'm excited to show off: Pat Scott, pitcher for the Springfield Sallies and Fort Wayne Daisies.

After meeting her, my husband said he bets she could still get out there and throw a pretty good fastball.

See last week's post for AAGPBL research resources.

Female ancestors | Genealogy fun | Social History
Monday, 16 March 2009 09:06:27 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 13 March 2009
Can You Guess This All-American Girls League Player?
Posted by Diane

Yesterday, a woman who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) stopped in the store where my husband works.

They got to talking, and she signed a baseball card for him, which he gave to me.

The AAGPBL started in 1943 in Chicago to keep ballparks in business, as young men (and potential fan favorites) were being drafted into the military. Cities in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin had teams. Players wore skirted uniforms and, in the first few years, attended charm school at night.

Before I show you this player’s card, can you guess who she is?

She signed in 1948 with the Springfield Sallies, left briefly, then returned in 1951 to the Fort Wayne Daisies. She was the winning pitcher against the Rockford Peaches to give the Daisies their first pennant in 1952. Bonus hint: She’s in this Sallies team photo and this Daisies photo.

Click Comments to make a guess. I'll post the card on Monday.

Was your relative in the AAGPBL? Start your search at the league Web site, try local newspapers and check the Northern Indiana Center for History.

Female ancestors | Research Tips | Social History
Friday, 13 March 2009 07:32:24 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]