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Tuesday, 01 October 2013
Your Ancestor's Immigration Experience and the Ellis Island Myth
Posted by Diane
Many of the guests on last night's "Genealogy Roadshow," filmed in
Detroit, had done their own research into family history claims. I love to see all that genealogical interest, and the impact that
family history knowledge can have on someone.
The young woman at the
center of my favorite story was adopted as part of an open adoption. She knew a lot
about her white birth mother's family tree, and little about her
African-American birth father's family. All four parents were with
her as Kenyatta Berry took her back in time along her paternal
Among the other stories was a woman whose English ancestors founded a royal bookstore that still exists today—but later in that line, a physician ancestor went to jail for murder. The final guest learned she was in fact related to Ponce de Leon.
One thing that surprised me in this episode was the show's handling of a
guest's tale of his family name change at Ellis Island, a common belief.
Taylor told the man (I'm paraphrasing) that Ellis Island arrivals
were brought into a room with a clerk at a desk, and the clerk may
not have spoken the languages of the immigrants. When the
clerk asked the passenger's name, he would write down what he'd
heard, which often wasn't the spelling the passenger used.
He made it pretty clear that Ellis Island officials didn't deliberately change passenger names because they were hard to pronounce or not American
I've always read, though, that passenger lists were
created by shipping line agents at ports of departure, and turned
over to US officials after arrival here. US immigrant inspectors
would then check off the passengers' names on those lists—they
didn't write down any names. Ellis Island also employed translators
in a wide range of languages to speak with immigrants. TV shows are often heavily edited, so what was
actually said could've been quite different from what ended up on
You can read
more about the Ellis Island name-change myth in this article
by Marian L. Smith, a historian at the Immigration and
Naturalization Service (now the Citizenship and Immigration
Service). The New
York Public Library has a similar article, with details about how
passenger lists were created.
Update: Here's a statement from Josh clarifying his comments on the show.
Many immigrants, like the one in question on last night's show,
changed their own names after arrival. Someone could do this legally, but more
often, people would just start using the new name.
Two good resources for learning about your ancestor's immigration
Also keep an eye out for the December 2013 Family Tree Magazine,
which will have a workbook to help you find your ancestors on
passenger lists. Also
check out these immigration research resources.
You can watch last night's "Genealogy Roadshow" here. Next week's episode takes us to San Francisco. I'm hoping to see some Gold Rush stories!
Genealogy TV | immigration records
Tuesday, 01 October 2013 14:34:56 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
How the Government Shutdown Impacts Genealogists
Posted by Diane
The government shutdown means that some of you who had big genealogy
research or historical travel plans are up a creek:
US mail will still be delivered, so research requests sent to
non-federal repositories won't be affected.
For the sake of those
more profoundly affected and for genealogists' sake, let's hope this gets resolved soon.
Land records | Libraries and Archives | Museums | NARA
Tuesday, 01 October 2013 09:09:51 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Monday, 30 September 2013
Ancestry.com Acquires Find A Grave
Posted by Diane
We just received an announcement that online genealogy company Ancestry.com has purchased Find A Grave, the site with the largest database of free burial information and photos contributed by volunteers.
Find A Grave will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Ancestry.com, and will continue to be managed by its founder, Jim Tipton.
I already hear people asking if the site will remain free. Yes, says Ancestry.com president Tim Sullivan. From the press release:
"We will maintain Find A Grave as a free website, will retain its existing policies and mode of operation, and look forward to working with Jim Tipton and the entire Find A Grave team to accelerate the development of tools designed to make it even easier for the Find A Grave community to fulfill its original mission to capture every tombstone on Earth.” I've found family tombstone photos on Find A Grave, and you probably have, too. The 18-year-old site has 100 million memorials to deceased people, and 75 million photos, a significant addition to Ancestry.com's content.
Ancestry.com plans for Find A Grave include a mobile app for uploading cemetery photos (Billion Graves, another cemetery website, has one), improved customer support, an easier editing of already-submitted memorials and foreign-language support.
This isn't the first time Ancestry.com has acquired a free, grassroots genealogy site: You may remember back in 2000, when the company (then called MyFamily.com) purchased RootsWeb. In 2008, RootsWeb was moved onto Ancestry.com servers.
We'll bring you more details as we learn them.
Update: Here's an FAQ on the acquisition from Tipton, who says he realized "Find A Grave had gotten too big to run it as I always
have and I also realized that I might not be around some day ...
and I wanted to make sure it had a stable home, while still retaining
control over how it evolves. But ...
I'm hoping this gives me the opportunity to do so many of the things
that I've always wanted to do with the site now that I have some real
resources behind me."
Ancestry.com | Cemeteries
Monday, 30 September 2013 16:27:50 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, 27 September 2013
Genealogy News Corral, Sept. 23-27
Posted by Diane
Origins.net and the Devon
Wills Project have compiled a free index of pre-1858
Devon wills, administrations and inventories. Most of the records
indexed here were destroyed during World War II in 1942, according
to the site, so "the overall aim of this index is to create a
finding-aid to enable the researcher to determine what probate
materials were originally recorded." You'll get source information
for any surviving documents that match your search. The
Devon Wills Project, 1312-1891 is searchable free at Origins.net.
The free FamilySearch.org records collection has grown by 192 million indexed records
and record images from Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Spain, Switzerland, the
United States and Wales. Notable US additions include Veterans
Administration Pension Payment Cards, 1907-1933. See the full list
of new and updated collections and click through to search or browse
them from the
FamilySearch News and Press Blog.
Subscription genealogy site findmypast.com
has launched an Irish
Newspaper Collection of nearly 2 million searchable Irish
newspaper articles dating as far back as the early-to-mid 1800s .
The papers come from the British
Library and include The Belfast Morning News, The
Belfast Newsletter, The Cork Examiner, The Dublin
Evening Mail, The Freeman’s Journal and The Sligo
Champion. The collection is available on findmypast.com and
with a World
subscription on findmypast.com international sites.
Canadian roots | FamilySearch | Free Databases | International Genealogy | Newspapers | UK and Irish roots
Friday, 27 September 2013 14:29:15 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Why We Celebrate Oktoberfest in September
Posted by Diane
It's a question that burns inside my brain this time every year:
Why is Oktoberfest celebrated in September?
Here in "Zinzinnati,"
where German roots run deep, we've already had our Oktoberfest. Our
neighbors across the river in Kentucky have one this weekend. In
Munich, Germany, home of the first and largest Oktoberfest, the two-week
party wraps up the first weekend in October.
The first Oktoberfest celebrated the wedding
of Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese
of Saxe-Hildburghausen on Oct. 12, 1810.
So why September? I finally decided to look it up. In turns out the informal roots of Oktoberfest started back in
the 15th century, with beer, according to the German Beer Institute.
The brewing season in Bavaria ran from October to March. Beer brewed
during the hot season tasted bad, so in late winter, brewers would work
extra hard to make enough beer to last all summer. The high alcohol
content and storage in casks in cool cellars and caves would
preserve it. (You can get all the technical details on the German Beer
After the summer's grain was harvested, brewers needed to empty
those casks to make room for the October start of the brewing season. People were happy to
In 1810, by the date the royal wedding made Oktoberfest
official, there wasn't much beer left. Horse racing was the main
event there, and Prince Ludwig repeated the races every year on his
anniversary. Over the years, the festival was extended and combined
with finishing off the March beers, evolving into today's
party attended by millions around the world.
Proud of your German heritage? Learn more about those roots with our
Your German Genealogy Value Pack, on sale for more than 20
percent off in
German roots | Social History
Friday, 27 September 2013 10:06:59 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Thursday, 26 September 2013
Unpuzzling Your Ancestors' County Boundary Changes
Posted by Diane
Figuring out your US ancestors' county boundaries can be like doing
a puzzle with pieces that keep changing size and shape.
If one of your ancestral families settled early in what's now Morrow
county in central Ohio, for example, they conceivably could've
resided in—count 'em up—seven different counties without moving an inch:
- Morrow County was formed March 1,
1848, from Crawford, Knox, Marion, Delaware and Richland counties. (A small area went back to Richland County the next year.)
- Marion County, formed April 1, 1820, from
a "non-county" area that was attached to Delaware County (it remained attached to Delaware County for administrative purposes until 1924)
- Delaware County, formed April 1, 1808,
from part of Franklin County
- Franklin County, formed April 30, 1803,
from Ross and a non-county area; it overlapped Wayne county
- Ross County, formed Aug. 20, 1798, from
Adams, Hamilton and Washington counties
- Adams County, formed July 10, 1797, from
Hamilton and Washington counties
- Hamilton County is one of
Ohio's original counties, formed Jan. 2, 1790, from the
Northwest Territory. It expanded in 1792 with more Northwest
Territory and Washington County land.
That's seven different counties that could hold your family's
genealogy records. And this isn't even the most convoluted example
of how counties would annex land, get carved up, change their
borders and switch county seats.
County Boundary Changes webinar will show you how to figure
out where your ancestor's records should be during what time
periods, using tools such as the Newberry
Library's Atlas of Historical County Boundaries, gazetteers,
the Map Guide to the US Federal Censuses, 1790-1820, and
County Boundary Changes webinar takes place Thursday, Oct.
17, at 7 p.m. ET (6 CT, 5 MT, and 4 PT). Everyone who registers will
receive a PDF of the presentation slides and access to view the
webinar again as often as you want.
And if you register before Oct. 10, you'll save $10. Learn
more about the Unpuzzling County Boundary Changes webinar here.
court records | Research Tips | Webinars
Thursday, 26 September 2013 10:13:54 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, 24 September 2013
Genealogy Roadshow Dispels Myths, Tells (Short) Stories
Posted by Diane
Did you watch "Genealogy Roadshow" on PBS last night?
It's easy to see the "Antiques Roadshow" styling: "Genealogy Roadshow" had the
lines of people waiting to get in, the onlookers watching the expert
consultations, a host, a break to take in a few minutes of
local history (of the Belmont Mansion, where the episode was filmed), and the guests' surprised expressions.
I loved how the audience members leaned in to hear what genealogists D.
Joshua Taylor and Kenyatta Berry had to say about the guests' family
I loved how twice, another person related to the story emerged from the
audience to meet the surprised guest.
And I loved how Taylor and Berry quickly dismissed several common family claims,
such as being related to Davy Crockett, George Washington (who had
no known descendants) or Jimmy Carter. They always offered a
bright side: The husband of the woman who wasn't related to Davy
Crockett had a Revolutionary War ancestor, for example, making their children eligible for membership in the Daughters of the American
we share six common genealogy myths you'll want to avoid as
you trace your family tree.
A couple of wishes regarding "Genealogy Roadshow":
- The show was fast-paced, so there were times I wanted
more and slower visual aids to explain the connections
researchers had uncovered. We saw family trees in some cases,
but the show zoomed through them pretty quickly.
That story; the one about the tender photo of Lafayette Cox, an
African-American man, holding the little boy of the family he worked
for; and the story of Sarah Jones, a young woman who had never met
her father, were my favorites.
- I wished to spend more time on some stories. An African-American woman learned
from a letter discovered at an archive that she really is related to white
Tennessee governor Austin Peay. But who wrote the letter, and why?
And I just wanted to hear more about the
African-American family who learned their enslaved
ancestor, Dinah Bell, was brought from South
Carolina to Tennessee. A dozen or so family members of all ages
were hanging on Taylor's every word, and you could see how much
the information meant to them.
You can watch
the Nashville episode of Genealogy Roadshow online.
I can't wait to see next week's show, set in Detroit!
Do your own genealogy detective work to sort out family stories with
help from Family
History Detective: A Step-By-Step Guide to Tracing Your Family
History and The
Family Tree Problem Solver: Tried and True Tactics for Tracing
African-American roots | Genealogy TV | Research Tips
Tuesday, 24 September 2013 12:04:03 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, 20 September 2013
Genealogy News Corral, Sept. 16-20
Posted by Diane
- The National Genealogical Society is conducting a survey for
those who've attended one of its conferences, purchased one of
its publications or signed up for one of its courses. Both
members and nonmembers are invited to respond. You can take the
- FamilySearch has recently added more than 2.7
million indexed records and images from Brazil, England,
Germany, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland.
If you're researching ancestors in any of these places, visit the
FamilySearch news blog to see which collections have been
added or updated, and to click through to search or browse them.
- FamilySearch also announced that the
one millionth photo has been added to its Photos and Stories
feature on FamilySearch.org. The announcement
also includes some helpful hints about uploading photos to
Ancestry.com | FamilySearch | Genealogy societies | MyHeritage
Friday, 20 September 2013 15:46:58 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, 18 September 2013
"Genealogy Roadshow" Sept. 23 Debut Investigates Family Stories in Nashville
Posted by Diane
I've already told my husband he's kicked out of the family room for
Monday night football next week: That's when the new "Genealogy
Roadshow" premieres on PBS.
This four-episode series has hosts Kenyatta Berry and D. Joshua
Taylor revealing the truth behind participants' family stories in front of
a live audience, which should bring a fun energy to the show. (I
chuckled at this
take on the Genealogy Roadshow format.)
Monday's episode was filmed at the Belmont Mansion in
Nashville, Tenn. One guest is David Miles Vaughn, who's been doing
genealogy for five years and wants to know if his family is really
related to Davy Crockett—a tale he'd always heard growing up.
Genealogy Roadshow premieres Monday, Sept. 23, at 9/8 Central on
PBS. Future episodes are set in San Francisco, Detroit, and Austin,
Wednesday, 18 September 2013 16:31:39 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Is Your Family History Archive Ready for a Disaster?
Posted by Diane
My current family disaster plan is this:
Notice there's no room for photos or genealogy in
this procedure. Most of that stuff backed up online, although for
a lot of it, I'd have to look up where to retrieve it. And it sure
would be nice, once people and pets are safe, to be able to
save our important family papers and photos.
- Remember where in the house
the kids are.
- Run to get them.
- Yell for husband and dog.
- Leave house
(or run to basement, depending what's coming).
- Grab purse on
the way out.
But let's face it: "Do the dishes or we'll be forced to eat cereal
with our fingers" trumps "Prepare family papers for a terrible
disaster that with any luck won't ever happen" on my to-do list.
Seeing the recent devastating floods in Colorado and fires in
California has made me reconsider this non-plan for my family
history materials. Before the end of the year, I want to
Would you like to take similar steps to protect your family archive?
Disaster Preparedness Kit can show you (and me) how to do it.
- organize my paper research, documents and photos in one place
these hints from our interview with Eric Pourchot of the
American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic
- digitize everything that can be digitized (hear scanning
tips from Family Curator Denise Levenick in this Family
Tree Magazine Podcast)
- make sure it's all backed up and easily accessible
- share everything with family so multiple copies exist
- our Disaster Preparedness for Genealogists webinar with Denise
Levenick (it takes place Sept. 25, and you'll receive the
webinar recording even if you can't attend the Sept. 25
- How to Archive Family Keepsakes book by Denise
Disaster Preparedness Kit is on sale for September, which is National Preparedness
- Genealogy in the Cloud how-to article
You also can just register for the Disaster
Preparedness for Genealogists webinar here.
saving and sharing family history | Webinars
Wednesday, 18 September 2013 16:07:19 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)