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<April 2015>

More Links

# Monday, April 20, 2015
HistoryLines Website Announces Public Launch
Posted by Diane, a site that helps you create personalized life stories for your ancestors with historical context, photos and an interactive map, has officially launched to the public after several months of beta testing and a "soft launch" last week.

Co-founder Jeff Haddon says HistoryLines addresses two major "pain points" many genealogists face in sharing their ancestors' stories: The lack of detail about ancestors' lives and the time needed to compose a story from gathered research.

You can try the site for free by creating two ancestral stories. Subscriptions cost $9.99 per month or $59 per year, and if you sign up before April 30, you can save 30 percent by using code EARLYBIRD30.

You start by creating a tree, either by entering names and dates on the site, or by importing a GEDCOM or a FamilySearch family tree. I created a small tree with just my second-great-grandparents' birth and death dates and places, to see what the site would do with that basic information. Here's the start of my great-great-grandmother's story:

It weaves her life dates into a story of life at that time. It has descriptions of the local area and historical events (such as the Civil War and the Homestead Act), along with sections with information childhood, clothing, education, marriage, religion and more.

I can edit each section to include more personal information, and add pictures. Here, I've edited the "Marries" section with the church where they married. 

You also can add a section about a family member, immigration, residence or other event.

Stories are currently available for ancestors in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the United States, Denmark, and Germany from 1600 to 1950.

Haddon told me he hired college history majors to research historical events and write about them (sounds like a job I would've loved in college!) in such a way that the information would flow naturally when combined with users' family tree data.
Features new with the launch include the ability to export your ancestors' life stories in PDF format and share them on social media. You also can access source citations for the historical context that's information added to your ancestor's life story.

Genealogy Web Sites
Monday, April 20, 2015 3:13:10 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Bill Paxton Traces American Revolution Roots
Posted by Diane

Bill Paxton visits his fourth-great-grandfather's remote gravesite.

Follow along as guest blogger Sunny Jane Morton recaps last night's "Who Do You Think You Are?" episode with actor Bill Paxton, and shares links to resources for researching ancestors in the American Revolution.

From a Revolutionary War battle to the final decades of slavery in the United States, last night’s episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" on TLC spanned early American history through the life of Benjamin Sharp, the fourth-great-grandfather of celebrity guest Bill Paxton.

Genealogist Kyle Betit helped Paxton use the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Genealogical Research System, which you can use, too. It contains databases listing Patriot ancestors on whom DAR members have based their applications, descendants of those Patriots linking them to DAR members,  and more.

You can download Family Tree Magazine's tutorial for searching DAR genealogy databases from
Benjamin was only about 14 when he participated in the Revolutionary War. That’s young, but what really caught Paxton’s eye was Benjamin’s role: a spy! Paxton learned more about Benjamin’s service in the local militia at the DAR Library in Washington, D.C. Then Paxton visited King’s Mountain National Military Park in South Carolina and read Benjamin’s first-hand recollection of the battle that took place there.
Revolutionary War ancestors are fascinating, whether they were Patriots or British Loyalists. They lived in a critical but uncertain time and had to make risky decisions that could affect their families for generations. A variety of documents can tell you more about Revolutionary War service, including compiled military service records (indexed on and available on subscription site Fold3); muster rolls and payroll records (look for these on Fold3 and and pension and bounty land application records (search for free on Learn more with Researching Revolutionary War Ancestors, our video class by D. Joshua Taylor.
Bill Paxton’s ancestor’s story didn’t end with the Revolutionary War. Benjamin Sharp eventually rose through the ranks of US government service and accumulated a fair fortune. But Paxton was unhappy to learn that Benjamin owned slaves (“All our ancestors disappoint us.”). He took some comfort in knowing that Benjamin’s will, while it didn't free his slaves “Bill and Judy," did express concern for their well-being, commanding that they not be sold outside the family against their will. An 1850 census record, created after Benjamin's death, shows that the Sharp family apparently did grant Bill and Judy their freedom.
Next week is the last episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" for a while. Stay tuned for singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge, who travels to Quebec to learn more about her sixth-great-grandfather.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Military records
Monday, April 20, 2015 10:47:03 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, April 17, 2015
Genealogy News Corral: April 13-17
Posted by Diane

  • The New England Historic Genealogical Society will honor Mary Matalin and James Carville with the society's Lifetime Achievement Award for their commitment to the advancement and preservation of family history.

    The couple, known for their opposing political views and as authors of the memoir Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home, will speak on "Our American Heritage" at a benefit dinner April 24. Find more details on

FamilySearch | Genealogy Events | Genealogy societies
Friday, April 17, 2015 3:01:38 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, April 16, 2015
Free Access to Immigration Records Through April 20
Posted by Diane

Genealogy website is offering free access to the site's immigration records now through April 20 at midnight ET.

Start searching here. You'll be prompted to sign up for a free basic account after you enter an ancestor's information and click Search. It looks like in order to download the record, you'll need to start a two-week free trial. | immigration records
Thursday, April 16, 2015 3:51:35 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Wednesday, April 15, 2015
My Genetic Genealogy Test Results: What to Do Now?
Posted by Diane

I finally took a DNA test, not only to learn more about my family history but also to build my background knowledge for Family Tree Magazine's genetic genealogy coverage.

These are my ethnicity results for my Ancestry DNA test (which was provided in a press kit for TLC's "Who Do You Think You Are?"):

Thanks to Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard's article in the forthcoming July/August 2015 Family Tree Magazine, I'm not totally taken aback by these results. For example, people with German ancestry (that's me) often get results with Scandinavian heritage, even when they don't have ancestors from Scandinavia (also me).

My paternal great-grandparents were Lebanese, which probably explains the 28 percent Italy/Greece (I don't have ancestors from Italy or Greece) and the West Asian trace regions. DNA from my Irish third-great-grandparents and English fourth-great-grandparents is reflected in my Irish and British percentages.

These percentages are interesting, but not extremely helpful when it comes to genealogy research. Genetic matches are the most useful part of genetic genealogy results—if you know how to use them. I'm finding out I could use some help there.

I'm not in any DNA Circles, nor do I have any Ancestor Discoveries. A couple of matches I already knew are cousins. A couple others have trees with surnames that also are in my tree, so I can guess how we're related. But the vast majority of my matches, mostly categorized as distant cousins, either don't have an online tree, have a private tree (I'm not upset about this—I understand that plenty of folks do genealogy for themselves, not because they want to share their trees with the world), or have a public tree but no names in common with mine.

I'll randomly click through trees of matches in that last group, looking for places that also appear in my tree. I might note that a person has ancestors from Germany or Ohio or Indiana. I've emailed two or three matches (I haven't heard back). So my DNA experience has been anticlimactic so far.

There has to be a better, more-organized way.

Has your testing experience been similar to mine? Are you unsure what to do now that you have your genetic genealogy results? Or are you still thinking about DNA testing, but you want to get the most out of your results?

Our next Family Tree University weeklong workshop is for you (and me): Genetic Genealogy Bootcamp runs April 20-27, and includes six video classes (which are yours to watch whenever you want, even after the workshop is over), exclusive workshop message board discussions, and advice from genetic genealogy expert and the Genetic Genealogist blogger Blaine Bettinger.

Take a look at the Genetic Genealogy Bootcamp program at Family Tree

Genetic Genealogy
Wednesday, April 15, 2015 1:33:20 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [4]
Free Civil War Genealogy Records on Fold3 Through April 30
Posted by Diane

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War on April 9, Fold3 is making its Civil War records collection free to access through April 30.

Run a search in the collection, and when you click to view a record, you'll be prompted to set up a free basic Fold3 membership (or to sign in to your current account).

The Civil War Collection has 47 databases, including:
  • Civil War Service Records (this collection doesn't have the "Free" designation in the Civil War databases listing, but if you click it and select Union or Confederate, you'll see that the individual states are designated Free)
  • Confederate Amnesty Papers
  • Letters Received by the Adjutant General
  • Navy Widows' Certificates
  • Southern Claims (Approved, and Barred and Disallowed)
Start searching Civil War records here. Need step-by-step guidance? You can have it immediately with Family Tree Magazine's downloadable Web Guide, available in

Civil War | Fold3
Wednesday, April 15, 2015 1:20:04 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, April 13, 2015
"Who Do You Think You Are?" America Ferrera Discovers the Story of Her Honduran Ancestor
Posted by Diane

Guest blogger Sunny Jane Morton recaps last night's "Who Do You Think You Are?", with tips to help you find genealogy records the way America Ferrera did.

Actress America Ferrera (you may have watched her a few years back on "Ugly Betty" or heard her voice Astrid on "How to Train Your Dragon") is an unusual "Who Do You Think You Are?" guest because her family came so recently to the United States.

I liked feeling the immediacy of her ties to the Central American country of Honduras—her parents' birthplace—in last night’s episode. She didn’t need translation help most of the time: She could interview Spanish-speakers and read old documents herself.
America’s family history journey begins when she boards a plane to La Esperanza, Honduras, where her father died. He left her family in the United States when she was young and never came back. She wants to know why. She doesn’t get a satisfying answer from his friend (“he had emotional problems”) but is comforted to learn that her father missed his children and talked about them often. Like many people must do, she turns to the more distant past.
She ends up focusing on the story of her great-grandfather, a controversial and powerful figure in Honduran military and political history. Through his story we learn about struggles at the top levels of Honduran government in the early 1900s. His name appears in elementary school records, a census, newspapers, confidential US government reports, and even Time magazine. This makes Fererra laugh in surprise. (“My great-grandpa’s name is in Time magazine? That’s kind of amazing and insane that I didn’t know that!”)
As views inside the Honduran national archives show, many international repositories are still fairly low-tech. They haven’t digitized or indexed many of their holdings. Yet some Central American resources are online. has some digitized censuses, church and other records for Honduras (municipal censuses are called padrones; click here to learn more about them). You can find an introduction to Honduras genealogy here and overlapping resources (including the colonial censuses) at
Trace your own immigrant ancestors—wherever they were from—with our Researching Immigrant Ancestors Premium Collection. When the records you need aren't readily available online or by renting microfilm, you'll want our video class on working with foreign-language records and repositories—it'll help you with strategies from writing to overseas archives to hiring on-site researchers. 

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Hispanic Roots
Monday, April 13, 2015 9:32:59 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, April 09, 2015
Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the End of the Civil War
Posted by Diane

McLean House, Appomattox, Va.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War.

The fighting didn't immediately stop. Unaware of the surrender or of President Lincoln's assassination April 14, Union Ge. James H. Wilson and his "Raiders" took Columbus, Ga., in a battle April 16. Confederate soldiers defeated Col. Theodore H. Barrett's Union troops at the Battle of Palmito Ranch outside Brownsville, Texas, May 12.

General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman April 26 at Bennett Place, a farm in Durham, NC. Other surrenders followed, the last one being Capt. James Iredell Waddell's surrender of the ship Shenandoah Nov. 6.

President Andrew Johnson formally declared the war over Aug. 20, 1865.

In the May/June 2015 Family Tree Magazine, now mailing to subscribers, you'll find a guide to locating Southern ancestors, black and white, who were uprooted during the social and economic upheaval following the war.

You can get started tracing a Civil War soldier with these tips from

And research Civil War-era ancestors with help from these resources:

Civil War
Thursday, April 09, 2015 4:24:31 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, April 08, 2015
Scandinavian Genealogy: Chart of Patronymic Surname Suffixes in Norway, Sweden and Denmark
Posted by Diane

Patronymic surnames (formed by adding a prefix or suffix to the first name of a child's father) exist in many countries, but the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden and Denmark are perhaps best known for their patronymic naming systems.

On the plus side, patronyms give you clues to a father's name, but a surname that changes with every generation can make it hard to trace a family over time. The "rules" for creating a patronym also changed with the time, place and family.

Each Scandinavian country’s residents used different suffixes, shown in the chart below, to form their patronymic surnames. Norway generally followed the pattern of the ruling country.

The chart holds true through most of the 18th and 19th centuries. Then as countries began passing laws that mandated fixed surnames, families slowly began adopting them. Late in the 19th century, many families, especially in Denmark, began using the male extension for both sons and daughters.

Country Son Daughter
Denmark -sen -datter
-son -dotter
Norway before 1814 (Danish rule) -sen -datter
Norway 1814-1905 (Swedish rule) -son -dotter
Norway after 1905 (independence) -søn -dotter

Sorting out patronymics is just one skill you'll learn in our Family Tree University online course Scandinavian Genealogy 101, which runs April 13-May 8. The course also covers history and geography and their effect on your research, language and genealogical terminology, and church and other records of Scandinavian countries.

Learn more about Scandinavian Genealogy 101, see a course outline and register at

Research Tips | Scandinavian Roots | Swedish roots
Wednesday, April 08, 2015 1:29:52 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, April 06, 2015
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Tony Goldwyn Discovers Roots in Oregon
Posted by Diane

Thanks to guest blogger and Family Tree Magazine contributing editor Sunny Jane Morton for this recap of last night's "Who Do You Think You Are?" with actor/director Tony Goldwyn. She also offers tips for finding old newspapers, an important resource in this episode:

We don’t often get to learn much about our female forebears’ personal lives and values. Neither do we get many glimpses into our ancestors’ marriages, unless they end in scandal or divorce. But Tony Goldwyn’s episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" yesterday paints a compelling portrait of his third-great-grandparents Nathaniel and Mary Coe. And it does this with the types of documents that are available to anyone else out there willing to search for them.
As a young couple, Nathaniel and Mary Coe lived in New York. In 1838, Mary organized a ladies’ group to crusade against sexual exploitation of women. Ten years later, Nathaniel was in the state legislature, promoting an anti-rape law. Newspapers followed their efforts with varying attitudes toward their cause.
The family ended up in Oregon after Nathaniel’s presidential appointment as a US postal mail agent. Nathaniel and Mary promoted settlement of the Oregon Territory and championed the growth of their own little town. Goldwyn was disappointed to learn that his ancestors expressed a callous prejudice toward the American Indians they were displacing. But he also praised them as pioneers who were “absolutely equal and indispensable partners” in their marriage at a time when this was uncommon.
The Coes' story couldn’t have been told without newspapers. I loved watching Goldwyn page gingerly through enormous original newspaper pages with crumbling edges. "WDYTYA?" also mentioned news stories found at the subscription website (owned by show sponsor and the free Historic Oregon Newspapers website.

Another great online resource for newspapers is the Library of Congress' free Chronicling America, where you can search a sampling of digitized newspapers from across the country, as well as a comprehensive directory of all US newspapers by location, date and other categories. Learn more about newspaper research in our video class Three Cool Tools for Finding Your Family History in Newspapers, presented by Lisa Louise Cooke of Genealogy Gems.
I was more than a little envious when Goldwyn visited the Oregon Historical Society in Portland and found neatly archived boxes of original family documents. There was a scrapbook and letters that detailed the family’s adventures and challenges on the Oregon frontier. Our Libraries and Archives Web Guide download can help you work the web to search for those kinds of hidden treasures about your family that may be buried in a library or archive.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Monday, April 06, 2015 9:05:54 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]