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<April 2015>

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# Monday, April 27, 2015
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Melissa Etheridge Discovers Her French Canadian Roots
Posted by Diane

We don’t often hear family histories involving 18th-century French fur trappers living along the Mississsippi River. But that’s what singer Melissa Etheridge discovered in last night’s season-concluding episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?"
Etheridge’s mother had already researched a family tree back to Quebec in the early 1700s. So Etheridge headed to Quebec City to find out more about her sixth-great-grandfather Francois Janis. In the episode, we're told that the French were “pre-eminent takers of censuses.” I believe it, after seeing a published version of a 1716 census that named everyone in the household, their ages and relationships, the man’s occupation and the street they lived on:

This census data appears in volume 8 of Répertoire des actes de baptême, mariage, sépulture et des recensements du Québec ancient (click here to see library holdings in WorldCat for the original French publication and here to see an English-language guide to using it at the Family History Library).

At the Quebec National Archives, Etheridge digs through court documents about her fifth-great-grandfather’s sister Charlotte, who became pregnant as a teenager. Her father pressed charges against the baby’s father in both ecclesiastical and civil court. The couple eventually wed, although we learned the baby died.

You can find French Catholic church records for both Quebec and the early United States, both from the Drouin collection, at subscription site has Family Tree Magazine's guide to French Canadian genealogy research, which covers church and other essential records. We also have the Genealogy at a Glance cheat sheet to French Canadian research.

Etheridge’s fifth-great grandfather, Francois’ son Nicolas, migrated by water routes to the heart of the Midwest, where her own father grew up several generations later. He first traveled to Kaskaskia, a French fur trading town on the Mississippi River, now in Illinois. Nicolas made a good living but had to move his family across the Mississippi into Spanish territory after the Americans gained claim to lands east of the river.

Need help tracking ancestral migration routes? Check out our on-demand video class, Hints for Solving Migration Mysteries.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | French Canadian roots | Research Tips
Monday, April 27, 2015 10:03:18 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, April 24, 2015
Genealogy News Corral: April 20-24
Posted by Diane

  • A former member of's now-defunct website wrote in a Slate article that the stories, recipes and other discussions his family shared via were not exported before the site shut down last September—despite assurances to site members that their memories would be preserved. The author's relative followed the site's instructions to export the family's data, but when she recently opened the file, it contained only their photos uploaded to—no text files. You can read the article, which contains's response to the author's inquiries, here. | Genealogy Web Sites | International Genealogy | MyHeritage
Friday, April 24, 2015 4:36:42 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Using Old Maps to Answer My Genealogy Question
Posted by Diane

Genealogists love old maps. I could browse the David Rumsey Map Collection for days. But maps are more than cool to look at.

In our Use Historical Maps to Solve Research Problems webinar on Tuesday, April 28, D. Joshua Taylor will show you how to use maps as tools to figure out questions such as migrations, boundary changes, birthplace locations and more. (You might remember Josh as one of the hosts of "Genealogy Roadshow.")

Here's how old maps helped me figure out a family migration (albeit a short one) that I didn't realize had happened:

Awhile ago, I found my great-great-grandfather H.A. Seeger's May 28, 1879, mortgage record for the property at the corner of Abigail and Pendleton streets in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati (1884), Plan of Cincinnati and Vicinity by S. Augustus Mitchell, David Rumsey Map Collection

This was, I thought, the corner cigar store his family owned into the 1950s, the one my mom remembers visiting as a child, and which in the early 1980s still bore the outline of its "H.A. Seeger Cigar Manufacturer" sign. Here's its location on a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map in 1904:

Insurance Maps of Cincinnati (1904), Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Virtual Library

The street has been renamed and buildings renumbered over the years; my address timeline (taken from old records such as city directories and censuses) includes: 
  • 112 Abigail in 1879
  • 124 Abigail in 1882
  • 434 Abigail in 1896
  • 434 E. 12th in 1900
But then I found a Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper notice from June 4, 1890, of an estate sale for that building. It was part of the estate of Joseph Otten, named grantor in that 1879 mortgage along with his wife Agnes.

How could the place be up for sale, when my ancestors lived there at the time and continued to live there later?

The Ottens' wills offered no explanation, and I couldn't find evidence that H.A. Seeger purchased the property from Otten's estate.

But on this 1891 Sanborn Fire Insurance map (published closer to the time of my ancestor's property purchase), I noted a building numbered 112 six doors down from number 124 on the corner.

Sanborn Historic Maps (1891), OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons (must be an Ohio resident or have an Ohio public library card)

So my family lived at 112 Abigail from 1879 to 1882, then they moved down the street. This probably occurred to some of you—I guess it goes to show how a family story can give you genealogical blinders. The maps helped me take off my blinders.

As confirmation, I found lot numbers on this 1869 atlas:

Cincinnati part VI embracing 9th & 13th wards (1869), Titus' Atlas of Hamilton Co., Ohio From Actual Surveys by R.H. Harrison, C.E. ... , David Rumsey Map Collection

The map doesn't have building numbers, but matching it up with the 1891 Sanborn map showsthe building at 112 Abigail is on lot no. 29, the one referenced in the 1879 mortgage record. The cigar store is lot number 23. Now my genealogy to-do list includes looking for a deed for that lot (as well as re-reading the 1879 mortgage to better understand the transaction).

The cigar store has since been combined with the building on the back of the lot, as I learned from the Hamilton County Auditor site and Google Maps, and the front door relocated to the side street. 

In the Use Historical Maps to Solve Research Problems webinar, Taylor will cover map resources and tech tools that help you make the most of maps, as well as give examples for solving problems. Learn more about the webinar in

Maps | Research Tips | Webinars
Wednesday, April 22, 2015 12:34:57 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# 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 [4]
"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 [5]
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]