Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Year End Genealogy Review

As we wrap up 2015 and get ready to head into 2016, it is time to assess what you have accomplished in the past year as far as your genealogical research. Personally, I had one of the best years ever. Okay maybe not as good as the really early days when everything was new and I was building my original trees but I have been stuck in a few ruts. Those brick walls can be very hard to overcome.

Here is what I discovered this year. 

My grandmother came to the United States on the Teutonic in 1891. This record has eluded me for 30 years. It brought tears to my eyes to see her, her father John and brothers John and George on the ship as it departed Liverpool for New York on April 22, 1891. 

My ancestor Geoffrey Donahue had two more siblings that I had never known about. A brother Edmund and a sister Hannah. 

My ancestor Julia Tallant did have an older sister named Agnes and her parents are indeed Michael Tallant and Mary Moran. 

My DNA matches me to at least two people with Cavan Roots. I need to concentrate on this a little in the new year 

I am sure that there may be even more that got me thinking this year but I would say that I have broken down a few walls. 

I hope to share a lot more tips and information in the new year. May all of you who follow this blog have as much luck as I have had in breaking down those walls that keep us from getting to know our roots. Happy New Year!!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Get to Know Your Ancestor

Finding and identifying your ancestors is not always straight forward. You may know where you ancestor was or should be but when you check the local records, they aren't there. However, they may be someone else who looks familiar but has a different name. 

One thing you will find as you get deeper into your research is that names can change. There may be good reasons for the change or you may never know why they change, but change they do. 

In order to identify your ancestor you need to build an identity for them. You need to record names, places, dates, relationships, activities and characteristics. 

Relationships can be one of the most helpful things. Know who lives with your ancestors and who lives nearby. People often move in groups and this can help you to recognize when your ancestor has changed their name. 

Try not to get ahead of yourself. Gather as much information as you can about the last known location where you are certain you have the correct ancestor. 

Gather as many documents as you can. Try not to rely on only one source for any facts. Use records like death records to gather information but always be aware that they are not a primary source. 

Once you have your ancestor surrounded by family, friends and neighbors you will be in a better position to follow them back to their previous location. 

Use the census to see who was living in the same community with your ancestor and also who was in the house. Never assume relationships. A child living with a family may not be their child, it can be a relative, neighbor or an orphan. 

Try to avoid going on a fishing expedition, be systematic in your research. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Godfrey Memorial Library Middletown, Conn.

Godfrey Memorial Library was founded in 1951 and it has been helping people to trace their roots ever since. With over 200,000 pieces in their collection, they have a lot to offer. 

I have spent many hours here in their Family History Center using microfilm to look at records. For years I was here every Monday night for at least 2 hours. At that time, Monday was the night they had extended hours. I used to rush out at closing to get home for Dancing with the Stars. 

The procedure has changed for ordering films from the Family History Center but it is still very much a part of the services offered. 

One of the main reasons people use the Godfrey library is the AGBI (American Genealogical Biographical Index). This was compiled by A. Fremont Rider who founded the Godfrey. It is an index of about 4 million ancestors to today's American families. 

You don't have to come to Middletown to access the records that the Godfrey has. You can become a Godfrey Scholar and have access to many things online. You can also send in requests for research. 

If you live locally, by all means stop by, you will be amazed at the scope of the collection. If you have time on your hands, volunteers are always needed. 

Check out their website to see what they have to offer. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Looking for Naturalization Records in the United States

When our ancestors left the old world to come to the new world they often wanted to forget where they came from. Many of them (men) wanted to become American citizens. To do this they had to file papers with the government of the United States. This was done through the court usually on a town level.

The reason I say just men is that until women received the vote they didn't file naturalization for the most part, they just became whatever nationality their husband was. 

Naturalization papers can hold some valuable information but there was not a standard form until the Naturalization Act of 1906 was passed.  After 1906 the record includes a photo which may be one no-one has ever seen before, that alone is quite interesting. 

In the 1800's Massachusetts had a particularly good naturalization form with great information about the age, birth place and dates that apply to your ancestor and include who sponsored them. Connecticut on the other hand is useless except to tell you when they applied. 

You will need to check your state to see how useful they can be. 

Now where to find them. Check the National Archives  to see if they have the ones you are looking for. Some have been donated to them. Then check the State Archives for your state and finally you may actually have to go out to the courthouse where the event happened. 

This seems like a lot of work, it is. But if you get what I got from mine of Cornelius Donahue in Massachusetts, his birth date, place of birth and date he arrived you will realize it is worth the effort. Especially with illusive Irish ancestors this can be the key to locating their place of origin in Ireland. 

The person who sponsored them can also be a key to relationships. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

French Canada and the Filles du Roi

Who were the Filles du Roi? Don't get excited like I did when I found that I had one in my genealogy, they are not really daughters of the King. Actually I have about 10 in my lines which should be the first clue that the King of France was not their father. 

Filles du Roi were the 17th century equivalent of a mail order bride. Unlike the British colonies to the south, Quebec was not primarily settled by families, it was mostly young single men. They were in a sort of indenture to the seigneurs who owned large tracts of land. In exchange for their passage to New France and a designated number of years of service they would be given land. For most of them, this was a dream come true and could never have happened in France. 

Among the families who did emigrate, there were not enough daughters to provide wives for all the settlers and the fear of the ever growing British colonies to the south made it imperative that an alternative be found to provide young fertile brides. The solution was the Filles du Roi. 

Who were these woman who came to the colony? Most of them were orphans or widows. Did a few girls decide to leave their lives of sin and poverty behind to make a fresh start, yes but most were virtuous. Among the requirements to receive the 50 livres dowry from the King was that you were recommended by your parish priest and had a baptism certificate. 

When the girls arrived in Canada, they were taken under the care of nuns and local woman who keep them in dormitories until they had made their choice. It was the women who decided which man would be their husband. They were pretty picky too if the records are any indication. They often got engaged and several broke the engagements even multiple times before settling on their mate. 

Since the first stop was in Quebec it is a long held belief, at least in Quebec, that all the good looking ones were chosen first and those who went to Montreal were not the pick of the crop. I am sure this is not actually true, what men were looking for beyond looks was a woman who understood farm work and had the look of a good breeder.

According to an article on Ancestry.com on October 27, 1667, in a letter to Colbert, Jean Talon confirms the recent arrival of the first young ladies whose number was to remain small: “Instead of the 50 that your despatch had me hope for, 84 young girls were sent from Dieppe and 25 from La Rochelle. There are fifteen or twenty from quite good families; several are real young ladies and quite well brought up. If you continue in plans to send French young ladies here with a fine and noble education, six or eight will be sufficient according to me." 

The same article also quotes Mother Marie L'Incarnation a nun whose diary provides much information about the early French colony, "We no longer wish to ask for only country girls, as capable of working as men are. Experience has shown that those who have not been raised to it are not suitable here.”

Over a 10 year period 1663 and 1673 between 800 and 1200 young woman came to Canada. Not all of their names are known and among the women who came during that period it is not always obvious which ones were Filles du Roi.While not all the women actually stayed and got married, more than 750 did and most people with French Canadian roots will find them among their ancestors.  

While the majority of the girls were from the lower classes, several of them were of noble or elevated birth. It is hard to imagine the courage it took to come to a savage land so far from home. These brave women helped to populate the country and in the process raised the population from 3,000 in the early 1660s  to 9,000 at the end of the 1670s. 

Here is a list that you can check to see the names of the Filles du Roi in your ancestry. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

French Canadian Genealogy You Are So Lucky

Yes you read that right, if you are French Canadian or have even a little French Canadian blood you should be thanking your lucky stars. Trust me when I tell you, this is one of the easiest nationalities to research and also one of the most exciting. 

Even though you probably think that you are French chances are, you have other nationalities mixed in. Quebec was as much of a melting pot as the United States and you may find that you have Swiss, Belgian, German, Irish, English, Native American, Portuguese and Polish in addition to your French routes. 

I am 25 percent French Canadian but in the 25 percent I have Swiss and English. In my Irish Canadian 25 percent I have German, French and Native American. To say that these distort my percentages is an understatement. 

The hardest thing for most Americans is getting back into Canada. Once your research has gotten back into Canada it can move quickly. You will look up your most recent Canadian ancestor by his or her last name and then you will look for the correct one by the spouse. (in the Blue Drouin) Once you find them, most of the time the records will have both sets of parents. And so it goes, in half an hour you can go three or four generations down the direct line.

Ancestry has purchased the rights to publish the Drouin records which are the records from 1621 to 1968. 
 Most French Canadian societies will have a set of the marriages in book form. Known as the Blue Drouin there is one set that is indexed by men and one set indexed by women. This is where most of us will start our research. 

If you have no society near you then you can use Ancestry however, it is harder because you are not looking at a nice index, you are looking at the original record and it is in French with often difficult handwriting. 

Knowing the the town or parish of your ancestors will of course be a help. If you have a society near you, they most likely will have a book for the parish where your family is from. It is always easier to search in a small book rather than the very large Blue Drouin. 

I will discuss French Canadian genealogy more in future posts.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Making Your Genealogy Portable

In the process of doing research, you are going to end up with a lot of notes, photos. forms and documents. Some of them will be digital, well these days all of them can be digital if you scan them and place them online or at least in your computer program or on Ancestry. However, I am still old fashioned and I keep paper records. 

I will tell you that my paper records survived our fire and helped me reconstruct my genealogy when my computer and backup were lost. It makes me a little paranoid. But while this is a valid reason for keeping paper records the main one is much simpler. Portability. 

When you are heading to a research facility it is nice to just have your note book with you. 

I use a loose leaf with clear plastic sheets and I have one for each of my grandparents. Their ancestors are in their book with copies of pictures and copies of all important document. I put the pedigree chart in the first slot with highlighted areas where I am missing information. So say I am missing the death of a 4th great grandmother you can look at this pedigree chart and at a glace see where I need to be working. 

This is just my way of doing things, you can certainly come up with your own. You can of course bring your tablet or computer which I see people doing but for me, I would rather just bring the notebook and not worry about protecting my property. I can't imagine anyone wanting to steal my loose leaf.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Genealogy Roadshow Review

Every day Americans now have a chance to have the assistance of professionals in answering some of their most difficult genealogical questions. The show goes to different cities and is very much like 'Who Do You Think You Are" except that you don't have to be a star to get on the show.

On the other hand, you need to have a history that is interesting for people to watch or you can be sure you won't make it onto the show. The Second Season of the show premiered of Tuesday January 13, 2015 in the city of New Orleans. In the weeks following the show was in St. Louis and in Philadelphia.

Three experts are available to help, Kenyatta D. Berry, Joshua Taylor and Mary Tedesco. Kenyatta is a great help to African/Black Americans who are trying to trace their roots. This can get very emotional especially when it leads back to slaves.

Check your local PBS station to find out when this show is being offered. If you are fascinated by genealogy and looking for tips to help you in your own search this show is interesting.

There is a application that needs to be filled out to be considered for the show. They ask a lot of questions and also want to know what you look like. Season 3 has already started filming and will be shown in Spring 2016. 

Now my review, much like Who Do You Think You Are, Genealogy Roadshow simplifies the process that goes into finding information. While most places you will research will welcome you, you are not going to be greeted by experts who will do all the work for you. You also may not find any famous or infamous people in your line.

Having said that, Genealogy Roadshow has plenty of entertainment value and if you can even get one idea from each show to help you in your own research then it is certainly worth watching. Just don't expect to have the amazing result that they get, it just isn't realistic even though it is "reality" TV. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Why Research Your Family Tree?

Everyone has a different reason for researching their family tree. It may just be curiosity about where your family is from or about the medical history of your family.  It may be that an assignment comes home from school and you need to answer some family questions. It might be that you want to verify a family story or join a group like the DAR or the Mayflower Society. Whatever your reason, get ready for a bumpy ride!!


School assignment

It may be that one of your children came home from school with the assignment to produce a family tree. If this is not something that you have ever really thought about it can seem quite overwhelming especially if you are not particularly close to your family. 

The first thing to do is to call the family genealogist, almost every family has one. In my family that is me and I get these types of call regularly from all sides of the family. 

Medical Genealogy

It may be a question posed by your  doctor about whether there is a history of the condition in your family that starts your search. A medical genealogy is a little different than a regular genealogy. You will be more interested in getting the death information than anything else. The kind of things you will want to know is what your ancestors died from and how old they were when they died. 

Once you get back 100 years or more you will need to learn some new medical terms because often conditions that we know now by one name were called something else in the past.

Applying for a foreign passport

There are foreign countries that allow you to have citizenship and apply for their passport, Irish and Italian are two that are quite common. You must prove that you are of their nationality within a certain number of generations. You will have to provide a genealogy included official documents to prove that you are eligible.

Becoming a member of a society

If one of your ancestors fought in the American Revolution, you can become a member of the DAR. This is just one of many societies that are prestigious enough that people are willing to do a lot of genealogical research to join. Another one that is heard quite often is the Descendants of the Mayflower or the Mayflower Society. 

To be able to trace your ancestry back to the Mayflower is quite an accomplishment and many famous Americans fit into this category. Don't worry if your roots are not that deep, there are many societies for immigrants from a variety of countries and cultures.


The main reason that most people research their family tree is to find out where their roots are. Some families have a very deep history that is spoken about and in other families it is a deep dark secret. 

Starting to research your family tree is an exciting hobby that can take years of hard work and is frankly never finished. The Internet has made research much easier than in the past and chances are if you start looking at genealogy websites you may just meet a family member you never knew you had who is searching the same family as you are.

Be forewarned, searching for your family tree can be addictive and it has been known to cause frustration, elation and amazement. You can never be completely sure what you will find, but whatever you find it will be your history and something that will help you to understand where you came from.