Thursday, December 22, 2016

Happy Holidays

Like most other people, I am very much in holiday mode and also in snowbird mode. I will not be adding any new posts until I land in Florida but I have some great ideas so stay tuned. Just one tip, use the holidays to talk to the relatives. Pick everyone's brain. You have no idea if you don't ask who has memories or knowledge that can help you out. Talk about old pictures, family get-togethers from older family member's childhood. This is a golden opportunity to get some great hints that can send you off in new directions. 

Happy Holidays to everyone and I will see you all the second week in January. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

NERGC 2017 Update

The lasted news from the NERGC is that registration for the conference is now open. Early birth pricing is in  effect until February 28, 2017. You can also download the 20 page conference brochure. Registration for the basic conference is $120 and then any additional meals or workshops are additional. The fee for registration after the early bird date is $150.

This year, I am finding that I really want to do Wednesday and some of the workshops, without any food my total came to $227 and I am thinking I want to attend at least one of the banquets.

This year a continental breakfast buffet is also offered at the conference center. At $14 that adds up quickly.

You can look at the brochure and see all the lectures that will be offered and all the other workshops etc. If you are planning to attend, this is the time to guarantee that you get any of the special things booked. You should have already reserved your hotel room at either the Marriott or the Sheraton. 

More updates will follow, look forward to seeing you there. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

England genealogy-Non-conformist registers

The non-conformist registers consist of a variety of non-traditional sources for information on people who didn't belong to the state sponsored religion in England, Scotland and Wales. 

In England for several hundreds of years, the Anglican Church or Church of England was the official religion of the realm. Since civil registration only began in 1836, when you are looking to trace your ancestors before that time, you will be using the baptism, marriage and burial records from the local church as your source. What if you don't find your ancestor where they are supposed to be living? 

It may be that they are baptized in a village nearby but another option is that they were not members of the church of England. These people are often referred to as non-conformists and the churches they may have attended probably kept records of their baptisms, marriages, and burials. Keeping in mind that Baptists don't do infant baptism. 

Sources included are Methodists, Wesleyans, Baptists, Independents, Protestant Dissenters, Congregationalist, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Quakers (Society of Friends), Dissenters and Russian Orthodox. Maternity Records. Overseas Records. Early Birth Registers plus various other BMD records. is a website that offers a searchable database of these records. I found it helpful to have another place to look for those elusive records. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Who Do You Think You Are UK

If you have never watched this show on Youtube you are missing out on some great ideas. It has been on for more than 10 years and there are lots and lots of shows to watch. I don't know many of the people whose genealogy they are doing but I have learned something interesting and enjoyed every one that I have watched. 

I have learned about records that I never knew existed, I have learned about historic events that I was unaware of and I have gained a much deeper knowledge of where to look for records. 

It is free to watch these videos on Youtube. Nothing interesting is on TV, grab your laptop, phone or tablet and spend 48 minutes enjoying this wonderful British show. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Ordering certificates from the GRO online

What is the GRO? If you have ancestors from England, you recognize this as the General Register Office. In America, this would be the town hall or courthouse that holds records such as births, marriages, and deaths. Records date back as far as 1837 when it was required by law to register these events. Prior to this time, most records are held by the local parish. 

It is quite simple to order copies from England online. For many of my ancestors, I actually ordered the records in London and then had them mailed home. You can't just walk in and ask for a certificate, you have to order it.  

In order to order it, you will need to find the record that you want to order. You need to know what district the event was registered in and the page number. You can find this information by going to the BMD register online.

You search for the event you are looking for by name. Be creative. I ended up having to search by surname name (last name) only to find what I wanted. It takes a little determination but be persistent and think outside the box. 

The cost is £9.25 per certificate which includes the cost of mail. This is inexpensive when you consider the alternative, a trip to England.

This sounds easy and ordering from the GRO is easy. Getting the correct certificates, however, is not so easy and I tell you honestly that I have ordered quite a dew that turned out not to be for the person I was looking for. How can this happen? When it comes to marriages you are assuming that it is your ancestor but you are only seeing the name of one person getting married. When the certificate arrives, you will see the parents names and this may end up being the wrong person. 

So far, however, all the certificates have been for people who ended up being related in one way or another. I have two certificates that I just ordered and received and even though I didn't get the answer I was hoping for, I have no regrets.  


Monday, November 14, 2016

DNA and what it can tell you

Last year, I was approached online through my Gedmatch account by two people who I share DNA with. Both of them have roots in Cavan. I have no Cavan roots that I am aware of. 

Last week, I saw a new match on Gedmatch. It was at 3.7 generations. In DNA terms, that is pretty good, it means we probably share 2nd great grandparents. I shot off an email to the woman and yesterday she responded. She shares my 2nd great grandparent with me. They are my County Laois family, the O'Çonnells, Tallants, and Morans. This is the part of my family I thought most likely came from Cavan since Laois is a lot closer to Cavan than Kerry. 

To prove this, I did a one to one kit test on Gedmatch between both of the people who are related to me. They are not related to each other and the chromosome on which our matching DNA is located is not the same either. 

That blew that theory all to heck but it did show me that I might be able to isolate the chromosome for certain names in my genealogy. I will be working on this for the immediate future. If I come to any conclusions, I will let you know. 

In the mean time, I am again realizing that things are often not the way you would think they should be in genealogy and making assumptions is never a wise thing to do. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Wisbech & Fenlands Museum

Located in the market town of Wisbech, Cambridgeshire the Wisbech & Fenland Museum offers not only a very fine small museum of the Fens but is the caretaker of many records of interested to genealogist and historians. To find out which parish registers are held by the museum you can check their website.

In addition, they have a collection of maps, manorial records, local government records, diaries, estate and business records and much more. They have the sort of records that can add some meat to the bare bones of genealogical research. The registers on micro film are available to be viewed in a special room in the museum. Beyond just the genealogical aspects, the museum has many interesting exhibits to enjoy. 

The noted abolitionist Thomas Clarkson was born in Wisbech and many things that relate to him can be found in the cases. One treasure not to be missed is an original copy of Charles Dicken's Great Expectations. Roman items recovered in excavations and a case of advertising items taken from one store in town are also on display along with lots of posters and cardboard food packaging from yesteryear. A display of photos of buildings in Wisbech and the surrounding area is of particular interest.

One that was of interest to me was of the Wisbech workhouse where many local people died including an ancestor. Robert Bell was quite knowledgeable about it and was able to say that it was the only hospital in town in that time period. If you find a record that gives the workhouse as the place of death, it may very well mean that the individual was brought there as a patient and was not necessarily a resident of the workhouse.

The museum has a small store with a collection of postcards and books on local topics. It is open year round with the exception of the first few weeks of January. If you would like to visit during that time, contact the assistant curator Robert Bell. He will be able to help you to arrange a time to visit.

I have used this museum several times and it has added greatly to my knowledge about my grandmother’s family.

Monday, October 31, 2016

What you will find at the Connecticut State Library

The Connecticut State Library is located in Hartford, Connecticut. References and Collections are open Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Library also includes the state archives as well as the Museum of Connecticut History. In addition, there are many records that will be of interest to anyone who traces their roots to the state of Connecticut.

The Archives is a secured collection that can be accessed by using a catalog of the holdings. What you can expect to find are personal papers, land records, probate court records and a whole lot more. The records cover the period from as early as 1631. A significant number of church records are available, especially for the Congregational Church. Fewer records for other Protestant denominations including Episcopal and Baptist are available. In some cases, these early church records take the place of civil records.
Additionally, there are many town records including town meetings, where your ancestor may be mentioned, benevolent society records and school society records.

The Early General Records include records from the founding of Connecticut through 1820. These are the official record of the colony. Proceedings from the General Assembly, early deeds, turnpike records and land records through 1846. Many of the records have been microfilmed and require special permission to access.

To find out the full collection of the archives, the website for the Connecticut State Library offers a very good listing.

The Archives are just the starting point when it comes to what records are available at the Connecticut State Library. Many indexes to materials that are vital to doing genealogical research in Connecticut are offered. One of the first places to look is the Barbour Collection. This is an index to early vital records. You can search for your surname in the index and may be surprised by what you find. The Hale Collection of newspaper marriage and death notices and cemetery inscriptions are also available. The collection includes many family bibles as well and the inscriptions are indexed.

The library is a treasure trove of information on people who have resided in Connecticut. If you ancestor arrived on a ship, which many did, the records could be here. If they naturalized in the state, the records may also be held here. Just a note about naturalization records in Connecticut, they do not contain a great deal of information, they are however, just another fascinating document that most people want to include in their records.

The Library has a wonderful collection of town directories which are an often forgotten source of great information about your ancestors including their address and their occupation.

The library has a great photo collection as well. You never know what you are going to find that may relate to your ancestor. Before coming to The Connecticut State Library, take the time to look over the website to give yourself ideas of what is available and for records you may not even have thought about. Staff members are always available to help out. Be prepared however, not all records are held at the Hartford location. You may need to go to another branch to find the records that you are interested in.

Monday, October 24, 2016

When DNA is not what you expected

DNA has added a whole new dimension to genealogy. It can help open doors that have been closed for years. It can connect you with members of your family both close and distant. But, it can also open some doors that have not opened in many years. 

It just happened to me recently and I wanted to share this possibility. Another ancestry member asked why I had searched and added a fact to my genealogy. I responded that it was a relative. This led to extensive communication. We are second cousins once removed. This is very exciting especially since this is a branch of the family I have had limited experience with. 

Of course, we shared our kit numbers so we could see our relationship on Gedmatch. No close connection. Now, what? According to our DNA results, we are not cousins. Where does that leave us?  

We did try some adjustments to the test results and did show a relationship. But I also was able to see a relationship with Al,  so this doesn't prove anything except that we are both of European descent. 

Just a few years ago, we would have gone on in ignorant bliss and exchanged family information. I have decided to ignore the DNA, We are still part of the same family and we have a lot of information to share and I am thinking that what if the DNA is wrong? Autosomal DNA is not foolproof. After a generation or two, it is very fickle. 

Someone contacted me from Gedmatch last year because they matched Kasey, well if you match Kasey you should match me (it was my side of the family) but no, they didn't match me. 

I also recently corresponded again with someone whose Mitochondrial DNA is an identical match for mine. We know where we connect, it is our Native American ancestry. We also share an early Bernier. However, again, no relationship according to Gedmatch. Again, we know this is wrong, the Mito proved that but it also proves that DNA comes down to us in ways we are only starting to understand and it is not always the same.  

I would rather enjoy these cousins than be silly and say we have no relationship based on a DNA test that may or may not be correct. DNA may not have all the answers. There is much more to genealogy than just DNA, there is family. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Returning to the Irish Catholic Parish Record

I have been researching in the Irish Catholic Parish Records on the National Library of Ireland(NLI) again. For Irish genealogists, this is a breakthrough that most of us never anticipated we would get, being able to research from our homes. 

However, in order to take advantage of this wonderful gift that we have been given, you need to know the "Holy Grail" of Irish genealogy, your ancestor's townland or at the very least their county of origin. 

I have been lucky in my research, our family lore told me that the Donahues were from Killarney and relentless research has given me the Talents and O'Connells in Queens County( now county Laois). You have to leave no stone unturned in your search for this information. What stones does that involve?

Every birth, baptism (and be sure the write down the godparent's names) death, obituary (check pall-bearers) and marriage (note the witnesses). Not just for your ancestor, for every sibling. Check the people who live around them, especially soon after they arrived from Ireland. People tend to go to areas where they know someone or where people from back home live. The census is your friend in this endeavor.

Check the Boston Pilot for advertisement, friends and relatives took ads out looking for loved ones. Depending on when your ancestor came, the World War I draft records or the SSI index can provide important information. 

Naturalization records can also provide important information but it really depends on which state they naturalized in. Immigration records are potentially helpful as well, though, unless your ancestor has an unusual name, it is hard to tell which one is your ancestor. A name like John Murphy will give you dozens of possibilities

Don't forget to talk to every relative you can locate. You never know what stories have passed down through other branches of the family. 

If you can at least narrow it down to the county then you need to try to figure out the date of birth. If your family is anything like mine, the dates will never be obvious. Every census changes the possible birthdate. Just get the info all together and that will be your date range. 

Now, without parents names, how do you figure out who the parents actually are? One way is to check the names of the children. While it is not a sure way to get the parents names, many Irish families follow a naming pattern. The first son is named after the father's father and first daughter after the wife's mother. The second son is named after the mother's father and the second daughter is after the father's mother. One side of my family uses this pattern, the other does not so it is a crap shoot but what the heck, it is the best shot you have. 

Every record you look at has layers of information, if you can scan it, you will have it all at your fingertips but at the very last write down every single thing. With the parish records, you can print the screen shot and keep it in your files so that you can look at it again any time you need it. 

Be prepared to strain your eyes reading the records in the NLI Catholic Parish Records. Some of the records are in Latin and others are in terrible shape and even worse handwriting but even with that, they are worth spending days, weeks, months and even years looking through. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Godfrey Library: Computer Skills

October 26th - Computer Skills for Genealogists Group 1:00 p.m.- 2:00 p.m. Many of our patrons do not feel so confident using computers. Join us at the library for ongoing informal research sessions focused on computer skills for genealogists. Get tips for conducting online research, saving and editing documents, citing material found online, using family tree software, etc... 

Bring your laptop to make the most out of this useful information. Meetings are free to Godfrey Premium members and take place every 4th Wednesday. No pre-registration necessary.

Monday, October 10, 2016

A rose by any other name in Irish baptism records

For years I was looking for my 2nd great grandmother Julia Tallant. I know her name is Julia, is has always been Julia. But 25 years ago when I went to the Irish research center in Tullamore, the only person they found was Judith Tallant. Well, her name wasn't Judith it was Julia. 

I did take the information that they gave me, her parents Michael Tallant and Mary Moran and see how they fitted into my genealogy. At least three Morans are godparents for Julia's children with William O'Connell. These parents make sense for Julia but her name is not Judith. The date of the baptism also matches very well with all the occasions where she gives her age. 

Fast forward 25 years. We now have access to all the Irish baptism records through the National Library of Ireland. I began looking at the registers myself. I found the marriage of Michael and Mary Moran, I found the baptism of Judith and another daughter Agnes. I continued to look for other children which I never found but I did notice one thing as I looked through the register, in the church, there were no Julias to be found, none , nada, zero. There were, however, lots of Judiths.  

This has led me to the conclusion that Julia must not be considered a saint's name and the priest entered a saints name in the book, Judith. It would have been better had he made it Mary Julia but since he didn't there is no other explanation for the total lack of Julias, it is a very common name. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Wrong Information and how to handle it

Not all genealogists are created equal. I am not trying to sound judgemental but you are going to find some information that just is not correct put out on sites like I am very frustrated by this sort of carelessness especially by people who are always offering information to other people. 

If you haven't come up against this yet, you will. You can't remove their information you can only ask them to correct what they have put up. Some people will not change the information even if you offer irrefutable proof that what they have is incorrect. It is very frustrating.  

What makes it worse, is if the people they have wrong are your ancestors but not theirs. Why do they have your ancestors on their genealogy if they are not related to them? They may be connected at some point and they decide to add information to collateral  people in their genealogy. 

People are always asking me why I have my family tree hidden on Ancestry. I will share it with people who are related but I have spent years collecting this information and I cherish it. 

Genealogy is not a fast process, it takes years of dedication. Information needs to be sourced and proven. It is easy to jump to wrong conclusions, it happens but those things we don't put out as facts until we are sure or as sure as we can be. 

If you are not going to make sure that your information is not 100% sourced and correct, keep it to yourself please and don't muddy the water with guesses. Okay, I am done ranting for the day. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Obituaries are an underused source of information

When I started working on my genealogy, I knew nothing but my grandparents names, I didn't know them, The very first thing I did was to read my grandmothers obituary in the newspaper. It was not a lot of help but my grandfathers was much more useful. 

When you don't know the siblings of your ancestors, reading an obituary is one way to get their names. Often obituaries list the siblings, both those who are living and those who are deceased. It also givies the married names of the females which is a big help. 

Obituaries of course, are not a primary source. There is no telling who gave the information to the newspaper, it might have been a child or a bereaved spouse. Some will have incomplete information and some may be downright wrong but they are fascinating to read, especially in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. They are very flowery and you will learn a lot about the funeral service, flowers and what church they attended if any. 

You will also see where they were buried. 

I began at the local library and spent many fruitful hours pouring over old newspaper films. It is hard work but it is also very rewarding. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Gems to be found on death certificates

When most people are looking at civil records, they tend to head for the births and marriages. While these are filled with good information, the death certificate can be a wealth of information as well. But, and I can't stress this enough, it is not a primary source on anything but the date of death and cause of death. 

Why you ask? This is a public record. Yes, it is, but, the person who knows the answers to some of the questions is deceased. You can't count on the person who gave the information to know the exact date of birth, place of birth and parents name. While Aunt Mable may know when her mother said she was born, she doesn't know it as a fact, she wasn't there!!

So, you have to keep this information and use it as a jumping off point but don't accept it as fact, just possible fact. Please note however who gave the information, this can be very important. It may also give the relationship of the respondent to the deceased. 

When I was starting out, I began by using death certificates. They are the easiest and cheapest to acquire and they have enough information to put you on a path to follow. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

What funeral home and undertaker records offer genealogists

Finding a local funeral home's records can be challenging. Do you think I use the word challenging too often? I think I do but honestly, it is the perfect word for most searches in genealogy. 

Which funeral home

The first challenge will be to figure out which funeral home is the correct one. If it is a small town, there will likely only be one but if the city is moderate in size, there may be several. In the case of Middletown, Conn. where many of my ancestors were buried, there was more than one. Which one was used seems to have been determined by nationality, religion and time period.


While most people used an undertaker, not all undertakers were affiliated with a funeral parlor which complicates things. 

Where are the records

If things haven't seemed challenging up to this point, things are going to get really complicated now. If the funeral parlor is still in business, give them a call and ask them where the records are. If they are not in business, check with the local library, historical society, a local genealogical library, or any other place where they could be stored. Don't be surprised if you can't locate them. 

What they may contain

Now if you are lucky enough to find the records they may reveal some very interesting information. I found out that my 2nd great grandmother was 5'7 inches tall and my second great grandfather was 6 feet tall. This was information that I would have never found anywhere else. And, since I have no photos of these people, I had no idea how tall they were. 

You will also find out how much their funeral cost them. This tells you a lot about their financial situation. It may also give a lot of details about the casket, horses, and carriages used etc. Fascinating stuff. 

The date of death, place of burial, burial date, cause of death, where they died, and next of kin may also be listed. Some even have a little map showing where the grave is and which grave in the plot was used. But, there is no guarantee that any of this will be included, it is just things that I have seen over the years.

In our genealogical research, we like to leave no stone unturned and funeral parlor records are one stone you may not have considered. When it comes to adding flesh to your genealogy, it can be very helpful. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Events presented by the Fairfax Genealogical Society

Monday, September 12, 10:00 a.m. Entering Information onto Find-a-Grave presented by Linda MacLachlan, at the Mount Vernon Genealogical Society at Hollin Hall, rm 214, 1500 Shenandoah Road, Alexandria, VA. Purpose of the workshop is to learn how to add information onto the Find-A-Grave website. The class will be taught in room 214, the MVGS Research Center. The class is limited to 12 folks. There are 7 PC’s in the room that people can use. The remaining 5 people will need to bring their own laptops.
Registration is required. Online registration is available on the MVGS events page at If you have training questions or problems, please email Amy Breedlove at
Monday, September 12, 1:00 p.m. New England Deeds and Probate Records: A Powerful Combination webinar presented by Marian Pierre-Louis, at the Mount Vernon Genealogical Society at Hollin Hall, rm 214, 1500 Shenandoah Road, Alexandria, VA. Did you know that all the members of a family may be named in an old deed? Have you ever tried to get a close-up view of what your ancestors wore and the tools they used from an estate inventory? Learn how to use the records in New England Registry of Deeds and Probate Court to further your genealogical research. Deed and probate records can help resolve brick walls as well add breadth to your ancestor’s personal story.
Saturday September 17, 9:30 a.m. What's So Important about Citing My Sources presented by Julia Coldren-Walker at the Washington DC Family History Center, 10000 Stoneybrook Drive, Kensington, MD. Why the common excuse "But I am just doing this for my own family" is NOT acceptable for the family genealogist. Documenting your sources is as important if not more so than the actual information you have. Citations allow the reader to find the documents you used and evaluate them for themselves. It also allows you to retrace your steps 5 months or 10 years later. An outline of the basic information you need to provide the reader and how to cite it.
Tuesday, September 20, 1:00 p.m. Beating the Odds: Using Indirect Evidence in Problem Solving presented by Vic. Dunn, at the Mount Vernon Genealogical Society at Hollin Hall, rm 112, 1500 Shenandoah Road, Alexandria, VA. Calling all of you who have brick walls, and who doesn't? Come see how one professional genealogist uses various types of indirect evidence to "prove" relationships where there is no direct evidence that does so. He'll use real-life examples that you can adapt for your own research.
Thursday, September 22, 7:30 p.m. Fairfax Genealogical Society meeting program Introduction to Jewish Genealogy presented by Lara Diamond at Kilmer Middle School, Lecture Room G-107, 8100 Wolftrap Road, Vienna, VA. The presentation will include online sources and documents not yet online for both the U.S. and Europe and will cover some basic knowledge critical to researching one's Jewish roots. Examples of the types of data that can lead back to discovering one’s European towns of origin will be discussed, as well as an overview of the types of documents that exist within Europe.
Saturday, September 24, 10:00 a.m. DAR Genealogy 101 – New York Military Records presented by Tom Ragusin, Genealogist, NSDAR, at DAR Headquarters - 1776 D Street, NW O'Byrne Gallery, Washington, DC. Don’t know where to find New York military records, or even what type of New York military records are out there? Join us to find out!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Godfrey Library: Immigrant ancestors

September 16th- Special Interest Group for researchers seeking Immigrant Ancestors 9:30 a.m.- 10:30 a.m. at the library Join us at the library for ongoing informal research sessions focused on skills for genealogists seeking ancestors in their countries of origin. This is a great opportunity to ask questions and get suggestions from Godfrey staff and group participants. Discover resources at the library, other archives, and online databases. 

Get help doing research as you learn! Coordinators for these sessions have experience with finding ship manifests & naturalization documents and using vital records from other countries. Bring your laptop to make the most out of this useful information. Meetings are free to Godfrey Premium members and take place every 3rd Friday. 

No pre-registration necessary. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Using early census records in genealogy

Early census records are valuable to genealogists in the search for family information. In the United States, the first recorded census is 1790. In Canada, in the Province of Quebec there is an early census that were taken in 1666 and the first national census was in 1871. In the United Kingdom, the first national is in 1841. While these are probably the best known censuses, they are by no means the only ones done or the only ones whose records have been preserved. Many other countries in Europe also took censuses and the records have been preserved in many cases. So don't despair if you don't have ancestors on the ones mentioned, it doesn't mean that you won't find one for the country you are interested in researching.

Not all early censuses are created equal however. In many of the very early ones, only men were enumerated which is not helpful if you are trying to locate females. You never know what gems you will be able to glean from these records so it is important to look them over carefully. You can place them in an area on a given day in a particular year and that is huge. Remember however, you don't know who provided the information to the enumerator, you can't take these records as the gospel truth, they are merely fascinating hints.

The first step when researching with censuses is to try to have a blank copy of the record available so that you understand exactly what the information is in each column. That 25 you are seeing can be an age, the value of property or the acres of land owned depending on the census. It can even be the number of years that the respondent has lived in the country of the census. Never assume you know what each column means, be sure.

In the US census, an important column is one that asks if they are a citizen. This leads to another document you can look for, naturalization. Don’t expect to find naturalization records for women since before they had the right to vote, they didn’t have to naturalize, they automatically became citizens when their husbands or fathers did.

In the early UK census, one record that can be a great help is whether or not the respondent was born in the county where the record was taken. It is only a yes or a no response but it can save you a lot of useless work to know that while your ancestor may live in Yorkshire, they were not born there. If you are lucky they may have added the county where they came from but it is no guarantee.

The main value of the early censuses is not the amount of information that they include, most of them are quite sparse. They do however, place your ancestor in a city, town or village on a particular date and that gives you a place to start looking into local civil and church records. Since many ancestors were quite mobile, this is a big thing.

Even if you can’t find a national census for your ancestor, don’t give up. There are other types of censuses that were taken by counties, states, cities and villages and even churches. Just because your ancestors are not in one, it doesn’t mean that they are not in another. is not a free website but it has one of the best collections of census records and it may be worth your while to join at least for long enough to search their database. A free source for at least some of the census records is

Early census records are a valuable resource for today’s genealogist and the more recent the census, the more information it will include. Be prepared to learn a lot of about your ancestors from the information that they provided. Just be aware that the census is not really a primary source since before 1940 no one is sure who actually provided the information and how much they knew about the person they were answering for. Use it as a tool, to lead to further research.

Monday, August 29, 2016

What you can expect to find in Catholic Church records

As a parish secretary for over 20 years, I received many genealogy requests. People seem to have expectations about the sorts of records that Catholic Churches keep. Many people think that the town of origin of their ancestors will be found in the records of churches. This is very unlikely. What Catholic Churches are required to keep are sacramental records. That means records of baptisms, marriages, first communions and confirmations.

Death records are not always kept since death is not a sacrament and when the church has a cemetery, the records are often in poor condition because sextons have a rather bad reputation of being drunkards, at least in the experience of this genealogist.

Typically, the marriage record will include the names of the couple getting married, the date it took place, the name of the witnesses and the name of the celebrant. By the 1930’s, the names of parents may be included as well.

There are some exceptions; French Canadian records are far more detailed at an even earlier date. They often include parish of origin and almost always include parents and whether or not they were living or dead which is very valuable information. If the witnesses are related, it also states that so it is much easier to establish family relationships.

Italian records as well are often more detailed and may include even the grandparents.

Baptism records give the name of the child, some include both the date of birth and the date of the baptism. The mother's name is usually given with maiden name which is very valuable and the names of the godparents. Again in the French Canadian records, the relationship to the child is often included such as aunt or uncle or grandparent.

First communion and confirmation records included nothing of use to genealogist except the date that the event occurred. Many times there are no parent’s names included making it difficult to be sure it is the correct person.

Do some Catholic churches have additional information? The answer is yes, there may be a parish census or records of parishioners who fought in wars or any number of things but you can’t expect and may not find anything beyond the sacramental records. Also keep in mind, that in the United States, these records were not created to be public and there is no requirement to share them with genealogists.

Some churches are not genealogist friendly. Always call ahead and ask if they have someone to do research. Do not walk in and expect everyone to drop what they are doing and research your family for you. Be sure to make a donation to the church if you expect them to do research for you.

Can Catholic Church records be of use to you as a genealogist? Yes but often the civil records are easier to access and contain more information.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Using church and cemetery records in genealogy research

Researching church and cemetery records can be very helpful when you are looking for genealogical information. It is important to remember that these records were not kept with genealogy in mind. In the case of cemetery records, they can be very sketchy and in most cases, they were kept by the sexton of a cemetery. Often the most difficult thing about them is trying to locate who has them.

Church Records

When it comes to using church records, how useful they will be will depend on what denomination your ancestor was. If your ancestor belonged to a church that does infant baptism, then most likely there will be a baptism record. Some churches keep more detailed information than others.

In the Roman Catholic Church records, there will be the parents' names, the infant's name, the name of the godparents, the name of the priest or deacon, the date of the baptism, sometimes the date of birth and depending on the country where the event occurred, such things as current residence, people who attended the baptism and some occupational information about the parents. Most records, however, are quite sparse.

Anglican Church records of baptism do not include godparents or dates of birth. Many other churches do not include this information either. It can be very disappointing to find the record but discover it has very little useful information.

Some churches took a parish census and these records can be interesting. Before the advent of civil records, in many places, the only records available are church records. Because of this, many historical societies and local genealogy groups have gotten together and transcribed these records into books that can be purchased or in some cases can be used for research at a local library or genealogical society.

Marriage records are also kept by churches and in the days before a marriage license was needed, they may be the only record of the marriage. Most records only include the names of the two parties involved and whether or not they were of legal age. There was no reason to ask where they were born or who their parents were, at least most of the time. As with every rule, there are always exceptions.

In Catholic parish records in Canada, they did ask for parents almost all of the time. The information about legal age is also useful, this is different from place to place so you need to understand whether it means the parties are over 16 or over 21 for instance. This information can help you guess the ages of the parties involved in the marriage.

There are some churches which do not allow access to their records by just any interested party. They are after all private and were never intended to be used as public information. It is always best to call well in advance of any intended visit to see what the policy is at the church you are interested in. If they don’t allow visitor access to the records, do they have staff that can or will do the research? Not all records are held at the parish level, some have been placed in central locations. This is common in England, Ireland and also some diocese in the Catholic Church.

Cemetery Records

Cemetery records really are a crap shoot. Some cemeteries have kept meticulous records and others have almost none. You may or may not be able to locate an ancestor’s grave. Even if you do find a record of a burial, depending on when it occurred, there may not be a headstone and if there is a headstone, there is no guarantee that it is at the location of your ancestor’s grave. For many reasons, stones have been moved to make it easier to mow the grass, to make the cemetery more aesthetically pleasing or just to clean things up.

Beyond just helping to locate a grave, cemetery records do not hold much that can be helpful to genealogists. They will tell who is buried in the grave, maybe. This may be of use in identifying if this is indeed your ancestor especially if you have a common name. Some cemeteries will have a burial book that actually gives the cause of death and the actual date of death as well as the date of burial but again there is no guarantee that either of these will be in the record.

Where to find cemetery records can always be challenging. If it is a church cemetery, then you need to contact the church first. If it is a private cemetery, check with the town hall for information on where the records are stored. Just finding the records can be one of the biggest challenges.

When it comes to primary sources for genealogical information, church and cemetery records can provide some helpful information. Just be aware of who was providing the information to the church or the cemetery and be sure that it fits with information that you already have. You never can tell, you could get lucky and that is what every genealogist lives for.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Moving your genealogy research back to Europe

At some point for most genealogists the trail is going to take you back to Europe. This can seem like the end of the line but it doesn’t have to be. There are several strategies that you can attempt that will help you to overcome any obstacles that crossing the Atlantic places in your way.

There is one piece of information that is vital for your research and that is the name of the town that your ancestor came from. Finding this name will most likely be the hardest part of your research. Where do you even begin to look for this information?

~Interview family members. This is a vital step in the process. You need to talk to as many older family members as possible. Don’t assume because your parents and grandparents don’t know this important piece of information that there is no one in the family who does. Try to talk to aunts, uncles, cousins and even second and third cousins. Usually there is one branch of the family that is the caretaker of the family bible or a marriage certificate or some document that can help in your search and it is possible that other family members may not even be aware of its existence.

Part of the family interview process is also to listen to stores that may give clues to where the original family members came from. Don’t trust family stories to be exactly factual, much like the game telephone, the facts change with each telling however they may be grains to the truth in the stories and of all else fails you have a starting point to begin your search.

~Check for genealogies that have already been done. It may be that someone has already done some of the work for you. Make sure that any information you get from anyone else's research has sources, never accept anything on face value.

~Church records can hold some vital information about ethnicity but keep in mind that churches are not in the business of genealogy and records were not kept with that in mind. Some churches have published their records and this is a very good thing and many more have not. You will need to find out where the records are stored and if you can access them. Writing to the church you are interested in with the information you are looking for and a donation is always the best way to find out if they will help you.

~U.S, Vital Records are a good source of information depending on the time period. You are going to need to find out where the records are kept for the area you are researching. Some are kept on the town level, some at the state and others at the county. The dates for each state will vary widely. The requirement to keep vital records is a relatively new thing and many areas have little before the 20th century. To find out where to write go to the US Health Department and Human Services publication “Where to Write for Vital Records’

~The U.S. Census is useful in getting you to other records. You can see the country of origin not the town but you can also find the year that your ancestor came to this country as well as if they naturalized. Both of these dates can get you to other information that may provide the town.

~Naturalization records may give you the town of origin of your ancestor. A lot depends on the state where your ancestor naturalized. There was not a standard form and some are treasure troves of information and others contain nothing of use.

~Ship records and passenger arrival records are also valuable in helping your find the town in Europe where your ancestor came from. Don’t jump to conclusions, a ship that sailed from Breman or Cork does not mean your ancestor came from that city, it just means they departed from that city.

These are just a few of the places to start looking for your jump across the Atlantic. If you are lucky you will find what you are looking for in these records, if not don’t despair there is still hope. It is just not going to be as easy at you had hoped.