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.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Great Migrations to the United States

The history of the United States is made up of a series of migrations. For the genealogist, this information is important because by knowing when a group of people migrated to the United States, we get a starting point for your study of our own family’s immigration to this country.

The first large migration to the United States came from England. It is not the Pilgrims; it is the next wave of immigrant. Their journey is known as the Great Migration and is tracked in a series of books. If you have colonial New England roots but are not among the Mayflower descendants, chances are you are eligible to join the Winthrop Society. The settlers who came in the Great Migrations were many of them, followers of John Winthrop who was a Puritan. During the 1630’s 21,000 migrated from England to found their ‘City upon a Hill”. To find out more about the Great Migration you can visit this website.

If you are of Dutch ancestry or have found what appears to be a Dutch name in your ancestry one place to begin your search is in New York City and the Hudson River Valley. Between the 1620’s and 1664 there was a growth in the Dutch population of the area which was at the time owned by the Netherlands from 2000 to over 9000 inhabitants. You may very well find your ancestors among these hardy immigrants. There were almost no Dutch immigrants for the next two hundred years so it is worth looking at this website for help tracing your Dutch Ancestors.

The next major migration to the United States was the almost one million Irish who arrived here to escape the famine that would kill a million poor souls who couldn’t migrate. To try to find your ancestors among the thousands on the ships that came to New York and other east coast ports, NARA has a searchable list. with over 600.000 records. These immigrants were not well received by the locals who by this time between 1847-1851 had forgotten that they too were descended from immigrants.

While not quite reaching the one million mark, between 1840 and 1930 over 900,000 French Canadians left their homes in the north and moved south to take the factory jobs that most of the Americans didn’t want. In New England there are large pockets of French Canadians to this day that have retained some of the heritage and their language. The St Albans border crossing records may help you to determine when your French Canadian ancestor came to the US. They can be accessed on

In the 19th century there were great migrations from Germany and from Scandinavia. Many of these emigrants moved to the northern Midwest to settle in Chicago, Minnesota and Wisconsin. To this day, the ethnic influences are strong in that area. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, the Germans from the 18th century who came to the United States for religious freedom are still practicing the old ways and are called the Pennsylvania Dutch or Amish.

There were many large migrations from Europe in the late nineteenth and early 20th century, from Italy and from Poland. Many Chinese came to work on the railroads in the western United States in the 19th century.

Knowing these patterns of migration can be a big help in your genealogical research. It can help you to know where to look when you have come to a dead end. These are just a few of the stories that our ancestors have to tell us.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Family Secrets Uncovered-Lost History Found Northwest Genealogy Conference

If you are looking for an excuse to visit the Pacific Northwest, here is a conference for you to enjoy. With four days of in depth classes for beginners to pros, you area sure to learn lots of new strategies. Check out the class schedule

When: August 17-20, 2017

Where: Byrnes Performing Arts Center Arlington, Wa. 

Beth Foulk presents three classes for beginner genealogists.

  • Introduction to Genealogy
  • Secrets of Ten Record Groups
  • If I'd Only Known-Beginner Mistakes

Three Day Conference:

Thursday August 18- Gathering our Family's Story
Friday August 19th-Tools to Help tell the Story
Saturday August 20th-DNA How it is Part of Your Family's Story?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

1810 United States Census

The third official census of the United States was taken in 1810. The enumerators began taking information on August 6, 1810. It took 10 months for the census to be completed and at the end it was determined that the population of the country was 7,239,881.
The 1810 census asked the same questions as the 1800 census.

Things included:
Name of the county, parish, township, town, or city where the family resides
The name of the head of the family
A statement for each family of the number of free White males and females
Under 10 years of age
Of age 10 and under 16
Of age 16 and under 26
Of age 26 and under 45
Of age 45 years and upward
The number of all other free persons (except Indians not taxed)
The number of slaves

As far as usefulness to genealogist, it is the same as the 1800 census. It can, if you have an idea where your ancestor may have been living, be very helpful. However, since it does not give the relationship to the head of household it can also be maddening. There is no way to tell if the head of household is the father, uncle, older brother, grandfather or more distant relative of any of the other people listed. Is that his sister he lives with or his wife? His sister-in-law or cousin? There just is no way to tell.

At the same time, the population was enumerated a tally was also being done by the enumerators of the manufacturing that was being done in every place they went. Taking a look at this information can be helpful if your ancestor was involved in manufacture instead of agriculture.

17 States were included in the 1810 census.
Maine (part of Massachusetts)
New Hampshire
New York
North Carolina
Rhode Island
South Carolina
Ohio was the newest state to be added to the census at this time (statehood was achieved in 1803) and the territories of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Louisiana and Missouri. 

As with many early censuses not all the returns have survived. The missing pieces are:
District of Columbia
New Jersey
Indiana Territory
Michigan Territory
Mississippi Territory
Louisiana Territory (Missouri)

Partial losses include:
Illinois Territory’s where one of its two counties St. Clair is lost but Randolph records exist)

Ohio, everything is lost except for Washington County