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.