Why Do You Love Genealogy?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary shares comments that she and her fellow family historians have exchanged on social media about why they love genealogy.

I was browsing social media pages recently and saw that my friends were commenting about why they love genealogy. Everyone’s reasons for loving family history research varied, but the depth of the intrinsic rewards we feel was shared by all.

Here is my reason for loving genealogy research:

  • I’m following in the footsteps of my mother, great grandmother and great grandfather, who researched with a passion and left the family with a legacy of several family history books.

What a family treasure that anyone could only hope to equal, which explains my favorite saying: “Genealogy isn’t just a pastime; it’s a passion!”

genealogy saying: "I love genealogy!"

Below you’ll find excerpts of the quotes (with minor corrections). The initials indicate my social media friends. Hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

  • “One time I helped a police investigator find the family of a man who had died, who left very little information. He [the policeman] said the family was very grateful. That was rewarding.” —A.C.
  • “As my friend Christie says, ‘It’s a labor of love.’” —A.J.
  • “My grandmother died last year and I was really lucky that she’d humor me with questions. I’d bring DD coffee every Sunday and we’d chat—all her peers had gone—and sometimes we’d talk genealogy, but because I knew so much, I think she almost felt like she had somebody who knew the stuff she did and she could talk about events and people who mattered to her, without prompting, and be understood. That’s what validates what I do.” —A.M.
  • “At least we can all say ‘We know where we came from’ [because] we did the research…” —C.D.
  • “I do it because I want to put stories to names. I wanted to know who I am. And now when I try and not do it, I swear that I hear [my name] in my sleep: ‘Find me.’ You are never lost as long as one person remembers your name…” —C.F.
  • “My family and friends are genuinely appreciative of my genealogy research. I’ve never heard any criticism. I’ve reunited lost family members and distant cousins.” —C.H.
  • “It is for people who love history and want to know exactly where they came from. It is comforting.” —C.K.

genealogy saying: "Looking for dead people makes me happy!"

  • “After 25+ years…I just smile and say…looking for dead people makes me happy!” —C.L.J.Y.
  • “It’s very satisfying when you find lost cousins or other information. I just found a cousin here on one of the groups yesterday; her grandfather is the brother of my grandfather…So cool when this happens.” —C.M.S.C.
  • “[I love genealogy] because dead people are much more interesting than the live people that are around me.” —D.E.L.
  • “My Mom has been the ultimate source in my and my sister’s research. She remembers everything, has written things down, and saved pictures from my dad’s side of the family. She is so supportive to us and helps out so much. I wish everyone had someone as supportive as her. Thanks Mom!” —D.R.
  • “Genealogy is a favorite pastime, I love knowing our ancestors’ names, families, their work, etc. I have been working on my family and my husband’s. It is very rewarding.” —D.Y.
  • “I’ve found close cousins I had never known…I have laughed so much with them over the years! We met on the Internet searching for the same Great Grandparents! We didn’t know each other, but it’s like having a cool sister to laugh with on things we have in common! I can’t believe how similar we think about things!!! Genetics!” —E.R.
  • “When I was about 14 it was the Bicentennial year. My great Aunt showed me the grave of an ancestor who was from Lexington during the Revolution. That was what started the genealogy bug for me! I took a college class that year in genealogy, and started to ride my bike to local archives to research how I was related to that soldier, and the rest of my family tree. His name was Andrew Munroe, and his uncles were killed in the Lexington Battle, and Andrew was a Major by the end of the war.” —H.W.
  • “I think of this as more of an avocation than a hobby and if I don’t do it, who will?” —J.B.
  • “I am chuckling about all the comments about helping kids in school with their family history projects. My genealogy path started when a college class I was taking asked for such a project. Two years later, my son had the same project in fourth grade. Seven years later I am still working on it…” —J.C.M.

genealogy saying: "I research my ancestors so I'll know who to blame!"

  • “I research my ancestors so I’ll know who to blame!” —J.H.
  • “I do it for my children and their children and like-minded relatives with whom I share the stories. To know our ancestors’ strengths and talents is to know where ours come from and is inspiring to me.” —J.R.
  • “I started really getting into it after I met my husband. His family has been in this one county of Virginia since they came over on a boat. Lol. So jealous—I literally just have to go to the county library, ask about his family, and poof! the library has it all. Lol. Everyone wants to reap my rewards also. But I have the time and I love it, so I keep on. Lol!” —J.R.
  • “My dad asked me years ago to research his family. He remembered the stories he was told and shared many of them. May he rest in peace because he has since passed, but once I started the journey there was no turning back. Every new name holds promise of a new story. The one thing I didn’t comprehend when I started was that the research would open many history books to help me better understand how people lived in their respective eras. I feel like it is an exciting adventure with many mysteries.” —J.S.B.

genealogy saying: "Ancestors don't give me grief and they don't come with drama!"

  • “I was told by a sibling that I like my dead ancestors more than my living relatives. Of course I do!! They don’t give me grief and don’t come with drama!” —K.P.

genealogy saying: "Genealogy is like being a detective!"

  • “I’ve always been interested too, even as a teenager. It made U.S. History come alive in school! My mom and dad used to do genealogy together. They went to libraries and cemeteries every weekend. They were both very involved which is how I got interested at the age of 16. It is like being a detective, isn’t it?” —K.V.E.A.
  • “I love all these comments! I don’t have any profound reasons why I love researching, I just do! I didn’t care for history or genealogy when I was younger. Then my mother passed away eleven years ago. In cleaning out the attic in my childhood home, one of the first things I found was a statement of service in the Civil War. I was stunned and got the bug at that moment! I also found some tintypes and lots of old photos, unidentified and undated of course…So fascinating. Unfortunately, I got the bug after my parents passed away. How I wish I got it when they were alive especially since I had an older father who was born in 1902.” —L.H.

genealogy saying: "Genealogy is not a hobby, it's a calling!"

  • “I’ve also been doing this for over 40 years, started when I was 9. Anyone that knows me, knows right away that I am a Genealogist. It’s not a hobby, it’s a calling. I don’t discuss it unless someone asks or it’s pertinent to the conversation. But overall, I’ve found that MOST people find what we do fascinating…Sometimes, this passion of mine affects someone’s life tremendously. I had one family of my grandmother’s first cousin contact me after putting something out…She said, ‘this is my father-in-law’s family. He’s in his late 80s and I never knew ANYTHING about them. His father died when he was 2, his mother remarried, and they never saw his father’s family again. He always felt that he was the reason for that and carried the guilt around all his life.’ I contacted her back, shared with her that at the time of his father’s birth his grandparents were both dead, and his father’s siblings lived too far away for interaction to be feasible. The daughter-in-law was able to go back and tell him the story of the family and she said it was like a weight lifted off his shoulders, his whole personality changed and he was a happier man…he died 6 months later, but at peace! So when anyone has anything negative to say, which is rare, I hold that story close and smile.” —L.L.B.J.

genealogy saying: "I don't understand people who don't like genealogy. It's so satisfying to find a fact about someone in all the world papers!"

  • “I have found numerous lost cousins and a diamond ring that was passed down to one of my new cousins that belonged to my great gma. It’s so cool to look at it and know she had it on her finger. My quest continues to find a pic of her. I love [genealogy]. I don’t understand people who don’t like it. It’s so satisfying to find a fact about someone in all the world papers.” —L.O.R.
  • “I’m lucky to have a ton of support around me. Even my husband is actively helping me with my family research. I have yet to meet one person in my family that isn’t fascinated by the research.” —L.S.
  • “I studied history in college. Genealogy is a continuation of my love of studying the past…and it’s personal. Something I can pass on to my children and now my granddaughter.” —L.S.A.
  • “I have some good stories [from cousins] that I’ve met…that I didn’t know I had…Besides, I love skeletons. They make the world go round.” —M.F.C.
  • “I follow my family histories because I WANT to; like people who sit/partake in sports, fish, or knit/sew, it’s MY hobby. There are people who are history buffs, and those who are sports nuts and some who are GEN NUTS (which I’m one).” —M.J.W.M.

genealogy saying: "Genealogy is like playing detective!"

  • “It’s like playing detective. It’s fun learning the stories about our ancestors.” —N.H.S.
  • “Working on my family tree is comforting. I feel close to my mom and dad, who have been gone for a very long time.” —P.M.H.
  • “It’s not about the doubters—it’s about two other things. First, to ensure [we remember] those who would otherwise be forgotten in less than 100 years, and two, for those yet to come to know and understand their roots. And then they can decide for themselves if they care or not. So don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re wasting your time following after dead people. If they are family then you will have to include them too. Although they may wish to be forgotten in a generation or two, ask them about it!” —R.B.
  • “Always was fascinated with the past; [I] wanted to be an archeologist when I grew up but my teachers were not too happy with that aspiration! I love to do genealogy for several reasons. First, when I do research on my ancestors, I feel like I am bringing my family together again in the past and, since I freely share my discoveries with relatives, I feel it brings us together in the present. I also love it because it makes me feel part of a whole, a link in the chain that would not have a future without myself and my children. I love it because it makes me feel more connected to my country when so many of my ancestors were pioneers and founders of early settlements and churches and helped to build this country by participating in government positions and fighting in various wars for our freedom & protection. And most of all, I love it for the connection I feel with certain ancestors when I can be successful enough in my research to learn some of the personal aspects of their lives. I believe in some way they are always with us, living on in our cells, our blood & our genes.” —R.B.K.

genealogy saying: "Genealogy is more fun than most sports!"

  • “It’s more fun than most sports. I like to find new info.” —S.C
  • “[I] love [genealogy] and find it fascinating.” —S.H.
  • “Well, the journey into our past has been interesting, and I am blessed to share it with my cousin.” —S.H.E.
  • “I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I know that I have always been fascinated with my family history. I remember being a young teen and pondering my family origins. I asked a few questions of my grandmothers, but not nearly enough before they either passed or lost the ability to communicate. In reading her saved letters, I know that one of my grandmothers was the same way and her father before her. In letters written between them long before my birth, they discuss the family Bible and family records. He gave her a copy, which I never found. He also left the family Bible to one of his other children, which I’ve also failed to locate. Other than one of my grandmother’s half-sisters, no one else in the family seems to have any interest in it, including the family who now has (hopefully) or had (crossing fingers) the family Bible. Did some of you come to this later in life and develop an interest long after your childhood, or did you always wonder? I’ve often pondered whether those who don’t care just never had it in them in the first place, kind of like how people are born with the ability to either love cilantro or think it tastes like soap and therefore will never like it, no matter what.” —S.W.H.

genealogy saying: "Why do I love genealogy? I credit my old style Polish grandmother for my desire to know my family history!"

  • “I credit my old style Polish grandmother for my desire to know my family history. She and her mom “were” those black sheep, moved away, changed their names, pretended they were French rather than Kashubian/Polish…Oh, I had visions of her coming from a family of horse thieves or gypsies or some such thing. When I finally found the truth and reunited with her family, wouldn’t you know that the first thing I heard was, ‘Oh! We’ve been looking for you for a hundred years!’ I’m glad they didn’t give up looking, and perhaps it’s the Polish in me that doesn’t give up either.” —S.W.H.

genealogy saying: "If you don't know someone among your ancestors, they're not real!"

  • “An in-law, a wonderful and generous lady, told me that if I didn’t know someone among my ancestors, they were not real. My sister tells me she only wants to know about the dead relatives I discover if she was mentioned in the will, and [she and] I have fun kidding each other about this…” —T.K.
  • “It’s very nice to make older people especially happy.” —T.P.

genealogy saying: "Family history is simply the best!"

  • “Family history is simply the best!” —V.W.

Please tell us your delightful reasons why you love genealogy!

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3 Steps to Using Pinterest for Your Family History

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena explains how the social media website Pinterest can help with your family history research.

Are you a member of Pinterest? Pinterest is a social media website that allows you to gather images from your computer and the Internet to create virtual bulletin boards on subjects that interest you. On Pinterest you can find boards dedicated to holiday meals, decorating kitchens, collecting antiques, fashion, and many other topics. But Pinterest is more than just a place to pursue those types of interests. Pinterest is also a place where you can organize, learn, and share your family history.

So how does a website where users virtually “pin” images about the latest movie or fashion collection help you with genealogy? As you take a look at Pinterest, consider it a site to share family photographs and documents, to bookmark websites related to your family history, or to plan out your next genealogy research trip. At home, your physical bulletin board might be used to save important articles, phone numbers, or notes you don’t want to forget. Pinterest is just like that real-life bulletin board except it is virtual and can be accessed from any computer with Internet access. Best of all, you can invite other family members or researchers to pin with you via shared group boards.

Not convinced Pinterest is for you? Not sure how Pinterest can be used for genealogy? Consider the following three tips.

Tip #1: Follow Genealogy Boards, Starting with GenealogyBank

One of the benefits of using Pinterest is getting ideas and learning about new genealogy sources. Following Pinterest boards maintained by genealogists, family history-related companies, and repositories can help you. Take for instance the GenealogyBank boards. Currently GenealogyBank has 50 boards covering topics as diverse as Family Tree Wall Art & Decor, Old Newspaper Ads, American Fashion History, and Genealogy Books.

Genealogy Bank Pinterest Page

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Family Tree Wall Art & Decor on Pinterest.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Old Newspaper Ads on Pinterest.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board American Fashion History on Pinterest.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Genealogy Books on Pinterest.

These boards provide more than just images to look at. Consider the GenealogyBank board Genealogy Powerpoints, a must for any family history researcher. Here you will find links to presentations GenealogyBank genealogist Tom Kemp has given on subjects including Genealogy Research with Marriage & Anniversary Records, Top Genealogy Websites for the 21st Century, Newspapers: Critical Resources to Document your Family Tree, and Obituaries: Getting All the Clues. Pinterest is a great place to find resources and educational material about all facets of family history.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Genealogy Powerpoints on Pinterest.

GenealogyBank’s recipe board is a shared group Pinterest board, where we welcome collaboration from those who share our common interests. In my blog article Holiday Recipe Ideas for Good Old-Fashioned Cooking I wrote about GenealogyBank’s Old Fashioned Family Recipes board. Follow this board and we will invite you to share your family recipes.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Old Fashioned Family Recipes on Pinterest.

To start following GenealogyBank, go to our page on Pinterest and then click on the orange “Follow” button at the top. You can also follow me on Pinterest.

Tip #2: Start Pinning

So what should you pin? Well, basically, images from the Internet or even your own photographs that you have from your camera, smartphone or scanner. Think of Pinterest as a place to share images that you find and those that you own. For those with mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets, you can download the Pinterest app from the iTunes App Store (for Apple devices such as iPhone and iPad) or the Google Play store (for Android devices). Download the Pinterest button for your browser toolbar to make pinning images even easier. Make sure that when you pin an image you give credit to the person or website that it is from.

Here are some ideas to get you started on Pinterest:

  • Start a board where you share images of material items that were commonplace during your ancestor’s time. Pin images of what a kitchen was like in 1920 or what blacksmith tools your 3rd great-grandfather would have used.
  • Share images you have taken of the tombstones of your ancestors.
  • Start a board for a particular ancestor and then pin images of documents, photos, and other resources that help to tell the story of their life.
  • Pin images of books that you are interested in adding to your personal library. Need book ideas? Check out GenealogyBank’s Genealogy Books board.
  • Start a board with resources for a specific place that you research. Share your knowledge of local archives, libraries and museums that can assist other researchers.

Tip #3: Here’s the Best-Kept Secret: Using the Secret Boards

Not sure you want to share a board of your family history images? No problem. Pinterest offers members public and secret boards. Secret boards cannot be seen by others (unless you have a group secret board and then only those you allow to pin to the board can see it). Pinterest currently allows you to have up to six secret boards. (This is a recent addition of three extra boards that occurred during the holiday season). You can actually have access to additional secret boards if you are invited to pin on a secret board with another pinner. Use these boards to gather ideas for research or even set up virtual bookmarks for websites you need to look at further for genealogy clues. Currently I am using one of my secret boards to “bookmark” websites and digitized images I have found for one of my research projects. I love being able to see images to remind me where I’ve located resources and what I have yet to find.

Start a secret board with a cousin and use it to share photos and documents you’ve collected in your genealogy research. Use a secret board to plan out a genealogy research trip and include pins of libraries, archives and cemeteries you want to visit. Even consider using a secret board to interest the younger generation in their family history by pinning photos you have scanned.

Are you using Pinterest for your family history? Now is the time to give it a try. You’ll find it’s a great tool for sharing and storing images, and a good way to learn more about your family’s story.

National Archives Launches Crowdsourcing Site for Transcription

The National Archives has launched a Transcription Pilot Project website to enlist the general public in transcribing old documents to make them easier for researchers to find. This will be a tremendous help to historians and genealogists everywhere.

screenshot of the Transcription Pilot Project website launched by the National Archvies

Credit: National Archives

This transcribing is easy to do and there are a variety of documents online needing transcription, requiring a range of skill levels from beginner to advanced, needing the ability to work with old handwriting.

This is a practical project for genealogists to give back to the community.

Here is a typical example: a multi-page Civil War regimental casualty list with the names of the troops killed, wounded or missing.

screenshot of a Civil War casualty list, an example of the documents that are part of the Transcription Pilot Project launched by the National Archives

Credit: National Archives

As a volunteer, your task would be to read and transcribe documents like this old Civil War casualty list.

Your document transcription work will be reviewed and then published on the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) website, making it easier for other family researchers to read this document thanks to your full-text transcription. Having the names typed in electronically makes them easy to search.

Click here to see the documents being worked on in the National Archives Transcription Project.

Notice that there are two sets of documents that you can work on transcribing: beginner level and advanced level.

If you want to suggest documents to be added to this project, click here to alert NARA to your suggestions.

This is a great public service.

Your effort will help others find their ancestors for decades to come.

Consider helping out—visit the Citizen Archivist Dashboard today to learn how to volunteer.

CNN Article on ‘Finding Your Roots’

You see genealogy coming up everywhere these days in the national media and in popular culture. It was particularly good to see this recent story from CNN about researching family history.

Finding Your Roots, CNN news report 10 September 2013

Credit: CNN

This helpful article, written by Sarah Engler of RealSimple.com, includes family research guidance and tips from Corey Oiesen, communications officer of the Association of Professional Genealogists.

I particularly like this quote from Corey: “‘People think they can just plug in their grandfather’s name and go,’ says Oiesen. ‘But it will save you a ton of time if you gather a few identifying details before you get online.’”

Good genealogy research advice.

This recent article caught my eye when it gave a shout-out to GenealogyBank as one of the online sources that have “made it easier than ever to trace your roots.” In fact both the Wall Street Journal and CNN recently cited GenealogyBank as an online resource you can rely on.

Both of these articles underscored how easy it is to do genealogy with today’s online tools. The WSJ cites the work of Megan Smolenyak and her group “Unclaimed People” that assist agencies in finding families of the unclaimed in coroner offices. GenealogyBank is proud to be cited in these two articles.

Read the complete WSJ article “Internet Sleuths on the Hunt for Next of Kin” here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323893004579060051928045642.html

Read the complete CNN article “Finding Your Roots” here: http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/10/living/real-simple-finding-your-roots/

Hats off to both the Wall Street Journal and CNN for keeping the general public informed and current on the latest genealogy resources.

How to Spot and Avoid 9 Common Genealogy Mistakes & Errors

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary discusses 9 common mistakes made when doing family history research, and suggests ways to avoid them.

Family history researchers are often frustrated by the mistakes of others—particularly when there is an obvious error in identity, such as the mistake explained in this 1914 Virginia newspaper article. It points out that a member of the Gwathmey family was incorrectly identified as having been a maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth.

Rchmond Times Dispatch Newspaper Gwathmey Family Genealogy

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 17 May 1914, page 41.

This sounds like an obvious mistake, and one that could have been corrected with simple subtraction. Unfortunately, once a mistake is written in a book or newspaper article, the mistake is often carried into other research—forever frustrating the more serious genealogists.

Genealogical mistakes are not often easy to sort out, so let’s discuss some strategies.

1. Abbreviations Are Not Always What They Seem

Two of my favorites are “NA” and “NMI.”

In the case of the first abbreviation, “NA” might indicate non applicable, naturalized, Native American or even Navy, demonstrating the importance of finding the “key” explaining what an abbreviation actually means.

Another abbreviation that sometimes causes confusion is the use of “NMI” in place of a middle name. It is not an actual moniker, but rather used to indicate that a person has no middle initial—no middle name.

2. Age-Related Mistakes

  • Women who are too old to be mothers.

Although Mrs. Steve Pace, of Rose Hill, Virginia, reportedly gave birth to her 17th child in 1939 at the age of 73 (see the Wikipedia article “Pregnancy Over Age 50”), it is rare for women to give birth over the age of 50.

If a woman continued to give birth through her 40s, then it is possible that a report of her having a child as an older woman may be correct.

However, whenever you see such an older mother-child relationship claim, examine the possibility that the family may have been raising an orphan or a grandchild.

  • Persons who were born too young or old to have served during a military event.

If you are researching an ancestor for a lineage society, such as the Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution, start by figuring out the beginning and ending dates of the event.

For example, the American Civil War occurred between 1861 and 1865.

Although there are examples of very young veterans, most of the younger set did not serve in a military capacity—unless they were older. One exception was Civil War Missouri veteran George Huffman, who enrolled as a volunteer in the 13th Missouri Infantry on 4 November 1861 at the age of 14. He re-enlisted on 8 February 1864, and was considered to have been the youngest veteran to have re-enlisted that year—as explained in this 1864 Massachusetts newspaper article.

Lowell Daily Citizen & News Newspaper George Huffman Civil War

Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts), 2 September 1864, page 2.

For the most part, however, it is safe to assume that someone—other than a drummer or bugler—must have been at least 15 when he enlisted for combat service. Therefore, it is unlikely that a combat veteran actually served in the Civil War if he was born after the year 1850.

Now, if a child served in a non-military capacity, then you might find evidence of children as young as seven involved in a war—such as Nathan Futrell, a young boy who served in the American Revolutionary War.

Greensboro Daily News Newspaper Nathan Futrell Revolutionary War

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 3 January 1971, page 24.

You can also apply an age factor to determine the likelihood of an older person serving in the military.

3. All Applicable Genealogy Records Have Not Been Found

Just because you can’t find a genealogical proof doesn’t mean that one doesn’t exist. For example, many military records were burned, so look to other types of records for evidence.

In other words, if an original record is missing you might be able to find alternate records. In the case of a missing military record, look for a petition for a pension, or a list of enlistments, reprinted in an old newspaper article. Other possible genealogical sources: a family diary or letter, or church bulletin, that references military service.

4. Children Listed without Parents May Not Be Orphans

Just because a child is not recorded with a parent on a census record doesn’t necessarily indicate that both parents are deceased.

On one of the 1850 U.S. Federal Census records, I noted that the children of my ancestor Permelia Ann (Davis) Drake were living in different households.

Not finding their mother, I at first assumed that she had died. It turned out that she was very much alive, and recorded in the census with her second husband, Samuel Bassett. It’s not clear why the children were with the neighbors in 1850, but perhaps they were mother’s helpers or farm helpers working to support the family.

5. Informants Are Not Always Correct

A primary record is one that was recorded at the time of the event. A secondary record is one that is recorded later, generally from an informant. In the case of a death certificate, the date and place of death is primary evidence, but the birth date of the decedent, along with the stated parents, is not necessarily correct.

In my family, my great-grandfather’s parents were recorded on his death certificate as his natural parents, when in fact court records and other records establish that he had been adopted.

6. Just Because Two People with the Same Name Reside in the Same Area Does Not Necessarily Mean They Are Related (Coincidences Happen)

In the case of my ancestor William Harrell of Virginia (and Indiana) of the late 1700s and early 1800s, it turns out there are three men by the same name. Now that descendants have submitted results from DNA studies, it is clear that they were not closely related.

7. Spelling Errors

Alternate spellings are the norm, rather than the exception.

For example, my Ebling ancestors can be found with the surname spelling Ebeling, Hebling and even Heblinger. As a result, I always browse a book’s index to see if there are similar spellings. When searching online or in a search box, such as at GenealogyBank, I frequently use a wildcard such as a question mark (?) or asterisk (*) when searching for ancestor names.

  • The ? is used to take the place of one letter
  • The * is used to take the place of several letters

For example:

  • Eb*ing* would find Ebling, Ebeling and Eblinger
  • ?Eb*ing* would find all of the above, and include Hebling or Heblinger
  • Cath?rine would find both Catherine and Catharine

8. Transpositions (Reversing or Mixing Up Letters and Numbers)

Many people, including myself, are prone to transpositions. The year 1787, for example, might be unintentionally entered as 1778, or even 1877.

To overcome this tendency, be sure to closely examine recorded figures, such as the reported age at death. Several genealogy programs calculate this figure, and may even note it during an error check.

9. Widows and Widowers May Not Necessarily Be Widowed

In the event of a divorce, separation or bigamy, a spouse might be recorded as widowed on an official record. This may be to handle a delicate issue, or simply to accommodate a census form that didn’t have other options.

These are just a few common genealogical errors. If you have some that you have observed, please share them with us on Facebook or our blog page in the comments section!

Case Study Part 2: How to Find Old Newspaper Articles about Family

As I continued to look in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for the history of the Crofoot family (see: “Case Study: Using Old Newspaper Articles to Learn about Your Ancestors”) I found another clue.

Connecticut Journal Newspaper Esther Crofoot Death Notice 1829

Connecticut Journal (New Haven, Connecticut), 10 March 1829, page 3.

Another wife?

This historical obituary was for Mrs. Esther Crofoot who was the “wife of Ephraim C.”

Notice the newspaper editor simply gave his name as “Ephraim C.,” not repeating the surname Crofoot. The context was clear to the reader in this death notice, but these on-the-fly abbreviations can make it difficult to find every article about our target family.

So—we have an Ephraim Crofoot with a wife Esther, most likely married in the 1820s.

Earlier we found that an Ephraim Crofoot married Elizabeth W. Winship in 1830 and Betsey Sampson in 1850.

Is it the same Ephraim Crofoot in all three marriages?

It takes time to piece together the genealogical clues and facts that document a family tree.

In the weeks ahead I will continue to report on my newspaper findings about the Crofoot family and provide similar examples from other typical families.

The Past Tells the Future of Genealogy: Is Anything Really New?

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches old newspaper articles to discover that what was new in genealogy 100 or more years ago is still new today.

There is nothing new except that which has been forgotten.

~ Marie Antoinette

This is certainly true in genealogy in a variety of ways. Naturally, we as genealogists spend a great deal of time and effort looking for that which has been forgotten or almost forgotten. We strive to discover, or rediscover actually, family history information every day.

On the other hand, I find it interesting when I hear some of the genealogy “pundits” trumpet all the newest “discoveries” in genealogy, often claiming that they are a harbinger of the end of genealogy as we know it. Some of these latest proclamations had me wondering, so I decided to see what was new (and old, which might have been forgotten) in genealogy through the historical newspapers in the database of GenealogyBank.com.

After a few quick searches, I encountered some terrific genealogy headlines and articles. Every one of them brought home the point that not all that much has changed in the world of genealogy! See if you can place the date of each of the following newspaper articles. Were these historical stories from yesteryear or news articles from today’s newspapers?

  • “Genealogy Study Rapidly Growing.” How often have we heard this? I especially appreciated this newspaper article’s subheadings: “In Recent Years Americans Have Been Making Great Study of the Family Tree” and “Genealogists Working Along New Lines and Startling Results Follow.” Sounds just like something I’d read in the news today.
Genealogy Study Rapidly Growing, San Jose Mercury News newspaper article 16 March 1912

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), 16 March 1912, page 2

This newspaper article was published in 1912!

  • “Forum on computers, genealogy scheduled.” This one really could be from today, the type of article found in just about every genealogy society newsletter and newspaper column on “local happenings.” It is interesting to see the name of Genealogical Computing magazine in this article, and it is fun to see how far we have come in such a short time.
Forum on Computers, Genealogy Scheduled, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 22 September 1984

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 22 September 1984, page 20C

While this sounds like today’s genealogy news, this newspaper article was published in 1984!

  • “Of the New Genealogy, Its Enlarged Field of Study. How Genealogy as a Science May Help Us to Help Ourselves.” I wondered if this article might be discussing the role of DNA testing in genealogy today, but not quite… I enjoyed this article especially since it was on a topic near-and-dear to me: that of the needed link between genealogy and the academic world. Plus, this article is about an address given at the 60th anniversary of the New England Historic Genealogist Society by Charles K. Bolton.
Of the New Genealogy, Springfield Republican newspaper article 3 November 1909

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 3 November 1909, page 15

This newspaper article was published in 1909!

  • “Genealogy business booming national one.” With the business of genealogy booming, it seems to offer good career opportunities. This article was from an advice column and the author seemed to have a pretty decent grasp of genealogy, which was fun to see.
Genealogy Business Booming National One, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 July 1981

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 July 1981, page 33

While this would be good career advice for genealogists today, this newspaper article was actually published in 1981!

  • “Who Was Your Grandfather?” I thought perhaps this was an article for the newest television spinoff of Who Do You Think You Are?
Who Was Your Grandfather? New-Hampshire Patriot newspaper article 27 August 1851

New-Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 27 August 1851, page 3

While this headline seems right out of today’s news, it’s actually about finding an heir for the deceased Jennings—and the newspaper article was published in 1851!

  • “Old Tombstone Wanted.” Once again, this headline could be from practically any newspaper today; as I read the article I can almost feel the angst of the writer as he pleaded for anyone in the local community who may have known anything at all about the tombstone he was searching for.
Old Tombstone Wanted, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 23 October 1900

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 23 October 1900, page 2

While this newspaper article refers to “a genealogical chain” and “the genealogist and all his vagaries,” it was actually published in 1900!

  • “Cousin George’s Decision” The subtitle of this article “He Thought His New Found Relatives Were a Very Shoddy Lot” made me think that this story’s moral is as valid today as when the article was written.
Cousin George's Decision, Daily Alaska Dispatch newspaper article 24 January 1900

Daily Alaska Dispatch (Juneau, Alaska), 24 January 1900, page 2

However, this newspaper article was published in 1900!

  • “Genealogy of Slang.” This article earned its way to being copied and placed on my bulletin board. After all who knows when it might come in handy for me to use the word “Gellibagger”?
Genealogy of Slang, Repository newspaper article 15 March 1890

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 15 March 1890, page 5

While using slang in genealogy might seem like a modern topic, this newspaper article was published in 1890!

Thanks to this trip through the past using historical newspapers, we can see that: 1) genealogy has been in the news a long time; and 2) what was new then is sometimes new today. Truly, “Nothing in Genealogy is as new as that which has been forgotten.” The past is often one of the best places to look for clues to the future.

Genealogy Records You Can Find In Newspaper Archives Infographic

Genealogy Records in Newspaper Archives

Is the Infographic image above too small? See the larger version.

Newspapers offer a variety of genealogy records that you can use to trace back your family tree. Learn about the types of genealogy records that can be found in newspapers and discover the family history information that each record type contains below.

Obituaries

Obituaries are an excellent source of genealogical information. Obits contain your deceased ancestor’s date of death and burial place, and often provide details about their spouse, children, parents as well as other extended family.

Passenger Lists

From passenger ships arriving at naturalization ports to stage coaches traveling across the frontier, several types of passenger lists are printed in newspapers. These lists contain the names of our traveling ancestors.

Birth Records

Birth records in newspapers include birth announcements and birth notices. These records contain the name of the newborn, time, date and place of birth as well as information about the infant’s parents, siblings and grandparents.

Legal Records

Many types of legal records are made public in newspapers. Probate records, court case records and name change records contain valuable genealogical information such as ancestors’ names, relatives, places of residence and more.

Photographs

Newspapers record many of life’s special moments. As such, you can find pictures of your ancestors in wedding photos, family reunion photos, birthday photos and old photo illustrations and sketches often printed in newspapers.

Marriage Records

Engagement announcements and marriage records are commonly printed in newspapers. These records give the name of the bride and groom, and provide details about the wedding including family members and friends in attendance.

New & Improved Newspaper Search!

With GenealogyBank’s new newspaper search functionality you can easily search each of the genealogy record types covered here to discover more about your family history.

Search now at: http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/

Click the options in the left navigation to search by record types.

The Story of Perkins Swain: A Genealogist’s Online Research Discoveries

Online genealogy research is endlessly fascinating—you never know what you will find. I was doing some family history research in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archive when this double obituary caught my eye. Baltimore Patriot (Baltimore, Maryland), 25 July 1834, page 3.

Just a short, simple notice, 4½ lines long—and yet what a sad story it tells.

Sally Swain, 27-year-old wife of Perkins Swain, died on 17 June 1834 in Gilmanton, New Hampshire. Her husband, Perkins Swain, age 37, “was in [his] usual health at the funeral of his deceased wife”—but abruptly died seven days later. No doubt, of a broken heart.

Can you imagine the grief of the pallbearers? They were probably family members, or at least friends and neighbors, who sadly carried the body of young Sally Swain to her grave on June 17th while her grieving yet healthy husband, Perkins, stood nearby. And then suddenly, just seven days later, those same pallbearers were carrying the body of her husband to join Sally’s gravesite.

Who were this couple struck down by tragedy? This story of a perfectly-healthy husband dying seven days after his young wife’s funeral made me want to research more about them and learn about their lives.

Digging deeper into my genealogy research online, I found a marriage announcement that Perkins Swain married Sally Weymouth in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, in a November 1823 newspaper. Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 15 November 1823, page 3.

Looking at the free collection of New Hampshire marriage certificates online at FamilySearch, I quickly found their marriage certificate. They were married on 23 October 1823 by the Rev. William Blaisdell. FamilySearch.org is a handy genealogy site. It has put up the entire U.S. Census, as well as birth and marriage certificates from all 50 states and many foreign countries. This free website by the Family History Library is well worth a visit to find great genealogical information that can aid in your research. Checking further in GenealogyBank, I found a newspaper probate article showing that Perkins Swain had known tragedy earlier in his life, when he and his brother Gorham were orphaned at age 5 and 4 respectively. The Sun (Dover Gazette & County Advertiser) (Dover, New Hampshire), 21 December 1805, page 4.
Enlarging the first paragraph, we find some interesting details about Perkins Swain’s life.
In this probate notice, Thomas Balch is acting as guardian for the young orphans. We discover that their father was William Swain, “late of Gilmanton,” a tailor who died without leaving a will. Did he die unexpectedly? And why is there no mention of the mother? These are tantalizing questions that require further family history research.

This probate notice also tells us that the two young boys have inherited an estate of 100 acres in Gilmanton.

Continuing to look further in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archive for details about Perkins Swain, I found this public auction notice that perhaps completes the story of his life.
New Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 19 October 1835, page 3.

A year after his death, the homestead farm of Perkins Swain is being publicly auctioned on Nov. 2, 1835. This farm is a 100-acre parcel in Gilmanton, New Hampshire—the same piece of land we learned about in the probate notice of 1805.

Isn’t it amazing how many details we’ve found out about Perkins Swain, who died in 1834? We have found his marriage and death notices, his marriage certificate, the probate notice when he was orphaned at age 5, and the public auction notice of his farm after his death. With more online genealogy research, we could no doubt uncover even more details about Perkins Swain and his family.

There are so many digitized newspaper articles, historical documents and government records available online today—terrific research resources for genealogists.

This is a great day for genealogy.

Georgia Genealogical Society Hosts Free GenealogyBank Webinar

Ever wanted a quick course on getting the most out of GenealogyBank?
Now you can do that.
Join us online Monday, December 19th at 8:00 p.m. (EST), as Tom Kemp—GenealogyBank’s Director of Genealogy Products—gives a free webinar:

“Using GenealogyBank.com Effectively and Efficiently”
This free one-hour webinar is sponsored by the Georgia Genealogical Society.

Learn how to navigate the 5,850+ newspapers and over 1 billion records on GenealogyBank.

Genealogists, family historians and hobbyists are invited to attend this complimentary webinar while Tom shows the best approaches to using GenealogyBank. He will explain what family history information you can find on our genealogy site, and answer your questions. Sign up today to ensure your seat at the free webinar now: http://bit.ly/rQQpaQ