Ancestry Blog » Ancestry Team The official blog of Ancestry Thu, 29 Jan 2015 22:08:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Resolutions: Organizing Your Genealogy Research in 2015 Mon, 26 Jan 2015 14:51:45 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]> This is a guest post by Denise May Levenick.

Did you turn your calendar to a new year and vow to get your genealogy papers and files organized in 2015? January is National Organizing Month, and a great time to review, revamp, and reorganize so you can spend your time looking for ancestors instead of misplaced papers and files. Here is a week’s worth of strategies to help you move forward in conquering the information deluge.

1. Clear Your DesktopCalendar 2015 In The Retro Style, Vintage Background

It can be hard to focus on the task at hand when your computer desktop is cluttered with files and folders. Instead of saving downloads and working projects to the desktop, create a folder for your current research session or project and park working files inside. If you typically download image files of census records and other information found on, save those files directly to the appropriate folder in your file system or to a Current Research folder on your desktop.

A Current Research folder can also act as a “holding zone” for files you need to enter in your genealogy database, transcribe, or analyze. Periodically, move files to their final location for easy access.

2. Rename Files with Meaningful Filenames

It’s easier to find and use image files when the filenames make sense. Rename files to a standard system, using whatever format and arrangement you prefer. Many researchers adopt a format of Who – When — What – Where. But within this style, there can be many variations. Your files will be easier to sort and use if you maintain a consistent style.

For instance, begin a filename with the surname followed by first name, followed by the date, event, and place:

  • marshburn-robert_1870_birthcert_ma-boston
  • orangewood-maryanne_1920_uscensus_co-denver

Decide if you will use spaces or hyphens and dashes to separate parts of the filename, such as name, date, event; and if you will use upper or lower case, or a combination of the two. My preferences include:

  • short filenames
  • only lower case letters
  • hyphens and dashes between parts of the filename
  • avoiding special characters such as <>/?:;,.{}!@#$%^&*().

You may prefer to use all upper case for surnames or more descriptive names, but aim for consistency in whatever style you use.

3. Create a Filenaming Cheat Sheet

If you work on your family history research sporadically, it can be hard to remember a specific filenaming system. Decide on a style you prefer, and create a custom Filenaming Cheat Sheet for easy reference. Type a few examples of typical filenames, print a few copies, and place one next to your computer and another with your travelling research materials. It’s a simple, yet helpful aid to keep your genealogy files and folders easy to find and use.

4. Organize the Paper Piles

Most genealogists aren’t quite ready to go completely paperless, yet we need a way to organize and access both paper and digital files. Manila file folders and three-ring-binders are traditional choices for storing paper files, organized by surname, family line, source type, locality, or another grouping. Files might also be arranged by ahnentafel number or an individual or family number assigned by a genealogy database program. Sometimes it’s helpful to use different organizing systems for different projects, such as binders for current work and file folders for loose papers yet to be analyzed and entered in a database.

One popular paper filing system adds color coding to help visually organize files. First developed by genealogist Mary E.V. Hill and known as The FamilyRoots Organizer Color-Coding System, this system has been widely copied and adopted by many family historians. Mary’s method uses colored file folders in a Family File Box to organize each family line. Each of your grandparents uses a different color so it’s easy to see where papers belong:

  • blue
  • green
  • red
  • yellow

The system is explained at Mary’s website, where you can also find information about her webinar and how to add matching color to your genealogy database.

If your current system isn’t working, try to determine where it’s broken and how to make it better. Maybe you need a paper Inbox on your desk to corral loose printouts and a timer at the end of the day as a reminder to file papers before you turn out the light. Try not to get distracted by the quest for the “perfect” genealogy filing system; instead, find a good fit for your workstyle and adapt the system to work for you.

5. Find an Organizing Buddy or Group

The Internet is a great place to find new ideas and connect with like-minded people. Whether you want to reorganize your paper files, de-clutter your hard drive, or master information overload, join other genealogists sharing ideas and successes. Discover family history groups on Pinterest, Google+, and Facebook, and become a regular reader of your favorite genealogy blogs.

Each December I meet up with a blogging buddy to review the past year and set new goals for the coming months. We talk about new ideas, commit our goals to paper, and check in periodically to cajole and encourage each other. So far it’s worked to push us toward more writing, researching, and organizing.

Social media sites like Facebook and Google+ boast active genealogy communities where it’s easy to interact with other family historians who might also struggle with getting, and staying, organized. If you’re new to these services, follow along (or “lurk”) for a while to learn the etiquette; then join in to share your thoughts and ask for ideas.

6. Commit Your Goals to Paper

You don’t have to share your organizing goals if you don’t want to, but you’re more likely to accomplish your objectives if you write them down. I’ve found it helps to keep my goals simple, do-able, and focused. For instance, the past few years I’ve set one goal in each of three areas:

  • writing
  • research
  • organizing

This gives me variety and options, without becoming overwhelming. Throughout the year, I try to set milestone goals toward completing the bigger objective. You may not think of yourself as a “writer,” but all researchers need to compile their work at some point – even if it’s making notes in a database program. Selecting two or three general subjects can help focus your thinking and clarify what you want to accomplish.

7. Make It a Habit

Becoming an organized genealogist takes time and repetition of routine tasks. Cheat sheets, reminders, and encouraging friends can help keep you on track until the day arrives when you don’t even have to think about your genealogy research workflow. The trick is to get started, and keep going.

Denise May Levenick is a family historian and writer with a passion for preserving and sharing family treasures of all kinds. She is the creator of the award-winning genealogy blog, and author of How to Archive Family Keepsakes (Family Tree Books, 2012) available at

]]> 4
The Obituary Is Just the Beginning of the Story Tue, 20 Jan 2015 15:15:35 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]> By Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Anne Gillespie Mitchell, Ancestry GenealogistThe Obituary Is Just the Beginning of the Story1

Question: Can you provide me a copy of the obituary for Albert Allison Slingerland, who last lived in Sturgis, Michigan. He was the next-to-the-last Civil War veteran in that state. —Lyle

There is a saying that there are no boring ancestors, just boring researchers.  But with an ancestor like Albert Allison Slingerland, you will have no trouble at all finding a wealth of interesting stories.

The obituary you are looking for was kindly posted by a Find A Grave member on your ancestor’s memorial page.

The obituary sheds light on Albert’s Civil War service in the 9th New York Infantry, Company K, telling us that he had two fingers shot off, and he was audacious enough to enlist in the Civil War at the age of 13! Also, according to the obituary, he reenlisted in 1872 and fought out west in the Indian Wars. These details made us want to learn more about Albert’s military service.

Enlistment in the Indian Wars

The information on his service out west is easy enough to find in the U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914, at There we learn he was born in Almond, New York, had hazel eyes and brown hair, and enlisted at the age of 22 in 1872 in Buffalo, New York.

The Obituary Is Just the Beginning of the Story2

A detail from Albert’s entry in the U.S. Army Register of Enlistments at

But some of the details don’t quite match up with the obituary.  When he was out west, he enlisted in May of 1872 and he was discharged in January of 1873, meaning he served less than a year. But Albert’s obituary says 1875.  Given that it was more than 50 years after the fact and the obituary was not likely written by Albert, it is understandable that there are discrepancies in the dates. We also see that he was discharged “For Disability.”

The Obituary Is Just the Beginning of the Story3

A detail from Albert’s entry in the U.S. Army Register of Enlistment at

Another bit of information from the obituary may have been confused as well.  Reading the obituary we are led to believe he served in the 9th New York Infantry, Company K, in the Civil War.  When he served out west, he served in the 9th Infantry, Company K.  Is this another piece of information that was confused, or did he serve in the same company in the Civil War?  Or should we be looking for him in a different company?

Civil War Record

Looking for Albert in Civil War records we come up with nothing.  There is no record of an Albert or Allison Slingerland in the 9th New York Infantry, much less in Company K.  In fact, searching on Fold3, Ancestry, and the Soldiers and Sailors Database from the National Park Service turned up nothing. There is an Alvin Slingerland listed, but he was born in 1846 and died in 1899. 

The Obituary Is Just the Beginning of the Story4

Examining Possible Census Records

The 1855 New York Census has an Albertus living with his parents, David and Jane, in Almond, Alleghany County, New York. You will recall his enlistment record states that he was born in Almond, although it was in 1850. On the census, Albertus’ age is listed as 1, which suggests he was born around 1854, not 1850.

The Obituary Is Just the Beginning of the Story5

The 1855 New York Census record for the Slingerland family.

A quick check of Albertus’ 1860 census record again shows him living with his parents, David and Jane Slingerland. His obituary says his parents’ names were David and Elizabeth. And this census tells us he was 6 in 1860.  If he enlisted at the age of 13 in 1862, he should be 11.  But we all know that ages in census records can be wrong.

The Obituary Is Just the Beginning of the Story6

A detail from the 1860 record for the David Slingerland family.

The New York 1865 census also shows him as being born about 1854. In 1870, he is living with just his mother and his brothers and sisters. And again his age is given as 16, making his birth year about 1854.

The Obituary Is Just the Beginning of the Story7

The Slingerland family in the 1865 New York census.

Examining the Pension Record

His pension record confirms that he did indeed serve in the wars out west from May of 1872 to January of 1873 in the 9th U.S. Infantry, Company K.

And it is out west where his fingers were shot off!

The Obituary Is Just the Beginning of the Story8

From Albert Slingerland’s pension record.

Nowhere is there a record of Albert applying for a Civil War pension, and there is no mention of it in his Indian War pension records.  If he served 21 months in the Union Army, why didn’t he apply for a pension there as well?

So when was Albert born, 1850 or 1854? His pension record says 1850, but the three census records we found suggest 1854, if that is indeed our Albert.  But there is only one Albert Slingerland in the 1855 New York census in the Almond, New York, area where both the obituary and his enlistment record say he was born.

The Obituary Is Just the Beginning of the Story9

Usually four years wouldn’t mean that much. But given that the Civil War was fought between 1861 and 1865, it means a lot in this case.  Was he 15 or 11 when the war ended?

So did he enlist?  Maybe he did at the end of the war when he would have been 11.  Maybe under a different name. Or maybe he didn’t.  He was most assuredly a veteran, given his pension, but in what war?

It is a mystery to be sure.  But Albert was nothing if not a colorful and interesting character in your family tree and worth further investigation.

Do you have a mystery in your own family tree?  Or have you wondered what family history discoveries you could make with a DNA test? Send Henry Louis Gates, Jr and his team of Ancestry experts your question at



]]> 2
South Dakota State Research Guide: More Than Mount Rushmore Fri, 16 Jan 2015 15:03:00 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]> Map Of South Dakota


We are thrilled to announce with the publishing of this South Dakota guide we have completed a family history state research guide for each for the fifty U.S. states plus, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.

You can download each of these research guides for free in our Ancestry Learning Center.


South Dakota is also known as the Rushmore State and here are five other things you may not have known about it:

1. South Dakota first appears in the 1860 federal census as unorganized Dakota and in 1870 as the Dakota Territory.

2. 1878 brought on The Great Dakota Boom which attracted thousands of farmers anxious for land.

3.  South Dakota is the home of the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota tribes, which make up the Sioux Nation.

4. South Dakota is home to Black Hills National Cemetery, also known as “The Arlington of the West” which is a final resting place for many of our nation’s veterans.

5. The family of Charles Ingalls settled near De Smet, SD. Laura Ingalls Wilder would later write about her childhood there in the series of “Little House” books.

Want to learn more? Download our free research guide for South Dakota. If you’re looking for information on another U.S. location, check out our entire list of U.S. guides.

]]> 0
Better Tools on Ancestry iOS App for Saving Records Wed, 14 Jan 2015 15:04:31 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]> Have you installed the latest 6.3 update for the Ancestry iOS app? At first glance after updating it may not look like much has changed, but try saving a record toAncestry Mobile Screen Shot your tree and you’ll discover that saving the record is a lot better now. Here’s what’s new…

Smart Matching

The app is a lot smarter about matching information and people from the record to that in your tree. It’s now using the same logic as the website—this means you can expect the same high quality handling of your information whether saving from your phone, tablet, or desktop. If a person in the record is already in your tree, the app will make the match so you can save the record to them without creating a duplicate person. If it can’t find a match, you’ll see a NEW badge next to their name.

It may be helpful to understand how/when facts are preselected for you—the app will preselect new facts from the record for people already in your tree, but will never edit facts already in your tree unless you select the fact. Additionally, it will never preselect new people to be added to your tree.

More Tools

Ever find yourself needing to edit the spelling of a name when saving a record? Or wanting to save the fact as an alternate to what’s already in your tree? Editing and alternate tools are now available in the app when saving a record. Select the information you’d like to save from the record, and then tap on the pencil icon to access the editing tools.

Ancestry Mobile Screen Shot_2

Easier to Compare

We hope the visual updates help you more easily compare the information from your tree to the record. Information from the record is placed side-by-side next to information from your tree. The app will bold differences and flag new information or people. Plus, from any screen you can view the record image by tapping the record thumbnail or review information about the person and their family by tapping on their name (in blue).Ancestry Mobile Screen Shot_3

We hope these improvements make the app an even more powerful tool for your family history research. Your feedback has been a significant driver for this update, please continue to let us know where we can improve, and what not to change in the comments below.

]]> 9
South African Record Collections Now on Ancestry Thu, 08 Jan 2015 16:04:01 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]> No need to travel south of the equator to access our newest South African records collections, which include South Africa, Voter Indexes, 1719-1996.

South African Flag MapThis index of voters from South Africa won’t tell you whether your ancestors were a yea or a nay, but you might find the voter’s name, residence, occupation, birth date, and more. Additionally, the index may provide spouse’s name, maiden name, employer, gender, qualifications to vote, race, even weapons or numbers of pigs owned.

You can see what voter lists are included in this database by viewing the Record Source drop down menu in the search form. This will give you a feel for the places and years included. By selecting from the list and clicking exact, you can confine your search to a particular list.

Another new collection we’ve added is the South Africa, Birth and Baptism Records, 1700s-1900s. This index of birth and baptism details has been extracted from birth and baptismal records from institutions throughout South Africa, including more than one hundred churches. Most of the events in this collection took place in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, though there are a few earlier and later records as well.

Looking for more South African record collections? Visit our Recently Added and Updated Collections on Ancestry page regularly to see the latest collections we’ve added and stay tuned for more!


]]> 2
Genealogy Roadshow Heads to New Orleans, St. Louis, and Philadelphia Tue, 06 Jan 2015 20:03:31 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]> From descendants of the infamous pirate Blackbeard to heroes of the Holocaust, PBS’ GENEALOGY ROADSHOW uncovers family secrets in the series’ second season, which premieres Tuesday, January 13th at 8:00 p.m. ET and airs Tuesday through February 24th. Check your local listings or visit for more information about the series.

Genealogists Kenyatta D. Berry, Joshua Taylor and Mary Tedesco combine history and science to uncover stories of diverse Americans in and around St. Louis, Philadelphia and New Orleans.  Each individual’s story links to a larger community (and in some cases, national) history, to become part of America’s rich cultural tapestry.

GENEALOGY ROADSHOW in New Orleans Credit: Pat Garin

Credit: Pat Garin

Below are episode descriptions for each of seven episodes:

New Orleans – Cabildo (January 13th at 8:00 p.m.). A team of genealogists uncovers fascinating family stories at the famous Cabildo, home of the Louisiana State Museum. A couple whose ancestors hail from the same small Italian town explore the chance they may be related; a woman is desperate to find out who committed a gruesome murder in her ancestor’s past; a home held by one family for more than a century renders a fascinating story; and a woman discovers the difficult journey her ancestor took on the path to freedom from slavery. 

St. Louis – Central Library (January 20th at 8:00 p.m.). At Saint Louis’ historic central library, a team of genealogists uncovers fascinating family stories from Missouri’s famous gateway city. A mystery writer discovers her mother has hidden a life-changing secret; a woman finds out if she is descended from the infamous pirate Blackbeard; a mother and daughter seek connections to a famous author; and a young man seeks connection to the Mali tribe in Africa.

Philadelphia – Franklin Institute (January 27th at 8:00 p.m.). At Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, a team of genealogists uncovers fascinating family histories. A man learns that the event that drove his family to the City of Brotherly Love changed the course of history; a man may be a Viking descendant; another’s family could have part of one of history’s biggest scams; a young man hopes to confirm his relation to a signer of the Declaration of Independence; and two sisters learn their ancestors were part of the great Irish migration.

New Orleans – Board of Trade (February 3rd at 8:00 p.m.). A team of genealogists uncovers fascinating family stories at the New Orleans Board of Trade. A local man seeks to recover essential history washed away in Hurricane Katrina; a woman discovers she has links to both sides of the Civil War; another unravels the mystery behind her grandfather’s adoption; and one man explores a link to the famous New Orleans Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau.

St. Louis – Union Station (February 10th at 8:00 p.m.). At St. Louis’ historic Union Station, a team of genealogists uncovers fascinating family stories from Missouri. A musician hopes to find connections to a famous St. Louis jazz composer; two sisters explore links to a survivor of the legendary Donner party; an Italian-American woman finds out if she is related to Italian royalty; and a schoolteacher who has all the answers for her students has very few about her own past.

Philadelphia – Historical Society of Pennsylvania (February 17th at 8:00 p.m.). A team of genealogists uncovers fascinating family histories at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. One woman’s ancestor may have sparked historic labor laws; a pastor may have an outlaw in her family tree; a woman learns about slave genealogy and, with the help of DNA testing, gets the answer she has waited for; and another woman learns her ancestor may have helped others escape the Holocaust.

Best of Genealogy Roadshow (February 24 at 8:00pm). Features an array of the most intriguing stories from both seasons of the series.  From immigrant voyages and famous ancestors to murder mysteries and family connections, the episode will revisit the journeys in cities across the country as people uncover their family histories.



Ancestry is happy to be a sponsor and we hope you will tune in on Tuesdays for this next exciting season of GENEALOGY ROADSHOW.


UPDATED: Added the ‘Best of Genealogy Roadshow’ episode.

]]> 190
How to Find a Woman: Tracing Mottie Winters Through 1800s Kentucky Mon, 22 Dec 2014 13:00:31 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]> By Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Juliana Szucs, Family Historian for Ancestry

I am new to and I am hoping you can help me. My great-great-grandmother is S. Mottie Winters. She was born 22 January 1866, possibly in Tennessee, and died 18 May 1891 in Murray, Kentucky. She is listed on Find A Grave, but that is the only mention I can find of her. She died shortly after she married Peter Gardner Winters. They had one daughter, Gladys (my great-grandmother).

Peter married Sallie (Ellis, I think). They had five or six children and there is no more mention of Mottie. I’d like some help in finding out more about her. — Barbara Cassell

Dear Barbara,

It’s completely understandable that you are having a difficult time locating information on Mottie. Until recently, when women married, their identity became cloaked under their husband’s surname. To compound the problem you face, you have only an initial for your ancestor’s first name and the name “Mottie,” for her middle name, which is most probably a nickname; in fact, “Mottie” is sometimes a nickname for Martha. Another challenge you’re facing is the gap in documentation left by the destruction of the 1890 U.S. federal census after a fire at the Commerce Department in Washington, D.C., in 1921.

Finding Mottie’s death record would have been our ideal starting point. But when we searched Kentucky, Death Records, 1852-1953 on Ancestry, we were unable to locate her death. As we browsed through the years available for Calloway County, where the town of Murray is located, it was easy to see why. There is a gap in the records between 1878 and 1902. Although the first legislation aimed at the civil registration of all births and deaths in Kentucky was passed in 1852, compliance was sporadic until the 20th century.

Since we won’t be able to find the family in the 1890 census, the one census year when they would most likely have been enumerated together, we started our search with Mottie’s daughter and husband, Gladys Winters and Peter Gardner Winters in the 1900 census. Even though Mottie had died by this time, finding father and daughter together would give us details about each of them that will help us identify the family in other records that we might find. Murray is in Calloway County, Kentucky, and we found Gladys and Peter (listed as P.G.) Winters living in Liberty, Calloway County, Kentucky. Peter has already remarried to Sallie and they have two additional children by this time.

Mottie Winters_1

Jumping back to the 1880 census, we find a Peter G. Winters living with his parents. Because of Calloway County’s location along the Kentucky/Tennessee state line, we searched for Peter Winters in Tennessee as well and located only one other Peter Winters in either state. Details in that record made it easy to eliminate him.

Mottie Winters_2

Knowing that Peter was in Calloway County, Kentucky, in both of the censuses surrounding the couple’s marriage, we worked on the assumption that this was the most likely site for their marriage. Searching for a marriage record, we found a marriage index entry for P.G. Winters and S.M. Tucker. Knowing that the actual record could include important details not found in the index, we obtained a copy of that record. (This is very, very important, when searching for any ancestor; indexes only go so far.) On the marriage bond, the ages are relatively consistent with the records we have found to date, and Calloway County is listed as the birth place for both the bride and groom. Although the parents are not named, their birthplaces are given, and the record tells us that the couple was to be married at “T.J. Tucker’s.”

Mottie Winters_3

Turning back to the 1880 census, we found an entry, also in Liberty, in Calloway County, Kentucky, for Thomas J. Tucker. Thomas is the father of a daughter named Sarah M. Tucker, and Sarah is of the correct age to be S. Mottie Winters! We found this entry in the same township where Peter and the Winters family were enumerated, and the entries are only three census pages apart, which means that they lived fairly near each other, a good sign that this is indeed S. Mottie Winters.

Mottie Winters_4

While there is an inconsistency in the birthplace of the father listed on the marriage record and the birthplace listed on the 1880 census, because weddings at this time in our country’s history were often held at the home of the bride, we believe that Thomas J. Tucker is her father. That said, further documentation should be sought to identify Thomas’ actual place of birth as well as further details about this relationship.

As we searched for these families in earlier censuses, we had some difficulties locating some of the relevant parties. For example, we were able to locate Peter’s father, Dr. Solomon Winters, in Calloway County in 1860, but not in 1870. In 1860 we also found the marriage of Thomas Tucker and Carolina Skaggs, Sarah M. Tucker’s parents, in Stewart County, Tennessee, which is just to the southeast of Calloway County, Kentucky. Carolina’s family is living in Calloway County in 1860, and interestingly, her father is also a doctor.

In fact, there seemed to be a lot of doctors in this rural Kentucky county! Dr. Solomon Winters’ neighbor was also a doctor. Why so many doctors? This is quite fascinating. The area around Liberty Township was in the northeastern section of Calloway County. The county boundary to the east is the Tennessee River. An article about this area’s role in the Civil War, published by the Jackson Purchase Historical Society, The Civil War in Murray, Calloway County, Kentucky, by Robert W. Caldwell, describes the prevalence of malaria and typhoid here at this time. The need for doctors would have been critical, and at this time when anyone could hang out his shingle without a license, many men may have seized the opportunity to become “doctors,” regardless of their qualifications.

Mottie Winters_5

Dr. Solomon Winter seems to have ministered to a good number of residents; according to the 1860 census, he held real estate valued at $1,500 and his personal estate was valued at $3,000. When his estate was settled in 1890, it records a lengthy list of debts owed him, mostly likely by his patients.

During the Civil War between 1861 and 1865, Calloway County was not a safe place to live. Soldiers and ex-soldiers from both the Union and the Confederate armies roamed the area, looting and killing residents. At one point the county seat at Murray was burned. So it is perhaps not surprising that some of the residents are missing in 1870. In the 1860 census, there were 9,915 residents in the county. In 1870, that number had surprisingly dropped to 9,410 – a loss of 515 residents (5%), a possible indication that the residents here suffered through a great deal of violence. (Census Bureau Report, page 65.)

Another possible explanation is that residents in this Confederate-leaning area may have been resistant to being enumerated in the federal census following the war. Calloway County is part of what’s known as “The Jackson Purchase.” According to the Caldwell article, this area was sometimes referred to as the “South Carolina of Kentucky,” an area deeply sympathetic to the Confederacy in what was officially a Border State.

At any rate, a next step would be to do a more thorough canvassing of Calloway and neighboring counties to see if perhaps the families are hiding behind a mis-transcribed record, which happens more often that one would imagine. As we searched the 1870 census for this area, we noticed that some of the images are rather faded, but you can enhance these images by inverting the colors, and that could help you find the families if you browse through them carefully.

We’re also at a point in the history of Kentucky where the parents of many of your ancestors would have been born in another state. Make note of associates of the family and neighbors in the census who share the same state of birth as your ancestors do. Families often moved in clusters and sometimes neighbors moved through chain migration, which is when one family (or several families) from a community would venture ahead, then write home about their new circumstances, enticing other families to follow. Be sure to make note of migration patterns that are sometimes evidenced in the birthplaces of the children.

You’ll want to conduct thorough research on siblings and collateral relatives of your direct ancestors as well. The clues to your ancestor’s origins may be found on death and other records of their relatives. Plus, they’re a part of your family story, and their stories could be quite fascinating.

Another rich resource would be church records. The Find A Grave entry you found for S.M. Winters gives her burial location as Friendship Church of Christ Cemetery. She may have been affiliated with that congregation and they may have retained records of baptisms or other religious records.

Your ancestors lived in interesting, but difficult, times and places. We wish you the best of luck in discovering the rest of their intriguing story!

Do you have a mystery in your own family tree? Or have you wondered what family history discoveries you could make with a DNA test? Send Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and his team of Ancestry experts your question at


]]> 8
Ancestry Global Family History Report Mon, 08 Dec 2014 14:52:47 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]> Since Ancestry was founded in 1983, we’ve helped more than 2 million people find out more about their family’s history, filling in the ‘whos’, ‘wheres’ and ‘whys’ behind who they are today. At the time of this post, we have digitized more than 15 billion historic records from 67 countries, containing everything from war medal recipients to criminal trials, censuses to passenger lists, and even a pub ‘blacklist’ from Victorian England.

Our members have used these records to populate more than 60 million family trees and the data helps demonstrate how family history can not only unearth things from our past, but also the present. Of those who have conducted genealogical research, almost half have found living relatives they didn’t know about, with a significant number actually meeting them face-to-face.

This is evidence of how online genealogy – and technology as a whole – is helping connect and shape the modern family, evolving it into something we haven’t seen before. The aim of this report is to show how knowledge of the past has impacted the present, and how a greater sense of ‘connectivity’ has changed the concept of the modern family within the six countries in which we conducted the study.

This document forms the first part of a multi-chapter report, the full findings of which will be published over the coming year.


]]> 3
The House on Mulberry Street and Clues to Irish Roots Thu, 04 Dec 2014 14:15:34 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]> By Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Amy Johnson Crow, Family Historian for Ancestry

I’ve located my maternal great-grandparents, John and Margaret Ellen (Cunningham) Haffey in Wayne County, Ohio in the 1880 census. I’m trying to locate their births in Ireland. I have their death records, but they didn’t list a specific Irish birthplace. I have found a record in the New York Emigrant Savings Bank for a John Haffey and James Cunningham; either could access the account. —Sandra H.

Dear Sandra,

We’ve found that one of the strongest motivations for a person’s desire to reconstruct their family’s tree is the desire to discover where their ancestors once lived, especially before they migrated to the United States, whether that be in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, or Asia.  Finding the names of our ancestors, of course, is the necessary first step; but then finding where those ancestors hailed from can be just as exciting.

Why?  Because there’s something deeply reassuring about being able to point to a map and say, “This is where my people came from.” Geography “roots” or centers us in the world, just as surely as identifying the names of “our people” does.  But finding where our ancestors once lived can be quite a challenge, even when we know their names and birth or death dates.  And this is especially difficult with our Irish ancestors. We both have some personal experience with this since we both are descended from Irish ancestors.

Discovering an ancestor’s elusive Irish birthplace really is a big deal for genealogists.  On what we might think of as “the scale of genealogical difficulty,” tracing Irish roots is right there near the top of the list.  The search can be extraordinarily challenging, but the payoff can be so very exhilarating!  One key to solving this mystery is keeping people you are searching for in context.  What does that mean?  Well, who were your ancestor’s neighbors, and who—according to records—did they keep associating with? Whose names keep popping up near theirs?  Taking account of the names of your ancestor’s neighbors and friends can yield amazing results.

In 1880, John, Margaret, and their family were living in Pike Station, Wayne County, Ohio. The census shows that their daughter, Ella, was born in Ireland around 1860 and their son, Edward, was born in Ireland around 1862.  Daughter Maggie was born in New York around 1866, and children William, Mary A., John Jr., and Catherine were all born in Ohio.  Keeping the whole family in mind will be important as we move through the family’s paper trail.

Emigrant Savings Bank

The Emigrant Savings Bank was founded in 1850 by the Irish Emigrant Society and became a safe place for Irish immigrants to save their money. They invented an ingenious system of using biographical information to tell the difference between people with the same names, such as the various James Cunninghams or John Haffeys, who kept accounts at the bank. (We would cringe because of privacy issues if anyone did this today, but it sure makes it handy for researching Irish ancestors!)

You were definitely on the right track exploring the records of the Emigrant Savings Bank, which can be a gold mine of data for tracing Irish ancestry. And in your case, we are pleased to say, you’ve struck gold!   It turns out that the bank had four accounts that stood out for John Haffey, each of which offered us more clues about your family’s origins.

In 1862, a man named James Cunningham, “for John Haffey,” opened account number 32881.  The bank’s record for this account says that John was born in 1828 in County Donegal and was married to Margaret Cunningham, with two children Ella and Edward. (We should note that this birth year is off from the one recorded in the 1880 census, but it is consistent with that listed in the 1870 census. This often happens, so no worries about that!) Having John’s wife’s name and the name of their two children gives us confidence that this is the correct John Haffey; account 32881 was definitely opened by the John Haffey we’re looking for.

What else can we learn from this bank record?  Well, the person named James Cunningham, who opened the account on behalf of John Haffey, was living at 233 Mulberry Street. This turns out to be a key piece of information. (Mulberry Street is located in the section of Manhattan known as “Little Italy” today.)

Back in 1855, James Cunningham of 233 Mulberry Street had opened account number 8691 “in trust for John Haffey.”   Incredibly, this record is a treasure trove of information about John!  It states that John was from Minnarock [sic], in the parish of Killaghtee, County Donegal;  he arrived in the United States in September 1852 on a ship named [either?] “George Green” or “James Nesbith” from Liverpool; his father, Ned Haffey, is dead; his mother, Ellen Carr, is living in Ireland; and he’s single.

A detail from the Emigrant Savings Bank Test Books at showing biographical information about John Haffey.

A detail from the Emigrant Savings Bank Test Books at showing biographical information about John Haffey. 

James Cunningham of 233 Mulberry Street also opened account 10040 in 1855; it is noted that it is the same as account 8691. In 1857, John Haffey and P. Cunningham of 233 Mulberry Street opened account 15009; it, too, is the same as account 8691. So now we know that accounts 8691, 10040, and 15009 all pertain to the same people.

(Unfortunately, the record for account 32881 (the one where we’re sure it’s our John) doesn’t state that it is the same as account 8691 (the one where we learn John’s hometown and parents.) There’s just an incomplete note “Is same as.” (Would it have killed them to list the account number?!) But the fact that James Cunningham and/or John Haffey was living at 233 Mulberry Street in these four accounts is a strong indication that we are talking about the same people.

Other Places to Explore

Okay, now that you have this information, where do you search next?  It’s tempting to explore church records in “Minnarock” (probably Meenabrock) and grab onto any mention of John Haffey. You’ll definitely want to explore those records, but you should get a fuller idea of your John Haffey’s identify first, so you’ll know if you have found the information about the right person.  Remember, just because a name is the same doesn’t necessarily mean that the person whose records you’re examining is the person you are searching for!

HuffPo Ireland Map

There are several other places that should be checked before crossing the pond to Ireland.  Who are the Haffeys and Cunninghams living in the area around 233 Mulberry Street? City directories would give this information. Ancestry has several New York city directories for this time period. Search by surname, but also do a keyword search for “Mulberry,” to find people living on Mulberry Street to recreate the neighborhood. You will want to do this for the 1850s through the late 1860s, when John and Margaret moved to Ohio.

You should also keep an eye out for the other passengers who arrived in this country on the same ship with John. We didn’t find him in 1852, but we did find him in 1854 on the “James Nesmith” (not Nesbitt, as listed in the bank record), with an approximate birth year of 1829 (consistent with the bank record and the 1870 census).

nesbit arrival

Detail of the passenger list of the James Nesbit, arriving in New York 28 August 1854, showing John Haffy, age 25, a laborer from Ireland.

It’s a good idea to focus on the areas where you know your ancestors were living, but also where they died.  In this case, we know John and Margaret ended up in Ohio. According to Find A Grave, John, Margaret, and their daughter Catherine (Kathryn) are buried in St. Vincents Catholic Cemetery in Akron, Summit County, Ohio. The cemetery records could hold clues about John and Margaret’s origins. Further, you should explore the records of St. Vincent Catholic Church.  You should search for your ancestor’s obituaries, both in “regular” newspapers and religious newspapers.

Baptismal records can be another source of useful information.  People usually name relatives or close friends as their childrens’ godparents. The baptism records for John and Margaret’s children could hold clues. St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Wooster as well as St. Vincent in Akron would be good places to start looking.

It might come as a surprise to us today, but people “back in the day” typically didn’t move all by themselves. Neighbors often turn out to be related. Who are the Irish neighbors around John and Margaret in 1870 and 1880? Who else lived on Mulberry Street in New York when John lived there?

Learning as much as you can about John and Margaret in Ohio and New York will help you to establish a better context for them when looking at possible records back in Ireland. Whether you’re looking at records in Meenabrock or elsewhere in County Donegal, you will want to keep in mind the other people who you’ve identified as being associated with John and Margaret in the United States. Good luck!

Do you have a mystery in your own family tree?  Or have you wondered what family history discoveries you could make with a DNA test? Send Henry Louis Gates, Jr and his team of Ancestry experts your question at

]]> 2
Introducing Historical Insights Tue, 02 Dec 2014 14:25:54 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]>

What was it like for your immigrant great-grandparents to pass through Ellis Island? Did your mother watch as the Great Mississippi flood destroyed her hometown? Have you ever wondered what your grandfather’s life was like when he served in the army in World War I?

We realize how much these types of historical events shaped your ancestors’ lives—and how much richer they make your family history experience. To help you discover some of these amazing stories behind your family tree, we’re launching a new feature called Historical Insights. You may find out that your relatives lived in North Carolina when pirates roamed the coastline or that they followed the Oregon Trail to make a new home in the West.

Historical Insights

Introducing Historical Insights

So how does it work? In some ways, insights are like hints. While we can’t be positive that your family member experienced a certain event like the San Francisco earthquake, we use information you’ve added to your tree and historical records to determine whether your relative might have been in the city in 1906 when it occurred. And like hints, you have the ability to accept an insight and keep it in a person’s profile or ignore it.

You’ll also be able to see at a glance all the family members we think experienced the same event. You may discover that ancestors who never knew each other were actually shaped by the same moment in history.Historical Insights 2

You can see insights for your own family using your iPhone or iPad, if you’re using the latest version of our mobile app. In coming months, Historical Insights will be added to the website. A preview of the insight will appear on a person’s timeline—just look for the leaf. To read about the historical event and see photos, simply tap the insight in the timeline.Historical Insights 3

While researching these insights our team enjoyed learning how history touched the lives of our ancestors again and again. We hope that you will too.

]]> 69