Ancestry Blog » Kathleen Cortez The official blog of Ancestry Wed, 01 Jul 2015 12:05:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Electoral Rolls for Family History in the British Empire Tue, 05 Nov 2013 22:53:31 +0000 Kathleen Cortez Read more]]> In many countries around the world, electoral rolls have been the document that notified each polling place that an individual had the right to cast a vote. These were never meant to be genealogical records and therefore were not necessarily archived. In the U.S. and Canada, each year’s electoral roll was destroyed once a new one was created. However, in some countries under British rule, three copies were created for the various overlapping jurisdictions involved. As a result, a large majority of the international rolls survive and are indexed on A search of the term electoral in the card catalog under the “Search” drop down menu reveals:

Note that most rolls start in the nineteenth century. However, one database also covers UK poll books which start in 1538. The value of these records lies in the fact that they cover every year and often allow a researcher to find people with the same surname grouped together on one page, by surname and proximity. Unlike modern city directories, which are alphabetical, but cover an entire city, region, county or state. The poll books and electoral registers recorded every eligible voter by name and according to polling place. Although not all are alphabetical, the names are often grouped this way to aid in the election polling process. These records might aid in finding previously unknown relations simply because of proximity. Think about the books that are consulted when signing in to vote.

A page from our Australia, Electoral Rolls (1903-1980) from Tasmania in 1921

A page from our Australia, Electoral Rolls (1903-1980) from Tasmania in 1921

For the UK, Poll Books and Electoral Registers, 1538-1893 you can browse individual years by clicking on the link and selecting “Browse this collection” which offers a scrolling menu of years available. Clicking on the first available year, 1538 (1537 in actuality), provides a quite readable copy of freemen of London listed by occupation, and cross references the names with those given in Allen’s “Hist. of Ldn” according to a notation at the top of the page. The occupations are alphabetized and the surnames are alphabetized under the occupation. Family history research in this early time period could be greatly aided by a record like this that offers the name and occupation plus possible spelling variations from another publication.

Electoral records are an underused resource in family history and yet the value can be tremendous. On this election-day take a look at electoral records for your British Empire ancestors. In addition, for those with Paris based ancestors in the late 1800s, consult All Paris & Vicinity, France Electoral Rolls. 1891 as they provide alphabetical cards. If researching the Aaron surname within this database, all men with that surname and eligible to vote can be viewed as a group allowing family groups to be constructed. Although there are a limited number of electoral databases on, these databases comprise over 200 million individual records.

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Haunting the Dead: Death and Burial Records in Family History Thu, 31 Oct 2013 18:07:13 +0000 Kathleen Cortez Read more]]>  

Searching for Death

Historically, death was a constant companion. The grim reaper lurked in the shadows waiting to claim his next victim. Our ancestors dealt with the prospect of an early death from many conditions, which are now easily mended. Many women died in childbirth. Accidents, disease, and plague claimed millions. Death and burial records can be a rich and sometimes gruesome source in genealogical research, and the rituals surrounding death and burial can provide clues. If you understand the rituals and customs of the time it can help in the research process.

Morgue at the Worsham School of Mortuary Science [Click to Enlarge]

Morgue at the Worsham School of Mortuary Science
[Click to Enlarge]

While pursuing death and burial records in research, keep in mind that the person who truly knew the information was in fact dead. Therefore death records are generally considered derivative or secondary sources so look upon them with a skeptical eye.

Vital records as we know them today largely came in to force in about 1906. There were many states that kept vital records prior to 1906, but the law on vital record creation was implemented in most states at about that time.

One source for early deaths on is the U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules, 1850-1885. These were the record of deaths that occurred in the twelve months prior to the enumeration.

Slaves were not enumerated by name in the censuses prior to 1870, which was the first census after the end of the Civil War. However, many slave’s full names can be found in the 1850 and 1860 mortality schedules, aiding greatly in taking research over the notorious brick wall created by a lack of records for slaves prior to 1870.

In one search wherein the 1860 mortality schedule for Cobb County, Georgia was randomly selected, it can be seen that there are several slaves mentioned. Only those considered Black (B) or Mulatto (M) are mentioned in the “color” column. Of the 35 people listed on the first page, 10 were noted as Slaves (S) and two as Free (F), which is another great clue, if that fact was not known. All, except for the infants, were listed by full name and birthplace. Mary Earl (line 10) was noted as married, which technically was not possible for slaves in 1860, but must have been accepted as fact in her community. The Cobb County mortality schedule is only five pages, which also might indicate that Cobb County was not densely populated in 1860 given the low number of deaths recorded. This one page also demonstrates that some families had a few members die during the year. Unlike most standard death records, which are chronological, the mortality schedule was compiled at the time of the regular census enumeration, which allowed the family to disclose all who had died in the last year as one group. These little details add up to a big picture.

Clues about the life of a person can be found in the smallest details. When it comes to death and burial records it may be tempting to dismiss them, as these records are not a primary source and may not always have the parent’s names or what seem like informative facts designed to extend the family history. However, you may be able to note particulars such as a similar cause of death generation after generation by comparing several death records.

Eerie Ancestors

In the spirit of Halloween we will look at records for some famous ghosts and follow the trail of some of our haunting forebears.

Dolley Madison  [Click to Enlarge]

Dolley Madison
[Click to Enlarge]

Dolley Madison is famous for the creation of the White House rose garden. When the second Mrs. Woodrow Wilson ordered workers to dig up the famous roses they were scolded by the ghost of Dolley Madison and not a plant was disturbed by those who witnessed the specter. If anyone wished to visit the grave of Dolley Madison they could locate her current burial place on Find A Grave.

One famous New Orleans ghost is the spirit of Marie LeVeau, Queen of the VooDoo. She was feared and revered by all who knew her, and now haunts the streets of St. Louis cemetery where she is buried. Marie was born to a free Creole woman and a white plantation owner, and died in New Orleans in 1881 at the age of 98. Her second husband with whom she supposedly had 15 children in 15 years was Christophe Glapion.

The index entry to her death record can be found as Marie Glapion Lavau. This entry allows the New Orleans death record to be ordered via VitalChek in a few easy steps. Note the misspelled maiden name and the placement of the married name. If the married name before the maiden name was a custom in New Orleans or Louisiana or amongst Creoles it might make it difficult to find the record if there was a local convention for naming practices unknown to the researcher. Check every possible spelling variation and name order arrangement for better success.

The morbid fact of life is that we all must die. The records created around a death and burial can go beyond the usual death certificate or entry in a parish register. Obituaries, funeral records, and probates are a few of the other sources that can aid in the research process.

Just watch out for the ghosts of ancestors past as you prowl through death and burial records.


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Getting Started With Mexican Family History Research Fri, 18 Oct 2013 20:35:04 +0000 Kathleen Cortez Read more]]> In years past, the general message to those attempting Latin American or Mexican genealogy was “Learn Spanish.” Thankfully, digitized and indexed resources now available on and other websites have lessened the need to be fluent in Spanish. As with any genealogy project, it is beneficial to know the resources and not simply rely on what can be found online; however, the online record accessibility is making it easier to find ancestors in Mexican records.

The Opera House in Mexico City under construction in the early 1900s. Photo from Library of Congress Photo Collection 1840-2000

The Opera House in Mexico City under construction in the early 1900s. Photo from Library of Congress Photo Collection 1840-2000

The Spaniards were dutiful record keepers and, because Mexico was a colony of Spain, the records are well kept. Mexican records benefit from the fact that no major wars have been fought that led to mass record destruction like that seen in Europe and the U.S. In addition, many Mexican records have duplicate copies in the archives of Spain.

Mexican records can be extremely fruitful if you know where to look. Records of baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and burials were created and kept at the parish level.

  • Baptism and marriage records usually contain the names of the child or couple plus the names of the witnesses or godparents, the parents and the grandparents, so these unique records create an instant pedigree of the family.
  • Civil records of birth, marriage and death begin in 1859 and are kept at the Municipal (Municipio) level. From 1859-1867 there was no enforcement to comply. Civil birth records contain similar information to those kept by the parish.
  • Civil marriage records had a little less information than those created at the parish level.
  • Civil death records often contain the parent’s names, ages and occupations.

Because of this record keeping system, it is best to know the town of origin and that is where the records now available on come in handy. The 1930 Mexico National Census is a boon for genealogists. For the first time those with Mexican ancestry can easily locate the ancestral place in Mexico, if it was previously unknown.

One problem encountered when conducting Mexican research is the border crossing. Even in the early twentieth century those coming to the U.S. were escaping poverty, starvation and the Mexican Revolutionaries—the most famous being Pancho Villa, and the Federales. When conducting Mexican research it may be necessary to search using altered names to account for those here illegally.

A shop in Tacubaya, Mexico circa 1884. Photo from the Library of Congress Photo Collection 1840-2000.

A shop in Tacubaya, Mexico circa 1884. Photo from the Library of Congress Photo Collection 1840-2000.

The Cortez family emigrated from Cosio, Aguascalientes, Mexico to El Paso, Texas and eventually settled in Tehachapi, Kern County, California. The family consisted of: Benito Juan, Cipriana, Marcos, Dolores, Melecio, and Guadalupe. They were easy to find in the 1930 U.S. Federal Census at the address where they lived for many years in Tehachapi, though proved difficult to locate in the 1920 U.S. Federal Census. However, the Juan Muro family was located, and although the surname is different, the first names and ages match what was known about the family. Note: Consider searching by an unusual first name.  Another useful collection at is the Border Crossings: From Mexico to U.S. 1895-1964. In this collection we find Benito Cortez’s card, showing him crossing in 1916 using his correct name. In addition, the name of a likely relation is learned, Pedro Cortes. Benito’s wife’s maiden name was also confirmed with this record. The card just prior to Benito’s is that of his wife Cipriana Tristan and the two records used in conjunction provide a better picture of the family. An important item to note is that Mexican women used their maiden name throughout the course of their life, making female research a little easier in Mexico.

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