Ancestry Blog » Lou Szucs The official blog of Ancestry Fri, 27 Feb 2015 14:30:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Leaving a Legacy: Hedy Lamarr Thu, 26 Feb 2015 14:00:10 +0000 Lou Szucs Read more]]> From the Library of Congress Photo Collection, 1850-2002

From the Library of Congress Photo Collection, 1850-2002

If you were asked who the most beautiful woman in the world is today, the names of Angelina Jolie, Kate Upton or Monica Bellucci might come to mind. In the 1940s, the person deemed to be “the” most beautiful woman in the world was Hedy Lamarr. The glamorous pin-up girl, who starred in dozens of American movies, got her start in a very risqué Czech film in 1933.

Who knew her intellectual traits would outlast her Hollywood image and that one day she’d be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame? With prophetic wisdom, she said, “Films have a certain place in a certain time period. Technology is forever.”

Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, to Emil Kiesler and Gertrud Lichtwitz Kiesler on 9 November 1914 in Vienna, Austria. Her father, a banker, and her concert pianist mother, seemed to have given their only child a comfortable lifestyle with private language, ballet, art, and piano lessons.

She was still in her teens when her movie career began and she married Friedrich (Fritz) Mandl, the first of her six husbands. Mandl was an armaments manufacturer and reportedly one of the richest men in Austria. He was fourteen years her senior and reportedly very controlling of his young wife, insisting that she be seen at his side at social events and even at business meetings. There was much talk about military technology. It’s likely that Mandl had no idea of how much Lamarr was absorbing in his meetings with scientists or in conversations when she and Mandl entertained Hitler and Mussolini in their castle home. Lamarr was especially interested in radio control of torpedoes and how hard it was to direct them to targets.

Whether it was because of Mandl’s controlling ways, because he was intent on stopping her acting career, or because of her dislike of his business dealings with Nazis (even though he was half-Jewish), Lamarr could no longer tolerate being married to him. She contrived a way to escape from their well-guarded home by disguising herself as a maid. In an adventure worthy of a movie itself, she managed to get herself to Paris where she met Louis B. Mayer, who hired her with the condition that she change her name to Hedy Lamarr.  We find Hedwig Mandl on the UK Outward departure Lists from Southampton, departing England on the Normandie on 25 September 1925. The UK passenger lists are in alphabetical order so if we were to leave it at that, we would likely have missed the fact that on the New York Passenger Arrival Lists, she is listed as a housewife and right next to her name is that of Sonja Henie who gives her occupation as a film actress. Backing up published stories that she signed her contract on board the ship, Louis B. Mayer, who gives his address as Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios, Culver City, Calif., is also on board.


Interestingly, when Hedwig Kiesler Mandl Markey (“professionally known as Hedy Lamarr”) declared her intention to become an American citizen in the U.S. District Court at Los Angeles, she said that she had married Eugene Markey in Mexicali, Mexico on 4 March 1939 and that her last foreign address was Ensenada, Mexico, and she emigrated to the United States from Tijuana, Mexico “afoot” for permanent residence in San Ysidro, California.

U.S., Naturalization Records - Original Documents, 1795-1972 (World Archives Project)

U.S., Naturalization Records – Original Documents, 1795-1972 (World Archives Project)

It wasn’t until 1953, that Hedy Lamarr, by now “formerly Stauffer” (the third husband she had divorced) completed the naturalization process and became an American citizen.

When the 1940 Census was taken, Hedy was living in Los Angeles with her second husband, Gene Markey, son James, a nurse, a valet, and a chauffeur.

Her marriage to Markey lasted only a short time and soon after it ended, she was dating Charlie Chaplin and starring in movies with Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Victor Mature, and Charles Boyer to name a few. According to a number of published sources, even as Lamarr was becoming famous as a Hollywood star, she used spare hours to work on inventions that included an improved stoplight and a tablet that could be dissolved in water to produce a carbonated beverage.

It was reportedly at a cocktail party in 1941, that Lamarr met composer George Antheil and became engaged in a conversation about their shared interests. Lamarr had discovered that ships could easily jam radio controlled torpedoes because they were guided by radio signals that were sent over a single frequency. Antheil had worked with remote control technology and spread spectrum sequences that he had used in his compositions and player pianos.

With the aim of helping to sink Nazi ships, they began their work. In 1942, they patented a secret communication system that could reduce the danger of detection or jamming torpedoes by dividing up the radio signal and spreading it out. Their version of frequency hopping used a piano roll to “hop” between 88 frequencies and Lamarr’s work is now recognized as a model for wireless technology.

Unfortunately, at the time of Lamarr’s “Secret Communications System” patent, now called “code division multiple access” or CDMA, the military declared it a top secret so neither she nor her co-inventor would be recognized for their pioneering work that became the basis for the technology that continues to drive worldwide mobile telecommunications such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi systems.

It wasn’t until 21 May 2014 that Hedy Lamarr was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and she received at least some of the recognition she deserved for her technological contributions that revolutionized and changed people’s lives.

Hedy Lamarr died on 19 June 2000 in Casselberry, Florida, at the age of 86.  In addition to her professional name, obituaries included her maiden name (Hedwig Kiesler) and her six married names: Mandl, Markey, Loder, Stauffer, Lee, and Boies. According to her wishes, her ashes were scattered over the Vienna Woods in Austria.

In another piece of wisdom imparted to the world, Hedy Lamarr said: “The world isn’t getting any easier. With all these new inventions, I believe that people are hurried more and pushed more…The hurried way is not the right way. You need time for everything – time to work, time to play, time to rest.”

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Emigration to and Within the United States in the 1800s Wed, 22 Oct 2014 19:47:29 +0000 Lou Szucs Read more]]> 20141022migrantsEach of us has been touched in some way by the experiences, choices and attitudes of our ancestors.  The decisions they were often forced to make during the great migrations of the 1800s radically changed our ancestors’ world – and ours.

1800-1900 – Unprecedented population growth in Europe along with social, political and religious conflict left millions without land or a means of support in the 19th century. Many moved to cities, other countries or across oceans in search of a better life.  Industrialization accelerated rapidly with manufacturing techniques. Improvements in turnpikes, canals, steam engines and railroads made it possible for made it possible to move from one place to another with more ease.

In the years just after the American Revolution, the westward migration of Americans intensified. In 1800, significant numbers of settlers were moving to Kentucky and Tennessee – the only two states west of the Appalachians at the time. Early in the century, as the states of Ohio, Louisiana, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi and Alabama opened up, they too became magnets for those hoping to find their fortunes and better lands to cultivate.

1803 – War between England and France resumed. As a result, transatlantic trade and emigration from continental Europe became practically impossible. Irish emigration was curtailed by the British Passenger Act, which limited the numbers to be carried by emigrant ships.

1803-1851 – When the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, the door was opened for the government to move forward more aggressively with earlier attempts to relocate eastern tribes of Native Americans to lands beyond the Mississippi River. Although initially rejecting the forced moves, small groups of Native Americans left for the west in 1810 and again between 1817 and 1819. For the next several decades, Native Americans were moved out of areas where whites were settling.  In 1838, U.S. Army troops were ordered to round up as many Cherokees as possible and to march them over 800 miles across the plains and across the Mississippi to the Oklahoma Territory. An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 Cherokees died on what became known as the Trail of Tears. In 1851, the Indian Appropriations Act consolidated western tribes on reservations to enable the westward expansion of settlers and to open the way for the building of the transcontinental railroad.

1807-1808 – In 1807, the Congress of the United States passed the Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves.  The federal law that stated that no new slaves were permitted to be imported took effect in 1808.

1812-1814 – The War of 1812 between Britain and the United States brought immigration to a halt until the Treaty of Ghent in 1814 that ended the war.

1815-1865 – The largest global migration of modern times began just after the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) and continued for the rest of the century.  The first great wave of emigration to the United States brought 5 million immigrants between 1815 and 1860.

1818-1861 – Liverpool became the most-used port of departure for British and Irish immigrants, as well as considerable numbers of Germans and other Europeans as the Black Ball Line sailing packets began regular Liverpool to New York service. Before the American Civil War (1861-1865), the vast majority of immigrants came from western and central Europe: Ireland, England, Wales, France, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and German-speaking areas.


Ship Europa (built 1848) voyaged from Liverpool to New York. From New York Port, Ship Images at Ancestry.

1819 – The first significant federal legislation was passed relating to immigration: Passenger lists were to be given to the collector of customs and immigration to the United States was to be reported on a regular basis.

1820 – The United States saw the arrival of 151,000 new immigrants.

1825 – Great Britain officially recognized the view that England was overpopulated and repealed laws prohibiting emigration.

1825 – The completion of the Erie Canal linked the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Erie and opened up a new era in transportation history. Completed by thousands of immigrant laborers, the waterway forged a new route to the interior of the country and made New York City the greatest port in the world.

1840 – The Cunard Line began passenger transportation between Europe and the United States, opening the steamship era.

1845 – The Native American party, precursor of the nativist and anti-immigrant Know-Nothing party, was founded.

1846 – Crop failures in Europe and mortgage foreclosures sent tens of thousands of dispossessed to the United States.

1846-47 – Irish of all classes immigrated to the United States as a result of the potato famine. The fares of many immigrants were paid for by landlords, the British government or the local Poor Law Union.

1848 – The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which brought an official end to the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), was signed on February 2, 1848. Under the terms of the treaty, Mexico ceded to the United States Upper California and New Mexico. This was known as the Mexican Cession and included present-day Arizona and New Mexico and parts of Utah, Nevada, and Colorado. Mexico relinquished all claims to Texas and recognized the Rio Grande as the  boundary with the United States.

1848 – Failure of German revolution resulted in the emigration of political refugees.

1849 – California Gold Rush drew migrants from across the United States and foreign countries.


1855 – Castle Garden immigration receiving station opened in New York City to accommodate mass immigration. Alien women married to U.S. citizens became U.S. citizens by law (the law was repealed in 1922).

1858 – A financial crisis in Sweden caused large-scale migration to the United States.

1860 – New York became “the largest Irish city in the world.” Of its 805,651 residents, 203,760 were Irish-born.

1861-1865 – The Civil War caused a significant drop in the number of foreigners entering the United States. Large numbers of immigrants served on both sides during the war.

1862 – The Homestead Act encouraged naturalization by granting citizens title to 160 acres, provided that the land was tilled for five years.


Homesteading Family. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

1864 – Congress centralized control of immigration with a commissioner under the Secretary of State. In an attempt to meet the labor crisis caused by the Civil War, Congress legalized the importation of contract laborers.

1875 – The first direct federal regulation of immigration was established by prohibiting entry of prostitutes and convicts. Residency permits were required of Asians.

1880 – The U.S. population was 50,155,783. More than 5.2 million immigrants entered the country between 1880 and 1890.

1882 – The Chinese Exclusion law was established, curbing Chinese immigration. A general immigration law of the same year excluded persons convicted of political offenses, “lunatics,” “idiots,” and persons likely to become public charges. A head tax of fifty cents was placed on each immigrant.  A sharp rise in Jewish emigration to the United States was prompted by the outbreak of anti-Semitism in Russia.

1883 – In an effort to alleviate a labor shortage caused by the freeing of the slaves, the Southern Immigration Association was founded to promote immigration to the South.

1885 – Contract laborers were denied admission to the United States by the Foran Act. However, skilled laborers, artists, actors, lecturers and domestic servants were not barred. Individuals in the United States were not to be prevented from assisting the immigration of relatives and personal friends.

1890 – New York City had the distinction of being home to as many Germans as Hamburg, Germany.

1891 – The Bureau of Immigration was established under the Treasury Department to federally administer all immigration laws (except the Chinese Exclusion Act). Classes of persons convicted of felonies or misdemeanors of moral turpitude and polygamists.  Pogroms in Russia caused large numbers of Jews to immigrate to the United States.

1892 – Ellis Island replaced Castle Garden as the New York reception center for immigrants.

1893 – Chinese legally in the United States were required to apply to collectors of internal revenue for certificates of residence or be removed.

1894 – The Immigration Restriction League was organized to lead the restriction movement for the next twenty-five years. The league emphasized the distinction between “old” (northern and western Europeans) and “new” (southern and eastern European) immigrants.

1894-96 – To escape massacres, Armenian Christians began immigrating to the United States.

1900 – The U.S. population was at 75,994,575. More than 3,687,000 immigrants were admitted in the previous ten years.

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Naturalization Records: What Good Are They and Where Can I Find Them? Tue, 14 Oct 2014 17:54:42 +0000 Lou Szucs Read more]]> A Brief History of the Naturalization Process in the United States

Naturalization is the legal procedure by which an alien becomes a citizen of a state or country. Every nation has different rules that determine citizenship. In the United States, naturalization is a judicial procedure that flows from Congressional legislation. However, from the time the first naturalization act was passed in 1790 until 1906, there were no uniform standards. As a consequence, before September 1906, the various federal, state, county, and local courts generated a wide variety of citizenship records that are stored in sundry courts, archives, warehouses, libraries and private collections.

What Can I Learn from Naturalization Documents? 

Because almost everyone is curious about where their ancestors and relatives came from, as well as if, when and where they became American citizens, naturalization records are in high demand. The biographical information in citizenship papers assumes importance as a link to the past, and sometimes represents the only way to discover the Old World origins of an individual or a family.

Another value of citizenship papers is that they often fill the gaps where other records are missing. For example, most states did not require the registration of births and deaths until well after 1900 and in some cases a date on a naturalization document may be the only means of discovering when an individual was born.

Inconsistencies of Information Provided in Naturalizations Documents Created Before 1906 

Generally speaking, most pre-1906 naturalization papers contain little information of biographical value. In the absence of standardized naturalization forms, federal, state, county and other minor courts of record created their own documents, which varied greatly in format. In the majority of cases, only the name of the individual, his or her native country, and the date of the naturalization are given; rarely is the exact town of origin named. There are, however some wonderful exceptions so it is worth seeking pre-1906 citizenship documents. Depending on the state and county, a number of early records do include the name of the town, exact birthdate, date of departure from home country, and arrival date in the United States.

Naturalization for Mathias pre 1906

Naturalization for Mathias pre 1906


Standardized Information Provided in Naturalization Documents Created After 1906 

Petitions for naturalization, particularly after 27 September 1906, provide the full name of the applicant, his or her current address (in the U.S.), occupation, age, birth date, birthplace, sex, complexion, eye color, hair color, height, weight, visible distinctive marks, and current and former citizenship. Post-1906 naturalization forms ask for marital status. If married, the applicant was asked the name of the spouse, marriage date, marriage place, birth date and birthplace of spouse date and place of spouse’s entrance to the United States, and current residence of spouse. The form also asked whether or not the spouse was a naturalized citizen and, if the answer was yes, where and when the naturalization took place. The applicant was further asked the number of children born to him or her and the date and place of birth of each, and where and when his or her lawful admission for permanent residence in the United States took place. The signature of the applicant completed the first section of the petition. The second part of the petition consisted of the affidavit of witnesses.  It included their names and addresses and sworn and signed statements of their knowledge of the applicant. Beginning in 1929, declarations of intention included a photograph of the individual.

Maria Von Trapp Declaration of Intent

Maria Von Trapp Declaration of Intent, courtesy of the National Archives at Boston


Where Do I Start? 

To begin the search for an immigrant’s origins, learn as much as you can about that person, including full name, approximate birth date, native country, approximately when that person came to the United States, and where that person lived after his or her arrival in the United States.

Before 1906, any federal, state or local court of record could naturalize citizens, so tracking down the court is usually the first course of action.  Fortunately, many naturalization indexes are available online.

Click on the “Search” tab at Ancestry and then on the link to the Citizenship & Naturalization Records category to search the millions of naturalization records that have been indexed and some naturalizations documents that have been digitized. To honor your ancestor’s decision to become a citizen, you can also attach these records to your online tree at Ancestry.

To help you track many of the online collections of naturalization records, visit Joe Beine’s website.

While millions of naturalization records are online at Ancestry and elsewhere, not all court records or their indexes have been digitized.  In some cases, you may need to search by state, county or at the local level to find the court where your ancestor was naturalized. Almost every state, most county and many local governments have great archives and websites where you can learn more about the records that were kept for the area where your immigrant ancestors lived. Many have detailed descriptions of any naturalization record holdings.

The Process of Becoming a U.S. Citizen

Aliens intending to be naturalized citizens first filed a declaration of intention to become a citizen of the United States and renouncing allegiance to a foreign sovereign. The declaration usually preceded proof of residence or a petition to become a citizen by two or more years.  After five years (except for a brief period when the laws changed) an alien could petition a court to be naturalized.  Many individuals waited for more than the required five years to complete the naturalization process and in some years, those honorably discharged from the military service did not have to file a declaration of intention and the waiting period was shortened.  Some filed their declarations and for one reason or another may never have completed the process with the petition to be naturalized. The final step was the actual naturalization. The alien received a certificate of naturalization, and that record would have gone with him or her, and a “stub” was typically retained by the court.

Women and children generally did not need to apply for separate citizenship as they derived citizenship either from their fathers or their spouses. Non-native children became citizens when their father was naturalized. Between 1855 and 1922, an alien woman became a citizen automatically if she married an American citizen. Relatively few single women became naturalized before 1922, and married women could not be naturalized unless they were widowed or divorced. Women twenty-one years of age were entitled to citizenship in 1922 and derivative citizenship was discontinued. For more information on women and the naturalization process, see this article from the National Archives’ Prologue magazine.

Search for your ancestor’s naturalization record on Ancestry.

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A Civil Rights Sit-In, a Mural Dedication, and a Family Historian’s Moving Story Mon, 30 Jun 2014 22:51:06 +0000 Lou Szucs Read more]]> Burnside Sit-in Memorial, Chicago, Illinois. Photo courtesy of Tony Burroughs

Burnside Sit-in Memorial, Chicago, Illinois. Photo courtesy of Tony Burroughs

With his usual eloquence and the words coming straight from his heart, internationally known genealogist Tony Burroughs spoke to a crowd gathered for the dedication ceremony for a mosaic mural at the Burnside Scholastic Academy on June 15, 2014.

The 300-square-foot mural commemorates the 1962 Burnside School parent and student sit-in, a spark that helped ignite the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago. The sit-in was a landmark case in national and local history. It was one of the catalysts that would eventually lead to the signing of the Civil Rights Act fifty years ago today, on July 2, 1964.

For Tony, his mom, and the other parents who were present that day, it is especially significant. It was their personal and family history. They were there. Tony was one of the sit-in students and his mother was one of the organizers.

The mural is dedicated to that historic 1962 sit-in at Burnside. Renowned muralist Carolyn Elaine designed the mosaic with Burnside students and art teacher Sarah Didricksen. Tony purchased and enlarged photos for the mural, the largest one being six feet tall by eight feet wide and students worked together to frame the photo tiles with a brightly colored broken tile mosaic. In preparation of the installation of the mural, Tony conducted workshops with students on Black History and Civil Rights.

The movement to desegregate schools began on January 2, 1962 with a sit-in at Burnside Elementary School. Prompted by the overcrowding at Burnside, the Chicago Board of Education ordered black 7th and 8th grade students to transfer to Gillespie Upper Grade School (a 17-block walk or more for most attending Burnside), rather than integrating the nearby Perry Elementary School which was only a few blocks from Burnside.

Mary Ellen Burroughs, elected president of the PTA during the sit-in, and other Burnside mothers refused to transfer. Leading the sit-in on the first day of classes after the holidays was Alma Coggs who for years had worked to improve education at the school.

On January 16, 1962, the Chicago Board of Education had police arrest the parents for trespassing at Burnside. On January 17, Judge Joseph Butler agreed with the mothers that the schools should be integrated and dismissed their cases. The cases of eight civil rights workers and two parents who had supported the mothers were dismissed the following day.

On January 19 the Burnside parents filed a class action law suit against the Board of Education seeking a restraining order to halt the transfer of students to Gillespie and $500,000 in damages. In 2011, while researching the sit-in at the National Archives at Chicago, Tony Burroughs was shocked to learn that the federal case bore his name as the lead plaintiff in Burroughs v. Board of Education (62 C 206).  Although Tony knew about the case, until that day, he never knew it had been named for him.

The parents lost in the lawsuit, but the Burnside Sit-In inspired ministers, civil rights workers from NAACP, Urban League, and Freedom Riders to support the protest. Momentum grew and inspired mothers at other schools to protest. Protests were held in opposition of Willis Wagons, which were temporary mobile classrooms built to relieve overcrowded schools in African American communities.

A citywide school boycott of Chicago Public Schools was held on October 22, 1963. Approximately 250,000 students stayed home. It was the largest school boycott in the country. Dr. Martin Luther King said the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago was the most organized movement in the North.

King came to Chicago in 1965 to support the fight for education and returned in 1966 to fight for housing and jobs. Tony’s mother took him to see King in 1965, the only time he was in Martin Luther King’s presence.

In speaking with me, Tony said, “My mom was not a Civil Rights Worker. She just loved kids, loved people, and loved education. She was merely fighting for her kids and fighting for what she thought was right. She wanted the best for her kids and all the other kids in the community. And, she was willing to put her convictions on the line.”

Tony added, “Historians have said that the PTA mothers were ahead of the Civil Rights Workers. All too often, the men, the ministers, and the Civil Rights Workers get credit for the movement. I wanted to promote this historic event, and the art mural, so the mothers could finally get the recognition and respect they deserve. I am so glad at least three of them are still living so they can get the recognition while they are still here.”

Further, Tony noted, “This sit-in inspired me to fight for injustice, to help other people, and to not believe everything you read in the press. Being a professional genealogist, consultant, lecturer, and an author helps me to fulfill one of those goals, which is helping other people, helping them find their ancestors, and helping some to find their living relatives. Also, learning how the press sometimes distorted our parents’ positions ignited me to develop critical eyes, essential in solving genealogy problems.”

For further information about Tony Burroughs, his book, Black Roots: A Beginners Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree, and to see a video clip of his presentation at the Burnside dedication, visit Tony was also featured in this WGN-TV Cover Story about the sit-in.


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It’s International Worker’s Day: How Did Your Ancestors Make a Living? Thu, 01 May 2014 17:36:50 +0000 Lou Szucs Read more]]> May 1st is set aside in 80 countries as International Worker’s Day – a day to celebrate labor and working people. And this day serves as a reminder of how our ancestors toiled to put food on their tables and roofs over their families’ heads.  Whether your ancestor was a homemaker, a farmer, a factory worker, a civil servant, a teacher, a construction worker, a salesman, a banker, a lawyer, a soldier or a sailor, his or her hard work contributed to the improved lifestyles most of us enjoy today.

It’s fascinating to look back in time and see what your people did to make a living and this is a good day to do it. Here are a few records that will provide insights:

Home Sources

Because of the importance of family heirlooms, there’s a good chance that someone in your family may have kept a clue to your ancestor’s work. Among the treasures in my own family were a 19th-century police badge, a photo of my uncle in his miner’s hat, and a printed card bearing my grandfather’s name and the address of his carpentry shop in Brooklyn. By the way, that policeman’s badge was the key to unlocking a whole line of family history. Once we tied the name and occupation together in census records, the family story unfolded.

U.S. Federal Census Records

As early as 1820, census records indicated the number of individuals in a household who were engaged in agriculture, commerce or manufacturing, but it was not until 1850 that the question of “Profession, Occupation, or Trade of each Male Person over 15 years of age” provided us with better details. Looking at census records from 1820 to 1940 will give you a good idea of how occupations have trended in families over the years.

U.S. Non-Population Schedules

Agricultural and Industrial censuses, sometimes called the Non-Population Schedules, can help you understand more about what it was like to own a farm or a business. Sometimes, details in these records will not be found elsewhere. Turn to agricultural schedules for insight into a family’s income, crops raised, total acreage, farm value, and more. Look for details about women, too. This agricultural schedule for Nottoway County, Virginia may be the best way to learn more about Catherine Jones.


Industry or manufacturing schedules include company name, type of business, resources, number of employees and more. Just like farms, women owned a surprising number of businesses, too.  For example, this 1850 industrial schedule shows that Mary Ann Kelly was doing rather well with her artificial flower business.


You can learn more about agricultural schedules and how to get the most out of them in by watching Anne Mitchell’s video, Five Minute Find: Down on the Farm.

U.S. Mortality Census Schedules

Taken in most states and territories from the 1850s to the 1880s, mortality schedules offer details on people who died in the 365 days prior to the day the census was taken. One of the details included on the schedule was occupation, which this 1870 mortality schedule from Denver, Colorado, shows could sometimes prove very interesting.


State Censuses

In order to collect more specific data, such as the financial needs and strengths of communities, states censuses were often taken in years between the federal censuses. The Iowa State Census for 1925 (available as part of the Iowa, State Census Collection) is especially rich, including details found in no other records. These census records span several pages; find your ancestor’s record then keep paging forward until you reach the “Occupation” columns.

City Directories

A decided advantage for people with city dwellers in the family tree is the potential to find them in a city directory – occupation details included. These printed books that pre-date telephone books are available in many libraries and are becoming increasingly available online – including an ever-growing collection of directories at

County and Local Histories

Over the years an incredible number of county and local histories have been published. These sources often detail the history of all of the businesses in the area, plus biographical sketches of the more prominent members of the community can be a great way to learn about your ancestor’s livelihood. Here are a couple examples from Andreas’ History of Cook County, Illinois.


Passenger Lists

Passenger lists, especially those created after 1900, can be another way to determine an individual’s occupation. It is interesting to note that often large communities of coal miners would emigrate together; their destinations would specify a particular place in the United States where they were assured of a job.

Passport Applications

Not everyone had the need for a passport, but when they did, their application included employment history. In some cases, passport application files include testimony of the employer stating that the individual applying had a job, proving that the applicant would not be dependent on the government for an income.

Tax Lists

On July 1, 1862, Congress passed the Internal Revenue Act, creating the Bureau of Internal Revenue (later renamed to the Internal Revenue Service). This act was intended to “provide Internal Revenue to support the Government and to pay interest on the Public Debt.” Instituted in the height of the Civil War, the “Public Debt” at the time primarily consisted of war expenses. All persons, partnerships, firms, associations, and corporations submitted a list showing the amount of annual income, articles subject to special taxes and duties, and the quantity of goods made or sold that were charged with taxes or duties. Here’s Abraham Lincoln being taxed on his salary as president.


Civil War, World War I, and World War ll Draft Registration Cards

Occupation was one of the questions on the draft registration cards for the Civil War, World War I, and World War ll. Note that sometimes reasons for deferment included being employed in an industry that was critical to national security. World War ll Enlistment cards and other military records also include occupations of those enlisting.

These are just a few places you can find stories about the work your ancestor did to make your world a better place. Now you can honor his or her memory by looking back with new-found appreciation for what was done.

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Local Histories: Let it Snow Sun, 23 Feb 2014 17:17:06 +0000 Lou Szucs Read more]]> Being a history lover, I subscribe to a whole lot of paper and online newsletters and magazines. A few weeks back, an item in the Wisconsin Historical Society weekly email caught my eye – reservations were being taken for old-fashioned horse-drawn sleigh rides. How fun would it be to feel, hear, and see what our grandparents did before sights and sounds like snow blowers and snowplows took over? I love modern conveniences, but the idea of a romantic sleigh ride in the quiet countryside sounds wonderful.

The description of the sleigh ride reminded me of a letter that my grandfather saved. In the letter, dated February 7, 1895, the writer is trying to organize a sleigh ride for a group of friends that included my grandfather and the girl he would marry later that year—my grandmother.  From the letter and penciled math on the back of it, apparently they needed ten couples to make it economically feasible.


Letters, journals, and mementos that our ancestors saved may not yield hard evidence of births, marriages, and deaths that we can pin to our family trees, but they can provide personality insights that can’t be found elsewhere. Why did my grandfather save this letter? Was there special sentiment attachment to it? Might he have proposed to my grandmother on that sleigh ride? I’ll never know, but these things serve to tickle our curiosity about our people, prompting us to scratch around until we learn more about their lives and the times and places where they lived.

I’ve done a lot of scratching around in my efforts to learn more about Brooklyn, New York, where almost all of my American ancestors lived and died. As I was thinking about the snowy conditions challenging so many of us lately, it seemed like a good time to look at one of my favorite books on The civil, political, professional and ecclesiastical history and commercial and industrial record of the county of Kings and the city of Brooklyn, N.Y.: from 1683 to 1884, by Henry Reed Stiles. This time, I thought I’d see how our ancestors handled winter’s wrath—and even made the best of it. For example, Stiles describes the winter of 1757–58, when the court house in Flatbush was saved from a fire “by the energetic efforts of the people, who extinguished the fire by throwing snow-balls upon it.”


By the time my ancestors had arrived in 1820, Brooklyn had trained firemen who presumably had more than snowballs to fight fires with.

Stiles also included a reproduction of a snow scene painted by Francis Guy. I especially love that he provided a key to the image so we can see who was who, who owned the buildings, and what each one was.


The reproduction below is a rare pre-camera view of Brooklyn that gives us a sense of what a snow-covered Brooklyn was like. For more colorful views of paintings by Francis Guy, see this exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum website.

Anyone who has been stranded in a snowstorm might feel special empathy for 600 people who were “forced to remain all night in the street cars” in Brooklyn on February 6, 1882, because of a “great fall of snow,” also noted by Stiles.


All of these insights came from a search of Stiles’ book using the keyword “snow.” There are thousands of local histories on that could contain insights on your ancestors that are just waiting to be discovered. The trick to uncovering them is to navigate to the collection and search it directly. Here’s how:

  1. Click on the Search tab and scroll down to the map at the bottom of the page.
  2. Select the state where your ancestors lived.
  3. Scroll down the list of collections by category to the last one: Stories, Memories, & Histories.
  4. Browse through the titles on the state level, or select a county from the box on the right side of the page.
  5. Search for a topic of interest by entering a term in the keyword field (e.g., drought, winter, epidemic, flood, market, etc.). You could also search for a year that was significant to your ancestors, perhaps the year the family arrived, the year a child was born, or the year a couple married.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the names and dates that we forget to do a little digging for the stories. And those stories can make for some darned interesting reading on a snowy evening.


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Honoring Your Fathers Thu, 05 Jun 2008 16:06:26 +0000 Lou Szucs Read more]]> image2.jpgNo matter who we are or where we came from, our dads have played a critical role in determining the kind of individuals we’ve become. With Father’s Day coming quickly, most of us are struggling to come up with the perfect way to honor the special men in our lives. Whether they are living or no longer with us, the memory of who they were and what they stood for should never be lost.

A few weeks ago as I was reading the newsletter of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, I fell in love with an idea their staff had for celebrating mothers and grandmothers on Mother’s Day. To honor the special women in their families, they created a wonderful online gallery featuring maternal photographs. Not being on the staff there, I couldn’t very well add my mom’s picture, but I carried the idea over to our family tree on Mom isn’t with us anymore, but I feel sure she’d be pleased to know that her smile is there now and can be viewed by family and Ancestry members all over the world.

My dad died before I was old enough to remember him, but the uncle who raised me became the best dad I could ever hope to have. Thanks to the content sets at Ancestry, I’ve been able to trace the story of his life in census records, World War I Draft Records, newspaper items, passport and passenger lists, the Texas death index, and the Social Security Death Index. As my Father’s Day gift for him, I’m going to be placing photographs of him in my family tree at Ancestry. From the time he was a child in Brooklyn, New York to the years he spent as a mining engineer in South America and Mexico, I have wonderful images of him that I’m anxious to share with others. And even though I may not be able to finish my project in time, I plan to use AncestryPress to create a book in his memory. I may be awfully late in thanking him for taking me in when I was just a toddler, but I can’t think of a better way to do it now.

Not everyone has time to complete a whole book in time for Father’s Day, but just think about it. If you and everyone else who reads this would take the time to post a photo or two of your father, your grandfather or someone else in your family, there would be millions of photographs added to in no time. Maybe someone will post a photograph that you’ve never seen. Maybe it will be a photograph that will connect you with that long-lost branch of the family. Personally, I’m still hoping that there is someone out there who might have a photograph of my grandfather – a fellow whose photograph I’ve never seen.

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