Ancestry Blog » Site The official blog of Ancestry Fri, 24 Oct 2014 21:53:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Happy 350th New Jersey! New State Research Guide for the Garden State Fri, 24 Oct 2014 21:53:53 +0000 Juliana Szucs Read more]]> HessianThis year marks 350 years since New Jersey’s birth as an English colony. To celebrate, our gift to you is the latest in our series of state research guides on the Garden State. Here are five things you might not know about New Jersey.

1. Between 1674 and 1702, New Jersey was divided politically between East Jersey and West Jersey, although proprietors of East and West Jersey continued to control first sales of land beyond 1702. They were reunited in 1702 and shared a governor with New York until 1738 when they parted ways and New Jersey got its own governor.

2. New Jersey played a central role in the American Revolution, with nearly 300 significant engagements fought within the state, including battles at Trenton, Princeton, and Monmouth. New Jersey was divided in loyalty and many loyalists fled the state for Canada and England.

3. The state constitution of New Jersey initially granted suffrage to all residents, including unmarried and widowed women, but legislation in 1807 restricted it to free white males.

4. A series of canals and railroads built in New Jersey in the 1820s and 1830s helped facilitate the transportation of coal from Pennsylvania mines to the burgeoning industrial centers in New Jersey and New York City.

5. In 1916, a munitions depot on Black Tom Island exploded after a series of fires were set. The explosion destroyed ammunition bound for Britain and France, shattered windows in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and caused $100,000 damage to the Statue of Liberty. Fortunately it killed fewer than ten people.  Years later, it was determined that German agents were behind the explosion.

Want to learn more about the fascinating history of the Garden State and the records that will help you discover your family’s ties to that history? Check out our New Jersey State Research Guide.

We now have guides available for 39 states and Puerto Rico. See the entire list here.

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Titanic Captain among those listed as more than one million historic Liverpool crew lists are digitised by Ancestry Fri, 24 Oct 2014 09:20:06 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]> We are all familiar with the ill-fated maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. On the night of the 14th of April 1912, 1,500 people lost their lives after the liner hit an iceberg and sank to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. The captain on that tragic voyage was Edward Smith. Smith joined the White Star Line shipping company in 1880 and quickly became one of its most respected captains. He was regularly trusted to guide the largest new vessels in the fleet.

Edward Smith can be found in The Liverpool, England, Crew Lists 1861-1919 collection on Ancestry. The collection features the names of crew members who worked on vessels registered to the Port of Liverpool. In the crew lists, Edward Smith is mentioned in 1901 as captain of the SS Majestic, when he and his crew were called upon to transport troops to Cape Colony to fight in the Boer War. Following this, he was awarded a special Transport Medal for his service.

However warning signs of the later tragedy soon surfaced. In 1911, Smith was captaining the RMS Olympic when he collided with the British warship HMS Hawke. The vessel had to be returned to port with a badly damaged propeller.

The Liverpool, England, Crew Lists 1861-1919 collection has been published from original records held by the Liverpool Record Office. The records were a form of employment contract between the shipping company and crew, and needed to be completed before any vessel set sail. The collection, which refers to a total of 912 ships and spans nearly 50 years, lists each crew member’s name, age, birthplace, residence and past maritime experience, and even remarks on their general behaviour. There are also details regarding whether crew members were discharges, deserted or died at sea.

The history of Liverpool is intrinsically linked to the development of its port throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, with its natural harbour helping the city become a powerhouse of the industrial revolution and a key transport hub for travel to the promising shores of America and Australia. The port also contributed greatly to the diversity found within the city, with Liverpool rapidly developing a uniquely Irish character. Around 300,000 migrants arrived in the city from Ireland in 1847 alone and within five years a quarter of the city’s population were Irish-born.

Miriam Silverman, Senior UK Content Manager from Ancestry comments, “From ship captains to their crew, this collection sheds light on a period in which the port of Liverpool was a global transport hub. With more than a million maritime records now available online at Ancestry, it will also be of huge significance for anybody looking to trace their seafaring ancestors back to Liverpool at this time.”

Search The Liverpool, England, Crew Lists 1861-1919 collection today and find your seafaring ancestors on Ancestry. This collection can be accessed here.

Follow Ancestry on Facebook and  Twitter to keep up-to-date on new collections.

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Throwback Thursday: Fun in the Water Thu, 23 Oct 2014 14:40:43 +0000 Juliana Szucs Read more]]> July 1970This past weekend was pool closing weekend. When we bought this house 12 years ago, it came with the pool and while my daughter enjoyed it, I think I’ve been the one who has spent the most time in it. I’ve loved the water since I was little and although we never had a large pool growing up, we did have many little ones like this one. And we loved them no matter how small. Note that awesome slide. It actually came with a one-step ladder. Not sure why that was necessary, but we thought it was super-cool.

When we didn’t have pools, we still played in the water. We made games of running through the sprinkler, and for a while we had a slip ‘n’ slide. If you’re not familiar with slip ‘n’ slides, they were long strips of plastic that you attach to the hose so the water would create a fountain over the plastic runway. You would get a running start and hurl yourself down the slippery plastic surface. I loved that thing. Problem is, when you hurl yourself repeatedly onto a hard surface you tend to break a few blood vessels. I remember having bruises all over my stomach one year.

When we went on family vacations, the high point was the hotel pools along the way. Visiting cousins with pools was an extra bonus. And trips to the East Coast meant swimming in the Atlantic Ocean where we could ride the waves into the shore.

What about you, what memories of the water do you have? How did you stay cool in the summer? Share your stories with us, and more importantly share them with your family.


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Creative Ways to Get Your Kids Excited About Family History Month – Part Three Thu, 23 Oct 2014 14:20:13 +0000 Jessica Murray Read more]]> Want to get the little ones in your family interested in genealogy? We’re introducing part three of our weekly series for the month of October in honor of Family History Month with creative ideas to engage the little ones in your family about family history.

1. Family Journalist Little girl dressed as a reporter

If you have a future journalist on your hands or an older child, challenge them to capture interviews with different family members. This lesson in family history extends beyond your family and also shares valuable lessons on history local to your town or even the world.

For interview questions, visit our handy PDF with suggested interview questions to use when interviewing your family members. We would recommend recording these interviews so you have them forever; there’s nothing that can replace the sound of a grandparent’s voice.

If you’re looking for clues on relatives who have passed away, consider having them answer these questions to help piece together what their ancestors life was like.

  • What kind of clothes and hats did they wear in those days?
  • What kind of houses did people typically live in at that time?
  • Did they have electricity, indoor plumbing, appliances?
  • What games did they play when they were young?
  • What was the main entertainment? Circus? Plays?
  • What did people eat? (Asking about dessert can have surprising answers!)
  • What kinds of toys did kids play with when their ancestor was young?
  • What kind of music or dancing was popular?
  • Who was president when that person was born? Who did they first vote for in a presidential election? What historical events happened when they were young?

2. Family Board Game

This is the ultimate activity for family game night! This personalized board game uses multiple trivia questions on game cards for each family member and a board game template, just like Monopoly or Candy Land. You can find this creative idea at Photo Gifts and Ideas, which has helpful how-to instructions on creating your very own board game + FREE templates you can download.

I plan to create a few of these and play with my family at our next family reunion.

Family Board Game Templates on Photo Gifts and Ideas Blog

Family Board Game Templates on Photo Gifts and Ideas Blog

3. Create Personal Timelines

This was an exercise my history teacher had us do in Middle School and I found it so valuable that I’ve saved it all these years. We were instructed to add our personal timeline to one side and include important historical events on the other side. Since I was only 13, you can see that I added the most important events in my life at the time like my little brother being born and getting my first dog.  Creating my personal timeline helped me pay attention to current and historical events at a younger age, but the best part now is that I have this adorable timeline that I hope to show my kids someday.


Personal Timeline

Personal Timeline

Want more ways to get your kids excited about Family History Month? Check out our suggestions from Week One and Week Two.

What fun or creative activities are you doing with the children in your family to get them excited about family history? Tell us in the comments below!

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Five Tips to Discover Your Eastern European Roots Wed, 22 Oct 2014 15:18:12 +0000 Read more]]> This is a guest post by Lisa A. Alzo

You’ve just discovered you have Eastern European roots.  Perhaps it was the result of exploring your exotic sounding surname, locating a picture of your Polish great-grandmother, or viewing your Ancestry DNA test results.  Now what?  If you have no idea where or how to begin, or have heard that it’s too difficult, here are five tips to help you jumpstart your research.

John and Elizabeth Alzo on their wedding day

John and Elizabeth Alzo on their wedding day

1.  Determine where your ancestor was from.  Typically knowing that an ancestor came from Budapest, Kiev, or Prague is not good enough.  Because the records that you need to do your research in Europe were kept on a local level, your research cannot proceed unless you know the specific name of the town or village of origin.  To obtain this information, start your search for records in the United States and Canada.  If possible, talk to living relatives of your immigrant ancestor.  Look for personal information in sources you may have at home or you can get from family members, such as:  Bibles, journals, letters, pictures, military service papers, funeral home records, or naturalization documents. Then, expand your search to other records using  Start with Census records.  In particular, U.S. Censuses from 1900, 1910, and 1920, will list the year of immigration as well as the country of origin. This will help narrow your search for immigration records.  These can be found by searching the passenger lists for each port using the Ancestry Immigration Collection.  Follow up with searches for vital, military, and other key records.

2. Pinpoint the ancestral home.  Once you determine where your ancestor was from, you must verify the spelling and determine where that town or village is now (Eastern Europe has had a lot of border changes). You will also want to know what province, county or district had jurisdiction over the place. Maps and gazetteers (geographical dictionaries) are the best way to sort out locality questions or discrepancies.  Several outstanding old gazetteers are now available online through Ancestry. For example, you can view the Prussia, Municipality Gazetteer, 1905 (Gemeindelexikon für das Königreich Preußen, 1905).  Ancestry also has a partnership with FamilySearch and you can use their site to see what Eastern Europe gazetteers are available through the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, and search the Wiki there to learn about record collections and other useful tips.

3. Know where the records are hiding.  Most of the smaller localities were not responsible for keeping records. Church records were kept by the parish, which may have included several small villages. Similarly, civil registration was under the jurisdiction of locally incorporated communities or townships. Gazetteers can assist with determining the parish or locality that had responsibility for keeping records for the place your ancestor lived.  Once you have learned where to find the key records, you can then create a plan to obtain them.

4. See what’s online first.  Once you are ready to cross the pond you will need to find a way to get to civil and church records. Typically this is done bySelected European Historical Postcards_Lisa_Alzo Guest Post writing to the records office or church, hiring someone to obtain documents on your behalf (see #5 below), or traveling to the location to do on-site research.  But these options can be expensive and time-consuming, so you should first check to see if any records for your ancestral locality have been digitized.  Check the Ancestry databases for Europe for your country of interest.  Examples include the Hungary Family History research page and the Polish Family History research page.  Be aware that many Eastern European surnames are difficult to spell and pronounce and there can be issues with indexing and transcriptions when dealing with online records.  Also, keep in mind that many immigrants changed their names upon settling in North America.  Knowing what the immigrant’s original name was in the old country (and how it was spelled in his or her language) can help when searching for records in Eastern Europe.  To help flush out those elusive ancestors, consider changing your search criteria for a favorite database by experimenting with different fields, or using alternate views to display results (where available).  For example, if you always view your Ancestry search results by record, click to view them by category.  If you routinely just check the Card Catalog to find what databases are available, try using the place pages.  For additional tips on maximizing your searches, consult the Learning Center for free helpful articles and videos.

5. Crowdsource your brick walls.  Don’t be afraid to ask others for help.  Start a member tree for free on Ancestry.  Collaborate with others through the message boards, community pages, and on social media.  Join an ethnic genealogical society to interact with others researching the same localities.

Contrary to popular belief, not all records are online. In fact, many of the key documents you will likely need to trace your East European ancestry are tucked away in the basements of foreign archives. Sure, you can submit a research request, but be prepared for a very long wait.  A better option is to hire a professional based in that country (who knows the language and is familiar with the archives) to get what you can’t.  Click the Hire an Expert button on Ancestry to find a researcher for your area of interest and get a free estimate.  You can also obtain referrals from ethnic genealogical societies, or other researchers.

Finally, remember to be patient.  Records access is improving for many areas in Eastern Europe.  Many archives and repositories are bringing their records online or forming partnerships to do so, resulting in new and updated collections in private or commercial databases.  Persistence is the key to your success.

Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A. is a freelance writer, instructor, and internationally-recognized lecturer specializing in Slovak genealogy research.  She is the author of nine books and hundreds of magazine articles, and can be reached via her website

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Ancestry Weekly Roundup: October 20th Edition Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:08:53 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> Blog Posts


CNN Roots


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Research in the Keystone State: New Pennsylvania Research Guide Fri, 17 Oct 2014 14:20:36 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow Read more]]> independence-hall

Independence Hall, Philadelphia. Photo by Amy Crow.

There is so much to explore in Pennsylvania, both in the state’s history and in our own family histories. I’ve been doing Pennsylvania research for a long, long time and I’m amazed at how there is always something new to discover. Did you know these five things:

  1. Pennsylvania was the first state to abolish slavery.
  2. Oil might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Pennsylvania, but the first successful oil well was dug in 1859 near Titusville. (The American Chemical Society has a booklet all about the early oil industry in Pennsylvania.)
  3. Philadelphia had the highest death toll of any U.S. city during the 1918 influenza pandemic. More than 11,000 people died there.
  4. Anthracite coal wasn’t used for fuel until 1808. Even then, it was only experimental.
  5. Yuengling, based in Pottsville, was established in 1829 and is the oldest brewery in the United States. Just think – you could be drinking the same beer as your ancestors!

If you have Pennsylvania ancestors – and lots of us do! – check out our new Pennsylvania State Research Guide, with a general history of the state, a timeline, and lots of resources for you to explore.

For those of you without Keystone State ancestors, it’s alright. Head over to the Learning Center where we have guides for almost every other state. (The series will be completed soon!)

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Family History 101: Tips for Interviewing Your Living Relatives Thu, 16 Oct 2014 14:42:21 +0000 Jessica Murray Read more]]> Sharing your family’s legacy is so important for strengthening family bonds and reliving traditions that will make memories for every generation. This Family History Month, take the time to sit down with your living relatives to record important family history and maybe you’ll make some new family history research discoveries.

To start, download our handy PDF here with interview questions you can use in your interviews.

Here are a few tips to make the interview experience easier.

1. Start with the Oldest Family Members (and Friends)

Our oldest generations have stories that you may have never heard and are the most likely to be lost if not captured now. Don’t wait on sharing some one-on-one time with your older relatives as you may not have many more opportunities to do so in the future.

Also, if your family is anything like mine, you have “grandmas” and “aunts” who you’re not actually related to, but they’re considered family. Don’t rule them out when capturing family history. They were often involved in stories or may share a different perspective that might bring more color to your family history.

2. Use Photos to Trigger Memories

Especially with your aging relatives, they may not recall the exact day, month or year so warm them up by sharing old family photographs and asking them to describe who they see, what memories they have of that person and what their life was like in those days. This approach is much softer than reading off a list of questions which may have them jumping around to different time periods in their lives and create frustration.

3. Go Off Topic

Don’t be afraid to let them go off topic. It’s these moments you might learn something new or hear their perspective which may be different from what you knew. And for that matter, if there are questions in the prompt that aren’t relevant to your family, disregard them and use the interview questions as a guide.

4. Get It on Video

Ask your relative if they mind you recording the interview. Some will feel put on the spot and others won’t mind at all. I recorded a few videos of my great Jessica and Bruce uncle Bruce [pictured on the right at his WWII Veteran's Reunion in 2009], just a year before his passing and now watching the videos are part of our family reunion tradition. Although they were short videos — 3-5 minutes each — hearing the story from him and seeing him smile makes it so much more meaningful to our family.

There’s something really special when you have your family member sharing family stories first-hand vs. having it recorded on notepads. The later isn’t bad, but if we could go back and record each one of our ancestors to understand their perspective, who would say no?

If you don’t live close to relatives, use the upcoming holidays as an opportunity to sit down with them. For those who can’t see them this holiday season, there are easy to download mobile apps that allow you to record telephone conversations or even third-party software that allow you to record Skype videos. Another alternative is using Google+ Hangouts, which are free. You can make them private and select the “On Air” feature so it will automatically record and publish to “private” on your personal YouTube page.

Do you have tips for conducting family interviews? If so, share them with us!

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Creative Ways to Get Your Kids Excited About Family History Month – Part Two Thu, 16 Oct 2014 14:29:06 +0000 Jessica Murray Read more]]> If you didn’t catch our blog last week, we’re hosting a weekly series in October in honor of Family History Month with creative ideas on getting the kids and young adults in your family excited about family history. Today we continue with three new activities you can do with little ones.

1. Little Detectives

Before she was a professional genealogist, Juliana Szucs helped her mother find family surnames on their microfilm reader in the basement. (This was before the days of census indexing and going page-by-page was the only way to find people.) Each family surname she and her sisters found and recorded on an index card earned them $.25. It was then Juliana discovered her passion for family history because of the rush in finding people she was related to, the financial reward was just icing on the cake.

But you don’t have a microfilm reader in your basement? You’re not alone.

Reward your kiddos with money, points or a present when they find a certain source or a family surname in offline documents. For older kids, navigating online might be easier to search across the more than 14 billion records in Ancestry’s database. Having them help in your research and piece together clues as a team will make the story of your family that much more exciting to them.

If your little ones are savvy on smartphones or tablet devices (what kid isn’t?!) check out the newest Ancestry iOS 6.0 update which was released in September and has exciting features which you can learn more about here.

2. Family Cookbooks

My Mix of Six Family Cookbook

My Mix of Six Family Cookbook

Every three years, my family gathers our favorite recipes and, of course, traditional recipes passed down and compiles a cookbook that is given out at our family reunion.

My great-grandfather’s chipped beef gravy recipe is hands down the family favorite, but it’s not the food on its own but the stories around how this recipe came to be that makes it so special. My great-grandfather was an enlisted man in the Navy with a wife and eight children to support. My great-grandparents resorted to the cheapest of ingredients when cooking for their family, so chipped beef gravy became a staple. My other family favorite is oyster stew on Christmas morning. It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I realized not every family ate oyster stew on Christmas mornings. Many people think it’s an odd tradition to have in the first place, but it’s ours and sure enough, I look forward to oyster stew every holiday season.

In this example, blogger Shauna Thompson on My Mix of Six photocopied the original recipe cards her grandmother had handed down to make their family cookbook even more sentimental. I especially love that she included original photos of her grandmother’s kitchen. Check out the photos here.

3. Flash Cards Meets “Peek-A-Boo”

Memory meets peek-a-boo in this DIY spin off. For your visual learners, use existing photographs around the house to help teach little ones how they’re related to different family members.

In this example, No Time For Flash Cards repurposes the tops of diaper wipe containers to make small frames on the wall which open and close so her daughter can identify the family member. Visit this link for how-to instructions on making your own game of peek-a-boo.

Another way to improvise, if you don’t want to tape anything to your walls is to put construction paper over existing family picture frames in your house. The front would have your child’s relationship to the person in the photograph and when they move the construction paper, it reveals who the person is. This would make an easy game that they can revisit over hours or days and they’ll get familiar with who is in the photographs they see throughout your house.

Have more ideas on getting kids excited about family history? Share with us and your idea may be featured in a future post! 

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Do You Have a Search Strategy? Tue, 14 Oct 2014 21:04:51 +0000 Juliana Szucs Read more]]> While global searches on Ancestry—whether in a search form, from your tree, or from Family Tree Maker—are great for capturing some censuses, and many other records where lots of detail has been indexed, sometimes you need to dig a little deeper to uncover new records. It’s important to remember that a global search on Ancestry searches 14 billion records, in collections that are very diverse. While it’s an efficient search for many collections, some records just don’t rise to the surface.  If you’re relying strictly on Hints and global searches to find your ancestors, you may be missing out on some exciting discoveries.

Beyond Global Searches

In some cases, it’s better to search on a category level. For example, say you’re looking for your immigrant ancestor’s arrival. If you go to the Search tab and select Immigration & Travel from the box on the right side of the page, you can search from there and you will be restricting your search to immigration, travel and citizenship records. Not only are you ruling out billions of other records that aren’t relevant to what you’re searching for, you’re using a search form that is tailored to the types of information that we find in these types of records. You can narrow your search further by focusing on only passenger lists, by limiting your search to those records in that sub-category. (That said, for the U.S. you may want to check the sub-category of Border Crossings & Passports as well, to see if your ancestor came in via Canada or Mexico. At certain points in time, it was cheaper to travel to Canada first and then go to the U.S.)


You should also consider searching collections directly. This is the most powerful way to search in most cases. You’re searching a much smaller subset of records and you can tailor your search to the fields that have been indexed.

Focusing on What You’re Missing

The first step in forming a search strategy is to determine what you’re missing. Look over your ancestor’s profile in their online tree or at what you have gathered in your files. Are there gaps? Have you found them in every census? What are you trying to learn about them? Once you’ve got a target in mind, it’s time to explore what collections are available that can provide the information you’re seeking. There are two ways to do that on Ancestry.

The first is the Card Catalog. You can search the Card Catalog for a collection by title or keyword. (Title searches look for the terms in the title; keyword searches look for the terms in both the title and collection description.) You can also filter the collections by category, geographic location (country, state, and county levels), and time frame.

Another way to explore what records are available on Ancestry is to Explore by Location. Go to the Search tab and scroll down to the map at the bottom of the page. This map will default to the country your membership is through, but you can browse what’s available for other countries using the tabs above the map.


Searching Directly

So by now, hopefully you’ve found a collection of interest. Before you dive in to search, take a moment to read the collection description. The collection description will give you source information and, often, details that will help you with your search. It will also tell you if there are gaps in the coverage. For example, the Indiana Marriage Collection, 1800-1941 has records that span 141 years, but that coverage is not available for every county. There is a table at the bottom of the page that lists what years are available for each county.

There is also something to be said for doing a trial search if you’re not having any luck. See how the records are formatted and what is indexed. There may be some clues there that will help you tweak your search. Try a search for Smith or some other common surname that you think will be in the collection. Here’s an example from the Ancestry collection of Ireland, Select Catholic Birth and Baptism Registers, 1763-1912.


This sampling of Smith baptisms has a mix of English given names, Latin given names, and abbreviations. Knowing this, it might be a good idea to search with just the root of the given name and a wild card (for example, Pat* for Patrick, Patricius, Patricii, or Patricium; Tho* for Thomas, Thos, or Thomam, etc.)

Another takeaway from this collection is that parents’ names are indexed. Searching for variants of the parents’ names and only the surname in the top field, you may find the records of multiple children born to those parents. Just keep in mind that there may be variations in the way the parents’ names are recorded as well.


We’ve compiled a guide to these search strategies that you can download here in our Learning Center. Happy Searching!

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