Ancestry Blog » Site The official blog of Ancestry Fri, 31 Oct 2014 13:37:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A brief history of Halloween. Click if you dare! Fri, 31 Oct 2014 10:04:09 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]> skelttttt

Halloween is here! Time to dress up and trick or treat, attend bonfires, parties and firework displays, and generally enjoy yourself. Have you ever wondered where these traditions come from?

Halloween is a mixed bag of different traditions and customs influenced by diverse religions and cultures. It all began in Ireland’s Celtic past. It was at the end of the harvest season that the Celtic people believed summer gave way to winter, or light gave way to dark. It was essentially the Celtic New Year. It was a time of celebration. The crops had been harvested and the animals brought in from the mountains and fields. This festival was called Samhain, pronounced Sow-in.

The Celts believed that a day began in darkness and moved into light. Samhain was a time when they believed that the divide between the living world and the spirit world was at its thinnest. As a result the spirits of the dead could rise and walk among the living. The Celts lit large bonfires to protect themselves from these spirits. In turn the extinguished fires of each house were reignited from the flames of the ceremonial bonfires.

As Christianity spread and gained influence, pagan festivals were frowned upon. Samhain was incorporated into the Christian calendar with the creation of All Saints or All Hallows Day on November 1st. The 31st of October became All Hallows Eve which over time morphed into the word Halloween. Many pagan elements and traditions survived and became part of the Christian holiday. Wearing scary masks, lighting bonfires and playing tricks on neighbors all survived as Halloween customs.

The mass emigration of Irish people during the famine brought many of the customs and folklore to America. Halloween traditions are alive and well and Halloween is a major holiday in the United States and in many countries around the world. Halloween is now a time for fun and frivolity and of course – scary movies and sweets!

Enjoy yourself this Halloween but be sure to watch out for ghosts and monsters lurking in the shadows.

Follow Ancestry on Facebook and  Twitter and let us know how you will be spending this Halloween.




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Bring Your Ancestors to Life: Adding Context with Unique Ancestry Collections Thu, 30 Oct 2014 17:40:45 +0000 Juliana Szucs Read more]]> Looking at a pedigree chart can be somewhat uninspiring to family members who haven’t yet been bitten with the genealogy bug. We know that those names and dates carry stories, but to really do them justice we need to add context. There are some fantastic resources available on Ancestry that can help us do just that. Here are a few collections you may want to check out.

New York City, Ellis Island Oral Histories, 1892-1976 – Beginning in 1973, the Ellis Island Oral History Program collected more than 2,000 first-hand oral histories documenting the immigrant experience. This collection is, in short, addictive. The immigrants discuss everything from everyday life in their country of origin to reasons for coming to America. Learn about the journey to America, how the family made their way to their port of departure, what it was like on board the ship, what happened at the processing station at Ellis Island, and the immigrant’s adjustment to life in the U.S. You’ll come away with a real feel for what turn of the century immigrants went through.

Historic Catalogs of Sears, Roebuck and Co., 1896-1993 – Compiled from the iconic department store’s printed mailer, this collection includes catalogs starting in 1896. Beginning with mail-order goods the company followed the railroad in America’s westward expansion, providing a wide variety of goods to customers across the country. Even residents in remote rural areas could now see the latest conveniences and current fashions. These catalogs offer us a unique peek into the times.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. Catalog from Spring 1906

Sears, Roebuck and Co. Catalog from Spring 1906

The catalogs can also be used to estimate the dates on old photographs based on clothing styles.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. Catalog from Fall 1915

Sears, Roebuck and Co. Catalog from Fall 1915

The Gentleman’s Magazine Library, 1731-1868 – In publication from 1731 until 1907, this monthly periodical was distributed throughout the English-speaking world and covered a wide variety of topics in essays, biographies, articles, illustrations, poetry, reports, and historical passages. Sections of the collection cover the various counties in England, and others cover manners, customs and superstitions. In parts of Worcestershire and Shropshire it was considered unlucky to “meet a squinting woman, unless you talk to her, which breaks the charm.” Other situations considered unlucky include being one of a party of thirteen at Christmas, having crickets in the house, and to have a female come into your house the first thing on New Year’s morning. “So generally does this absurdity prevail, that in many towns, young lads make a ‘good thing of it’ by selling their services to go round and enter houses first that morning.”

Want to know about your ancestor’s village? The Gentleman’s Magazine Library has you covered. Here’s an example of what you could find.

From "The Gentleman's Magazine Library, 1731-1868," Kent and Lancashire.

From “The Gentleman’s Magazine Library, 1731-1868,” Kent and Lancashire.

Local Histories

Local histories contain valuable gems of information for family history researchers, regardless of whether the family lived in the city or in a rural area. But these resources are often overlooked. And even if they aren’t entirely ignored, we may find ourselves just checking the index for surnames of interest.

Browsing A History of the City of Brooklyn by Henry R. Stiles (1867-70), you’ll find information about epidemics, political and legislative events, celebrations, incorporations, explosions, fires, the organization of clubs, and much more. There is talk of school fairs and the date when water was first piped into the area. One section chronicles the mobilization of troops for the Civil War and includes details of the efforts of the community to support the families of volunteers during their absence.

Local and county histories often include valuable information about the various institutions in a particular area. Churches, orphanages, charitable institutions, schools, hospitals and dispensaries, cultural institutions, cemeteries, businesses, and methods of available transportation are frequently discussed in great detail.

Ancestry has thousands of local histories online, but they’re best searched directly or, better yet, browsed. To see what’s available for the places your ancestors lived, click on the Search tab, and choose a state from the map in the lower left corner. The Stories, Memories & Histories section is located at the bottom of the list. In addition to state histories, be sure to see what’s available on the local level by selecting a county from the box on the right.

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13 Spooky Family History Finds Thu, 30 Oct 2014 15:22:46 +0000 Read more]]> Witches, ghosts, murder—researchers from Ancestry found them all and more when they started combing the headlines for spooky facts in some current, and former, celebrities’ pasts.

13 Halloween Things FINAL V2-01


  1. Real Witch Found in Emma Watson’sFamily Tree: Muggle actress Emma Watson, famous for playing Hermione Granger, the preternaturally talented witch and ally of Harry Potter, has a real-life connection to the wizarding world. According to family history experts at Ancestry, English records show Watson is a distant relative of one Joan Playle of Essex County, England, who was convicted of witchcraft in 1592.
  2. Alleged “Jack the Ripper” Committed to Leavesden Asylum! Murders Cease! “Jack the Ripper” suspect Aaron Kozminski was committed to the Leavesden Asylum after his previous discharge from Colney Asylum in 1894. A hairdresser by trade, Kozminski died in 1919. While the Whitechapel murders stopped following Kozminski’s incarceration, the true identity of Jack the Ripper remains a mystery.
  3. CNN’s Jake Tapper recently discovered that his enigmatic 128-year-old 7th great-grandfather is buried at the Hopewell Church Cemetery in a town otherwise known as SLEEPY HOLLOW!
  4. Noisy GHOST Means Tax Cut for Bonham Carter Cousin: Helena Bonham Carter’s 2nd cousin once removed, Lt. Col. Algernon Bonham-Carter, received a 10 percent tax cut in 1957 when “the local tax valuation court agreed to reduce the taxes on the Colonel’s 500-year-old house” because a ghost that frequented the first-floor bedrooms “was knocking down the property values.”
  5. Taylor Swift Has an Undertaker in the Family: Charles Baldi, 2nd great-grandfather of pop star Taylor Swift, was killing it himself as an undertaker in Philadelphia in 1900. His own start rose as he became a real estate broker, then, by 1930, president of a banking company!
  6. Colonial Fratricide in Stephen King’s Tree: Horror master Stephen King’s 7th great-grandfather Jonathan Nason was killed with canoe oar on the Pascataqua River. The fatal blow was delivered by his brother, who, according to historical records, was acting in self-defense.
  7. Star of Dr. Who, Peter Capaldi, might not have been here to assume the role without a good doctor in his own past. John Capaldi, Peter’s grandfather, survived shooting himself in the chest after being rejected by the woman who would later become his wife!
  8. Twilight Star Robert Pattinson Related to Dracula: Family history experts at discovered that the role of dreamy vampire Edward Cullen is in Pattinson’s blood. Pattinson is a distant relation to Vlad the Impaler himself, a possible inspiration for Bram Stoker’s vampire. Pattinson comes through the lineage via the British royal line: his family tree merges with Princes William and Harry’s on their father’s side, and the royal brothers count Vlad as a distant uncle.
  9. The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson and Woody Harrelson Have Ancestors with Grave Occupations: Talk about burying the competition. Hutcherson’s 2nd great-grandfather Weber L. Fightmaster of Kentucky appears as a “grave digger” in the 1940 U.S. Census. Meanwhile, across the river in Ohio, Harrelson’s grandfather Kenneth Oswald was working as an “embalmer.”
  10. Happy Birthday to PETER JACKSON, director of fantastical films such as The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and King Kong.
  11. Ghostbusting Is an Aykroyd Family Affair: Dan Aykroyd reports that his grandfather was a “Bell Telephone engineer who actually queried his colleagues about the possibility of constructing a high-vibration crystal radio as a mechanical method for contacting the spiritual world. His son, my father, as a child witnessed séances and kept the family books on the subject…and from all this Ghostbusters got made.”
  12. Houdini DIES on Halloween! “Harry Houdini, the magician, died today. The noted escape artist, whose adeptness at freeing himself from strait-jackets, chains and cells mystified audiences in all parts of the world, died after second surgical attempt had been made to save his life from the effects of peritonitis. —Independent Record (Helena, Montana)
  13. The Addams Family Yearbook Photos: See the yearbook photos of your favorite freaky family from classic television. John Astin as Gomez Addams, Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams, and Ted Cassidy as Lurch.


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Ten Free Data Collections to Get You Started With Your Family History Wed, 29 Oct 2014 13:56:45 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> Calvary Cemetery. Photo by Lou Szucs.

Calvary Cemetery. Photo by Lou Szucs.

Money a little tight?  Are you looking for a free way to get a relative hooked on family history? (Aren’t we all?)

Creating trees on Ancestry is always free — you just need to register. Check out these free data collections to help fill in some branches:

  1. 1940 US Census: Find one ancestor in here and you can get your tree started in no time.
  2. 1880 US Census: Find your ancestors in here and you may have a Civil War connection.
  3. Web: Obituary Daily Times Index, 1995-Current: We scan the web so you don’t have to. The Obituary Daily Times Index has over 15 million records for you to view.
  4. US Naturalization Record Indexes, 1791-1992 (Indexed in World Archives Project): The World Archives Project contributors index millions of records and the indexes are free.
  5. 1881 England Census: Have English ancestors? Look for them in the 1881 England Census
  6. England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837-1915: Find English and Welsh birth in this index courtesy of the FreeBMD contributors.
  7. JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR): Jewish ancestry? Check for burials in JOWBR.
  8. Message Boards and RootsWeb: Lots of helpful advice, family trees, data, and other information in these two locations.
  9. Find A Grave: Millions of grave markers have been photographed and memorialized. It pays to check this site often.
  10. War of 1812 Pension Files: Supported by donations, the 1812 pension files on Fold3 are free. More than 1.4 million images are already online.

So go take a look or send someone who thinks they might be interested to one of these data collections. It could be the start of a lifelong family history journey!

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History of Jewish Migration to the United States Tue, 28 Oct 2014 12:55:01 +0000 Read more]]> This is a guest post by Gary Mokotoff

Jews have been coming to the Americas literally since Columbus discovered America. Luis De Torres, a Jew, was Columbus’ interpreter on his maiden trip. Migration of Jews through the centuries, for the most part, came in waves primarily because of persecution, but also for economic or political reasons.

In 1492, the Spanish monarchy demanded that all Jews convert to Christianity or leave the country. Many chose to stay and continued to observe Judaism in secret as crypto-Jews. Some fled to the Spanish colonies in the Americas to escape the Inquisition. One of the early colonies, Santa Elena, was located in today’s South Carolina. A list of colonists shows many with Jewish surnames. In fact, the leader of the colony, Juan Pardo, may have been crypto-Jew because Pardo is a Jewish surname. The colony was disbanded in 1587.

Other crypto-Jews fled to the colony of Mexico and established their own towns in today’s New Mexico. Better known are the group of Jews who came to Nieuw Amsterdam (now New York) in 1654 from Recife, Brazil, and permanently settled there. Recife was a Dutch colony conquered by the Portuguese and the Jews feared they would be persecuted at the Inquisition.

Colonial Migration (1654–1840)

Haym Salomon, financier of the American Revolution

Haym Salomon, financier of the American Revolution

It is estimated that fewer than 15,000 Jews came to settle in the United States prior to the first major migration—German Jews starting in 1840. The early settlers established their synagogues, cemeteries and participated in the everyday life. Jews were present at Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, and other battle sites throughout the colonies. Some were Tories. The best known Jew of the Revolutionary War period was Haym Salomon. He helped raise funds and loaned his own personal money to fund the colonial war against the British.

German Migration (1840–1881)

German Jews began to come to America in significant numbers in the 1840s. Jews participated with those who advocated revolution and reform in Germany, and when this movement was suppressed, many Jews fled to the United States to avoid persecution, restrictive laws and economic hardship. Many became peddlers and died peddlers. A few became retail giants such as Bernard Gimbel, Isidor Straus (founder of Macy’s, who died on the Titanic).

Eastern European Migration (1881–1924)

In 1881, Czar Alexander II was assassinated and it was blamed on the Jews. What followed were numerous pogroms until World War I. This caused a tremendous migration of Jews from Eastern Europe (at that time Russia included today’s Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and portions of Poland).  It is estimated that more than 2 million Jews immigrated to the U.S. It is also claimed that 90% of Jewish Americans today owe their heritage to these immigrants. Many of them Americanized their surnames due to anti-Semitism and the desire to assimilate. Tartasky became Tarr, Chajkowski became Shaw, Levine became LeVine. It is a challenge to many people trying to trace their family history when the name in the Old Country is not known. There are solutions.

Interwar/Holocaust Period (1924–1945)

In 1924, Congress passed onerous immigration laws that virtually cutoff immigration from such places as Eastern Europe and Italy. It is estimated that fewer than 100,000 Jews immigrated during this period. A number of German Jews fleeing Hitler’s rise to power managed to come to the U.S. in the 1930s. Examples are Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger. Attempts to rescue Jews fell on deaf ears of the U.S. government and immigration laws prevented their escaping the Nazi onslaught. During World War II immigration, in general, came to a virtual standstill.

Munich, Vienna and Barcelona Jewish Displaced Persons and Refugee Cards, 1943-1959

Munich, Vienna and Barcelona Jewish Displaced Persons and Refugee Cards, 1943-1959

Holocaust Survivors (1945–1960)

After World War II, the U.S. opened its gates to refugees of the war. This included more than 250,000 Jews according to HIAS (Hebrew Immigration Aid Society). In the 1970s, the term “Holocaust survivors” was created to identify these individuals. Many were sole survivors of their family who often married other sole survivors and built new lives here. Some of the earliest personal computers were built by Commodore and Atari, founded by Jack Tramiel, a Holocaust survivor.

Recent Years

Persecution in Middle East countries such as Iran and Iraq caused most of the Jews in these countries to flee to the U.S. and Israel in the 1950s and 60s. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Jews left the countries of the former Soviet Union and immigrated to other countries including the U.S. Interestingly, these Russian Jews have kept their surnames, undoubtedly due to the decline of anti-Semitism in this country. Such a person is Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google.

A more detailed description of Jewish migration to America through 1924 can be found at My Jewish Learning.

Gary Mokotoff is a noted author, lecturer and leader of Jewish genealogy. He has been recognized by three major genealogical groups for his achievements. He is the first person to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS); recipient of the Grahame T. Smallwood Award of the Association of Professional Genealogists; and the Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern Humanitarian Award of the Federation of Genealogical Societies.

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Tips for Finding Your Ancestors in German Civil Registration Records on Ancestry Mon, 27 Oct 2014 14:17:28 +0000 Juliana Szucs Read more]]> 20141023Dresden

Dresden, Germany

Ancestry has just launched more than 11.7 million new German records, the majority of which are birth, marriage, and death records. Initially, registrations of births, marriages, and deaths were kept by religious denominations, but a civil registry modeled on the French system was implemented on 1 October 1874 in Prussian provinces, and throughout the German Empire on 1 January 1876. Here are some tips to help you get the most from these new civil registration records.

Determine Your Ancestor’s Place of Origin in Germany

You’re going to have an edge if you know where in Germany your ancestors lived. While you can search all of the new German collections through this page, being able to zero in on a location will make your search more effective. Search extensively in U.S. records for places of origin that will help you to determine where to focus your search in the German records. You may find locations in naturalization records (typically only post-1906), passports, passenger lists (post-1890s), World War I and II draft registrations, obituaries, and vital records here in the U.S.

If the family was here in the U.S. by 1880, the enumerator instructions for that year’s census state that if the birthplace was Germany, the enumerator was to specify the State, as Prussia, Baden, Bavaria, Wurtemberg, Hesse-Darmstadt, etc.

Note, these new collections are not all-inclusive for Germany but do include many locations around the country. To see what birth, marriage, and death collections are available for various locations in Germany, click here. Below is a summary of the collections that were added.


Get to Know the Whole Family

The more you know about the family, the easier it will be to correctly identify your ancestor in the records. For example, if you don’t know the parents’ names, but know the names and ages of siblings, it may help prove you have the right record when the parents’ names on your ancestor’s birth match those of their siblings. In marriage records, often you’ll find family listed as witnesses to the marriage as well, again providing supporting evidence that you have the correct record.

Familiarize Yourself with German Names

Obviously, your ancestor’s German records will be in German and your ancestor will be going by the German version of his given name. The German Research Center on Ancestry has a list of German given names that you can reference. is another good resource. Note that sometimes you may find diminutives listed as well (e.g., Max for Maximilian, Willy or Willi for Wilhelm, etc.), so keep that in mind as you search. Wildcards can help in that respect (e.g., Max* or Wil*).

Surnames may be different than the names you’re used to seeing here in the U.S. as well. During both World Wars, there was a backlash against Germans and your family may have anglicized their name around that time. This guide to Finding Your German Ancestors on Ancestry has some tips for zeroing in on your ancestor’s surname.


Interpret the Entire Record

Once you’ve identified your ancestor’s record, you’ll want to glean every detail. To help you get the most from these records, we’ve created a guide with sample records that can help you translate the information found in these records. Beyond the details that have been indexed, you’ll also find important information like occupation, religion, names of witnesses, and more.

You can download the free guide here.

Creative Searching

Get creative with your searches by getting familiar with what fields are indexed. For example, try a search for just a surname in the name fields of birth records, and add the names of one or both parents in the fields for Family Members to return records of all the children born to that couple.


Need More Guidance?

Our German Research Center has some very helpful tools, like this PDF with German alphabet samples and this guide to symbols you may find in German records. There are also word lists and record samples from other German collections.

For more tips on research your German ancestry, download the free PDF Finding Your German Ancestors on Ancestry.

Best of luck with your searches!

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Uncovering a Free Black Man’s Past: Buying a Slave to Unite His Family Sat, 25 Oct 2014 13:00:30 +0000 Read more]]> By Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Anne Gillespie Mitchell, Genealogist

“My ancestor, Lewis Freeman, was a free Negro who lived in Chatham, North Carolina from at least 1800 until his death in 1845. I would like to know when he was born.” – Harold F.

Dear Harold,

When searching for family roots in the South, a researcher might assume his or her African American ancestors were slaves. While it is true that, by far, the overwhelming percentage of black people in the South were doomed to spend their entire lives in slavery prior to the Civil War, it is also true that a small percentage lived as free citizens. And some, like your ancestor, were even able to prosper.

In 1840, for example, five years before your ancestor died, there were a total of 319,599 free black people living in the United States, about 13.4 percent of the entire black population, as Ira Berlin writes in Slaves Without Masters. Of those, 170,728 lived in the North and 215,575 lived in the South. North Carolina was fourth in the South behind Maryland, Virginia, and Louisiana with a total of 22,732 free blacks, or about 8.5% of the state’s total black population. This makes sense, since the vast majority of free black people lived in the Upper South (174,357 in 1840 versus 41,218 in the Lower South in 1840).

Lewis Freeman was one of those free black citizens of North Carolina in 1840, which makes it more likely we’ll find an answer to your search to find his birthdate. Unfortunately, however, few records from Chatham County or the Pittsboro area from the early 1800s exist. In North Carolina, births and deaths were not recorded until after 1913, and marriages were often lost or not recorded regularly before 1868. So, as is the case for many who lived in the 1700s and early 1800s, no clues exist about Lewis Freeman’s age in vital records. Accordingly, to find the answer to your question, we had to search elsewhere.

Putting Down Roots in Pittsboro

Remarkably, your ancestor was a very successful early black settler in Pittsboro, North Carolina. Lewis was able to purchase at least 16 lots in town and 20 acres in surrounding Chatham County. We get a sense of his holdings from the will he wrote in January 1845 (and recorded in August of that same year). To his wife, Creecy, Lewis left their home and various lots in Pittsboro as well as 20 acres in surrounding Chatham County. His original house, located on Main Street in Pittsboro, was a typical one-room structure. Very few African Americans are able to identify the home their ancestor occupied before the Civil War, but you are among the fortunate ones! Although Lewis’s home has been modified over the years, enough of it has remained to earn a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in North Carolina.

Clearly, your ancestor accumulated an impressive real estate portfolio. Less clear is the source of Lewis’s wealth. The early census records list him as being employed in agriculture, but he may very well have been more than a farmer.

In addition, and we are sure that this will come as a surprise to you and your family: your ancestor, Lewis Freeman, a free black man, was himself a slave owner!

Family of Lewis Freeman

Amazingly, according to the 1820 census, which we found on, Lewis had two slaves living in his household: a male and a female, both under the age of 14.

Lewis Freeman_1

A detail from the 1820 U.S. Federal Census for Lewis Freeman and household at


Why, you might reasonably ask, would a free black man own slaves? We can’t know for sure in Lewis’s case, but they may have been family members that he bought in order to keep them in his family, and protect them from being owned by white masters. It wasn’t unheard of for black family members to be bought and kept as slaves by other family members in these years, since in many Southern states, freed slaves had to leave the state or face being arrested and sold back into slavery. In other words, it was a desperate, but clever, way to keep the family together.

While Freeman’s will refers only to his wife Creecy and does not mention any children or slaves, documentation for the National Register of Historic Places does mention a son named Waller. And Waller’s probate records from 1868 shed light on the matter:

That one Lewis Freeman a free man of color the father of the said Waller and Grandfather of the plaintiffs….purchased from one C J Williams of Chatham County, N.C. on the 11th day of May 1814 Maria the Mother of the said Waller and with who the said Lewis lived as man and wife up to the death of the said Maria; this purchase was after the birth of the said Waller and the said [bill] of Sale from the said Williams to the said Lewis is registered in the office of the Register of Chatham County….the said Waller was purchased by the late George E Badger and the said Geo[rge] E Badger afterwards to wit on the 6th day of October 1830 sold the said slave to his father the said Lewis.

What this means is Lewis purchased a woman named Maria, his first wife, from one man. Maria was his son’s mother. And then, after their son, Waller, was born, he purchased Waller from another man. That way, Lewis, a free black man, was able to live with his slave wife and child as a family. Seven years later, after Maria had died, Lewis made a remarkable decision: he decided to sell their surviving son to a man named R. Tucker, who took Waller to New York City in order to free him. We actually found the deed of manumission executed on October 4, 1837! So you descend from two generations of free people of color!  It couldn’t have been an easy decision, but it ensured that Lewis Freeman’s son would be a free man. Remaining in the South, Lewis married a woman named Creecy, who eventually inherited his estate.

Estimating Lewis Freeman’s Birth Year

We believe that we have found the approximate answer to your question in the last federal census taken before the outbreak of the Civil War. As shown in an excerpt from the 1860 census below, Waller Freeman, Lewis’s freed son, was recorded as 60 years old, meaning he was born around 1800.

Lewis Freeman_2

A detail from the 1860 U.S. Federal Census for Waller Freeman and household at

If Waller was born in 1800, and his father was at least 18 years old when Waller was born, then Lewis was born no later than 1782, which was a year before the American Revolution ended.

We can only give you an estimate of your ancestor’s age, because before 1850, exact ages were not given in the U.S. Federal Census. Only age ranges were noted. In the 1800 and 1810 U.S Federal Censuses in Chatham, Lewis Freeman was counted, meaning that he was free at least by the beginning of the nineteenth-century.  But, like other free people of color and slaves, no other data was listed in those two records. But the census records from 1820, 1830, and 1840, however, give us more information, thankfully. In those, Lewis was listed as head of household and, assuming he was the oldest male listed, we can make the following guesses about his birth year:

Lewis Freeman_3

Using the largest lower bound and the smallest upper bound (above), allows us to narrow the possible years of Lewis’ birth to between the years 1741 and 1775, which means he would have been between 70 and 104 when he died in 1845. Like many people who lived in the early 1800s and before, we may never know the exact year of Lewis Freeman’s birth.

Not every question we have about our ancestors can be answered; and sometimes when records exist, we still can’t answer every question exactly. But by digging for clues and analyzing them within the context of their times, we can begin to get a sense of the kind of person they were and how they lived their lives. In your case, we can begin to see how very complicated the life of a free person of color could be, and the extremely difficult choices that they had to make to protect the people they most loved. Your desire to find Lewis Freeman’s birth date enabled us to make three astonishing discoveries about your fascinating ancestor: first, we were able to uncover the extent of his considerable estate, indicating that he was certainly one of the most prosperous free people of color in his lifetime; second, we were able to unveil the complicated family structure he had to create as a “slaveowner” in order to live with his first wife Maria and their son Waller; and third, and most poignantly, we were able to discover the ingenious way that he invented to free his enslaved son. When death set his wife free from this earth, Lewis took pains to see that their son was set free from slavery in the South, by selling him to a friend who would free him in the North. Since it is highly unlikely that Waller would risk returning to a slave state and being illegally re-enslaved, it is highly likely that Lewis knew, by taking this decision, he would never see his son again. It would take a bloody civil war nearly 30 years later to relieve other black fathers in the South of that terrible burden.


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


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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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Quaker Migrations Across the Centuries Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:35:38 +0000 Read more]]> This is a guest post by Diane VanSkiver Gagel, M.A. 

The Society of Friends (Quakers) was founded in the 1640s in the east midlands of England by George Fox. The Quakers quickly expanded in numbers and geography in England. By 1655, Quakers were immigrating to the English colonies in America, partly through religious zeal to convert others to their faith. Religious zeal was an important factor in the emigration/migration of the early Quakers to and within the American Colonies. The first English Quakers went to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but others soon followed from England and other European countries to found West Jersey and Pennsylvania in the 17th Century.

In Massachusetts, the Quaker preachers and the early converts came into direct conflict with the Puritan church and colonial leaders. Many suffered for their new faith and some made the ultimate sacrifice. As a result, some Quaker_Eastern and NY MM Quakers moved to Rhode Island, where religious tolerance was more prevalent. Several of my ancestors faced this challenge. Lawrence and Cassandra Southwick were early Puritan settlers in Salem, Massachusetts. However, early English Quaker preachers soon convinced the Southwicks that the Society of Friends was a better path. Governor John Endicott wanted to rid the colony of the scourge of Quakerism and arrested them and other Quakers. They were fined and whipped, but they remained adamant in their faith. Eventually, Lawrence and his wife were exiled to Shelter Island, where they soon died, probably from exposure. Their children Daniel and Provided had also become Quakers and were just as firm in their new faith. Endicott took a different tack with the children. In addition to the jailing and whipping, Endicott decided to teach them a lesson by selling them into slavery. However, when the slave auction began for Daniel and Provided, the ships’ captains at the Salem docks refused to bid on them as they were white; the Southwicks were returned to jail and suffered more physical abuse before being released.

Eventually, the English crown prohibited the extreme measures the Massachusetts colonial government was inflicting on the Quakers. Nevertheless, some New England Quakers decided to move south to West Jersey, the first colony founded by Quakers, where they could practice their faith without harassment. Daniel and his sister, Provided Southwick Gaskill, were among those who moved to West Jersey.

Although Quakers were early pioneers in many locations, they usually did not move into areas facing confrontations, especially where Native Americans were attempting to push back new settlements. In general, Quakers migrated once conflict was less prevalent. In addition, some Quakers migrated in family groups or even as whole or partial meetings. One advantage of having Quaker ancestors is that their movements can be traced via the Monthly Meeting (MM) records; Quakers who were moving permanently or temporarily to another location/meeting were required to obtain a certificate of removal to be presented to the new meeting to show they were members in good standing. These requests are found in the Monthly Meeting minutes, both men and women’s meetings.

quaker southern coloniesIn the mid-1600s, Quaker preachers also traveled to the Virginia Colony.  Converts were made, and the Quakers soon faced opposition here as they did in New England, though not so severe. Over time, these official attitudes changed, and Quaker meetings were increasing in numbers in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee. Adding to these native members were Quakers from the northern colonies who traveled the Great Emigrant Road south from Philadelphia.  New Jersey and Pennsylvania Quakers moved to Virginia to find new land to develop; these meetings were originally under the jurisdiction of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. However, by 1789, the Baltimore Yearly Meeting was established to oversee the early southern meetings. Many of the Virginia Quakers soon looked further south in the Carolinas for fresh land, where they soon outnumbered the non-Quakers even having a Quaker Governor in 1694. In addition to the migrating Quakers from the mid-Atlantic colonies, some Quakers from Nantucket also looked south for new lands, some settling in Virginia and others moving on down the Great Valley to the Carolinas and later to Georgia.  As the 18th Century progressed, Quakers moved west from their coastal homes, and meetings inland were soon set up on the southern frontier. During the Revolutionary War era, Quakers moved west from the Carolinas to Tennessee.

These Southern Quakers were living in a slave society, and in the early days did not object openly to this issue; in fact, some Quakers were slave owners. However, over the next century, the Quaker doctrine soon saw the evil of the practice, and the Yearly Meetings urged their members to modify their views on the enslavement of Africans. In the 1790s, some northern Quakers had traveled to the new Northwest Territory and found it very appealing for new settlements. This news of a new, fertile land that also prohibited slavery soon spread to the southern meetings. Also after the 1791 slave insurrections in Santo Domingo (Haiti), Quaker ministers traveled south to warn the meetings that living in a slave society could expose them to similar violent actions. As a result, many southern Quakers took action selling their land and chattels (some below market value) packing their remaining belongings, and migrating north to the Ohio Territory.

The main roads the southern Quakers took to Ohio Country were the National Road for those from northern Virginia; the Kanawha Road for those coming Quaker_Philadelphia YMthrough central and western Virginia; and Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap for those from southern Virginia and the Carolinas. This journey could take up to seven weeks. In fact, a large portion of the Hopewell MM, Virginia, settled in Ross and Warren Counties, Ohio, and other early settlers were from the Bush River Quarterly Meeting area of the Carolinas.  In 1800, the entire membership of the Trent MM, Jones County, North Carolina, left to settle in Belmont and Jefferson Counties, Ohio. Other southern meetings saw part if not all of their membership move north to the new territory/state of Ohio during this period. The new meetings in eastern Ohio became part of the Ohio Yearly Meeting, while those meetings in western Ohio were part of the Indiana Yearly Meeting.

Quakers continued to move west as new land opened up until the last frontier of the Northwest was available. As each new territory opened, the older Quaker meeting records fill with requests for certificates of removal to the new lands.  My own Quaker ancestors, the Browns and the VanSkivers, moved from New Jersey west to Ohio in 1815, and their migration is documented in the Quaker meeting records in New Jersey and Ohio.

For further reading on Quakers and their migrations, I suggest the following:

Elliott, Errol T. Quakers on the American Frontier: A History of the Westward Migrations,         Settlements, and Developments of Friends on the American Continent.  Richmond, IN:            The Friends United Press, 1969.

Jones, Rufus. The Quakers in the American Colonies. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1966.

Leach, Robert J. and Peter Gow. Quaker Nantucket: The Religious Community behind the Whaling Empire.  Nantucket: Mill Hill Press, 1997.

Milligan, Edward H. and Malcolm J. Thomas. My Ancestors Were Quakers. London, UK: Society of       Genealogists, 1983.

Mote, Luke Smith. Early Settlement of Friends in the Miami Valley.  Indianapolis: John Woolman Press, Inc., 1961.

Weeks, Stephen Beauregard. Southern Quakers and Slavery: A Study in Institutional History.    John Hopkins, 1896. (Google Ebooks)

Worrall, Jay Jr. The Friendly Virginians: America’s First Quakers. Athens, GA: Iberian Publishing      Co. 1994. now includes digital copies of Quaker meeting records in both England and the United States.

Google Books has digital copies of many early Quaker histories.

To learn more about Quaker research, see Lisa Parry Arnold’s new book, Thee & Me: A Beginner’s Guide to Early Quaker Records

Diane VanSkiver Gagel, M. A., is a retired college instructor, freelance writer, and professional genealogist. She has a M.A. in American Studies, is the author of four books and numerous articles, and lectures widely on a variety of topics.  She has been a speaker at FGS, NGS, OGS Conferences as well as the Family History Conference at BYU.  Diane is Past President, Past Board Chair, former Trustee, and a Fellow of the Ohio Genealogical Society. She has also chaired several OGS Annual Conferences. She is the author of the NGS Guide to the States: Ohio.

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