Ancestry Blog » Ancestry Magazine The official blog of Ancestry Mon, 29 Jun 2015 18:10:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Maybe the Neighbors Have Clues Wed, 06 Jan 2010 18:51:38 +0000 Jeanie Croasmun Read more]]> Here’s a tip: use the Member Connect tab on a census record to see who’s researching your ancestor’s neighbors. They may hold more clues about your ancestor than you realize.

See, for most of the last five-ish years, I’ve been frustrated by how easy it is for some of my coworkers to grow their family trees — every new record collection turns into a new branch.

My family tree, however, remains a malnourished twig.

A year or so ago, I’d had enough. “Listen,” I shrieked. “I’m sick of hearing about your finds. My family didn’t own land, didn’t homestead. They weren’t politicians or well-reported criminals. From what I can tell, they only made it into the newspaper when someone died — and that’s if they remembered to put away some cash for an obituary. So when you can tell me how to find my regular-Joe, working-class ancestors, THEN I’ll be ready to listen.”

As usual, they ignored me. But somewhere in my rant, I remembered I had a magazine’s editorial calendar at my disposal. And if I really wanted to find my blue-collar past, I could get experts to write articles that would tell me how.

Those articles, including tips and how-tos, appear in the January/February 2010 issue of Ancestry magazine. And in that issue, which is on newsstands now, you’ll find one of my favorite tips: using Member Connect to see if the neighbors’ descendants know where their ancestors worked. Because when I’m looking at my great-grandfather’s census record and it says he’s a miner but I don’t know which mine he worked for, I might find family historians researching other miners in the neighborhood. Odds are good that those miners worked where my great-grandfather did. And maybe their family history-savvy descendants will know which mine that was.

There’s plenty more in the issue, too. From researching women workers and locating labor archives to details about new tools and record collections at that will make your research easier than ever, our January/February issue is packed full. Hopefully the ideas inside will help you as much as they are helping me have a super productive new year. Let me know if they do.

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Procrastinator’s Present Perfected Tue, 08 Dec 2009 01:48:32 +0000 Jeanie Croasmun Read more]]> I’m not one to worry about holiday shopping until it’s too late, a little habit I picked up from my dad, a true Christmas Eve shopper if ever I’ve met one. But this year, the shopping – and the gifts – started coming a bit early.

It started out initially as a challenge to see what we could really get from the Expert Connect service ( We’d each put in a handful of requests and see if anyone would bite. We threw in a few easy ones that we knew someone would bid on, like questions about how to find a Pennsylvania birth certificate from 1850-something (okay, that one was mine); some moderately tough ones like record pickups at the National Archives (we weren’t certain they were actually there); and a few doozies like a custom research project concerning a guy who died in 16th century England.

Then I started thinking: what type of situation would I really find myself in if I were putting in a request at Expert Connect? Inevitably, it’d be just like Christmas: I would have waited until the last possible minute or beyond.

So I tested the system with a tough task (and Italian birth record for my grandfather Luigi or something similar for his family in Italy) that had a time limit (exactly one week from the date of my initial post) and only offered the scant bit of information that I knew (1930 census details). Here’s what I got in return — as well as a copy of the document and a very apt translation — all in less than a week: 

… As I couldn’t find a birth record for Luigi, I searched for the marriage record of his parents, Teresa and Vincenzo, and I was able to locate it. FYI, the bottom half of the document is very faded and difficult to read.

You can read more about the projects we submitted, find out what we paid, what we learned, and take our tips for posting Expert Connect projects that get results at

Now if only I could convince my kids that an old birth certificate was better than a new iPod, I’d be set.

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Learning. Six Feet Under. Fri, 30 Oct 2009 16:39:28 +0000 Jeanie Croasmun Read more]]> Before I started working at, I thought cemeteries were creepy. Sure, they were great places for flowers and remembrance a few times a year. But if you didn’t actually know one of the residents, you definitely didn’t want to pop by. 

I would have never predicted that four and a half years later, I’d be taking my kids to one. Just for fun.

We went for the history. Once a year, on the Sunday before Halloween, the old cemetery near my home brings its dead back to life. Actors portray the cemetery’s residents, telling stories about their lives and subsequent deaths. And seeing that the town was once an old mining camp high up in the mountains, those lives and deaths were rarely pretty.

Honestly I thought my kids would be bored or at least creeped out. That was anything but the case. My five-year-old daughter listened intently to the stories, while my eight-year-old son brushed leaves off tombstones to read inscriptions and calculate ages. They were fascinated. So was I.

Even if you can’t make it to a cemetery for a quick history lesson, you can wander through virtual ones in the public member photos section of <>. Search for keywords including “tombstone,” “headstone,” or “gravestone” for photos of graves – I found a handful that dated back to the 17th century and plenty of newer ones as well. Or read about how the tombstone of an unrelated, slain lawman sent author Ellen Notbohm on a search for the story behind his death in “A Tombstone Tells Its Story,” from Ancestry magazine <>.

Lastly, if you’d like to share a little about the history you discovered in a cemetery, I’d love to hear it. Add your comments to the bottom of this post or drop me a line at And no, you don’t have to be related to the history you uncovered. In four years, I’ve learned a good story is just that. No matter who it’s about. Or where it’s found.

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How Do You Find 5,000 Cousins? Tue, 20 Oct 2009 00:39:56 +0000 Jeanie Croasmun Read more]]> I can count my first cousins on one hand and still have a thumb to spare. So when author and family historian Crista Cowan told me how many living cousins she had tracked down in the course of just a handful of years, I was floored.

Crista would have needed nearly 1,000 of my hands – thumbs included.

It wasn’t just a giant family tree that Crista was trying to populate. She was gathering all of the living descendants of one of her own ancestors, a great-great-great-grandfather, for a family reunion. One very, very big family reunion.

Using a combination of Internet tools, genealogy tricks, and the kindness of relative strangers (who happened to be descendants of the same g-g-g-grandfather), Crista tracked down almost 5,000 living descendants of Samuel Milliner for the celebration of his 200th birthday last summer. Better still, Crista survived to talk about it – and to start planning another reunion for next summer.

Crista’s how-to tale is just one of the stories in the November/December issue of Ancestry magazine. You’ll also find features on how history affected courtship, spotting a child from another mother in a family tree, and the latest from columnists Myra Vanderpool Gormley, Howard Wolinsky, Megan Smolenyak Smoleyak, and more. Plus you’ll get to see what happened when we put our own family history wish-lists up for bid on Expert Connect at (hint: we’re all celebrating a bit early this year).

Ancestry magazine subscribers should start receiving the November/December issue this week. (Not a subscriber? You’ll also find individual copies in larger bookstores and on the Shop button at Or visit for articles and more information).

As always, I’d love to get your feedback on the articles we write. You can reach me via email at or become a fan of Ancestry magazine at Facebook and drop me a line there. And if there’s something you’d like to see Ancestry magazine cover in 2010, I definitely want to hear that, too.

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From New York to California: What I learned this month Fri, 21 Aug 2009 22:12:20 +0000 Jeanie Croasmun Read more]]> I learned a lot while preparing our September/October issue of Ancestry magazine: what the house my mother was born in looks like today and how I could order a 1939 photo of it from the city of New York; what my grandparents’ experiences arriving at Ellis Island would have been like (how did a new arrival ever contain his or her excitement long enough to stand in a seemingly endless sea of inspection lines?); where to look for obituaries – old ones in particular – online and how to post the ones I may have in my own collection; and how an entire page of a mortality schedule could be linked to a single family from a single town. Oh the list goes on and on. 

That’s one of my personal goals for every issue of Ancestry magazine — to make sure both the readers and I learn a handful of things we didn’t know before we picked up the issue. What fun would family history be if you weren’t learning something new? And as one of the people who gets to read every word in Ancestry magazine before it goes to press, I definitely want to make sure I’m picking up a new trick (or 10) in each issue, too.

Here’s what else you’ll find in our September/October issue:

The Big Stew – As New York celebrates its 400th birthday, discover which ethnic groups helped make the city, what records you’ll find for each, and how to discover more about the workers who built some of the town’s greatest landmarks.

The Report of My Death Was an Exaggeration – It happened to Mark Twain and plenty of our own ancestors, too. Learn how to spot an early obituary and why someone might pre-announce a death. Even their own.

Bumps and Breakthroughs – Washington Post associated editor, Steve Luxenberg, recounts the bumps in the road that lead him to discover the details of his long-forgotten aunt, the subject of his book, Annie’s Ghost.

Found! California Scheming – Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak does it again, this time reuniting a Bible found in an old dresser in Florida with the family it belongs to on the West Coast. 

Ancestry Sleuth: Where’s Wiggo? – Not sure you have the right person? Work backwards through the SSDI.

I’d love to hear what you think about this issue or any of our issues of Ancestry magazine (suggestions are welcomed, too). Drop me a line anytime at

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Naturally a Success! Tue, 03 Feb 2009 18:39:33 +0000 Jeanie Croasmun Read more]]> It seems like I know more about everyone else’s family history than my own.  That’s how things work when you put together a magazine: you get very involved in the subject but from a third-person perspective. My own family hasn’t made it any simpler: they throw things away, forget to tell stories, and have surnames that get misspelled – a lot. 

Occasionally, however, I’m inspired to forget everyone else’s family history and search for mine. Yesterday was one of those days. I was on my homepage at when I noticed that new naturalization records – a whole mess of them – had been posted online. Since two of my four grandparents immigrated to America as children, I thought I’d check to see if maybe, just maybe, this time they (or more likely their parents) were included. 

I started with my paternal grandmother. I plugged in her first name and last name. Nothing. I tweaked the search a little. Still no solid matches. I moved on to her dad and instead found someone I believe was his brother. I tried spelling my great-grandfather’s name a little differently and that’s when I found him — name, place of birth, the names and birthdates of his three children, and a handful of other glorious details. 

Giddy with success, I switched families, turning this time to my maternal grandfather. Testing the system, I gave up as little info as possible: first name, last name, nothing else.  Bingo! His record was the first one on my list and his naturalization beamed with more details than I could have ever hoped for: immigration date, birth town, marriage date, and a birth date, something none of us has ever known. I did an Internet search for the address listed and found the house my mom was born in. I searched for pictures of his hometown in Italy (I’ve really gotta’ visit someday). And I made a mental note to tell my kids their great-granddad was an iceman. They’ll think it’s nuts.

Click here to dive right into the naturalization records . Or, if you’re interested in discovering your ancestors as children, preview our issue devoted to the subject, the January/February issue of Ancestry magazine. 

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Tree Dwellers? Fri, 31 Oct 2008 21:26:48 +0000 Jeanie Croasmun Read more]]>


Was there ever a more perfect day than Halloween for a cemetery shot? This photo was forwarded to Ancestry magazine by subscriber, Lisbeth Schoenfeld Rogers. “I was visiting my sister in New York and I took a drive to the cemetery in Orange [New Jersey] because I have ancestors buried there by the name of Jones. When I saw the tree growing around the headstones I thought to myself that these people really want to be part of a tree. I’ll look them up on when I get home and find out whose tree they belong to,” says Lisbeth.  

Putting on her family historian hat, Lisbeth took the following notes:

Cemetery: Old Burying Ground at the First Presbyterian Church of Orange, New Jersey

Names and dates on tombstones (L-R): Ebenezer Canfield, b. 1712, d.; 1785; Deborah, wife of Ebenezer Canfield, b. 1716, d. 1791; Ebenezer Canfield, b. 1761, d. 1831.

Lisbeth, who has been tracing her own family tree for two years, was able to find a family tree for the Canfields at With a stroke of good luck and some savvy research, she also found a connection between the Canfields and her own tree: Ebenezer’s grandmother Sarah Ward shows up in both.

Think you have a photo that tops Lisbeth’s or one that takes family history in a whole new direction? I’d love to see it. You can forward it to me directly at And if you’d rather look at photos than take them, be sure to check out the latest issue of Ancestry magazine—our Backstory for this issue shows commanders of the 17th Bomb Squadron receiving the Croix de Guerre in World War II.

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Returning the Favor Fri, 19 Sep 2008 16:09:41 +0000 Jeanie Croasmun Read more]]> I grew up in a family that never volunteered for anything that didn’t have a paycheck attached to it. I always attributed this to the fact that my parents were children of the Depression, and any time or money they had to spare was to be saved—just in case. Now that I have a family of my own, I’ve changed my mind about that former no-volunteer credo: it was probably more closely linked to my parents working, running a house, and raising three daughters. They were simply too exhausted to try to give anything else.

This may be why I was so impressed by Maddy McCoy, a parent whose one-woman volunteer project creating a slavery inventory database of Fairfax County, Virginia, itself is impressive. On the surface, the project seems small, just a single county in a single state. Its impact, however, is much larger. A database of enslaved and free black individuals in Fairfax County before and after the Civil War, the identification of significant area landmarks, and the potential the project has to inspire similar projects elsewhere are all coming courtesy of Maddy, who is doing this on her own time, with no impending financial gain.

But family historians, I’m learning, are like that. They volunteer their time for projects like the World Archives Project at so more people can freely access information about their family’s past. They answer questions on message boards to point other researchers in the right direction. They photograph cemeteries, return lost heirlooms, and preserve the history of hometowns their families never even lived in.  

Why? Because everyone has the right to learn more about his or her past. The hundreds of ways to get involved in grassroots preservation projects are a testament to that. We’ll be featuring a dozen or so of our favorites in the November/December issue of Ancestry Magazine—ways, big and small, that anyone can help out, often with very little effort. But I’d love to hear more about what you’ve done or what you dream of doing that could make a big difference to even one family’s history. Make your comments here or send them directly to me at And keep up the good work.

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Why So Many Names? Wed, 10 Sep 2008 17:10:56 +0000 Jeanie Croasmun Read more]]> One of my favorite parts of my job is finding history—actual, real, personal stories—in old records, even when that history doesn’t directly relate to me or my family. So while editing an article on hidden identities for the November/December issue of Ancestry Magazine, I decided to see if I could find examples of hidden identities in the records at

In the article I was reviewing, the author mentions that civil war pension records are filled with aliases. (The number one reason? Marital not-so-bliss–apparently way back when it was far easier to just change your identity than to go through the legal rigmarole of divorce). So I went to the Civil War Pension index at and dropped in the keyword “alias” as my only search term. My reward? Eighty people with hundreds of assumed names between them. Using “known as” as my keyword gave me more than 5,000 additional possibilities. Sometimes it was the soldier with the alias. Other times, the widow filing for the pension, who may have picked up a few other husbands along the way, was the one with the changed name.

Some of the aliases are on the up-and-up, simple spelling aberrations. But the best ones? The folks with four or five different, I mean really different, names. Who in the world needs that many names? And how confusing was it for them to remember who they were in any given situation?

You’ll find the answer to these questions as well as tips on spotting an alias in your own family tree in the November/December issue of Ancestry Magazine, due to hit newsstands at the end of October (magazine subscribers will get their hands on it a bit earlier). In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted.

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