Ancestry Blog » Family History Month The official blog of Ancestry Mon, 02 Mar 2015 13:14:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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Creative Ways to Get Your Kids Excited About Family History Month – Part Four Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:28:22 +0000 Jessica Murray Read more]]> Can you believe Family History Month is nearly over? We hope you’ve had a great month of researching your family even further and sharing in new family memories!This is the last in our four-part series which highlights creative ways to get children interested in family history research. Here are three fun activities to do with the little ones in your family.

1. Create a Family Tree

It’s important for children to understand the familial relationship between them and the people around them and a great way to teach this is by having them fill in their own family tree.
You can visit Have Fun Teaching to access FREE printable family trees which already have the template designed for families with 1-5 children. If you want a more extensive family tree template to include great-grandparents and beyond, visit the Ancestry Learning Center forms which are also FREE.

2. Where In the World?

When I was little, I was obsessed with maps. Truth is, I’m still obsessed with maps. I had a 6′ x 6′ world map on my bedroom wall when I was 13. I used to stick little flag pins in the places I had visited and surrounded the border of the map with postcards from every place. It was like a giant Pinterest board before Pinterest even existed!

Why not use maps to teach your children where their ancestors come from? This is also a great exercise in teaching children how to read maps. Parents can visit our Pinterest board dedicated to our favorite maps. Be sure to connect the location to a story about the ancestor(s) who lived there. You can also use identifying information when you’re putting place markers in the map, like including a photo of the ancestor or an interesting fact about them so your child shares in the story.

3. Road Trip

When I was 11 years old, my grandparents and I traveled to Germany for an exciting overseas genealogical road trip.  We went to research the Koger surname on my grandmother’s side to Auggen, Germany and visited the cemetery in their ancestral town with generations of Kogers. I vividly remember my grandmother doing a pencil trace of the tombstones and what appeared to be a family crest. Yes, yes, I know it’s unlikely it was a REAL family crest, but at that young age, I thought I was royalty! Also, check with the cemetery office to see if they allow tracing of headstones as some don’t allow this in an effort to keep headstones from deteriorating.

Auggen, Germany from Google Maps

Auggen, Germany from Google Maps

Make these special memories with your children by staying local or regional, if overseas isn’t an option. If your family stayed in the same place, you might even have a street, park or body of water named after your family.  I have a lake named after my 3x great-grandfather, which I’m planning to visit for the first time next spring — pretty neat! Wherever the place or country may be, find somewhere that was meaningful to the generations upon generations in your family tree and share that moment with your children.


See our last three weeks of kid-friendly activities here:

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How Current Roads Can Show Your Ancestor’s Migration Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:27:34 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow Read more]]> There are a lot of questions that we ask as we’re climbing our family trees. The most common one is “Who are the parents?” A close second might be “Where did this person come from?” It’s that search for origins that drives much of our research. So what do you do when the census and your ancestor’s death record aren’t very specific? They say that he was born in Pennsylvania, but that’s a pretty big state. While you could start looking in every county, there are more efficient ways of narrowing your focus.

Follow the Patterns

Our ancestors tended to follow patterns when they moved. They often moved to where they knew others who had moved before them. Some early migration trails followed waterways or Native American hunting trails. These early roads were often little more than a clearing through the trees. As more people came through, state and local governments improved the roads in an effort to bring even more people and goods into their areas.

Build It and They Will Come (or Go)

Some early roads were designed for the express purpose of moving people. George Washington and others believed that easy transportation was crucial not only for unifying the country, but also key to its expansion. The National Road, authorized in 1806, was the first federally-funded road. It began in Cumberland, Maryland and eventually reached Vandalia, Illinois. Though in places a traveller would have been hard-pressed to call it a “road,” the National Road did open up much of the interior of the Midwest to those in the Mid-Atlantic states who felt the need to move west.

U.S. Highway System

Once routes were established – either as an evolution of early hunting trails or a road built specifically to move people – most kept growing and improving, even into the early 20th century. A look at U.S. highways before the interstate system reveals that many of them followed the migration trails that many of our ancestors followed.

The National Road is represented now as U.S. 40. The Great Valley Road (also known as the Great Wagon Road) is now a portion of U.S. 11. The Fall Line Road through Virginia and the Carolinas is now much of U.S. 1.

Map of the National Road by Citynoise on Wikipedia. (Used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic License.)

Map of the National Road by Citynoise on Wikipedia. (Used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic License.)

U.S. 40 (shown in red). Note how the portion between Maryland and western Illinois matches the path of the National Road.

U.S. 40 (shown in red). Note how the portion between Maryland and western Illinois matches the path of the National Road.

Even U.S. highways that don’t specifically correspond to a named migration road can reflect migration patterns. For example, a common migration route out of southeastern Ohio was into the northwestern part of the state and into northeastern Indiana. U.S. 33 follows this.

What It Means for Our Research

Knowing a specific place of origin is crucial for finding sources, as so many records are kept on a county or town level. The census might say that your ancestor was born in Ohio or Virginia, but where do you begin looking? Since our ancestors tended to follow patterns, use these migration trails as a starting point. Look not only at your ancestor, but also his neighbors; they likely moved from the same area. As you’re considering areas that they might have come from, compare their known location both with named migration trails/routes as well as a map of the U.S. highway system. You never know – that road that you take to work every day might have its origins in the migration trail that your ancestors followed.

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Immigration to and Migration Within the U.S. in the 1900s Wed, 29 Oct 2014 14:17:17 +0000 Juliana Szucs Read more]]> OkiesThe wave of immigration that started in the 1880s continued into the 20th century. Immigration peaked in the first decade of the 20th century with more than 9.2 million immigrants coming into the U.S. in those ten years. With many of the immigrants coming from southern and eastern Europe, there was a push to control the numbers of immigrants coming into the country. More questions were asked of passengers. Polygamists were to be excluded and, following President McKinley’s assassination, political radicals as well. The Dillingham Commission was tasked in 1907 to compile statistics and report on immigration into the U.S.; its findings prompted legislation that drastically reduced the number of aliens allowed into the U.S.

In 1917, illiterates, persons of “psychopathic inferiority,” men and women entering for immoral purposes, alcoholics, stowaways, and vagrants were added to the exclusion list. The Emergency Immigration Act of 1921 capped the number of immigrants from a particular country to 3% of the number of people from that country who were living in the U.S. in 1910. The Quota Act of 1924 restricted immigration further, lowering that limit to 2% of the people from a particular country who were here in 1890. This all but slammed the door on immigration for people from southern and eastern Europe. During this period, you may find immigrants from these areas traveling to northern or western ports to leave Europe or coming in through Canada. These quotas remained in place until 1965 when they were replaced with quotas for the Eastern and Western Hemisphere and finally in 1978, replaced with a worldwide quota of 290,000.

Birds of Passage

Not all of the immigrants coming to the U.S. at the turn of the century intended to stay. Many Italians and Eastern Europeans only intended to work until they could save enough money to purchase land or make a better life for themselves back at home. Many of these immigrants, known as “Birds of Passage,” made multiple trips back and forth from their homeland. Often the men came first, eventually bringing part or all of their family on later trips.  Some returned to their homeland to stay, while others eventually made a new home in the U.S.


Below is a timeline of some of the important immigration waves and migrations of the 20th century.

1903-1906 – Russian pogroms prompted many Russian Jews to immigrate to the U.S. As cities like New York struggled to cope with the influx, the Galveston Movement encouraged Jews to immigrate through the port of Galveston.

1907 – In the early 20th century, Japanese immigrants came to California in large numbers, spurring anti-Japanese and Asian sentiment throughout the state. The U.S. and Japanese governments agreed in 1907 to deny passports to laborers going directly from Japan to the United States. In 1913, the California passed the Alien Land Law, which declared Japanese, as “aliens ineligible for citizenship,” unable to own agricultural land in the state. Some individuals circumvented these laws by having their American-born children become the owners of the estate.

1910 – The Mexican Revolution sent thousands to the United States seeking employment. Many found employment in the Southwest where there was a labor shortage. In 1911, to encourage immigration, the U.S. exempted Mexicans from immigrant head taxes. The welcome mat was rolled up, however, with the start of the Great Depression.

1914–18 – World War I put an end to the large-scale immigration to the U.S. from Europe.

1916-1970 – The Great Migration was a large-scale relocation of an estimated 6 million African Americans from rural areas in the South to the larger industrial cities in the North. It began in 1916, in part as the need for industrial labor increased with World War I.

1919 – The Big Red Scare came in the wake of the Russian Revolution as the fear of communism grew. Thousands of aliens were seized in the Palmer raids; hundreds were deported.


1920s – The rapid growth of the automobile industry in the 1920s changed the way America lived and traveled. The ability to drive to jobs in the city accelerated the growth of suburbs. With more than 23 million registered drivers on the road by the end of the decade, there was also a need for more roads – a need that would be met over time and give the population even greater mobility.


1929-1941 – The Great Depression forced many Americans to leave their homes in search of work. Some families moved in with relatives to combine incomes and save money. Transients hopped trains and hitchhiked across the country looking for opportunities. Young people who didn’t want to burden their parents were often found among the transients. Tent cities and shantytowns, often referred to as “Hoovervilles” after President Herbert Hoover, sprang up in and around cities. The drought and severe dust storms of the 1930s also prompted migration within the U.S. during the Dust Bowl years. It’s estimated that 3.5 million people left their homes in the Great Plains, many of whom migrated to California.

1930s – The stock market crash and the Great Depression prompted demands for further immigration reductions. There was rigorous enforcement of a prohibition against the admission of persons liable to be public charges. Immigrants to the U.S. faced discrimination and the quotas put in place meant that many Jews fleeing Europe with Hitler’s rise to power were turned away. Mexicans who had been welcomed in previous decades were encouraged to return to Mexico and, in some cases, deported. Some Americans of Mexican descent were forcibly sent to Mexico even though they had been born in the U.S. It’s estimated that 500,000 Mexicans were removed during the 1930s. Mexican immigrants were welcomed back once again when the need for labor increased as America entered World War II.

1933 – The Tennessee River Valley was in many places prone to flooding and was hard-hit economically during the Depression years. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was established in 1933 with the goals of alleviating flooding problems, generating affordable electricity, facilitating better river navigation, manufacturing fertilizer, and bolstering the local economies. While there were many benefits, thousands of people, cemeteries, and other institutions need to be relocated from places that were to be flooded to make way for the dams and hydroelectric power plants that were to be built. Case histories and surveys of those who were in the path of the projects as well as cemetery relocation records are available on Ancestry.

1933-1942 – During the time the Civilian Conservation Corps was in existence, approximately 2.5 million men aged 18 to 25 moved through more than 1,500 camps, working on reforestation, building roads and trails in national parks, and working on other conservation projects.

1934 – Filipino immigration was restricted to an annual quota of 50 by the Philippine Independence Act.

1940 – The Alien Registration Act, also known as the Smith Act, called for registration and fingerprinting of all aliens age 14 and older within or entering the U.S (54 Stat. 1137). Approximately 5.5 million aliens were registered.


1942 – Japanese Americans were removed from their homes and moved to detention camps.

1942 – Through the Bracero Program, Mexican laborers were strongly encouraged to come to the United States to ease the shortage of farm workers brought on by World War II.

1943 – Legislation provided for the importation of agricultural workers from North, South, and Central America, Canada, and the Caribbean—the basis of the “Bracero Program.”

1943 – The Chinese exclusion laws of the 1880s were repealed.

1945 – Thousands of Puerto Ricans emigrated to escape poverty. Many settled in New York. The wave of immigration peaked in the 1950s and continued into the 1960s. By then 1 million Puerto Ricans had made their way into the United States.

1946 – The War Brides Act facilitated the immigration of foreign-born wives, fiancé(e)s, husbands, and children of U.S. armed forces personnel.

1948 – The Displaced Persons Act, the first U.S. policy for admitting persons fleeing persecution, allowed 400,000 refugees from World War II to enter the United States during a four-year period.

1950 – The Internal Security Act increased grounds for exclusion and deportation of subversives. All aliens were required to report their addresses annually.

1950s and 1960s – The number of Cuban refugees immigrating to America to escape the oppressive regimes of Fulgencio Batista and Fidel Castro grew. By 1962 more than 200,000 immigrants had come to America and several later migrations brought hundreds of thousands more. As more and more refugees attempted to flee Cuba by dangerous means, by the end of the 20th century, both countries agreed to return refugees to Cuba.

1952 – The Immigration and Naturalization Act brought into one comprehensive statute the multiple laws which governed immigration and naturalization to date: reaffirmed the national origins quota system; limited immigration from the Eastern Hemisphere while leaving the Western Hemisphere unrestricted; established preferences for skilled workers and relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens; tightened security and screening standards and procedures; and lowered the age requirement for naturalization to 18 years (66 Stat. 163). The Immigration and Naturalization Act extended token immigration quotas to Asian countries.

1953-56 – The Refugee Relief Act admitted more than 200,000 refugees beyond existing quotas. It allowed entry into the U.S. for refugees fleeing communism in Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, and other communist countries. Visas were granted to some 5,000 Hungarians after the 1956 revolt. President Eisenhower invited 30,000 more to come on a parole basis.

1954 – Ellis Island closed.

1965 Highway system

1956 – The National Interstate and Defense Highways Act was signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and authorized the construction of 41,000 miles of interstate highways that connected existing interstate toll roads. The higher speed highway system enabled greater mobility of the population, allowing people to relocate further from workplaces and families, while still being a relatively short drive away.

1962 – The  United States granted special permission for the admission of refugees from Hong Kong.

1964 – The 1942 Bracero Accord ends, but many of the contractors continued to hire Mexican workers.

1965 – Congress amended the immigration law (effective 1968): The National Origins Quota System was abolished, but the principle of numerical restriction remained by establishing 170,000 hemispheric and 20,000 per-country ceilings and a seven-category preference system (favoring close relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens, those with needed occupational skills, and refugees) for the Eastern Hemisphere and a separate 120,000 ceiling for the Western Hemisphere was maintained (79 Stat. 911).

1970 – The Immigration Act of 1965 was amended by President Nixon, further liberalizing admission to the United States.

1976 – The 20,000-per-country immigration ceilings and the system of preference system for Western Hemisphere countries was applied, and separate hemispheric ceilings were maintained.

1978 –The separate ceilings for Eastern and Western Hemisphere immigration were combined into one worldwide limit of 290,000.

1979 – Congress appropriated more than $334 million for the rescue and resettlement of Vietnamese “boat people.”

1980 – The so-called “Freedom Flotilla” of Cuban refugees came to the United States.


Note: Portions of this timeline are excerpted from They Became Americans: Finding Naturalization Records and Ethnic Origins, by Loretto Dennis Szucs, FUGA.

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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 Ancestry Team 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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7 Genealogical Lessons for Researching Your Palatine Ancestors Mon, 27 Oct 2014 17:33:05 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]> By guest blogger Henry Z (“Hank”) JonesOld Travel Trunk

I started climbing the family tree at the age of eight when I discovered an old trunk in the basement of our home that had been brought to California in the gold rush. To an eight year old kid with an inquisitive mind, that ancient piece of history really needed exploring. Then one day, a miracle happened: my mother went shopping, and that was just the opportunity I needed to begin what is now a life-long addiction. I was blessed, because my family members were packrats! That trunk contained every important newspaper since Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, old tintypes and daguerreotypes, family Bibles and lively letters from my long-dead relatives, and best of all – a family tree made in 1882 by my grandmother that surprisingly was well-documented. From that day on, forget normal “kid-stuff” – I was hooked on genealogy!

But early on in my research, I discovered that I was connected to an interesting group of Germans who were on their way to colonial New York in 1709, but made it only as far as County Limerick, Ireland. As I wrote in my book Psychic Roots: Serendipity & Intuition In Genealogy (which along with my own story was dramatized later on NBC’s “Unsolved Mysteries” program),[1] I soon dropped working on all my other Danish and English lines and concentrated instead only on these emigrants who obsessed me: they were called “Palatines.”

What is a Palatine?

Probably the question I’m asked most frequently when I give one of my seminars around the country is, “What’s a Palatine? Is it a surname, an occupation, or what?” Basically here’s who they were: if you were a German-speaking immigrant heading for colonial America in the early- to mid-18th century, you would have been called a “Palatine.” It was sort of a generic term, the roots of which came from the word given to the area in southern Germany called “the Pfalz” or “Palatinate” where so many of these early settlers originated. Many American Palatines also came from other regions outside of the borders of today’s Palatinate, however: Isenburg, the Kraichgau, Hessen, the Westerwald, Württemberg, and Siegen, for example.

The first initial burst of emigration from Germany began in the 1680s and then reached full thrust in 1709/10 with large settlements in Ireland and colonial New York and North Carolina. Later groups went to Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and other colonies. But, sadly, the new arrivals in America weren’t simply known as “Palatines;” they were called “Poor Palatines,” which denoted their economic and social status in the Europe they had left behind. It was a derogatory term and, unfortunately, endured for a few decades.

However, upon their arrival, the Palatine immigrants to colonial America found a wilderness ready to be tamed and transformed into liveable communities by perseverance and hard work. Their story is a tribute to their fortitude and quality of character which enabled them to find the inner strength to meet the terrible difficulties they faced in their new life in a new land. They “took the risk” and succeeded![2]

In 1960 while still a student at Stanford University, I began collecting material on my 1709er Irish-Palatine Bergmann family and the County Limerick settlement and neighbors where they resided. My Bergmanns were a textbook example of how a surname can evolve: “Bergmann” means “man from the mountain or hill” in German and has a very gutteral sound when spoken. In my family the surname became “Barrackman,” “Barkman,” “Bartman,” and then finally “Hillman!” In 1965, after amassing much documented material on this group, I published the first edition of my The Palatine Families of Ireland.[3]

My career first as a featured singer on ABC-TV’s The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, a recording artist on RCA Records, and then as a character actor in many TV sit-coms and eight Disney movies left me lots of time “in between pictures” to follow my other passion in life: those emigrant Palatines that seemed to chase me.[4] In 1969, I began gathering documented information on those Germans who did finally make it to colonial New York in 1710, even though I was descended from none of them. My goal was to write the book that I would like to find on the shelf of a genealogical library: in other words, a volume I could absolutely trust as to accuracy that was documented with sources contemporary with the events therein.

I began this pre-computer days, so by 1980 when I started writing my first two-volume set on the subject, The Palatine Families of New York – 1710,[5] I used the 17,000 family group sheets I had handwritten, each sheet – front and back – documenting an 18th century Palatine couple, their lives and history. Happily I guess what I set out to accomplish seemed to turn out, as the books eventually won the prestigious Donald Lines Jacobus Award from the American Society of Genealogists, and I was honored to be elected as one of ASG’s fifty Fellows. Other books on these courageous Germans followed, including More Palatine Families,[6] the three volume Even More Palatine Families (with Lewis B. Rohrbach, CG),[7] and Westerwald To America (with Annette K. Burgert, FASG);[8]  all are available via my website .

In the course of my fifty-plus-year Palatine project, certain genealogical lessons have been learned, and some old axioms validated and reinforced. I’d like to share some of them with you which hopefully might help you knock down some brick walls as you climb the family tree, Palatine or otherwise:

1. Study the Neighbors

One of my major goals in my initial Palatine project was to find where these settlers originated in Europe pre-emigration. Of the 847 families who arrived in New York in 1710, only 50 firm origins were known from surviving American sources, so I had 797 families still to discover overseas. The saving grace of my 50-plus year project can be boiled down into one phrase: “They Came Together – They Stayed Together!” So often our emigrant ancestors came together to the New World with relatives and friends from their hometown or village in Europe – and then continued to interact with those same families for generations after their arrival in America. Looking for clusters of families, not just one, and seeing how the same names reoccur over and over together in wills, deeds, census, tax and military lists, can lead to genealogical pay-dirt. By studying the juxtaposition of names on unalphabetized lists, patterns will emerge that engender genealogical successes.[9] This lesson has enabled me to find over 600 of the 847 families who arrived from Germany in New York in 1710 in their ancestral European homes and well over 1,500 later-arrivals who came in the 2nd wave of emigration 1717-1776 – some of whom are especially fascinating, such as the preeminent New York printer Johann Peter1 Zenger’s family and Elvis Presley’s ancestor, Valentin1 Bresseler.

2. Study the Sponsors in Baptism Records

Those who have German (or Dutch) lines in their ancestry really are blessed in that sponsors are usually named along with parents in most 18th century baptisms. The importance of these names in the church books cannot be minimized, for being a Godparent in a German family was a great honor and responsibility. Sponsors were very often close relatives the child being baptized. The child usually was named for one of the sponsors at the baptism; if the baby’s name is different from the sponsor’s, this sometimes may reflect the Christian name of a dead or absent grandparent. Related sponsors can be especially crucial in sorting out families with common surnames; if a sponsor was not a relative, very often he or she was an old friend from same ancestral town or region overseas.

3. Use Original Sources, But Remember That They May Be Wrong

Whenever possible, look at the original record regarding your ancestor: even microfilmed records sometimes have their flaws, and taking just one entry about your ancestor from only one source may limit its reliability, as you often then are ignoring the important context in which the record appears. Well-intentioned genealogists of the past have copied many records where errors slipped through the cracks and then perpetuate. Two of my friends and fellow Fellows have written excellent books which address the complexities and subtleties of this subject in great and helpful detail which I heartily recommend: Robert Charles Anderson‘s Elements of Genealogical Analysis: How To Maximize Your Research Using The Great Migration Study Project; and Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian.

4. Study Naming and Spelling Patterns

Every ethnic group has certain unique customs in regard to naming and spelling, and nowhere is this fact more true than in the families of emigrant Germans. There was no one way to spell a Palatine name in the 18th century! It all depended how on the person writing down the name heard it. Sound-alike-consonants contribute to the variety of spellings: “D” and “T” interchange (e.g. “Diel” can be “Thiel”); “”C,” “G,” and “K” often have a similar sound (e.g. “Henrich1 Clock” was known as “Klock,” and even “Glock”); “B” and “P” often transpose (e.g. “Ludwig1 Batz” was known as “Ludwig Potts”); and letters “V” and “F” do the same (e.g. “Arnold1 Falck” was also “Arnold Valk”).

Knowing the myriad Christian names can be helpful: if someone was baptized as “Anthonius,” he will be known as “Teunis/Tönges or Dönges;” “Conrad” as “Curt;” “Dieterich as “Richard;” “Friederich” as “Fritz;” “Georg” as “Jury;” “Gerhardt” as “Garret;” “Jacob” as “James;” “Johannes” as “Hans;” “Ludwig” as “Lewis;” and “Melchior” as “Michael.” My three favorites, however, are if a woman is baptized as “Gertraud” the name will often be anglicized to “Charity,” and if someone is baptized as “Theobald” he will be known as “David” (but NOT vice-versa). Meanwhile, if someone is baptized as “Adolf” he also will be “Adam,” (but again NOT vice-versa).

We must remember, too, the idiosyncrasies of the times. “Junior” in the 18th century did not necessarily mean that he was son of the same-named “Senior” who lived in the community. A couple can have two absolutely identically-named children – both of whom survive to have children; and the middle initial of a person in colonial New York in the 18th and early 19th centuries (e.g. “Johannes C. Müller”) usually can refer to the Christian name of the person’s father. In colonial Pennsylvania it often referred to the maiden name of the mother.

5. Use Family Traditions as Guides, Never Gospel

Family traditions, although well-intentioned (“Grandpa would never lie to me!”), can be misleading when accepted without reservation and should be scrutinized very carefully. For example, I would venture to say that upwards of 70% of the 847 1709er Palatine families have a tradition of Dutch (not German) ancestry. Much of this probably comes from a misunderstanding of the word “Deutsch.” However, there usually is a germ of truth in many family traditions, which often has been attached to the “wrong” ancestor. My books are full of such examples of erroneous traditions, such as my discovery that Jost1 Hite, the “Baron of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia” actually was found to be the son of the local butcher of Bonfeld, Germany.[10]

6. Don’t Trust Anything Unless the Documentation Is There to Back It Up

Enough said! But maybe one caveat should be added along these lines: when I write my volumes, I often conditionalize  the connectives I make between generations with what my daughter Amanda calls “Dad’s three ‘P’ words:” “perhaps,” “possibly,” and “probably.” So often people using my books post this same information, but completely eliminate these carefully-crafted conditionals when they do so. GRRR!

7. Follow Your Intuition as Well as Your Intellect

In all my years of climbing the family tree, I cannot tell you how many times following “a hunch” has led to all kinds of amazing discoveries. For those who are purely logical, all I’m saying is simply to follow your hunches and see if the facts back them up – they often do. Indeed so many strange things – almost “Twilight Zone experiences” – have happened to me genealogically over the years that they led me to write my two Psychic Roots books. They must have hit a familiar chord as they now are in their 9th printing and over 1,300 of our colleagues around the world have generously shared their similar stories with me. In fact, I understand now when something weird happens to a genealogist that they can’t explain, they sometimes say, “I’m having a Hank Jones Moment.” I’m honored to be an adjective.

I hope all this helps. Good hunting!

Web Color Hank Jones JPG

Henry Z (“Hank”) Jones, FASG & FGBS

[1]  Henry Z Jones, Jr., Psychic Roots: Serendipity & Intuition in Genealogy  (Baltimore, 1993), the sequel of which is Henry Z Jones, Jr., More Psychic Roots: Further Adventures in Serendipity & Intuition in Genealogy  (Baltimore, 1997).

[2] Descendants of the Palatines who wish to network with others should investigate joining Palatines To America: German Genealogical Society ( and/or The Irish Palatine Association (

[3] Revised and expanded as Henry Z Jones, Jr., FASG, The Palatine Families of Ireland , 2nd ed. (Camden, Maine, 1990). For additional discoveries see: “Newly Found German Origins of Some Irish Palatine Families,” The Irish Palatine Association Journal 20 (2013).

[4] For more on Hank Jones’s “Other Life,” read Memories – The “Show-Biz” Part of my Life (San Diego, California, 2006).

[5]  Henry Z Jones, Jr., FASG, The Palatine Families of New York: A Study of the German Immigrants Who Arrived in Colonial New York in 1710 , 2 vols. (Universal City, California, 1985). For additional discoveries see: “Some Newly-Discovered German Origins for the Palatine Families of New York – 1710,” The American Genealogist 85 (2011): 46-62.

[6] Henry Z Jones, Jr., FASG, More Palatine Families, Some Immigrants to the Middle Colonies1717 – 1776 and their European Origins, Plus New Discoveries on German Families Who Arrived in Colonial New York in 1710  (Rockport, Maine, 1991).

[7]  Henry Z Jones, Jr., FASG, and Lewis Bunker Rohrbach, CG, Even More Palatine Families: 18th Century Immigrants to the American Colonies and Their German, Swiss, and American Origins, 3 vols. (Camden, Maine, 2002).

[8]  Henry Z Jones, Jr., FASG, and Annette Kunselman Burgert, Westerwald To America: Some 18th Century German Immigrants  (Rockport, Maine, 1990),

[9] For fuller examples of studies focusing on relationships of a group in a particular place and period including my own Palatine project, the late Marsha Hoffman Rising’s Opening The Ozarks books and Robert Charles Anderson’s seminal The Great Migration series, see Robert Charles Anderson’s “The Joys of Prosopography: Collective Biography for Genealogists” in American Ancestors (Winter 2010) pp. 25 – 29.

[10] I was a consultant on the Who Do You Think You Are? episode featuring a descendant of Jost Hite, country music singer Tim McGraw.

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Between The Leaves: Interviewing Family Members Fri, 24 Oct 2014 13:54:17 +0000 Jessica Murray Read more]]> Most of our family history research starts with oral history, the stories passed down from generation to generation. It’s important to capture these moments – whether by recording them or writing them down, to piece together your family history puzzle.

On this week’s “Between the Leaves” we asked our professional genealogists Amy Johnson Crow, Anne Gillespie Mitchell and Juliana Szucs to share their stories and suggestions for interviewing family members.

Looking for additional tips for interviewing your family members? Visit our recent Family History 101: Tips For Interviewing Your Living Relatives

Our Between the Leaves Google+ Hangouts are an informal and, hopefully, educational conversation where our professional genealogists share their methods, stories and passion for family history research. To watch all our Between the Leaves episodes visit our playlist on YouTube here.

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Quaker Migrations Across the Centuries Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:35:38 +0000 Ancestry Team 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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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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