Ancestry Blog » Research Helps The official blog of Ancestry Fri, 30 Jan 2015 14:28:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Dreaded Brick Wall. What to do next? Sun, 28 Sep 2014 09:18:02 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]> The Dreaded Brick Wall


How can I get past a brick wall?

When you run across a brick wall in your research, what do you do? You may be tempted to send your laptop on an expedition out of the first floor window, and who could blame you? A brick wall can be incredibly frustrating.

Some researchers might advise you to abandon the individual concerned for a period of time and move on with the rest of your family tree, and there is some wisdom to that. You’ll want to check back on that individual from time to time though. Ancestry is constantly adding new records to the site and other members are adding trees every day. A brick wall today may not be a brick wall in a few week’s time.

Review your research and revisit the card catalog

Sometimes the answers to our questions are waiting in the research we’ve already conducted. Revisit the records you’ve gathered. You may find that you have overlooked an important detail or missed a connection.

Survey what resources are at your disposal. Ancestry members will want to head for the Card Catalog to see what collections may hold the answers they seek and search them directly. A new collection may have crept in under your radar. Use the filters on the left to narrow your search by geographic location, and if you like, by record type.

Take a step back . . .

In family history, a step back may mean revisiting more recent ancestors. In your haste to move on to the next generation, are there records you overlooked or that were previously inaccessible to you–records that may knock down that brick wall? Seeking them out will give you a more rounded picture of those recent ancestors, and you may uncover new clues.

Talk to family members again

When you begin researching your family history, it is important to talk to other family members who may have information on your shared ancestry. When you hit a brick wall in your research, revisit these relatives or have a discussion with them over the phone or through email about what you have found since your last conversation. Share your recent discoveries with them. New names and locations may jog their memories and you may hear previously untold family stories.

Go beyond the direct line

Go beyond your ancestor and his or her siblings and expand your search to include distant relatives. The records of in-laws, half-siblings, cousins, step-parents and whoever else you can dig up, may include details missing in the records of your direct ancestors.

Use social media and other online resources

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you use Facebook you can search for living relatives who may hold the key to your brick wall. Feel free to post research questions to the Ancestry Facebook page or follow us on Twitter. Our online communities are an amazing resource with many experienced researchers who are willing to help other members. All you have to do is ask!

Try searching for an elusive ancestor into your favorite search engine. You may be surprised at what you can uncover in this way. The most important thing is not to lose hope. We have all faced a brick wall in our research, but with perseverance all things are possible.

Photo: Lars Thomsen. Flickr creative commons.

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Welcome to the Palmetto State: South Carolina State Research Guide Fri, 02 May 2014 17:00:21 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> City Hall and Court House in Charleston, South Carolina

City Hall and Court House in Charleston, South Carolina

South Carolina was one of the original 13 colonies; it was the first state to secede from the Union and one of the first to rejoin the Union.

First explored in the 1500s by the Spanish and French it was also later settled by the English, Dutch and Scots-Irish.

Charles Town, first settled in 1680 (and renamed Charleston in 1783) was one of the first pre-planned towns in North America and was the capital of the state until 1790.  Columbia became the capital in 1790 and still is today.

South Carolina is known as the Palmetto State after its state tree.  The tree was added to its state flag when it seceded in 1861.

South Carolina played an important catalyst role in the Civil War. Following the election of Abraham Lincoln, South Carolina was the first state to secede, and first to ratify the Constitution of the Confederate States of America. The first shots of the Civil War were fired as the Union ship “Star of the West” tried to reinforce Fort Sumter.  In 1865, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops cut a swath through South Carolina leaving a path of destruction in its wake, and burned the capital city of Columbia.

Our new free state guide, “South Carolina Resources: Family History Sources in the Palmetto State,” has an overview and timeline of the state, along with resources to explore when searching for your South Carolina ancestors. Guides for other states are also available in the Learning Center under Free State Research Guides.

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6 Resolutions to Get Your Family History on Track in 2014 Fri, 03 Jan 2014 22:53:10 +0000 Juliana Szucs Read more]]> Olive Rogers - 3 queens 1914-resizeAs we enter a new year, there’s always a degree of uncertainty as to what lies ahead.  Resolutions really give you a chance to grab the wheel and chart a course that can help you for the better. When you take control and set goals, good things happen.

Here are a few of the family history-related resolutions I’m making this year that I hope will turn into progress and many new discoveries. I’m hoping they’ll give your research a boost this year as well.

1. Make it a Priority

With work transitions and some challenges on the home front this year, I haven’t had as much time as I’d like for family history. Because of that I feel like my research is just drifting. I need to form a plan and put it into action. Take some positive control. My family history is important to me and my biggest resolution this year is to carve out time every single week for my research. I’m making a detailed list of goals for each family that I can form research plans around.

2. Meet with My Ancestors

No séance or cemetery visit required for this meeting. I’m just going to sit down with my research and choose one ancestor to focus on. I’ll review and inventory everything I’ve gathered on him or her and take a fresh look at each and every record. During this process, it will help to take notes on everything I find and start a list of possible next steps. This is where it can get hard. No jumping off track every time I get a new idea, and going off on wild goose chases. This is a time for observing and planning, poking and prodding at any conclusions that have been drawn, and looking for ways to prove (or disprove) theories.

Then I’ll form a plan. What do we need to learn about that family member? What records and resources might include that information? This makes it possible to formulate a research plan that will move my research forward. For example, “Break down the Dennis brick wall” isn’t going to be much help, but if I set defined goals, like, “Identify William Dennis, the father of William H. Dennis, in Brooklyn, N.Y. records around the time of William H.’s birth in 1834,” I have a much better shot of success. From there I can compile a list of records that will help me break down that brick wall.

3. Learn, Learn, Learn

The wonderful thing about family history is that there is always something else to learn. Each step and every discovery takes us to a new place on the path of history and the more we learn about each stop, the clearer the picture we’ll have of our ancestors’ lives. Plus, as we move back in time, we need to evolve our research skills and learn how bring together clues from a diverse array of records to assemble the proof we need. Through this continual growth, we find our best chance at success.

I’m off to a good start on this one this year. In a little over a week I’ll be attending the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy in Salt Lake City. One week of in-depth family history study and I cannot wait!

If an institute isn’t an option for you, there are many other possibilities for learning, even from the comfort of home. Seek out online videos and tutorials like those you can find on the YouTube channel. And if there is a national or local conference near you that you can attend, take advantage of the opportunity to network with and learn from people who share our passion. will be at RootsTech in Salt Lake City, 5-8 February 2014, the National Genealogical Society’s Family History Conference in Richmond, Virginia, and the Federation of Genealogical Societies 2014 Conference in San Antonio, Texas, as well as many other local events. Stay tuned to our monthly newsletter and social media outlets for dates.

4. Organize Files-Electronic and Otherwise

One of my biggest struggles in family history is organization. My organizational schemes have matured, and new details and records have come in from my mother and other sources. I have to admit, I don’t always have time to keep up. Every so often, it’s time to do a complete overhaul to get everything in sync. I cleaned out a lot of old files over the holidays and am going through and doing a major purge, getting rid of duplicate copies and prints of records for people I now know aren’t related, not to mention the piles of periodicals that are taking up space in my office. While some of my favorite periodicals will stay intact, I’m pulling just relevant articles from others. I’ve made it a kind of game to see how many recycle bags I can fill each week.

5. Read History

I don’t know a family historian who doesn’t love to read—especially things that relate to our ancestors—so this one is an easy resolution to keep. Seek out books about the places where your ancestors lived that will help you put their lives in context. has a ton of local history books online in the Stories, Memories & Histories category.

Through the Card Catalog, it’s easy to see what local histories are available geographically. Use the filters on the left to select “Stories, Memories & Histories” and narrow your search to that collection. Next in “Filter by Location” select a country, state, and county to see what’s available for the area.

Card Catalog, sorted by collection type and location

Once you’ve identified a publication of interest, start your search with just a surname. Exploring all of the matches for your surname in a local publication can lead you to other related families in the area.

Use the keyword search to find topics of interest.

Use search terms like crop, church, school, epidemic, drought, fire, flood, a neighborhood name, or any other topic you’re interested in learning more about. Another good search is use the keyword field for a particular year of interest–for example, the year your ancestor moved away. You may find reference to an event that precipitated his departure.

6. Preserve Stories and Share Them

We spend an awful lot of time with our ancestors, coaxing clues from their records and learning their stories. But are we preserving the stories? Perhaps this last resolution is the most important one of all. I have several taped interviews with my grandma, and although I’ve transcribed them, they could use a little polishing and organizing. There are stories of dance contests, skating on soap flakes to wash the floor (and an ensuing broken window), and the family’s reaction to their upcoming move to Cleveland. This is the stuff we don’t find in the records and if we don’t take steps to preserve the stories, they’ll be lost forever.

And once you get those stories down, don’t forget to share. The photo at the top of this post just had its 100th birthday. For my mom and I, it’s a reminder of the good that comes with sharing your research online. A distant relative found some information on my mother’s online tree that included a branch of their family that had married into ours. Although they are not related by blood, they did share this photograph of my mother’s aunt, who helped her get started with her family history research. We never met Aunt Olive in person, but the letters she sent gave us details that helped start our family history quest. The image our online connection shared gave us our first glimpse of Aunt Olive, who is on the right.

What are your family history resolutions for 2014?


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Is Your Family History Safe from Disaster? Mon, 18 Nov 2013 22:15:19 +0000 Juliana Szucs Read more]]> As a life-long Midwesterner, I know that when the weatherman puts you in a high-risk zone for dangerous weather, you pay attention. It’s gonna get ugly. So yesterday morning when I woke to that big red high-risk bubble over Illinois and Indiana, I knew we had to hit the ground running. The little closet in the basement (our small, but concrete surrounded safe room) had to be cleared of storage stuff so that three humans, four dogs and a cat could fit in there if needed. The Emergency kit needed to be checked. The calls for high winds meant that everything in the yard needed to be secured or stored. Preparations needed to be made in case of a power outage. And all needed to be done by noon when the weather was predicted to get heavy. So much to do, so little time.

As the sirens sounded, I ran around grabbing things like my purse and charged cellphone, I glanced around my office. What about the Howley tintypes? They’re in the Howley binder, but no time to grab them. What about all the other original photos I have? They’re all in separate binders. There was no time.

We headed for the basement, with dogs and cat in tow. As we sat there listening to the wind and rain lambasting my house, I was grateful to have my husband and daughter with me and worried about family and friends who were also in the path of the storm. But my thoughts kept turning to those pictures. And what about the box of photos I recently ran across from when my daughter was little, that I still have not scanned?(I know, I should know better.) So many precautions that I know I should have taken, but didn’t.

As I was going through the pre-storm preparations, there were a lot of other families going through the same ritual. I was one of the lucky ones. When the sirens stopped and the winds died down, we came up to find our lives unchanged. Others weren’t as lucky.

Some lost loved ones, and even more came up to find their homes, their belongings, and their family treasures all gone. This morning’s news showed photos and documents belonging to people in the affected areas turning up in yards up to 100 miles away. (Friends in Indiana and Illinois, if you find any of these personal effects, there is a Facebook page set up where you can post images of documents, photos, and even pets that have been found. Just be sure to block out personal information like Social Security numbers and don’t post sensitive documents.)

It was a wake-up call. Sure, I go through periods where I do back-ups, but as I think about it now, there are some clear holes in my disaster plan. Here are some things to consider in preparing your family history for a disaster.


One thing at the top of my list is to gather the really important treasures (like those tintypes my mom recently gave me for our Howley ancestors) in one archive-quality box. I don’t want to store these things in my basement. It’s unfinished and temperature and humidity conditions are more stable here in my office. It’s going to mean prioritizing, but I can easily grab one box and take it with me when a disaster is threatening. Much easier than going through all of my binders looking for treasures. Now’s the time to do that prioritizing. Not in the hours before a storm.

Digitize with High-Resolution

I do have high-resolution TIFF images of treasured family photographs and documents backed up to an online storage service. Copies of records and photographs can also be found in my online tree, although at a lesser resolution. I should make sure that I have everything saved at that higher resolution.


Another step I need to take is to share copies of the high-resolution pictures and documents with families on DVD so that there are more copies floating around. That way even if the real thing gets destroyed, the image isn’t lost forever.

Get Scanning

I need to get scanning. While I do have a lot of pictures in digital form, when I was cleaning out my bedroom closet recently, I found the aforementioned box of old pictures that need scanning. Hmm, perhaps this would be a good job for the teenager who’s always in need of cash.

Take Stock

It’s probably time to do an audit of what I have, and on what medium. Also, how long ago were the back-ups created? Depending on use and the quality of the medium, images saved with technology in common use even 10 years ago may be at risk. I also want to think about how easy it will be to find technology to read that medium down the road. (Think floppy disks. Enough said.)

Time to Get Started

The time to get started is now. Who knows what the future has in store? As I go through things and make sure I have good quality scans, once they’re backed up online I can start saving them to DVDs for family. And with the holidays around the corner, that will be a good time to share them.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of those who were affected by the storm.

What is your disaster plan? Please share your ideas in the comments.

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Major Milestones in Family History Thu, 10 Oct 2013 20:32:53 +0000 Crista Cowan Read more]]> This month we are celebrating Family History Month. I hope you have enjoyed the tips, tricks and insider secrets we’ve been sharing here on the blog, on our Livestream broadcasts, and on our Facebook page. Look forward to even more genealogy goodness as the month continues. In the midst of all this celebrating, I thought I would add one more thing to celebrate.

. reached a major milestone in the past few weeks. There are now 12 billion searchable records online for you to discover even more about your family history. That’s billion – with a B. And we continue to add new records to the site almost every single day.


In the spirit of reminiscing – which I always do in my own life when I reach certain milestones – I thought I would share with you a little history and a few of my favorite record collections on


The website went online in 1996 (check out our original homepage on the WayBack Machine) and by the summer of 1997 there were more than 80 searchable databases. The most notable database at the time – and still one of our most popular – is the Social Security Death Index. One of my favorite databases in that original collection is the Geographic Reference Library. It contains more than one million entries. Search for any town, church, cemetery or populated place in the United States – forgotten, hard to find, old or new – and discover what state and county it was in, what other names it may have been known by, and what other locations are in the county.


In 2000 began adding images of U.S. Federal Census records and creating an every name index to these very valuable genealogical records. By 2001, reached the one billion record milestone. Five years to reach our first billion records and now here we are, twelve years later, with 12 billion records online.


If you were to ask me which of those 12 billion records was my favorite, I’d be hard pressed to make a decision. I can’t even pick a favorite among our 31,389 databases – California Death Index (because it lists mother’s maiden name), U.S. City Directories (because I can trace people’s movement in between census years), Happy Homes and How to Make Them (because I am fascinated with what life was like in mid 19th century England). I could go on and on.


Instead I’m going to invite you to explore the collection on your own in a different way than you might used to exploring it. On this morning’s episode of my bi-weekly show, The Barefoot Genealogist, I shared my favorite tips and tricks for using the Ancestry Card Catalog.

Watch the video below:

When you have 12 billion records at your disposal it’s nice to have a few tricks for making the most out of the time you have to access them. And I, for one, can’t wait to see what changes come about with the next 12 billion records.


Have fun climbing your family tree!


P.S. – In case you didn’t quite catch it in the video, here’s that trick for filtering your hints to a specific record collection: Add &hdbid=xxxx to the end of your record hints URL and hit enter. (Where xxxx is the database id of the collection you are interested in.)

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Tips for Translating Records Wed, 11 Sep 2013 15:38:23 +0000 Juliana Szucs Read more]]> Your family tree has roots beyond America’s shores. For many of us, crossing the pond with our research can mean language challenges, but with a little help, it’s possible to make sense of foreign records.  It’s just a matter of using clues and translation tools to puzzle things out. And who doesn’t like a good puzzle? Here are some tips.

Check Descriptions
If you’re researching a collection on, check the database description for search tips and links. Collections like Sweden, Indexed Birth Records, 1880-1930, have helpful information for finding your ancestors in the collection and also include links to our Swedish Research Center, where you can find word lists to help you translate records.

The browsable collection of Sweden, Church Records, 1500-1941, even has a link to a more in-depth article (found in the More Help section on the right of the page) discussing what records are included and what you’ll need to know to best use them.

Translating Tools
Online translators like Google Translate and Yahoo! Babel Fish can sometimes help you decipher words in record headings and elsewhere. In some cases, you may run into words with more than one translation so you’ll need to put it into context. For example, one translator interpreted the Swedish word stift as “pin”—probably not something you’ll find in a vital record. But looking at the other terms in the top line of the example below, it’s clear that the other terms preceding it relate to religious jurisdictions (i. e., parish, deanery). The translator displays a list of similar words below the initial results, among which was diocese with the Swedish words stift, biskopsdöme.

Swedish cheat sheet

Creating a Cheat Sheet
It can be helpful to take an image of a record you’re trying to interpret and create your own “cheat sheets” like the one above. Even when forms varied somewhat over different years, a master copy including translated terms and headings is a real timesaver. You can use a screen capture program to add translations (like you see in the example), or you could photocopy or print the header of a record and write over or paste labels on the copy.

Foreign Alphabets and Script
In some cases your foreign language challenge may be compounded by old or unfamiliar scripts, but searching for websites with examples can help you create a version of your ancestor’s name in that script so you can recognize it in records.  After you’ve located a record, make copies and use the tips already mentioned to help interpret the record.

When you’re working with antiquated or hard-to-read script, it’s helpful to take it one letter at a time. Compare the letters in the word you’re trying to read to other letters on the same page. has a guide to German script in the German Research Center that can help you interpret letters used in various German records. Even if your European ancestors weren’t German, you may find this form useful if they traveled through the port of Hamburg. The Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934, available on (in German) include names of more than 4.6 million people passing through that port.

Other Translation Guides
Regardless of the language you’re working with, there’s a good chance you’ll find guides and translation aids online. A good place to start looking for genealogical language aids is Cyndi’s List.

And don’t be shy about asking for help. There are many wonderful individuals on message boards or mailing lists associated with your ancestor’s ethnic background who may be willing to help. There are also professionals who have experience working with genealogical records from all around the world. You can search for professionals through the directory of members of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG).

Take the Plunge and Learn the Language
If you’re going to be working with a lot of records in a particular language, or you’re fortunate enough to be planning a trip to your ancestor’s homeland, maybe it’s time to take the plunge and learn the language. has partnered with Rosetta Stone, the computer-based language learning system, to offer deep discounts to the community. If you’ve been thinking about learning a new language, you can learn more about Rosetta Stone on their website.

Whether you choose a professional to help you decipher them or give it a go yourself, more international records are becoming available through and other websites. Like their English counterparts, these records contain the stories of your ancestors waiting to be discovered. Don’t let the language barrier keep them buried in the past.

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Genealogy Education in 140 or Less Mon, 24 Jun 2013 21:35:07 +0000 Crista Cowan Read more]]> Every ten days or so I head on over to to host a genealogy conversation 140 characters at a time. I usually hang out there for an hour and a half or so, answering questions about a whole variety of topics – research methodologies, how to search effectively, where to find records for a specific country. It’s a whole lot of fun trying to keep up with 20 or 30 different conversations at once. But, the common thread that runs through all of them? We all just want to know more about those who came before us. Tweetchat is just one more tool to help us do that.

If you have never participated in a Tweetchat here are some simple instructions:

  1. You must have a Twitter account to participate. Twitter accounts are free. You can sign up here.
  2. You will find the Tweetchat schedule here.
  3. On the scheduled date and time go here and SIGN IN using your Twitter login.
  4. New to Tweetchat? Spend some time watching the conversation to get a feel for the flow of conversation and how to ask your question in a single, 140 character tweet.
  5. When you are ready to participate, type your question in the box provided and click TWEET. Then watch the window for a response to your question.
  6. Don’t want a Twitter account? That’s fine. You can still go here to follow the conversation.

It’s not a typing test. Take your time and think about what you want to ask and how you can do it in 140 characters or less.

There will be another Genealogy Tweetchat tonight at 9:00 pm (Eastern)/6:00 pm (Pacific). I hope you will join me in one form or another. Even if you don’t have a question to ask, it can be educational to follow the various threads of conversation. Then come back here and let me know what you learned. I’d love to hear it!

Until next time,



Photo:  Typing Contest by Bernard Goldbach

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Six Ways to Jump Start Your Family History Research Fri, 24 May 2013 23:47:35 +0000 Crista Cowan Read more]]> Are you brand new to genealogy and not quite sure where to start? Maybe you’ve been doing this for a while and need some inspiration to help you break through that long standing brick wall. As we head into the long weekend, I plan on spending a little time working on my own family history research. If you are going to do the same, here are six ideas to help jump start your genealogy weekend.


1. Talk to your family

Memorial Day was originally a time to pause and remember those who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Many of us now use it as a time to memorialize any of our loved ones who have passed on. Still others use the three day weekend to get together with living family members. If you fall into that last category, take advantage of the time you spend with family this weekend to talk to them. Record their stories. Go through that box of pictures and see who they can identify. Ask if anyone knows about a family bible or copies of military service records held by someone in the family. Then take a picture of those people or those documents and attach them to your tree. Speaking of attaching things to your tree…


2. Document your work

That shaky leaf leads to a record hint. Record hints need to be analyzed and considered in context to determine if they really pertain to your person. Then they need to be attached. (Don’t forget that step.) Also, remember that those shaky leaves only provide hints to a small percentage of our most popular databases. There are more records to find. Be sure to search for your family members. Which brings me to…


3. Try a new search technique

I often find myself in a groove. I find something that works and I stick with it. But, I’ve learned that when I try something new, I usually learn something new and, sometimes, I discover something new as well. If you always view your search results by record try viewing them by category. If you only check the Card Catalog to find what databases are available, try using the place pages. If you aren’t sure how to search or you aren’t getting the search results you expect…


4. Watch a video

There’s a video for that. If you aren’t quite sure how to find your immigrant ancestors, there’s a video for that. Need some tips on creating memorial pages to honor the men and women in your family tree who have served in the armed forces? There’s a video for that, too. has a library full of helpful videos and tutorials that just might give you the information you’ve been looking for or that spark of an idea to help you break down that brick wall. And, while we are discussing brick walls…


5. Post your brick wall

Have you posted yours to the appropriate surname or locality message board? The process of writing out what you know, how you know it, and what you are trying to find out is a super useful exercise that might help you see your genealogy challenge in a new light. Posting it to a message board gives you the opportunity to interact with thousands of others who are researching that same surname or that same small county in West Virginia. You never know who may have the information you need.


6. Sign up for a genealogy conference

We are smack dab in the middle of the genealogy conference season. There are opportunities – large and small – all around to attend a conference or Ancestry Day, interact with others who are interested in genealogy and learn some new skills that will help you in your family history journey.


Which of these are you going to try this weekend?

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Lessons in Genealogy Collaboration Thu, 14 Mar 2013 03:16:46 +0000 Crista Cowan Read more]]> I got an Message today from a woman related to a man in my family tree.  In her research she had come to a conclusion regarding the identity of his wife that was different from mine.


When was the last time you read and responded to your messages?


Of course, my first reaction was an internal roll of the eyes and the arrogant thought that I would educate her about how to do real genealogy research.  I immediately navigated to the man in question in my family tree.  As I began to review my research notes so I could craft a response to her (and I make extensive notes in Family Tree Maker on every person I research), I had the fleeting thought that maybe I shouldn’t have made my family tree public because clearly this woman didn’t know what she was doing and she was probably going to attach someone from my tree to someone in her tree when it was obvious that they were not the same person.

As I read my notes my ego quickly deflated to an appropriate level.

Several years ago I was searching for the husband and children of Thelda M Jones.  I knew she was enumerated in the 1910 census with her parents as a ten year old child.  She was not enumerated with them, her older brother or any other known family members in the 1920 census.  My assumption was that she married sometime between 1916 and 1920.

I knew from her father’s obituary that my Thelda married a man named Cecil Christian sometime before 1936.  I wasn’t able to locate a marriage record for Cecil and Thelda but I was able to locate Cecil in the 1920 census with his first wife.  So, where was Thelda in 1920?  Did she have a first husband?

I searched in vain for a marriage record.  I searched the 1920 census for all women named Thelda, born about 1900 in Utah.  Only two came up.  I was able to exclude one of them by tracing her to her death and finding an obituary that listed her parents’ names.  That left one possibility.

So, I added this man and these children to my family tree with a note that I needed to find a marriage record, an obituary, or further documentation to support that this Thelda and my Thelda were one and the same.

Then, as often happens, my research on that branch of the family got side-tracked.  For four years.

I made my family tree public (warts and all) a few months ago so that I could more readily connect with DNA matches.  But, in that time I have received messages from many more people than just those biological cousins.  Including this one.  As I re-read the message from this woman there were a few things that stood out to me.

She explained what she believed to be the truth about this man and his family.  She referenced the exact records she used to come to this conclusion.  She very specifically pointed out the discrepancies between our two trees.  She then said this, “I can’t see the actual documentation that you have in your tree… I am just wondering if I could find out a little more about the records that support your tree…  Thanks for any direction you can give here, I would appreciate it.”  She concluded with directions for how to find her public tree so I could view it for myself.

Between the records that she had attached to her tree and the previous research I had done on this family, I was able to conclude for myself that the Thelda in her tree and the Thelda in my tree were two different women.  I corrected my tree and sent this woman a thank you note for bringing this to my attention.

There are several things I re-learned today because of this experience.  Here are just a few lessons I hope you’ll consider:

  1. Reach out to others who may or may not have accurate information in their online trees.  Be nice!
  2. Not everyone approaches genealogy research the same way you do but we can all do it better if we work together.
  3. Keep good notes. It will help you keep your sanity and keep you from having to redo research.

Anything else you learned?

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Discovering True Love Mon, 04 Feb 2013 18:26:43 +0000 Juliana Szucs Read more]]> There’s a story behind that marriage date. But unless the tale has been passed down through family lore or you’re the proud owner of a collection of torrid love letters, you’re never going to get it, right?

Don’t give up so easily. Turns out that story of true love could be hiding in a yearbook or a census record. Or it may be waiting in a document or photo that you’ve already found, viewed, and saved … just waiting for you to take a second look.

Here are some places where we found love stories, what we discovered, and which resources might unlock the tales of romance you’re looking for, too.
The Girl Next Door

Anne Mitchell, Sr. Product Manager, Library and Institutional Accounts

Tip: Explore the pages before and after your ancestor in the census to see if you find the prospective bride or groom living nearby.

Charlton Wallace married Martha Jane Cash in Rockbridge County, Virginia, in 1842. According to her death record, Martha was the daughter of Ready Cash and Mary Hartigan of Rockbridge County.  Unfortunately vital records weren’t kept at the time of Charlton’s birth or death, so I had to do a little digging to find his parents. I knew from his tombstone that Charlton was born in Rockbridge County in 1823 and died there in 1903, so Rockbridge County seemed a good place to start.

Identifying the family would be tricky since the 1840 census listed only heads of households by name, with children simply tallied by number and age range. Assuming Charlton was living with his parents in 1840—and that they lived in Rockbridge County, where he was born, married, and died—I narrowed the Wallace households that had a boy in the correct age range down to three.

Browsing the neighbors of one of the candidates gave me a very big clue as to the likely identity of Charlton’s probable parents, or at least the folks he was living with. As I paged back to the previous census page, living next door to William Wallace I found the household of Ready Cash. Since then I’ve found further evidence that makes it pretty clear that Charlton married the girl next door.

William Wallace household, 1840 U.S. Census, Rockbridge Co., Virginia

Ready Cash household, 1840 U.S. Census, Rockbridge Co., Virginia


Shipmates for Life?

Juliana Smith, Sr. Marketing and Communications Associate

Tip: Browse through the passenger lists of immigrant ancestors to see if a future couple was traveling together or met on board.

My great-great-grandmother Margaret Dooner was a first-generation American born in Brooklyn, New York, in January 1841. Her parents were Irish immigrants, and her baptism record from St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church lists her parents as John Dooner and Eliza Moran. Since Dooner is a relatively unusual name by Irish standards, I thought I would try to locate John’s arrival in the U.S. in U.S. passenger lists. Using the 1841 birth date of the couple’s eldest child, Margaret, as a starting point, I limited my search to the years prior to that and found a John Dooner who is just about the right age coming to New York on July 10, 1839. I glanced at the others on the page and found a number of twenty-somethings, most of whom appear to be traveling without family, although there were a few young families sprinkled in.

Since the manifest was only two pages long, I scanned the other names on the list, and although there were no other Dooners, I ran across an Eliza Moran on the following page. Because Moran is a common surname, I will have to gather more evidence to prove this is John’s Eliza. It’s also possible that they were coming from the same area of Ireland and knew each other before immigrating. But in either case it’s a fun find and will be interesting to investigate just where love may have bloomed.

Ship “Ganges,” arriving at New York 10 July 1839, p. 1

Ship “Ganges,” arriving at New York 10 July 1839, p. 2


He Joined the What?

Loretto “Lou” Szucs, Vice President, Community Relations

Tip: If your ancestor served in the military, his pension file could include surprising personal details. Some military pension records and indexes can be found online at and

When my daughter and I uncovered my great-grandmother Jane Howley’s file for a Civil War pension based on her husband, Thomas’s, service in the Union Navy, we hit the jackpot. The file, found in the Navy Widows’ Certificates collection on, provided great genealogical details, as well as a number of depositions from family and friends.

A deposition by friend Margaret Freil, who knew Jane and Thomas before they were married, even revealed how they met:

I first became acquainted with Thomas Howley sometime about 1855 or 1856. He came to our house on Water St. near Fulton Ferry, Brooklyn, N.Y.  about that time and boarded with my parents. He was called a greenhorn then and I understand that he had just came here from England. My father introduced Thomas Howley to this claimant Jane Howley, whom I knew as long as I can remember.

I even learned a little bit about the early years of their marriage. There are 123 pages in the file, largely because Thomas enlisted using his mother’s maiden name of Moore, which left Jane with some explaining to do. She says,

 I objected to him going in the service because I was then with child and I did not think it was right for him to go. I did not know he had enlisted until after he went in the recovery ship and then I was told by Lou Barnett, who enlisted him, and brought his civilian clothes back to me. Yes sir, this man Barnett enlisted him, and I understand he got half of the bounty money.

Jane went to see Thomas a couple days later.

I asked him why he enlisted under the name of Moore and he said he did not want me to know it till he had enlisted and he then handed me $400 half of the bounty money he had received.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that meeting. Jane goes on in a later deposition to tell us that following his enlistment, “I felt very sore over it because I had one small child and was with child at the time.”

This is just a small sample of the details that we found in that file. The depositions are full of insights into the lives of all involved, and the clues we found will no doubt lead to more information.

Check for pension indexes and images of some files online at and If you find the record in an index, you can request the record from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

Other Resources

Newspapers. Check newspapers for engagement, marriage, and anniversary announcements that could include the story of how the happy couple met. Social pages may list the names of people at events and give you insights into their social circles.

You may even find articles with incredible details about an ancestor’s love story. The following article appeared in the New Castle News (New Castle, Pennsylvania) of 9 December 1910.

“New Castle News” (New Castle, Pennsylvania) of 9 December 1910


Maps. Find your ancestors street addresses in city directories, censuses beginning in 1880, and other records and plot locations on a map. Contemporary maps can give you a general sense of a location, although bear in mind that streets may have been renamed or renumbered. Historical maps, like those found in the following collections, can be even more useful:

From U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860–1918, Carbon County, Pennsylvania, 1875


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