Ancestry Blog The official blog of Ancestry Fri, 31 Oct 2014 15:53:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What We Are Reading: October 31st Edition Fri, 31 Oct 2014 15:53:54 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow Read more]]> Happy Halloween! Don’t be scared — this week’s What We Are Reading is all “treats” and no “tricks.” (And we won’t even make you dress up in costume.)

Do We Have the Genealogy Reflexes We Need,” by Harold Henderson, on Midwestern Microhistory. Good reflexes aren’t just important in exercise. They’re essential for growing as a genealogist. Harold gives his take on good genealogy reflexes.

Family History on the Road – Day Three,” by Family Sleuther, on Family Sleuther. We’re always up for a genealogy road trip. Family Sleuther visited some family graves, including that of War of 1812 veteran Jeremiah Turner Reeves.

Barbara Wells Sarudy on her blog It’s About Time has put together a series of biographies of Quaker women, including Jemima Wilkinson (aka Publick Universal Friend) and Frances Slocum. Fascinating reading.

Tonight,” by Lisa Y. Henderson, on Scuffalong: Genealogy. Lisa reminds us of the importance of local genealogical societies.

Haints and Witches and Legends…Oh my! Tennessee Folklife Myths and Legends” on the Tennessee State Library and Archives Blog. What’s Halloween without a few tales of ghosts and witches? Learn about some of Tennessee’s most famous, including the Bell Witch. (Bonus: a way of lifting the spell laid on you by a witch!)

Historic Catalogs of Sears, Roebuck and Co., 1951

Historic Catalogs of Sears, Roebuck and Co., 1951

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Why Did They End Up Here: Ethnic Clusters Fri, 31 Oct 2014 13:37:26 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow Read more]]> The scene plays out in cities and towns across America each weekend. German Heritage Festival. Italian Heritage Days. Irish Fest. Why is it that some areas have enough people of a given ethnicity to have events like this? Why are there so many Scandinavians living in Minnesota? The answer lies in migration patterns.

They say that birds of a feather flock together. That is certainly true of our ancestors. When it came time to move, our ancestors didn’t choose their new locations randomly. Our ancestors went with the familiar. They stayed with people they knew and in areas where they could earn a living in ways they knew how. (It may not be romantic, but it does help make our research a little bit easier!)

Mass and Chain Migrations

There are two basic types of migrations: mass and chain.  A mass migration is when a large group of people leave somewhere all at the same time. An example would be the Huguenots leaving France.

Chain migration takes place over a longer period of time. A small group leaves and settles in a new location. They write back to friends and family back home and say, “Hey, it’s great here! You should come join us.” In turn, those friends and family members would then move, settle, and write back to even more people. After several years of this, you end up with a lot of people from one area living near each other in a completely different area.

Poster by the Burlington & Missouri River R. R. Co. advertising land in Iowa and Nebraska, 1872. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Poster by the Burlington & Missouri River R. R. Co. advertising land in Iowa and Nebraska, 1872. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Why This Place?

Chain migration explains how a group of people ended up in the same place, but why did they pick that place to begin with? It came down to where they could earn a living – or, at least, where they thought they could earn a living. Farmers stayed with the same type of land and similar climate so they could continue to grow the crops that they knew how to grow.

Laborers moved where there were jobs. If they could find an area that had work they already knew how to do, so much the better. You find Welsh and Cornish coal miners settling in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio because they could find work in the mines. We also can’t overlook the importance of construction projects, such as the canals and railroads. If you were an unskilled laborer, digging a big ditch would be backbreaking work, but it could mean providing a living for yourself and your family.

There were also recruiting efforts from various organizations. The Swiss Colonization Society based in Cincinnati, Ohio founded Tell City, Indiana as a home for Swiss and German settlers.

Railroads also played a part in chain migration, and not just because of the transportation they provided.  They needed to have enough people living along their routes to make them profitable, so they did all they could to entice people to settle there. They did this both in the U.S. as well as foreign countries. The Burlington Railroad (which went under a variety of names) had land agents in England, Germany, Scotland, and Sweden.

What It Means for Us

Considering ethnic enclaves isn’t just good for heritage festivals and good food. It should get us thinking about the organizations that the settlers formed as part of their community – things like schools, churches, and fraternal organizations. It should get us to think about where these people came from and could the community give us clues about our specific ancestors. It should also get us thinking about the broader forces that caused them to pick up and move to a new home.

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Welcome to the Silver State! Nevada State Research Guide Fri, 31 Oct 2014 13:35:16 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> Happy 150th Birthday, Nevada! Nevada was admitted to the Union on October 31st, 1864.

Five things you may not have known about the Silver State:

Chollar Mine

Library of Congress, “Silver mine in Virginia City, dates back to 1860,” digital from original, Carol M Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006.

  1. Bugsy Siegel gave the Flamingo hotel its name in honor of the long legs of his girlfriend Virginia Hill.
  2. Nevada is also known as the “Battle Born State” because of its admission to the Union during the Civil War.
  3. Nevada means “snowfall” in Spanish.
  4. There are more mountain ranges in Nevada than any other state; the highest point is Boundary Peak at 13,145 feet.
  5. Nevada produces more gold than any other state in the U.S; it is second only to South Africa worldwide.
Our new free state guide, “Nevada Research Guide: Family History Sources in the Silver State,” has an overview and timeline of the state, along with resources to explore when searching for your Nevada ancestors. Guides for other states are also available in the Learning Center under Free State Research Guides.
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A brief history of Halloween. Click if you dare! Fri, 31 Oct 2014 10:04:09 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]> skelttttt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

Sears, Roebuck and Co. Catalog from Spring 1906

Sears, Roebuck and Co. Catalog from Spring 1906

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

Sears, Roebuck and Co. Catalog from Fall 1915

Sears, Roebuck and Co. Catalog from Fall 1915

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

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

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

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

Local Histories

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

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

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

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

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

13 Halloween Things FINAL V2-01


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


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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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#AncestryChat Returns: Family History Research in 140 Characters or Less Wed, 29 Oct 2014 16:23:33 +0000 Jessica Murray Read more]]> If you’re like us, you can’t get enough family history, whether it’s researching or learning new things to try. Since there are few things better than TweetChattalking with others who feel the same way, we’re taking it to Twitter!

Earlier this month, we reintroduced our real-time Twitter chat using the hashtag #AncestryChat. Based on your feedback, we’ve decided to begin holding these chats on a regularly-scheduled basis.

In honor of Family History Month, our next Twitter chat will be hosted on Thursday, October 30 at 7pm ET / 6pm CT / 5pm MT / 4pm PT when our topic will be “Going Beyond the Census and Vital Records” with fellow family historians and moderated by professional genealogists Anne Gillespie Mitchell and Juliana Szucs.

If you’d like to participate in a Twitter chat but have never joined one before, here are some tips to get started:

  1. You need a Twitter account to participate. Twitter accounts are free. You can sign up here.
  2. On the scheduled date and time go here and sign in using your Twitter login.
  3. 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 tweet (no more than 140 characters).
  4. When you are ready to participate, type your question in the box provided and click TWEET. Then watch the window for responses to your question.
  5. Don’t want a Twitter account? That’s fine. You can still go here to follow the conversation.

We expect to schedule these live Twitter chats 1-2 times per month, so keep your eyes peeled on the upcoming events calendar, which you’ll find here on the blog at the beginning of each month. It offers a list of all the educational events both on and offline that Ancestry will be hosting or participating in. You’ll also find the calendar on our Facebook page under “Events.”

Hope to see you on a future Twitter chat!

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Ask Ancestry Anne: How Can I Share My Family Tree in an Interesting Way? Wed, 29 Oct 2014 14:22:18 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> Question: How can I transfer my information from my family tree to some sort of hard copy, such as a computer printer copy ?  I would like to make copies for family members.

Answer: Printing your tree out is possible from a program like Family Tree Maker, but I suggest you go with something with a little more pizzazz.

MyCanvas, an Ancestry tool, provides multiple ways for you to create a beautiful family history book or family tree posters which can make sharing fun and enjoyable for everyone.

Juliana Szucs has created a Five Minute Find: Creating a MyCanvas Poster to get you started. Or if you have a little more time to spend, check out Using MyCanvas to Make Descendant Family History Books and Posters and Using MyCanvas to Print and Share Your Family Stories on our Webinars page.

You can also easily share your project — click on the Share this project link, enter an email address, write a personal message, and send  an invitation to view your project.

You will find the Share this project link on the My Projects page,  under the name of the project you want to share. Then click on “Email to a friend” in the drop down menu.

MyCanvas 2

The invitee will get an email to view your project. They will not be able to make any changes to your project, but they can view and order it a hard copy if they choose.

When they receive the invitation, they will see something like:

MyCanvas 1


You may also allow your invitee to save a copy of the project to their own account. They will be able to edit their copy, but their edits will not change your copy of the project.

MyCanvas is a wonderful way to preserve and share your family history, photos, and stories. This Share feature enables you to easily share your work with others, even when they don’t live close by.



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