Blog The official blog of Tue, 22 Apr 2014 21:33:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 It’s Earth Day! How Did the Earth Determine Where Your Ancestor Lived? Tue, 22 Apr 2014 18:07:53 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more ]]> Physiographic Map of the US

“Physiographic Map,” Natural Resources Conservation Service, United states Department of Agriculture,
( : accessed 22 Apr 2014); citing Physiographic Map Reference: Fenneman, Nevin M., 1946, Physical Divisions of the United States: U.S. Geological Survey, scale 1:7,000,000.

I’m willing to bet at least some of your ancestors were farmers. Their livelihood, their ability to feed their children, to clothe themselves — it all depended on the earth.

And it depended on the type of earth.  All soil is not created equal, and not all soil is used to grow the same things. The type of soil your ancestors had available to them and the climates they lived in dictated the crops that they could grow. People grew what they knew. If you knew how to grow wheat, and you picked up and moved to a new location, you would want to grow it in the next place that you lived.

When your ancestor was looking for new opportunities, this might drive where they migrated to. To gain insight into the direction they went you might want to look at a physiographic map. A physiographic map, shown above, tells you the kind of soil that you will find in a specific area. The Great Road (one of its many names), which many of our ancestors used to migrate from Pennsylvania to places south, follows the same lines as the bluish and purple land swaths that you see there.

Look at this physiographic map of Virginia. The solid lines define the different physiographic areas.

Physiographic Map of Virginia

“Physiographic Provinces of Virginia,” Virginia Department of Environmental Quality,
( : accessed 22 Apr 2014).

So if your ancestors were living on the coastal plains in the early 1830s, do you think they moved west or south?

Did they move west or south?

Did they move west or south?

Probably south. Moving west would require traversing mountains and changing climate and soil.  Moving south requires a change, but it is a change that has fewer unknowns.

Do a Google search for physiographic maps for your state (for example, Pennsylvania physiographic maps). Every little bit of information that you can find about your ancestors makes you understand them that much better.

And dig into agricultural schedules on for another look at what your ancestors grew on their farms.  Five Minute Find: Down on the Farm will give you some pointers.

Happy Searching!


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Virtual Cemeteries, Rotating Photos, User Profiles, and More in the Updated Find A Grave iOS App Tue, 22 Apr 2014 18:01:17 +0000 Michael Lawless Read more ]]>

Last month we released the iOS App for Find A Grave, and the feedback has been fantastic. It’s motivating to hear how Find A Grave affects people’s lives, and our team has been happy with the response.

Today we’re releasing the first new features update for the app. We have a lot more we’re going to do, but these first features were the most requested and are ready to release, so we hope you like them!

  1. Find A Grave ProfileProfile Pages: Now you can view and edit your profile, you can also easily take a selfie for your profile photo, and decide whether to display your email address publicly or not. Your photo and profile are always displayed to everyone, and you can see other members profiles by clicking their names in the attribution for memorials and photos.
  2. Your Memorials and Photos: With this update you can see your memorials added and managed, all the photos you’ve taken, your outstanding photo requests and claims, and the photo requests you’ve fulfilled.
  3. Virtual Cemeteries: Save your favorite memorials to your virtual cemeteries from right inside the app! Keep your relatives close at hand, save interesting epitaphs, or collect famous grave sites visited.

Additionally, we’ve worked to make the app better in some small ways based directly on your feedback. We hope these updates make things easier for you.

  1. Cemetery Search: We’ve made two updates that should prevent the dreaded ‘cemetery not found’ responses you’ve been getting. First, the default location is now Any Location. This makes a huge difference when searching for cemeteries by name, since we search our whole database, not just the cemeteries near your current location. Second, if you enter a location, you’re going to have to select from our auto-complete drop down. This will ensure, especially globally, that the location you’re looking for is in our database.
  2. Rotate Photo: After taking a photo, you’ll be able to rotate it before uploading. This can be a problem especially on those overhead shots, and a few of you have brought this to our attention.
  3. GPS Locations: The GPS locations being gathered from your grave photos or when you use the GPS button are now displayed on memorials near the Plot information. Clicking on the GPS coordinates will take you to the map. We’re going to keep working on this, but it’s a start that I think you’ll appreciate.
  4. Memorial Managers: In the 1.0 release we omitted attribution to managers on the memorial page, instead just showing contributors. In hindsight, it’s obvious that we want to make sure you can reach the current manager, so now we’re displaying both if they’re different. If the manager is the same person as the contributor, we just list the contributor, but if the manager is different than the contributor, we’ll list them both. These are now linked to the profiles.
  5. Add New Memorial: It may not have been altogether obvious that you needed to add a memorial from within the memorial list of a cemetery. To make things easier to find, there’s a button on the cemetery details called “Add new memorial” which should be pretty self-explanatory.

We hope these updates make the Find A Grave app even more useful, and our dedicated programmers are working on the next update even as we speak. Coming soon, you’ll be able to do your secure account edits (change email address, change password), we’ll solve the pesky slow photo upload problem with a wifi-only delayed upload capability, and a couple of awesome secret features are in the works as well. We also know we need to get landscape mode working, especially for you iPad users, and we’re going to make it easier to suggest corrections.

Finally, we’ve heard you loud and clear about an Android version, but there’s nothing I can share about that today. Please keep your feature requests coming to

After you get your update, we would love to get your reviews in the iTunes store. Good reviews help everyone, they make us feel good of course, but more importantly they make Find A Grave more visible to new users who just don’t know what they’re missing out on. Please show your support for our free app!

Thanks again, and I look forward to sharing our next big thing.

App Store

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What You Might Have Missed: April 21st Edition Mon, 21 Apr 2014 21:03:03 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more ]]> Blog Posts
fan chart with DNA


From the Barefoot Genealogist:

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Probate in the United Kingdom: An Overview Sat, 19 Apr 2014 00:40:39 +0000 Abbie Lee Black Read more ]]> After finding your ancestors in civil registration, census records, and parish registers, there are many different record types that are widely available for the UK. When I’m doing research, I usually look for probate records, and specifically wills, of my ancestors at this stage in the research process.


UK Wills and Probate Before 1858

Probate is the term for how a court distributes the estate of a deceased person. It was not required by law for people to create a will, but quite a bit of the population is covered by wills to make them a good genealogical resource. If your ancestor did not leave a will, there were many other types of documents they could be mentioned in, including letters of administration (gives someone permission to probate an estate without a will), and inventories (itemized list of all the goods the deceased owned).

Wills in England were recorded early into the eleventh century, but most of them didn’t survive until around the fifteenth century. Wills created before 1858 were held by church courts all over the country. Wills and other probate records could be found on any level of jurisdiction in the church courts in England; it would be wise to familiarize yourself with the jurisdictions before you look for a will of an ancestor. One good place to look is, which will show you the probate court for the parish you are searching for.

Wills in Wales were normally written by the upper classes, and would be probated at four different church courts: peculiars, archdeaconry, Bishops’ courts, and Prerogative Court of Canterbury. On FamilySearch a list of Welsh counties and their jurisdictions can be found for further research. All wills proved in Wales are available at the National Library of Wales and can be ordered.

Irish wills proved before 1858 were also recorded within the ecclesiastical courts. Twenty-eight consistory courts were used to record probate, as well as the Prerogative Court of Armagh, which was the highest court. Most wills proved before 1858 were destroyed in a fire at the Public Record Office in Dublin. The indexes did survive, however, which are available at the Family History Library. Scottish probate, or “confirmation” records consisted of testaments, or their equivalent to a will. They were also normally left by the higher classes, but were left by a much smaller population than the rest of the UK. Scottish testaments were proved either at the principal commissariat court in Edinburgh, or at a local jurisdiction for that court.

Richard Knayton Will 1677 (Dorset, England, Wills and Probates, 1565-1858 Ancestry Collection)


UK Wills and Probate After 1858

Wills in England and Wales filed after 12 January 1858 were filed in civil probate courts around the country for the Principal Probate Registry. Irish wills filed after 1858 were held under the Principal Probate Registry, which replaced the church courts previously in place. Scottish testaments, unlike England, Wales, and Ireland, were filed at commissariat departments at the sheriff’s courts after 1823.


What’s in a Will?

As wills will most likely be the record type you are finding for your ancestors, it is important to know what types of information you can find in them. Information found in a will varies greatly from will to will. Some information you could find in a will includes the name of the person who wrote the will, the date the will was written, the residence of the individual, relationships to people inheriting the estate, and an executor (the one who gives out the estate to people named in the will). More information, and even less information can be found from will to will. Try finding some wills for your family, and you will be surprised what it says!


Searching for Wills

English wills before 1858 must first be found at the correct church court before you can get the original record. Many of these are available at the Family History Library. If you cannot find a will at lower jurisdictions, you could search the Prerogative Court of Canterbury records (1384-1858), which are available online for ordering at the National Archives. After 1858, Wills from England and Wales have an index that can be searched on in the National Probate Calendar, which indexes wills from 1858-1966.

Irish wills have an index that can be searched on FamilySearch, which indexes wills from 1858-1920.

Scottish testaments are indexed form 1513-1925 on ScotlandsPeople. The index is free to search, and you can pay a fee to download the image directly from their website. Collections to Start Your Research

Here are a few collections you can use to start testing your new-found knowledge:

Happy hunting!


For more information on ProGenealogists, please visit their website at

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Pennsylvania Death Certificates Now Available Fri, 18 Apr 2014 18:43:54 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow Read more ]]> Pennsylvania research just got easier, thanks to the release of Pennsylvania, Death Certificates 1906-1924. This collection contains more than 2.4 million records and has images of the actual death certificates.

Statewide registration of births and deaths began on 1 January 1906. This collection of death certificates currently runs through the end of 1924 (later records will eventually be added to this collection).

Here is the death certificate of Joe Boyer, a racecar driver who died after a crash at Altoona Speedway:

Joseph Boyer, Jr. death certificate

Joseph Boyer, Jr. death certificate

This gives us good reminders about using death certificates:

  • People don’t always die where they lived. Joe resided in Detroit, Michigan and died in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
  • Information is only as good as the informant’s knowledge. The informant on Joe’s death certificate was W. F. Holliday. Who is he (or she)? Would he have known who Joe’s parents were and where they were born? For that matter, would he have known Joe’s birthdate and where he was born?
  • Information can be imprecise. Death certificates often list where the deceased was buried. In this case, his burial place is listed simply as “Detroit, Mich.”

Even with what might be fuzzy knowledge of the informant and a less-than-specific place of burial, this certificate gives us good clues for further research. We have an age and birth date. We have that he was a “Jr.” and that his father was Joseph Boyer, Sr. We can follow up with census records. It says that he was buried in Detroit, which helps us find his place of burial. (It turns out to be Woodlawn Cemetery. Here is his memorial page on FindAGrave.)

Of course, with the date and place of death, we can look for obituaries. Joe’s prominence as a race car driver – he won the 1924 Indianapolis 500 – means that there are numerous articles about him and his racing activities. Ironically, there’s an article about how he drove to Altoona for the race.

This new collection of death certificates is just one of numerous collections for Pennsylvania. Take a look at these other collections that can help you find your ancestor in the Keystone State.

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Who Dat? It’s The Bayou State: New Louisiana State Research Guide Fri, 18 Apr 2014 16:49:02 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more ]]> Louisiana Parishes and Parish Seats

Louisiana Parishes and Parish Seats

When you think of Louisiana do you think of New Orleans? Mardi Gras? Hurricane Katrina? Or do you think of your ancestors? Louisiana has a rich and colorful past. The Spanish, French and British fought over it for more than 300 years until the United States obtained most of the state as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

Louisiana is the only state in the nation that is made up of parishes and not counties. The entity parish is from the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, although counties and parishes function the same way in the modern day U.S. Another influence from the French and Spanish is that Louisiana state law is based more on the Napoleonic Code and Spanish code while all other states are based on English law.

But if your ancestors are from Louisiana, I bet you already knew that they danced to a different set of drums, didn’t you?

Check out our free Louisiana State Research Guide and make sure that you aren’t missing any of the great resources available on

Happy Searching!

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Tattoos: Signs of an “Interesting Past” Thu, 17 Apr 2014 20:48:19 +0000 Juliana Smith Read more ]]> Jack London is quoted as saying, “Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.” My great-great-grandfather, Thomas Howley, was certainly no exception. In 1864, he joined the U.S. Navy under an assumed name so his wife wouldn’t find out. (She found out. She was not happy.)

In her Navy widow’s pension application that I found on, Jane reveals, “I do not remember any noticeable marks or scars on the person of my husband, Thomas Howley, only India ink tattooed on his arm consisting of the letters I.H.S. and as I remembered the image of the crucifiction. [sic] My impression is that the marks were on his arm at the time of his enlistment in the U.S. Navy in the summer of 1864.”

When questioned again about the tattoo, Jane tells the examiner I.H.S. stands for “I have suffered.” It was more likely a Christogram, but I’ll probably never know whether she assumed that, or Thomas told her that, or for that matter, whether Thomas knew of the significance himself. In another affidavit, she says it was “done by India ink when he was a boy.”

Not one to pull punches, Jane goes on to comment on him enlisting without telling her, “I felt very sore over it.” In regards to the tattoos on his arms she says, “I told him he was quite foolish to have those marks on his arm and he said when he was a boy, a lot of them had it done so he had it done on his arm too.” At the time of this affidavit, Thomas had been dead 23 years. Jane clearly had opinions.


I love the little insights from the various mentions of his tattoos, and while you might not find this amount of background about a tattoo in most other records, there are some records that will tell you if your ancestor had tattoos, and if so, what they were.

This Seaman’s protections certificate from the collection of U.S., Seamen’s Protection Certificates, 1792-1869 even goes so far as to illustrate a couple of John Seisinger’s tattoos.


Jacob Gaune’s record in that same collection, doesn’t mention a tattoo, but does reveal that he had “both ears bored.”

Declarations of intent to naturalize for some time periods also asked about specific markings. Alfred Maynard Sillence’s declaration doesn’t give us much of a description, but does say he has a “Tattoo on ring finger.”

Of course if your ancestor ran afoul of the law, his (or her) tattoos could be noted in prison records. David Beaudry imprisoned in the McNeil Island Penitentiary (Washington) for three months for “selling liquor to an Indian” and had “Tattooed ‘D.B.’ & “David” on left arm” and “on right forearm “D” & an anchor.”

The words “Hope,” “True,” and “Love” probably aren’t what you’d expect to find tattooed on a “confidence man,” but nonetheless, that’s what we find in the 1906 U.S. Album of Criminals for Harry Homer.

Keep an eye out for notations about your ancestor’s tattoos and unusual physical markings and characteristics. Not only can they help identify him (or her) in other records, they may include clues to their “interesting past.”


]]> 3 DNA Hints – Providing More Clarity To My DNA Results Wed, 16 Apr 2014 22:06:45 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more ]]> Last week we announced that the AncestryDNA team collectively has found 2.7 million DNA hints. 10 days later, we are nearing 3 million DNA hints – and the number is increasing as more and more people get tested and build out their family tree. Remember: a hint is more than a DNA match. You get a DNA hint when AncestryDNA has found a common ancestor you and a DNA match share.

Mapping My Matches

I took a deeper dive into my own DNA hints and plotted them out on a fan chart to see which lines I had hints on and which lines I didn’t. Then, I took it one step further and plotted the hints that each of my parents have. Instead of including all of their hints, I plotted out only the hints they have that I don’t have. In the chart below you will see DNA hints represented by different colored leaves:

Green- hints I received from my DNA test

Purple- hints my mom received that I didn’t

Blue- hints my dad received that I didn’t

Each leaf represents a shared ancestor connection that either I or my parents have with a living relative who also took the AncestryDNA test.

fan chart with DNA hints

Remember, I only get 50% of each of my parent’s DNA so the hints they received that I didn’t are because that portion of their DNA wasn’t passed down to me. My Dad has 7 more hints than I do and my Mom has 4.

Filling in the Empty Lines

You may have also noticed that there are several lines that I don’t have any hints on. There are a couple of possible reasons for this:

One, there may not be anyone who has been tested on these lines whom I share DNA with. After doing this exercise I saw more of a need to test additional people in my family. I have already reached out to a few first cousins on my mother’s line to see if I can get them tested to trace my maternal great-grandparents. Getting m­­ore people tested in my family will give me more DNA information to use in understanding our story.

Two, perhaps I do have a cousin match on those lines, but because we don’t have the same person in our trees, we don’t get a hint. I will continue to build out my tree to see if I can connect to more of my matches.

Understanding DNA Hints

Keep in mind that DNA hints are just hints. Use them to help understand where the possible connection is and then verify that connection. (This earlier article talks about the different types of hints and how they work.) Once you have verified your hint, you know exactly how you and your match are related. That is powerful.

Want to get more of your story? Click here to get a test for a family member.




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Paying Taxes… Or Not Tue, 15 Apr 2014 19:54:59 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow Read more ]]> They say that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. Genealogists are used to dealing with records surrounding an ancestor’s death, but what about taxes?

Tax Basics

Tax records in many locations date back earlier than vital records. They’re great for our research because they tend to be kept on a regular basis. (Have you ever heard of a government saying, “Never mind. We’re not going to collect taxes this year.”?) Tax records tend to cover a wide range of people, including those who didn’t own land.  Some locations taxed personal property (sometimes called “chattel”). This could include livestock, slaves, furniture, stills, carriages, etc.

Tax lists don’t necessarily prove residency. A person doesn’t have to live where they own land. Generally speaking, real property (land and buildings) is taxed where the land is; personal property and income is taxed where the owner/earner lives. There are always exceptions, but a good rule of thumb is that a real estate (land) tax list doesn’t prove residency, but a personal property or income tax list does.

IRS Tax Assessment Lists has numerous collections of tax lists. One of my favorites is the IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page to see the states and years that are included in this collection.

The Internal Revenue Service (originally called the Bureau of Internal Revenue) was created in 1862 to “provide Internal Revenue to support the Government at to pay interest on the Public Debt.” These tax lists generally list the person’s name and residence, the items being taxed and their value, the amount of the tax, and whether or not the tax was paid.

Here is a portion of the record from May 1863 for Wayne County, Indiana. Henry Binkley was taxed on $275 worth of wagons; for this, he was taxed $8.25. Aaron Boyer’s corn brooms worth $27 resulted in a tax of $1.41. (See, I told you people were taxed on more than just land!)


What about A.D. Band at the top of the list? His taxable item was way over on the right hand side of the page under “Class C – Enumerated Articles.” (This is a good reminder to scroll across the page!) His taxable articles: 30,475.95 gallons of distilled spirits, with a tax of $6,095.19.


And a Tax Cheat

On Tax Day, it’s hard not to think about one of the most famous tax evaders of all time: Al Capone. The federal government tried for years to gather evidence to convict him of distributing alcohol during Prohibition as well as the violence that surrounded his Chicago gang. What finally did Capone in was an investigation that connected him to income from a gambling house; though it was illegal, the income was taxable. He was convicted of tax evasion in 1931 and was eventually sent to Alcatraz.

Capone’s indictment and conviction made the front page of newspapers across the country, including this one from the Benton Harbor, Michigan News-Palladium, available on

Benton Harbor, Michigan News-Palladium, 24 October 1931, page 1.

Benton Harbor, Michigan News-Palladium, 24 October 1931, page 1.



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What You Might Have Missed: April 14th Edition Mon, 14 Apr 2014 16:08:38 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more ]]> Blog Posts
WWII Government


From the Barefoot Genealogist:

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