Ancestry Blog The official blog of Ancestry Wed, 17 Dec 2014 17:38:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Find A Grave Android Mobile App Release Wed, 17 Dec 2014 16:00:01 +0000 Michael Lawless Read more]]> Find A Grave for Android

We’re in the holiday spirit today so what better way to celebrate that spirit than to announce our official release of the 1.0 version of Find A Grave for Android, free in the Google Play store.  With nearly half of our users having a preference for Android devices, we hope this release will unleash your inner graver.

The new Android app will allow users to easily search for cemeteries on a map or by name, find deceased relatives, and enable gravers to create new memorials, add photos, and update GPS points.

Our Android Find A Grave users will also be able to edit their own bio and preferences, see and add to their virtual cemeteries, and find and fulfill photo requests from across the community

If you are not a Find A Grave user, but want to use this opportunity to become one, please join us! You can start with the mobile app or find us at Find A Grave. You don’t need to register to search the memorials, but we would love it if you would sign up and contribute.  For Ancestry members, this is a great way to give back to the community that has been filling hint queues with their dedicated documentation of cemeteries.

Find A Grave for Android

Find A Grave is by far the largest public grave database in the world and its success is because of contributors worldwide. You can request grave photos from around the globe, and help by volunteering to take photos for others at nearby cemeteries.

Deepest thanks to Wesley Cook and Ancestry’s Android

development team for bringing this new resource to the Ancestry and family history community.

Visit the Google Play store to download Find A Grave for Android today!

Get it on Google Play

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German Pickles, Luminarias, and the Evolution of Christmas Tradition Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:32:58 +0000 Juliana Szucs Read more]]> apickleAs a family historian, you’d expect that my household would be full of ethnic traditions that have been passed from generation to generation, but actually our family traditions are a bit of a smorgasbord from around the world.

My daughter has been embracing her German heritage lately and came home from the Chicago Christkindlmarket with a “German pickle ornament.” She told me I was to hide the pickle on the tree and when she found it, I had to give her a dollar. Since I have no known German ancestors, I wasn’t familiar with this tradition. Curious, I looked it up, and while there are a number of speculative theories on the origins of the pickle ornament, I didn’t see any evidence pointing to it being an old German custom.

When I was growing up, we used to put luminarias up and down the path to our house. These were simply paper bags filled with sand to weight them, with a candle burning inside. Our local church sold them for charity and I grew up thinking it was a local thing. Turns out luminarias, or farolitos as they’re also called, are a tradition of the Southwest U.S. and Mexico. Here in the Midwest, in some years the paper bags were no match for snow and high winds, but when they did stay lit, it was a beautiful and welcoming sight.

While we do have traditions regarding some of the treats we make for Christmas, there again, none seem to reflect any one particular place. While many of the recipes have been passed down from my grandparents, just as many were shared by friends and neighbors over the years.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising. When I look at my AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimate, I am probably as much of a hodgepodge as the traditions I find myself observing for the holidays. As families blended over the years, traditions evolved and so did the holiday season. As traditions and holidays come together, they bring people together, and isn’t that what this season is about?

While I’ll probably always be looking for ways to bring my heritage into the holiday season, I’ll also be embracing new traditions. The pickle? Yes, it’s hanging on my tree between the ornament that hung on my grandparents’ tree and the one with the Polish eagle that I bought a few years ago online. And I’ll probably give Maddy a dollar when she spots it, too.

Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, or some other holiday, I wish you peace, love, and happiness this holiday season.

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What We Are Reading: December 12th Edition Fri, 12 Dec 2014 16:00:16 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow Read more]]> ‘Tis the season for holiday cheer. Judging from what we’ve been reading this week, it’s also the season for writing about the wrong-doings of our ancestors!

Bill West tells us about an incident involving his ancestor and wayward horse. Let’s just say that he forgot to tie it up one night and things escalated from there. Read more about it at “Will, I Will Shoot Your Horse” on West in New England.

Your husband is fighting in the Civil War, so what do you write to him about? NikiMarie was surprised by what one Civil War wife wrote to her husband. You can read the letter at “Civil War Fun” on My People in History.

Speaking of Civil War soldiers, Elizabeth Wilson Ballard has been trying to sort out the identity of her ancestor John Marion Renfro, who served in the 9th Illinois Cavalry. Along the way, she has discovered that some of his many marriages “overlapped.” See how she’s been sorting it all out at “John Marion Renfro, Union Soldier and Polygamist” on Diggin’ Up Graves.

It hasn’t all been ne’er-do-wells this week. You might be thinking about doing a craft as gifts for the holidays, perhaps putting a book together. Tiffany Eng at West Dean College has put together a tutorial on Japanese stab binding. If she can bind a ham sandwich – and she does! – certainly we can bind a few pages of our family history together!

Story of Harper's Ferry

“The Story of Harper’s Ferry,” from the Library of Congress Photo Collection, 1840-2000.

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It’s the Evergreen State: Our New Washington Research Guide Fri, 12 Dec 2014 14:00:16 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow Read more]]> Seattle skyline. From U.S. Historical Postcards collection.

Seattle skyline. From U.S. Historical Postcards collection.

When you think of the state of Washington, what comes to mind? Trees, apples, a certain brand of coffee? There’s a lot more to the Evergreen State. Here are five things you might not know:

  1. Both the United States and England controlled the region until 1846.
  2. The world’s first salmon cannery opened on the lower Columbia River in 1865.
  3. You could probably guess that apples are the state fruit, but did you know that the state vegetable is the Walla Walla sweet onion?
  4. Seattle was the first major U.S. city to elect a female mayor (1926, Bertha Knight Landes).
  5. During the Civil War, soldiers from the Washington Territory manned U.S. Army posts, freeing up those troops to go into battle.

Our new free guide “Washington State Research Guide: Family History Resources in the Evergreen State” has links to Washington resources, a timeline, and a general history of the state. It will help you navigate the waters of Washington state research.

Be sure to check out the other state research guides that are available in the Ancestry Learning Center as well.

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Welcome to the Hawkeye State – Iowa! Our Latest State Research Guide Tue, 09 Dec 2014 14:00:55 +0000 Juliana Szucs Read more]]> IowaCapitol

Iowa State Capitol, Des Moines, Iowa

As we wrap up our series of state research guides, we’d like to share five things about Iowa that you might not know.

  1. The Iowa State Capitol dome is covered in 23-karat gold leaf. The interior is among the most ornate in the country as well, with twenty-nine varieties of marble incorporated into the décor.
  2. The oldest city in the state was named after its earliest settler, Julien DuBuque, a French Canadian who began mining lead in the area in 1788.
  3. After revising the state constitution to allow African-American men the right to vote, many Iowans began rallying around the issue of suffrage for women. In 1870, a convention was held in Mount Pleasant and drew 1,200 supporters.
  4. Prohibition in Iowa began in 1916, four years ahead of the 18th amendment, which made Prohibition the law of the land.
  5. Iowa and other Midwestern states also began feeling the effects of the Great Depression before the rest of the country. Following record farm production during World War I, prices for farm goods fell off sharply. Faced with a glut of produce on the market and lower prices, many farmers struggled to make ends meet throughout the 1920s, well before the stock market crash in 1929.

Want to learn more? Download our free Iowa state research guide.

Ancestors from another state? We’ve probably got you covered. Check out the complete list of available guides here.

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Ancestry Global Family History Report Mon, 08 Dec 2014 14:52:47 +0000 Read more]]> Since Ancestry was founded in 1983, we’ve helped more than 2 million people find out more about their family’s history, filling in the ‘whos’, ‘wheres’ and ‘whys’ behind who they are today. At the time of this post, we have digitized more than 15 billion historic records from 67 countries, containing everything from war medal recipients to criminal trials, censuses to passenger lists, and even a pub ‘blacklist’ from Victorian England.

Our members have used these records to populate more than 60 million family trees and the data helps demonstrate how family history can not only unearth things from our past, but also the present. Of those who have conducted genealogical research, almost half have found living relatives they didn’t know about, with a significant number actually meeting them face-to-face.

This is evidence of how online genealogy – and technology as a whole – is helping connect and shape the modern family, evolving it into something we haven’t seen before. The aim of this report is to show how knowledge of the past has impacted the present, and how a greater sense of ‘connectivity’ has changed the concept of the modern family within the six countries in which we conducted the study.

This document forms the first part of a multi-chapter report, the full findings of which will be published over the coming year.


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What We Are Reading: December 5th Edition Fri, 05 Dec 2014 19:01:49 +0000 Jessica Murray Read more]]> If you’re like us, the fast approaching year-end has us reviewing the research goals we set out in early 2014. Below are some victories celebrated by community members who have solved a family mystery or discovered a new treasure in their family history. We’re using these posts as inspiration to finish 2014 strong with our family history research.

Library of Congress, Reading at Tuskegee Institute, 1902.

Library of Congress, Reading at Tuskegee Institute, 1902.

Cathy Meder-Dempsey outlines her exhaustive research of family groups in rural Virginia in hopes of determining the father of Rachel Proffitt, her 3rd Great-grandmother in Opening Doors to Brick Walls.

Janet Iles shares how discovering a family surname used as a middle name may be the key to determining relationship in Janet the Researcher.

Celia Lewis of Twigs and Trees shares how thinking out loud helped her connect with generations of photographs in her niece-in-law’s possession, and how often approaching the eldest daughter may be your best bet when you’re in search of family keepsakes.

Debi Austen of Who Knew? shared her excitement in discovering her paternal grandmother, Mildred Loraine Gunzendorfer’s diary which included stories of how her grandmother met her grandfather, and a peek into their daily life. Don’t we all wish we could find a treasure like that?

Previous “What We Are Reading” Posts:

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The House on Mulberry Street and Clues to Irish Roots Thu, 04 Dec 2014 14:15:34 +0000 Read more]]> By Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Amy Johnson Crow, Family Historian for Ancestry

I’ve located my maternal great-grandparents, John and Margaret Ellen (Cunningham) Haffey in Wayne County, Ohio in the 1880 census. I’m trying to locate their births in Ireland. I have their death records, but they didn’t list a specific Irish birthplace. I have found a record in the New York Emigrant Savings Bank for a John Haffey and James Cunningham; either could access the account. —Sandra H.

Dear Sandra,

We’ve found that one of the strongest motivations for a person’s desire to reconstruct their family’s tree is the desire to discover where their ancestors once lived, especially before they migrated to the United States, whether that be in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, or Asia.  Finding the names of our ancestors, of course, is the necessary first step; but then finding where those ancestors hailed from can be just as exciting.

Why?  Because there’s something deeply reassuring about being able to point to a map and say, “This is where my people came from.” Geography “roots” or centers us in the world, just as surely as identifying the names of “our people” does.  But finding where our ancestors once lived can be quite a challenge, even when we know their names and birth or death dates.  And this is especially difficult with our Irish ancestors. We both have some personal experience with this since we both are descended from Irish ancestors.

Discovering an ancestor’s elusive Irish birthplace really is a big deal for genealogists.  On what we might think of as “the scale of genealogical difficulty,” tracing Irish roots is right there near the top of the list.  The search can be extraordinarily challenging, but the payoff can be so very exhilarating!  One key to solving this mystery is keeping people you are searching for in context.  What does that mean?  Well, who were your ancestor’s neighbors, and who—according to records—did they keep associating with? Whose names keep popping up near theirs?  Taking account of the names of your ancestor’s neighbors and friends can yield amazing results.

In 1880, John, Margaret, and their family were living in Pike Station, Wayne County, Ohio. The census shows that their daughter, Ella, was born in Ireland around 1860 and their son, Edward, was born in Ireland around 1862.  Daughter Maggie was born in New York around 1866, and children William, Mary A., John Jr., and Catherine were all born in Ohio.  Keeping the whole family in mind will be important as we move through the family’s paper trail.

Emigrant Savings Bank

The Emigrant Savings Bank was founded in 1850 by the Irish Emigrant Society and became a safe place for Irish immigrants to save their money. They invented an ingenious system of using biographical information to tell the difference between people with the same names, such as the various James Cunninghams or John Haffeys, who kept accounts at the bank. (We would cringe because of privacy issues if anyone did this today, but it sure makes it handy for researching Irish ancestors!)

You were definitely on the right track exploring the records of the Emigrant Savings Bank, which can be a gold mine of data for tracing Irish ancestry. And in your case, we are pleased to say, you’ve struck gold!   It turns out that the bank had four accounts that stood out for John Haffey, each of which offered us more clues about your family’s origins.

In 1862, a man named James Cunningham, “for John Haffey,” opened account number 32881.  The bank’s record for this account says that John was born in 1828 in County Donegal and was married to Margaret Cunningham, with two children Ella and Edward. (We should note that this birth year is off from the one recorded in the 1880 census, but it is consistent with that listed in the 1870 census. This often happens, so no worries about that!) Having John’s wife’s name and the name of their two children gives us confidence that this is the correct John Haffey; account 32881 was definitely opened by the John Haffey we’re looking for.

What else can we learn from this bank record?  Well, the person named James Cunningham, who opened the account on behalf of John Haffey, was living at 233 Mulberry Street. This turns out to be a key piece of information. (Mulberry Street is located in the section of Manhattan known as “Little Italy” today.)

Back in 1855, James Cunningham of 233 Mulberry Street had opened account number 8691 “in trust for John Haffey.”   Incredibly, this record is a treasure trove of information about John!  It states that John was from Minnarock [sic], in the parish of Killaghtee, County Donegal;  he arrived in the United States in September 1852 on a ship named [either?] “George Green” or “James Nesbith” from Liverpool; his father, Ned Haffey, is dead; his mother, Ellen Carr, is living in Ireland; and he’s single.

A detail from the Emigrant Savings Bank Test Books at showing biographical information about John Haffey.

A detail from the Emigrant Savings Bank Test Books at showing biographical information about John Haffey. 

James Cunningham of 233 Mulberry Street also opened account 10040 in 1855; it is noted that it is the same as account 8691. In 1857, John Haffey and P. Cunningham of 233 Mulberry Street opened account 15009; it, too, is the same as account 8691. So now we know that accounts 8691, 10040, and 15009 all pertain to the same people.

(Unfortunately, the record for account 32881 (the one where we’re sure it’s our John) doesn’t state that it is the same as account 8691 (the one where we learn John’s hometown and parents.) There’s just an incomplete note “Is same as.” (Would it have killed them to list the account number?!) But the fact that James Cunningham and/or John Haffey was living at 233 Mulberry Street in these four accounts is a strong indication that we are talking about the same people.

Other Places to Explore

Okay, now that you have this information, where do you search next?  It’s tempting to explore church records in “Minnarock” (probably Meenabrock) and grab onto any mention of John Haffey. You’ll definitely want to explore those records, but you should get a fuller idea of your John Haffey’s identify first, so you’ll know if you have found the information about the right person.  Remember, just because a name is the same doesn’t necessarily mean that the person whose records you’re examining is the person you are searching for!

HuffPo Ireland Map

There are several other places that should be checked before crossing the pond to Ireland.  Who are the Haffeys and Cunninghams living in the area around 233 Mulberry Street? City directories would give this information. Ancestry has several New York city directories for this time period. Search by surname, but also do a keyword search for “Mulberry,” to find people living on Mulberry Street to recreate the neighborhood. You will want to do this for the 1850s through the late 1860s, when John and Margaret moved to Ohio.

You should also keep an eye out for the other passengers who arrived in this country on the same ship with John. We didn’t find him in 1852, but we did find him in 1854 on the “James Nesmith” (not Nesbitt, as listed in the bank record), with an approximate birth year of 1829 (consistent with the bank record and the 1870 census).

nesbit arrival

Detail of the passenger list of the James Nesbit, arriving in New York 28 August 1854, showing John Haffy, age 25, a laborer from Ireland.

It’s a good idea to focus on the areas where you know your ancestors were living, but also where they died.  In this case, we know John and Margaret ended up in Ohio. According to Find A Grave, John, Margaret, and their daughter Catherine (Kathryn) are buried in St. Vincents Catholic Cemetery in Akron, Summit County, Ohio. The cemetery records could hold clues about John and Margaret’s origins. Further, you should explore the records of St. Vincent Catholic Church.  You should search for your ancestor’s obituaries, both in “regular” newspapers and religious newspapers.

Baptismal records can be another source of useful information.  People usually name relatives or close friends as their childrens’ godparents. The baptism records for John and Margaret’s children could hold clues. St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Wooster as well as St. Vincent in Akron would be good places to start looking.

It might come as a surprise to us today, but people “back in the day” typically didn’t move all by themselves. Neighbors often turn out to be related. Who are the Irish neighbors around John and Margaret in 1870 and 1880? Who else lived on Mulberry Street in New York when John lived there?

Learning as much as you can about John and Margaret in Ohio and New York will help you to establish a better context for them when looking at possible records back in Ireland. Whether you’re looking at records in Meenabrock or elsewhere in County Donegal, you will want to keep in mind the other people who you’ve identified as being associated with John and Margaret in the United States. Good luck!

Do you have a mystery in your own family tree?  Or have you wondered what family history discoveries you could make with a DNA test? Send Henry Louis Gates, Jr and his team of Ancestry experts your question at

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The Capone Brother You Might Not Know Wed, 03 Dec 2014 13:00:33 +0000 Juliana Szucs Read more]]> If you follow Boardwalk Empire, you’re probably aware that two of Al Capone’s brothers had appearances in seasons four and five. Both Raffaele (Ralph) and Salvatore (Frank) were indeed deeply involved in the Chicago mob scene, along with their infamous brother. Frank was gunned down in 1924 by Chicago undercover police who were sent to investigate reports of Election Day voter intimidation in Cicero, Illinois, where Capone’s gang was backing one of the mayoral candidates.

Ralph ran into trouble in in 1930, when he was convicted of tax evasion, and after serving a few months at Leavenworth, was transferred to the U.S. Penitentiary at McNeil Island, Washington.





Several other of the Capone brothers were involved in Al’s various enterprises, but none to the extent of Frank and Ralph. One brother went in an entirely different direction.

The eldest of the Capone children was Vincenzo James Capone. James left the Capone’s Brooklyn home at age 16 and reportedly joined a circus with which he traveled the Midwest. In 1920, he is enumerated as a boarder in the Dakota County, Nebraska home of his future wife’s family under his assumed name of Richard J. Hart with the occupation of garage mechanic. He has shed all links to his Italian roots and lists his birthplace as Iowa and parents’ birthplaces as Illinois.


During his travels, Richard had become proficient with a gun. While his brothers in Chicago were making huge sums of money providing beer and liquor to a thirsty city during Prohibition, Richard had chosen a different path. He signed on as a Prohibition agent and went after bootleggers. This clipping from documents some of his successes.

By 1930, he was living in Idaho with his wife and children and gaining some fame as Richard “Two-Gun” Hart, a U.S. Special officer in “Indian Service.” He was profiled in newspapers as far away as Sandusky, Ohio.


Sandusky Register, 22 Jan 1930, page 10, from

In 1940, Richard and his family were back in Dakota County, Nebraska, and his occupation was listed as “landscaper, Indian Agency.” He had apparently been through some tough financial times and had reached out to his Capone family for help. That outreach came with a cost. Richard was outed as a Capone in 1951 when he was called to testify in proceedings against Ralph, who was once again facing charges of tax evasion. The Mason City (Iowa) Globe was among the papers that picked up the story.

"The Mason City Globe-Gazette," 20 Sep 1951, Thurs., Page 1

“The Mason City Globe-Gazette,” 20 Sep 1951, Thurs., Page 1

Now that Boardwalk Empire has closed the books on its final season, maybe Al Capone’s lesser-known brother’s exploits could be the start of a new mini-series. The things you learn from old newspapers…

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Introducing Historical Insights Tue, 02 Dec 2014 14:25:54 +0000 Read more]]>

What was it like for your immigrant great-grandparents to pass through Ellis Island? Did your mother watch as the Great Mississippi flood destroyed her hometown? Have you ever wondered what your grandfather’s life was like when he served in the army in World War I?

We realize how much these types of historical events shaped your ancestors’ lives—and how much richer they make your family history experience. To help you discover some of these amazing stories behind your family tree, we’re launching a new feature called Historical Insights. You may find out that your relatives lived in North Carolina when pirates roamed the coastline or that they followed the Oregon Trail to make a new home in the West.

Historical Insights

Introducing Historical Insights

So how does it work? In some ways, insights are like hints. While we can’t be positive that your family member experienced a certain event like the San Francisco earthquake, we use information you’ve added to your tree and historical records to determine whether your relative might have been in the city in 1906 when it occurred. And like hints, you have the ability to accept an insight and keep it in a person’s profile or ignore it.

You’ll also be able to see at a glance all the family members we think experienced the same event. You may discover that ancestors who never knew each other were actually shaped by the same moment in history.Historical Insights 2

You can see insights for your own family using your iPhone or iPad, if you’re using the latest version of our mobile app. In coming months, Historical Insights will be added to the website. A preview of the insight will appear on a person’s timeline—just look for the leaf. To read about the historical event and see photos, simply tap the insight in the timeline.Historical Insights 3

While researching these insights our team enjoyed learning how history touched the lives of our ancestors again and again. We hope that you will too.

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