Blog The official blog of Wed, 01 Oct 2014 02:25:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Enter For A Chance To Win Professional Research Assistance! Wed, 01 Oct 2014 02:24:21 +0000 Kristie Wells Read more]]> ACOM_BranchOut250x250_badgeJust getting started and need help building a research plan? Hit a brick wall on your great great grandfather? Have a family myth you would like to prove or disprove?

Then enter for your chance to win our Branch Out contest. The Grand Prize winner*, upon confirmation of eligibility, will receive the following prize package:


The Grand Prize package has an Approximate Retail Value of $2,496.


Simply complete the entry form making sure you provide a brief summary on what you would like assistance researching. If your name is selected, you will join previous winners Cheryle WarnbergHeidi HallStacey WoodleyCindy HillmanRobin Martin, and Tina Davis who have worked closely with our team to validate existing work and secured additional documentation and information to expand their family trees.

The deadline for entries is Friday, October 31st at 11:59:59 P.M. PT, so sign up today. The winner will be selected and announced in early November so stay tuned for updates.

Good luck!


* Entrants must be legal residents of the 50 United States (or the District of Columbia), who have the age of majority in his or her state of residence at the time of entry. Complete rules available here.



]]> 0
Piecing Together US Marine’s WWII History Tue, 30 Sep 2014 19:50:25 +0000 Read more]]> By Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Lisa Elzey, Family Historian 

My uncle, Walter Rybicki, was a US Marine during World War II who died on 6 Feb 1944. How do I find out the details of how and where he died? Where can I obtain the records? – Norm

Growing up in the late fifties and sixties, World War II seemed so long ago, the stuff of family legend at the dinner table (stories about relatives and neighbors who had served and returned, and relatives and neighbors who had served and did not return), or the subject of thrilling black and white feature films at the local cinema or drive-in.  Our personal favorites included “From Here to Eternity” (1953), “The Bridge Over the River Kwai” (1957), “The Longest Day” (1962), and of course the JFK bio pic, “PT 109” (1963).  But without a doubt the depiction that made the war the stuff of popular American culture was the weekly television series, “Combat,” which ran every week on primetime from 1962 to 1967, and starred the irrepressible Vic Morrow, whose image comes to mind whenever those of us in our sixties think of a prototypical World War II combat soldier.

Similarly, when we both encountered World War II Army enlistment photos of our own relatives—Henry Louis Gates, Sr. and Delbert Clair—we were surprised how much a military uniform can transform a person’s bearing. These photos transcended the nostalgia and legend of the World War II soldier and became a tangible reality of those spared and of those lost.

Over 400,000 men and women of the “Greatest Generation” sacrificed their lives in service to and protection of our country. Many of their children and grandchildren also recall their first encounter, in family scrapbooks or framed photos on the living room mantle, with a dapper young soldier in his new uniform or a group victory snapshot taken while serving in Europe or the South Pacific.

WWII Airmen

Some soldiers recounted their experiences in the War through vivid stories.  But others never found the words to express to their friends or families (even their wives) the depth of the trauma and horrors they witnessed in combat.  Sometimes even a person’s closest family members only learned about their father or grandfather’s war experiences second-hand, from letters or phone calls or stories recounted by fellow soldiers to next-of-kin, after their relative had passed.   So if you don’t know a lot about the military experience of your father or grandfather, don’t feel bad:  you are not alone.

So, where do you start piecing together your ancestor’s experiences in World War II?   Military service records can be a remarkably rich source of information, full of intricate insights and surprising details about the life of your own veteran relative.  As with any search for your ancestors, begin your research with what you already know, combined with any clues from letters, journals, photographs, newspaper clippings, and especially family stories.  (Family stories can often be replete with details that don’t pan out, because of the nature of oral tradition.  Remember the game of “Telephone?”  Facts get distorted the more mouths there are repeating them, especially over a long period of time.  Still, we think that, often, “where there is smoke, there is fire,” and often these stories—legends or myths by the time they get written down—do contain a kernel of truth, something for you to go on as you pursue the lost facts about an ancestor’s life.)

Because you already know the death date of your uncle, Walter Rybicki, a great place to start would be on to find his Headstone Application for Military Veterans. From this record, we found some critical information about Walter’s service in the Marines, including his regiment, his enlistment date, and his serial number.

Headstone Application

The information provided on this card was enough for us to make a further inquiry about his service to the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri, a division of the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

It might surprise you to know that millions of military personnel, health, and medical records of discharged and deceased veterans are housed at the NPRC from World War I to the present day. Records become archival and open to the public 62 years after the day of the service member’s separation from the military.  Records before the 62-year mark are only accessible by the actual military veteran or to his or her next-of-kin.

After filing a request online at their website, we received Walter Rybicki’s compiled service record.  Obtaining a record such as this can be difficult, because of the loss of millions of records destroyed in a 1973 fire at the NPRC.  Fire and floods are the twin enemies of ancestry tracing. That fire left only about 20% of the Army and Air Force personnel files intact. Fortunately for you, Walter served in the Marines, so his complete archived record was still available.

In the compiled service record, we found a remarkable assortment of documents that reveal not only how Walter died in 1944, but also how Walter lived as a United States Marine during the War.

Some notable items include his Professional and Conduct record, confidential letters of recommendation from those who knew Walter well from his hometown in Michigan, and a Presidential Unit Citation for “outstanding gallantry and determination.”

Conduct Record

One letter of recommendation described Walter as a “respected citizen, a man of many good qualities, honest and capable.” When the form asked the writer to supply any other pertinent data, he explained that Walter was the “sole supporter” of a mother and two sisters, a “natural hard worker, cooperative, sociable and of a family of good reputation.”  Your Uncle Walter lived his life the same way he served his country—with dignity and integrity.

What did we learn about the circumstances under which your uncle died in the War?   We found a number of documents pertaining to this tragic event in the NPRC file. In a letter addressed to Walter’s mother, Michalina, we found the answer to your question of how and where Walter died. It reads as follows:

“…While on a flight between the Russell Islands and Guadalcanal, British Solomon Islands, on February 6, 1944, the plane on which your son was serving accidentally crashed on Talina Island…approximately two and one-half miles from Renard Field, Banika Island.”

The plane had stalled on takeoff and then crashed. Walter died from multiple injuries; in fact, all of the other 21 men on that DC-3 aircraft died as well. Walter’s remains were initially buried on Banika Island, in the Solomon Islands, which, according to, was a quite dangerous and highly secret military site used for the storage of various sorts of munitions, including Mustard Gas. After the war, Walter’s remains were relocated to his final resting place at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan

Walter’s mother was later given his military service medals including the Presidential Unit Citation with ribbon bar and one bronze star awarded to the First Marine Division for service in action in Guadalcanal. Walter was also awarded the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the Victory Medal for his service during World War II.

We thought you might like to see your uncle’s military ID photo, taken only one week after his enlistment in 1942.

Walter Rybicki Military Photo

Photographs such as these contain thousands and thousands of fascinating stories, reminding us that each image we preserve of an ancestor has a small but important piece of American history to tell.  We are glad to have helped you discover more about your uncle’s life story and service.

Ancestry experts, along with Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. will be answering your questions in a new Huffington Post column which we will republished on our Ancestry blog. For a chance to have your family research question answered, submit your questions to

]]> 0
Ask Ancestry Anne: Is the Family Civil War Story True? Tue, 30 Sep 2014 13:41:41 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> Question: My great grandfather Henry Melrose was with the 1st West Virginia Cavalry in the Civil War and was in the 1889 Oklahoma land run. What a life! I think he was at Gettysburg. At some point he was shot and left for dead but survived. Where and when was he injured? Was he a POW? Where are the muster rolls?

Answer: When researching Civil War soldiers, I start with two Ancestry data collections: U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865 and U.S., Civil War Solider Records and Profiles, 1861-1865, which in this case tell us the same basic information: Henry was a private in Company C, 1st West Virginia Cavalry.


Next, the Compiled Military Service Records can be viewed on Fold3. Drill down to Civil War -> Civil War Service Records -> Union Records -> West Virginia -> First Cavalry and then look for Henry.



Henry has 30 Compiled Military Service Record cards for us to look through. Compiled Military Service Records were created as abstracts of original military records. Each card tells us some new detail about the soldier’s service.

It appears that Henry had an interesting experience in the War. He enlisted on August 30, 1861 for 3 years in what was then the 1st Virginia Cavalry, Union in Wirt County; Wirt County became part of West Virginia in 1863. He mustered into service in October at the age of 23.

Sometime in spring of 1862 he was detached from his usual service and sent on patrol. On May 7, 1862 he was wounded in the head and thigh and left behind by his patrol. He was later picked up by southern troops and released on “parole of honor,” promising to never bear arms against southern troops.


Henry was sent to Camp Chase, Ohio, a prisoner of war camp for Confederate prisoners and Union “parolees.” There he was to serve his “parole of honor;” he stayed there from May of 1862 until at least February of 1863.

April 1863 finds him back on duty and he was promoted to Corporal on July 1, 1863. He stayed with Company C until December 23, 1863; then on that date he enlisted as a Veteran Volunteer under General Order 191.305 and 324.


So why would someone reenlist before their current service was finished? A Complete Digest of Laws in Relation to Bounty has more information. From Order 191.305:

“General Orders No. 191….relative to recruiting veteran volunteers, is hereby amended…volunteers serving in three-years organizations, who may re-enlist for three years or the war, in the companies or regiments to which they now belong…shall be entitled to the aforesaid bounty and premium of $402…”

So it appears that Henry re-enlisted for another three years or the rest of the war for $402. When he mustered out on July 8, 1865 he had received $210 of his bounty and was due another $190. He also owed the US $30.10 for clothing.


So, Henry was shot. Whether he was left for dead or put into someone’s capable hands is up for interpretation. He was captured by southern troops, but his POW experience was at a northern Prisoner of War camp on “parole of honor,” which was no doubt not as severe as being in a Confederate prison camp. The 1st West Virginia Cavalry did fight at Gettysburg July 1-3, 1863 and since Henry was on active duty as of April 1863 it is reasonable to assume he was there.

It appears that the family legends are true.

Happy searching!

]]> 3
Ancestry Weekly Roundup: September 29th Edition Mon, 29 Sep 2014 15:24:27 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> Blog Posts


Between The Leaves
Five Minute Find
From the Barefoot Genealogist:
]]> 2
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.

]]> 15
What We Are Reading: September 26th Edition Fri, 26 Sep 2014 15:48:04 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow Read more]]> ebook-and-booksFall is officially here! (For those of you in the southern hemisphere: Spring is officially here!) Cooler temperatures and shorter days make it a great time to curl up with some good reading. Oh, who am I kidding – it’s always a great time for reading!

Here’s some of what we’ve been reading this week:

Coffee in the Civil War,” by Ashley Webb, on Emerging Civil War. Think your morning cup of coffee is important? Read what it meant to Civil War soldiers.

Disease in the Civil War,” by Family Sleuther, on Family Sleuther. Civil War pension files can contain a wealth of information, including about the diseases that the men contracted while in the service.

How and When Did World War II Officially Become World War II?” by Dr. Greg Bradsher, on The Text Message. Spoiler: It wasn’t when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Sentimental Sunday: Roaring Twenties Graduation Photo,” by Marian Burk Wood, on Climbing My Family Tree. The photo of Marian’s grandmother is one of the neatest graduations photos I’ve seen in a long time.

6 Things Every Writer Needs,” by Mom (Kassie Ritman), on Maybe Someone Should Write That Down. Though not specific to genealogy, all of us can pick up some tips for writing about our ancestors.

]]> 2
Between The Leaves: It’s in our DNA Fri, 26 Sep 2014 14:48:24 +0000 Jessica Murray Read more]]> In this episode, professional genealogists Anne Gillespie Mitchell, Crista Cowan, and Juliana Szucs Smith were joined by AncestryDNA product manager, Anna Swayne who shared how DNA testing can provide break through’s in your family history research.

We also learned Crista’s mom has 48 pages of possible cousin matches, wow! We hope you’ll be able to use some of the tips and strategies shared on how to best manage all your DNA matches.

See the full episode of Between the Leaves here:

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

]]> 6
Throwback Thursday: Library Memories Thu, 25 Sep 2014 13:18:35 +0000 Juliana Smith Read more]]> Newberry

The Newberry Library, Chicago.

Did you know September is Library Card Sign-Up Month? That makes it the perfect time for you or someone you know who doesn’t have a card to sign up. It also makes it the perfect time to share your favorite library memories.

As family historians, you probably have a lot of favorite library memories, like your first library card and how proud you were. I remember feeling so grown up when I got my first library card. It was in a small local building that prior to becoming a library had been the village’s first schoolhouse. It was hard for me to imagine that tiny building housing the school for the whole town.

I was an avid reader and my library card meant not having to re-read the Nancy Drew and other books in my own collection (although I often did anyway). Oh, to have the luxury of so much reading-time now.

I always seemed to be drawn to the biographies. I loved reading the stories of strong women, and perhaps that’s why I’m often drawn to the stories of the females in my family tree. I like to think I draw some strength from the things they endured.

My first family history research trips were to libraries in Chicago with my mother when she was doing genealogical research for clients. I wasn’t very helpful initially. I remember my first foray into newspapers on microfilm. I was probably about 14 and I kept calling my mother to come over. She’d come to where I was sitting and I’d show her some interesting advertisement or article that I’d happened across. Unfortunately, they had nothing to do with the obituary I was supposed to be looking for. I still have that problem. Squirrel!

On our first trip to The Newberry together, I was 15. Trouble is, you need to be 16 or a high school junior to research at The Newberry. (I wasn’t a junior, either.) That visit served as a good reminder to always check restrictions. Fortunately I had brought a book along, so I sat in the lobby and read my book. Despite my initial visit, I still love returning to that beautiful building and all of its treasures.

What about you? What do you remember about your early library visits—as a child or as a budding genealogist? What was your favorite section? Who took you on your first trip to the library?

]]> 1
Get It on Paper: Printing Your Ethnicity Estimate Wed, 24 Sep 2014 13:10:00 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> You spoke and we are listening. You can now print your AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate! This has been a highly-requested feature and gives you one more way that you can share your results with your family. This could be handy especially during the upcoming holiday season when you’ll be seeing a lot of your family members.

How to Print Your AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimate

Sign into  your account and click on the DNA tab at the top of the page. Select “See full Ethnicity Estimate” (shown below).

dna homepage

Click the print icon on the right hand side of the page (see red box below).



From here you have two options to print:

First option is a print_options1summary chart of all regions that is 1-2 pages







print_options_all regions1



Second option is a more detailed report of your ethnicity regions-pages with vary depending on many ethnicity regions you have.

When you choose the second option, the system will estimate how many pages you would be printing before you click print. You can see from my example, my more detailed report will be 21 pages to print.

Click “Print” and you will be taken to your printer’s features from there.

Remember that your ethnicity estimate may change with future updates. To learn more about how your ethnicity results are calculated, check out “The Faces Behind AncestryDNA’s Ethnicity Regions.”

]]> 9
From London to Ghana with Reggie Yates on the next episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (UK) Wed, 24 Sep 2014 11:52:49 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]> Presenter and DJ Reggie Yates is the next celebrity to share their family history journey with us on tomorrow night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?


Question mark


Growing up in London Reggie was conscious of the bustling nature of a city with a diverse immigrant population. Both of Reggie’s parents are from Ghana and his father is mixed-race. It is his father’s family that are a mystery to him.

‘‘Growing up in London you sort of get asked all the time where you’re from because there are so many immigrants’’ said Reggie.

His parents split up when he was just four years old and having been raised by his mother, Reggie knows little about his father’s family. The Who Do You Think You Are? Team travel to Ghana with Reggie to delve deeper into his father’s side of the family.

Reggie meets with a local chief and his trip uncovers some unexpected surprises in his family tree.

‘‘Oh my God, what is wrong with these Yates men?’’ exclaims Reggie at one point in his journey.

Tune in to see what happens on Reggie Yates’ episode of Who Do You Think You Are?

Who Do You Think You Are? airs on  BBC1 this Thursday at 9pm. Join us on Twitter and Facebook to share your thoughts or questions.




]]> 0