Ancestry Blog The official blog of Ancestry Fri, 27 Mar 2015 14:44:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How Mary Tedesco of “Genealogy Roadshow” Discovered Family History Fri, 27 Mar 2015 14:44:07 +0000 Jessica Murray Read more]]> We have loved tuning in to Mary Tedesco, researcher on the latest season of “Genealogy Roadshow” on PBS, so we were thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview her.

Mary, founder of Origins Italy shares how she was first introduced to family history, and it starts with a shared login. And while we recognize the humor in that, it’s not recommended for privacy reasons.

Mary went on to note how people can participate in the next season of “Genealogy Roadshow.” Tune in to learn how:

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Women Soldiers in the Civil War: How Did They Get Away With It? Thu, 26 Mar 2015 14:00:05 +0000 Becky Hepinstall Read more]]> Elizabeth Finnern’s gravestone sits in a tranquil cemetery in Indiana. Just a simple stone, marking a quiet spot where a husband and wife rest for eternity. But there is something quite unique about this particular headstone – the last line: “Both members of Co. D. 81 Reg. O.V.I.” and underneath, the explanation: “She served in male attire untill (sic) her sex was detected when she was detailed as a nurse serving 3 years.”

Elizabeth Finnern, who rests with her husband, John, was one of the hundreds of courageous women who fought disguised as men during the Civil War.  But wouldn’t a woman like her have given herself away? Could a woman, no matter how sly and clever, really pass as a male soldier?

My sister, Kathy, and I were fascinated to learn about some of these women during the course of our research for our novel, Sisters of Shiloh, which is about two sisters who disguise themselves as men and enlist as soldiers in the Civil War. As we crafted our characters and placed them in scenes of camp life with other soldiers, we needed to find out how these women were able to pull off their deceit.


Frances Clalin Clayton

To our 21st century minds, the idea that a woman could pretend to be a man and live among them as a fellow soldier – sharing tents with them, eating with them, fighting together – and not be discovered seems ridiculous. Take a glance at the photo of Frances Clayton. You’re probably thinking to yourself “Sure, she’s not the most feminine lady, but I can tell that’s a woman.”

While it might be harder for us to be fooled today, during that era the customs of the times and the Victorian mindset in general helped these women in their deceptions. In broad terms, to a nineteenth century man, if you wore pants, you must also be a man. Now, that is not to say that there may have been times when a farm girl might wear her brother’s trousers to do manual labor or some other task in private, but even that would have been rare, and in public, women wore long skirts. Once a woman bound her breasts, cut her hair and donned the often oversized and ill-fitting uniforms of the day, the ruse was easier to pull off.

But most of these determined women knew that cutting their hair and donning men’s clothing would only take them so far. Many of them practiced their pretense – working to lower their voices, adjusting their walk, and taking up “manly” habits like swearing, spitting, tobacco-chewing and card playing.

They didn’t have to worry much about being in close quarters with the other men – soldiers often went for months without changing clothes, even sleeping in their boots and coats. They bathed just as infrequently, and people of this time were generally more private, so not bathing in a group would not have aroused suspicion. The camp latrines were filthy and spread disease, and were avoided by many, so answering the call of nature privately in the woods would not have seemed odd.

Getting into the army was not difficult either. Before 1872, the medical examinations required to join the army did not involve the removal of clothing, so this aided in their ability to fool the military doctors. Southern Army recruits were so desperately needed that as long as one appeared generally healthy, had enough teeth to tear a cartridge, enough strength to hoist a gun, and enough fingers to pull a trigger, they were welcomed with open arms.

There are many accounts from male soldiers who suspected something was “off” about one of these effeminate looking soldiers but just couldn’t figure out what it was. The fact that these women didn’t shave was glossed over as being due to the fact that they must be younger teenaged boys. Even though there were official age requirements in both armies, they were rarely enforced and children as young as ten were allowed to participate as drummer-boys. It is unconscionable for us to imagine allowing children or young teenagers on a battlefield today, but it was common in that era.

For every Jennie Hodgers, who served undetected as Pvt. Albert Cashier for a full three-year enlistment (and went on to live in the guise of a man for the remainder of her life), there were others who only got away with it for a short time. Sarah Collins of Wisconsin was found out because of the “unmanly” way she had been seen putting on her socks and shoes. Sarah Bradbury and Ella Reno, both serving under General Phillip Sheridan but whose true identities were known only to each other, managed to find some applejack brandy and, after imbibing way too much, fell into a river and nearly drowned. They were revealed to be women by the soldiers who pulled them from the water, and were hastily dismissed from the army. Mary Smith was relieved of duty after drawing suspicion because of the way she wrung out a dish cloth. Another woman was initially noticed because of her fair complexion and small hands. And Mary Catherine Murphy was called out because of her laugh.

Elizabeth Finnern, Mary Brown and Satronia Smith were detected while in the ranks, but were not immediately dismissed and were allowed to stay and serve as nurses. All had enlisted with their husbands. Once discovered, some women were allowed to stay and serve as medical aides, laundresses or clerks. Others refused to give up soldiering and enlisted in other regiments after being exposed and dismissed, as in the wonderful case of Lizzie Compton, who was so determined to fight that she joined the army seven different times!


From Chalmette, Louisiana, Chalmette National Cemetery, 1864-2003 on Ancestry

Many were only discovered after being wounded, as was the case with Mary Owens, Frances Day, Frances Hook, Mary Galloway and Catherine Davidson. Others suffered from the contagions that accompanied army life and were revealed while seeking medical care. Sarah Rosetta Wakeman served for almost two years in the New York infantry before contracting a debilitating intestinal ailment that led to her death in 1864. But despite being in a hospital for more than a month before her death, it does not appear that her sex was ever detected and her grave was marked with the name of her alias, Private Lyons Wakeman. (You can read more about Sarah in this Ancestry blog post.)

Our principle characters in Sisters of Shiloh, Libby and Josephine, did not really live, but their characters are woven from the details of these real women who traded in their skirts for dirty uniforms and swapped out their cooking spoons for bayonets. The fact that the actual female soldiers felt passionate enough about their causes that they were willing to go to war and fight is amazing all by itself. But the fact that they had to hide their true natures in order to do it makes their feats even more astonishing.

It was courageous blood that coursed through their veins. Do you share it?

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The Legend of Harvey Setzer Tue, 24 Mar 2015 13:00:49 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]> By Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Paul Rawlins, Editorial Manager at Ancestry

My grandfather’s sister, Lillian Wilson, married a man by the name of Harvey G. Setzer in Weippe, Idaho, Shoshone County, on July 3, 1890. Harvey was a miner and contracted consumption. The doctor prescribed a warmer, drier climate so they moved to Valle Vista, San Diego, California, in November 1890. He died there in January 1891.  My grandfather also told me that Harvey drove a wagon in 1885 carrying five Chinese men accused of murder to the federal court in Walla Walla, Washington. Vigilantes waylaid them and hanged the prisoners.

I have searched for anything that could give me more information on Harvey G. Setzer but have hit a wall at every turn. Do you have any suggestions where to look?  —Jeannie


Dear Jeannie,

Every search for our unknown ancestors always begins by confirming facts that a person believes to be true about their known ancestors.  You would be amazed at how many simple “facts” a family has passed down through stories repeated at the dinner table and family gatherings turn out not to be exact in their details, having become elaborated on over time, like a game of “Telephone” that we all played as children.  So we start this exciting process by carefully examining documents such as birth certificates, death records, etc., which can contain even more details about your ancestors and can provide clues to finding the ancestors you didn’t know you have. In your case, we started with Harvey and Lillian’s marriage. Here they are in the Idaho Marriage Index.

Huff Po_1

The actual marriage record doesn’t tell us much more about Harvey or his wife, Lillian, so next we turned to U.S. census records.

Since the 1890 census was largely destroyed, we started our search for Harvey in the 1880 census. He doesn’t have a very common name, and, fortunately for your quest, only one Harvey Setzer surfaced in the entire database: a single man, age 25, living in Leadville, Colorado, working as a miner, just as you believed your ancestor did! This was a very good sign.

Huff Po_2

Harvey Setzer on the 1880 federal census at Ancestry

A search of city directories also turned up a Harvey G. Setzer—confirming the middle initial you gave us—in Leadville, working as a miner in 1880. So it’s looking like a good fit.

Huff Po_3

The 1880 census provides another clue as well: this Harvey Setzer was born in Missouri. We didn’t find Harvey in the 1870 census, but he’s there in 1860 with a whole family of Setzers living in Gentry, Missouri. (William Setzer, the head of household, appears on the prior page.)

Huff Po_5

The William Setzer family on the 1860 federal census at Ancestry

There’s only one hitch: our 1880 Harvey claimed on the census that his parents, William and Elizabeth, were born in Maine, but the parents listed on the 1860 census said they were born in Kentucky. Knowing that the image of the 1880 census we’re looking at is actually a copy made from another handwritten document, there is always a possibility that MO or another abbreviation was mistranscribed as Maine.  Since so many other things that you told us about Harvey had been proven so far, we decided to keep following this trail.

Based on the children’s birthplaces on the 1860 census, the Setzer family appears to have been living in Kentucky in 1850, so we searched for Harvey’s parents, W. L. and Elizabeth, in the 1850 census. And we found them with their oldest daughter, Catherine, along with an unnamed infant. But William and Elizabeth still report being born in Kentucky. The “Maine” in the 1880 census is looking more like a mistake. (Remember, census takers were only human, and were often overworked and underpaid, so mistakes did happen, for a whole slew of reasons. When you are convinced that the trail is warm, press on!)

Next we wanted to find a record of Elizabeth and William’s marriage. Based on their oldest child’s age in the 1850 census, it may have taken place around 1847 in Kentucky. In the 1850 census, William and Elizabeth are living in Hardin County, Kentucky, which was a lucky break because Hardin County’s marriage records are online. And in those records, we found one for a William L. Setzer (son of John) and an Elizabeth Holloway, married 26 November 1846. As a side note, a 66-year-old John and 67-year-old Ruth Setzer were living with the family on the 1860 census, so they should be William’s parents.  So now, through this one record, you have learned Elizabeth’s maiden name (Holloway) and her father’s name (George). If the Missouri connection pans out, you can take Harvey’s family back another full generation!

From here, we wanted to see if we could find when Harvey made the move to Idaho. Incredibly, we found your ancestor’s name in a history of the early settlers in northern Idaho! And it puts him in Idaho before 1885. Ellen H. Richards, in her book entitled An Illustrated History of North Idaho: Embracing Nez Perces, Idaho, Latah, Kootenai and Shoshone Counties, State of Idaho, says the following about your great-uncle:

The first permanent settler in the Weippe section, it is said, was Wellington Landon, who took up his abode on the present town site of Weippe October 6, 1875. … In 1879 Patrick Gaffney settled with his family on land contiguous to the Landon place, and later came Harvey Setzer, William Gamble, Levi Goodwin and a family named French. These were the only inhabitants of this rich grazing section until after the country was surveyed in 1884, when a small addition to their numbers was attracted to the legion.

This puts Harvey in the right place at the right time for the dreadful lynching story to be true.  We were eager to see if this was so.  And it turns out that this horrible event actually did occur.

Huff Po_6

Newspapers as far away as the Atlanta Constitution (26 September 1885, shown above) reported on this unwarranted attack on the victims, including a wealthy businessman, which took place in late September of that year.  But our best lead came from Bernice Pullen at the Clearwater Historical Museum, who sent us a passage from And Five Were Hanged by Layne Gellner Spencer. It tells the story much as you heard it, and while Harvey isn’t mentioned by name, Gellner does provide details you can use to search for more information in additional newspapers. Or you might visit the Idaho State Historical Society and the Shoshone County Courthouse and examine county court records or the minute books of county commissioners for details about this gruesome incident.

Now, what about Harvey’s death?  We had no luck finding a record of Harvey’s death…in the State of California. But he wasn’t forgotten back home. The 22 January 1892 issue of the Albany Ledger, a Missouri paper, included a notice reporting that Harvey had died in Vista, California, on about 18 January 1892 (not 1891).

Huff Po_7

In addition, the notice reports that Harvey was survived by his sister-in-law, Mrs. Jennie Setzer. We know from census records that Jennie married Harvey’s brother Palser (or Palmer). Therefore, this is the proof we were seeking at the beginning of our search, confirming that the Missouri Setzers are, in fact, Harvey’s family!  Sometimes the most valuable clues are buried in the smallest and least obvious places.

For more details on the lynchings, you could search in newspapers and obtain a copy of Gellner’s book. You might continue your search for details about Harvey’s last days and his death by looking for sanitariums in or around San Diego County, since Harvey had tuberculosis. You could also try putting in a “grave request” on the “Find A Grave” website, in case anybody happens across his headstone. And, with all you now know about Harvey’s family, you can start working further back in time on both his parents’ lines, uncovering more ancestors on both his mother’s and his father’s family trees. We happen to know that William’s parents’ 1819 marriage appears in the Hardin County records as well, complete with Ruth’s maiden name (Harris) and father’s name (Samuel).  We think that you will find a wealth of detail about Harvey’s fascinating family, if you decide to continue your search.

We hope that the details we’ve found put you a few steps closer to finding Harvey—and proving whether or not your family’s legend that he was driving that wagon is true.

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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Who Do You Think You Are? Recap: What’s in a Name? Mon, 23 Mar 2015 14:04:30 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]> We like to think Shakespeare was channeling his inner family historian when he penned the famous line “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Talk to any expert genealogist and they will tell you that relying on an ancestor’s name alone can be a mistake.Angie Harmon_1

It can be a tough thing to wrap your head around name variations because the times we live in are so different than they were 100+ years ago. The first American dictionary wasn’t published until 1828, and estimates for 1905 state that even then 20 percent of American adults couldn’t read or write. Literacy rates in the U.S. today are believed to be near universal, hence our belief in standardized spelling. The much quoted (and difficult to attribute) phrase “a man must be a great fool who can’t spell a word more than one way” reflects an era very different from ours.

Angie Harmon’s family history journey began with her 5th great-grandfather Michael Harman, and the spelling of his last name with an “a” instead of an “o” quickly caught her eye. The fascinating story of Michael Harman’s indentured servitude, Revolutionary War service, and family life resonated deeply with Angie’s love of big families, resilience, and patriotism. Despite his name being slightly different from hers, she instantly connected with the big risks that defined Michael Harman’s life—there was something about him that transcended his name.

Angie Harmon_2Those gut feelings can be good guides, as the name Michael Harman, interestingly enough, turned out to be a very common one in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the Colonial period. The story of Angie’s 5th great-grandfather had to be very carefully pieced together, as since his name wasn’t going to be enough to identify him. Two characteristics helped us find him: his occupation, and his signature.

Michael’s record of indenture states he was to serve John Houts, a tanner. Later records of Michael’s life show he continued to work as a tanner, later owning his own tanning yard. His occupation became a way of identifying him beyond his name.

The other unique identifier for Michael was his signature. His “mark” is pointed out twice in the episode, showing he likely could not read or write.  However,Angie_Harmon3 Angie_Harmon4 we noticed how unique his mark was: more of a lower case “t” or slanted “x” with a long tail or “o”. Other deeds and probate records showed the same pattern.

Using his unique “signature,” in addition to age, place, and family member names, helped us build the case that we had the right guy. While initially daunting, taking the time to understand the nuances, quirks, and characteristics of a person is how you will get to know them—because they were and are ultimately more than just a name.

Tips from Ancestry ProGenealogists        

Running into an ancestor with a common name is more a matter of “when” than “if.” When sifting through a group of people with the same name, here are some tips:

  • Create timelines for each person with the same name, collect documents and information about them, and closely track unique information: age, place of birth, residence or address, occupation, and names of family members. In learning as much as you can about your ancestor and his associations, it will be easier to distinguish him from other people with the same name.
  • Pay attention to handwriting. If a document is especially difficult to read, create a chart of list of the scribe’s alphabet. How are similar letters like i and j or u, r, v, n, and m different? Having a list of “rules” will make smudged or rushed entries more manageable.
  • Having a broader understanding of the community your ancestor lived in will help you identify larger trends, like whether or not a name or occupation is common or unusual. Adding local contextual history to your timeline helps bring your ancestor’s story to life

Learn more about Angie’s journey or watch the full episode on Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 10|9c on TLC.

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Save Family Photos: Inspiring Budding Family Historians Through Photographs Tue, 17 Mar 2015 13:00:24 +0000 Jessica Murray Read more]]> Following her grandfather’s passing, Rachel LaCour-Niesen was given photographs that spanned several generations of her family. As she started to uncover the emotional and beautiful stories of her relatives, she quickly discovered a new found passion for family history.

Anxious to share those stories with extended family and friends, she established Save Family Photos, with the mission to “…save family stories, one photo at a time.” Originally, what started as an Instagram page to feature family photographs and stories has quickly caught fire and attracted thousands of photo entries from budding family historians across the globe.

Save Family Photos

Honor an ancestor’s legacy. Share a unique family story. Capture your family history in some way. We applaud Rachel for  her efforts and inspiring so many new family historians in this unique way.

Listen to Rachel share more about her passion project and the Save Family Photos community by tuning in to the video below:

Check out the beautiful family photographs and meaningful stories by following Save Family Photos site and @SaveFamilyPhotos on Instagram. Of course, you’re also invited to share your vintage family photographs by using the #savefamilyphotos hashtag on Instagram.

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What does our DNA tell us about being Irish? Mon, 16 Mar 2015 15:32:14 +0000 Mike Mulligan Read more]]> Saint Patrick’s Day is a time of year when those with Irish heritage around the world celebrate being Irish. With the launch of AncestryDNA in the UK & Ireland we have an opportunity to show a different view of Irishness using genetics.

Using DNA

With AncestryDNA, all customers receive a unique estimate of their ‘genetic ethnicity’ – where in the world their ancestors may have lived hundreds to thousands of years ago, based on their DNA. For example, an AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate can tell someone how much of their DNA likely came from Ireland – anywhere from 0% to 100%.

As the first results of UK & Ireland tests come through we can start to build up a picture of ethnicity estimates not just for individuals but averaged across all those born in the UK or Ireland*. What is particularly fascinating about the map below is that it has been compiled using just AncestryDNA results. It does not use historical data about migration patterns or self-reporting from customers about how Irish they think they are. What we are seeing on the map is just what the DNA tells us.

AncestryDNA Irish Ethnicity

Irish Ethnicity in Ireland

 RegionIrish Ethnicity

Average Irish Ethnicity Estimate across Ireland

Not surprisingly, the highest average Irish ethnicity estimates are found in Ireland. However, within Ireland we are seeing some provincial differences. Historically inward migration to Ireland has come from the south and east through Leinster and Munster. The genetics appears to agree with the history here. The highest estimates found anywhere in the UK & Ireland are found in Connaught with 76.7%, with Munster and Leinster on 71.4% and 71.8%

The ethnicity estimate for Ulster is lower than the other provinces around 51.9%. This also is what you might expect but attributing the different estimate in Ulster to the 17th century plantation is perhaps too simplistic. The connections between Ulster and Scotland are deep going back many centuries and continuing to the present day. As a child growing up in Donegal, one of the best parts of the summer was the influx of Scottish cousins home for the holidays (it made for some epic football matches).

Irish Ethnicity in Scotland & Wales

RegionIrish Ethnicity
Southern Scotland


Northern Scotland




Isle Of Man


Average Irish Ethnicity Estimate for Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man

Moving across the Irish Sea we see those areas with close historical ties show higher Irish ancestry. Echoing the results in Ulster, Southern Scotland shows the highest Irish ancestry across Great Britain with an average of 46.6%. The short distance from Ireland to Scotland, 13 miles at one point, makes it a natural destination for many Irish emigrants. Glasgow, Paisley, Dumfries, are all places well known to Irish emigrants over the centuries and into modern times.

Travelling down from Scotland we see Wales has the next highest Irish ancestry. Showing once again the close ties of the Celtic nations, the average Irish ancestry across Wales is around 31.3%. Let us not forget the most famous Irish immigrant from Wales was Maewyn Succat, who is perhaps better known to us today as Saint Patrick.

Irish Ethnicity in England

RegionIrish Ethnicity


South Border


North West Midlands






South East


South West Midlands




Home North


South East Midlands




South Central


North East Midlands


South West




West Anglia


East Anglia


 Average Irish Ethnicity Estimate across England

Finally looking at England we see generally the lowest Irish ancestry across the UK and Ireland. Across England the average Irish ancestry ranges from 26.7% in Lancashire down to 15.4% in East Anglia. Once again perhaps we are seeing the echoes of history. The cities of Liverpool and Manchester have long been a destination for those leaving Ireland. Just as Scotland was natural destination for emigrants from Ulster, so too the ‘boat to Liverpool’ was a common refrain for many Dubliners seeking new opportunities.

As I mentioned before, it is early days for these results. As more people take the AncestryDNA test in the UK & Ireland we will gain a much better understanding of the genetic makeup of these islands. It is certainly an exciting time with much to learn.


If you would like to learn more about AncestryDNA, or to order your kit, click here.

Have you taken the AncestryDNA test? Please share your stories with us on Facebook and  Twitter or email



*All AncestryDNA users in this study consented to participate in research.

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Who Do You Think You Are? Recap: The Shortest Distance Between Two Points, Sometimes Isn’t Mon, 16 Mar 2015 13:54:56 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]> It’s a frustrating fact that most historical records were never designed to tell us what we want to know nowadays. When created, their purpose was not toJosh Groban_WDYTYA appease curiosities in the 21st century. Instead, genealogists are constantly using their education and experience to coax out answers about people, places and time periods. We also rely on a lot of creativity to put it all in context—as well as a little math now and then. This was frequently the case when working on Josh Groban’s ancestry.

Who Do You Think You Are? tries to spare tedious and difficult aspects of research in order to bring the most fascinating results to your living room or laptop. However, behind the scenes of each episode, including Josh’s, are countless hours of reading wills, deeds, newspapers, tax records, church registers and more, proving and disproving through creativity and developing  theories.  As professional researchers, we turn to one theory more than others: the simplistic understanding that if a=b and b=c, then a=c. You may not find a record that proves a=c. However, if you can prove that a=b and b=c, you have good support for your desired conclusion.

These principles were applied for Josh as his ancestry was linked from one person to another, with an “other” often turning out to support a sought-after connection to a particular direct ancestor. The same was true for locations, as our research zigzagged across the United States for what should have been, in retrospect, a straight line from a to c. Instead, it required a trip through b because c didn’t have the necessary proof.

For each step along a pedigree, it is important to prove the connection between each direct ancestor and their parents to solidify the family tree. As we worked on the Zimmerman line, we found our Zimmermans in Ohio (point a) but needed to connect them to the Zimmermans from the Union/Northumberland area of Pennsylvania (point c). Someone along the way had moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio, but we could not find our man for sure in any records in Ohio. We turned to looking at records for all the members of the family and ultimately found the oldest son, who had settled in Illinois (point b). His Civil War pension record provided the exact link we needed.

During the entire research process, a variety of records in the United States and Germany revealed patterns between seemingly unrelated individuals that led to specific families and communities in far-away places. There was rarely a single record that defined a connection between generations. Rather, it was a collaborative effort of persistence and creativity that brought about the evidence needed. Remember, if a=b, and you think a=c, but you lack the evidence, try learning whether b=c.

Incidentally, the scenery while traveling through b was incredibly breathtaking and rewarding, and we wouldn’t have wanted any other route! It’s not exactly E=MC2, but it’s certainly a theory of relativity (for genealogists, anyway).

Tips from AncestryProGenealogists

Don’t just look for your ancestors, live their lives. Who did they associate with? The challenges of proving origins, domestic or international, can frequently be solved by developing a portfolio about those associated with an ancestor and then learning more about those associations.

  • Trace all the children and other family members.
  • Who lived nearby?
  • Who held bordering properties?
  • Court records can reveal links to other families
  • Who belonged to the same church?
  • Tax lists can describe holdings in other counties where you may find other records with new details.
  • Who listed your ancestor as their destination on passenger lists? If you can’t find your own ancestor’s arrival record, the lists for others may yield clues to his/her origin.
  • City directories can show others at the same address.

There are many more examples. Use creativity and logic. If your ancestor needs to get from a to c, sometimes traveling through b is the only option. Take the driver’s seat and go where you need to go!

Learn more about Josh’s journey or watch episode recaps from previous seasons on Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 10|9c on TLC.


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Behind the scenes! Find out what’s in our DNA here in the Ancestry office Fri, 13 Mar 2015 12:00:29 +0000 Mike Mulligan Read more]]> As we prepared for the launch of AncestryDNA in the UK and Ireland we offered the people working in the Ancestry offices in Dublin and London a chance to take the DNA test. As people took the test and got their results we were on hand, observing and learning more about how the experience for those over here might match or differ from our cousins in the US.

Without exception the first thing everyone did when they got their results was check their Ethnicity Estimate. This is not surprising, it is something we saw often in the US.  We were especially interested in what our group would find in their Ethnicity Estimate and how they would react.


The team in the Ancestry offices here in Dublin and London is very international.  We have people from right across Europe.  What we found was, as you might expect, that the Irish, Swedes, Spanish, and East Europeans showed higher Ethnicity Estimates for those regions. We also found that our people from Germany or Italy have more mixed results than those from countries around the edge like Spain or Ireland. Regions with historic ties also showed up around our office.  So you see Italy showing up among the Spanish or Great Britain showing up among the Irish.


Because of the number of UK & Irish people in our offices we were able to look a little closer there. It was interesting to see here that our estimates echoed what we knew in terms of our family histories. Those whose background was in the bigger cities like London or Dublin had much more mixed ethnicity than those from rural backgrounds.

Among our Irish team we saw larger presence of Great British ethnicity along the East and South East.  In general Irish ethnicity increased as we moved North and West reflecting the fact that migrations into Ireland tended to come from the South and East.

In the UK we saw more complex results. A few of our London team are second or third generation Irish or Asian and this showed up in their results. As we moved out from the capital we saw that those in the North East showed higher Scandinavian while those from more southern backgrounds showed higher Western Europe. In terms of Great British ethnicity it did seem to rise the more north the family background (the highest was 89% in Lancashire).

Finally we were interested in what the AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimate might mean to people here. In the US people taking the test have generally come from a blended background.  When we look to the UK & Ireland, people have more specific ideas about their ethnicity.  How would they respond to the test results?  As it turns out most people got quite excited with what they found.  A common reaction was people were hoping to see mixed results. It pointed to a richer family heritage, it gave them a story to tell.

Our trial has been an interesting way for us to see up close what an AncestryDNA test might mean to people in the UK & Ireland. The results we’ve found among our employees are just a small selection of what you might find. I would certainly encourage you to understand how we arrive at the estimates using our reference panel. And one final request.  After you have taken in your Ethnicity Estimates, get stuck in on your DNA Matches. Anyone who has taken an AncestryDNA test and shares any DNA with you will show as a cousin match. Build out your family tree. Contact your matches. View their family tree. Respond to matches if they contact you. That moment when you connect to a DNA cousin you never even knew is a fantastic feeling that will stay with you.


If you would like to learn more about AncestryDNA, or to order your kit, click here.

Have you taken the AncestryDNA test? Please share your stories with us on Facebook and  Twitter or email

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Become Fluent in Irish Slang Thu, 12 Mar 2015 14:08:19 +0000 Jessica Murray Read more]]> Irish FlagWith St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, most hometown St. Patrick’s Day parades and festivals will kick off this weekend. If you’re looking to beef up on your Irish slang, look no further than our list of words used throughout Ireland and their meanings.

Bad dosebad illness
Bag of taytosbag of potato chips
Belthit or assault
Be widebe careful
Birdgirl or girlfriend
Blackguardperson that is up to no good
Black StuffGuinness
Bloodyused for emphasizing an adjective
Bucketingraining heavily
Carry-onargument or noise
Chipperfish and chips restaurant
Donkey’s Yearsa long time
Fryfried breakfast
Grandfine or lovely
Hump offgo away or leave me alone
Ice LollyPopsicle
Jadedfatigued or very tired
Jammersvery busy
Off your nutcrazy
Ole Ladymother
Ole Manfather
Pollutedvery drunk
Pull your socks upGet to work or get busy
Rashersbacon slices
Snogto make out or kiss
Snugpub booth
Soundreally nice
Twistedvery drunk
Up to ninetynear boiling point
Wet the teamake tea

And if showing off your new Irish vocabulary isn’t enough, learn the origin of the saying “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” here and download your festive St. Patrick’s Day badges to brag about your Irish heritage on social media.

Share a creative sentence in the comments below using one or more of these Irish slang words. Ready, Set, Go!

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Plan Ahead: Protect Your Genealogy from Disaster Wed, 11 Mar 2015 13:00:06 +0000 Denise May Levenick Read more]]> With spring floods and hurricane season just around the corner, a recent episode of Genealogy Roadshow shared a story with a timely reminder for “genealogy preparedness.”  New Orleans resident Andrew Sentilles came to the the New Orleans Board of Trade Episode of the PBS Genealogy Roadshows how looking for help to recreate the family history he lost when photos and documents were swept away by Hurricane Katrina.

Josh Taylor with Andrew Sentilles and family on the 
New Orleans Episode of PBS Genealogy Roadshow

Josh Taylor with Andrew Sentilles and family on the 
New Orleans Episode of PBS Genealogy Roadshow

Genealogist Josh Taylor showed how local archives can help recreate those lost family records using rich resources such as family Bible collections, personal journals, scrapbooks, and ephemera. The Genealogy Roadshow researchers were able to assemble a far-reaching family history for Sentilles, who came away from the experience vowing to put copies of the family history in “everybody’s hands and we won’t be losing it in any storm ever again!”

Like many genealogists who have learned about disaster recovery the hard way, Sentilles has heard the chants “Backup your Data” and “Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe.” Unfortunately, so many families lose treasured photos, documents, and keepsakes every year to disasters of all kinds. I live in Southern California where wildfires are a threat, but you may live where tornadoes, hurricanes, or floods are a worry. Anyone who lives in a house or apartment is at risk for damage and loss to their personal collections from a house fire or burst plumbing.

Thousands of New Orleans families lost everything to Hurricane Katrina.

Thousands of New Orleans families lost everything to Hurricane Katrina.

Tips to Safeguard  Your Home Archive

When you look for a location to store your family keepsakes, think about potential hazards and steer clear of danger areas:

  • Avoid garages, basements, and attics
  • Keep away from plumbing and electrical wiring, either exposed or hidden inside the walls
  • Keep storage boxes on raised shelving off the ground
  • Keep treasures away from windows, doors and fireplaces
  • Avoid heating and air conditioning vents

Backup 3 – 2 -1

Andrew Sentilles has the right idea — make lots of digital copies and give them to everyone! Don’t keep all your genealogy data and priceless heirlooms in one place. The Backup 3 – 2 – 1 strategy is a good one:

  • 3 copies
  • 2 different media (DVDs and external hard drives or cloud storage)
  • 1 copy offsite (in the cloud, at your office, or with a relative)

Multiple copies give your photos and documents a better chance to survive disaster. After you’ve made those digital copies, save the originals in archival storage in your BEST archival storage location. And, sleep better when the wind tears through the trees knowing that you have digital copies in the Cloud, with your cousins, and on an external hard drive at your office.

Safeguard Family Heirlooms

Digital images of photographs, family letters, and treasured heirlooms will never fully replace a lost keepsake, but pictures and stories can preserve the memories of a special piece of furniture, a quilt, or a framed photograph. Take time to document the family heirlooms in your home and write down the provenance and significance of the items. You might create a simple Family Keepsake album with photos and stories that can be printed or shared as a digital slideshow, or you might want to upload images to a family website or blog. Read my article Before the The Pirate Toy Chest Became an Heirloom for ideas on researching and recording the story of a family treasure.

After you’ve assembled your heirloom history, share it widely with family, friends, and other researchers. Consider uploading images and stories to genealogy sites such as or to the online heirloom history site The Heirloom Registry.

When Disaster Strikes

Safety first! If your home is hit by fire, flood, or other disaster, focus on safeguarding personal and family safety. When it’s safe to turn your attention to family treasures, keep in mind a few basic tips:

  • Water-logged or fire-damaged items can pose health hazards; you may need plastic gloves, air filter masks, or other protection.
  • Inspect archival storage for damage. If container lids have come open, the contents may be wet and damaged. Remove wet photos and documents and freeze or air dry within 48 hours.
  • Wet wooden furniture, textiles, metal clocks or instruments will need air drying. Remove photos from frames if possible and dry.
  • Collect loose items and store temporarily.

To freeze wet paper or photographs for later drying, place a sheet of regular kitchen wax paper between wet photos to keep them from sticking together, place the stacked items inside zipper type plastic bags, and freeze until you have time to defrost and air dry.

If your electricity and freezer are not working, air dry photos flat on a clean sheet or hanging from a line with clothespins. Air circulation will help items to dry faster.

Don’t despair. Professional conservators can often salvage or repair items. Consult the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) for experts in your state or county.

Plan Ahead

A regular computer backup plan is a good first step to safeguard your genealogy research and images, but remember to include family photos and memorabilia in your disaster preparedness plan. Think about the items that are most precious to you and your family — granddad’s pocket watch, a handmade lace tablecloth from the old country, or a family Bible. Know how to locate your treasures quickly so that you can take them with you if you are evacuated from your home, and share digital images and stories to preserve your family legacy.

Photos: PBS Genealogy Roadshow

Denise May Levenick is the author of How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia & Genealogy Records, and the new book How to Archive Family Photos (coming Spring 2015). For more ideas on preserving your family treasures, visit Denise’s

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