Ancestry Blog The official blog of Ancestry Mon, 27 Apr 2015 02:52:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Who Do You Think You Are? Recap with Melissa Etheridge: Putting Time and Location in Their Place Mon, 27 Apr 2015 02:51:59 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]> In family history research, when and where your ancestors lived say just as much about them as their name. Understanding not just the geography but also the community your ancestors were a part of provides crucial insight into what their lives were like, as well as the types of records you should be looking for. Melissa Etheridge 1Layer in historical events, commerce, and culture, and suddenly their stories come to life.

Melissa Etheridge wanted to learn more about her father’s family history, and she claimed all she knew about them was that they were poor Missouri folk with early roots in Quebec. “I have such a connection with the Quebecois … maybe there’s something in the blood that’s stronger about location than [I thought], and I think that’s fascinating.”

The story of her 5th great-grandfather Nicolas Janis shows how strong the connection between people and the land they worked and lived on can be. While Nicolas and the four generations that followed him all lived approximately within a 50-mile radius, tracing him and his family took some care. That small area in what is now Middle America has been claimed by four countries, three states, and been the cause of several international conflicts. Couple that volatile and varied local history with Janis clan who kept moving back and forth across the Mississippi River, and there was only one thing to do: create a timeline.

Timelines are a genealogist’s best friend! While we worked from the known to the unknown, we placed each new record we found onto a timeline of Nicolas’s life. A careful study of local history books, American history timelines, and contemporary maps helped us track the movement of the family and the area itself.

Knowing whether the Mississippi Valley was owned by New France, Great Britain, America, or Spain was crucial in knowing where to look for records. Tracing both civil and church boundaries was key to locating family records in local repositories.

Melissa Etheridge 2The result is the captivating story of a pioneering Frenchman who left Quebec to find his fortune in less-travelled areas of New France. In the midst of building a successful business, he found his family right in the middle of a heated land grab between Britain, France, Spain, and the American colonies that spanned almost 50 years.

In the midst of those iconic history lessons were everyday people like Janis, who lived and breathed the daily realities of several wars. One of the true powers of family history is how learning your ancestor’s stories can bring the past to life in an intimate and relevant way today. Using timelines to layer in historical context is a great way to do just that.

Tips from Ancestry ProGenealogists        

Whether it’s changing boundaries, a family clan sharing the same five names, or a lost ancestor, timelines are a great way to break down tough brick walls. Here are some expert tips:

  • Use maps! In looking at census records or search results for any project, we always check the state map with county boundaries to track the family’s movement over time. Knowing if a county is just next door or across the state can help you quickly hone in on duplicates. In the case of the Janis family, knowing Randolph County, Illinois, and St. Genevieve County, Missouri, are neighbors was the first step in linking the family to Kaskaskia, Illinois.
  • Annotate your timeline. Our timeline for Nicolas included document transcriptions and translations, in addition to explanations for boundary changes; for example, “British took control of Kaskaskia in 1766 as the result of the French and Indian Wars” appeared next to a land transaction during that time.
  • Check out the Ancestry Card Catalog. Ancestry has several digitized local histories for Kaskaskia that we used. Using local histories with the Maps, Atlases, and Gazetteers collection can quickly bring your timeline together.

Learn more about Melissa’s journey or watch episode recaps from previous seasons on


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Where in the World are the Ancestors of DNA Circles? Sat, 25 Apr 2015 13:00:42 +0000 Julie Granka Read more]]> While we often celebrate the discovery of the structure of DNA on DNA Day, today we’ll celebrate those who we got that DNA from: our ancestors.  We can also celebrate all of the people with whom we share DNA from those ancestors: from our siblings to our distant cousins.

AncestryDNA DNA Circles™ recognize both our ancestors as well as all of the connections we’ve made with distant relatives through our shared ancestors.  That’s because a DNA Circle is a group of people who all share DNA with others in the group, and who all also share a particular ancestor in their family trees.

Who are those myriad ancestors connecting more than 30% of AncestryDNA customers?

  • The average birth date of all ancestors of DNA Circles is about 1800, and roughly half of all ancestors of DNA Circles were born between around 1780 and 1820.
  • In the map below, we can see that most DNA Circle ancestors were born in the eastern half of the United States – but also abroad in England, Ireland, and Western Europe.
Approximate birth locations of ancestors of DNA Circles in the AncestryDNA database.  The birth location of each ancestor of a DNA Circle is indicated as a green dot.

Approximate birth locations of ancestors of DNA Circles in the AncestryDNA database. The birth location of each ancestor of a DNA Circle is indicated as a green dot.

In other words, most ancestors who have DNA Circles are people who left a lot of documented descendants living in the United States today.  That’s because most AncestryDNA customers live in the U.S., and in order to have a DNA Circle, an ancestor must have left many descendants – at least three of whom have independently taken an AncestryDNA test. Furthermore, given that the average DNA Circle ancestor was born in 1800, descendants of that ancestor must have extended their family trees at least that far back to include that ancestor, too.

With that in mind, it fits that we see a higher concentration of DNA Circle ancestors born in the eastern U.S., where more people living in the 1700’s and 1800’s had enough children to now have many descendants in the U.S. today.  With regards to DNA Circle ancestors abroad, it also makes sense that we see many born in England, Ireland, and Western Europe.  Many ancestors from these regions of Europe migrated across the Atlantic (or had descendants who did), subsequently leaving a lot of U.S. descendants who can now trace their roots back to them.

While these patterns explain the general distribution of DNA Circles across the globe, a closer inspection of the map shows that we also find DNA Circle ancestors in other parts of the world – for example in Russia, China, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.  These diverse origins of DNA Circle ancestors emphasize the power of over 850,000 AncestryDNA members and their family trees to connect us to both our ancestors as well as our living relatives.

Even better than this map of birth locations of DNA Circle ancestors is the fact that every day, the map looks different.  As we expand into new markets, new individuals take DNA tests, and AncestryDNA members build out their family trees, we’ll discover new DNA Circles.  Some of those new Circles may even be centered around ancestors born in places where we’ve never before found one, because we didn’t yet have enough of those ancestors’ descendants tested at AncestryDNA.

These new discoveries will be more than just new dots on the map. Over time, they will allow DNA Circles and their associated New Ancestor Discoveries to connect even more individuals, with diverse family histories from around the globe, to their ancestors and distant relatives.  That too is something to celebrate on DNA Day.

In honor of DNA Day, AncestryDNA is extending 20% off AncestryDNA kits thru Monday, April 27th. To learn more and purchase an AncestryDNA kit visit here.

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Celebrate DNA Day with Your Own Discoveries Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:42:05 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> DNA Day comes every year, April 25th and it’s a great time to celebrate the amazing discoveries we’ve made about the human race. It’s also a great time to make a few new discoveries of your own. In honor of DNA Day, now through Monday, we have a limited time offer to get 20% off the AncestryDNA test. To take advantage of this great deal, click here.

We’d also like to share a new way to learn about DNA. Last week we announced the launch of Ancestry Academy. It’s a new educational website that offers exclusive, high-quality video courses taught by genealogy and family history experts.

Among the many topics being covered, we have an entire section on DNA. Want to know why you should take a DNA test, what you get from a DNA test, or what you do with all the cousins you’ll find? Drop by the Academy. Start from the beginning of the course or take five minutes and watch a video on “Genetic Inheritance” and learn how your DNA results can be different than a sibling’s. The best part is you can access this DNA course for free.  Each topic is broken up into 2-5 minute videos and there are several to choose from. Click on the video below to get a preview of the course, and then go sign into Ancestry Academy and start exploring today.



Take time on DNA Day to learn about the power of DNA and how it can unlock the stories of your past. If you haven’t taken a DNA test, see how easy it is to take the test (watch the ‘demo’ video to get the tips and tricks) or how to buy a DNA kit online. This DNA 101 course is just the beginning of many other courses around DNA so stay tuned. We will let you know when new material is available.

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AncestryDNA Gives Me a Sense of Self Fri, 24 Apr 2015 09:29:03 +0000 Jerome de Groot Read more]]>  

Intl_UK_DNA_250x250_BadgeI’m just about to undertake a DNA test. I’m both terrified and exhilarated about what it might find. DNA testing for genealogy is a powerful tool, and is gaining attention at the moment. DNA sequencing makes the subject of your investigation – your own cells, the stuff inside you. It is inescapable and accurate.

Ancestry have just launched the service in the UK & Ireland. What does it actually mean to do it? Does it change your life?



I am an academic. I am a scholar. I write about things, I don’t do them! So what am I doing spitting in a test tube and sending it off for analysis? Why am I having my DNA sequenced for genealogical purposes? What will it change in me, if anything? DNA sequencing promises something final, a set of data that is not negotiable. It makes historical research like genealogy into something scientific. It takes research out of the archive and into the lab.

Having this kind of personal interest in your research is a very new thing for me. I am literally putting my research money where my mouth is. Yet I have decided to do this for a number of reasons.

I can hardly talk about the way that this kind of approach affects you if I have not done it, can I? I need to understand the strangeness that this might create in a sense of self. I need to experience how those who undertake DNA tests feel about the results. I need to know whether they do change their way of defining themselves.

I first spoke on this subject in Amsterdam, which is the city my Opa (Grandfather) was born in. He was a somewhat distant figure to me and I walked the streets and canals wondering if I could somehow gain a connection or an insight into this strange man who spoke with a thick accent and whose eyebrows were astonishingly bushy.

Can I get closer to him? Will DNA testing throw up some kind of shock, something that I hadn’t known, something I didn’t want to know? Would it change me?

I am interested in the blending of body and archive that is now happening on Ancestry. In my work I look at the way that the human body is becoming part of historical investigation, and providing evidence for family historians. How does DNA data change our way of understanding the past? We generally understand DNA through popular scientific versions of genetics, or through paternity tests undertaken on the Jeremy Kyle show. It is a promise of revelation – good and bad. This was shown powerfully recently when White Supremacist Craig Cobb discovered on live television that he was 14% African American.

Yet I guess the point is that the DNA information lies there whether we access it or not, whether we leave it dormant or begin to start looking at it. It offers a new way of understanding the huge, terrifying thing that is the past.



The process of collecting DNA is a bit of a faff – spitting in a tube, shaking it about. I’ve just done some exercise so I have hardly any saliva. It certainly does not feel like ‘research’ or that I am engaging in some kind of important journey. It is an anti-climax! I forget about the whole thing until an email pings into my inbox suddenly. I am scared to open it….

Have I changed?

My ethnicity is pretty much what I had expected, and it is very solidly European. I’m 40% from Great Britain, 28% from West Europe and 15% from Ireland. This is all kind of predictable for me – I have maternal great-grandparents from Ireland, and my Opa, as I’ve said, was from the Netherlands. The test confirmed what I knew from my own research into my family conducted along more traditional – archival, textual – lines. It confirms that I am incredibly European, and I’m not too surprised. My 6% Italian DNA allows me to follow, for instance, my maternal great-great grandfather, the Merchant Seaman from Genoa, through my physical physiology and also my archival family tree. I have a sense of the past as something found in documents but also residing in my innermost cells.


I have, though, got little bits of other things that I can’t identify as easily. 6% is from Finland/ Northwest Russia. 3% is from the Iberian Peninsula, and a final 1% is from Scandinavia. These are more problematic to find in the physical archive, and perhaps they are multiple generations ago. I like the fact that it is such a mix, and that there are these strange little bits of me that come from all over the edges of Europe.

In some ways it demonstrates powerfully how, in a contemporary world of great mobility, migration and displacement, many of our ancestors did not move or travel a great deal outside of Europe.

The DNA data confirms my sense of my self in some way. In terms of new family, I have some interesting connections. My nearest DNA matches is a 4th cousin. That Italian great-great grandfather is the link between us. I find it amazing and strange that there is someone living who shares some of their basic cellular information with mine. It doesn’t change my sense of my family but it alters my sense of singularity somehow. It opens up a new sense of things. These DNA matches – to 4th, 5th, and even 6th cousins – can be very useful in making research breakthroughs.


You can follow Dr. Jerome de Groot on Twitter @deggy21

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AncestryDNA is a Team Sport Thu, 23 Apr 2015 21:59:05 +0000 Mike Mulligan Read more]]> When I first took the AncestryDNA test, my friend Anna asked me if I had tested any other members of my family. At the time I remember thinking very clearly that I already had hundreds of matches, the last thing I needed was more matches. Fast forward a few months and my Dad mentioned he would like to do the AncestryDNA test. So as a birthday present I got him an AncestryDNA kit and he took the test. A few weeks later his results came back and he was very happy with the outcome. However for me it turned out to be one of the smartest things I’ve done since I originally took the test. Now when I get a match that’s also a match of my Dad I also know which side of the tree that match is on. It gets much easier to work out the shared relationship. I only have to compare our common match against half my tree.

I asked our ever helpful science team at Ancestry if they could tell me just how much of a benefit I get using both my test and my Dad’s. It turns out that with my test alone, the chances of matching a particular 4th cousin in the AncestryDNA database is about 71%. The reason for this is simply that each of us get different bits of DNA from our ancestors and by 4th cousin relationship there is a bigger chance we simply won’t match. But having both my test and my Dad’s test that number increases to 89%, much better odds. Not only that, the 89% is on Dad’s side of the tree. So I get a better chance of finding my 4th cousin but also more precision in working out a common ancestor.

That got me thinking of who else I should try to recruit on my cousin finding mission. Ask my sisters perhaps? Or should I try and get some of my cousins to test, particularly those who are on lines where I have brick walls. The answer to my question is shown in the chart below.

AncestryDNA Infographis

If I was to get any of my sisters to test it would boost my cousin finding rate from 71% to 83%. That’s certainly an improvement, but if I could get a grandparent to test that would increase my success rate from 71% to 98%. That 98% would also be in a specific quarter of my tree. This would be a huge increase in the success rate but also an increase in the precision because I am able to narrow down the match to my grandparents branches. I have no living grandparents, but I do have two grand aunts on different branches of my tree who are now top of the list of people I want on my cousin finding team. But what about my 1st cousins? I had considered asking some of them to test. Certainly it would increase my chances from 71% to 87%. But if I ask an aunt or uncle instead that number goes to 94%. And again, if both of us have the same match I can narrow it down to a specific half of my tree.

Like many of us researching our family tree I have spent many hours alone quietly in in libraries and archives poring over census documents or birth records. If there is one thing I’ve come to realise about doing my family history with AncestryDNA it’s that it is very much a team activity. The more people I can get on my team the better the results for all of us.


Get 20% off AncestryDNA here. Offer ends 27th April.


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Window through a Widow’s Pension Wed, 22 Apr 2015 13:00:17 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]> By Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Michelle Ercanbrack, Family Historian at Ancestry

I cannot find how my grandfather Anthony Peter Hellmann came to the U.S. or where he lived before 1900. I have his enlistment in the Spanish-American War, and a 1900 census that lists his birthday as 1878 in Germany, and that he immigrated in 1881. Any suggestions would be helpful, as he died in 1918, and I have zero knowledge of parents or siblings. Thank you! —Sandi

Dear Sandi,

The two questions you are attempting to answer—how your grandfather migrated from Germany and where he lived before the Spanish-American War of 1898—provide us with an opportunity to discuss what genealogists refer to as “the wall.”  As anybody searching for their ancestors discovers sooner or later, every search for our ancestors hits a wall—a place where the trail goes cold, where records about your family member seem to have disappeared.  And you, Sandi, seem to have hit two of these walls!  Let’s see if we can help you scale them.

Our first rule when you are stuck is a simple one, but one that can be surprisingly useful:  start all over, and carefully review what you have already uncovered.  Combing through the records you’ve already found can help you see if you missed anything, or if more information can be gleaned from them than you first realized. Following the clues you gave us, we took another look at the 1900 census listing for Anthony Hellman.  It shows that he lived as a boarder with the Brower family in Middletown, Orange County, New York.  He was a naturalized citizen and worked as a “hat presser.”

You also mentioned his Spanish-American War Military Service Record, which we also reviewed.  It shows that he enlisted in New York City as a volunteer for the National Guard, company A of the 8th New York Infantry. He is described as being 5’6” with blue eyes, brown hair, and a fair complexion. He enlisted on May 2, 1898, the day after the Battle of Manila Bay, which was the first major battle of the war. He mustered out and was honorably discharged 7 months later in November 1898.

Because you had found this record, we decided to look more deeply into Anthony Hellman’s military service, to see what we might find.  Using, we searched in a  collection called  U.S. Civil War Pension Index, and located an Anthony P Hellmann and his widow, Mary E Hellmann. This might seem an unlikely place to look because of its Civil War title; however, its subtitle is General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934. The index covers pension applications filed for conflicts that occurred before WWI, which includes the Spanish American War. (Don’t let the dates confuse you: pensions for WWI and WWII are in a different collection. Most pensions were not filed immediately after service, hence the collection extending to 1934. This is why it is so important to read sub-titles and database descriptions!)

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Anthony Hellmann’s index card in the “U.S. Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934,” database at

Anthony Hellmann’s pension index indicates that he fought with two different companies: Company A, 8th NY Infantry, and Company B, 12th NY Infantry.  An application number and date for Mary Ellen’s widow’s pension shows she applied on July 18, 1918, two months after Anthony died.

While this index card doesn’t seem like much, a copy of the original pension file can be ordered from the National Archives’ Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., using the pension application number, which we did.

When we opened that NARA package that came in the mail, it felt like Christmas morning! Anthony’s pension was a treasure trove of information, filled incredibly with 28 pages of affidavits from friends and relatives, as well as several original family documents.  Who would have guessed that the only surviving copies of valuable family documents would be preserved in a pension application file?  But here they were.

Details about Anthony’s service showed that a week after mustering out of Company A, he mustered into the 12th regiment on November 15, likely in Chickamauga Park, Georgia.

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American and Spanish Soldiers in front of the Captain General’s Palace, Havana, Cuba c. 1899,
from the Library of Congress Photo Collection at

A month later on December 10, 1898, Spain signed the treaty of Paris, officially ending the war. Anthony’s company left Americus, Georgia, on December 26, the day after Christmas, for garrison duty at Matanzas and Cardenas, Cuba, during what’s known as “The American Occupation,” which lasted between 1898 and 1902.  Matanzas is 65 miles from Havana, and Cardenas is 94 miles away it, so your ancestor no doubt saw this remarkably beautiful city at its prime. He “served honestly and faithfully in Cuba” for four months before returning home to New York City on April 20, 1899. It’s intriguing to note that your ancestor was an exceptionally well-traveled American for his time.

The pension file contains several genealogical gems tucked among its pages. To prove that she was in fact his widow, Mary Ellen included a transcript of Anthony’s death register entry. It shows he worked as a hat maker and died of pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of 41. But it provided another bit of information that turned out to be an essential link to Anthony’s early life:  the names of his parents, Simon Hellmann and Mary Mueller.

What’s more, his Volunteer Service Record contained another gem. It states that Anthony was born in Landau, a city in the Bavarian province of Germany, an area known for its wine making. We now had learned the names of his parents and where he was born!

The notes at the bottom of the page say he listed his “next of kin” as “Francis A Brower… relationship not shown.” Could this be the same Brower family with whom he was living in 1900? What is his connection to their family? To see if the Browers were related to Anthony, or what their connection could possibly be, we started researching Herman, Francis, and their son William.

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A detail from the 1900 U.S. Federal Census for the Herman Brower family, courtesy

As it turns out, William F Brower enlisted on the same day in the same company as Anthony did. A year after their service together, Anthony is boarding with William and his parents, with William’s mother listed as Anthony’s next of kin. While it’s possible they were family, we aren’t certain, but if they didn’t know each other before they enlisted, it’s apparent that they had become close friends during their military service. While the identity and whereabouts of Anthony’s family in the U.S. continues to be a mystery, it’s heartwarming to know that after the war, he was boarding with this friend he had made in the Army.

The only other clue about Anthony’s early life was an affidavit from Catherine and Susanna Muller, stating they had known Anthony since he came to America when he was five years old. Could Catherine and Susanna be relatives of his mother, perhaps? Their address in New York City is listed, which could help you find them in census records.

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The marriage certificate for Anthony Hellmann and Mary E. Welsh included in the widow’s pension file.

While most of the file focuses on why the pension was valid and why the family needed help, the inclusion of Anthony and Mary’s marriage and the baptismal records of their children make this an invaluable repository of information about the family. Their marriage and the baptism of their daughter, Mary Agnes Hellmann, were performed at the Roman Catholic Church of St. Joseph in Middletown, New York, by Reverend John P. McClancey, with the witness and sponsors being relatives of Mary Ellen, but not Anthony’s.  It seems the community in Middletown where the Hellmanns lived included members of Mary Ellen’s Irish Catholic family but not necessarily Anthony’s, which might suggest his family lived far away or had passed.

Page-by-page searches in city directories for Brooklyn and New York City between 1880 and 1898 for an Anthony, Anton, or Simon Hellmann were fruitless, though not surprisingly so. Immigrants were often very mobile, so Anthony’s time in New York could have been very short, and non-English speakers were often left out of city directories.

Sometimes in family history the scenic route is the only way to reach your destination. While specifics about Anthony’s arrival and early years in America are still a mystery, ultimately, knowing the identity of his parents, and where he was born in Europe, will prove valuable in the long run, as your search continues.

We hope this information helps you in your search for your grandfather!  Keep us posted as your explore more pathways.

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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Reports from Gallipoli, The Dardanelles and The Western Front: WWI Military Diaries go Online Wed, 22 Apr 2015 08:18:59 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]> War Diaries 44More than 1.5 million pages of first-hand diary accounts of WWI military operations are now available to read online.

Published today, from records held at The National Archives in Kew, the UK, WWI War Diaries 1914-1920 document operations by British and colonial units serving in France, Belgium, Germany, Gallipoli and the Dardanelles over a six year period. Of these, the records pertaining to Gallipoli and the Dardanelles have been digitised for the very first time.

Each diary entry includes a mixture of tactics, maps, intelligence summaries, reports on casualties and fatalities and general observations. Written up daily by a junior officer and approved by the commander on duty, regiment/unit, sub unit, date and location are also all recorded. Their detail makes the records an invaluable resource for family historians looking to trace the footsteps of a WWI ancestor.

The purpose of the diaries was to create a permanent record of the movements of each unit on active service. Each entry holds a vast amount of military information, which was used by senior officers to locate patterns, plan attacks and build intelligence against enemy forces.

The records also offer a unique first hand perspective on some of WWI’s most infamous battles. This includes the Battle of the Somme, which saw more than one million men wounded or killed in 1916 and has since been described as one of the bloodiest clashes in military history. Diary entries relating to this brutal five-month conflict recall “hurricane bombardments of the German front line” and “mass casualties from prolonged attacks on German trenches”.

Records relating to the Battle of Sari Bair in which Britain tried to seize control of the Gallipoli peninsular, go on to highlight how soldiers were fighting around the clock. An entry for the
East Lancashire Regiment describes how they “received information that the enemy had broken through to the right…we dug trenches as quickly as possible but suffered a few casualties from their fire.” The time was recorded as 5.30am.

Further reports from Gallipoli reveal the terrible conditions facing soldiers from the British Army Corps noting how “there had been heavy rain all over the forward trenches during the afternoon and they were mostly knee deep in mud and water. The Gully Ravine Road was turned into a breast high torrent and cut about by the water.”

Another entry pertains to the actions of The Royal Welsh Fusiliers and notes how “the enemy retaliated from our previous bombardments with heavy shelling of our own front line.” This regiment contained acclaimed WWI poet Siegfried Sassoon. As well as a way with words, Sassoon was a courageous commander – once single-handedly capturing a German trench in the Hindenburg Line.

The battalion of Victoria Cross recipient Reverend Theodore Hardy also appears in the records. Part of The Lincolnshire Regiment, Hardy was killed after crossing into no-man’s land under heavy fire whilst attempting to rescue his wounded comrades. Just 17 days before his death, diary entries note early morning clashes with “the battalion arming up for attack at 4.30am.”

Whilst the majority of officers recorded the brutalities of war succinctly, others were more descriptive with their entries, providing a more personal take on life on the front line. One note relating to the Battle of Le Cateu details how, “battle continued all day but was fiercest between 10am and 3pm” and that wagons sent to drop off much needed ammunition “could not be traced and in some cases had to be abandoned to carry the wounded men who were very tired.”

In a similar vein, some of these records confirm the horrors facing soldiers off the battlefield with regards to sickness and disease. A diary entry recorded by the 102nd Field Ambulance Service states how several soldiers had experienced “prevailing disease for a month, temp for up to three to four days, chilly sensation, pulse acceleration and soreness of the whole body.”

As well as providing insight into what life was really like on the front line, the War Diaries present people with the perfect opportunity to locate their ancestors and trace their wartime movements with military precision.

To search the UK, WWI War Diaries, 1914-1920 click here.

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The Greatest Funeral in the History of the United States Tue, 21 Apr 2015 16:21:51 +0000 Crista Cowan Read more]]> In the early morning hours of April 15th, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln died due to a fatal gunshot wound received the night before at Ford’s Theater. Later that morning, an honor guard arrived at the Petersen Boarding House, where Lincoln was taken to be treated. There, six young men picked up the body of the President, in a temporary coffin, and carried him to the White House. A cavalry unit and eight military leaders, walking bareheaded, completed the procession.

Lincoln's Funeral Procession on Pennsylvania Avenue (photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Lincoln’s Funeral Procession on Pennsylvania Avenue (photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

At the White House, Lincoln’s body was laid in state in the East Room where it was guarded day and night by members of the military. On the afternoon of April 19th, a great procession of military units accompanied an ornate hearse bearing the President’s body from the White House, down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol building. Hundreds of thousands of people came into Washington D.C. to witness the procession. They lined the route and, it is said, “despite the enormous crowd, the silence was profound.” The following morning the Rotunda was opened to the public for a viewing.

At 7:00 am on April 21st, 150 years ago today, another procession accompanied the body as it was moved from the Capitol to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Depot. There, at 8:00 am, with more than 10,000 witnesses, the Lincoln Funeral Train pulled out of the station. Over the next twelve days the train, consisting of nine cars, passed through hundreds of communities in seven states, never topping a speed of 20 miles per hour.

The Presidential Car, like Air Force One today, was designed for the president's transportation needs. It was never used before it was converted into a funeral car to carry the bodies of President Abraham Lincoln and his son, William, to Springfield, Illinois for burial (photo credit:  Library of Congress Photo Collection on

The Presidential Car, like Air Force One today, was designed for the president’s transportation needs. It was never used before it was converted into a funeral car to carry the bodies of President Abraham Lincoln and his son, William, to Springfield, Illinois for burial.
(photo credit: Library of Congress Photo Collection on

The Lincoln Funeral Train followed the same route, in reverse, as the Inaugural Train route that had brought the President to Washington D.C. in 1861. The loss of this revered man threw the entire nation into mourning. The mood along the route, and throughout the nation, was in stark contrast to the celebratory mood of the previous weeks as the four year Civil War had drawn to a close. Around the country, cities and towns were draped in black.

In twelve major cities along the way, Lincoln’s body was removed from the train and placed in a statehouse or hall for public viewing and formal funerals. More than a million people viewed Lincoln’s body during the trip and millions more paid tribute, standing at attention as the train rolled through their communities on its journey to President Lincoln’s final resting place in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois.

The 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train Route and Dates

The 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train Route and Dates

Today, The 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train, in conjunction with The Historic Railroad Equipment Association and the National Park Service, will begin a twelve day re-enactment of the route taken 150 years ago. Programs are planned in the major cities along the route, featuring a Lincoln actor who will share some of the inspiring words of our nation’s 16th president. Visit their website to learn how you can participate.

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Family History on Your Wrist: Introducing Ancestry’s Apple Watch App Mon, 20 Apr 2015 14:57:03 +0000 Aaron Orr Read more]]> Ancestry is now available on Apple Watch—bet you never thought you’d see the day you could do family history from your wrist! Okay, you might not do full family history activities, but you can learn about a new photo hint or reply to a comment about a story you attached to your tree.

Ancestry Apple Watch App


Get notified about important events in your family history

You can see important “on-this-day” events in your family history including birthdays, anniversaries, and death dates of your direct ancestors and close relatives. Plus, we will let you know when we find records about a possible new parent or spouse, or birth, marriage, and death info missing from your tree.

Keep on top of new hints and comments

Take small steps to discover more about your family anytime, anywhere. A simple tap to review new hints or comment by voice dictation can enrich your family stories step by step. Within the watch app, you can scroll through a feed of meaningful hints, important dates from your tree, and comments about photos and stories. If there’s a hint that looks interesting, you can easily open right to it by pulling out your phone—if it’s a photo hint, you can save it to your tree directly from the watch.

Download the latest version of the Ancestry iPhone app (which includes the watch app) and be ready when your watch comes. The Ancestry iPhone app provides important notifications about events in your family history and allows you to fully discover your ancestry.

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Who Do You Think You Are? Recap with Bill Paxton: Shaping a Nation Sun, 19 Apr 2015 15:21:15 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]> Bill PaxtonThere is something emotionally significant about discovering a Revolutionary War patriot in your family tree. The idea that your own ancestor somehow contributed to the birth of a new nation may set off an explosion of patriotic anthems in your mind and unearth a desire to know how they helped secure American independence.

Once you know where your ancestors lived during the time of the American Revolution, you can better pinpoint the types of records available in that region and what insight they may offer into the life of your ancestor in the late 18th century.

While researching Bill Paxton’s tree, we found that his ancestor Benjamin Sharp lived in Virginia during the Revolutionary War. This led us to various documents regarding his service in the war as a spy as well as his involvement at the Battle of Kings Mountain at age 18.  One of the most powerful was an article Sharp wrote in his twilight years about his war experience that was published in the American Pioneer magazine in 1842.

By Sharp’s late 30s and early 40s, he had started a family, settled a farm, and owned a significant amount of land.  Land ownership is often a key to finding other records that can fill in the blanks about your ancestor. Because Sharp owned quite a bit of land, it was likely that he would be found in county court records for land purchases and the like. When we looked into the county court minutes, we quickly found him there.

Court records in Virginia and Missouri (where Benjamin later lived) showed that Benjamin Sharp worked as a surveyor, a justice of the peace, and other bureaucratic positions at the county level. This bread crumb of information gave us direction to find Sharp’s political history.  Because he was politically active at the local level, it is likely that he was working his way up through the bureaucratic ranks and that his local involvement had national implications.

We found that during the U.S. presidential election of 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, Sharp served as one of the commissioners overseeing the election. Commissioners were responsible for making sure the election went smoothly and verifying the ballot counts. The record of Sharp’s political service is in the executive papers of the Virginia governor, who was James Monroe (who later became president himself).

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Sharp continued to expand his political involvement. In 1804, he served as a representative to the House of Delegates in the Virginia General Assembly. In that role he would have been involved in making laws that affected all Virginians. Sharp’s earlier service in the military had primed the political pump to get him involved with his community and his country by administering the government that he earlier had fought to create. And his public service left behind public records that provided a look into Benjamin Sharp’s life from two centuries away.

Tips from Ancestry ProGenealogists:

  • As genealogists, we also use records to identify people closely associated with the ancestor we’re looking for. A soldier would often enlist with people in his community, and friendships forged in the military often lasted a lifetime. Political activism meant associating with other politicians and developing relationships. These relationships can give clues to how a married couple originally met, or they might help document a cross-country migration when multiple families moved together. Records that might not seem to have obvious genealogical value to the person you are looking for quite often provide the clues we need to document a family.
  • Did your ancestor participate in political activities? Maybe they were a state representative, or went to local political party meetings. Some of the people in those circles very well could be in-laws.
  • Many people have served in military conflicts. To document your ancestors’ experience during wars, look for draft, enlistment, service, and pension records. Those types of records can document many facets of their lives.
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