As the year closes out, it’s natural for us to reflect on the progress we’ve made this year. On the family history front, I’m very thankful. I’ve had some luck with some stubborn lines that have been brick walls for way too long. I recently found a record for a man who is likely my 4th great-grandfather in New York, Alien Depositions of Intent to Become U.S. Citizens, 1825-1871. While the details on the certificate are sparse, it served as a reminder that sometimes just an appearance in the records is significant.
Knowing the background and a bit about why and how records were created can provide important insights. On Ancestry.com, you can often find this type of information in the description of the collection. In this case, I learned that prior to 1825, immigrants needed to naturalize to purchase, own, sell, or bequeath real property in New York. State legislation passed in April of that year gave aliens the option of filing a deposition asserting residence in the state and the intent to naturalize.
So what does that tell me? We know that my ancestor was not born in the U.S. since his status is alien, and we also know that he wanted to purchase property, so I’ll be checking Brooklyn property records for the years following his 1834 deposition. Since it’s possible that he was filing the deposition of intent because he hadn’t met a residency requirement for naturalization, I’ll start my search for his immigration in the years just prior to that deposition as well. This find has me energized and there are lots of other reasons for optimism for the coming year.
Ancestry.com has posted some amazing content this year, with some interesting and really rich collections. Part of my job at Ancestry.com is to write descriptions for some of the collections that are launching. The U.S., American Red Cross Nurse Files, 1916-1959 drew me in immediately with rich stories and correspondence telling the story of these brave women’s service. Some stories of nurses serving in Siberia during the Russian Revolution and of the Petrograd Children’s Ark can be found in this Slideshare deck.
Those of you with family in Canada in 1921 finally got access to the 1921 Canadian Census, which is now indexed and available. It’s the most recent census available for Canada and asked 35 questions of residents.
For those with UK roots, England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970, were a huge boon, with more than 2.5 million records launching in August. But of the UK collections I looked at this year, the London, England, Clandestine Marriage and Baptism Registers, 1667-1754 was the most fascinating. Ecclesiastic laws governing marriage have changed during England’s history, and during the period covered by this collection, marriage within the church came with restrictions. To skirt the restrictions, many chose to get married outside the church where requirements were looser. Grooms could be as young as 14, and brides 12. The bride and groom needed only to give their consent to the union for it to be recognized. Clergy and witnesses were not necessary, though they were often present to provide proof that the marriage had taken place.
The demand for these “clandestine” marriages was met by institutions that considered themselves exempt from church canon. Prisons like the Fleet and the King’s Bench Prison became popular destinations for couples interested in quick, no-questions-asked nuptials because of the number of clerics imprisoned for debt there had nothing to lose and welcomed the income. Many of them lived in the “Rules” or “Liberties,” which were areas around the prison where prisoners could pay for the privilege of living outside the gates. Again, we have a case for how origins of records are a big part of the story.
One of the more memorable records I found for my family was the New York, Abstracts of World War I Military Service, 1917-1919, which included a card for my grand-uncle, Edwin Brough Dyer. The cards, which were created by the New York Adjutant General’s Office, include service details, birthplace and age, and whether the soldier had been wounded. Although Edwin’s card read “slightly” in that field, we know that he died at the age of 26 due to the residual effects of gas poisoning.
I could go on and on about the content that I found interesting, because, well… I love records. But we’d be here until 2015 and you probably want to know what we added for the places your ancestor lived. A good way to find out is to go to the Card Catalog, and select a place where your ancestor lived using the location filters on the left. Then in the Sort by drop-down menu, select Recently Updated. This will bring recent additions and updates to the top so you can make sure you didn’t miss anything new.
We also got some help from Ancestry.com in the tools department. AncestryDNA testing got even cooler with new Ethnicity Estimates that added ten new regions; there are now 26 global regions. Want to learn more about AncestryDNA? In November we created a new AncestryDNA 101 free downloadable guide this year to help you understand how the test works and what it can tell you.
And speaking of free downloads, in the last quarter we added four new downloadable research guides to the twenty we already had in the Learning Center. We’ve also started creating state research guides that you can find here. We’re working hard to create content that will help you find your ancestors and discover their story.
For those of you who prefer video to print, we have a growing collection of videos on our YouTube channel, including a 5-Minute Find series we started this year for those of you looking for a really quick family history fix.
Our productivity got a boost from updates to the Ancestry.com mobile apps that allow us to take our tree everywhere we go. An update to the Ancestry iOS app gave it a new look and feel and took us into the new iOS 7 operating system. I loved having this app when I was in New York for the New York Genealogy Event in November. Mom and I snuck in a trip to the New York Public Library and I was able to photograph finds with my phone and add them to my tree on the spot. What a time saver!
And of course like most family historians I know, one of my New Year’s resolutions will be to get organized. This year I made some small steps by going through files and purging a lot of things that have been taking up space in my family history closet. Every so often it’s helpful to do a purge and get rid of duplicate and out of date printouts, but I’m left with quite the pile of papers that need to be sorted. And of course I need to do an audit of the records I have found on my ancestors and make sure they’re all included in my timelines and in my online tree. Then I can use the TreeSync™ feature to sync my online tree with Family Tree Maker 2014. I’m anxious to play around with some of the new reporting features that the most recent version brings to the table.
So I guess I can sum up by saying that for me, there was much to be thankful for in 2013. And I am very excited about the possibilities that await us in 2014. Here’s wishing you and yours a very happy and healthy New Year, filled with many family history successes and stories!