Joining the Blog

Since March 2006, I’ve been posting newsletter-related items and other tidbits here on the 24/7 Family History Circle blog. Similar to the blog, my posts were created with the intent to provide readers with helpful information as their research their family history.  Since both blogs share the same goal, I am joining my colleagues on the blog, where you will now see my blog posts moving forward. This move will make it easier for you, so that you won’t have to jump back and forth between the two blogs, and will provide a one-stop resource for those interested in learning more about their ancestors.

Since this will be the final post to the 24/7 Family History Circle blog, I look forward to staying in touch with you on the blog in the future! Click here to read my first post on the blog.

Irish Databases at

St. Patrick ancesry.bmpIn honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I thought I’d browse around and post a recap of some of the more popular Irish databases that are available through World Deluxe memberships. Here’s are some favorites I found:

Ireland, Index to Griffith’s Valuation, 1848-1864
This database, an index to one of Ireland’s premier genealogical resources, Griffith’s Valuation, references approximately one million individuals who occupied property in Ireland between 1848 and 1864. The Griffith’s Valuation, or Primary Valuation of Ireland, was executed under the direction of Sir Richard Griffith to determine the amount of tax each person should pay towards the support of the poor within their poor law union. This involved determining the value of all privately held lands and buildings in rural as well as urban areas to figure the rate at which each unit of property could be rented year after year. The resulting survey was arranged by barony and civil parish with an index to the townlands appearing in each volume. The original volumes of the survey are held in the National Archives, Dublin and Public Record Office, Belfast.

Ireland, Tithe Applotment Books, 1824-1837
The Tithe Applotment Books record the results of a unique land survey taken to determine the amount of tax payable by landholders to the Church of Ireland, the established church until 1869. They are known as the Tithe Applotment Books because the results of this land survey were originally compiled in nearly 2,000 hand-written books. This data set represents a virtual census for pre-Famine Ireland. Since it covers all of Ireland it is immensely important in terms of constructing, not just an image of a particular family line, but of wider social conditions in the country. Only the six counties that constitute present-day Northern Ireland – Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh, and Tyrone, covering 223 parishes, are included.

Irish Flax Grower’s List
In 1796 the Irish Linen Board published a list of almost 60,000 individuals who had received awards for planting a specified acreage of flax. Those who planted one acre were awarded 4 spinning-wheels, and those growing 5 acres were awarded a loom. The records include the name of the individual, county, and parish. The records cover most of Ireland.  The Flax Growers List is arranged by civil parish in each county except for Dublin and Wicklow, which were not included in the records.  The counties available are; Antrim, Armagh, Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Cork, Derry, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Leitrim,  Limerick, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon,  Sligo, Tipperary, Tyrone, Waterford, Westmeath,  Wexford.

The Royal Irish Constabulary 1816-1921
The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) was created in 1816, and initially staffed mainly by Irish-born men. However, toward the 1900s, and especially afterwards, the RIC recruited men from countries such as England, Scotland, Wales, and the United States. The records of the RIC were only indexed annually by the date of enlistment. Until this database was created, the only way to identify whether an ancestor joined the forces was an extremely time-consuming search. Some people joined for a few days or weeks, others stayed for years, and quite a few migrated. There are mentions in the index on whether a person emigrated, died, or married. Continue reading

Is Your Research Energy Efficient?

In my house, I’m the thermostat police. I’m constantly turning it down and when the family complains I promptly hand them a sweatshirt. We’ve put plastic over the windows to keep out extra drafts and a rolled up towel sits at the foot of front and back doors to give added support to the weather stripping. And it’s paying off. Despite really cold temps this month, my utilities bill was still lower than last year. Yeah!

I try to keep my family history research “energy efficient” too. A few simple steps can really make a difference and help you get the most out of every precious minute you have to spend with your family history.

Start a To-Do List
Too often I find that I have just fifteen minutes or a half hour between errands and picking up my daughter and I’d like to be able to sneak in a little family history in between. I have a word processing document that I saved to my desktop and whenever I think of a task I need to do, I add it to my document. I keep it free form and I can add notes–where I left off last time I worked on that task, what I’ve tried and failed with, where to look next, etc.

Some of the items are from when I got interrupted midstream. They may say something like “transcribe Joe Dennis’s birth certificate into Family Tree Maker,” or “create a timeline for George Dennis.”

Shorter tasks like the transcription are highlighted, so when I only have a few minutes, I can go right to those items and knock them off. As items are completed, I mark them complete and move them to the bottom of the document. It’s a simple system, but it works for me.

Keep Up with Filing
Although I have the best of intentions, I still struggle with keeping up with filing. I have given in to a certain extent and have a “to be filed” box that I have to empty occasionally. When I get time to tackle the pile, I sort first into a small standing file frame with folders for each surname. Then when that’s done, I pull out a folder at a time and file it into the binder for that family.

Are You Letting Technology Help You?
The tools we use are constantly evolving and sometimes it’s hard to keep up. Add reading Help files or user manuals for the tools you use so that you’re taking advantage of all the features. For Ancestry tools, check the Learning Center to see if there is a webinar that can help. Take online tours wherever they are available. 

Plan Your Research Trips
If you have a research trip coming up, start a separate to-do list for that trip. If you’ll be visiting several repositories, you might want to create a separate list for each one. Use online catalogs to look up film and call numbers ahead of time for the materials you plan to use. Explore the library website for descriptions of the collections and check for any restrictions. Call ahead too to make sure that there are no major unexpected closures. You can enlist the help of fellow genealogists on message boards or mailing lists too. Ask for advice from genealogists on lists or boards for the geographic area you will be visiting. They may share some helpful tips with you that will help you get more from your trip.

Keep a Book in the Car
Since I often find myself waiting in the car for my daughter to get out of some activity, I keep a bag of books and a notepad and pen in my car so that when I’m sitting there waiting, I can catch up on my reading. I jot down notes on things that may be relevant to my research or that I’d like to learn more about. The bag is handy because I can take it in when I have an appointment and know I may have a wait. Now I actually look forward to my “waiting time.” 😉

Finding Family in Religious Service, by Juliana Smith

Last weekend, I got a note from Sandra in Florida. She was looking for her grandfather’s cousin, who was a Catholic nun in the Pittsburgh area, but she didn’t have a lot of information to work with. Since I’ve had a little experience in tracing nuns (we have three in our family tree), I thought I’d give it a shot. But before I could dive into the search, I got an e-mail from a very happy Sandra who had found her grand-aunt in the 1910 census.

Many people have family members who served in religious communities. Learning something about their lives can greatly enrich family histories and lead to other important clues, but finding them in records can present a unique challenge. Questions like Sandra’s come in with surprising frequency, so today, I thought I’d share a few tips for locating individuals who served in religious communities.

Try Census Records
Finding clergy in the census can be a tricky business. A search of the 1930 U.S. census turned up nearly 800 people with the first name “Pastor.” Further searches turned up people with first names listed as Reverend, Rabbi, Father, Sister, and Mother. In many of these entries, no given name is listed, as in Rabbi Zien of Duluth, Minnesota, or Reverend Perry of Little Rock, Arkansas. In some cases the title is included as a middle name, as is the case with John Father Harnett of San Francisco, California.

Sandra found success in doing some creative searching for “Sister Rita” and the location of Pittsburgh. She eventually found her living with the Sisters of Divine Providence in Pittsburgh with Mother Therese listed as the “head of household.” Continue reading

More Census Search Tips

Mr in the census.bmpIn the previous article, we talked about finding clergy in the census by using titles in place of a given name. This can also be a solution for lay people. Search for Mr. or Mrs. and you’ll turn up plenty of hits. (Click on the image to see an example from the 1930 census for Boston, Massachusetts.) And the town doctor could be listed with Dr. as his first name. Dr. and Mrs. Cooneery of Chicago, Illinois, are a good example of this situation. Here are some more tips for census searching.

Search for Initials
Sometimes the census taker decided that listing an initial was enough. In searching for my Kelly ancestors in New York City, I was repeatedly frustrated in my attempts to locate one family—until I left out the given name. When I saw the results I noticed an abundance of initials in place of given names. Once I entered the appropriate initial, I found the family I was searching for—with every family member listed with only an initial.

Leave Out the Name
While it might seem a long shot, sometimes the best way to search is without a name. If you know where your ancestor lived, try leaving out the name entirely and use other facts you have to narrow your search. For example, I know my grandparents were living in Parma, Ohio, in 1930 and had been recently married. By entering my grandmother’s birth year, birthplace of Ohio, residence of Parma, Ohio, and relationship to head of household (wife), she comes up as the thirteenth record on the list of results for that search.

Search for Siblings
Try searching for various siblings. While your direct ancestor’s entry may be hard to read or transcribed incorrectly, the sibling’s entry may be correct. I was helping my uncle find his parents in 1930. The last name was mangled, so I entered his brother’s given name, specified the county, and added in the given names of his father and mother. Even though all three had common given names (Charles, Henry, and Mary) those names, relationships, and the county were enough to allow me to find them. Continue reading

Celebrating African American Family History, by Juliana Smith

African American family historians face unique challenges when it comes to researching their family’s past. During periods of discrimination, not only were African Americans segregated from their white counterparts, their records were sometimes also segregated. While beginning research for descendants of slaves may utilize similar records as those of other Americans, once they hit 1870, the search becomes much more complicated–but not impossible.

As with any family history research, one of the keys to success is laying a good foundation. Be sure to exhaust all home sources and interview every family member you can so that you can begin your search with as much information as possible. has a growing collection of African American records that can help you build on that foundation.

Once you’ve gathered as much information as you can from family members, seek out U.S. Census records, vital records, military, and as many other late nineteenth and early twentieth century records as possible. When working with microfilms and registers, keep in mind that the records of African Americans may be separate from those of white people in a “colored” section toward the end of the record group. In the military, African Americans served in segregated units until the army was integrated in 1952.

There were also many free African Americans living in the United States prior to the Civil War. Tony Burrough’s book, Black Roots cites the fact that there were “more than 200,000 free Blacks living in the North and another 200,000 free in the South prior to the Civil War.”

In addition to core collections like directories, census, vital, and military records, here are a few collections available at Ancestry that you’ll want to search.

U.S. Freedman’s Bank Records, 1865-1874
The year 1865 found many African American Civil War veterans and ex-slaves with money in their pockets and there was a need for an institution where they could save their money. The Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company (often referred to as the Freedman’s Bank) was incorporated on 03 March 1865 to meet that need. Unfortunately mismanagement and fraud led to the failure of that institution in 1874 wiping out the savings of many African Americans. While some were eventually able to recover about two-thirds of their savings, many never got any of their money back.

The signature registers of the Freedman’s Bank were preserved and eventually wound up in the National Archives, and in 2005, indexed these records and made the index and images available to members. For purposes of identification, these registers asked personal questions of the account holder and as a result, many contain a goldmine of information regarding family structure. Names of spouses, children, parents, siblings, and even aunts and uncles can be found on the signature registers. Other information may include physical description, place of birth, residences, occupation, employer, and some earlier records will even include the names of former slave owners–a critical piece of information for tracing a slave beyond the Civil War. For more information, see the Prologue article on the National Archives website by Reginald Washington.
Below is a sample signature register. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Freedman's Bank record from Louisiana, 1866, 4/17



Continue reading

Mining Message Boards

In the years before the Internet and computers, people seeking to make connections with others who share research interests would post queries in genealogical periodicals. When family history met the Internet, one of the most popular tools available to genealogists were message boards.

The message boards on Ancestry go back more than ten years and there are currently 17 Million posts on more than 161,000 boards. Have you checked to see whether there is information on the message boards for your family?

Searching the Message Boards
The Message Boards can be found on the Community tab at From there you can search for a surname, place or topic, or browse the boards alphabetically. The search function is in most cases the easiest, unless you’re searching for a name that could refer to something else. For example, one of my family names is Poland. When I search for that, I end up with a bunch of hits referring to the country Poland. By browsing alphabetically, I can be sure to end up on the correct message board without wading through hundreds of posts by people researching an ancestor from Poland.

Once you locate a message board of interest, you may find yourself overwhelmed with the number of posts. You can choose to search that surname board adding in a given name or a location to narrow it down to just the posts that are relevant to your search. Continue reading

When You Assume, by Juliana Smith

Juliana is out battling a nasty cold, so this week we are bringing you a little blast from the past in the form of an article from 2000.

“When you assume . . ..” Whenever I hear that phrase, I flash back to The Odd Couple episode where Felix Unger is in front of the courtroom with a chalkboard warning of the dangers that come “when you assume.” And while assumptions in family history won’t necessarily make or break any court cases like it did for Oscar and Felix, it can waste a lot of precious research time by taking you down roads that just don’t need to be traveled. Time and money can be wasted in researching the wrong records, in the wrong place, or even the wrong person.

Often we form our opinions without even realizing we are doing it. So, here are a few things to think about.

This one is a biggie! No one wants to waste time investigating someone else’s ancestor. But it can easily happen, particularly when you are dealing with common names. In these cases, it is best to collect as much information as possible on each. By creating a profile for your ancestor and others with the same name, you may be able to separate yours from the pack. More information on this can be found in these articles:

Separating Men of the Same Name,
by Patricia Law Hatcher

Searching for Catherine Kelly in a Sea of Kellys,
by Juliana Smith

Assuming ethnicity can lead to big problems when you attempt to research overseas, which can make for a very expensive error. But this is an easy mistake to make.

You may have formed an opinion, without realizing it, based on your ancestor’s surname, but often surnames were changed—either Americanized to help the family “fit in” better in their new homeland or sometimes to avoid discrimination. My great-grandfather, John Mekalski, couldn’t get a job for a time because Polish people were being discriminated against. Because he spoke fluent German, he changed his name to Wagner for a little while in order to find work. He was not alone in this. In some cases, the name may never have been changed back.

You may have also seen a place of origin on immigration records, like passenger lists. This may only reflect the port a person sailed from immediately before coming to this country, not taking into account that it was only a stopover on their journey. If the record you have lists Liverpool, Bremen, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Le Havre, or any of the other larger European emigration ports, it may be that your ancestor was not necessarily from there, but traveled to the port before sailing from it. Continue reading

The Doors in Your Brick Walls, by Juliana Smith

Alexander Graham Bell once said, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” When we run into those brick walls we often stumble upon in family history, sometimes we’re so busy staring at that one closed door that we overlook a bunch of open doors. Let’s take a look.

Unmarried Siblings
Married siblings with children represent the potential to connect with cousins, but sometimes the focus on our direct ancestor and siblings with causes us to overlook that spinster aunt or bachelor uncle. The fact is, we should be researching every sibling thoroughly because while the records of one child may not include the information you need, those of a sibling may include much more detail–details that can help us past that brick wall.

Died Young
Sometimes there were siblings that we don’t even know about. High infant and child mortality rates were a fact of life for our ancestors. The siblings of our ancestors who were born and died between censuses may hold the key to that closed door. Look for them in family cemetery plots and in vital records indexes. For mothers who were alive in 1900 and 1910, the U.S. federal census asked for the number of children born, and the 1910 census also asks how many were still alive that year. Mortality schedules will also list the children who died within a census year. Once you identify a child who died young, look for birth, and death records, as well as any church or other records that may have been created during their short lives. Continue reading

Build Your Skills: Interviewing Family

Interviews with family members can reveal information not found anywhere else, but the amount of information you obtain depends on both the subject and your approach. Here are some tips for getting the most from your interview:

  • Prepare questions ahead of time. If you go in with only “Tell me everything you know about our family history,” you’re likely to be met with a blank stare. Ask more pointed questions like, “What kinds of things remind you of your mother?” or “What kind of neighborhood did you grow up in?” “Were there other relatives living nearby when you were young?” “What did your father do for a living?” Questions that generate fond memories and personal stories are more likely to be productive and will make your subject feel at ease. 
  • Ask permission if you plan on audio- or video-taping the interview. If your subject feels uncomfortable with either, be prepared with a pen and paper to take notes. Then transcribe those notes as quickly as possible after the interview. Send a copy of the transcription to the interviewee to make sure you have all the facts correct and ask them to add any additional memories in writing. 
  • Let the interview subject talk. Start with a question and see where it leads. Sometimes one question will prompt memories on another topic that you hadn’t thought to include in your list. It also makes the interview more enjoyable for the interviewee. 
  • Bring things to the interview that will stimulate memories, such as a collection of photographs and records you’ve found in your searches. Ask what your interview subject knows about them. He or she may have memories of the day their father was naturalized, or you may find out at last who those people are in that previously unidentified photograph—and where and when it was taken. 
  • If you run out of time, ask if you can phone them later with questions. Or send them home with some written questions that they can answer and mail back. 
  • Be sensitive. If you come to a subject that seems to be causing discomfort for your relative, change to a new topic, otherwise your interview may come to an early end.

Click here for a list of more interview questions.