“My life not availeth me in comparison to the liberty of the truth”
When I was 11 years old and in the 4th grade, I had a teacher who was obsessed with genealogy. She would regularly come in and tell my class about the new things she had found through her research. Eventually, as a graded project, she had us go home and start our own family tree. She gave us some pointers on how to get started and gave us two weeks to see what we could find. I still wonder if she had any idea the monster she created when she gave me that assignment.
Being as young as I was, I couldn’t drive to town halls and the internet wasn’t around like it is today. So, most of my research was done through phone calls and visits with my grandparents. During those conversations and visits, I learned about my great grandfather who was born in Italy and another who was born in Nova Scotia. I also learned that I came from a line of strong willed women. One of which, who’s story was so interesting, caught the attention of this history loving nerd and is responsible for my obsession with genealogy.
Mary Dyer was one of several women my grandmother (my Dad’s mother) had told me about. At the time, all she could tell me was Mary was hanged for being a witch in Boston. She was unable to tell me how we were related to her, however she said that her mother used to have a family bible that outlined the connection. She also told me that the tree Mary had been hanged from had been cut down and from it; plaques were made and given to descendants. My great grandmother had one of these plaques. However, when my great grandmother died, the bible and the plaque were two of several things that disappeared from her house. Due to my own curiosity and wanting to solve the puzzle for my grandmother; it then became my goal to track down my family’s connection to Mary Dyer.
Mary Dyer came over to Boston in the 1630’s from England with her husband William. Together they had several children and were very active within the small community. Along the way she made friends with another strong willed woman, Anne Hutchinson. Anne Hutchinson was known for holding her own religious meetings and had a good following. Since it was uncommon for women at that time, Anne became a target and was eventually banished to Rhode Island with her family. During that time, Mary had become a Quaker. Quakers were very unpopular in Boston which was lead by Puritans. Some of the local leaders disliked Mary and her religion so much, when she gave birth to a stillborn baby they spread rumors about it being badly deformed. They said that it had horns and scales and that it was obviously the outcome of her dealings with the devil. These leaders labeled her as a witch and decided to banish her from the city.
Although she was banished she returned to Boston to bring clothing and food to other imprisoned Quakers. When she was caught, they were going to have her hanged until her husband was able to get her released under the condition he swore they would never return to the city. Mary stayed away for a short time before returning to Boston again to support her Quaker friends. This would be the 3rd and final stand she would take against the city for her religion.
Mary was hanged June 1, 1660 on the Boston Common in front of a whole mob of people. She was then buried in an unmarked grave somewhere on the Common. Mary’s son Samuel eventually married Anne Hutchinson’s granddaughter, Anne Hutchinson and this is the line I descend from. Today a statue of both Mary Dyer and Anne Hutchinson stand in front of the Boston State House over looking the site of Mary’s hanging.
Having not grown up in a church, I did not understand dying for a religion. However, I did understand the importance of standing up for what you believe in and the importance of knowing right from wrong. Her refusal to back down, while others may have seen it as stubborn or foolish due to the consequences at the time, helped shape the country we know and love today.
Movers and shakers who forged the way on Who Do You Think You Are?
On last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? award-winning actress Helen Hunt uncovered the stories in her dad’s family tree. She knew little about his family; her dad’s mother died when he was just five years old. But Helen’s goal to unlock the past and share it with her own daughter persevered. First stop – census records that directed her to California and ultimately the Gold Rush, where Helen’s great-grandfather staked his claim. But the gold he found was a little more green as he built the foundation of a financial institution that still stands today.
And the inspiration kept coming. Next Helen traveled across the country to Maine to learn more about a great-great-grandmother. Following her through historical records, Helen discovered this powerful woman paved the way for women’s suffrage – even casting a ballot herself.
Ancestry.com is a sponsor of Who Do You Think You Are? airing Fridays at 8/7c on NBC. Watch Helen’s episode online here.
Every family tree is full of inspiration, yours included, even if your own family’s story never made it into a history book. You can rest assured that the sacrifices they made and the struggles they endured helped forge a more welcoming path for each of us. And the best part? Now you get to follow their trail, uncover their journeys and come face to face with history all over again.
Helen Hunt Discovers Her Past on Who Do You Think You Are?
Discovering that her great-grandmother was a leader in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union doesn’t sit well at first with award-winning actress Helen Hunt – until she traces this powerful female’s surprising impact on history. From groundbreaking roots in California to a women’s rights mover-and-shaker in Maine, it’s a story full of surprises. Watch it unfold on Friday night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? at 8/7c on NBC, sponsored by Ancestry.com.
Win the Journey of a Lifetime in the 'Star of Your Family Story Contest'
Who Do You Think You Are? follows some of today’s most beloved celebrities as they embark on personal journeys of discovery as their families’ histories are revealed. We all know a celebrity’s story is interesting, but what about your story?
Ancestry.com allows you to unlock so many magical moments in your family journey, and we want to allow you the mystique celebrities get to enjoy. Ancestry.com is offering you a chance to have your family story discovered and then unveiled for the world to see. We are giving away an Ancestry.com produced video that reveals your own amazing journey of family discovery, and will feature it on Ancestry.com this summer.
How do you enter? It’s easy!
Just submit a video telling us your family’s story on our Facebook entry page here:
With a lead from an 1860 slave schedule, I found the name of my family’s slaveholder. Later, I located an article the slaveholder’s 2nd great-granddaughter had written about her family. Reluctantly, I contacted her and identified myself as the 2nd great-granddaughter of a slave owned by her 2nd great grandfather and I’m glad I did. I sent her results of extensive research I had done on my family. She later contacted me and told me that her brother had my 2nd great-grandfather’s tombstone. It had been displaced from a cemetery due to flooding. Someone found it and gave it to her brother, thinking he was a family member. After learning the stone was my 2nd great-grandfather’s, her brother gave it to me. The caption on the stone reads: “Gabe Embry, Born June 30, 1837, Died Feb 28, 1887.” Members of my family and theirs later held a short memorial service and placed the stone in a family cemetery next to his grandson. It was the return of a treasure.
It’s getting closer. Only 25 more days until the 1940 census is released. So I’m busily trying to update my family tree, adding every address I know of to the ancestors who were alive in 1940. I’m feeling quite organized actually. I created a report using Family Tree Maker that lists family members who were alive in 1940.
The report’s really pretty simple to create. Under the Publish tab in Family Tree Maker (I’m using 2012, but these steps should still work in the most recent versions), click on Person Reports in the left panel and then select the Index of Individuals Report.
On the right side of the page, click on the button that says Individuals to Include.
Then from the dialog box that pops up Filter in anyone born before 1 Apr 1940. Then Filter out anyone who died before 1 Apr 1940. This gives me a list of people who were alive on the census date.
You may need to tweak your list, if for example, you have family who was living outside the U.S. at that time, or for people that snuck in because maybe you don’t have a death date for them, but that’s simple enough too. Just select those individuals on the report side (right) and click on Exclude.
Once you’ve got your list created, click on the save icon in the upper right corner. (It’s the last icon under the green bar that says Index of Individual Report Options.) Then just name your report and you can print it out.
I’m using mine as a check list and am gathering addresses on the people I need to find. So I’m anxious to hear your ideas. How are you preparing for the big day?
Is there any way that you can help me find out who the parents were for George Elmer Thomas? He was born November 18, 1863 and died December 27, 1955. He was married to Emma Adams in Burlington, NJ at the Methodist church (no help there on his marriage return). He lived in Buddtown, Burlington and Vincentown, New Jersey and he died at the Cranbury Nursing home in Cranbury, New Jersey.
I wanted to look at old school records from Vincentown to see if his parents registered him for school (no luck). The only thing I have is the 1880 census of him working on the farm of a Job Clevenger. It seems as if his life began at 17.
— Rosemary Thomas
I searched for a George Elmer Thomas in the 1870 census and found an Elmer Thomas born in 1862 in New Jersey.
You’ll notice that he is living in the household of Thomas Bellanger, who is living with a Martha Bellanger, relationship unknown. Also living at the house are Sallie Thomas and Annie Gates. Sallie is a domestic servant, and Annie and Elmer are living at home.
A search of the 1860 census in Burlington County shows no other likely candidates who can be George.
It’s interesting that both Annie and Elmer are listed as “at home” and not as servants. Were Sallie, Annie and Elmer related to Thomas? Sallie could be Elmer’s mother, but she would have been 17 when she had him and probably around 16 when she got married (if she married).
I could not find marriage records that included a likely candidate for Sallie in the early 1860s, and I can’t find a Sallie Thomas in the 1860 Burlington, New Jersey census. And there are too many Sallie/Sally/Susan’s in the 1860 census of that age to pick one that might be her per-marriage.
I’d suggest next that you investigate the four people living in the household that George Elmer lived in. If you can find marriage records for Burlington County in the 1860s you could try to track down Sallie to see if she is in there.
You may also consider contacting the Burlington County Historical Society. They may have additional suggestions on where you could locate birth and marriage information for that period.
I’m also guessing that some of our readers who are more familiar with New Jersey genealogy records than I am will have some suggestions.
Over the years my family had tried to find a record of the birth of my grandparents’ first child, who was born in England in the very early 1900s. The family story was that my grandmother, Anna, left Russia first with the opportunity to travel to England with a choir “to sing for the queen.” She jumped ship and stayed in England, where their first child was born. Grandpa Abraham left later, joined her in England (briefly, it turns out) and then was the first of the family to come to the U.S. in 1905. Grandma and their first child joined him here later, in 1906.
We were never very sure of the exact details or even whether the story was correct. We had a birth date for the first child, but could never find the record. Recently a kind and wise soul found her for me, not only confirming her birth, but also narrowing the window of time in which her mother came to England. Here’s the secret that was used to find the record:
The person found her by searching on the child’s FIRST NAME ONLY, and the birth year. It turns out that the family’s last name had been misspelled, very clearly and legibly on the original record. The last name, correctly spelled, is Schecter/Shechter, but in the record the “T” had been replaced by an “L.”
One of the many advantages of having a tree online at Ancestry.com or on Family Tree Maker or one of our downloadable apps is that you can take advantage of our hints. While you are away we are out searching for you.
And now we have a new way for you to access those hints: the All Hints Page
If you are on a tree view online, mouse over the find a person in your tree text box and choose List of all people
Then when you see the all people in your tree, click on “Hints”
You will now see your All Hints Page.
You can then click on Recent to see the latest hints we’ve found, or click on Records to see just the Record hints. Photos, Stories and Member Trees do pretty much what you expect.
Let’s say you’ve clicked on Record. You can then sort by Last Name, or First Name, or you can enter a name and filter that way as well.
Explore a little and then check back as we continue to make improvements.
Marriage Records Video and Ancestry Day in Philadelphia, Pa.
Our ancestors got married and we get the gift. Marriage records can include details that can spur our research back in time, but even beyond the names and dates, our ancestors’ weddings marked a big turning point in their lives. I often wonder about their stories. How did they meet? What kind of wedding did they have? Who stood up in their wedding? I know the answers and have some great stories for some of my close ancestors, but for others, their big day remains a mystery—and I love a good mystery.
Ancestry Day in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 3 March 2012 In the video, I mentioned Ancestry Day in Philadelphia, where we’ll be teaming up with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania with a full day of workshops to help you jumpstart your family history. You can learn more and register for the conference here.
Marissa Tomei’s journey into the past on last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (Fridays 8/7c on NBC) centered on the untimely death of her great-grandfather. At the start, he was little more than a name in the family tree and the subject of speculation—of the shadiest type. But his reputation got a makeover once Tomei dug into his story.
That’s the wonderful part about going beyond a name on a family tree—digging into the story brings people to life. And adding off-the-beaten-path resources like newspapers, which helped Tomei get the real story of her great-grandfather’s murder and its aftermath, makes the truth that much more vivid.
My first research experience with newspapers was also one of the first real research trips I took with my mother. We went to the Chicago Public Library, where we spent hours scrolling through microfilms of old newspapers, looking for mentions of her client’s ancestors. Although I was supposed to be searching for an obituary, I kept calling my mother over to see my exciting discoveries. Unfortunately they were not about her client; they were just interesting articles from the era we were researching.
I’ve never lost that fascination with old newspapers and still enjoy trolling through the pages of dailies and weeklies from places where my ancestors lived—and pretty much anywhere else.
Historical newspapers offer a firsthand look into the times and places our ancestors inhabited. And that glimpse into bygone eras often provides insights that can’t be found elsewhere. You’ll find the Ancestry.com newspapers collection through the Search tab. Click on it and look for Stories & Publications on the right side. Then use these search tips to find your family in the news.
· Specify “Exact.” Restricting your search to “exact” can help narrow the results. For names, click the Use Default Settings links below the name fields and select the appropriate restrictions. For keywords, click the Exact box following the keyword field.
· To narrow your search to a particular time frame, enter a date in the year field under Publication Info. You can click the Exact Only box, but also allow a little wiggle room by entering +/- 1, 2, 5 or 10 years (e.g., a search for a publication date of 1850 with +/- 10 years will search newspapers for 1840–1860).
· If you want to search for a phrase, put it in quotes. This tells Ancestry.com to look for that exact phrase—for example, “California emigration”—rather than pages that mention California in one article and emigration from Sweden in another.
· Search beyond your ancestor’s stomping grounds. Like they do today, newspapers often picked up stories from places across the country. Try searching the entire collection for a place name (town or county) instead of a person.
Make some time to search or browse newspapers from the era of your ancestors. Bookmark your “favorites,” and when you find a few spare minutes, curl up with the laptop and take a quick trip through the past with some real pages of history. And be sure to add them to your family tree, in case you ever have the needs to unravel a family mystery, too. You’ll find information about doing just that at www.ancestry.com/wdytya. Ancestry.com is a sponsor of the Who Do You Think You Are?.
Don't miss Marisa Tomei on tonight's "Who Do You Think You Are?"
On this week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? award-winning actress Marisa Tomei searches for the truth behind her great-grandfather’s rumored murder. Learn what she uncovers and how getting a look at the big picture changes an entire generation’s view of one hardworking man in the family tree. Ancestry.com is a sponsor of Who Do You Think You Are?, which airs Friday nights at 8/7c on NBC. And join Ancestry.com throughout the season at www.ancestry.com/wdytya for advice, tips and more to help discover more about your own family’s history.
The year 1865 found many African American Civil War veterans and ex-slaves with a little money in their pockets and there was a need for an institution where they could start a savings account. 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, Ancestry.com 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. Here’s a sample record from Louisiana, 1867 (image 3).
Ask Ancestry Anne: Was my ancestor in Andersonville Prison?
Question: My great grandfather served in the Civil War and was a prisoner at Andersonville. However, I am unable to find him when I search the archives using his name and Andersonville. His name was John Aziza Jones born April 22, 1840 died May 10, 1941. Can you help?
Answer: First, I looked for John in the 1930 census – it’s the most recent one available and it lists if a man is a veteran and of which war. I found John living with his son Clifford in Filmore, Allegany County, New York. You don’t see many Civil War Veterans still alive in 1930, so this in itself is a very interesting find.
This same census record shows that John is widowed and was first married at the age of 22, so around 1862. It also indicates he was born in New York as were his parents and that he lives with his son, who rents a house for $15 per month, owns a radio set and works as a bookkeeper in a produce company. Any of this detail could come in handy later.
But since it’s John’s time in Andersonville that I’m interested in, I go to the New York state place page to see what is available in the New York Military records.
I first search U.S., Union Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865 and discover way too many John Jones to make any sense of. I move on to New York, Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, 1861-1900. The first record is for John A. Jones born in 1840 in Allegany, New York. It all looks very promising.
Based on the middle name, I believe this is the right John Jones. And the remarks on this card are great:
Promoted to Srg’t Jan 17 1863 – missing in action since April 20, 1864 at battle of Plymouth N. C. paroled prisoner confined at Andersonville GA
I would suspect that he was captured in April 1864 in Plymouth, North Carolina, and released sometime before 13 June 1865 when he left the organization. And it appears that he was in Andersonville near the end of the war.
I found his pension card, in our Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861 – 1934.
We wanted to know who had been putting flowers on my husband’s granduncle’s grave. We first tried to contact the person by putting a note on some silk flowers and leaving it at the gravesite, but we received no response. On Memorial Day we decided we would wait at the grave to see if the person would arrive. Then we discovered we were too late – she had already been there and gone.
We made some inquiries at the nursing home in town, asking the head nurse if there was anyone who was living there who had lived in the town around the time of the granduncle’s death. Sure enough, we were led to a woman who remembered the family. Her daughter, in fact, was a friend of the daughter of the deceased.
We went directly to the town where the deceased man’s daughter lived, some 40-50 miles from the cemetery, and found her. It turned out that she was the one who had been putting flowers on the grave every year.
For several years after that, we would go to visit the daughter, pick her up and take her to the cemetery. My husband planted the flowers for her and we did the same for a great-grandfather’s grave, which was also in that same cemetery.
What delightful memories we have of those trips. And it’s thrilling to think that a tip from a nursing home led us to a relative we never knew existed before.
Twists of fate in the family tree on Who Do You Think You Are?
When you start down a road in your family’s history, you never know whose paths may have crossed in the past. Actor Martin Sheen found that out on the first episode of this season of Who Do You Think You Are?. In a mind-bending twist of fate, he learned that a great-great-great-great-grandfather on his grandmother’s side and a great-great-great-great-grandmother on his grandfather’s side had a surprising and unpleasant association 150 years before his grandparents married and connected these two branches into one family. (BTW, you can catch the episode online at www.nbc.com.)
As interesting as it was, if you think about it, it’s shouldn’t be too surprising that branches of your family tree occasionally cross before they connect. In my own files, I have a newspaper clipping about the wedding of a Brooklyn, New York, politician’s daughter. The clipping not only describes the wedding in great detail but also lists all of the guests—and this was no small affair. The guest list was rife with politicians, including ex-president Grover Cleveland and his wife, the governor, a senator, and several congressmen. The father of the bride was no slouch either; he was well-known in political circles as the “Boss” of Brooklyn.
Two of my relatives were also there, and some thirty years later, their grandchildren would marry. While it’s no bombshell like the one dropped on Martin Sheen, it’s a good reminder that your ancestors were part of a community in which their lives intertwined. My two relatives at that wedding were both on the police force, one the ex-commissioner, and the other a patrolman who had worked his way up to become a captain. So they may easily have known each other through their work and shared some mutual friends.
Learning about the people your ancestor interacted with can really bring your family history to life. Start a list of your ancestor’s associates—people whose names appear as sponsors, in-laws, witnesses, business partners, members of a religious community, or even just neighbors. Then hop on Ancestry.com and see what you can turn up on them. Check census records, directories, and historical newspapers for mentions.
As you learn more about them, you’ll get to know your ancestor’s community. If that’s not enough inspiration, keep in mind that immigrants and families often traveled and settled with people they knew. Tracing the origins of your ancestor’s friends and neighbors may lead you to your own ancestor’s roots.
And of course, don’t overlook a direct ancestor’s siblings. Martin Sheen uncovered two compelling stories about two different uncles who shared some of the same political passion. You never know what stories are waiting just off your direct line.
So, now you’ve heard my story. What’s yours? Have you found a connection in your family tree that had you raising an eyebrow or shouting for someone to come take a look at this? Or maybe an inspiring story about your ancestor’s sibling? Please share it in the comments, or email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sometimes you find a historical record that just leaves you speechless. Ed Cardinal shared a link with me this week that took me to one such record. It’s posted on a website called Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience. The document is a letter written by a former slave to his master in response to a request from said master to return to work for him. As we mark the start of Black History Month, this find is particularly timely and I’m going to let it speak for itself. You really want to read this entire letter. And thanks to Ed for sharing it with us! Click here to read “To My Old Master” on Letters of Note.
I finally decided to get busy and put some family pictures into my tree on Ancestry.com. I found a box shoved way back on a shelf that was labeled as pictures from my mother’s side. It turned out to be a treasure trove, because my mother and her mother had taken the time to write on each and every one of them who was who. I was finally able to piece together how certain people we had visited when I was a little girl, were related to me. In addition, I found a link to a side of the family that has been hard to fill in. I found one photo of a young man, obviously it was his high school graduation picture. On the back side was written the information that filled in many of the blanks regarding this side of the family, describing who he was, and who his grandmother was. Doing the arithmetic showed that this young man had to have been born in 1912 in Cleveland, so I searched the census records and sure enough, there he was along with many of the people I had been searching for. I had no idea we had ancestors from Cleveland. My grandmother is long deceased, and my mother is not doing well. So I am very grateful for the time they took to write information on those photos, and for the resources available from Ancestry.com that allowed me to update that side of my family tree.
Although I have used Ancestry.com for my family research, my most recent usage has been in conjunction with a local history research project. In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia from 1850-1858 nearly 2000 Irish immigrants workers and families labored to complete the Blue Ridge Railroad over the mountains. A small local group has been working for several years to document these Irish immigrants and tell their stories. Ancestry.com has proved to be invaluable in the search. We find the Irish in the 1850 census in Albemarle County, Va., but by 1860 they have almost all disappeared. By following the railroad and the census, we have found that many moved with the railroad work. Most of our stories stop there. The research group, Clann Mhor, is very interested in hearing from any family members who might have had Irish relatives who worked on the Blue Ridge Railroad or the Virginia Central Railroad from 1850-1858. For more information on our research and to contact us, please go to www.clannmhor.org.
Ancestry.com has spent the past fifteen years developing search technology that can help you find your ancestors in its vast collections. Here are five tips that will help you make the most of that technology.
1. Start with Three When you’re searching on Ancestry.com, there are two search form options—basic and advanced. You can toggle between the two by clicking Show Advanced and Hide Advanced in the upper right corner of the search box. (Don’t be afraid of Advanced even if you’re new to family history; it just means more options and that’s a good thing.) You’ll notice on the basic search form, the top fields are bolded—the fields for names, a place your ancestor lived, and an estimated birth year. We’ve found that these three pieces of information typically bring the most success when you’re getting started on a search. Regardless of what form you use, start with those three pieces of information. If you find you’re getting too many hits with those three things, add a piece of information to help whittle it down—for example, a birthplace. When you’re choosing what details to add, think about what details you know about your ancestor that are most likely to show up in records (and be indexed). Rotate various pieces of information in and out until you hit on a good combination.
2. Create a Profile Once you’ve located a record (or records!) for your ancestor, print it out and start gathering clues. The details you find in each record, can help you to formulate new searches, and will also help you to identify him or her in other records. Use a word processor or a pad of paper to create a profile that includes pieces of information like the following:
Names of family members (parents, siblings, spouse, and children)
Birth date and place (even an estimated date can help)
Parents’ birthplaces (listed in census records 1880-1930
Immigration date (check the 1900-1930 censuses for this detail)
Known residences (look at the headings of censuses, and beginning in 1880, look for street addresses)
Related surnames (e.g., in-laws, neighbors, business associates, sponsors and witnesses at religious events, etc.)
Death date and place
Don’t worry if you don’t have all of them right away. In short, any little detail, you can find about your ancestor can be added to his or her profile. As you gather more details and target your searches based on what you learn, you’ll see that profile growing, and you’ll have a much better understanding of that person and that part of your family story.
3. Use Name Filters Names can be a stumbling point, but the search technology used by Ancestry.com can help. Because we know our ancestor’s names aren’t always spelled the way we expect them to be in records, Ancestry.com employs search technology to not only search for exact matches, but also similar names. You can adjust those settings when you use the Advanced search form by clicking on the link below the name fields that says, Use default settings. The default setting is to include several variant possibilities, but you can manually adjust them to shake up the results you’re seeing.
4. Wildcards If you know your ancestor’s name was spelled in several different ways, you might want to try wildcards to help cover all the variants. Here are the rules for wildcards on Ancestry.com
An asterisk (*) matches zero or more characters.
A question mark (?) matches one character (but there has to be one character there).
The first OR last letter of the name can be a wildcard, but not both.
Names must contain at least three non-wildcard characters.
So, for example, John* would pick up John, Johns, or Johnson. Sm?th would return results for Smith or Smyth. Ann? would find Anne or Anna, but not Ann. Make a list of all the variants you know of for your ancestor’s name and create a list of wildcard solutions that will cover those variants.
5. Get Closer When you’re searching from the main search form on the home page or through the form on the Search tab, you’re searching through 8 billion records in more than 30,000 collections. There are census records, vital records (birth, marriage and deaths), immigration records, military collections, and so much more. Because these records come in so many different shapes and sizes, sometimes it’s helpful to get closer to the collections you think your ancestor may be found in and search it directly.
Look at the profile you created for your ancestor and look at what details you’re missing. Think about what types of records might include that information. Then check and see what resources Ancestry.com has that might help. A great way to canvass the collections available for the location your ancestor lived is through our Place Pages. To access a Place Page, click on the Search tab and scroll down to the map in the lower left corner of the page. Select a state from the map (or some other area of the world from the tabs above the map), and you’ll be taken to a page that summarized the collections that are available for that place.
Another great place to locate collections of interest is the Card Catalog. Similar to a card catalog you’d find in a library, you will be searching for collections rather than people. You can search the catalog by title or keyword. Searching by title will only search for your term(s) in the title of the database, whereas searching by keyword will also search for your term(s) in the extended description of that database, so a that search would typically bring back more results.
Another way to explore the Card Catalog is to use the filters below the search field. You can apply filters for a geographic location, and then perhaps narrow your search by selecting a particular collection (e.g., Immigration and Emigration; Birth, Marriages & Deaths; Stories, Memories & Histories; etc.). Date filters let you specify a particular decade or century so you’re not looking for your twentieth century ancestor in colonial records.
Have Fun! There are many ways to approach a search for your ancestor. Experiment and have fun with it. You never know what you’ll find until you start searching.
A number of years ago, I was working on my husband’s family, made more difficult by the fact that his grandfather had been married three times, and had children with each wife. My husband’s father’s oldest half-brother had been born in 1888 in Illinois but moved to Valentine, Nebraska, where he died in 1937. The family had long ago lost contact with him or his family.
I had no idea whether he had any living descendants or not, so I found the address for the Valentine newspaper online, and sent a letter to the editor. I explained that I was trying to find relatives of this person, who had once owned an auto dealership there. The very afternoon that the paper came out, I had a phone call from a great-granddaughter of the person I was researching. She told me of all the relatives, and from then on I had constant contact with them. I still maintain contact with one of them.
In addition to that, a couple of weeks after my letter appeared in the Valentine paper, I had a letter from a man living in Amarillo, Texas. He still took his hometown paper, and had seen my letter. He had grown up in Valentine, and told me of going to the auto dealership with his father, as a small boy, and things he remembered about this long lost relative.
So sometimes something as simple as a letter to the editor can bring about dramatic results.
My Mom always got excited every time I found a new relative or ancestor, so I decided to display the family tree at her funeral wake last summer, soon after she turned 90. The night before the wake I printed an all-in-one tree, which was at least 12 feet long. It took a few hours to tape 50+ the pages together so it was logical and readable. It was displayed on two long tables at the funeral home, and soon I noticed relatives looking for their names. I always try to include at least two or three generations of spouses and in-laws, and it was fun to see them find their names too. I even included a boyfriend and a girlfriend of two of our kids, and will connect them to the tree at two weddings this year.
Relatives started writing on the tree, adding more information about spouses, and making spelling and other corrections. The wife of one cousin made a BIG correction. She told me the story of how her dad found out in his 60s or 70s that the man he thought was his father, and who died before he was born, was not his biological father. When he applied for a passport they couldn’t find his birth certificate. His older siblings finally gave him the name of his birth father, who had never married his mother. The birth father’s name was on the certificate, along with her Dad’s real surname. Her dad was so angry that he broke all contact with his half-siblings. No this cousin’s wife is trying to make contact with her first cousins not seen for years.
I’m hoping our kids will agree to let me display the tree at their weddings this year.
This past holiday weekend, I went to Charleston, South Carolina to visit with some family. Charleston is an amazing city, almost a living museum. The preservation laws do not allow for buildings to be torn down, so the city has a lot of history everywhere you turn.
I took a tour and my guide was a very charming native of South Carolina, named Randy Lee Hill. He was quite knowledgeable and entertaining; one of our stops was St. Philips Episcopal church. The church was first built in 1680, and is the burial site of Charles Pinckney, who was one of the signers of the Constitution and Edward Rutledge, who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Also buried there, in the West Church yard across the street from the church, is John C Calhoun, a much revered statesman of South Carolina. During the Civil War his body was moved to the East Church Yard near the chapel because it was feared that Federal troops might desecrate it. Federal troops never did, and John C. Calhoun was returned to the West Church yard sometime later.
But why was he originally buried in the West Church yard and not church side? Because he was not a native born Charlestonian. Only native born Charlestonians were buried church side. Not even John C Calhoun who was much admired by South Carolinians was buried there.
So what does that mean from a genealogy point of view? If you know which side of the cemetery your ancestor was buried, you’d know if they were born in Charleston. Which of course, is valuable information. Knowing your history is not only interesting, it can answer a few genealogical questions at the same time!
Ask Ancestry Anne: A few genealogy resolutions for 2012
OK, it’s the middle of January, and I’ve pretty much blown all of my personal New Year’s resolutions. It never takes long with me!
So I’ll make some new ones for my genealogy research and see if I can be more successful there. And I shall be most interested to hear what your genealogy resolutions are as well.
Resolution #1: Try new ways of searching. It is so easy to get into a rut. Maybe you always start your searches from trees. Or from data collection pages. But if you do the same thing all the time, you might be missing something. When you are searching for something on a specific ancestor, you might want to start from:
Search Records from a tree page; this gathers everything you know about the person and searches with that information
Search from the home page or search page; try a minimal search with just names, birth year and birth location
Try searching with all of the exact filters set
Experiment with name filters and find which ones you feel most comfortable starting with
Start on Group page such as census or military. You will find them under the drop down for Search
Start on a data collection page and do a surname search.
Check the Card Catalog, set the sort order to Date Updated or Date Added and see what might be new and interesting
Make sure you check the place pages for the state you are researching (see the map at the bottom of the search page) and see what Ancestry.com has available.
Do a google search. Type first name, surname, state and the word genealogy into the search box and see what happens. Maybe nothing, but what if you do find something?
Start with Ancestry.com, we do have the largest collection of genealogy records and trees, but there are other sites. Make sure you exhaust every possibility.
Resolution #2: Aggressively pursue new theories and hunches. When I am not sure something is right, say someone’s parents, I have started creating a new tree, set it to private, and start testing my theory. Can I find records and possibly other trees to support my idea? And if it works, I sync the tree down to Family Tree Maker 2012 and then merge into my main tree. That way I don’t enter suspect information into my main tree until I feel good about.
Resolution #3: Communicate more. If you don’t ask, you won’t know. Places to look for those distant cousins:
Your message box on Ancestry.com. Somebody may already be trying to talk to you.
Look for other people who have your family lines in their trees and send them a message. Maybe if you pool your information you will find the right answer.
Add updates and corrections to transcriptions on records. Maybe somebody will see that you know something and reach out to you. And if someone has already done it, send them a note.
Check the message boards, both for locality and surname. And if you don’t find anything, post what you are looking for. Make sure you include everything you know.
Search for web pages about counties and surnames that you are researching and see if there is a comments section, or send an email to the owner of the site.
Resolution #4: Educate yourself. There are a lot of resources available on our site as well as other places that will help you know more about how to find your ancestors. There are many conferences and genealogical societies that can also help you learn more.
Check out Ancestry.com’s learning center and see if there is anything about what you are currently researching.
Check out Ancestry.com’s wiki and learn about the state and counties you are researching.
Watch a facebook presentation from Ancestry.com (subscribe to our facebook page) or check them out on our livestream page. Fifteen minutes spent with an expert may give you new ideas on how to research your Native American ancestor’s or get more out of the 1840 census.
Attend a conference. Rootstech (Salt Lake City), NGS (Cincinatti), FGS (Birmingham) and SoCal (Burbank) are the biggies, but there lots of smaller ones that might be closer. Hearing someone talk about a subject, might give you a new idea on what to try. And we will be livestreaming classes from the major conferences, so you don’t even have to leave home.
Read a book. You might be amazed at how many genealogy books your local library has or google books. And they don’t cost anything.
Read blogs. Lots of people write out this hobby of ours. Geneabloggers is a good resource to jfind blogs.
Looking over my list, I think I might do a better job of keeping this resolutions. J
Let me know what your resolutions are, I’m always looking for new ways to get better at this.
The year was 1871 and as the year opened in Europe, the city of Paris was under siege and defeat was approaching for the French in the Franco-Prussian War. The siege ended January 28, ten days after the formation of the German Empire, with the King of Prussia becoming the first German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm I. The German government later that year became embroiled in a conflict with the Roman Catholic Church in what was known as Kulturkampf.
In the United States, U.S. Grant was President, and was in fact re-elected in November. In April, he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1871, also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act. Formed in 1866, in the wake of the Civil War, the Klan had been terrorizing African Americans, carpetbaggers (Northerners who went south during Reconstruction, typically for personal gain), and scalawags (Southerners who supported Reconstruction efforts). The legislation did not expand on civil rights, but rather allowed the government more power to act against these types of terrorist organizations (More information on this and other “Enforcement Acts” can be found at PBS.org.)
In New York City, the reign of William Marcy Tweed was ending as the "Boss" of New York’s Tammany Hall political machine. As Commissioner of Public Works for the city, he and his cronies fleeced the city and controlled city contracts. Exposed by the newspapers, and targeted by Thomas Nast, Tweed was arrested in New York on October 27.
Following a Midwest summer drought and a September in which less than an inch of rain fell, dry southwest winds blew into Chicago with temperatures for the first week in October ranging for the most part in the 70s and 80s. These dry conditions made the city of Chicago, a city built largely of wood, ripe for disaster. The first week had already seen many serious fires, and on Sunday, October 8, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 began in the barn behind Patrick O’Leary’s home at 137 (now 558 West) De Koven Street. The fire burned an area four and three-quarter miles long and around a mile wide, including the city’s central business district and nearly 100,000 people were left homeless.
The Chicago fire was actually one of four fires that were sparked that night near Lake Michigan. Fires in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, and Holland and Manistee, Michigan also flared and spread quickly due to high winds. It is estimated that the Peshtigo fire killed as many as 2,500 people ranking it as the deadliest fire in U.S. history.
Ask Ancestry Anne: Is my great grandfather a Native American?
Question: I was told that my great grandfather was part native american. I don’t know what my great grand father’s name is or if this is true. He lived in Palestine, Tx.
Answer: Start with what you know, and work your way back. Is this your maternal or paternal great grandfather? Start researching his child and try and find who the man was. Gather every bit of information you can on your grandparent and his/her brothers and sisters. You never know which one may have a document that will lead you to the answer.
Also, Crista Cowan, aka The Barefoot Genealogist, has done a great facebook talk on researching your Native American history. Once you know your great grandfather’s name and a few more details, she has some great pointers for you to follow.
Ask Ancestry Anne: What do I do with conflicting dates?
Question: I’d like any advice you can give on criteria to consider which source citation to accept when several offer conflicting facts. It’s a general question, but my specific example is my gr-gr grandfather John Thomas. Here is what I have to select from as his birth year. None of these sources state a specific date, all are calculated from another event (e.g., death or census date).
County death record: 1828
1870 and 1875 census: 1815
1880 census: 1824
1885 census: 1821
1895 census: 1823
After using 1815 for years, I have recently changed and set the gravestone date as the preferred date and labeling the rest as alternate dates, but I’m starting to question that.
Any advice is appreciated.
Answer: To start with you may never know. His birth date seems to be all over the place in these documents. In some he and his wife Honora are the same age, sometimes John is older and sometimes John is older.
With a census, you never know who reported the information. It could be a neighbor, or a child who just was guessing or it may be the person in question. But maybe it was to their advantage to be older or younger at the time due to a pension or some other reason.
I saw the entry in the Drouin records but, there is no age listed. So no help that I could figure out there.
The tombstone implies 1820. The last Minnesota census, implies that he was born in 1823 and that he was 72 in 1895. On his tombstone it says he was 76 in 1896. I suspect two different people gave that information.
Other places to look:
Immigration records. He appears he immigrated from Ireland to Canada to the US. Maybe you can find something there.
Actual marriage record. Maybe his age is listed there.
Look carefully at his children’s ages. Do they vary from census to census? Is there one that looks like somebody got the ages right? Maybe that is his correct age.
Because of the wide variation, I’m not sure you are ever going to feel 100% confident unless you can find a birth record, which may be a challenge in Ireland.
I don’t think it is a bad thing to go with the tombstone as your default. You would assume that whoever had that inscribed wanted it to be correct.
A distant cousin connected with me because of a query I posted on a message board. He had several pictures that he emailed to me, one of which was of my great-grandmother’s wedding picture with her second husband. He has the original pictures and he scanned them with the original cardboard frame.
I am so grateful that he did not crop out the frame, because on the corner of the frame in faded lettering was the name and the city of the studio where the picture was taken. I called him to thank him for the pictures and I asked him where the marriage took place. He did not know but thought it was probably in Wisconsin or Minnesota because they were both from Minnesota and they had ties to Wisconsin. I had always thought the same thing.
As we were talking I looked closer at the scanned picture and saw the studio information which listed its location as Spokane. We talked about that clue and as I was talking I went to the Washington State Digital Archives website and it took me less than three minutes to find the image of the marriage record. Neither of us had thought to look in Washington State. The marriage record listed the bride under her previously married name and it listed the parents of both the bride and groom, the place of birth of the bride and groom and each of the parents. It also gave the middle names of both the bride and groom. (I had not known her middle name before.) Given the location for the wedding, I was able to use Google Maps to see a picture of the Lutheran Church where they married and the parsonage where the minister lived.
Moral of the story, don’t crop out the clues in your pictures or on their frames.