We can use DNA as another source in our genealogical research toolbox to help discover family connections and break down brick walls. DNA evidence and traditional documentation, like vitals and census records, should be used to help prove relationships between two people. Many DNA tools exist on different platforms that can help us find significant matches which can reveal common ancestors between two people.
I wrote about Margaret (Mulligan) Kelleher and her infant son John Cornelius Kelleher a few months ago in a previous Vita Brevis post. While I thought the trail had gone cold, I wanted to try looking one more time at the Tewksbury Almshouse records. As you may recall from my previous blog post, according to records, Margaret and John were sent to the Tewksbury Almshouse after being given a meal at Boston’s Temporary Home for Women and Children.
I had previously searched for “Kelleher, Margaret” and “Kelleher, John” with no results returned, but I realized that might not be the end of the road. As genealogists, we get used to performing searches on larger genealogy sites which use Soundex —a system which indexes names by sound, and can therefore return search results which include similar-sounding names. However, many smaller and nonprofit archives don’t have this feature, meaning that researchers must manually search for different possible variations of a name. I decided to try a few different versions, and finally came across a John C. Kellaher, recorded with his mother Margaret! Continue reading Stories of People in Poverty: The Trail Continues→
This past May, I taught a class on 18th century Pennsylvania and highlighted some documents I had discovered for my Pennsylvania ancestors. As I prepared for the class, I reflected on one of the biggest brick walls I had encountered in my own family research, and thought about what advice I’d give to someone researching their own colonial ancestors. After looking back at my own challenges and triumphs, I came up with three recommendations: don’t trust family lore or uncited published genealogies, consider various spellings of the surname, and visit the local historical society.
For years and years, I tried to breakdown a brick wall that seemed to plague every descendant of my 6th great-grandfather William Ashton of Bristol, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. A quote from one of the many compilations by his descendants had this to say about William and his ancestry:
“The first Ashton, in this country, of our family was neither banished for crime nor traded for tobacco, but belonged to one of the oldest titled families of England. He was, as I understand, disowned because he espoused the Quaker faith. This Ashton family were related to the Hutchinson’s of England, one of whom, Thomas Hutchinson, was colonial governor of Massachusetts.”
Recently, the Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History, part of the Polish Academy of Sciences, unveiled a new interactive map feature on their website: Mapy z Przeszłością (Maps of the Past). The online tool superimposes historical maps over a modern map of Central and Eastern Europe, allowing researchers to visualize and compare shifting borders and place names over time. The turbulent nature of Poland’s history, with its boundaries expanding, contracting, and disappearing over several centuries, is reflected in the geographic range of the maps available as overlays. The new map tool is useful for users with ancestry from modern Poland, Germany, Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania, or the historical territories of the German, Russian and Austrian Empires.
In Central and Eastern European genealogy, you will encounter placenames that changed depending on who controlled an area and when. This complicates research as we sort out and weigh the accuracy of the various placenames that are found in American sources. For example, researching a Lithuanian immigrant ancestor, you may find that their town of origin is reported in its Polish form in American sources, reflecting the official name from the early nineteenth century. The same town or village may be recorded in another record with an approximation of its Russian name, from when Lithuania was part of the Russian Empire. The town name may also appear in its Lithuanian form, which became official in the twentieth century. Researchers with Jewish ancestry may also find a distinct Yiddish form of their ancestral town or village recorded in American sources. Continue reading A New Tool for Interpreting Central and Eastern European Maps→
On November 2, 2022, my husband and I welcomed our first child: a son, named Jack William for his great-grandfathers. Several weeks after Jack’s birth, I requested a copy of his birth certificate from the town offices, an errand which immediately reminded me of submitting vital records requests for genealogical research. Obtaining my son’s birth record was far simpler—I only had to wait a few minutes—and I left the town offices that same day with the record in hand. I looked down at the certificate, with all the fields neatly filled out, and realized genealogical researchers are perhaps the only people who wouldn’t take this record for granted.
Vital records are often the first and best places to check when seeking information about our ancestors. But what is a researcher to do when a vital record simply doesn’t exist, or provides minimal information? In a previous blog post, I discussed the usefulness of family Bibles as vital records substitutes. There are numerous other record types that link parents and their children, with baptismal records and wills being the next best options. Other records that can identify the names of an ancestor’s children include the following types: Continue reading Linking Parents and Children—Without the Help of Vital Records→
For many years, I have advocated backing up one’s work using an external hard drive. In fact, I have been using a portable external hard drive for years, purchasing a new one only when I needed more space—I have many of images of documents stored, relating both to my own genealogy and to other historical subjects in which I am interested. For instance, my records on immigration and naturalization alone consist of 13,728 items (images, PDFs, Word and Excel files) that total 36.5 GB (gigabytes).
With so many resources available in a digital format, I no longer print out documents when I find them on my own family, saving them instead to an external drive containing 232 folders (one for each couple on my multi-generational chart, named for the husband). I have also been taking my hard copies from 30 years of research and digitizing them with my digital camera. Of course, I still save original items in paper form as well, such as wedding announcements, diaries, and personal letters.
Before recently, I believed that using an external hard drive was all I needed to protect me from data loss. I have always maintained that it is not a question of IF your computer will eat your data, but WHEN. But recently, I had the nightmare of all nightmares when I experienced an unexpected issue—something that had never happened to me before with an external hard drive. Continue reading My Technological Nightmare→
Did you know that, at least as of 2021, there were more than 16,000 genealogy-based groups on Facebook?1 Say what you will about the platform in general, using targeted genealogy groups can be a boon to research. I have been taking advantage of them—specifically, groups based on geographic locations—for more than ten years, beginning when I discovered a Finnish Genealogy group when I was planning an ancestral trip to Finland. In fact, I would say that if you don’t have a Facebook account already, it’s worth joining simply to take advantage of this resource in your research. A recent experience has taught me this lesson once again.
Locational genealogy groups are populated with family historians, the kind we rub shoulders with at genealogy events and at NEHGS and other repositories, the kind we correspond with via Ancestry and other genealogy websites. In other words, they’re populated with people who are eager to help and love to search. In the Finnish group, I connected with people who had visited my ancestral town already, and could offer hints on what to do when there. I was also able to connect with a genealogist in the town, who offered to serve as guide and translator, and with cousins I’d never met, both American and Finnish. Making those connections made my two tripsto Finland extremely memorable. I met several of the cousins there and in Stockholm, and one has since visited me in Massachusetts.
Take for example the family of EDWARD JACKSON (EF),1 on whose ENEF sketch I am currently working. Edward was a post- Great Migration Begins immigrant, arriving in New England in 1642 or 1643 with his first wife, Frances (married in England in 1631) and their four surviving children. Then in 1649, Edward married Elizabeth (Newgate) Oliver, widow of JOHN OLIVER (EF), whom she had married about 1637, and daughter of Great Migration immigrant JOHN NEWGATE (GM 1633). Elizabeth’s sister, Sarah Newgate, married John Oliver’s brother, PETER OLIVER (EF). Edward Jackson had children by both of his wives, and Elizabeth had children by both of her husbands. Continue reading Genealogical Clusters→
For a country which gained its independence from the United Kingdom just 155 years ago, Canada has gone through a significant number of changes to its internal structure and boundaries. The relatively frequent shifting of jurisdictions among the oft-renamed areas has proven to be troublesome to genealogical researchers.
Before delving into the history of Canadian political geography, it is important to be aware of a few notable terms and concepts. First, is the difference between a Territory and a Province. A Province receives its power and authority from the Constitution Act of 1867, whereas Territories have powers delegated to them by Parliament. 1 Presently, Canada is composed of ten provinces and three territories, a count which changed most recently in 1999 with the creation of the Territory of Nunavut. Additionally, parts of modern-day Canada were once considered distinct Colonies of the United Kingdom, including the colonies of British Columbia (1858-1866), Prince Edward Island (1604-1873), and Newfoundland (1610-1907). Continue reading Why Was Lower Canada Above Upper Canada?→
In a recent post I examined the curious case of young “lodger” George Stepper, who was enumerated in the 1920 census in the home of Joshua and Mary (Craven) Harron in Revere, Massachusetts. As I eventually discovered, he was their nephew, and lived with them for more than twenty years after his young widowed mother died. Further research into the Harron, Stepper, and Craven families revealed that each of these families suffered a rash of premature deaths and other adversities.
Following George Stepper’s descendants exposed another misidentified “boarder” in the 1920 census, as well as many other inaccuracies in official records. Moreover, like the Harrons and Cravens, George’s descendants experienced their own family problems, including out-of-wedlock births, infidelity, divorces, stillborn children, and early deaths.
As related in Part I, George married Miriam Frances Kelley in 1941. Miriam was born in Lynn on 10 November 1912 to Frederick Clifford Kelley(1893-1937) – who appears in various records as Frederick C., F. Clifford, or Fred – and Irene Nora Girard (1894-1968). Their marriage record shows that Fred was 21 and Irene 18 when they wed on 1 August 1912 in Hartford, Connecticut, just two months before Miriam was born; actually, it was Fred’s 19th birthday. Fred’s parents were Frederick A. W. Kelley (1866-1948) and Annie Laura Handren (1859-1954). Annie, born in St. Martins, New Brunswick, Canada, was one of eleven children, three of whom did not survive childhood. Continue reading Lodgers or Relatives? (Part II)→