Feb 12, 2021
February 2021 Blog Post
I have been away from my blog for a while due to homeschooling my two kids, work commitments, etc. Finally, I am back!
I have started a weekly genealogy tip on my twitter @dawnharvey.com. Tip #1 is about using the Latin variants of first names in an effort to find your Irish Catholic ancestors in birth, marriage and death records. Some of the Latin variants are too different for search engines to recognize. For example, my third great grandfather was William Walshe. I was having trouble finding him in the New York Catholic Parish records then I decided to search for the Latin variant which was “Gulielmus”. As soon as I listed “Guilelmus Walshe” in the search field his records appeared. Here is another example: My husband’s third great grandfather was Dennis King. I couldn’t locate Dennis’ Philadelphia Catholic Parish Marriage record until I searched for “Dionysius King”. Sure enough, I found his 1847 church marriage record to Mary Sweeney.
A twitter follower noted that sometimes priests would make up a Latin variant if none existed – and this is true! Here is a hint: if you cannot find the Latin variant to a name then simply search using the first letter of the first name.
What brick walls have you encountered in your search for ancestors? Let me know what questions you would like to have answered at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Apr 26, 2020
April Blog Post
Using Ancestry ThruLines
In this blog post, I will discuss Ancestry ThruLines, a relatively new service from Ancestry.com that compares your DNA to the DNA of your shared matches and provides a diagram of both known and potential ancestors. Information from your family tree and the family trees of other DNA matches and other users are also used in the algorithm. ThruLines can be a great tool in your research, but only if used correctly. I will explain the situations where ThruLines can be very helpful and I will also discuss when users should use caution before adding suggested ancestors to their family tree.
Ancestry ThruLines is available to Ancestry.com users who have had their DNA tested with the company. Users also need to have a populated family tree on Ancestry.com, meaning if you only have yourself listed in your family tree then this service will not be available to you. First and foremost, always do additional research beyond what Ancestry ThruLines tells you, even if you think the information being provided is fairly plausible.
Here are three ways that Ancestry ThruLines can help you with your research:
1). Confirming Suspected Records for Ancestors:
William Morris Orem was my third great grandfather and was born sometime around 1800 in the area known as “Eastern Shore, Maryland”. There was a christening record for a William Morris Orem born on October 15, 1802 in Dorchester, Maryland with parents named James and Henrietta Orem. I believed that this was likely a record for my third great grandfather, but I had no concrete evidence. This record sat in my “shoebox” on Ancestry.com for a few years without being added to my family tree. I searched high and low for additional information on this family, but I just couldn’t find a breakthrough in my research.
Fortunately, potential ancestors appeared on my Ancestry ThruLines several weeks ago which gave me the confirmation that I needed. I knew that John and Mary Orem were believed to be the parents of my suspected fourth great grandfather, James Orem. Ancestry ThruLines displayed two other lines of DNA matches descended from John and Mary’s two other children. These other DNA matches were shared matches with my other known Orem cousins. Ancestry ThruLines also presented another DNA match who was descended from another sibling of my suspected fourth great grandparents, James and Henrietta Orem. This DNA match was also a match with my other known Orem cousins.
All of the information provided by Ancestry ThruLines allowed me to confidently accept the christening record for my third great grandfather and helped me add fourth and fifth great grandparents to my family tree.
2). Confirming Relatives When No Records are Available:
My husband’s third great grandfather, Thomas Miskell, was born in Baltimore, Maryland sometime around 1820 and died in 1876 in Philadelphia. The names of Thomas’ parents and their exact locations of birth were unknown. No names of parents were listed on Thomas’ Philadelphia Death record and I was told by the Maryland State Archives that I would not be able to obtain a record of Thomas’ birth since he was born before civil birth records were required. I searched through newspapers, church records, connected with distant cousins, you name it – I could not find any additional information. I knew that Thomas had connections to Ireland based on the census reports of his children and a distant cousin stated that Thomas was from Ireland according to family lore.
This is where Ancestry ThruLines proved helpful. Several descendants of Patrick Miskell appeared on my husband’s ThruLines. All of these DNA matches were shared matches with my husband’s known Miskell cousins, so this seemed promising. I did extensive research on Patrick Miskell and was able to determine that he was an ancestor of Thomas’, likely his father or an uncle. Either way, Patrick and Thomas were related. Fortunately, an 1844 Missing Friends ad in the Boston Pilot stated that Patrick was from Kilchreest, Roxborough, County Galway, Ireland. Thanks to ThruLines we now had a place of origin in Ireland for the Miskell family.
3). ThruLines Illustrates Exact Descendancy of Your DNA Matches:
I had several DNA matches that I knew were descended from my Teague ancestors from Cornwall, but I did not know their exact relationship. ThruLines helped identify the exact relationship for many of these DNA matches by showing which sibling of my fourth great grandparents, Thomas Teague and Honor Bastian, they were descended. Having exact information on how you are related to your DNA matches is extremely helpful, especially when you have to rely on DNA for information when records are not available.
Now, Ancestry ThruLines has been very helpful to me over the past few months, but ThruLines doesn’t always get it right. You have to recognize when the information doesn’t add up, so you don’t add the wrong ancestors to your tree.
Here are two examples of red flags:
1). There Is No Other DNA Evidence:
Meaning you are the only DNA match, or your close relatives are the only other DNA matches used to prove relationship to a suspected ancestor according to ThruLines. Other relationship paths are necessary in determining the validity of the algorithm’s recommendation. Relationship paths illustrate how DNA matches are descended from the other children of your ancestors.
I have one branch of my family tree from Ireland who immigrated to Pennsylvania in the 1850s, the McQuades. I have not had any luck finding the names of my fourth great grandparents or the family’s origin in Ireland. Ancestry ThruLines has been recommending potential fourth great grandparents bearing the McQuail surname, but I am skeptical of this information. First of all, I have no evidence of a surname change for my third great grandmother, Julia McQuade Hickey. Secondly, Ancestry ThruLines offers no other DNA matches descended from the McQuail family to help validate this information. The only thing that has kept me from totally disregarding the algorithm’s suggestion is that the McQuades and McQuails both resided in Pottsville, Pennsylvania in the mid to late 1850s. Pottsville is not a major city, so I do think it is curious that my third great grandparents lived in this smaller community before moving on to Philadelphia.
The bottom line: perhaps Ancestry ThruLines is correct, but I do not have enough evidence to determine this information. As a result, I cannot claim the McQuails as my fourth great grandparents at this time. I recommend passing on ThruLines suggested ancestors in these situations at least until more information becomes available. Who knows? Maybe someday I will be able to confirm the McQuails as my fourth great grandparents, but I am not there yet. Avoid putting the wrong ancestors in your tree at all costs.
2) When the Suggested DNA Relationship is Based on an Unsourced Tree:
Asa Ridgway, my fourth great grandfather, was born sometime around 1800 in either Philadelphia or Delaware. He was descended from Richard Ridgway (1654-1723), but I still do not know the names of Asa’s parents. Now, I have countless DNA matches who are descended from Richard Ridgway and I have not been able to determine Asa’s parents based on these other DNA matches.
I was excited when I noticed that Ancestry ThruLines had a suggested father for Asa with two other DNA paths descended from Andrews Ridgway. Andrews Ridgway and his father, Jacob, are very well documented in various New Jersey history books. There is no mention anywhere of Andrews having a son named Asa. There is another user on Ancestry who has Andrews Ridgway listed as Asa’s father, but there is no documentation to support this. I tried to contact the tree owner, but I never got a response from that person. I can only conclude that the Ancestry ThruLines algorithm got the potential ancestor suggestion from this unsourced tree. Perhaps this information is correct, but I cannot determine if this is the case at this time. I would like to add that I have several other DNA matches who are descended from Richard Ridgway’s other children and I share more DNA with some of these descendants than the descendants of Andrews Ridgway. I am going to have to pass on adding Andrews Ridgway as my fifth great grandfather, at least for now. Other Ancestry ThruLines users should also pass on adding ancestors to their tree in similar situations.
Ancestry has created a very useful tool with their ThruLines service, which can help researchers knock down brick walls in their family tree. Additional research must be conducted to verify that the information provided by ThruLines is correct. Important factors to look for are: 1) are the DNA matches presented by ThruLines shared matches with known DNA matches from that branch of the family tree? 2). Are there other relationship paths illustrated? Relationship paths show that the suggested potential ancestor had other children and the descendants of those other children are now appearing as your DNA matches. 3). Is the information coming from ThruLines based on a sourced or unsourced tree? ThruLines will show you the trees that the algorithm used to come up with your potential ancestor suggestions. Be very wary of trees that have little or no sources.
In next month’s blog I will discuss Collateral Research, the practice of researching extended family and neighbors in order to find additional information on your direct ancestors.
In the meantime, feel free to contact me with any questions or comments at email@example.com.
Mar 30, 2020
Using Cemetery Records
Cemetery records can be an extremely helpful tool in genealogical research. In this blog post, I will cover how these records can help you find the information that you need and how to obtain these records. You can often obtain burial lists at little or no charge. Cemeteries who do request payment for this information usually charge between $10 and $50.
Always make sure to visit the cemetery’s website to find out what their procedure is for obtaining genealogical information. Some cemeteries take requests by phone or email while others require a written request sent via US mail.
I have outlined four circumstances where burial records can really help you further your research:
- When no death record is available:
I had been working on the genealogy of my husband’s second great grandparents, Michael and Elizabeth Cleary. There were no death records to be found online and I suspected that they died in New Jersey sometime after the 1940 US Census report (this assumption proved correct). New Jersey doesn’t post death records or death indexes from this time period online and you need to have a pretty good idea of when the person died in order to obtain a death record. It also costs $25 per death record plus additional charges if you do not have the exact date of death.
I knew that Michael and Elizabeth’s daughter, Ethel, was buried in November of 1991 at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pennsylvania (just outside of Philadelphia). I visited Holy Cross Cemetery’s website and read that they offer free genealogical assistance. I called them on the phone, and I had Ethel’s exact burial date and age at death in front of me (it is important to have this information at your fingertips so they can quickly help you – the people working in these offices are very busy). They placed me on a brief hold then came back with the names and burial dates of the people buried alongside Ethel. Sure enough, Ethel was laid to rest alongside her late parents, Michael and Elizabeth Cleary. Using the burial dates, I was able to find both Michael’s 1946 obituary and Elizabeth’s 1950 obituary (I had searched their names on newspapers.com prior to this, but their obituaries did not appear in keyword searches). Thanks to the burial list provided by Holy Cross Cemetery, I now had this important genealogical information for my husband’s family tree.
2. When the correct death record cannot be determined:
John and Catharine Martin were my third great grandparents and I knew that they both died in Philadelphia sometime between 1889 and 1910. John Martin was born in Ireland sometime around 1831 and his wife, Catharine, was born in Pennsylvania sometime around 1832. There were numerous death records for people named John Martin and Catharine Martin with similar birth dates and birth places who died in Philadelphia between 1889 and 1910. I was having trouble determining which records were the correct death records for my ancestors. This is where burial records proved helpful.
John and Catharine had a daughter named Aloysia G. Martin who died on April 10, 1888 and was buried at Cathedral Cemetery in Philadelphia. Aloysia was unmarried and died at the age of 22 years old. I figured that her parents were likely buried alongside their late daughter.
I called Cathedral Cemetery on the phone and asked how to obtain Aloysia’s burial information including the information of the people buried alongside her. I was told that I needed to send a check for $45 along with a written request, which I did. I was hopeful that Aloysia G. Martin’s burial list from Cathedral Cemetery would also contain the death information of my third great grandparents. I was in luck! I received a burial list of ten relatives that included John and Catharine Martin. As a result, I was able to locate their Philadelphia death records along with their obituaries on newspapers.com. Catharine died in Philadelphia in December of 1891 and John died in Philadelphia in February of 1907. I would not have been able to determine their exact dates of death if it were not for Aloysia’s burial list provided by Cathedral Cemetery.
3. Using cemetery records to discover new stories
I was researching my husband’s fourth great grandparents, Terrence and Mary Donahue, and I was having trouble confirming Terrence’s death information. I suspected that he died in July of 1863 and was buried in Philadelphia, but I couldn’t be certain. I ordered the suspected burial record in an effort to confirm Terrence’s date of death, but I also discovered something really amazing in the process. I knew that Terrence had several children in addition to my husband’s third great grandfather, James, but I did not have death information on all of the children. There were a lot of Donahues born in Ireland and living in Philadelphia in the mid to late 1800s, so confirming records on this family was challenging at times.
I received Terrence’s burial list which confirmed my suspicions that he died in July of 1863 in Philadelphia. Several of his children were buried alongside of him including his son John. I had not been able to confirm John’s date of death prior to this. I located John’s October 1865 death record by referencing his newly found burial date. The occupation on his death certificate read “soldier”. Things started getting interesting. I then located his obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer which listed several details about John’s Civil War service including his regiment, the battle where he was injured, his age and his last residence. No one knew that John was a Civil War solider prior to this! I then ordered John’s Civil War pension records from the National Archives and learned that the family emigrated from County Donegal, Ireland. This was information that we would not have known otherwise. In short, Terrence’s burial list lead us to information on a Civil War ancestor and ultimately the family’s origin in Ireland.
4. Using cemetery records to find new ancestors
Thomas Tracy, an Irish immigrant and saloon owner, was my second great grandfather. I wanted to find as much information on the Tracy family as possible including the names of Thomas’ parents, which I did not have.
I ordered Thomas’ April 1927 burial list in hopes of finding more information on the family. It worked! Thomas’ parents, Thomas and Catharine, were both buried alongside him at Cathedral Cemetery in Philadelphia. Using the dates on the burial list I was able to locate their death records and obituaries. Catharine’s obituary led me to another ancestor: her son, Bernard.
Discovering Bernard also led me to a very sad story for the family history books. I learned through newspaper research that Bernard went missing in 1906 in Philadelphia and was never heard from again. His brother, Thomas, made a few desperate attempts to locate his brother using newspaper articles and classified ads in the 1920s, but he had no luck. To this day, nobody knows what happened to my third great uncle.
Obtaining Thomas’ 1927 burial record led me to the names of his parents along with their death dates in addition to discovering a sibling that I did not know that Thomas had. I would have not been able to connect Thomas with these other relatives because they were never listed on the same census report and never had similar addresses.
Burial records can be an incredible tool in researching your family history and sometimes you can obtain this information at no charge and over the phone. Just have your information ready at your fingertips including your ancestor’s burial date and age at death.
Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
In April’s blog post, I will discuss how Ancestry Thrulines can help you with your research.
Feb 12, 2020
February 2020 Blog Post
Locating Records for Your Ancestors
One of the most important steps that a new researcher can take is to learn what resources are available for the state in which they are conducting research.
For example, I began genealogical research in the Fall of 2016. I didn’t know anything except to start my research on a genealogical supersite such as Ancestry.com. After several weeks I began to notice a pattern: If an ancestor died in Philadelphia then I was likely able to locate their record on Ancestry, but if an ancestor died in New Jersey then I didn’t find any record, or if I could not determine any date or place of death then it was likely that the ancestor died in New Jersey. A quick visit to the New Jersey Department of Health and New Jersey State Archives websites put things in perspective for me. The websites explained that most of their records are not available on the internet and require either a written or electronic request along with a fee. Deaths that occurred less than one hundred years ago were on file at the New Jersey Department of Health and deaths that occurred more than one hundred years ago were available at the New Jersey State Archives. No wonder I couldn’t find death records or indexes for all of those second great grandparents who died in Camden, New Jersey sometime between the 1920 and 1930 census reports!
I found it curious that there was an abundance of records online for the state of Pennsylvania, so I wanted to understand what the difference was between this state and its neighbor, New Jersey. I learned that the Historical Society of Pennsylvania manages many record collections for its state and believes that genealogical records should be available to family researchers without hassle. In fact, many death record images for Pennsylvania are available at familysearch.org at no charge.
New Jersey and Pennsylvania kept records much earlier than other states. For example, obtaining death records from the 1850s from either of these two states is completely within reason, but other states such as New York did not officially keep records until much later. Family Search offers a state-by-state guide on what you can expect to find in online collections such as this New York Guide to Online Genealogy Records: https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/New_York_Online_Genealogy_Records
I am currently conducting collateral research on my husband’s Miskell ancestors (collateral research is where you research extended family in hopes of finding more information on your direct ancestors – I will discuss this in another blog post). Patrick Miskell was related to my husband’s third great grandfather, Thomas Miskell, and was an early settler of Perry County, Ohio. Patrick died sometime between the 1860 and 1870 US census reports, but I was not able to locate a death record for him on Ancestry or Family Search. I sent an email to the Ohio State Archives asking for more information on death records during this decade and received a response the next morning stating that Ohio did not officially keep death records until 1867 along with a list of resources for finding death information prior to 1867. I now knew that Patrick Miskell most likely died between 1860 and 1867, but I needed to continue my search elsewhere.
This is where local resources such as libraries and county historical societies prove helpful. Many local libraries can provide additional information such as an obituary or city directory listing at little or no charge. County historical societies usually offer research services for around $25 per hour. I knew that Patrick Miskell lived in Perry County, Ohio so I sent a research request to the Perry County District Library and received an immediate response that they were passing my request onto the Perry County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society. A researcher from the Perry County OGS sent me an email with the family's burial information which included death dates that I did not have for the family along with the family's probate information. This was important information that I would not have found otherwise.
I contacted the Onondaga Historical Association for information on my fourth great grandfather, Henry Herbener, who died in 1884 in New York State. I knew that there was no death record for him, but I was hoping to find an obituary. The association located an awesome obituary for Henry which stated information about his musical career in Germany, the year that his family immigrated and the reason why they left their homeland (cholera outbreak). Historical societies often have access to local newspapers that are not currently online or part of an historical newspaper subscription service.
The Camden County Historical Society helped me locate the death information for my second great grandfather, Henry Altenbrant. I knew that Henry died sometime between the 1930 and 1940 US census reports in New Jersey, but I did not know exactly when he passed. The Camden County Historical Society has death ledger information in their collection, and they found that Henry died on March 4, 1931 in Camden. The society also located his obituary in one of their local newspapers. His last name was badly misspelled and would have never been found in a keyword search.
In summary: find out which records are available for your state and when they were recorded. If no records exist for the time period you are searching then reach out to historical societies and local libraries for additional assistance in locating vital record information.
Cemetery records are also a great way to locate death information when no death record is available. I will discuss that topic in my March blog post.
Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments at email@example.com.
List of resources mentioned in this blog post:
New Jersey Dept. of Health: https://www.state.nj.us/health/vital/order-vital/genealogical-records/
New Jersey State Archives: https://nj.gov/state/archives/index.html
Historical Society of Pennsylvania: https://hsp.org/
Family Search: https://www.familysearch.org/en/
Ohio State Archives: https://www.ohiohistory.org/learn/archives-library/state-archives
Perry County District Library: https://www.pcdl.org/
Onondaga Historical Association: https://www.cnyhistory.org/
Camden County Historical Society: https://www.cchsnj.org/
Jan 21, 2020
I’ve returned to my blog after a long hiatus. Actually, I was finishing up work on family history books for my mother’s family. I had been working on these books for the past few years and I am relieved to have finally finished. Don’t get me wrong. Working on these books was very rewarding. I uncovered a lot of information about my ancestors and it took a while to put all that research into one book.
Finding the details of your ancestor’s life is what makes a family history worth reading versus just having names, birth dates and death dates. The more information that you can mine the more your story will come to life.
In today’s blog post I would like to discuss the importance of using city directories, which are often overlooked by new family researchers. These directories are an important tool for locating relatives, confirming death information and adding interesting details to your ancestor’s lives. More specifically, I will focus on how these directories can provide details on the lives of ancestors when other sources are not available. Now, newspapers are a great way to find information as well, but not all of our ancestors received press coverage.
For example, Maggie Axt Altenbrant was my second great grandmother. Our family didn’t have much information about her other than she was Freda Altenbrant’s mother and that Maggie died when she was about 34 years old. Freda, barely a teenager, was the oldest child and had to take care of her four younger siblings after her mother’s death.
According to the 1892 Camden, New Jersey City Directory Maggie was operating a confectionary business at Federal above 21st Street and by 1893 Maggie was listed as a housekeeper at the same address. Maggie’s husband, Henry, was gainfully employed and Maggie’s mother and stepfather were quite wealthy. I am guessing that Maggie didn’t have to work. She also had four young children at the time (the fifth child was born later). It seems that Maggie operated a confectionary business because she wanted to do so. I find it interesting that she was an entrepreneur in the early 1890s. This is information that I would not have were it not for the Camden City Directory and it gives us a little more detail about the life of Maggie.
Here is another example: John Martin was my third great grandfather. He was born sometime around 1831 and immigrated to America from Ireland sometime around 1850 during the Potato Famine. Very little is known about John and the little bit of information that we have on him is derived from his census reports. His 1860 census report revealed that he was living in the 22nd Ward of Philadelphia (Germantown) with his wife and several children and working as a gardener. By 1870, John was employed as a laborer and in 1880 he was working as a sugar refiner. Changing jobs every ten years doesn’t seem so unreasonable, does it? There is no 1890 census report for the state of Pennsylvania due to a fire at the Commerce Department Building in January of 1921. I tracked John and his children in the Philadelphia City Directories from 1881 through the early 1900s. And guess what? John changed occupations practically every single year throughout the 1880s. In 1883 he was a gardener, a laborer in 1884, a barber in 1885 and a cutter (stone) in 1886. This gives us a lot more information about John and his situation. He was probably very poor and needed to change jobs frequently or perhaps he got bored easily and was on the constant lookout for new challenges. Either way, the Philadelphia City Directories has provided us with more information than we would have had using the census reports alone.
Another example is my second great grandmother, Anna R. Fairbrothers Orem. Anna was married with several children according to her 1880 US census report and her occupation was listed as “keeping house”. We know that she was a busy mom living in the city of Camden, but that is about all. Here is where the city directories are helpful once again. The 1887 Camden City Directory listed Anna as a dressmaker living at Pleasant near 2nd in the Cramer Hill section of the city. This one little detail has provided me with more of a story about Anna for the family history books.
Now, let’s discuss where to locate these directories. Ancestry.com has directories available for many cities and towns, but you have to find which years are available for your desired location. Internet Archive is another fantastic resource for city directories, and it is free! Just visit https://archive.org/. For example, Ancestry’s collection of Philadelphia City Directories starts with the year 1861, but Internet Archive’s collection of city directories for Philadelphia starts with the year 1795. My advice is to do an internet search for your city. Let’s say I want to find directories for the city of Baltimore. I just type in “Baltimore City Directories” in a Google search and the list of available sources appears. Many of these sources are free of charge.
I hope this article has inspired you to look for information on your ancestors in different ways.
In the meantime, please feel free to contact me with any comments or upcoming blog suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org