Friday, December 11, 2009

Songs of Yesterday: How Our Ancestors Sang the Holidays, Part 2

The holiday season is a time of joy. In times of war, on the battlefield and for those at home, the holiday season takes on even greater meaning. In her article, "Songs of Yesterday: How Our Ancestors Sang the Holidays, Part 2," Jean Hibben reflects on holiday songs born of wartime. With emphasis on the song, "Christmas Bells," better known as "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," written during the Civil War by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the author recalls and performs the song, including the more somber verses "almost lost to obscurity."

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Role of Genealogy in History

Although the popularity of genealogy has grown exponentially in the past decade, it has been an important in the lives of many cultures since ancient times. In her article, "The Role of Genealogy in History," Melissa Slate touches on several such practices. 

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Walking Pioneers

In her article, "The Walking Pioneers," Judy Rosella Edwards differentiates some of the various groups that crossed the plains to Utah and reminds us of limits placed on those joining the handcart companies.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

George Washington, the man who would "not" be king . . .

According to an article reported on The Epoch Times, the would-be heir to the throne of the United States has been researched and reported by Although George Washington, America's revered first president, was offered kingship but refused, the "what if" question was explored. As George Washington had no children, the crown would have passed to one of his brothers’ sons. genealogists determined that since President Washington had an older half brother and a younger full brother, ultimately there were four possible succession paths, the article said. The site researched the descendants through each of these possibilities, which meant approximately 8,000 people could factor into the succession equation, with less than 200 of them bearing the Washington surname. As a result, according to the report, the "hypothetical heir" was reported to be Mr. Paul Emery Washington, an 82-year-old retiree living in San Antonio, Texas, who is a descendent of first president George Washington. Said the article, "Given a small twist of fate, Americans could be bowing down to the Washington bloodline today."

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Colonial social custom and how to impress the guests

Always of interest is the life and times of our ancestors -- little insights into everyday living that help us see them as real people with intentions, motivations, and sensitivities no different than our own. In her article, "The Pineapple as a Symbol of Colonial Prosperity," Melissa Slate reveals how the "exotic" pineapple figured in the social life of Colonial America and it's potential to impress. What today, I wonder, would be the pineapple's equivalent, probably nothing quite as simple.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Early Colonial Life

It's hard for us to imagine today what life was like in Colonial or pioneer times, when people set out with their families into the wilderness to establish homes and make a life. It's hard to imagine the forces prompting people to endure such hardships and harder still to believe that any survived. In her article, "Early Colonial Life," Melissa Slate once again provides some insight into that early life. What might surprise you is the role that taverns played in the community.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Meals Through the Ages

If you are interested in learning a little about the everyday life your ancestors, consider looking into the foods and food preparation of the day. In her article, "Meals Through the Ages," Gena Philibert-Ortega suggests a number of resources for researching foods during a particular time period and for finding vintage cookbooks.

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Researching the history of early colleges

"All too often we think of college as a modern invention and mostly for urbanites," but you might be surprised at how many young people of the 1800s pursued a college career and returned home to work in their own communities. In her article, "Great-Great-Grandpa's Alma Mater," Judy Rosella Edwards suggests researching the origin of early local colleges may be one way to learn more about your ancestors. First, you might be surprised to find an ancestor did attend college, and then knowing the type of college they attended and where may suggest new avenues for research.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

March is National Women's History Month. Once again, honoring this celebration of women, Gena Philibert-Ortega in her article, "Searching Women's Manuscript Collections," aims at helping you find the writings of women who were part of your ancestors' community. As the author points out, in the absence of today's media, women of the past wrote about the comings and goings in their own communities. Your ancestors may be among those chronicled by someone other than a family member, and it is certainly worth the investigation, to say nothing of the historical interest.

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Monday, January 7, 2008

"Babes in the Mines," childhood occupations in the coal mines

When we read the life and times of our ancestors, it helps us appreciate them more and, perhaps, consider our modern lives by comparison. It was not so long ago, really, that child labor laws really came into effect. Today, in an age when parents cater to every need of their children, it's hard to imagine (or remember) a time when even very young children were required to work in the fields, in factories, on the streets, and in the mines. In her article, "Babes in the Mines," Melissa Slate provides a snapshot of children working in the Appalachian coal mines

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Memento mori: Funeral Photography

Many of us have in our possession or have seen old photos of an ancestor lying in a coffin, and many have thought this photographing the dead a very macabre practice. But it does have a long and respectable tradition. In her article, "Memento mori: Funeral Photography," Judy Rosella Edwards examines the history and uses of funeral photography.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Nauvoo, Illinois -- a new look

A fresh perspective is always welcome in the world of genealogy. In her article, "Nauvoo Retains Its Place in History," Judy Rosella Edwards takes a look at Nauvoo, Illinois after the Mormons were driven out, pointing out that ethnic and religious groups have a history in the area. Among the newcomers was one Christian Jung, a German immigrant and staunch Lutheran who spent his life "devoted to reinventing Nauvoo." The article also mentions the French Icarians, a group of French idealists attempting to establish a Utopian society.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

New genealogy web site focuses on natural disasters

An article in the Cincinnati Post, "New genealogy Web site focuses on natural disasters," observes, nearly every family, at some point throughout its history, has been impacted by natural disasters such as fires, floods and tornadoes, or been touched by tragic events such as explosions, building collapses and railroad accidents. For this reason, genealogists may be interested in a recently launched Web site called

As noted on the site's main page, "is a genealogy site, compiling information on the historic disasters, events, and tragic accidents our ancestors endured, as well as information about their life and death."

The Post reports, "This fascinating online chronicle includes an impressive array of photographs, transcribed newspaper articles and excerpted entries from historical books, all detailing hundreds of events - spanning from the 1800s to the 1950s - which affected the lives of past generations. Researchers may limit their search by state, or select from among the numerous disaster headings and then browse a listing of events in alphabetical order by state."

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Survey suggests ancestors' lives not so different from our own

An entertaining article in the The Guardian, "Happy in our Skeletons," reports on an survey that reveals "you are far more likely to discover that your grandparents weren't married or your great uncle was married twice - but at the same time - than you are to learn that Prince William is your third cousin." The article makes the point that we tend to romanticize the past, but people then lived pretty much as we do today, with the same temptations and foibles -- it just wasn't as public.then as it is today, owing to modern news media and modern forms of documentation.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Early farming history

While the amount of ground a family farmed, on the surface, might not seem too significant, having that information might tell you something about your ancestor's life. In her article, "20 or 40: How many acres do you work", Judy Rosella Edwards explores the significance of twenty acres of land in the mid-nineteenth century.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Strategies for tracking a disappearing ancestor

We all have one or more disappearing ancestors who "are there one census and, like magic, have disappeared the next." My second-great-grandfather is one such ancestor. For forty years we can track him with surety; then, after 1860 he drops from the record entirely. And while we can track the migration of his children from East Tennessee to Texas, we find no record of him. It is reasonable to assume he died between 1860 and 1870, except no record can be found. Also, because he remarried after his first wife's death, and at last record we find him living in Virginia with his second wife, in close proximity to some of her children, it's a distinct possibility that if he did migrate, it was with her family. So the next step is tracking totally unrelated family members in order to find any clue to this elusive ancestor; and this we have been attempting to do, but with no success thus far, given the common names of family members. But the search continues. In her article "Where Did They Go," Melissa Slate outlines the problem of disappearing ancestors and offers good advice on understanding possible reasons for their disappearance and key strategies for tracking them.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Unsung Heroes of Map-Making

Surveying and map making was an important part of westward expansion. In her article, "Which Way Is North?" Judy Rosella Edwards observes, "Genealogists use maps all the time and we trust they are accurate." Her article recounts the early surveying and map-making efforts of Charles Manners and his cohort Joseph Ledlie, who "fixed" the First Guide Meridian and 6th Principal Meridian "so maps would be accurate." She reports, "It is the longest baseline in the United States and . . . was the demarcation line separating slave and free, North and South, during the American Civil War." The article is an opportunity for us to reflect on contributions of those responsible for these maps, large and small that we often take for granted.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

WW II Movie Newsreels Online at

Long before we consumed our news from network television and eons before the 24/7 news coverage we have today, you could "see" what was happening in the world every time you went to the movies. Anyone who went to the movies through the 1940s and 50s will remember the movie newsreels, giving us the news of the day. Bigger than life and dramatically presented, an important part of this movie history is now available on The site provides online access to the United Newsreel Motion Pictures (1942-1946), the actual movie newsreel of the war years.

As described on the Ancestry site, "During WWII, the U.S. Government produced a number of newsreels depicting Allied military operations in various theatres of war and events taking place in the U.S. home front. Typically 10 minutes long, these counter-propaganda newsreels were shown in U.S. movie theaters, distributed in friendly and neutral countries and dropped behind German lines." As a child of the 50s, having sat through what seemed like hundreds of these at the movie matinees we went to as kids (and not to thrilled at the time), today I am thrilled that we can now share some of that experience with our children.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Birthday celebrations have ancient roots

If you've ever wondered how your ancestors might have celebrated their birthdays, an enlightening article by Melissa Slate, "Social Customs of our Ancestors Birthdays," provides some insight. It's interesting to see how birthday customs originated and evolved over time. Turns out, it's not just another day, after all.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

May is Museums and Galleries Month in the UK

As reported in Qultures, May is Museums and Galleries Month in the UK, with the theme "People - Who are we?" To get an impression of the range of exhibitions and events, the 24 Hour Museum web site can be recommended. This is the UK's National Virtual Museum, updated daily with at least two new stories including arts and museum news as well as exhibition notices, reviews, features and trails. You can search the site for what's on by place, date or by any subject you choose. The site aims to encourage visitors out into attractions around the country, not only during the Museum month, but also all year round. The theme - "People, Who are we?" - is in keeping with a seemingly global trend. It aims to explore the relationship between museums and identities, the musuem explores this question, suggesting "identity is so much more than our ancestry . . . determined by events and actions of today, more so than by events of the past." The article directs the reader to various resources and related links.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Early Marriage Customs

The institution of marriage and the customs that surround it are a facinating historical study. In her article, "Early Marriage Customs," Melissa Slate gives brief insight into the marriage customs of Colonial America, fitting during the 400th year anniversary of Colonial Jamestown. Consider the thimble and its use in place of today's custom of giving a ring.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Another place to look for that elusive marrage record

So who is Gretna Green or, what is it? In her article, "Gretna Greens and Your Ancestor's Missing Records," Gena Philibert-Ortega explains: "Gretna Greens are cities where people went to get married. They are named for a place called Gretna Green in Scotland," where marriage regulations were few. Gena provides information on the hisotry of Gretna Greens and the Scotland equivalents in the United States. Learning more about marriage laws within your various areas of interest may open up new possibilities. For example, marrying a first cousin is legal in some states but illegal in others -- there are, no doubt, other motivators. Something else to consider in searching for an elusive marriage record.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

A new way to look at where people are buried and why

An article in, "The Sociology of Cemeteries," announces a talk by Helen A. Shaw, to be presented February 23. According to Shaw, the presentation has evolved over many years and takes an anthropological look at "why" people are buried where they are, which may provide leads to other information. Maybe a person has been "removed for burial" in their home town, or maybe they were buried in a veteran, fraternal organization, church or ethnic cemetery. "What you know about the cemetery in which family members are buried, can tell you a great deal about them and their social and ethnic background. People are buried in a particular cemetery for a reason. Discovering that reason will lead to a better understanding of your relatives." Ms. Shaw is a professional genealogist specializing in census research and cemetery history. The presentation will be given at 7 p.m. at the Thomaston Public Library in Thomaston, Maine.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Love and Marriage

As thoughts turn to Valentine's Day and remembering those we love, Gena Philibert Ortega, in her article, "Love and Marriage," reminds us this may be a good time to look back at how our ancestors celebrated marriage and to consider the variety of resources available for documenting marriages.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Postcards may be a great way to enchance -- and enlighten -- your family history

Dedicated to helping researchers appreciate and explore the social history aspect of their own genealogy, Gena Philipbert-Ortega, in her article, Using Postcards to Illustrate your Family History, once again provides us with multiple links to great resources. With an emphasis on postcard collecting and enhancing your family's story through postcards, Gena directs us toward those great photo postcards of family members so popular at one time, and historical postcards of the times, places, and events that may have figured into your family's history.

I might also add, that you want to watch carefully for postcards received from family members, whenever searching through old family photos. These postcards are not only interesting, but can serve to document certain people in a specific time and place. I found postcards among my grandmother's photos from my uncle serving in France during WW II. I also found postcards from my aunt during their trek along the Alaska Highway back in the early 1950s, not long after the highway was first completed. Postcards are just one more of these often overlooked, non-traditional sources that may add one more piece to the puzzle.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Local area research is "limitless" in its value

Oftentimes it is information indirectly associated with our ancestors that provide vital clues, and local area research is an important step in the research process. However, as Karan Pittman points out in her article, Don't Forget Local Histories, "Regional, local and county histories don't always enjoy the best reputation, but they can be invaluable to the researcher when used correctly." The article is focused on helping readers makes the most of these valuable resources.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

"I think therefore I am Uncle Charlie"

You may have more in common with your children and grandchildren than you think. In the BBC News article, Searching for the soul of cyberspace, writer Paul Mason explores the link between genealogy research and virtual reality games. Both, it seems, have the uncanny ability of psychologically transporting people into a time and place removed from the present and generating a strong emotional attachment to their subjects (or characters, as the case may be). Now, suspend all arguments between the reality of "family" and the "unreality" of virtual reality. The comparison is an intriguing concept, which embraced, could generate greater tolerance and understanding across the generations. And goes to show, once again, that we are more alike than we are different.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Tips for bringing life to your family history

People love stories. When it comes sharing family history, it's easier to engage an audience through stories than facts alone. Stories engage the emotions and help people visualize their ancestors within a time and place, making the facts more interesting and relevant. But what if you are not among the fortunate few to have stories handed down in the form of a diary, journal, or chain of letters? Melissa Slate, in her article, "From Prose to Form: Making Your Family History Come Alive," offers ideas and suggestions for building a story from what you do know of your ancestor's lives.

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