Sunday, January 31, 2010

Church Record Sunday: Protestant Migrations

In my never ending quest to find the next great book to read, I came across this book on Amazon, Wandering Souls: Protestant Migrations in America 1630-1865 by S. Scott Rohrer, . This book is also available from other online booksellers.

Amazon's description of the book states, "Popular literature and frontier studies stress that Americans moved west to farm or to seek a new beginning. Scott Rohrer argues that Protestant migrants in early America relocated in search of salvation, Christian community, reform, or all three."

"In Wandering Souls, Rohrer examines the migration patterns of eight religious groups and finds that Protestant migrations consisted of two basic types. The most common type involved migrations motivated by religion, economics, and family, in which Puritans, Methodists, Moravians, and others headed to the frontier as individuals in search of religious and social fulfillment. The other type involved groups wanting to escape persecution (such as the Mormons) or to establish communities where they could practice their faith in peace (such as the Inspirationists). Rohrer concludes that the two migration types shared certain traits, despite the great variety of religious beliefs and experiences, and that "secular" values infused the behavior of nearly all Protestant migrants."

I imagine, or maybe it's me, that when we think of religious migration across the United States, we think of the Mormons.  But there are other religious groups that migrated.  This can be helpful in genealogical research because it allows you to not only better understand your ancestor's religion but to undersand the localities they may have ended up in.

For those with Moravian ancestors, Rohrer's book, Hope's Promise: Religion and Acculturation in the Southern Backcountry, available in snippet view from Google Books ,  might be of interest.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

On the Bookshelf: The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction

Gordon, Linda. The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Since some of my ancestors lived in Arizona and were early settlers there, I am interested in books about the state.  Prof. Linda Gordon is also one of my favorite authors so I was exited to read The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction.  This story is one that might be of interest to those with Arizona mining and Orphan Train ancestors.

This is the story of a group of orphans from the New York Foundling Hospital who were sent out on an Orphan Train to an Arizona mining camp.  The Caucasian, mostly Irish, orphans were given to Mexican Catholic families residing and working in the mining town. The resulting story is one of racism, vigilantism, and  family.

Prof. Gordon conducted her research both in Arizona and with the New York Foundling Hospital Archives.  I believe that some of the detail of the orphan train movement and this history of orphans in New York during the early 1900's will be of interest to researchers who do not have Arizona ancestors. I also found her description of what it was like to work in a mine to be very informative and include detail that really brought that type of work to life for me. I had an appreciation of this back-breaking labor but her discussion brought the day to day facts about what it was like for miners to life.

I would recommed reading Gordon's  Notes section in the back of the book to learn more about the sources and research she conducted.

When I was considering purchasing this book, I read a bunch of reviews and noticed that quite a few college history students gave the book low ratings for its length and in-depth analysis.  This book is lengthy at over 300 pages and does go into detail about not only the event the title describes but also mining, relationships between races and gender, orphans and history.  Because of this, I think it's an important read for genealogists to not only understand some social history but also better understand the events of the day.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Field Trip Friday: Air Museum

For those who homeschool, Friday may mean a field trip day.  And in true homeschool fashion we went on a field trip to the Palm Springs Air Museum,  Now, you may be wondering, "what does this have to do with genealogy?"


The Palm Springs Air Museum boasts the nation's largest collection of WorldWar II flying aircraft.  Not only can you check out what it was like to fly planes like the B-17 or the P-38 but like most museums they also have an archive open to the public.  At this archive you can look at over 7,000 books and technical manuals, over 2,500 periodicals (mostly from the WorldWar II era), 4,000 DVD titles, maps, newspapers, documents and over 425 interviews with veterans from the WorldWar II era and later.

The archive didn't just focus on Air Force materials, I was also able to find a resource I need to continue research on my great uncle who was in the Army during World War II.

Like many small museum archives, this great collection may not be one that stands out to researchers because it is not featured prominently on the Museum website and its collection catalog cannot be found online.  This is a perfect example of having to contact a museum to find out about their archives and how that archive might help in your research.

So think about your ancestor and what they were involved in, maybe it was a war or a type of occupation or the locality they lived.  And then check out what museum archives might help you in researching your family history.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Home Sources: Christmas Cards

Christmas cards, as well as other holiday and special occasion cards, can be a great wealth of information. If you are lucky, maybe someone in your family has stashed away these cards. Most likely these cards will assist you in researching those from the 20th century

Christmas cards provide the names of family and friends, the envelopes provide addresses and in some cases the cards may provide a newsy letter that can lead to more clues to finding your family.


Genealogy isn't just about researching the dead. I have  got into the habit of saving my current Christmas cards, both an example of ones I send out and the ones I receive.  Why?  Because those signatures of granparents, aunts, uncles and far off cousins might be meaningful to my children when they grow up and might provide them clues.  One of the cards I cherish is one from an aunt who died several years ago.  She always signed her familiy's Christmas card in the shape of a Christmas tree.  One of my memories of Christmas was receiving that familiy's card and that distinctive signature.

One more story involving Christmas cards. After a cousin died and I was taking care of her estate, I used Christmas cards and her Christmas address labels  to figure out family members that I should contact.  She was from a line where I did not personally know many of the family members.  So by using her cards and addresses I was able to find family members to contact and let know of her passing. I was also able to fill in some family group sheets.

Christmas cards provide just one more piece to the family history puzzle.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Home Sources: Postcards


Old postcards can be a lot of fun.  They may also shed some light on your family history.  One of my cousins inherited a hundred of more postcards from her grandmother.  These postcards relate the comings and goings of her friends but they also provide a link to where her grandmother was in a certain place and time. Through these postcards, my cousin can trace where her grandmother was living and her grandmother's life in the reflections of the friends who wrote her.

Postcards evolved over time and differed according to what time period they were printed in. Two types of postcards might hold the most interest to genealogists. Mass produced postcards, which depict places and events, that many of us are familiar with and that are still sold to tourists and real photo postcards that were available to the everyday person from between 1902-1910. Kodak's Brownie camera allowed anyone to take a picture and then to have the picture developed as a print or a postcard. While the mass-produced type of postcard will help your family get a sense for your ancestral city in earlier times, the real photo postcard might provide an image of family members or the family home.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Home Sources: 50th Wedding Anniversary Invitation

Home Sources are so important to beginning a genealogical project.  It's always important to see what kinds of documents, photographs and objects we or our family may have lying around that may provide clues.  The thing about home sources is that not everyone in the family sees them as valuable so they may get thrown away, given to a thrift store or sold at a yard sale.

The other thing about home sources is that a family member may own some but not understand the importance of that item to genealogical research. Asking family members if they own something from Grandma may not be enough to uncover these gems.  More detailed questions like if they own any letters, diaries, correspondence, cards, etc..might help sort out the types of items you are looking for.

To provide some ideas about what types of home sources might be useful I am going to be posting images of various home sources.

The following is a 50th wedding anniversary announcement for Mr and Mrs. G. F. Munson, presumably from Corpus Christi, Texas (but not necessarily).  They married in 1895.  This announcement provides the year of the announcement, the year of marriage and a location.(I should note that this not my family so if it is your family, please contact me.)

This announcement is precisely the kind of small card that family members may keep as a memento of an event they went to.  Do you have one of these announcements for an anniversary celebration that you went to?  Scan it, attach it to your genealogy software or to a narrative you are writing about your family history.  Don't forget to add photos of the event or a scanned image of a newspaper clipping. You may want to put the original announcement in an archival sheet protector to keep it safe.

Monday, January 25, 2010

52 Weeks of Genealogy Sources: Week 4, Dog Tax

Not too long ago, my doorbell rang and there stood a city employee who wanted to know if I owned a dog. The city, in need of some revenue, had decided to crack down on negligent dog owners who had failed to purchase a dog license. Although city dwellers consider this a modern day nuisance, the practice of collecting taxes from dog owners actually has roots in the 19th century.

According to Donna Murray Allen in her article "The Dog Tax" found in the April 2004 issue of The Family Chronicle, individuals who suffered the loss of livestock because of roving dogs could demand reimbursement from the local government. In turn, the local government could collect from all dog owners a tax to supply revenue for these reimbursements.

These dog tax rolls are public information and may be found on property tax lists or other miscellaneous tax lists. By conducting a keyword search through the Family History Library Catalog for the phrase "dog tax," you will be rewarded with seven hits that include resources for both the United States and England. Following are holdings that include dog tax lists:
  • Land Tax Exonerations, Redemptions and Miscellaneous Papers for the Easington Ward, 1787-1865.
  • Rate Books and Parish Chest Records, 1599-1861 for St. Martin-in-the-fields Parish.
  • Lowell Township, Michigan Ledger for 1877, 1880 and 1889.
  • Hale County, Alabama Dog Tax Abstracts, 1917.
  • Pennsylvania Folklife.
  • Edgecomb, Maine Town and Vital Records 1774-1932.
  • Garden Grove Township, Iowa Board of Health Records, 1880-1893.
When searching for dog tax records, the Internet is also a great resource. A Google search on the words, dog tax genealogy, and the phrase "dog tax," provides links to such gems as the index of names for the 1867 dog tax for Paola Township, Miami; the Wells County Indiana 1912 Dog Tax names list,; the Hope Valley, North West Derbyshire, late 1820 list of dog owners,; and the Shrewsbury, New Jersey 1887 Dog Tax,

The dog tax of our ancestors' day may have been even more important than the dog licensing fees of our time. These fees were a necessity in paying the owners of cattle and sheep who were maimed and killed by dogs. According to information about the Shrewsbury, New Jersey dog tax, taken from their meeting minutes:
The dog tax in Shrewsbury Township this year will be lighter than it was in 1886, owing to the smaller number of domestic animals which have been killed by dogs. In olden times the owners of dogs were compelled to pay only for the sheep which had been killed. A few years ago a law was passed compelling the township to pay for all domestic animals which were killed by dogs, and the term 'domestic animals' has been held to include poultry as well as sheep and calves. If the old law were in force Shrewsbury Township would have very little dog tax to pay this year, for only one-fourth of the 'sheep bills' passed were for sheep, the others being poultry and a calf.
You can find references to the dog tax in many different places. One unusual reference is found in the Chicago, Illinois 1886 murder trial of August Spies and his cohorts. This trial involved the murder of Matthias J Deagan. One of the prosecution witnesses was a George Christ, a previous Marshall, who detailed his knowledge of the character of one of the defense witnesses, Harry L. Gilmer. Gilmer had been the dog tax collector under Marshall Christ. Through the transcript of the testimony, available online through the Chicago Historical Society Haymarket Affair Digital collection,, we get an idea about how 19th century dog tax collectors went about their business. When asked of the particular duties of the dog tax collector, Mr. Christ answers, "We had a blank receipt stub, and every man that paid his tax was given his receipt for the amount of his tax…" He is then asked about the fee for the dog tax and he replies that it was $2.00.

What is interesting to note is the price of the dog license, at least in 1886 Chicago, seems pretty steep by today's standards. That $2.00 that was collected in Chicago would be over $40.00 in today's money. In contrast, the Shrewsbury, New Jersey dog tax was only 40 cents. That would be a little above $8.00 today, a fee that seems a little more reasonable. (To calculate what yesterday's money would equal in today's prices, go to

Just in case you may think that collecting a dog tax is a relatively minor thing, consider the Dog Tax War of 1898. Although sparked by the issuance of a dog tax in New Zealand on the people, the underlining cause of the war was really about the marginalization of the Maori people. The dog tax was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. The Maoris went from owning all of the land of New Zealand in 1840 to owning less than 10% in 1898. By 1898 they were only 10% of their original population numbers in 1840. (In the 2001 census the Maori's were 15% of the New Zealand population).

Luckily a potential volatile situation was later diffused four days later by Member of Parliament who happened to be a Maori descendent. The leaders of this rebel force of Maoris had to pay fines and it appears they still had to pay their dog taxes.

What I enjoy in learning about little known resources such as the dog tax lists is its being a resource that provides just one more glimpse into the lives of our ancestors. Knowing that your ancestor owned a dog that they paid a tax on, probably won't be the highlight of your day. But, it will be just one more thing to help make your ancestor's world come to life.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Church Record Sunday: Allen County Public Library

The Allen County Public Library has a great guide to church records in their collection.  Even if you are unable to go to Allen County this handout is a great list of what record collections, inventories and directories exist that may be of help to you as you learn more about your ancestor's religion and what records exist.

You can find this six page  guidebook at .  It is a pdf so you will need Adobe Acrobat, which is a free download, in order to view it.

Remember, if you see something in this guide that you want to read, either a book or microfilm, you might want to check out World Cat,, to see what libraries near you might have the same resource.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Family History Expo Banquet

We have had a full day at Expo learning all aspects of  genealogy.  I have been Twittering the presentations that I have gone to.  Let me just say that Expo is a great opportunity to learn.  I've also enjoyed the Vendor Hall where you can try out different genealogy software programs, genealogy websites and speak to groups as diverse as the Boy Scouts, SAR and more.

We are about to start the live podcast which will feature blogging and why genealogists should blog.

Day 1 at Mesa Family HIstory Expo

Greetings from Mesa, Arizona. We had a tornado warning last night and lots of rain but the weather seems to be a little better right now.

I am tweeting from the presentations that I attend, as well as the other Bloggers of Honor. If you are on Twitter you can follow me at genaortega. To see all the tweets from the conference do a search for #fhexpo. #fhexpo is the hash tag that we are using for this conference.

I will be blogging a little later tonight at the banquet.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

52 Weeks of Genealogy Sources: Week 3, Letters to the Editor

When most genealogists think of researching the newspaper they think of  obituaries. Afterall, obituaries can be a great source of information about our ancestors.  They can include birth, marriage and death information, family names, accomplishments, memberships, cemetery information and more.  But there is much more to newspaper research than looking for an obituary.  And for that matter there is more to researching an ancestor's death than just an obituary.

There is so much information you can find in the newspaper about your ancestor, everything from articles about special events in their lives, "gossipy" bits of news about their comings and goings, and legal notices having to do with the end of their lives.

But what about the Letters to the Editor?  According to Wikipedia (and no, I'm not saying Wikipedia is a great research website) there have always been Letters to the Editor in American newspapers.  It would seem that we Americans have always had an opinion about something. (For more about Letters to the Editor, you can check out the Wikipedia article at

Maybe your ancestor had an opinion about something.  Maybe they didn't like the way their local government was run.  Maybe they wanted to air their grievances before their community.  Now, you may have better luck with finding an ancestor's Letter to the Editor if they lived in a smaller area but my point in spotlighting this source is to encourage you to  research the newspaper beyond the obituary.  Look at the whole newspaper for clues to the life of your ancestor.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

52 Weeks of Genealogy Sources: Week 2, School Census

One of my research projects right now involves my 4th great grandmother's 2nd husband. I was doing a survey of what resources exist in various nearby libraries for the area that they lived in and was pleased to find a school census list for their county. A school census can be important for a few reasons. One important aspect of the school census is it provides a snapshot of your ancestor and their family at a certain place at a certain time. It allows you to know where they lived and the names of the children in the family.

Now in my case, I was able to look at a transcription of a school census that showed the name of the parent (mostly the names of the fathers), how many kids they had, kid's ages and what area of the county they lived in. Because it was a transcription, I need to now look to the state archives to research the original records, hopefully on microfilm, to glean any information that may not have been part of the transcription.

School census records may be in a number of places. They may be transcribed in a book, or available from the Family History Library on microfilm, or through a state archive/library. And if your ancestor was away at school during a federal census year, they will appear with their classmates on the U.S. Federal Census. This might be the case for your ancestor if they went to boarding school, lived at college or were at an Indian school.

A unexpected surprise for me as I researched the school census was that my 4th great grandmother's 1st husband (for whom she divorced) and her 2nd husband appear to live near, if not next door, to each other. This provides some additional information to help better understand the dynamics going on with these two families.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Does your Genealogy have a Mountweazel?

I was driving from my presentation on Saturday, listening to NPR and heard this very interesting fact. Dictionary, encyclopedia publishers and others purposely place a Mountweazel in their books as a copyright trap.

A Mountweazel is the name of a false entry in a publication meant to catch those who would use copyrighted work as their own. It is named after an entry for a Lillian Virginia Mountweazel that was made in the 1975 edition of the New Columbian Encyclopedia. A bio of Mountweazel hailed her achievements as a photographer and her death at the a young 31 years of age on assignment for Combustibles magazine. While her story seemed interesting it was all made up.

The NPR show I was listening to had a caller who talked about his search for a particular bird he had learned about in a dictionary. He pursued information about this Persian bird for 30 years only to find out that it didn't exist, it was a Mountweazel.

This interesting story got me to thinking about how many of us are chasing Mountweeazels in our genealogy. In my mind, a genealogy Mountweazel is an ancestor for whom a descendent has  collected a name and dates for but has little evidence for the ancestor's life. Mountweazels can also be ancestors who have common names and who the genealogist does not take enough time to make sure that they are researching their family tree and not someone elses.

So how do we stomp out the Mountweazels in our genealogy? Cite Your Sources ! I know it's not a lot of fun. I know it's a hassle and believe me I know that research and discovering things is way more fun. But when you don't cite your sources you are not critically looking at whether the family you are researching is your family, you are not keeping record of where you have searched and you are not making it possible for other researchers/family to replicate your research.

You can read more about Mountweazel's at Wikipedia at

Church Record Sunday: Limerick Quakers

Dick Eastman posted some information on a new resource available for those with Irish Quaker ancestors. 

To learn more about the Limerick Papers see his article at

Thursday, January 14, 2010

52 Weeks of Genealogy Sources: Week 1, Archive Category in FamilySearch

This first resource is really one that leads you to more sources. It won’t provide you information about your ancestor by searching it.  Its purpose is to lead you to collections that will help you find information about your ancestor.

When searching the Family History Library Catalog,,  by a location, you will see a list of categories for records for that location. So for example, if you search on Arizona, you will see this,

It’s easy to scan the list and go straight for Vital Records or Court Records since that is something that we will need in our research. But don’t overlook one of the first categories, Archives and Libraries. This category contains information about the repository collections in the locality where you are researching.

So for Arizona, the category Archives and Libraries-inventories, registers and catalogs contains the following:

  • Guide to the manuscript collection of Arizona State University
  • Documents of Southwestern history : a guide to the manuscript collections of the Arizona Historical Society
  • A guide to public records in the Arizona State Archives

Each of these guides can be helpful as you search. Now in some cases the information might be readily available on the Internet but not in all cases.
When  I was researching my book, Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra, I was able to access an inventory of a local county archives that was taken many years prior. This list allowed me to know what had been available when the inventory was taken and it provided me a document that I could use when contacting the archives to let them know what I was interested in.

Don't forget that when searching on a state or a county in the Family History Library catalog,, once you are on the results page for that region, you can then click on the button View Related Places and search on a county or regional level.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Church Record Sunday: So Where Are The Records?

The most difficult part of looking for documents for our ancestors can be figuring out where the documents are housed. Although it may seem obvious that church records are stored at the church, it's not always that easy. Yes, sometimes the record is at the church but sometimes for a variety of reasons it may be stored elsewhere. Here are some ideas of places to look for church/religious records for your ancestor:

  • Individual Church Office (parish, church meetinghouse, etc)
  • Regional Church Office (ex. Archdiocese)
  • Church Archive
  • Church Museum (A church may have a museum attached to it, perhaps in a place where they were founded).
  • University/College associated with that religion (ex. Notre Dame, BYU, Loma Linda University)
  • University/Church not associated with that religion (they may just be in the location of the church or have had items donated by family members, associates, etc.)
  • Family History Library (, do a locality search and then scroll down for links for church directories, church histories and church records. Also do a keyword or subject search on the name of the religion)
  • Google Books (Google Book has digitized historical journals for various religions i.e., Presbyterian and Catholic. It also has digitized books of church records and transcribed records.)
  • Online Genealogy Databases (WorldVitalRecords, Ancestry, Genealogy Today and others have church records in the form of digitized books and transcripts. Go beyond the basic search and search by locality or record type to find church records)

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

So You Say You Want a Presentation?

As most of my readers know, I present on genealogical subjects to genealogy/history societies, college classes and conferences. Every year I try to update my presentation and add new presentations as well as rewrite the old.

The following is just a partial list of my presentations for 2010. If you are interested in scheduling me for your group, please email me.

Research Techniques

Little Known State Links for Genealogical Research

Research Like a History Detective

Researching at Libraries

Journals, Store Ledgers and Letters to Aunt Mary: Using Manuscript Collections

Citing Sources

Combining Historical Research with your Genealogy

Increasing your Genealogical Knowledge

California Dreamin'

Institutional Records

Putting Flesh on Your Ancestor's Bones

Citing Sources

Grandpa was in Jail!? Researching the Black Sheep and Other Infamous Relatives

Read All About It: Your Ancestor in the Newspaper.

Elusive Genealogy Sources

Preserving Heirlooms

Female Ancestors

Women’s Work

Remember the Ladies: Finding your Female Ancestors

The Cigar Factory Quilt: Tracing Women’s Lives through Quilts

Church History and Records

19th Century American Religions

Researching LDS Ancestors

American Church Records

Land Records

Your Ancestor’s Real Estate

Using Maps to Find Your Ancestors


Advance your Family History through Social Networking

Finding your Genealogy in Digitized Books

Using Google for your Genealogy

More Google for your Genealogy

100 Internet Sites Every Genealogist Should Know

Social History Websites

Military Records

Researching the Lives of Confederate Soldiers

Cemetery Research

Researching Your Ancestor’s Death

American Cemeteries

Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Church Record Sunday: Matrimonial Investigations

I was writing an article earlier in the week and I had included some information about Matrimonial Investigations. These were done by the Catholic Church prior to a couple getting married to make sure they were eligible to be married, i.e., not bigamists, not related, etc..They hold much more information than the usual marriage records.

For those with early California ancestors there is a collection of Matrimonial Investigations for the San Gabriel Mission, though it does include other missions, at the Claremont Colleges Digital Library located at These are the original records digitized from the 18th and 19th century.

I found one investigation in a copy of the United State Catholic Historical Magazine available from Google Books at This is from an investigation from Florida, translated from the original Spanish. It provides a lot information about the couple and their parents. In this example, the mother gives permission for her son, who is a widower, to marry his new bride. It also includes information about the grooms first wife.

This magazine is worth a look at, it includes a lot of great historical information back to colonial times.

To find matrimonial investigations, I would recommend asking at the Catholic archive where you are requesting records. Archives usually exist on the diocese or archdiocese level.

Friday, January 01, 2010

On the Bookshelf: Half Broke Horses A True-Life Novel

As I was perusing books to read on my Kindle I came across Half Broke Hoses, A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls. (You can download this book from Amazon for your Kindle or buy it in book form from any number of bookstores).

I had read Jeannette's other book entitled The Glass Castle which is a remembrance of her life growing up with parents who were quite eccentric and raised their children with a nomadic, often homeless, impoverished life. Half Broke Horses chronicles her maternal grandmother's life. However, instead of basing the tale on research, her grandmother died when she was 8 years old, she uses her mother's oral history of her grandmother's life as the basis for the book.

While I hungered for a bibliography and endnotes, since I am weird and enjoy those parts of a book, this is a novelized account of her grandmother's life, and what a life it was. Having read The Glass Castle and not understanding why her parent's were the way they were, Half Broke Horses gives you that aha moment and really shows how many traits are inherited. We are truly the sum of those who come before us.

I'm not going to provide too much information about the book. It's a great book, one you want to just sit and read in a day or so. I like the idea of taking those family stories and weaving a novel together. What a great way to learn about your family history.

Wall's grandmother was a true trailblazer, she taught school starting at 15 years of age and she rode her horse, by herself across New Mexico and Arizona to her first job. Can you imagine letting your 15 year old daughter ride across 2 states,it took her about 20 days, with some money, a bedroll and a gun by herself? (This was in the early 1900's). She later travels to Chicago by herself and works as a domestic. Later traveling back to Arizona she becomes a school teacher again and marries Jim Smith, a son of Mormon pioneer Lot Smith.

Though I wish there was more genealogy research used in writing this book, she did refer to a family history book and a book about Lot Smith to confirm some details, it is a great example of what you can do with those family stories.