Genealogy Basics

Find Historical and Genealogical Information with WolframAlpha

Wolfram-AlphaThe WolframAlpha web site claims it is “Making the world’s knowledge computable.” It offers all sorts of analyses about people, surnames, first names, family relationship, old occupations, historical events, and even the value of a US dollar at various times throughout history. Have an ancestor who paid $200 for a farm? You can find the value of that farm expressed in today’s dollars.

WolframAlpha says that it “introduces a fundamentally new way to get knowledge and answers— not by searching the web, but by doing dynamic computations based on a vast collection of built-in data, algorithms, and methods.” It will not find information about individuals unless they are famous for some reason. However, it will provide a lot of facts that are useful to anyone researching a family tree.

It is the First Day of the Month: Back Up Your Genealogy Files

BackUpYourGenealogyFilesIt is the first day of the month. It’s time to back up your genealogy files. Then test your backups!

Actually, you can make backups at any time. However, it is easier and safer if you have a specific schedule. The first day of the month is easy to remember, so I would suggest you back up your genealogy files at least on the first day of every month, if not more often.

Canadian Genealogy at the Maine State Library

An article in the August 2015 Edition of the Maine State Library Genealogy Newsletter caught my eye. Canadian Genealogy at Maine State Library describes the many resources of that library for anyone researching Canadian ancestry, especially those who migrated to Maine. Since 50% of my ancestors moved from Canada to Maine, you KNOW that I paid attention! However, many of these resources are not specific to Maine. There are many, many books and microfilms with special concentration on resources from Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces; New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and] Prince Edward Island. If your ancestry came from those provinces, I suspect you will find a lot of interesting things to look at in the latest Maine State Library Genealogy Newsletter.


We Are All Related! So Get Over It.

Hillary_Clinton_Donald_TrumpPolitics are saturating the U.S. news media once again as candidates vie for the presidential elections, still more than a year away. Every four years, news services “discover” that various candidates are related to one another. This week’s news is that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are 19th cousins. Their common ancestors include John of Gaunt, the duke of Lancaster, and third wife Katherine Swynford at the end of the 14th century — a century before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

I have one reaction: “Ho hum, so what else is new?”

Acadian French-Canadian Name Variations

A long and detailed article about Acadian French-Canadian Name Variations has been contributed to the Encyclopedia of Genealogy entitled Acadian French-Canadian Name Variations. It has been translated and is reproduced in the Encyclopedia with thanks to Claude Perrault and the Socièté Généalogique Canadienne-Française.

I recognized several of my Acadian ancestors’ names here! You might do the same.

Acadian French-Canadian Name Variations may be found at

Why Was the Information Removed from Online?

A newsletter reader sent an email to me today expressing dissatisfaction that a set of images of vital records has been removed from a popular genealogy site. Indeed, removal of any online records of genealogical value is sad, but not unusual. Changes such as these are quite common on FamilySearch, MyHeritage,, Fold3, FindMyPast, and many other genealogy sites that provide old records online. Removal of datasets has occurred dozens of times in the past, and I suspect such things will continue to happen in the future. I thought I would write a brief explanation.

Google Power Tools: How to Calculate Currency Exchange Rates for Foreign Currencies

Do you need to order photocopies of documents from “the old country” and need to find out how much it will cost in your country’s currency? Perhaps you want to purchase software or subscribe to the Plus Edition of a certain online genealogy newsletter (hint hint) but need to know the amount it will cost in your country’s funds. Luckily, there are many online tools available to convert the amount from the other country’s currency to the currency of your country. I always use Google.

Google seems to be the online equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife for computer owners. It provides all sorts of tools in one easy-to-use package. For this discussion, there are at least two different ways to use Google to calculate currency exchange rates.

Make Sure You Are Climbing YOUR Family Tree and Not Someone Else’s

Crista Cowan has posted an article in the Ancestry Blog that I would suggest be required reading for all genealogists, especially those who are new to researching their family tree.

One of the common errors made by not-so-experienced genealogists is finding a family tree online that “looks like my family” and making an erroneous assumption that it is indeed their own ancestors. I don’t know the error rate of such assumptions but it must be high. I have seem many “family trees” with impossible information, such as a mother giving birth at the age of three or a child born to a father who had been deceased for ten years at the time of the child’ birth. Too many people find a name and a location that “must be my ancestor” and add it to their so-called family tree. has added a new Facts View to the Ancestry online tree. The big change in the new versions is that sources to support the displayed facts and relationships are now front and center.

Why Are So Many Prussian, Polish, and German Records Missing?

Mark F Rabideau has written an article that will interest anyone researching Prussian, Polish, or German ancestry. Mark’s article discusses the topic and provides a number of links to source videos to help explain and provide context.

You can find Why are so many records missing? at:

You Can’t Believe the Census Records!

Census records are amongst the primary tools of genealogists. Even so, those of us who have been reading them for a while can tell you that the records are not as reliable as we would wish. I am still trying to find great-great-granddad in the 1850 census although he appears hale and hearty in the enumerations of 1840, 1860, 1870 and 1880. His absence in 1850 is still unexplained. Still, my quandary is minor compared to some others. For instance, the 1990 census is thought to have missed one native American in eight. Thousands of others – perhaps millions – have been missed in census records taken over the past two centuries.

America’s first census was carried out in 1790, and it was groundbreaking in many ways. It was the first to be mandated in any country’s constitution. It also caused America’s first presidential veto when George Washington, on the advice of Thomas Jefferson, disagreed with legislation defining how this “apportionment” was to be carried out. Washington’s primary objection to the proposed amendment was that “there is no one proportion or divisor which, applied to the respective numbers of the States, will yield the number and allotment of representatives proposed by the Bill.” It is interesting to note that today’s fixed allocation of 435 seats also does not pass the test established by President Washington.

Google Power Search: How to Search by a Date Range and Why You Might Want To

There’s a lot more you can do with Google than just searching the entire Internet. For instance, you can search for web pages added to Google’s indexes within a range of dates. The most common use for this is to look for pages added within the past 30 days or perhaps within the past week.

For instance, I have an elusive “brickwall ancestor” that I have been trying to identify for years: Washington Harvey Eastman. Unfortunately, his three names are not unusual although the combination of those three names is a bit unique. If I simply enter his name into a Google search, I receive many “hits,” including a few from newsletter articles I have written.

Since I have already searched for him before, I have already seen all the “hits” that have been available for some time. There’s no need to go back and wade through all those same hits time after time. I only want to see the NEW web pages that mention his name. Luckily, Google supplies the tools to do this. In fact, there are two different methods that are closely related.

Google Power Search: How to Search Just One Web site

There’s a lot more you can do with Google than just search the Internet. Instead of searching the entire Internet, you may be more interested in seeing search results from just one web site. To do this, go to and enter the word “site:” followed by a colon (:) followed immediately (with no space) by the web site’s address. Next, add a space and then the word(s) you wish to search for. It should look something like this: search-term

Notice the web site’s address is given without the letters “http”, without the colon, without the slashes and without “www.”

For instance, perhaps you only want to search the web site of the Indiana Genealogical Society at to see what databases the society has for Pike County, the county where your ancestors lived. To do so, go to and enter: “Pike County”

Genealogy’s Often-Misspelled Words

You might want to save this article someplace. I have no idea why, but many of the words used in researching your family tree are difficult to spell. I constantly see spelling errors in messages posted on various genealogy web sites. When someone misspells a word, it feels like they are shouting, “I don’t know what I’m doing!”

Here are a few words to memorize:

Genealogy – No, it is not spelled “geneology” nor is it spelled in the manner I often see: “geneaology.” That last word looks to me as if someone thought, “Just throw all the letters in there and hope that something sticks.” For some reason, many newspaper reporters and their editors do not know how to spell this word. Don’t they have spell checkers?

Video: Who Do They Think They Are? – A Lighthearted Look at Today’s Genealogy Searches

A hilarious Aussie spoof of Who Do You Think You Are? has become popular on YouTube. Created by The Checkout, an Australian television program, Who Do They Think They Are? pokes fun at the Who Do You Think You Are? television program, at, the Mormon Church, DNA, and even a quick jab at trying to find genealogy information on Google. It also delivers a serious message about the proper methods of searching one’s family tree.

Genealogy Data Entry Techniques

In the course of a week, I get to see a lot of genealogy data. Some of what I see is abysmal. Many otherwise highly-skilled genealogists do not seem to know that their keyboards have a SHIFT key! Instead, they simply press their CAPS LOCK key and then ignore upper and lower case after that.

Of course, the use of UPPER CASE text has a long history in the computer business. The mainframes of the 1960s and 70s only used upper case text. Data typically was entered on 80-column punch cards. The IBM 026 keypunch machine, the most popular keypunch machine ever built, indeed did not have a shift key and was incapable of entering lower case text.

By the late 1970s, all of this had changed, and data was being entered from computer terminals in normal upper and lower case. However, not everyone got the word. It seems that a number of people do not realize that the keyboards of the twenty-first century have improved since those “stone age” computers of 40 or 50 years ago!

Did You Find the Correct Ancestor? Many People Did Not as Shown by Numerous Published Articles about Hillary Clinton’s Family Tree

Megan Smolenyak has published an article that I would suggest should be required reading for all genealogists. She discovered that most of the published reports of Hillary Clinton’s ancestry have (at least) 25% of their information wrong. It seems that two women with the same name were born in the same area within a short time of each other. Guess which one most writers claim was Hillary’s grandmother? Yes, the wrong one.

You can read Megan’s article at

Ok, so what’s in your family tree? Is your information 100% correct?

I Have a Complaint Concerning Many Genealogists

Warning: This article contains personal opinions.

This is an almost exact duplicate of an article I posted several years ago. The topic has come up again lately so I decided to publish it again for the benefit of those who did not read or do not remember the original article. I have changed a few words to make sure it covers recent comments.

I have a complaint that may upset some people, including some who read this newsletter. I will probably lose readers because of this article, but I don’t care. Like many of my readers, I feel so strongly about this issue that I just have to speak out – hold the sugar coating.

Some people are so shortsighted that they manage to ignore certain facts that are blatantly obvious to others.

In short, every time I post an article or someone’s press release about some new genealogy data becoming available on a fee-based web site, a great hue and cry arises from the nay-sayers. The comments they post on this newsletter’s web site and elsewhere vary in wording but have a common theme: “The information is public and should remain free to all of us and not be the private property of some company.”

I am amazed at the folks who actually believe this bit of misinformation.

Downsizing and Going Paperless

Warning: This article contains personal opinions.

I have written a number of times about the advantages of a paperless lifestyle. Genealogists seem especially attached to paper. We often save photocopies of old records, old books, and much, much more. I once bought a four-drawer filing cabinet to store all my paper. A few years later, I purchased a SECOND four-drawer filing cabinet. I purchased probably more than one hundred dollars’ worth of file folders over the years. I photocopied and photocopied and stored all the paper in neatly-arranged folders.

Sadly, I almost never opened the drawers to retrieve anything. When I did attempt to find something, I often couldn’t locate what I wanted because the document was filed in some obscure method. For instance, the marriage record I might be seeking often was filed under the husband’s surname, not under the wife’s maiden name.

Today is World Backup Day

What would you do if you lost everything?

A backup is a second copy of all your important files — for example, your family photos, home videos, documents and emails. Instead of storing it all in one place (like your computer), you keep another copy of everything somewhere safe. In that manner, if your primary copy becomes unavailable for some reason (hardware failure, fire, bust water pipe, or accidental erasure), you always can retrieve one of your backup copies and continue.

March 31st is World Backup Day. I am not sure who made the declaration to make it a “special day” but I like the idea of having one day a year to make people aware of the need for backups. You can learn more about World Backup Day at

Using Basic Genealogy Tools and Methods to Show that Your Family Name Was NOT Changed at Ellis Island

There is a common misconception, call it an old wives tale or an urban legend, that family names were often changed at Ellis Island. Such myths gain a great deal of credibility when newspapers such as the New York Times, the country’s “paper of record”, perpetuates these myths by repeating them, in this case in obituaries.

Kenneth A. Bravo, JD did a bit of research and found about half a dozen Times obituaries with similar erroneous Ellis Island stories. After doing the research on each, he was able to show the original name for each of them.


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