Genealogy Basics

500 Years of English Slang in an Online Dictionary

dictionary-of-slangFind a word or phrase in an old document that you do not understand? If it is slang, you probably can find the meaning in the free, online Green’s Dictionary of Slang. For instance, did you know that a mickser is an Irishman who has emigrated to the UK?

Green’s Dictionary of Slang contains nearly 100,000 words supported by over 400,000 citations that go all the way back to the middle ages.

Green’s Dictionary of Slang is the largest historical dictionary of English slang available anywhere, either online or in print.

Why Your Family Name Was Not Changed at Ellis Island

The New York Public Library is the latest organization to publish an article about the myth of “the family name was changed at Ellis Island” and then describes exactly one exception. Almost every genealogy writer in the US, including myself, has written about the myth before. It is nice to see someone with the authority and credentials of the New York Public Library write about it. Perhaps this fairy tale will now be put to rest.

The article by Philip Sutton says many things, including:

“There is a myth that persists in the field of genealogy, or more accurately, in family lore, that family names were changed there. They were not. Numerous blogs, essays, and books have proven this. Yet the myth persists; a story in a recent issue of The New Yorker suggests that it happened. This post will explore how and why names were not changed.”

Automatically Numbering Your Genealogy in Microsoft Word

If you use Microsoft Word, you may be interested in a free ebook by Rondina Muncy: Automatically Numbering Your Genealogy in Microsoft® Word. It tells the reader how to renumber genealogies using both the Register (created in 1870 for use in the New England Historic and Genealogical Register published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society) and NGSQ (National Genealogical Society Quarterly) styles without manually going back and correcting their numbers.


The 27-page booklet is full of screenshots that illustrate the methods described. The methods described work in Microsoft Word on Macintosh and Windows.

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.

Why You Might Want a Personal Genealogy Blog on WordPress

blogYou probably can find dozens of reasons for creating a blog. In addition, you can probably find dozens of companies that will host a blog for you. Given the choices and the reasons available, trying to decide on the best blog hosting service for you can be an overwhelming decision. How do you find the best one for your use? I will suggest there is no easy answer, but I will suggest that WordPress should be one of the services you evaluate.

NOTE: I will quickly admit that I am biased. The words you are reading right now are hosted on a WordPress blog. I have used several different blogging services over the years to host this newsletter. I switched to WordPress several years ago and am very happy with the company’s services. I have no plans to switch to anything else.

Why would you want a blog?

There are a number of reasons why a genealogist might want to crate a blog. Here are a few ideas I can think of:

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.

How to Quickly Scan Documents Using Android and Google Drive or an iPhone and Dropbox

Ben Stegner has written an article and created a video that will interest many genealogists. How to Quickly Scan Documents Using Android and Google Drive describes how to go paperless without the need any hardware other than your smartphone. You can actually scan documents with nothing more than your Android phone. You can read Ben Stegner’s article and watch the video at

You can also perform the same functions with an Android phone and Evernote. See for details.

You can also use the same techniques with an iPhone and with Dropbox. Assuming you have the Dropbox app installed on your iPhone, open the Dropbox app on your iPhone, tap the + (plus sign) button, and choose Scan Document. The iPhone takes a picture of the document being :”scanned.” After scanning the document, the next screen is the Edit view. The icons on the bottom of this view represent the actions you can take to edit your scan. Finish your editing and then tap Next to enter the Settings view. Name your file and decide on a file type and then decide where to save your document. Finally, touch SAVE.

Printable Family Trees and Genealogy Charts

The following is extracted from an announcement by

Blank_Family_TreeThe website has added two dozen new family tree templates and genealogy forms to download and print.

“These new family trees round out the site with crafty ‘do it yourself’ trees as well as traditional designs and an array of ancestry charts and form,” said Kevin Savetz, the site’s creator. “These are perfect for genealogy buffs as well as kids or anyone interested in recording their family history.”

What’s in a Name? Finding Your Identity in a Changing, Socially Connected America by Liz Pekler

I am delighted to introduce a new guest author for this newsletter. Liz Pekler describes herself as a “travel photographer and social advocate for equality and change.” Here is her first article for this newsletter:


Image Source: Pixabay

In a speech delivered at Cairo University a few months into his term, then newly-elected U.S. President Barack Obama remarked: “Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected president.”

Indeed, a vast majority of Americans likely thought the exact same thing in the decades prior to 2008. From the time of the Mayflower pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock in the 1600s to the 19th century, families with traditional English, Scottish, or Welsh last names such as Smith, Johnson, Taylor, Miller, Jones, and Williams populated the early American landscape. Meanwhile, Western European migration in the late 19th to early 20th centuries further injected U.S. society with more varied bloodlines, adding names such as Anderson, Clark, Nelson, Martin, Rossi, and Murphy to the melting pot.

How to Find a Revolutionary War Patriot

The Fourth of July seems like the perfect day to plan genealogy research to find information about your ancestors in the 1770s. If they were in the original 13 colonies, they may have participated in the American Revolution, either as a Patriot or a Loyalist. You might want to refer to the article I published last year, How to Find a Revolutionary War Patriot, available at

Trivia quiz: Where is Ellis Island Located?

When asked that question, I suspect most Americans would say “in New York.” If so, they would be wrong. A 1998 United States Supreme Court decision found that most of the island is in New Jersey.

According to Wikipedia’s article, New Jersey v. New York, at

An interstate compact had been signed between New York and New Jersey prior to Ellis Island becoming a major immigration center. This compact granted New York the rights to all islands in the water channel separating the two states (including both Ellis Island and the much larger Staten Island), but granting New Jersey the rights to half of the water channel. This agreement was fashioned in order to allow New Jersey to build docks on the riverfront, while allowing New York to control islands that it already considered integral parts of its territory. This led to places such as Ellis Island located on the New Jersey half of the river, but belonging to New York.


A Genealogy Intro

I suspect that most people reading this newsletter already know the information presented in this article. However, I will invite you to print it or send it via e-mail to anyone who expresses an interest in researching their own family tree or asks why you have such an interest. Also please feel free to reprint this article in newsletters, newspaper articles or anyplace else that you feel might be appropriate. (I would appreciate your giving credit to the author, however. Thanks.)

Do you have a curiosity about your family tree? Many people do. Some may have their interest piqued because of an heirloom, an old picture, or perhaps an unresolved family mystery. The reasons people get hooked on genealogy are many and varied, but each person’s search is unique. After all, the search for your ancestors really is a search for yourself.

If you think that family history research requires hours of rummaging through libraries, trekking through cemeteries, and writing letters to government bureaus, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Finding your family tree is simpler than what many people imagine. To be sure, you may encounter some intriguing obstacles. However, most of them can be overcome.

As with so many hobbies today, using a computer can simplify some of the tasks of searching and recording. However, a computer is not necessary. Americans have been recording their ancestry for two centuries or more without digital tools, and you can do the same. All you need is a starting point and a direction, and maybe a few tips.

In the beginning … there’s you!

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.

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is Still Available!

ssdiThe Social Security Death Index (often called the SSDI) is a valuable tool for genealogists. It lists deceased people within the United States. When first created, the SSDI only listed those people who were receiving Social Security benefit payments at the time of death. However, as the years went by, the database was expanded to include ALMOST ALL DEATHS, whether receiving benefits or not.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) Death Master File (DMF) contains more than 80 million records of deaths that have been reported to SSA. This file includes the following information on each deceased person, as applicable: name, date of birth, date of death, state or country of residence (prior to Mar 1988), and ZIP code of last residence.

Due to false concerns over identity theft, the Social Security Administration stopped releasing updates to the SSDI a few years ago. A few web sites that previously had made the SSDI available online have since deleted the records from their web sites. Now many genealogists believe the SSDI is no longer available.

Not true! The SSDI hasn’t been “lost.” It is still available in several places today, and you can search it online.

The News of Your Death May Be a Bit Premature

Here is a fun(?) although perhaps macabre project. Find obituaries of people with the same name as yourself. It is easy to do.

9iRaq9kieGo to and enter:

obituary {insert your name here}

Depending upon the popularity of your name, you may be surprised at the number of entries you find.

I just checked for my name. I found lots of entries for men who share my name but luckily no obituary for me. I’ll check again tomorrow…

“I Have My Family Tree Back to Adam and Eve”

This is another bit of fiction that needs to be wiped out. I have often heard people (I won’t call them “genealogists”) at various times make the claim they have traced their family tree back to Adam and Eve. Of course, the “documentation” is always sketchy.

Robert C. Gunderson was a Senior Royalty Research Specialist, of the Church Genealogical Department, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). He was an expert in medieval genealogy and started the Royalty Identification Unit in 1972. He passed away in 2003. However, before his death, Gunderson once was asked if such research was possible. He replied:

“The simplest answer is No. Let me explain. In thirty-five years of genealogical research, I have yet to see a pedigree back to Adam that can be documented. By assignment, I have reviewed hundreds of pedigrees over the years. I have not found one where each connection on the pedigree can be justified by evidence from contemporary documents. In my opinion it is not even possible to verify historically a connected European pedigree earlier than the time of the Merovingian Kings (c. a.d. 450–a.d. 752).

How Many Backup Copies of Important Files Do You Need?

Here’s the old data center 3-2-1 rule-of-thumb for backing up:

3 copies of anything you care about – Two isn’t enough if it’s important.
2 different formats – Example: Dropbox plus DVDs or Hard Drive plus Memory Stick or CD plus Crash Plan, or more
1 off-site backup – If the house burns down, how will you get your memories back?

Encryption Explained

As I have mentioned many times in this newsletter, encryption can make much of your information private by locking out spying eyes. However, not everyone understands encryption or the benefits it can produce. Now, an Amazon company, has created a YouTube video that explains encryption, as well as some of the issues up for debate right now, as simply as possible.

You can watch the video at as well as in the video player below.

Why You Might Want to Use a URL Shortener

URL is the abbreviation for Uniform Resource Locator. A URL is the global address of documents and other resources on the World Wide Web. For instance, this newsletter’s home page is found at a URL of

URL_shortenerWhen writing email messages, social media messages, web pages, articles for newsletters or magazines, or simply taking notes for your own usage later, it is easy to copy-and-paste a URL into the text. But what if you want to print your document out or give a presentation with the link? Many web addresses run 100 characters or longer and contain a mish-mash of upper and lower case letters, punctuation marks, and more. Try entering those into a web browser manually!

A long URL that is shortened by a URL shortener is the best idea for making web pages easier to share. Instead of 100+ character monstrosities that are ugly to look at and impossible to remember or type, using a URL shortener like or TinyURL makes them much more manageable.

Ranks, Professions, Occupations and Trades

What is a “Billiard Marker?” A quick look at the Ranks, Professions, Occupations and Trades page at tells you that it is “A person who attends on players at billiards and records the progress of the game.”

The same page has hundreds of obsolete job titles that may be found in old documents and even census records. If you have an occupation for an ancestor that you cannot understand, take a look at the Ranks, Professions, Occupations and Trades page on the GenDocs web site. The occupations seem to be mostly for England and Wales but many of them apply to other countries as well.