Henry the VIII, Henry the 8th, Genealogy Research, online genealogy, ancestry, family search

Fishing or Real Genealogy Research?

Note: the following post is written by Dr. Terrence M. Punch, an expert in genealogy research related to maritime Canada. Since the 1970s, he has published numerous books on Scottish, Irish and French immigration. He has written other posts for this blog, including the popular How our Ancestors Died. Below, Dr. Punch discusses the pitfalls that can trip up an unsuspecting Internet researcher, and how having a thorough research plan can help keep the course.

Fishing or Researching?

Before the Internet was generally in use, people seeking their family trees sooner or later went to an archives in search of information. We spoke with relatives to elicit stories and details about the family. Some hung around cemeteries or called in at the local Registry of Deeds or the Probate Court. Pastors and parish clerks came under siege as dozens of family historians beset them with requests for records of baptisms, marriages and burials. Still, in the long run, for most of us the archives was “Mecca.” In some ways, it still is.

During the 1990s material began to appear on the Internet, a trend that has grown exponentially since 2000. As data was keyed onto websites and links to collections multiplied, increasing numbers of people took up genealogy as a hobby, a quest or an obsession. For anyone living several hours’ drive from a major repository, Internet genealogy was a blessing. The remote, the disabled and the elderly could research at home. Alas, as so often is the case, there may be a worm in the apple.

Well-intentioned people spent hours putting material on the Internet; good, bad, and indifferent. We learned, “junk in, junk out,” when what we believed was reliable information turned out to be filled with mistakes. Some helpful postings were unsourced, i.e., there was no citation telling where the information came from. It matters whether data is authentic or merely the product of someone’s imagination.

Was the person who posted the information working from a primary source, meaning a document created at or near the event by someone actually there, or at least a photographic reproduction thereof? Was that story just what great uncle Ron cooked up after his third double scotch? Was grandmother embarrassed about her oldest brother being a 6-month old baby, so she put back the date of her parents’ wedding by a year so that there was no hint that her parents had indulged in pre-marital sex?

I am sounding a note of caution to the beginner or the trusting: Items found on the Internet should be treated to the same scrutiny as any other information.

Look for corroborating evidence, or at least other sources which support the context of the specific information. Look out for anachronisms. Bishop Charles Inglis did not marry someone in 1821 because by then he’d been dead for five years. Captains in the Royal Navy in 1810 did not ‘jump ship’. Abraham Lincoln drove a Ford?

This is not an assault on the usefulness of websites and their contents; far from it. But we need to be clear that there is junk as well as buried treasure available on the web. Our job is to learn to tell them apart or else wind up convinced that our 20 times great grandfather was Richard the Lionhearted, Ali Baba, or perhaps one of the forty thieves! Given the propensities of Louis XIV or Henry VIII and others, there may be quite a few royal descendants scattered about. Family historians are sometimes humble people, seeking to prove that they descend from someone who was a Big Cheese. Remember that genealogy is not defined as “tracing yourself back to better people,” a hope which seduces some to buy into falsehoods.

Avoid the Online Genealogy Research Trap

It is easy to mistake a fishing expedition on the Internet for genuine research. The first weapon of a good genealogist is an open mind. Unless a person is prepared to accept whatever authentic details they find about ancestors, they would be well advised to leave the job to a cousin or other relative who won’t be shocked at finding a forebear of another ethnic origin or religious persuasion. The second is for the genealogist to make a plan before fishing on the Internet for forefathers and mothers. There is just so much genealogical material on line that you need to have a firm grasp of what you seek and what you are looking at. Otherwise the sheer volume of information can overwhelm and lead you astray, and you spend months thinking that the wrong lead was the right one and you compound the original mistake by building on it.

For example, you were looking for the parents of Evan Bowen, born about 1775 in Wales, and online you find a family with an Even Bowen born in 1777 in Wales. If you then and there assume he is your man and proceed back from him to Evan’s father Owen and find that Owen’s father was Howell ap Owen ap Twdor, you could be shocked to learn that there were perhaps two dozen other Even Bowens born in Wales during the 1770s and you may have latched onto the first one you found, unaware of that fact.

There is so much genealogical material on the Internet that it is easy to get lost. You need a good grip on what you are seeking or you can be misled. My advice is that you get a logical research plan and adhere to it. Doing so can make the difference between success and failure for your research. Remember when using the Internet that it is better to stick to a plan. Too many fishers of the ‘Net become fish because they take the bait. Don’t let that be you.

Image credit:  Henry VIII of England on Horseback. Hand-coloured woodcut. Hans Liefrinck (II) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

historical pastimes, pastime, ancestors, ancestry, genealogy

Pastimes of our Ancestors

The following post, “A Lighter Side of History — A Timeline of Pastimes of our Ancestors,” is written by author Denise R. Larson. Ms. Larson is the acclaimed author of the recently updated and rereleased Companions of Champlain, which provides a concise historical overview of the founding of Quebec and French-Canadian culture. She has also authored other posts on this blog including the informative “Genealogy Isn’t Just Finding Dead People” about how to find “lost” relatives in your family history.

Please note that Ms. Jacobson’s book, History for Genealogists: Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors, has been recently released in e-book format and is available for purchase here

We hope you enjoy the following post by Ms. Larson below.

A Lighter Side of History — A Timeline of Pastimes of our Ancestors

Though it can be said that our ancestors did not have the economic advantages that most of us enjoy today, that doesn’t mean their lives were completely humdrum and colorless. They had their fun, too.

A new chapter in Judy Jacobson’s History for Genealogists: Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors gives hints on how average people in past centuries filled their free time with hobbies, entertainments, sports, and social gatherings. Was your great-grandfather a member of the Masons or Odd Fellows? Did your grandmother march for women’s suffrage or in favor of prohibition?

Genealogy was and still is a favorite hobby and pastime, and the recording of births, marriages, and deaths can be approached in creative ways. The pedigree charts typically used by genealogists to plot a person’s parents, grandparents, etc., is a generational timeline. A genealogist I once met diagramed his family lineage on a white window shade. He slowly unrolled it to show me generation after generation of his ancestors. Easily portable, he understandably was very proud of his ingenious family timeline. Continue reading…

thomas jefferson, War of 1812

Thomas Jefferson sums up the War of 1812

The following post is by Denise R. Larson, the author of the 2016 edition of History for Genealogists. If you were a reader of the original 2009 edition, you will enjoy the new time lines concerning life on the homefront during America’s 20th-century wars; and fashion and leisure in America from its beginnings through the middle of the 20th century. The fashion and leisure chapter discusses things like the invention of the jigsaw puzzle, publication of Good Housekeeping magazine, and the modeling of the first bikini.

Following, Ms. Larson brings her expert eyes to discussing Thomas Jefferson’s views on the War of 1812:

Though no longer president of the United States, his term having ended in 1809, Thomas Jefferson took an avid interest in the welfare of his country, especially during the War of 1812, which he had unsuccessfully attempted to prevent by the economically disastrous Embargo Act of 1807.

In a letter to William H. Crawford, begun at Monticello February 11, 1815, and transcribed in “The Thomas Jefferson Papers” by the Library of Congress (memory.loc.gov), Jefferson wrote: the “6,000 citizens she (Britain) took from us by impressment have already cost her ten thousand guineas a man…. She might certainly find cheaper means of manning her fleet.”

About the progress of the war: “The first year of our warfare by land was disastrous.… But the second was generally successful, and the third entirely so, both by sea and land.”

After Jefferson heard about the signing of the treaty: “P.S. February 26th. I am glad of it, although no provision being made against the impressment of our seamen, it is in fact but an armistice, to be terminated by the first act of impressment committed on an American citizen.”

The taking of American seamen off ships has been downplayed by historians because it ended with the British victory in the Napoleonic wars and was called an excuse for war as used by expansionists, but Jefferson took it seriously. He saw it as a lack of respect and not to be tolerated if the United States was to take its place among the acknowledged nations of the world.

The settling of the northeast boundaries between British North America and the United States was still a touchy one. Jefferson wrote: “What nonsense for the manakin [possibly meant mannequin] Prince Regent to talk of their conquest of the country east of the Penobscot River! There, as in the revolutionary war, their conquests were never more than of the spot on which their army stood, never extended beyond the range of their cannon shot. If England is now wise or just enough to settle peaceably the question of impressment, the late treaty may become one of peace, and of long peace.”

And so it came to be. England no longer absconded with American seamen on the high seas, and the United States and Great Britain, as well as British North America, which later was officially known as Canada, became great allies in a long peace that has lasted to this day.

Image credit: Thomas Jefferson, via The Library of Congress.

preserve documents, preserving genealogy, genealogy collection, genealogical collection

Don’t use tape, glue to preserve documents or books

Let’s all take a moment and remember the basics of preserving a genealogy collection. In a time when it’s increasingly easy to store your work on a flash drive or in the cloud, we may have to actively remember to take care of the priceless collections of memories held in books, documents and printed photographs, instead of just hastily taping up a tear or carelessly shoving them in a drawer.

The following repost of Caresa Alexander Randall’s article, “Don’t use tape, glue to preserve documents, books, specialists say,” appeared in the Deseret News. In this reprinted piece, Ms. Randall chats with Mr. Christopher McAfee, head conservator for the L. Tom Perry Special Collections at Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library, about the basics of caring for your collection.

Please enjoy “Don’t use tape, glue to preserve documents, books, specialists say,”:

After a flood damaged his personal memoirs, Christopher McAfee decided to complete an internship in book conservation.

Now as the head conservator for the L. Tom Perry Special Collections at Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library, McAfee is able to teach others how to properly handle cherished items.

April 24-30 is Preservation Week, which highlights preserving historical items and collections. McAfee and specialists with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Church History Library and FamilySearch shared advice on how individuals can repair and preserve their personal collections of family history items.

“If you know memories about your ancestors, they will mean more to you,” said Dennis Meldrum, the partnership manager for FamilySearch Family History Books. “You’ll appreciate them more and you’ll love them more. They are more than just a name on the paper.”

DIY repairs

McAfee has seen a variety of do-it-yourself projects that people undertake in order to preserve an object. Some repair ideas are good, he said, while some can cause more damage.

“When I worked at (the) Church History (Library), we would always say that tape is a four-letter word,” McAfee said with a laugh. “I think tape is the most common amateur repair we see.”

In addition to being hard to remove, McAfee said, tape can sometimes crosslink with fibers in the paper and create a chemical reaction where the adhesive and paper become one. This reaction can lead to discoloration of the paper and make it brittle.

Another common amateur fix is glue.

“In most books, the spine of the cover breaks away from the spine of the textbook as the book is opened,” McAfee said. “As you glue them together, it makes it harder to open the book.”

McAfee said a person should ask, “How valuable is the book?” before any work is done to preserve it. He usually tells people to not repair their own things but to instead, if a book is rare and valuable, find and hire a conservator.


Joan Nay, a rare book specialist at the LDS Church History Library, also suggests asking if a book is valuable. She said that just because a book is old does not make it rare or mean that it has a high market value.

“For those who find a rare book and would like to have it appraised, they should contact a book dealer,” she said. She added that if a book is falling apart and pages are falling out, a person should take the book to a binder who can fix, preserve and restore the item.

Nay suggests digitizing family books that people want to keep.

Twelve years ago, FamilySearch launched Family History Books at books.familysearch.org, which digitizes and creates electronic books, Meldrum said.

“The total number of books we have online, as of today, is 270,627 books,” Meldrum said. “One of our goals in preservation is to gather as many of these as we can so people can share them.”

FamilySearch has scanners throughout the United States, including two in Utah. It usually takes two to three weeks for the information to appear online.

“If they have a book that they have written, we would like them to contact FamilySearch,” Meldrum said. “If they contact us, we will make arrangements to send them a permission form, because of copyright, letting FamilySearch digitize the book and put it online.”

To submit a family history book, contact books@familysearch.org.


Preservation ideas

Here are some suggestions from Christopher McAfee, head conservator for the L. Tom Perry Special Collections at Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library; Joan Nay, a rare book specialist at the LDS Church History Library; and Dennis Meldrum, the partnership manager for FamilySearch Family History Books:

• Think about preservation as risk management to mitigate damage and minimize risks.

• Find a conservator to help restore items such as art, rare books, photographs, textiles or photographs, at the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, online at conservation-us.org.

• To sell a rare book or have it appraised, contact a book dealer.

• Storing items in food-grade bags, such as Ziploc bags, is acceptable. Leave the bag open to allow for circulation.

• Organize and weed out things now. Save things that will tell your ancestors’ or your story.

• To store books, lay them flat or set them up on a shelf for storage (not in a box with the spine up). Keep them out of direct sunlight. Do not store them on the floor of the basement.

• Stories, photos, memories, audio files or scanned documents can be uploaded to FamilySearch.org. A FamilySearch account is free for everyone. When labeling photos, include the names of the people in each photo. Like Facebook, FamilySearch has the ability to tag photos.

• Share family members’ stories. Start with a grandparent and focus on positive experiences, but be careful about sensitive information.

Image credit: Family record / designed and executed with a pen by A.L. Silvernail, Ionia, Mich. c1886, via Library of Congress.

pension, war pension, pension rolls, widows pension

Elusive ancestor holds on to his secrets

Editor’s note: I came across this piece from the Mercury News a few days ago in my daily traipsing around the Internet. The original author, Joan Morris, speaks of her search for a particularly hard to find ancestor. What caught my eye was her use of pension records and how important they were to finding her ancestor.

Please note that links related to sites mentioned or other resources have been added to this post for the convenience of our readers, and are not part of the original article.

You can follow Ms. Morris on Twitter.com/AskJoanMorris.

Elusive ancestor holds on to his secrets

Thomas Honea was born around 1812, got married, became a soldier and sometime during the Civil War, he died. Everything else was lost to history.

I’ve been searching for Thomas ever since I discovered my great-great-grandmother’s widow’s pension voucher tucked inside a bunch of old letters and photographs.

The voucher was for $24, covering three months starting in November 1906. A paltry $8 a month for a supreme sacrifice. What made it even more tragic is that the voucher was never cashed. Nancy Honea died before she could execute it.

That piece of paper has sent me on a long and frustrating search for answers. Who were Thomas Honea’s people? What role did he play in the Civil War and for which side? Most importantly, how did he die?

I asked my mother, who told the family story as she recalled it. Thomas had been pinned down during a prolonged battle. He took shelter behind an overturned table and in the course of the fighting, suffered frostbite on his feet. The wounds became infected and then gangrene set in. He died in a military hospital.

At the time, we assumed he was a Confederate soldier. My family always seems to be on the wrong side of things. It was nothing I took particular pride in, but I did want to know more about him and honor his personal sacrifice.

My sisters and I poured over Confederate roll calls, searching for him. When we hit dead ends there, we tried the Union rolls. There was nothing.

For years, the voucher lay in a drawer, ignored but not forgotten. Then I installed Family Tree Maker on my computer and got myself a membership to Ancestry.com. The chase was back on.

I added a membership to Fold3.com, which focuses on military records. I found a few Thomas Honeas listed, one in the Georgia volunteers and another in the Texas militia. Neither turned out to be my Thomas.

It was then that I noticed a curious hand-stamped notation on the pension voucher. It read, “Widows, Indian Wars.”

Although Thomas was old for the Civil War era — he would have been 49 when that first shot was fired on Fort Sumter — he was much too young for the War of 1812, also known as the Indian War. The Union Army, however, waged two wars during the 1860s — one against the South and one against American Indians in the West. But now I had one elusive answer: He’d been a Union soldier.

I turned to my friend, Kathy Echols, who volunteers at the Family History Center in Concord. The center is run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As part of the Mormon faith, church members build extensive family trees. They have amassed a trove of records and created a way for everyone to tap into them.

These days, Kathy spends much of her family-tree research on Swedish records, and although she doesn’t speak a word of Swedish, she has learned to read a good deal of it. If Kathy could find her Nordic relatives, then surely a farm boy from Mississippi couldn’t be much of a challenge.

Thomas wasn’t giving up his secrets easily, however, but I was able to find a bit more information on Nancy’s widow’s pension. The official pension record matched the scant information I had on my aging document, but it included a few more enticing clues. Thomas had been killed during a skirmish with the Creek Indians. No date or location, but I had another nugget for the file.

Kathy also was able to discover something I never knew. My great-grandmother, Rachel Honea Spears, had not been an only child, as I had assumed. Instead, she had been Thomas and Nancy’s last child. She had three older sisters, Minerva, Jane and Rhoda, and two older brothers, William and James.

This valuable if meager information has renewed my desire to find more, and I’ve since learned Thomas’ birth and marriage dates and the name of his parents, Wilks and Celia Honea.

I haven’t solved the question of how he died or where he last drew breath, and I don’t know that I’ll ever unearth all of his secrets, but trying is an adventure.

The LDS church has several Family History Centers throughout the Bay Area. They are free and open to the public. Go see what you can find.

Image credit: Un-civil pensions, created by artist Coffin, George Yost, 1850-1896, via the Library of Congress.