05 April 2014


I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who comes from Costa Rica, and is of a heritage that would be considered "Mixed" ; Spanish, German, Chinese, Native American.  We were talking about Hola Magazine, which I look through when I'm at certain libraries that subscribe to it, and which seems to me to be very focused on Spanish Royalty and Aristocrats.  Of course this makes perfect sense since it is a magazine that covers the Spanish world, the country and culture that brought Europeans to the New World of Central and South America.  This is also THE CATHOLIC WORLD.

American History and genealogy tends to be very oriented towards England - Great Britain - and the Protestant.  It's almost as if the French and Spanish were never here, as if they had no influence, though of course they did.  You have to live in California to learn about the Spanish in these parts, and even tour guides at some of the Missions have an anti-Catholic bias.

My friend holds the snobby people of Costa Rica who claim to only be "Spanish" in contempt.  He thinks in reality everyone is "Mixed."  (I think DNA is proving that!)

I was telling him that sales of products with family crests are strong in the United States, even though WHEN A PERSON BECOMES AN AMERICAN CITIZEN THEY GIVE UP ALL RIGHTS TO TITLES, CRESTS, and all that.   But does it hurt to wear your tartan for fun?  Of course not!

The European systems of inheriting titles and regalia was generally very focused on these going between father and first son.  Daughters had to marry someone else with a title to have one and in some countries if a daughter married a commoner she lost her birth status.  Second sons almost fled to the Virginia Colony to have a chance.  Second and subsequent sons, looking for an opportunity they wouldn't inherit, had to become self made.  Many of them joined armies.  Some of them became Knights through military or other service to the Crown and thus earned their own titles to use and pass on.

In Germany, it was the youngest son who stayed with the parents and eventually earned the family farm.   In Hungary only men of the upper classes could vote, though higher class didn't necessarily mean the family was also rich.

This emphasis and preference for sons and first sons seems sexist to (most of) us now in the West but is still the way in so many countries, India, China, the Middle East.  Women even get ultrasounds to detect female fetus and have them aborted to begin their families with a male.

So family history research is always also HISTORICAL and CULTURAL research!

02 April 2014



EXCERPT: This week, Don Walker, an osteologist with the Museum of London, outlined the biography of one man whose ancient bones were found by construction workers under London's Charterhouse Square: He was breast-fed as a baby, moved to London from another part of England, had bad tooth decay in childhood, grew up to work as a laborer, and died in early adulthood from the bubonic plague that ravaged Europe in the 14th century.

The poor man's life was nasty, brutish and short, but his afterlife is long and illuminating.
THE BLACK DEATH is interesting to me because if you're European, there's a good chance you're a descendent of a survivor of the Black Death.
EXCERPT: To test their theory, scientists took one tooth from each of 12 skeletons, then extracted DNA from the teeth. They announced Sunday that tests had found the presence of the plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis, in several of the teeth, meaning the individuals had been exposed to — and likely died from — the Black Death.

29 March 2014


CITY DIRECTORIES are publications that were put out in communities mostly so people could locate each other.  They are like a pre-Yellow Pages and pre-White Pages combo, though a lot of abbreviations are used and since people paid to be listed, the emphasis seems to be mostly on professions - business - work.  Retired persons and widows are usually listed as "at home."   I've noticed listings that are all male but on the census you find the women in the family were not listed in the directory. On occasion you will notice that a young woman who has just become a marriageable adult has herself listed as well; she wanted the young men to know where she lived if they wanted to look her up.


While most City Directories were published for smaller towns, I've found some that were for a series of towns linked by a railroad line, you could say along a transportation route where people had businesses.

If you are working with a common surname, or immigrant families who not only had common surnames but also common first names, finding the profession and address may help you narrow it down to the family you seek.

25 March 2014


A town book may or may not provide addresses and phone numbers.  It is not a city directory.  It's a bit closer to a yearbook, but historical.  One client I worked for came from a small town in the deep south.  I was surprised to find many volumes of Town Books at the Los Angeles Public Library which included black and white pictures of some of his ancestors who he best remembered as a small child!  The stories were very much about how these citizens contributed to their community so in them we found out who was the big deal at the Baptist Church as well as who was the temporary mail carrier!

Town Books are usually written and organized and published by people who are VERY PROUD, VERY PATRIOTIC about their town.

They are often put in special collections or archived so you may have to ask about them and order them to be brought out in advance.  Ask large out of town libraries as well because who knows how it is that Los Angeles Public got copies from this small town!

A TOWN BOOK can give you a snapshot of the town as it existed around the publication date!

20 March 2014


Be it Catholic (Green) or Protestant (Orange) Irish,  a resource for finding out exactly where in Ireland ancestors once lived in Ireland is SHIP RECORDS.   But Irish immigrants were coming to the US before Steam Ships, and you may find that the pre-steam ship or early steam ship era ship records are not as good as the ones you see on databases such as Ellis Island where more information was taken.  On some of these ship lists there is only a surname and a headcount of family members under the surname.

I've personally run into some trouble with using ship records because of common surnames and the descendants lack of knowledge about things such as height or coloring of their ggg grandpa or ggg grandma.  I also question how accurate some of those height measurements are as I found more than one ship that had hoards of men all the same height - 5 foot 6"!  As for coloring, words like "fair" could mean White, Blonde, or simply lighter than other passengers on the ship from a certain country (i.e. If you're Italian you can't be "Fair!"

In one case I had over 16 possibilities.  The client was upset because I was able to find one grandparent with a less common surname and a sure immigration year and village in less than an hour and the other could not be verified though I spent several hours. 

So many people are "sure" they know the year of immigration but in the end they are off by a year or three.  As this client was.

As a result a multitude of resources must be used.

The U.S. Census is still the backbone of American genealogy but "Ireland" is what most people reported, though sometimes - rarely - there will be a county or other commentary.

How to narrow it down?  Try the World War I draft registration cards for birth dates and the name of the birth place.

Try for death records - cemetery records.  The person who reported the information may not always be accurate either.  I've seen "another country" as the information given, but the place the person was born should be there.

Try finding people on the census and, based on religion, search for the cemetery they were likely buried in during that era in that town, such as a church graveyard and CALL THAT CHURCH IF ITS STILL IN SERVICE to ask where they archive membership records.

Another thing that's come up is that on the ship they asked where a person was living before they got on the ship, which is not the exactly same thing as a home town village. 

Many Irish immigrants went from a village to a port city and lived there a while before they got on the ship to leave the country.  So it's not unusual to see "Liverpool" or "South Hampton" as the place they left or were living at before they got on the ship when the village or town they left family is different.  The reason they did so was usually economic.  They needed to make some money first to afford the trip.  Imagine this in more modern times.  These days we are supposed to change our address with the DMV within 10 days of moving but how many people manage that?  So a person leaves their village, pretty sure they will never see their family again, they go to what is the Big City and work for a few months, then board the ship, make it to a town that has promises of work with other Irish immigrants, and find they have to move again and again before they "Settle."

I've heard horror stories of immigrants coming from Ireland on ships that let them starve and let them stay in filthy conditions - until the ship was close to port when people were expected to help clean the ship.

Irish came to the early Americas as servants with contracts that were almost as good as slavery.  After many years - seven - twenty!  They were "free" to go work somewhere else.

As a result of the conditions of immigration and living in the country, many early Irish immigrants married late or not at all and did not leave descendants. 

But today, a great many Americans have that "wee bit of Irish" in them... and have made up for these deprivations for sure!

08 March 2014


I posted about the Japanese-American Museum  in Los Angeles several weeks ago.   When Chinese and Japanese came to America it was for work more than any other purpose.  Agriculture. For the Chinese immigrants there was working on the railroad, the rail road that would tie the United States together - coast to coast.  Both communities sent for brides from their country of origin.

Imagine the world of Gold Rush California!  There was one woman for every ten men, and according the THE GOLD RUSH, a PBS video that is part of AN AMERICAN EXPERIENCE series, in
a few short years after Gold was found north of San Francisco, the city had grown so that it had twice daily newspapers, nine insurance companies, and consulates of twenty-seven foreign governments. 

The gold rush MADE San Francisco. 

1849 is when people rushed to find their fortunes moving west to the gold fields and streams. The few people who found their fortune early and announced that there was gold had fortunes and walked away. Gentlemanly behavior and fairness were the norm. But when thousands came to work hard all day for about $8 worth of gold (use that calculator I have embedded on the side bar), it became lawless, the wild west.

Soon people found the fortune to be made was not in finding gold but opening businesses that served miners, and so today we still wear BLUE JEANS!

Yes this is a DVD recommendation for those of you who want to know more about West Coast American History, or who have Gold Rush heritage!

05 March 2014


I noticed a picture a woman holding up her genealogy chart, an inverted pyramid in which the family crests of two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, and sixteen great great grandparents - all European aristocrats and royalty - were imaged.  It was fascinating. 

Of course most of us don't have that aristocrat - royalty connection.  There are those who note the modern marriages of aristo-royals with non-aristo-royals (few who are paupers, many who are mega wealthy and may be refilling the purses of broke houses) with a sort of glee, those who say the old families were so inter-bred they really did/do need new blood.  (The Duchess of Cambridge was/is no pauper!)

If you do have the aristo-royalty connection, you may find that genealogy research is actually easier than if you don't.  Simply it's that wealthier or famous families, power families, have kept track of their genealogy for a lot longer than most, so that information is there for the having.  Jewish people who are related to great Rabbi's have the same experience!  Otherwise with commoners the trail grows cold in a few generations.

Recently I was surprised and then humored to see the photo of someone who would be the great great great grandchild of my grandmother and to see HER NOSE!  If not her nose than the distinctive nose of her family!  This distinctive nose has not been seen in any of her grandchildren or great grandchildren.  It proved to me that genes can skip many generations, even as each generation has more donations!

27 February 2014


SLAVE VOYAGES ORG - Trans-Atlantic Voyages   link

I met someone recently who corrected me for calling someone "African American."  She said I should be using the term BLACK.  I suppose BLACK works if a person appears to be "Black" and you don't really know that their origins are from Africa.  I think the whole subject is controversial and confusing.  After all, some very Black looking people, with DNA analysis, prove to be mostly European and visa versa.

Anyway, I thought I'd revisit a link I've had posted a long time and explore further.  SEARCHING THE VOYAGES, you will find THE NAME OF A SHIP,  the name of the captain, the places where they picked up slaves (and no, it wasn't all from AFRICA,  and where the ship is LANDING which could be Bahia or Brazil.)

What you will not find is the names of the enslaved.


I've found the FREEDMAN BANK RECORDS and SLAVE NARRATIVES, two different database / sites, to be more informative about individuals.  I'm able to access both at my library without fees.

22 February 2014


Elders - a Novel
by Ryan McIlvain C 2013
Publisher Hogarth London- New York


I read this book wanting to know more about those young, white-shirted, LDS missionaries, mostly young men, you see all over - especially in libraries, where they e-mail home.  These days some young women are also going on missions to other countries but you won't find them in this book.  This book is about the conflict between two Elders (young missionaries in their early twenties) who have been teamed to go door to door, hoping to convert some people to the LDS Faith in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  One of them is a native Brazilian who has converted, the other an American from Salt Lake, Utah who has some doubts about his personal faith.

The native Brazilian character begins to imagine himself immigrating to the United States, going to BTU, graduating, marrying, maybe even staying in the US and bringing his family over.  Does he still want this religion if those things never happen for him?

The American character feels he has sacrificed life as is usually spent at his age - in school, having Friends, and having sex.

While I did learn a little bit about the organization of missionaries - predictable corporate, I found this book a strain to read.  I knew the author had resigned his own LDS membership, and I wonder how much of it was autobiographical.  The back of the book features some excellent reviews, but while I congratulate anyone who completes a book, this one left me with a dark feeling. 

The missionaries not only have competitiveness and inter-personal problems that become physical and combative, but the American is dowsed with Anti-American feeling.  The ending is a walk out.


page 237  (After a woman who wanted to be baptized into the faith despite her husband's disinterest is turned down for immediate baptism, and American character Elder McLeod questions this, because if it had been a man they would have gone ahead without his wife's cooperation.)

"My fellow missionaries, let me be as clear as I can.  Our inspired leaders have told us to focus on teaching and baptizing families, self-sustain celestial units.  This is an effort that matters, and matters everlastingly, and the Everlasting Enemy know this.  We will therefore have to work harder than ever to call on God to help us.  We will have to exert ourselves more than ever to be obedient and worthy of the Lord's helping hand.  The noise of the world, indeed, can be deafening.  We need shelter and protection from the world. W e need a place where we can hear ourselves think, a place to present the Gospel in the bright light of simple truth,  And where can we find this shelter?  Where do we find it?  In the rules and regulations of our inspired leaders."


How does this jive with what I assumed or know about LDS missionaries?  From my perspective these missions are is a rte of passage, one that gives youth a chance to see the world outside their home state, to see the world.  It isn't just about converting others, it is about experiencing the challenges of being in a minority in the world and butting up against other religions and cultures.  It is a test.  Teaching anything you know reinforces that learning.

I know that many LDS members marry young - soon after their missions.  Some of them have young women waiting for them at home, some (as happens in this book) loose their girlfriends while on a mission.  I have heard from an LDS member that if a man does not marry young he may never marry, unless he marries a woman who is not of that religion.  According to him, most women do eventually join the church.

It is also considered unusual for all of couple's children to stay in the religion.  The world pulls on people.