Get out and go to Genealogy conference, events, lectures, or whatever!

I have to admit it, but I have mainly been a heads down do-it-yourself sort of genealogical researcher. I have looked into attending conferences before, but never had the drive to attend for various reasons. This attitude has changed for me due to my recent attendance of iFest in Boston during the weekend of the Sept 27th. Essentially iFest is a celebration of all things Irish. The event showcased Irish culinary, music, sports, drinks, and tourism. It was very good event and well attended as well. It is supposed to come back to Boston next year as well. However one of the most beneficial parts of the event was the genealogy presentations by John Grenham. The session I attended was an interactive Q&A with Mr. Grenham where audience members asked about various topics such as birth records, church records, how to find this, surnames and other areas of study.

John Grenham from The Irish Times presenting at iFest in Boston, Ma on Sept, 28th, 2014.

John Grenham from The Irish Times presenting at iFest in Boston, Ma on Sept, 28th, 2014.

I have always struggled with making connections over in Ireland mainly because I wasn’t sure where to start. It has always been my understanding that the Irish are notorious for incomplete and/or missing records. This is true to an extent, but Mr. Grenham provided website databases where you can work on your Irish ancestry. One detail Mr. Grenham revealed was different birth records in Ireland. I was always under the impression that if you have an ancestor born in Ireland in the 19th century that record would most likely be a church record. I was right to a degree.

In Ireland if someone was born after 1864 there is a civil record recording the birth. Prior to 1864 a researcher would have to rely on church records. Once I heard this during the presentation I immediately thought of which of my grandparents where born after 1864. I thought of a few, but one stood out in particular, my somewhat mysterious great-grandfather, Patrick Regan (later changed to Reagan).

Through census records and a death certificate I knew Patrick was born in either 1865 or 1866. I also knew through his marriage record to my great-grandmother, Margaret Driscoll (b. Feb 1867 in Skibereen, Ireland. Daughter of William Driscoll and Margaret E. Collins), that his parent’s names were Patrick Regan and Honora Hegarty. With this information in hand I searched a few of the sites that Mr. Grenham discussed during his session. I will outline a few of these below and not get bogged down on my own personal family research.

  1. http://churchrecords.irishgenealogy.ie/churchrecords/ – Remember that prior to 1864 the Irish Government did not keep vital records. Prior to 1864 you have to rely on church records. This site is free, but only has records for County Cork and Kerry. Mr. Grenham provided a paid site: http://www.rootsireland.ie and this has records both vital and church outside of Cork.
  2. https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1584963 – If you had any Irish ancestor born and/or baptized after 1864 this is the site you should conduct your search. This database contains mainly government records.
  3. http://www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/surname/ – This site allow you search for your ancestor’s surname and provides visuals on household locations where that name was present based of Griffiths Valuation record.
Screenshot of Surname search results from The Irish Times.

Screenshot of Surname search results from The Irish Times.

Each of these sites opened some new doors into my research. I first started on FamilySearch.org searching for my great-grandfather Patrick Regan and came across a birth record with an actual birthdate April 30th, 1866 in Union Hall, County Cork, Ireland (the location may be Kilmacabea, County Cork). I then took this information and conducted a search on churchrecords.irishgenealogy.ie and found his baptismal record. I also decided to give a shot to see if Patrick had any siblings. I conducted a search on church records using Patrick’s parent’s name (Patrick Regan and Honora Hagerty) and range of years around Patrick’s birth year 1866 . I discovered that Patrick had siblings which I never knew existed. In fact he had 6 siblings:

  1. John Regan – Bapt. Nov 1862
  2. James Regam – Bapt. Jan 1868
  3. Honora Regan – Feb 1870
  4. Ellen Regan – April 1864
  5. Bridget Regan – Jan 1868
  6. Margaret – Feb 1857

This is amazing discovery since I never knew a tremendous deal about Patrick. I can now trace Patrick’s siblings lines and see what else I can dig up my great-grandfather. Would I have come to these discoveries if I didn’t attend Mr. Grenhams presentation? I am not sure, but I do know that I discovered family information sooner which allow me to spend more time on tracing Patrick’s sibling’s lines. So get out and go some Genealogy conference, events, lectures, or whatever!.


What’s Your Most Unique Genealogy Discovery? Mine’s a Left Foot.

So for those who follow An Amateur Genealogist’s Musings, I would first like to thank you and secondly you may be familiar with my great-great-Grandfather, Christopher McNanny. Christopher was the ancestor who led to my interest into my family’s genealogy. As you may know, Christopher fought on the side of The Union during The American Civil War and early on in my research I heavily focused on this aspect of Christopher’s life. This research led me to various websites regarding Christopher’s regiment, Company G – 106th New York Volunteers, in hopes of gathering any information on Christopher. Many websites were extremely helpful detailing the campaign and battles of the 106th, but I really wanted to see if there was any information on Christopher specifically.

I knew prior to conducting this research Christopher suffered some sort of amputation which I learned through family lore. Other than that I really did not know much about his service. Early on in my research I discovered Christopher’s obituary in The Madrid Herald which provided a high level overview of his service, but not the meaty in-depth information that I needed. With that being said, I decided to start asking experts on Company G to see if they had any information on Christopher or could at least steer me in the right direction.

I found an expert, Todd,  through a website I discovered through a Google search (unfortunately this site is no longer or at least I couldn’t find it). I found Todd’s email and sent him a simple email asking for any information he may have on Christopher. I remember I received a reply late at night just before bed and the information in the email was one of the breakthroughs that make your jaw fall to the floor.

The email started off by going through the campaign history of Company G 106th describing when and where they fought. The email then described The Battle of Summit Point in West Virginia on Aug 21st, 1864. According to the email, this battle is where my great-great-Grandfather was wounded by a bullet thru his little toe and exiting through the sole of his left foot which eventually led to the amputation of his left leg below the knee on September 21st, 1864. I remember while reading this email thinking to myself what an amazing amount of detail to have on hand for only a private in Company G. Todd then went on to explain why he was able to provide such detailed information.

The reason I can relate this detailed medical information is that McNanny’s case is included in the “Medical and Surgical History of the Civil War” and I have a copy of the case file from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology’s National Museum of Health and Medicine, that I’ll be happy to copy and send to you, if you email me your address.And to make matters a little more bizarre, while I can’t provide you an image of McNanny, since I have not come across one in my research on the 106th—it does appear I can put you in touch with McNanny himself—or least with his foot! According to the AFIP’s records, his amputated foot was retained as a teaching specimen after the war and remains in their anatomical collection as number 1000277. There are four such 106th NY soldier specimens in their collection, and I “visited” them about 15 years ago. 

Keep in mind, before I read any of this email I really didn’t have much knowledge of Christopher McNanny’s Civil War service. If you read the above portion of the email not only did I find out  about Christopher’s service, but one of the most strangest unique aspects of my genealogical research and that is Christopher’s skeletal left foot still be preserved at The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology’s National Museum of Health and Medicine (which closed in Sept of 2011).  I still have not found a picture of Christopher, but I have plenty of photos of Christopher’s left foot!

 

"Sheridan's campaign in the Valley of the Shenandoah--Battle of Summit Point, Sunday, August 21st, 1864." From Frank Leslie's Scenes and Portraits of the Civil War (1894)

“Sheridan’s campaign in the Valley of the Shenandoah–Battle of Summit Point, Sunday, August 21st, 1864.” From Frank Leslie’s Scenes and Portraits of the Civil War (1894)

 

To provide a brief history: The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) was founded as the Army Medical Museum on May 21, 1862, to collect pathological specimens along with their case histories. The information from the case files of the pathological specimens from the Civil War was compared with Army pensions records and compiled into the six-volume Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, an early study of wartime medicine. Apparently when Christopher’s leg was amputated in Baltimore in Sept of 1864 his leg became part of the AFIP’s (now The National Museum of Health and Medicine) collection on Civil War specimens.

 

Christopher McNanny's Left Foot

Christopher McNanny’s Left Foot (Notice the shattered little toe where the bullet went through)

 

After receiving the email from Todd my next step was to try to locate a photo of Christopher’s foot since I was curious and simply wanted to see it. I called the AFIP and provided all the information I had from Todd’s email. A few days later I received an email with a series of photographs of Christopher’s foot.  While viewing the photos I couldn’t help, but think of the adventures this foot has had. Being born in Ireland, making the voyage across the Atlantic as a child, stepping foot in the United States, farming in Northern New York,  joining the Union to fight for your new home, and eventually losing that foot in battle for your country.  That foot certainly went through a lot and seeing the photographs made me think of what an incredible life my great-great-grandfather, Christopher McNanny, lived.

Happy Hunting,

Donny

P.S. As I mentioned in the blog post the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology closed in September of 2011. Currently the Civil War specimens are being held at The National Museum of Health and Medicine. I just received word the collection is safe and sound since the move.  Also if you had an ancestor, who fought in The Civil War and had an amputation performed on him it may be worth looking in to see if his limb is part of this collection.

 

 

 


What is TaskRabbit and how can it be a resource for genealogy?

So the other day I was out to dinner with a friend and he mentioned utilizing a site called TaskRabbit.com. I have heard of TaskRabbit before, but only thought it was for people who needed their houses cleaned or their grocery picked-up. However, I found out you can also do virtual tasks as well. For example, data entry or researching hotels in a particular area – basically tasks you can do from the comfort of your own home online. I figured since there are virtual tasks available I might was sign up and become a TaskRabbit to make some extra money.

TaskRabbit_Logo_3

Essentially the concept of TaskRabbit.com is that TaskPosters provide a task that needs be done and then TaskRabbits bid on the task. The TaskPosters then chooses a TaskRabbit based on skills, TaskRabbit experience, past performance, and the amount of money the TaskRabbit asks for to complete the task. Once the TaskPoster chooses the TaskRabbit, the TaskRabbit then completes the task and receives payment from the TaskPoster once the task is complete.  All financial transactions occur through the site and the TaskRabbits compensation is deposited in their bank account. Another item to keep in mind is TaskRabbit.com is available in certain cities in The United States (Boston, Austin, NYC to name a few – here is a complete list).

So why I am writing about TaskRabbit.com on a genealogy blog? A lot of times during your research you cannot find something online and need to go to the source in person. For example, you are researching your grandparents, who were married in Austin, Texas and you cannot access their marriage record online. You know their parent’s name are on  the marriage record and want to get your hands on it, but you live in Bangor, Maine. So you have three options:

  1. You can travel across the country to Austin and get the record yourself.
  2. Hopefully you have a contact in the Austin area who can go in your place to retrieve the record.
  3. You could use Ancestry.com’s ProGenealogist.com to hire an expert to retrieve your records. (You can also do a Google search for individuals in a particular region who do genealogy document retrieval).
  4. There is actually a 4th option (which I think you already may know where I am heading),

First let’s discuss the three options above and the potential setbacks to each before we dive into the 4th.

  1. Traveling to an area to retrieve a document is tough because it costs money and time. Unless you are going to a particular area on a vacation or to visit someone this option may be difficult for some.
  2. If traveling is out of the question than hopefully you know someone in that area who is handy to where the document you are seeking is located. If you do and they are willing to retrieve the document – you are in luck. If you do not know anyone than you have to resort to another route which is hire someone.
  3. The example I gave above, ProGenealogist.com which is an Ancestry.com site. Through ProGenealogist you can hire an expert to conduct research and/or retrieve a document. This is a great option, but they do not provide costs. Instead you have contact them for an estimate and then ProGenealogist will get back to you in 5-7 days to discuss your goals. This is a great option if you want to hire someone, but in a way you are sort of at their mercy with their timeline and their costs. Which leads me to the 4th option which what this blog post is all about, TaskRabbit!

The reason I like TaskRabbit for genealogy is you can name your price and when you need your task accomplished by. You can charge as little as you want or as much as you want. Essentially if a genealogical need ever arises that you cannot do in person just go onto TaskRabbit. Post what you are looking for or what task you want accomplished, where the TaskRabbit can find the document, and when you would like the document and/or task accomplished by. Also in regards to price, you can either a) name your price in your initial posting or b) see what TaskRabbits are asking for when they bid for your task. Another aspect I like is you can choose your TaskRabbit based on past performance, experience, and not just on their bid amount. Keep in mind, if you are seeking document retrieval the document needs to be in area where TaskRabbit’s services are available.  Not only does TaskRabbit have to be used for document retrieval, but you can also require a TaskRabbit to conduct online research as well which you may not have the time for. This type of work can be assigned to any TaskRabbit regardless of region because it is considered a virtual task.

The one downfall to TaskRabbit is it not necessarily geared towards genealogy nor known for genealogy. With that being said, hopefully I can change  that by announcing myself as the first TaskRabbit in the Boston, Ma, whose services will  be geared towards retrieval of genealogical documents, conducting online genealogical research, or beings a resource for genealogical task one can come up with. Once again, if you need anything genealogical related in the Boston area or online research, please let me know and I would be happy to work with you: My TaskRabbit Profile.

What are your thoughts? Has anyone else used TaskRabbit to conduct genealogical research?

Happy Hunting!

Donny


Is it worth becoming a member of The New England Historic Genealogical Society?

If you may recall in my last blog post about the impact Facebook can have upon your genealogical research I discussed that I will be attempting to validate a potential connection from my proven 5th-Great Grandfather, Daniel Esty (of Miramichi, New Brunswick – husband of Louisa Crowe), to Mary Towne Esty. To hopefully prove the existence of such a line I made a trip to The New England Historic Genealogical Society on Newbury Street in Boston, Massachusetts yesterday. Essentially I was taking advantage of a free-day library pass promotion The NEHGS was running  and wanted to see what they had to offer since I have never been to their library before.

Newbury Street entrance to The New England Historical Genealogical Society in Boston, Massachusetts

Newbury Street entrance to The New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, Massachusetts

To be honest, I was extremely impressed by the library and the amount of books, microfilm, manuscripts, periodicals, and resources that were available. I only spent about 3 hours there, but will certainly be going back since yesterday I felt like only skimmed the slimmest of surfaces as to what they had to offer. To recap my day, I spent most of the day in the 7th floor library which holds:

  • 40,000 state, county, and town histories and record collections covering all U.S. states, eastern Canadian provinces, West Indies, and Europe.
  • Titles, including core journals such as The American Genealogist and The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, plus 700 other current journals, magazines, and newsletters from around the world, focusing on surnames, geographic areas, or general genealogy topics.
  • Compilations, study projects, finding aids, and how-to guides.
7th Floor library shelves at The New England Historic Genealogical Society

7th Floor library shelves at The New England Historic Genealogical Society

A word of advice is if you are planning on visiting the library make sure to go through The NEHGS online library catalog before visiting. By taking this step you will be able to use your time more efficiently while in the library by researching the actual material instead of searching for it. I also noticed when I went to the shelves to find a book I would discover other books around the original book I was looking for.  As I said previously, in those 3 hours I really only skimmed the surface of what The NEHGS has to offer.

Some other benefits I found while visiting were:

  • On-Site access to The NEGHS Online Database which is accessible for NEHGS members in or out of the library
  • Free Wi-Fi. I would recommend bringing your own computer.
  • Copies are 25 cents per copy. I personally did not make any copies, but you have a to buy a copy card which  appeared to be simple.
  • Friendly and knowledgable staff. I mainly asked a couple questions about procedure and where certain items where. I however did overhear visitors asking specific genealogical questions and the genealogists-on-duty appeared to be extremely knowledgable.
  • The 7th floor library has plenty of workspace table surface to spread yourself out and was a pleasant atmosphere. I did step into the 5th floor library briefly and the workspace was very cramped there. (5th floor is not my type of working environment) You are however are allowed to bring books from the 5th floor library up to the 7th floor library.
1st floor entrance/lobby to The New England Historic Genealogical Society

1st floor entrance/lobby to The New England Historic Genealogical Society

As I mentioned earlier, I was taking advantage of a promotion The NEHGS was running where I had free access to their library for a day. This was a smart move by The NEHGS since I have always been on the fence about becoming a member and now they have exposed me to the above benefits. Due to yesterday’s experience I will be joining for certain. To become an individual member is $79.95 a year. The individual membership is the basic membership, but there are various other levels as well. With the individual membership you receive:

  • Access to all areas of NEHGS website
  • Full on-site use of  Research Library in Boston, including special collections and manuscripts
  • Access to premium databases like the Early American Newspapers
  • Subscriptions to American Ancestors magazine and The New England Historical and Genealogical Register
  • Discounts on research services and tutorials with staff genealogists – by phone or in person
  • Discounts on selected titles from our Bookstore

I love the fact with your membership you can access the complete NEHGS database which contains a tremendous amount resource. With your membership you are allowed to access the database from home or wherever you are conducting your research. In conclusion, I am confident if I utilize the resources available at The New England Historic Genealogical Society I will be expanding the scope of my research and will going further back in my family lines. If you are the fence about joining like I was I would recommend visiting their library because you will certainly be convinced about becoming a member.

One last note about my research, yesterday I did find a book about the Towne family and 5th-Great Grandfather, Daniel Esty, was not mentioned as one of the sons of Nathaniel and Mehitable (Preston) Esty. I have seen online where Nathaniel and Mehitable were mentioned as possible parents of Daniel Esty. An online mention is not enough proof which gives me the confidence that I am connected to Mary Towne Esty. I will keep digging and I am sure the answer is in The New England Historic Genealogical Society library somewhere.

Happy Hunting!

Donny


Can Facebook Help Your Genealogical Research?

A few nights ago I was just sitting watching television and during a commercial took out my iPhone to check FaceBook. I was not in genealogy mode, but something in my Facebook newsfeed caught my eye which spurred what appears to be a lot of  upcoming research into my family’s history. I will hopefully be diving in-depth into these new family lines in a later blog post, but for now wanted to focus on the value of Facebook in helping with genealogical research.

Out of the social media outlets available I use only use Twitter and Facebook for personal use. For this particular post I am going to focus on the value of Facebook and how it can impact your genealogical research. One of the first steps I take on Facebook is to  search for genealogical groups, societies, and pages where my research is focused. For example, a large portion of my mother’s side of the family comes from New Brunwsick, Canada so I searched for local genealogy groups involved in genealogical research in New Brunsick. I found a few and joined. Make sure once your request to join is accepted to introduce yourself by posting on the group’s page. Within your introductory post make sure express what family lines you are interested in researching and trying to find information about.

I suggest the introductory post because there is an extremely good chance there are people within the Facebook researching the same family and may very well be a long lost cousins. This sort of connection would be a fruitful asset for your research.  After introducing yourself make sure to scroll down the group’s news feed to discover if anyone else has made mention in a post of a line you are working on. To reiterate, the benefit to introducing yourself and to exploring the group page is to instantously make connections with fellow researchers. Once a connection is established than you could very well have found another person to help break those research brick walls.

Not only should you join various genealogy groups, but you should also like pages of organizations involved in genealogy as well. For example. Ancestry.com, The New England Historical Genealogical Society, or Family Tree Magazine to name a few all have Facebook pages. The reason I like these particular pages is when they post something on their Facebook pages those posts appear in your personal Facebook feed. The benefits of being exposed to these posts is perhaps there is a special membership discount, or The NEGHS is hosting an event, or there may be a web event. The bottom line is when the information is in your Facebook newsfeed than there is a higher chance of you seeing it because it right there on your personal newsfeed. Which circles back to earlier in this blog where I wasn’t even thinking of genealogy and I saw a post in my newsfeed on my iPhone while watching television.

 

Facebook post on New Brunswick Genealogy regarding Mary Esty.

Facebook post on New Brunswick Genealogy regarding Mary Esty.

 

Just for those who are curious, what caught my eye was someone mentioning the name Esty in the post. The Esty line of my family is a line that can be traced back to Daniel Esty (moved to Miramichi, New Brunswick from United States), who is my 5th Great-Grandfather (married to Louisa Crowe). After the Esty name caught my eye I noticed the picture was a stone with six female names on it including a Mary Esty, I also noticed the women had the towns of Topsfield, Andover, Salem, and Marblehead inscribed next to their names. The real kicker which I did not notice immedilaity was inscribed above the names and the inscription read, “Hanged Sept 22nd,  1692″.

As soon as a I saw that the women on this stone were hanged I immedialty put the pieces together and realized these women were victims of the hysteria known as The Salem Witch Trials in the late 17th century. Even more remarkable to me was the fact that Mary (Towne) Esty could potentially be an ancestor of mine (9th Great-Grandmother, wife of Issac Esty) and hopefully she is. I am currently working on establishing this as a fact and not a hope. My certainly ancestor, Daniel Esty, is the only potential connection I have so I need documentation to prove a further connection.

Coming back to the purpose of this blog post, if Facebook is utilized properly and you take advantage of Facebook than a few more windows into your research may potentially open. To be honest, I was struggling extending beyond my 5th Great-Grandfather, Daniel Esty, and determining who is parents were and further back. However, since I took advantage of joining a Facebook group I may be able to accomplish knowing who Daniel Esty’s father &  grandparents were.  Not to mention who my potential 9th Great-Grandmother may have been  which was a Salem Witch! All indication are pointing to that I belong to Mary Towne Esty’s line, but I need documentation and soon I will be visiting The New England Historical Genealogical Society to hopefully find something to confirm. Check back and I should have a post up with my findings.  But for now – get on Facebook and starting joining genealogy groups!

Anyone have any similar experiences utilizing Facebook as a tool for genealogical research? Any tips or tricks to share to help expand our genealogical research.

Happy Hunting!

Donny


Why should you use genealogy software?

When I first started conducting my own genealogical research in early 2008 I attempted to keep all my research on paper and index cards, but found this method extremely overwhelming & complicated. I remember trying to draw family pedigree charts on legal pads and notes kept in spiral notebooks. As a result, I either couldn’t locate any research immediately or needed to do charts over again once new family members were discovered. Paper-based records are fine when you have a small tree with no plans of digging deeper, but the goal of genealogy is to expand your tree by digging as far back in your family history as possible. So as my tree expanded my paper-based records become became extremely frustrating and inefficient. Fortunately for me Christmas came along that year and so did the gift of Reunion 9 for Mac genealogy software by Leister Pro and my research became extremely streamline. Reunion 9 and the latest release, Reunion 10, are the only genealogy software programs I have used and this post will focus around Reunion’s capabilities.

Before we get started, a quick word of advice is:  if possible make sure to start using a genealogical software program sooner in your research rather than later for two reasons:

  1. If you keep moving forward with paper-based record keeping than you are more likely to loose/misplace records and/or names of ancestors. If this occurs some of those lost records may not be recoverable because you may not be able to recall the source of the record.
  2. The second benefit to start utilizing genealogical software sooner in your research is you will have input less entries into the software’s database and you can start building your family tree by conducting actual research while not have to be bogged down with loads of tedious data entry.
 
Screenshot of Reunion 10

Screenshot of Reunion 10

 

As I started utilizing Reunion software I started to realize the invaluable benefits and effectiveness of conducting research with the tool of genealogy software. Some of the immediate benefits include:

  1. Storing all your family’s information (birth dates, death dates, residencies, information on military service, cause of death, notes, etc.) all in one centralized database location.
  2. Point and click access to all family information which allows you quickly access information to help solve a question/mystery while still fresh in your mind.
  3. Categorizing all your research sources (vital records, books, wills, interviews, etc) which allows each source to be attached to an event in your family’s history. No more time wondering where you found that piece of information.
  4. The ability to quickly create pedigree, fan, descendent, timeline, and cascading pedigree charts.
  5. Create person sheets, family sheets, Ahnentafel, and descendant reports instantaneously.
  6. Share created charts and reports with family and/or fellow genealogical researchers.
  7. Upload GEDCOM files to your family tree software or provide a GEDCOM file of your tree to a family member and/or fellow genealogical researcher. Essentially a GEDCOM file type which allows you to exchange genealogy data between various genealogical software programs. For more information on GEDCOM.

 

Example of Fan Chart in Reunion 10

Example of Fan Chart in Reunion 10

 

Even though you store all your genealogical data within your genealogical software does not mean your genealogy data is immune from being lost to computer crashes and/or viruses. I personally backup all my genealogy files and Reunion file on Dropbox.com and Carbonite.com. Since both DropBox and Carbonite are cloud storage systems I have peace of mind knowing if my computer crashes than my data will be safe. I also use DropBox because of the ease of sharing information with others.

As I mentioned prior this blog post’s focus was on the capabilities for Reunion for Mac. However, there are numerous programs for both Mac and PC available. I am not advocating for any particular software program, but have been extremely satisfied with Reunion thus far. It really boils down to which program suits your research needs best and which program you are most comfortable using. Some programs I have researched, but never used which are worth checking out are.

There are also a large number of cloud based genealogy program available which I am not familiar with, but still may be a good route for you to explore as well.

For a more thorough list of genealogy software programs available and rankings here is an excellent site to help with your research: http://genealogy-software-review.toptenreviews.com

Lastly here is a blog by Ben Sayer, who provides in-depth insight, reviews, and tutorials on various genealogical tools to help streamline your research. If you are in the market for a new software program Ben’s site  may be valuable to explore.

To reiterate, remember to start using some form genealogical software as soon as possible in your research and make sure the software you eventually utilize meets your research needs.

What programs are others using? What are your thoughts and feedback on the programs you are using?

Happy Hunting,

Donny


How Obituaries can be a Tremendous Source of Family History.

The other day I was reading the blog, GeneaJourneys, and a post titled, Feeling Nostalgic for an Ancestor I’m Still Getting to Know…. This post was discussing the author, Patricia’s,  grandfather, who was a mason in and around Chicago and helped rebuild Chicago after The Great Chicago Fire of 1871. While reading this I couldn’t help, but to think of my own family roots and how my great-great-grandfather, Felix Johnson of Brookline, Massachusetts, owned and operated a masonry business called Johnson Brothers. I reached out to the Patricia by way of her blog’s comment section and shared how my family has a masonry background as well. I also then described in my comments how I discovered some of the buildings Johnson Brothers played a role in building in and around Brookline, Massachusetts through an obituary. Patricia’s blog stirred some of my own thoughts on how obituaries played an extremely vital role in uncovering family history and open some new windows into my personal genealogical research when I first started my research.

Johnson Brothers Advertisement in Brookline Directory (1890's)

If you happen to read obituaries in the paper or online today you may notice they follow a standard format. An obituary acts as a high level overview of a person’s life. Generally an obituary provides the following information about the deceased

  • When/where they were born.
  • What did they do for a living.
  • Notable accomplishments.
  • Who the surviving family members are.
  • Names of spouse and children.
  • Who their parent’s were.
  • Perhaps some background on military experiences (if applicable).
  • Occasionally a picture

This is an incredible amount of information to have especially from one source when you are conducting family research.

When I first started researching my family in 2008 my first major breakthrough came while researching an obituary. You may recall a previous blog post regarding my great-great-grandfater, Christopher McNanny, and his pension record.  Before thoroughly researching Christopher I knew only  four things about him.

  • Last name began with Mc or Mac.
  • Served in The Civil War in some capacity and lost both legs.
  • Lived in northern New York – somewhere near Malone.
  • Had a daughter, Sarah, who was my great-grandmother.

To make a long story short, sometime in early 2008 my mother pulled Sarah’s, Christopher’s daughter, marriage record from the Brookline, Massachusetts Town Hall. This record allowed us to determine Sarah’s maiden name was McNanny and also allowed us to see she was from a small town called Madrid in Northern New York. As fate would have it I was finishing up my graduate studies at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York which is 11 miles south of Madrid. After completing my studies and graduating, my parents and I spent a few extra days in the area researching Christopher and his family. Prior to heading over to Madrid we contacted the town’s historical society and they located Christopher’s grave stone before our arrival. Finding Christopher’s resting place allowed us to determine when he was born (1822 – though this date is still up for debate) and when he died (1909). It also helped us to determine he did in fact serve in The Civil War.  The information on the stone was crucial in helping with our next step.

Christopher McNanny's  Grave at St. John the Baptist Cemetery, Madrid, New York

Christopher McNanny’s Grave at St. John the Baptist Cemetery, Madrid, New York

The next stop on our research excursion was The Madrid Town Library to determine if they had an information that could be researched. In fact, the library had on microfilm, The Madrid Herald, which was published from May 1904 t0 September 1918. Christopher’s death fell within this time frame and so there was a good chance his obituary may have been in The Herald.  Fortunately The Madrid Herald was a weekly paper which meant I potentially had to comb through 52 1909 editions of The Herald and off I went going through the microfilm until found Christopher’s obituary in the April 8th, 1909 edition. The information in this obituary was jaw dropping and really opened new windows. If you may recall, earlier in this post I bulleted four items on what I knew about Christopher and one of them was he had a daughter, Sarah. Well this obituary revealed not only did Christopher have Sarah, but he also had six other chidden as well and where they were living in 1909. Interestingly enough none of them remained in Madrid and where scattered across The United States.

Christopher & Margaret McNanny's Children

Christopher & Margaret McNanny’s Children

Not only did the obituary reveal his children, but who is wife was, Margaret White and her parents, Michael White and Sarah Savage. Christopher’s obituary also revealed his rank which was private, and that he didn’t lose both legs, but just his left leg.

Christopher McNanny Obituary in The Madrid Herald

All this information was in a short obituary, but lead to a long road of research. After reading Christopher’s obituary I had to find out more about his other six children, what happened to them, and did they have offspring. Through my research I was able to connect with a couple of lines of family which stemmed from Christopher. Reading the obituary was the foundation for my research and as I said, led to many openings.

To gain access to obituaries you can try one of a few resources:

  • First, you can try your local library which may have copies of older papers on microfilm.
  • If you cannot go to the library in person you can try to see if your ancestors obituary is on http://www.legacy.com.
  • Another source which has a large database of newspapers (access is free for some while others requires a fee) is The Library of Congress.
  • If you happen to be researching Northern New York, the Northern New York Library network has a great database of historical newspapers: .
  • Lastly if you are not near the local library for the area you are researching and you cannot seem to access you ancestor’s obituary online you may want to consider hiring an expert through ancestry.com’s service ProGenealogist.

Please take advantage of obituaries if you have a chance. They are an extremely valuable source of information and most everyone who has passed away has had one. Remember before discovering Christopher’s obituary remember how little I knew. Hope you have the same experience.

Happy Hunting!

Donny


Could your Canadian ancestors be United Empire Loyalists?

Before I started researching my family history it was my understanding that during The American Revolution there were those who were against the crown (Great Britain) and those who were for the crown. Those against the crown were those who fought, supported, or orchestrated the independence of the The United States from Great Britain. In other words, patriots, founding fathers, minutemen, etc. This type of citizen is the type of citizen that we, as Americans, throughout history and today would like to think made up 100% of the population during The American Revolution, but this is not the case.

Those citizens  of the American Colonies, who chose to remain loyal to the crown, took up arms against the rebellion in the American Colonies and fought along side the British in an effort to crush the movement for an independent American nation. These citizens, who remained loyal to the crown, were known as loyalists or tories.  Once the outlook for British victory seemed to be dwindling many loyalists fled from what would eventually become to The United States to other possessions of the British Empire including Canada.  Those who fled just about when the The American Revolution was ending, but before The Treaty of Paris in 1783 are considered United Empire Loyalists.

How I found out about the United Empire Loyalists is through my personal family history and research. Before getting involved in conducting my own research I knew my maternal grandfather, John A. Esson, was from New Brunswick, Canada and immigrated to The United States in 1927. I always assumed my descendants in Canada migrated only from Europe which is true for some lines, but not others. The Essons did come from Scotland to New Brunswick, but other lines in my family tree came from The United States instead of Europe. Which led me to the question of why The United States?

To answer this question and before I get bogged down in details on lineage – I will just make it simple and provide one example of a descendant of mine, John Henry Newman (b. abt 1734, England – d. July 2nd, 1797, New Brunswick, Canada), who immigrated from The United States to Canada and was what would become known as an United Empire Loyalist.

In 1838, Catherine Leighton married Peter L. Esson, (my ggg-grandparents). Catherine is the great-granddaughter of John Henry Newman (my 6g-grandfather). Not a lot is known about John Henry’s time in The United States prior to The American Revolution, but my research has indicated that he could have lived in Manmouth County, New Jersey since he was enlisted 2nd Battalion New Jersey Volunteers. This particular battalion was recruited heavily from Manmouth County and an ancestry.com search indicated a few John H. Newman’s in the area. There is also speculation from fellow family researchers that John H. may have lived in Maryland or Virginia prior to the revolution since his wife, Hannah Montgomery (b. bat 1749, Maryland – d. December 21st, 1807, New Brunswick, Canada) was from Maryland. However, John Henry was definitely a member of The New Jersey Volunteers.

Descendants of John Henry and Hannah Newman

Descendants of John Henry and Hannah Newman

Regardless of where John Henry resided prior to The Revolution, he served with the British and when the British could not quell the rebellion he fled the American colonies in the fall of 1783 aboard a ship called The Duke of Richmond to Canada. As a reward for his loyalty to Great Britain, John received land through a crown land grant in Kingclear, New Brunswick. Eventually he purchased his own land on Oct 18, 1787 in Southwest, Miramichi, New Brunswick where he lived the rest of his life. On July 2nd, 1797 John Henry passed away and was buried at Wilson’s Point Cemetery in Derby New Brunwick. 

John Henry Newman's Headstone at Wilson's Point Cemetery in Derby, New Brunswick, Canada

John Henry Newman’s Headstone at Wilson’s Point Cemetery in Derby, New Brunswick, Canada

If you know of any ancestors who lived in Canada as The American Revolution was winding down and before The Treaty of Paris in September, 1783, I would certainly try to determine if your ancestors are considered a United Empire Loyalist. 

To find out if your ancestor is a United Empire Loyalist you should visit The United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada’s website where they have a database of loyalist. The database does not appear to have the full list, but you can also try ancestry.com’s database as well if you do not have any luck of UELAC’s site.

If you do discover an ancestor who is a United Empire Loyalist and if you are descendant you can join The United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada. According to their website the guidelines for admission are based on whether your ancestor was a loyalist. The guidelines are as follows:

  • Either male or female, as of 19 April 1775, a resident of the American colonies, and joined the Royal Standard prior to the Treaty of Separation of 1783, or otherwise demonstrated loyalty to the Crown, and settled in territory remaining under the rule of the Crown; or
  • a soldier who served in an American Loyalist Regiment and was disbanded in Canada; or
  • a member of the Six Nations of either the Grand River or the Bay of Quinte Reserve who is descended from one whose migration was similar to that of other Loyalists.

It amazing that only a few years ago only thing I knew about my maternal grandfather, John A. Esson, was that he came to The United States from Canada and thought he had no connection to The United States prior to his immigration.  I had no clue that my ancestors lived in The U.S. prior to The American Revolution. It feels as though a circle has been completed starting when John Henry Newman fled to Canada 1783 because of fear of the new radical American government and my grandfather’s return to The United States in 1927 for the opportunities this country provides due to that government that was considered so radical in 1783. I hope after reading this you can find a similar story in your genealogical endeavors.

Happy Hunting!

Donny


This American Life’s, “The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar”, and why it’s interesting to a genealogist.

While attending college I happened to hitch I ride back with a friend after a break. The ride back to school was between 5 1/2 hours to 6 1/2 hours depending on how fast you drove. With amount of time in the car you certainly needed to kill some time somehow and on this particular ride my friend put an episode of This American Life. I have never even heard of this show, was skeptical, and was prepared to be bored out of my mind. However, as the show started I was immediately captivated and I followed intently about the story of Bobby Dunbar. Bobby Dunbar was a boy who disappeared on August 23rd, 1912 near St. Landry Parish, Louisiana while picnicking with his family. The result was an eight month hunt which captivated the nation for this missing child.  The hunt eventually led to a man named William Cantell Walters, who was being accompanied by a child who resembled Bobby Dunbar. Notice how I say resembled, because what proceeded was an almost century old mystery as to whether the boy with Walters was really Bobby Dunbar.

Bobby Dunbar is standing in front of the car

Bobby Dunbar standing in front of the car

The boy the authorities located with Walters said his mother was named Julia Anderson and she had granted Walters custody over the boy. Julia Anderson’s son was named Charles Bruce Anderson, but authorities did not appear to believe the boy nor Walters and decided to bring in the Dunbars to identify if this boy was in fact Bobby Dunbar or Charles Bruce Anderson. Accounts differ as to what occurred during the initial contact between the boy and the Dunbars. Some newspapers say the boy yelled “mother” and ran to Lessie Dunbar while others said it appeared they did not know each other at all. Whatever the true account may have been the end was result was the boy was determined to be Bobby Dunbar and not Charles Bruce Anderson. For the rest of his life this boy lived as Bobby Dunbar, son of Lessie & Percy Dunbar, but the mystery still hung over his head as to who he really was. The mystery went unsolved for almost a century until Margaret Dunbar Cutright, one Bobby Dunbar’s granddaughters, started to search for the true identity of Bobby Dunbar.

In 2008, This American Life, aired the journey and findings of Margaret’s research in an episode titled, “The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar” (you may find audio with this link)

The reason I am sharing this particular episode with you is not only is it extremely fascinating, but Margaret utilized  techniques used by genealogists to trace ancestry, and try to determine the mystery of who really was Bobby Dunbar. Margaret had to track members from both families down, interview those family members, uncover documents, research various newspaper source, scour court documents, and eventually utilized a DNA test to answer her family’s century old mystery as to who Bobby Dunbar really was.

Of course I am not going to give away the ending of Margaret’s research because doing that will take away from the enjoyment of listening to the show, but trust me you will not be disappointed and yes, there is definitive answer in the end. This is a must listen for any genealogist and/or family sleuth.

One last interesting note in case you are interested in further pursuing this topic, I did a quick Google search for Bobby Dunbar and discovered there was book published last year in 2013 by Margaret Dunbar Cutright and Tal McThenia called, “A Case for Solomon”.  Might be interesting for those looking to further pursue.

Happy Hunting!

Donny


Why is it worth obtaining your ancestor’s Civil War pension record?

If you had a male ancestor above the ages of sixteen to eighteen living in the United States in 1861 there is an extremely good chance that he may have been involved in The Civil War in some capacity. The total combined strength of The Union and Confederate forces was around 3,100,000 which was roughly 10% of the total population of The United States in 1860. If you do happen to know of a male ancestor, who lived during that time you may want to conduct some research to determine if he served during The Civil War. In my case, my father knew he had a great-grandfather, who served in The Civil War, his first name, and a variation of his last name. To make a long story short we discovered his last name through a marriage record and where he resided before mustering into service. This was all the information we needed to start researching my great-great-grandfather, Christopher McNanny’s, Civil War service. I could go on for hours and probably will be sharing my knowledge and stories of Christopher in future blog posts, but this blog is about the value of obtaining a pension record which generally is a treasure trove of information.

I received my copy of Christopher’s pension record a few years ago and I still from time-to-time go through the document page-by-page looking for that tidbit of information which may help answer an unanswered question. Christopher’s pension record is about 100 pages long since he lost his left leg below the knee during The Battle of Summit Point on August 21st, 1864. (Christopher of Madrid, New York served in Company G, 106th New York Volunteers) The amount of pages varies for each individual soldier and the length of the record depends if they were wounded during the war and/or if they or wife filed appeals throughout the years after the war. In Christopher’s case he was wounded and his wife Margaret applied and appealed after Christopher’s death.

In general Pension Records provide insight into the following, but not limited to:

  • Birthdate and birthplace.
  • Wife’s name and marriage date
  • Residence prior, during, and after the war.
  • In some instances, acquaintances were asked to provide testimony about the claimant and/or soldier.
  • Information on the death of the soldier.
  • Details about wound if wounded.
  • Names of parents of soldier and occasionally wife’s parents.

Each individual pension record will provide a different level of insight and information. I have also heard of some containing pictures as well, but this is rare. Occasionally you will discover shocking revelations that you were not expecting. For example, in Christopher’s pension record it was discovered that Margaret was not his first wife which certainly went against the information that was passed down from in my family.

According to the record Christopher was married to a Rosa Fagan while he was living in Burlington, Vermont. Not much is known about Rosa, but she died young at 26 in 1849.  According to Christopher’s mother-in law in her affidavit, Sarah White, Rosa died soon after childbirth. Sara White Affidavit 1909 I am not certain if there was a child born or the child also died during birth. I may never find out.

After Rosa’s death Christopher moved back to Waddington in Saint Lawrence County, New York. This information was provided by testimony from a James Duffy in 1909, who was an acquaintance of Christopher and Margaret. Essentially the U.S. Pension Office was trying to determine if Margaret was saying who she said she was which was being the wife of Christopher McNanny so she could further claim a pension after Christopher’s death.  James Duffy Affidavit 1909

As I said, each and every pension record will contain various amount of information and bits of knowledge. Some information you may already know and some may crack open that genealogical brick wall which you have been trying to break down for some time. Either way I would certainly invest in acquiring a copy of your ancestors Civil War Pension Record. I believe five years ago which I acquired Christopher’s the cost was $75, but I see now it is $80. Below I am including some information on how to go about getting a copy of a pension record. The good news is process is actually quite simple.

First you have to find the index number which corresponds to a specific pension record. Essentially once you obtain the index number you need to provide this number to The National Archives. From there The National Archives will handle finding the record and mailing a copy to you either hardcopy or CD. There are a couple of routes to take to obtain the index number. First make sure you have the first and last name of soldier as well as first and last name of wife. Residency would also be very helpful.

  1. If you have a paid subscription to ancestry.com you can search through their records: http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=4654 2)
  2. If you do not have ancestry.com subscription then you will have to go through The National Archives Microfilm Roll T288: General Index to Pension and find the number manually. http://www.archives.gov/research/military/pension-genealogy/1861-1934.html

I would recommend taking the ancestry.com route because it is simple and you can find the index number instantly. You can actually go to your local library and use ancestry.com library edition for free to look up the index number. Once you have acquired the index number than you can start filling out an online form to order which is known as  Form NATF 85D. You may find the online ordering form here: Federal Military Pension Application NATF 85D

I also strongly recommend once you receive your copy of your ancestor’s pension record to back it up and may I say it again BACK IT UP! I personally received Christopher’s pension record in hard copy form and I made copies of that. I also digitized the document which is not only stored on my hard drive, but also on http://www.dropbox.com. It is very important to back up all your research and please take the time to do so.

So in closing, if you have an ancestor, who fought in The Civil War, I would strongly advise you to obtain a copy of his pension record because the valuable information you will obtain is priceless.

Happy Hunting!

Donny


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