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Did You Turn the Page?

Tuesday April 15, 2014

You've found your ancestor's name in an online database, and better yet you can even view the actual digitized record, possibly packed with more details than you were hoping to discover. It's so easy to stop right there and celebrate! Yet, no matter where you find that "ah ha!" clue to your ancestor, take a deep breath and calm yourself down long enough to turn the page. Browse the index at the back of the book. Turn over that marriage record and look at the back. Click the "previous" and "next" buttons to view additional pages in an online record collection. Flip to the beginning and end of the record set to learn more about the records, or view addendums.

Just because your answer isn't found in alphabetical or chronological order doesn't mean it's not there. And finding an answer doesn't mean there isn't even more to see. Here are just a few of many, many examples where turning the page, whether physically or virtually, may yield additional information on your ancestors. Read More...

Researching French-Canadian Ancestors

Tuesday April 15, 2014

Even if you can't read French, tracing French-Canadian and Acadian ancestors can be easier than many people expect due to the excellent record keeping of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada and the remarkable level of French-Canadian records preservation. Generally, all you need to begin a search are the names of the couple married in Quebec, or the Maritime Provinces of Canada (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island), and parts of Maine (U.S.), and an approximate marriage date. From there you can often extend the family line back many generations, in some cases to the village or parish of origin in France. It's also not uncommon to find ancestors in the border states such as Vermont and New Hampshire living in the United States, but marrying or baptizing children in Canada...or just moving back and forth across the border.
Researching French-Canadian Ancestors

Using DNA to Solve Adoption Mysteries

Tuesday April 1, 2014

DNA adoption. Photo by Getty Images/Cultura/Liam NorrisStories of DNA being used to help solve an adoption mystery have been in the news quite a bit in recent months, inspiring many adoptees to look into using DNA as a tool in their adoption search. Case in point, a recent article by Erin Alberty in the Salt Lake City Tribune tells the heartwarming story of two parents and the son they gave away for adoption almost 50 years ago recently reuniting because they both happened to have their DNA tested with AncestryDNA. Ken Drake took the test out of curiosity about his ethnicity, while Richard Larsen, the biological uncle of Ken Drake, received the test as a Christmas present from one of his daughters. Both families were surprised but excited when the DNA test turned up a "close match" between the two men.

Now before you adoptees out there get your hopes up, most DNA searches aren't quite this easy. As a matter of fact, this wasn't exactly a search at all --- more luck than anything. However, some of you will get lucky and may find a close biological family member has also tested. The rest of you still have hope as well, as genetic genealogists and adoption groups have worked hard to formulate tools and methodologies for using DNA to help connect adoptees with their birth families. It can be an interesting, but emotional ride, and you may find you happen to match some genealogists out there who--like me--don't mind taking out a few hours to investigate our shared matches and what that might tell you about your biological family. If you don't have the time or interest in learning how to use the technology yourself, you can hire a genetic genealogy expert who specializes in this type of research.

All of those who are not adopted benefit as well, as these same methodologies and tools can be applied to any number of our own tough genealogical mysteries...

Learn how in Using DNA in Your Adoption Search.

Exploring Sanborn & Other Fire Insurance Maps Online

Monday March 31, 2014

Noblestown, PA, Train Depot, c. 1908Fire insurance maps, produced by SanbornŽ and a number of other companies, are large-scale historical city/town maps that document the size and shape of buildings, locations of windows and doors, and construction materials, as well as street names, and property boundaries. Dating back to the mid-1800's, fire insurance maps were originally created to assist fire insurance agents in assessing potential fire risk, and setting insurance premiums, therefore they also include details such as the direction of prevailing winds, fire department locations and equipment, and the location of fire hydrants and other water supplies.

While big cities were a large target for fire insurance plans, small towns were mapped more frequently than you might expect. In many cases, fire insurance maps document structures and even towns that no longer exist. The small village of Noblestown, Pennsylvania, falls into this category.Downham Real Photo Post Card RPPC, c. 1908 The location where this small community once bustled around booming oil wells and coal mines is now occupied by forest, a few homes and churches, and the trail head on Mill Street where I often begin bike rides on my local rail trail--a crushed limestone trail that follows the path of the former Panhandle Division--Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago (P.C.C.) & St Louis--of the Pennsylvania Railroad.  If not for old maps, histories, and photographs like the one depicted here, I would never know that a railroad station, two hotels, several general and feed stores, and multiple railroad tracks existed in the spot less than a century ago. Read More...

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