Headed Towards New Adventures

A few of you might have noted a few changes in recent weeks. I’ve said goodbye to Boston and relocated back to California. While it is hard to leave a city that has meant so much to me personally and professionally, I look forward to being back in Los Angeles and renewing friendships I made there just a few years ago. Boston is truly the birthplace of genealogy — yet genealogy is alive and well throughout the globe.

What will I be doing? Well, a lot of different things – but they will be centered around the amazing and dynamic field of family history and genealogy

You see I’ve never been prouder to be part of this booming industry. There are so many opportunities for entrepreneurs, seasoned businesses, and everyone else to engage with family history and I am going to be digging into a few things:

Getting ready for the big RootsTech 2015 keynote.First, I will still be involved with friends like Findmypast and my colleagues at the Federation of Genealogical Societies. My passion and love for genealogical societies is not disappearing anytime soon and with less than 18 months left in my term as FGS president there is a lot of work to be done! I’m looking forward to a year of celebrating FGS during its 40th Anniversary in 2016 and the FGS 2016 Conference in Springfield.

Second, I am looking forward to being involved in any number of new opportunities and ideas in the field of family history. A few I can share and a few – I cannot (but feel free to guess, you might be correct). There are undoubtedly new opportunities that will arise that I haven’t even considered yet. The door is wide open.

Third, I’m gradually starting my individual client business up again. I’ve missed digging into research projects over the past few years. I get to do a lot of that in working with Genealogy Roadshow, but I know there are millions of questions out there to be answered that might never make it on TV. So I look forward to picking up new projects over the next several months.

Genealogy Roadshow - New OrleansFinally, for the past several weeks I’ve been working on the third season of Genealogy Roadshow. We film our first two episodes in Boston and Providence this coming weekend, followed by visits to Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and California. I can’t wait to spend the next few months traveling around the country and sharing family history with our Genealogy Roadshow audience.


Family history teaches us that we are all connected, that despite our outward differences we have so much in common. To me, it truly is the most personal, awe-inspiring, emotional journey we as individuals can take. Onward to new adventures!


5 Tips for Your First Visit to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

nara sealThis weekend a twitter follower of mine, Tammy Daniels  asked me about tips for her first time visit to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) facility in Washington, D.C. While there is so much to learn about research at NARA, here are five tips for Tammy and anyone else considering a first visit to NARA.

Tip 1: Make sure you are in the right place!

The Washington, D.C. location is just one of several NARA facilities across the United States. The facility at 700 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. in known for holding a variety of records key for genealogical research such as pension files from the Civil War, service records from the War of 1812, records from the General Land Office, and others. NARA’s other locations including the College Park, Maryland facility and the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri hold other key records for genealogists. Make sure you plan a visit to correct NARA facility that houses the collections you need.

Tip 2: Be compact and bring ID

When entering the archives you will need to enter through a metal detector before accessing the research areas. While the process can be a bit flustering it is usually much easier than making your way through airport security. When looking at textual records (aka original documents) you will need to have any paper brought in checked at the desk to ensure you haven’t stolen any of our nation’s priceless documents. To save a bit of time, reduce the amount of paper you need to bring into the facility with you. Save files to a laptop, tablet, or mobile device instead.

When you arrive you will need to show an ID and gain a visitor or research badge. The process is fairly simple. If you plan on looking at original records (which of course you do, because you are a genealogist at NARA) you will need to register for a Researcher Card. Depending upon the time of day and the number of visitors, the process should take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. NARA’s helpful staff will take your picture and give you a researcher card that gives you an official researcher number. Keep track of your card and number, as you will need them to request documents and make any copies.

Tip 3: Prepare ahead of time

NARA’s staff will help you navigate through the maze of record groups to help you request the original files you need – but it helps if you bring a copy of any indexes you might have. For example, when seeking an original Civil War Pension file, bring a copy of the index card to assist you in filing out the request slip. You are usually limited to the number of requests you can submit at a given time, so make sure you prioritize your requests before arriving.

This is important for any first time visitor: NARA only pulls original documents at certain times during the day. Plan to arrive at least an hour ahead of the first pull time to work your way through the request process. There is nothing worse than arriving with only 10 minutes before the final pull of the day (a hint, you probably won’t have time to view the records you want!).

A large number of NARA documents (or at least their indexes) have been digitized on sites like Fold3.com, Ancestry.com, and FamilySearch.org. Check each of those sites before visiting to save time when visiting NARA in person

Tip 4: Lockers and a quarter

Once inside there are lockers provided to secure your bags and other belongings. They are free to use but do require a quarter to lock correctly. Make sure you bring a quarter with you when visiting to ensure you can lock your valuables. Bags and other bulky items are not allowed in the actual room you use to view original records. When visiting, I try to limit myself to just a laptop when viewing any textual documents. Take some time learn more about the research rooms before visiting.

Tip 5: Make copies and take photos

Once inside the research room with documents in hand (it usually takes about 45 minutes for a record to be pulled), you need to ask permission before copying any materials. NARA does allow you to make paper and digital copies. Pension files, service records, land entry files, etc. usually get the “all clear” from the desk to copy – but always check first.

You can load your research card with money from a credit/debit card or by cash using a machine located in the room where you view original documents or online (thanks to my colleague EasternEuropeanMutt for the link). You can also take photos with your mobile device or a portable camera. Be sure to copy the front and back of documents, and keep your images in order.

Last Words

So there you have it – five quick tips for a first time visitor to Archives I in Washington, D.C. There is so much more to learn (and I learn something new about our nation’s archives every trip I take). Tammy, I hope you have a wonderful experience at NARA and that you find exactly what you are looking for. For all you other fellow genealogists, may your future visits to NARA be productive and full of adventure. Now, what are your tips for a first time visitor?




New on JSTOR Daily: Tracing Your Ancestor’s Political Leanings

Lincoln_Douglas_Debate_1050x700Each election cycle reminds me that our ancestors own political dealings can be a good source of information about them. Unfortunately, there is no wide scale census of political party affiliations for a genealogist to examine. While names can become clues (as a child named “Andrew Jackson” might indicate the family leans towards Jackson’s Democratic party), they are only one part of a complex area of study. An ancestor’s political affiliations might be determined only after careful genealogical and historical analysis of existing records and a contextual understanding of their world. Not everyone was involved with politics on the national or even state level and most ancestors will reveal their strongest affiliations in local party politics.

Continue reading on JSTOR Daily

This Week on JSTOR Daily: Were Your Ancestors Patriots, Loyalists, or Somewhere In-between?

AmRev_Spiritof76_2_1050x700As July 4th approaches it seems only fitting to look back on one’s ancestor’s experiences during the American Revolution to conduct genealogy research. While families often know—and celebrate—those who served as Patriots, history teaches us that not all our ancestors were in favor of declaring their Independence. David McCullough’s John Adams records that in 1775 Adams noted the country was split into thirds, with one third loyal to the British, one third in support of Independence, and one third timid—or undecided.

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Thank you Daughters of the American Revolution!

My recent blog on HuffingtonPost:

As we remember our Independence, every American owes a debt of gratitude to the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Last week Washington D.C. was a center of attention for multiple reasons, yet rustling through the streets of Washington, D.C. nearly 4,000 proud women gathered for an annual week-long event steps away from the White House. One’s first impression of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) can easily be incorrect. Behind the formal attire and elegant sashes rests an organization with a live-stream of events, active Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook activity, huge numbers of active projects, scholarship and grant programs, and a digital resource for anyone tracing the genealogy or history of the American Revolution.

Continue reading on HuffingtonPost

Today on JSTOR Daily: The History of Graduation Ceremonies and Other School Rituals of Our Ancestors

What was school like for our parents, grandparents, and the rest of our ancestors? We often see an individual’s level of education reported on the U.S. census and if we are lucky, we might know the school they attended. But how much do we know about what school life was like for them in 1920 or even 1850? Were there such things as senior parties and senior pranks? What were graduation ceremonies like?

Graduation_1050x700Graduation ceremonies and traditions have certainly changed over the past 100 years, as indicated in a study by Carl M. Hulbert and Harl R. Douglass of 1930s graduation activities in the state of Wisconsin. Today, most college graduations are held at stadiums and large arenas to accommodate the large crowds. In contrast, ceremonies in the 1930s appear to have been a bit more subdued, with the focus on the invocation and benediction. In Wisconsin, 77% of schools placed their senior class on the stage for graduation ceremonies. Only 11% seated the faculty along with the senior class.

Continue reading at JSTOR Daily



Finding Inspiration: Visiting My Quaker Roots

This past weekend I found myself with a few hours of downtime in Flushing, New York. Rather than taking the train into Manhattan, I decided to venture out to visit a few places that were important to my own ancestry. Nestled in the bustling community of modern-day Flushing sit two historic landmarks that hold an important place in my own family tree – and likely the place of many, many others. My visit left me inspired, refreshed, and extremely grateful for the amazing opportunities I have as a genealogist.

Old Quaker Meetinghouse (Flushing, NY)

Old Quaker Meetinghouse (Flushing, NY)

Many of my grandmother’s ancestors were faithful members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). My research has taken me to a few meetinghouses where my ancestors met as part of their local congregations or monthly meetings. Therefore, my first stop was the historic Old Quaker Meeting House, built on land bought by my ancestor John Bowne in 1692 With lessons learned from previous excursions, I carefully checked the website and Facebook pages of the organization and learned that they offer tours from 12:00pm-12:30pm on Sunday afternoons, immediately following their worship service.

What I found inside was incredibly humbling – and inspiring. I was carefully guided through the old meetinghouse room-by-room. I knew the story of John Bowne, who was arrested for holding Quaker meetings in his home and successfully pled his case to the Dutch East India Company court. What I didn’t realize was the building’s incredible place in history.

We covered the building’s use during key moments in our history. During the American Revolution the British, who kept American prisoners there, overtook the meetinghouse. As we walked upstairs to the rooms where children were taught and members of the monthly meeting had put their sewing skills to work during World War II our guide pointed to a cabinet that until recently had held items from John Bowne himself. We covered ghost stories and other legends before I had a chance to walk the small burying ground outside.

Burying ground, Old Quaker Meetinghouse (Flushing, NY)

Burying ground, Old Quaker Meetinghouse (Flushing, NY)

While I had several ancestors who were part of the congregation from its beginning, all had left the area by 1800, meaning that there were only a few familiar surnames on marked graves. As the Quakers began marking gravestones in the 1830s, I could only walk through the wooded path outlining family plots, which are likely to have included by ancestors from the Bowne, Thorne, and Willett families. There in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Queens I found a peaceful tranquility that caused me to wonder what my Quaker ancestors would think of the buildings, restaurants, and other structures surrounding their final resting place.

My next stop was to the John Bowne home itself. I visited the house nearly 15 years ago with my grandmother on one of our research trips. Then, like now, the house was closed – only open for limited tours by appointment. While a recent exterior renovation has been completed, there are plans to build a visitors center and reopen the historic home in the future. Luckily, I caught the eye of the caretaker who was working in the garden outside. She graciously let me through the gate and offered to give me a small tour of the house itself.

John Bowne House (Flushing, NY)

John Bowne House (Flushing, NY)

I’ve visited more than a few historic homes, but not too many who belonged to an ancestor. As I walked through the front door, I found myself walking across original floorboards and stopped in the main room, built in the 1660s. I passed the family table, which had been brought by the Bowne from England in the early 1600s. I passed personal possessions, many of which belonged to John Bowne and his family that were uncovered in the house, including cooking tools and other equipment.

I learned about the house’s legendary role in the underground railroad, the incredible mix of horticulture intrigue found on its grounds, and discovered the house has several boxes of archival materials, hundreds of textiles, and other objects that document 400 years of history and material culture. The house had various additions over the years, making it incredible visual representations of architectural history from the 1660s to the mid 1820s.

While my direct ancestral connections brought me to the historic meetinghouse and the Bowne house, their connections to history left me eager and inspired. Family history is so much more than the names and dates we collect, it is the stories and the connection to history we uncover that leaves me wanting more. I left Flushing with a renewed commitment to keep digging for those unfound lines, while preserving the stories and objects already uncovered. We must never forget what our past teaches us about the present.


Photos from my visit to Flushing, NY:

Today on JSTOR Daily: Population Studies for the Genealogist

What can a genealogist learn from population studies? The opportunities are endless…

files-1050x700A few weeks ago The Genealogy Factor examined the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, revealing a number of insights into the origins and spread of the disease, a well as the world’s reaction to the tragedy. In the process of learning more about the epidemic itself, I became intrigued with studies relating to the epidemic’s mortality rates.

With no shortage of material to consume, the science behind determining population statistics quickly became an unexpected, and interesting, resource for genealogical inspiration. Studies of birth, marriage, and death rates are plentiful. Some discuss large regions and vast time periods, while others focus on a specific town or community during a single year or event. Genealogy and the study of populations have a great deal in common—opening intriguing pathways for anyone tracing their family tree.

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Recently on JSTOR Daily: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918

A few years ago I came across a family photograph of the burial ceremony of my second great-grandmother, Rachel (Broadhead) Taylor and her daughter, Flora Taylor. Both had died within three days of one another and were buried October 28, 1918. Rachel died at the age of 55, leaving behind her husband and several children, the youngest being just 13 years old. Her daughter Flora, not yet married, was only 26 years old. The photograph was a haunting reminder of the conditions of their deaths. The mourners, particularly the children, shrouded their faces in masks, fearful of falling victim to the same disease that claimed Rachel and her daughter—influenza. Local newspapers revealed their hometown had many stricken with the disease, part of what was to be known as the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, a global catastrophe that is estimated to have killed between 40 and 50 million people.

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Today on JSTOR Daily: Our Farming Ancestors

My ancestry includes an interesting mix of occupations – a few successful merchants, hard-working coal miners, and the occasional crooked politician. For many generations however, these occupations are the exception. Whether living in New York, Georgia, Illinois, or California the majority of my ancestors spent their lifetime as farmers. A large majority of our ancestors in the United States were farmers, as estimates count the number of farmers as 64% of the population (4.9 million) in 1850, slightly down from the figure of 72% of the population reported in 1820. While the life of my crooked politician is well documented, the lives of so many of my farming ancestors remain a bit of a mystery. They did not often make the county history book or the local newspaper, yet were an essential part of their local economies and deserve some recognition…

Read the full column at JSTOR Daily