4 Places on Facebook to Find Genealogy Help

In last week's blog post "Ancestors Please! How to ask for help online" I wrote about best practices for asking others for help on social media sites like Facebook. A number of people commented, asking where on Facebook to find genealogy help. In this post we'll explore five effective places for finding genealogy help on Facebook.

1) Your Facebook Wall

You may not realize it but your very own Facebook wall might be the place to start. Who will better know your family history than your own family? Asking genealogy questions on your wall might prompt family members to share information  you didn't know they had and they didn't realize you wanted. Keep in mind that that Facebook is not really private. Consider who else among your Facebook friends can see your discussion and decided whether the topic should better be handled in an email or not.

The other great use of posting on your Facebook wall is to share with other genealogists. Genealogists has long since taken over Facebook and many of us use Facebook more for connecting with other genealogists than we do with old friends or family. In this case posting to your wall can be very effective.

If you don't currently have a lot of genealogy connections on Facebook start by "friending" the genealogists you do know from your local society. Once you connect with a genealogist that is very active on Facebook you'll notice that they are tied in to a much larger community of genealogists on Facebook. That will be your entry into connecting with a very large community online.

2) A Surname Group

There are many groups dedicated to specific surnames.  I belong to one group called the House of Learneds for Learned family descendants. Surname groups are perfect for posting a genealogy query but only if it relates directly to that surname.  Be sure to read the group or page description to understand what the group is all about. The description for the House of Learneds says "If you are a Learned/Larned/Learnard/Larnett, etc. (no joke!) you can join. If you can state your lineage, even better! Please keep it light - no politics or religious proselytizing. Beyond that, you may say or submit anything you want. This is YOUR Facebook page!" 

Here are some to get you started:

To find surname groups try searching Facebook for the surname plus the word "family" or "genealogy" such as "Chandler Family." Keep in mind that some groups are created for a small group of family members for staying in touch or organizing reunions rather than connecting with all descendants. Try to get a feel for what type of group it is by reading the description before asking to join.

Also, don't try asking questions about your other family lines or it might just get you kicked out of the group for being off topic.

3) A Geographic Focused Group

If you don't find a group for the surname you are looking for then try a group based on the location where your ancestors came from. This is a great way to get help from people who are experienced in researching in that same location. You may not share the same family but you may be researching the same records.

There are literally hundreds of these types of groups on Facebook. One that I belong to is the Indiana County PA Genealogy group.

Other groups include:

Not finding what you need? Katherine R. Willson has created a comprehensive list of "genealogy on Facebook" links which you can access on her website at http://socialmediagenealogy.com/genealogy-on-facebook-list/


4) The Legacy User Group

And let's not forget the new Legacy User Group !

This group was created for people using the Legacy Family Tree software so most of the questions deal with genealogy as relates to the Legacy software.  There is a terrific amount of sharing going on the group and not only will you learn about the software but you'll get some great genealogy tips too!

Thanks to Alona Tester, Dawn Fulton, Liz Loveland, Clarise Fleck Soper, Joyce Homan and Elizabeth Handler for contributing suggestions to this article.

Marian Pierre-Louis is the Social Media Marketing Manager for Legacy Family Tree. She is also the host of The Genealogy Professional podcast. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.

Storyboard Basics for Family Historians: How to Get Started in Three Simple Steps

Do you struggle to put together a family history narrative? Want to learn how to plot like a pro? A storyboard could be the answer to your writing woes. Many fiction writers use storyboards to plot their novels.

A storyboard is a simple way to visually outline or map out your writing project. You can use the storyboard as your guidepost to start writing, or as chapter or section titles to take you through the writing process. If you're not sure about where or how to begin crafting a story others will want to read, here are three simple steps to help you get started with storyboarding.


1. Think like a writer, not like a genealogist. During the research phase of family history, most genealogists deal primarily with facts (names, dates, places, and other pertinent details), and use their analytical skills to "put the puzzle pieces together" and interpret the information. But, when it comes to plotting a story, you should be thinking like a writer—tapping into your inner creativity to put those facts together in an accurate, yet compelling way.

2. Write cinematically. All good stories have three basic parts: Beginning, Middle, and End (or in theatre terms, “three acts”). Although you may not think of your family's story as a movie, it often helps if you do. Try writing cinematically—breaking the story you want to tell into scenes. Scenes move your plot forward, set the tone, and highlight your voice.

3. Outline Your Ideas. Identify key points, ideas, scenes etc. you want to convey or include in your book, profile, or short story using a technique typically taught in novel writing workshops: the “Index Card" method. For a book project, the “old school” way is to get a stack (about 60) of 3 x 5 index cards and write down one scene per card (aiming for 15 scenes for Act 1, 30 for Act 2, and 15 for Act 3). This keeps the story moving.

For example, in my book, Three Slovak Women, the overall main plot is a story about three different generations of Slovak women. For Act I, my main plot is my grandmother's immigration story, and my subplots would be her family life in Slovakia, her arranged marriage to my grandfather, and her assimilation in America.

The index card method is useful because once you have your scenes written out you can shuffle the cards around to get the order you desire—the one that makes the most sense for your story. Software tools or apps make the process easier by letting you create “virtual” index cards.

One of my favorite programs is Scrivener by Literature and Latte, (available for PC and Mac), which has many useful features, including the ability to set up your projects in storyboard format using a virtual corkboard. There is a 30-day free trial available (and it runs for 30 days of actual use rather than by calendar days).

Next, transcribe or develop what you've written on each card into an outline, with your main plot (and then subplot a, b, c). This process will help you to see what does or doesn't work. (Scrivener lets you seamlessly switch to outline view, and easily shuffle your cards if you want to change, move or delete a scene). For smaller projects (for example, ancestor profiles), you would use less cards, but follow the same basic guidelines.

To learn more about creating storyboards with Scrivener, register for the upcoming Legacy webinar on Storyboard Your Family History.

Consider giving storyboarding a try. A storyboard gives you a “bird’s eye view” of your project so you can build a structure that works, see the holes in your content, and have a place to store notes, ideas, source information, and more.

Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A., is a freelance writer, instructor and lecturer specializing in genealogy and creative nonfiction. She is a frequent presenter for the Legacy Family Tree Webinars series and can be contacted via http://www.lisaalzo.com.

Ancestors please! How to ask for help online

Do you remember in the old days when we had to ask for help about an ancestor by submitting a written query to a publication like Everton's Genealogical Helper? The other direct way was to write to people who had the same surname and hope that they would respond and have a common ancestor.

Things have changed since then! So much of what we do as genealogists in now online. What hasn't changed is that we still need to ask people for help. We still need information that can only be found locally and we need information that is unpublished and resides only in personal family archives.

Asking for help online can be frustrating especially when you are crowd-sourcing, in other words asking a group of people to help you find an answer or give you suggestions.

Death Certficate for Joseph Walleck, 1916, from the Pennsylvania, Death Certificates database, 1906-1963, on Ancestry.com

When the internet first started,  genealogists went in droves to forums such as provided by Ancestry.com and Rootsweb. While forums are still important, we are just as likely to make connections by posting on our Facebook wall or a Facebook group dedicated to a surname or a geographic location such as a county.

The great thing about asking questions online is that genealogists truly want to help. The trick is making a positive experience for both the person seeking the information and the person providing it.

Here are some tips to help make the experience a good one for both you and the people helping you. For the record, I have made all of these mistakes myself! I'm hoping after I write this post that I will get all those errors out of the way!

1) Ask a specific question

It's fine to start by saying that you want to research Pleasant Ann Clawson, born 1823 and died 1902 in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, that doesn't really tell people exactly what you are after. Pleasant Ann is my 3rd great grandmother. What I really need to know is who were her parents.  Better to start with "Who were the parents of Pleasant Ann Clawson, (1823-1902)?" so that people can help you answer exactly what you are looking for.

Likewise, my 2nd great grandfather, Joseph Walleck came over from "Bohemia" around 1863. A specific question to ask would be "Where in Bohemia did Joseph Walleck (1841-1916) come from? That will tell people that you are focused on his ancestral origins rather than his history in the United States. This question will also alert Bohemian-experienced  genealogists that you need help with immigration or information about the old country.

2) Provide an overview of what you know

The number one thing that happens when you ask people for help is that they want to help you! While this is wonderful it also begins the frustrating dance of watching people do the exact same research you have already spent hundreds of hours doing on your target ancestor. Then you end up,  bit by bit, dripping out the details of what you have already found. Yes, there are two people in that county with the same name. No, they are not the same person. No, my ancestor wasn't married twice.

The best way to help yourself and those who want to help you is to provide to them what you already know. The thing is you can't easily do that in a Facebook post. There isn't enough space. The best solution is to write a profile of your ancestor in a blog post, preferably with citations, that lists everything you already know about them. That allows you to share a short link on Facebook. Anyone who is truly interested will click the link to find out what you know before they start helping you.

If you're not keen on writing a profile you could create a simple document list and sort it by source. For instance, you could list all the documents you found on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org etc. and perhaps provide links to the documents. Then the people who want to help you will see what you have already found and skip those searches.

3) Thank everyone for their help

This may seem obvious, but be sure to thank everyone for their help even if they weren't able to provide any new information. This is the number one complaint I hear from volunteers who help others with their research. After the information is sent off not so much as a thank you is ever sent in reply. I can understand why this happens. Perhaps the person receiving the email got new ideas from the information and they went off searching again as genealogists are bound to do. Then they simply forgot about the person who sent the email. Try to send that thank you email right away. It will make a great impression and will encourage that person to help you and others in the future.

Marian Pierre-Louis is the Social Media Marketing Manager for Legacy Family Tree. She is also the host of The Genealogy Professional podcast. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.

I Found My Great Great Grandfather Online -- Now What!!??? (Verifying Records Found On Webpages)

You just found a church record for the marriage of your great great grandfather, or the record of your 4th great grandparents on a passenger list of a ship to the New World in 1777 - wow! But you have questions - how accurate is this information? How can you verify it? The first thing researchers need to remember is that all records have the potential for error once they have been transcribed.

Humans can make mistakes, a transcriber can miss a line or misinterpret an unfamiliar name. This results in the possibility of a culmination of errors with each succeeding transcription. Deliberate altering of the records (such as adding details the transcriber believes are correct; changing the spelling of names etc) results in even more possibility of corruption.

Generations (Versions) of a Record

Each generation or version that a record goes through increases its chance of errors. Researchers should always try to use records as close to the original as possible. Let's go through an actual example:

Many of the records and databases on websites such as Olive Tree Genealogy are transcribed from microfilm of the original. They can be considered a second generation level transcription. This means they have one chance of human error (assuming the original minister made no mistakes). If the original minister or clerk made errors then they have two changes of human error. In most cases these records may be considered as good as book-published records.

LFT Generations of Records 1881-2

LFT Generations of Records 1881-1

The two images above illustrate an error made by an indexer who indexed the name of a spouse as "Clanke Peer" But the image clearly shows the correct name of "Blanche Peer"

Records transcribed from published versions (such as the Marriage Records of the Reformed Dutch Church in New Amsterdam/New York used with permission of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record who published them in series), are third generation, having been transcribed from the original to the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record (NYGBR) to the website publishing them.

Records at 3rd generation level stand a greater chance of error. How useful they are depends on how reliable and accurate the working publication is. In this example the NYGBR is considered a scholarly journal, is well regarded, and might therefore be considered trustworthy.

The following example is based on an interpretation and explanation of the number of generations an early New York will can go through before it ends up on a webpage or mailing list on the Internet.

An Example of Generations in Wills and Abstracts

1. Generation 1 (original) The original will. Many have been microfilmed by the LDS church

2. Generation 2 (2nd version/transcription) At the time of probate the will was copied into the book (or "liber") of wills. Microfilm of most of the early libers is available.

3. Generation 3 (3rd version/transcription) In the 19th Century a copy of the original libers was made. Microfilm of these is available from the LDS church.

4. Generation 4 (4th version/transcription) Abstracts were done and published as part of the Collections of the New York Historical Society. These are also available on CD-ROM

5. Generation 5 (5th version/transcription) Those abstracts were either scanned or retyped and made available as on-line databases on webpages.

6. Generation 6 (6th version/transcription) The Generation 5 on-line abstracts were posted on an e-mail list.

You can see how many times errors can be introduced, or parts of the records lost along the way. This holds true for all online records.

So what can you, the researcher, do?

1. Use original sources wherever possible.

2. If you can't use the original source be sure to carefully note where you found the information. Hopefully you will one day be able to consult the original to verify the transcript.

3. Scrutinize your source - is it reliable? Has it been altered? Was it taken from an original, or was it taken from a source further removed from the original?

4. Research your sources! Find out if there are better published records that are known to have fewer errors. Talk to those knowledgeable in the field, write emails and ask questions.

5. Don't accept everything you see in print. Be a savvy researcher and protect yourself from errors in your family tree.

The question you should ask yourself every time you access a webpage with information is:


The further removed it is, the more chance of error. Keeping that in mind will make for better and more accurate genealogy research.


Lorine McGinnis Schulze is a Canadian genealogist who has been involved with genealogy and history for more than thirty years. In 1996 Lorine created the Olive Tree Genealogy website and its companion blog. Lorine is the author of many published genealogical and historical articles and books.

4 Ways to Research in a Cemetery

Genealogists love cemeteries! Cemeteries can be critical for finding information related to the births and deaths of our ancestors. When there is a lack of records sometimes the only information we have will be on a gravestone. In this article we'll discuss four ways you can expand your cemetery research.

1. Ancestor Research

If you are researching from afar you will likely use the Findagrave.com or billiongraves.com websites to help search for your ancestors' graves. The challenge with using a website rather than visiting in person is that it causes you to focus too tightly on a single ancestor. One of the greatest benefits of researching in a cemetery is discovering other ancestors in nearby plots. While you can't do this virtually you can sort of recreate the effect on Findagrave.com

Search for an ancestor that you know is listed in Findagrave.com. Next use the "Find all [surname] in:" feature which appears in the sidebar to the left. This will show you all the other people in that cemetery with the same surname. There are also options for searching the surname more broadly in the same town, county, and state. If you are searching for a common name that might not be practical but searching the same cemetery is always a good idea.



2. House Research

One of the best ways to use cemetery research is to research the history of your own house.  Maybe you've never considered doing that before! It can be as fun as researching your own family and you'll discover that the former residents of your house become almost like family after researching them.

If you live in a house that was built before 1900 then chances are good that the former residents are buried in one of the local cemeteries. You'll have to do deed research first to find out their names, followed up with census and vital record research but it shouldn't be too hard to track them down. Once you've discovered the former residents of your house visit the cemetery to learn more about them.

3. Local History Research

Genealogists typically have ancestors spread across a wide region or even multiple countries. Our ancestors just didn't stay put! The flip side of genealogical research is doing local history - research in your own back yard. Researching the local history of your town or village can give you a deep appreciation of the people who lived there before you.

Start your local history research with a tour of the oldest local cemetery. There you will likely discover the founders of your town. Walk through the cemetery and notice the surnames that are most prevalent. These will be the earliest families that stayed to help build the town into what it is today.

Also notice memorials or veterans markers. Get to know the people from your town who served in the American Revolution, the Civil War and other conflicts. You might even see gravestones for certain professions such as ship captains or fraternal organizations such as the Masons.

Next think about what interests you. Is it a certain time period like colonial America or a conflict like the Civil War? Choose some folks from the cemetery who intrigue you and put your genealogical skills to work. Learn about their lives through census and vital records and local history books. You may even consider blogging about them or sharing what you find with the local historical society. The one thing that is guaranteed to happen is that you will gain a richer appreciation of your town!

4. Carver / Art Research

There is so much more to cemetery research than just the names and dates on the gravestones. Have you ever noticed that gravestones are different shapes and sizes in different time periods? If you look closely you will see patterns that will help you identify the age of a stone quickly.

The art and letter carving on a gravestone also changes with time. The history of the development of stone carvers in America is quite fascinating. The earliest carvers came from Boston and were collectively known as the "Boston carvers." As the colonies grew, local carvers started to take over. There is often a relationship or association between the local carver and the people he memorialized in stone. It can be a fascinating journey to learn about the individual carvers represented in your local cemetery.

The art on the gravestones contains symbols that held greater meaning in a time when many people didn't know how to read. For instance, grapes represented Christianity and an hour glass reminds us that time flies and life is fleeting.

To learn more about the carvers and the art they created visit the Association for Gravestone Studies. For more in-depth information about carvers in early New England see Graven Images by Allan Ludwig or Gravestones of Early New England and the Men who Made Them 1653-1800 by Harriette Merrifield Forbes. For gravestone symbolism see Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography by Douglas Keister.

Have you done other kinds of cemetery research? Let me know!  

Marian Pierre-Louis is the Social Media Marketing Manager for Legacy Family Tree. She is also the host of The Genealogy Professional podcast. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.

Did My Ancestor's Farm Prosper or Fail?

Most genealogy researchers are familiar with the population schedules of 1790-1940 United States Federal censuses. Many are not as familiar with non-population schedules such as the Agricultural schedule, the Mortality schedule or the Industry/Manufacturers schedules. These schedules are often underutilized, but can provide the researcher with valuable information about your ancestors.

Many of your ancestors were farmers and as such would have been recorded in the agricultural census records. The agricultural schedule was kept from 1850-1910. Unfortunately, not all of these schedules survived.  The 1890 schedule was lost due to the effects of the fire that destroyed the 1890 population census. The agricultural schedule of 1900 and 1910 were destroyed by congressional order.  The surviving Agricultural census records are for the years 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880.  (These can be found on Ancestry.com. Ancestry.com can frequently be accessed for free at your local library or your local Family History Center.)

Why would your ancestor not be included on the agricultural schedule? In 1850 farms that did not produce $100 in products were not included.  In 1870 farms that produced less than $500 or that was less than 3 acres were not included.

1850 Ag Census David Talbott

Agricultural Schedule. Image from Ancestry.com.

Information Found on the Agricultural Schedule

  1. The name of the owner, manager or agent of the farm.
  2. In counties where tax and/or land records are missing, the agricultural schedule can place an ancestor in place and time.
  3. The agricultural schedule can provide a look at an ancestor’s household.  What crops were raised (wheat, rye, Indian corn, oats, sweet potatoes, barley…..)   What livestock (horses, asses and mules, milk cows, working oxen, other cattle, sheep and swine) was owned and the value of this livestock. How many acres the farm contained, including improved and unimproved. 
  4. Just like the population census records, your ancestor’s neighborhood can be seen. This is important since you can learn who was in your ancestor’s FAN club [Friends, Associates and Neighbors]. 
  5. The agricultural census can help in differentiating between two people of the same name.
  6. Another interesting thing the southern researcher can learn is what how the Civil War affected your ancestor’s farm and land values. 

Let’s take a closer look at the 1850 Agricultural Schedule

1850 Ag Census

1850 Agricultural Census for Jesse R Haley of Halifax County, VA. Image from Ancestry.com

Jesse R Haley (~1802-1869) lived in Halifax County, Virginia. In 1850 Jesse owned his own farm consisting of 80 acres of land.  25 acres of land were improved and 55 acres were unimproved.  The land was valued at $240. Farming implements and equipment were valued at $10.  His livestock included 1 horse, 3 milk cows, 1 other cattle, 6 sheep and 22 swine. The livestock is valued at $136.  Jesse Haley grew wheat, indian corn, tobacco, oats, peas, irish potatoes and sweet potatoes.  The farm also produced 30 pounds of butter.

Now let’s take a closer look at Jesse Haley’s farm in 1860 Agricultural Schedule

1860 Ag census Jesse Haley a

Portion of the 1860 Agricultural Schedule for Jesse R Haley (Halifax County, VA). Image from Ancestry.com

Jesse R Haley was still living in Halifax County, Virginia on the same land next door to Nancy Tribble.  He now has 80 acres (40 improved and 40 unimproved) worth $600. His farm equipment and implements are worth $40.  He owns one horse, two milk cows, 2 working oxen, 3 other cattle, 22 sheep and 8 swine. His livestock is valued at $234. He grew indian corn, oats and tobacco valued at $985. He also grew peas, irish potatoes and produced 60 pounds of butter.

Between 1850 and 1860, Jesse Haley’s economic situation improved. He acquired more livestock and switched to predominantly sheep in 1860 as compared to swine in 1850. More milk cows led to an increase in butter production.

Unfortunately, Jesse Haley died in 1869, so the value of his land and farm after the Civil War in not known. Like others around him, it is almost certain the value of his farm was less than in 1860.

When searching your farming southern ancestors, be sure to look beyond the population census records.  The Agricultural Schedules of the United States censuses will provide you with valuable information and clues about your ancestor leading to new research possibilities.

Lisa Lisson is a genealogist, blogger and Etsy-prenuer who writes about her never-ending pursuit of ancestors, the “how” of genealogy research and the importance of sharing genealogy research with our families. Specializing in North Carolina and southern Virginia research, she also provides genealogical research services to clients. You can find Lisa online at Lisa Lisson.com.

Find Ancestors in Upper Canada Land Records

How many of us overlook searching for an ancestor in land records? Sometimes genealogists don’t realize how much information can be found in a land record. Originally all land in Upper Canada (later called Canada West, then Ontario) belonged to the Crown. Although there were small areas of settlement in 1763 after the British took over, major settlement of Upper Canada began in 1783 and utilized Crown Grants. Many early settlers, both military and civilian, submitted land petitions to the Governor in order to obtain Crown land.

The following steps were involved in a settler acquiring land in Upper Canada:

  1. To apply for a land grant from the Crown, he (or she) may have submitted a petition to the Crown (further explanation below under Crown Land Grants).
  2. If the petition was successful, the Crown issued a land grant to the petitioner. It was a complex process to receive a land grant.
  3. If the settler took up residence on the land and fulfilled certain settlement duties, he or she ended up owning the land. In that case the settler was issued a patent, showing that the ownership of the land had passed from the Crown to a private individual.
  4. If there were any later transactions relating to that property (e.g., sale to another individual, taking out a mortgage on the property, etc.), they were documented in the records of the county Land Registry Offices.

Free Grants of Crown Land

Until 1826 free land grants were available to all settlers, to government favourites, and to United Empire Loyalist (UEL) children. In 1826 these free grants were abolished except for Loyalist grants and soldiers, thus anyone wanting Crown land had to buy it. 

Land Petitions

There were two types of land petitions:

  • pre-1827 petitions for free grants of land under the UEL and military categories
  • post-1827 petitions for purchase of Crown lands 


1797 Upper Canada Land Petition. Library Archives Canada


The Canada Company

Settlers could also buy lands from the Canada Company, a private company owning all of the Huron District. These records are held at the Archives of Ontario. All land sales after the initial Crown grant were registered with local land registry offices. 

Crown Land Grants

Procedures for granting Crown Land changed constantly but could involve:

  • The settler's initial Petition to the Crown for land
  • An Order-in-Council from a federal Land Board granting their request
  • A Warrant from Ontario's Attorney General ordering the surveying of a lot
  • The Fiat from Ontario Surveyor General authorizing a grant of the surveyed lot
  • A Location Ticket permitting the settler to reside on the lot
  • The Patent transferring ownership of the lot from the Crown to the settler.

CLRI (Computerized Land Record Index)

The Computerized Land Record Index (aka Ontario Land Record Index) summarizes land grants of Crown Land, sales of land from Canada Company sales or leases and from Peter Robinson settlers' grants. If your ancestor settled anywhere in Ontario and he was the first time owner of Crown Land, he should be on this index. 

Heir & Devisee Commission

In 1797, the government of Upper Canada (now Ontario) established the Heir and Devisee Commission to clarify land titles for settlers on unpatented land. If your ancestor was living in Upper Canada around this time, there is a chance that you might find them referenced in this collection. Records can include: affidavits, bonds, location certificates, powers of attorney, orders-in-council, copies of wills, mortgages, deeds of sale, and testimonial letters. The digitized films are challenging to search but for a corrected list of online digitized film numbers with their contents, see Olive Tree Genealogy’s Heir & Devisee Commission Microfilm Listings.

LFT HDV74H1146CorneliusVOLLICK 1795 copy
Heir & Devisee Commission, 1795. http://Heritage.Canadiana.ca

Abstract Indexes to Deeds

The Abstract Indexes to Deeds are the indexed record of every transaction on a plot of land from Crown ownership to the present day. Using the Abstract Indexes to Deeds you can check for every instance of your name of interest on that parcel of land. By referring to the date and Instrument Number found with each transaction, you can look up the complete record. You may find a will (many wills are filed in the Land Records Offices) or other important genealogical information or document. 

Assessment Records

Assessment and Tax Records contain location of an individual's land. There are some very early assessment records, but each area in Ontario has different surviving records, so you must check for the county or township of interest to you. 

Township Papers

Township Papers deal mostly with the original locatees, but may contain other pre-patent records. Some petitions for land can be found in the Township Papers. This miscellaneous group of land-related records have been arranged by township name, then by concession and lot or by town name and lot number. Under any lot which has documents, researchers may find the following: copies of orders-in-council; copies of location certificates and location tickets; copies of assignments; certificates verifying the completion of settlement duties; copies of receipt; copies of descriptions; and copies of patents; and copies of incoming correspondence. See Finding Aid to Township Papers

Other Resources for Land Records

Lorine McGinnis Schulze is a Canadian genealogist who has been involved with genealogy and history for more than thirty years. In 1996 Lorine created the Olive Tree Genealogy website and its companion blog. Lorine is the author of many published genealogical and historical articles and books.

My Grandfather was a Sea Captain: Researching Maritime Ancestors

Learning about seafaring ancestors can prove to be as exciting as the adventures of many who crossed oceans to destinations around the world. My great, great, grandfather, Owen O’Neill, was born off the coast of South America aboard his Irish father’s frigate. After courting his wife in Boston, Owen sailed his family to California. From the 1850s until his death in 1871, he piloted a cargo ship that traversed daily from San Francisco to Belmont, California.

Clipper ship-LOC
 N. Currier, Clipper Ship "Red Jacket" off Coast of Cape Horn.
Image from the  Library of Congress.

Many men of his time living near ports were employed in the maritime industries. The importance of the maritime industry led to the creation of records that, in many cases, have discoveries waiting for genealogists. With the right know-how, any researcher can re-tell the tale of their sea captain.

Many resources exist at the National Archives that remain only partially digitized. The Act of 1789 by the United States Government mandated that private seagoing vessels be officially recorded by the government. As a result, 100 district offices throughout the country were established for the agency of the U.S. Customs Collection Service. The U.S. Customs Service became responsible for recording information on vessels and their contents. Ships arriving at port were directed to the local customhouse. The customhouse was operated by the collector and his subordinate officers who collected details on the arriving ships. Among the records produced at the customhouse are:

  • Arrival and Departure of American Merchant Ships
  • Seamen and Marine Passenger Protection Certificates
  • Names of Owners and Masters of a Ship
  • Crew Lists
  • Names of Officials at the Customhouse
  • Manifests of Cargo on Board

Records of United States customhouses are located in National Archives Record Group 36, Records of the U.S. Customs Service. There are collections of passenger and crew lists that are digitized and searchable on Ancestry. These lists mostly come from Record Group 85, Bureau of Immigration. More federal records are accessible to researchers online if the seafaring ancestor in question served in the Navy.

While the National Archives has a majority of these records, some maritime collections were deposited with public libraries and local history repositories before the National Archives was created in 1934. Here are a few examples of maritime records from local history collections that are FREE to search:

Researchers new to these records will come across unusual terms. Here are definitions of some important terms to help your research:

    Before documents could be obtained for a vessel, it had to be measured. These certificates show name of ship builder and name of owner.

    Each certificate shows date of issue, name of seaman, his age and nationality and a brief physical description. These persons were required to give oaths of citizenship that were signed by witnesses.    

  • DRAWBACK           
    Historically the word drawback denotes refunding the tax on goods to the master of the ship importing goods. The rationale for drawback was to encourage American commerce and manufacturing.     

  • DUTIES         
    Same as tax.

  • GAUGER      
    A customs official who inspects dimensions of bulk goods subject to duty.

    Lists of cargo.

    Certificates protecting seamen from being impressed by foreign entities.

  • SHIPPING ARTICLES                     
    Agreements between masters of vessels and seamen on contract of the voyage. After the general agreement, they include the seamen’s signature, age, nationality, personal description, birthplace, address, and information on next of kin.

Genealogists should prepare in advance for searching these records. Many are not indexed and will require looking for multiple boxes of archival material. You will have greater success if you know name of the ship and the home port. Historical newspapers may contain information on your ship-owning ancestor. Court and probate records are also worth checking because boats are important property. Save time by confirming that your ancestor had a maritime job by checking the US Federal Census 1850 or later to determine your ancestor's occupation.

Finding Maritime ancestors can be a great surprise, but learning details about their lives is even better. If someone asked me to research the career of Captain Joseph Peabody of Salem, Massachusetts, I would use Records of The Customs Service in the District of Salem and Beverly to find what ships he mastered, where he imported goods, whom he worked with, and so many great details that would otherwise be overlooked.

Do you have any maritime ancestors in your family history? Share your ancestor's maritime stories here!


Jake Fletcher is a genealogist and blogger. He received his Bachelor Degree for History in 2013 and is now researching genealogy professionally. Jake has been researching and writing about genealogy  since high school using his blog page Travelogues of a Genealogist.



Have You Used this Unusual Genealogy Resource?

Funeral and Memorial Cards are often overlooked as a genealogy resource. They can be a treasure trove for the genealogist as they usually contain detailed information on the deceased person, such as birth and death dates, funeral location and burial location. Sometimes a memorial photo of the departed loved one is also found on the card.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, small memorial cards or invitations were often sent to inform friends and neighbours that someone had died. These cards were seen as an invitation to a funeral as well as a funeral notice. If the deceased was someone of great importance, the card usually had to be shown in order to attend the funeral.  Funeral and Memorial cards are a genealogical treasure.

Funeral Cards in the 19th Century

In Victorian times (ca 1837-1901) mourning customs were comprised of rituals and strict rules of etiquette and these were rigidly followed by most individuals. Mourning and funeral rituals were quite strict and anyone who did not wish to be ostracized tried to follow the social customs. This was the time period when mourning jewellery became popular and custom jewellery containing a lock of the deceased person's hair was often made for a widow to wear.

Funeral_Card_Black1896 copyFuneral Card 1896. From private collection of Brian Massey.

Funeral cards were very popular in the 19th Century. After a loved one died, a family member was expected to let others know of the time and date of the funeral. That is where Funeral Cards came in.

The deceased's love ones could order from dozens of styles of cards and have them imprinted with the deceased's name, date of birth and death, age and when and where the funeral was to be held. Often a standard verse was included.

Sometimes there was a photo of the deceased or an image such as an angel if the card was for a child. These cards were usually 4x6 inches and viewed vertically. A commonly used colour was black with gold lettering. A child's Funeral Card was usually white. 

Funeral_Card_White_Child_1902 Child's Funeral Card 1902. From private collection of Brian Massey.

After printing, funeral cards were sent or given to family members, friends, and the surrounding community. Recipients of a funeral card were expected to attend the funeral or risk offending family members. Conversely, those who did not receive an invitation would have been insulted, whether it was intentional or an oversight. 

Funeral cards were sometimes kept as a memento of a person's passing. They often turn up in antique stores, auctions, flea markets, or attics where they have been stored and forgotten.

Memorial Cards

Memorial cards did not have the same purpose as a funeral card. These small cards were sent out after the funeral and often contained more details of the burial location as well as a memorial to the deceased. Usually the name of the person as well as birth and death dates and location of death were included. These cards were usually 3 x 4 1/2 inches and viewed horizontally. They often had elaborate mortuary designs. Often a thick black border was used on Memorial Cards. If there was enough room a poem or verse might be added. 



Memorial_Card_Ada1919_3Small folded 4-sided Memorial card 1919.
From private collection of Brian Massey.

20th Century Cards 

By the 20th Century these Memorial and Funeral cards were out of style and Victorian rules of etiquette were rapidly changing. The cards evolved into other designs, usually a folded 4-sided vertical Memorial Card given out at the Funeral. A photo of the deceased and a great deal of genealogical information was usually included. 

Today's Memorial or Funeral Cards can come in a variety of designs and shapes. They might be bookmarks, or a card similar to a Sympathy card. Families can have their card of choice printed through the Funeral Home or a Printing House. Often a photo of the deceased or of something of significance to that person is included. A poem or religious verse is often added. Some Memorial cards are religious in design and will have religious symbols and relevant religious or biblical verses included.

Funeral and Memorial Card Resources for Genealogists

Genealogists can look for Funeral and Memorial cards at flea markets, in Antique stores and on E-Bay. There is also a large collection of these cards on the AncestorsAtRest website. They are free to search and view at the links below:

Funeral Cards on AncestorsAtRest.com

Memorial Cards on AncestorsAtRest.com

Funeral Cards on Cyndi's List

Historical Funeral Card Collection from the American-French Genealogical Society

Funeral Card Collection of the Allen County Genealogical Society of Indiana

Marsha Smiley African-American Collection: Memorials

Genealogists can also find Funeral Cards at the Subscription website Genealogy Today. http://www.genealogytoday.com/guide/funeral_cards.html


Lorine McGinnis Schulze is a Canadian genealogist who has been involved with genealogy and history for more than thirty years. In 1996 Lorine created the Olive Tree Genealogy website and its companion blog. Lorine is the author of many published genealogical and historical articles and books.

5 Online Places to Start Your Southern Genealogy Research

Research in the South can be both challenging and rewarding. Historically, the southern states’ culture and economy have been deeply rooted in agriculture. As an agrarian society, many areas were not meticulous in keeping records. When living on farms any significant distance from the courthouse, taking care of business at home took precedence over a lengthy trip to the courthouse. Births and deaths might not be recorded until months or years later. Deed transfers within the family might not be formalized for a generation. As a researcher of the American South, it is imperative to understand the agrarian way of life.

Another challenge for the Southern researcher is burned counties.  Many counties have lost records over the years to fire and/or natural disasters.  Certainly the Civil War played a role in the loss of courthouse records. While research in a burned county can present a brick wall for the researcher, the brick wall is not insurmountable.

Don’t despair! Research of your southern ancestors will still be a rewarding experience.  

Richardson familyDaniel T. Richardson of Pittsylvania County, VA - ~1906 (Source: Personal Collection of Lisa Talbott Lisson)

5 Online Places to Find Your Southern Ancestors

  1. The State Archives – More and more records are becoming available online for the genealogy researcher.  A good place to start is with the state archives where your ancestors lived. Each state will have its own unique holdings. For example, if you have North Carolina ancestors, visit the State Archives of North Carolina website. You will be able to search their holdings and explore their digital collections. Examples of what you will find include family Bibles, Civil War Pension Applications, and War of 1812 Pay Vouchers.  The State Library and Archives of Florida’s Florida Memory Collection is another good example of using a state archives’ available online records. On their site a sample of what you will find includes Spanish land grants, WWI Service Cards and Civil War Pension Applications.

  2. State and Local Genealogical Societies – The amount of information found on state and local genealogical societies will vary quite a bit. The information is usually provided by the society’s volunteers.  Still, be sure to check these societies for where your ancestor lived. Depending on the individual society, variable local records will be available. For example, transcripts of individual will and deeds might be found. Photographs of local residents and landmarks are another example that may be found. Some of the information may only be available to the society’s members while others are available to the general public. These sites are certainly worth a look.

  3. Documenting the American South (DocSouth) – The University Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) sponsors this online resource for southern history, cultural and literature. Among its collections are first person narratives of slaves, women, farmers and soldiers. Other collections include personal diaries and papers relating to the Civil War and slave narratives. DocSouth is an invaluable resource for any southern researcher.

  4. The Library of Virginia – While obviously focused on the records of Virginia, many southern families of other states such as Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama can trace families back to Virginia.  The LVA website is also a valuable resource for learning about the southern culture and way of life.

  5. The Digital Library on American Slavery – If you have African American ancestry, this site sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro is an excellent place to visit. Many slave deeds, runaway slave advertisements and slavery era insurance records may be found here.

Remember: For all the excellent records available online, there are many more that are not. To be complete in your research, sometimes you need to travel to a repository or use the assistance of a local genealogist.

Now…. Go grab a tall glass of iced tea and start exploring your southern roots!

You can learn more about southern genealogy research in these Legacy webinars:

Lisa Lisson is a genealogist, blogger and Etsy-prenuer who writes about her never-ending pursuit of ancestors, the “how” of genealogy research and the importance of sharing genealogy research with our families. Specializing in North Carolina and southern Virginia research, she also provides genealogical research services to clients. You can find Lisa online at Lisa Lisson.com.