Virtually Walking in Your Ancestors' Footsteps


As genealogists we know a lot about our ancestors. But what do we really know about where they lived? Nowadays, thanks to technology, we are positioned to not only learn about where they lived but to actually walk in their footsteps.

Recently, my family started vacationing on an island called Martha's Vineyard. After our vacation week was over I was afraid that I would forget how to navigate all the roads before our return the next year.  When I got home a friend pointed me to some Facebook pages dedicated to Martha's Vineyard. These were mostly featuring photographs but I eagerly followed them, and one in particular called Vineyard Colors. The page very successfully kept my memories of Martha's Vineyard alive and fresh. I didn't have to worry about forgetting about the island, even though I admit it didn't help me much with navigation. As time went by I sought out other sources about Martha's Vineyard on sites beyond Facebook - I checked Instagram, Twitter and Flickr.

As time passed I realized not only could I use this strategy for my vacation memories but it would also work well for genealogy!

Recently, I have been focused on my great grandmother, Caroline Nunge who arrived in America through Ellis Island in 1893. Unlike most of my relatives I knew exactly where she came from - a small town in Alsace-Lorraine called Baerenthal which is now located in France near the German border. My German speaking ancestor settled in Pittsburgh among other German speaking immigrants.


I wanted to know more about this place called Baerenthal where my ancestors had lived. I first checked on Instagram which is a great photo sharing app for mobile devices. You need to set up an account to really make use of this tool but the app is free to download. There are couple ways to search on Instagram. When searching for a place you can either search for it as a keyword or as a location.  They keyword search will bring up any results where people have tagged a post with #Baerenthal. The location search will bring up any posts tagged with a location of Baerenthal. What I'm looking for are mostly scenic photos that will give me a sense what the town looks like. I will ignore all the posts of teenagers and other non-related items. If I find photos of interest I will check who posted them. If they posted lots of scenic shots to their account then I will follow them in hopes of finding more in the future and so my journey begins. The key thing is to find active accounts which you can continue to follow and learn more about your target location.

Virtually Walking in Your Ancestors' Footsteps
On the left is the search screen in Instagram. On the right are the search results.


Flickr is a photo sharing site that is available both as an app on mobile devices and as a website. Flickr is a favorite among photographs and has many thousands of photographs. It is easier to search than Instagram when you want to go deep into a topic. Simply type your place name into the search box and wait a moment for the results. My search for Baerenthal returned over 800 photos! Since Flickr is geared toward more serious photographers I'm less likely to find "selfies" and other types of un-related photos.

Search results on Flickr
Search results on Flickr

Just like on Instagram, photos are posted by users and tagged and if you find something that you like you can follow the account of the photographer. In this particular case I found an account for Moselle Tourism. Moselle is the region (called a Department in France) where Baerenthal is located. This is account is as perfect as I'm going to find when it comes to targeting Baerenthal on Flickr so I will definitely follow it. When I follow the account it shows me future photos in my main feed.

Unlike Instragram, Flickr makes use of "albums" so if you find one photo you like you can click on the link to its album and likely find many more photos on the same topic.

In addition to Moselle Tourism, I also found a wonderful photographer named Raymond Schaeffer who had an album of 27 beautiful photos just of Baerenthal.

Google Street View

Back in 2004 my Uncle Bob visited Baerenthal in an attempt to find traces of our ancestors. When he returned he shared some of the photos that he took. Here is a photo of the the church located in the tiny village. One of the really fun things you can do to follow in your ancestors's foot steps is to use Google Street View. I use this mostly for looking up locations in the United States but it works well in other parts of the world too. I simple typed Baerenthal, France into Google Maps and it brought me to the town. I clicked on what I believed to be the town center and zoomed in.  I then clicked on the little yellow person found in the lower right corner of Google Maps and dragged that onto a street. That brought me into street view. You can then travel the roads as if you were there in person.

Google Maps Street View
Drag the little yellow person icon on a road for street view.

Here's an image that my uncle took during his visit in 2004.

Baerenthal, Moseelle, Lorraine, France. 2004. Photo by Robert F. Walleck

And here's a view of the same location using Google Maps.

Baerenthal, France
Church in Baerenthal, France

It's a slightly different angle but the church looks much the same as when my uncle visited over ten years ago. The advantage with Google Maps street view is that you can explain the surrounding area - you're not limited to a single image from a camera.

Exploring your ancestral village can be a lot of fun using Instragram, Flickr and Google Maps. These are just three tools of many that are available that can help you become acquainted with your homeland. Try them out and see what you discover. Then come back here and share other ways that you have stepped virtually in your ancestors' foots steps.


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.



Got a complex genealogy problem? Try creating a Mind Map

When you have a difficult genealogy research case, creating a mind map of your ancestor's evidence just might be the tool you need to get you beyond the problem.

Ron Arons, who has a history of using mind maps to solve genealogy brick walls, and is the author of the new book Mind Maps for Genealogy, attended Warren Bittner's recent webinar on complex evidence. Warren's phrase, "web of evidence" struck a chord with Ron, and so did this graphic where Warren showed how he tied all of the evidence together:


It immediately reminded Ron of mind mapping and so guess what Ron did next? He created a mind map of Warren's research. (Click to enlarge.)


In this mind map Ron used different colors to connect the same individuals across different documents. He matched up common data points (individuals' names, locations, etc.) and organized it in clockwise chronological order, creating a timeline. For example, Frederick Behre is connected across documents using a rich/deep blue set of connector arrows, Minnie's connector arrows are in pink, Dora (Fred's wife) is in crimson, and so on. In some cases, Ron connected the same residential address across documents using grey connector arrows.

The end result provides the ability to visualize how the evidence in seemingly unrelated documents fits together, thus giving the researcher a new angle to visualize their problem.

Mfg-coverMind Maps for Genealogy: Enhanced Research Planning, Correlation and Analysis by Ron Arons

Ron also has a new book out on the topic. Mind Maps for Genealogy: Enhanced Research Planning, Correlation and Analysis provides an introduction to the concepts of mind maps. In addition to providing step-by-step instructions for using two of the leading mind mapping products (which also just happen to be free), this book provides numerous examples of how these tools can be used, including with the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), the FAN (friends and neighbors) Principle, and Inferential Genealogy.

Click here to purchase.

Webinars on Mind Mapping

Learn more in our webinar library from both Ron Arons and Thomas MacEntee:

Who are you honoring today?

In the United States we are celebrating Veterans Day, today November 11th.  On this same day the British are celebrating Armistice Day which is also celebrated in France, Belgium and New Zealand. It's a little confusing to me, maybe someone from England can explain, November 11th is also Remembrance Day around the Commonwealth of the United Kingdom. Either way,  nations around the world are using this date to honor those who have served in the military.

Sometimes folks in the United States regard Veterans Day and Memorial Day (held in May) similarly. In fact, each has a different very specific purpose. Veterans Day honors all those who have served in United States Armed Forces. Memorial Day, on the other hand, only honors those who gave their lives in service to their country.

Who are you honoring today?

Most of my ancestors who served in the military were active during the Revolutionary War. I have about seven ancestors that helped to bring about independence from England. If I look to more recent times, however, my father and all of my uncles on both my mother's and father's sides of the family served in the military. My father served as a peacetime naval officer not long after World War II.

The most notable military person in my family, though I can't really claim him because he's not a direct relation (he's my first cousin twice removed) is Submarine Commander, Samuel Dealey. He was the nephew of my great grandfather, James Quayle Dealey. Sam lost his life on August 24, 1944 when he went down with his submarine off of Luzon, Philippines. He received the Medal of Honor and several other recognitions of valor.

Sam is also the only serviceman that I know of in my family that gave his life for his country. All of my uncles and my Revolutionary War ancestors made it home to their families.

No matter where you are in the world today take a moment to think of all the service men and women who have impacted your life.

Submarine Commander, Samuel D. Dealey
Submarine Commander, Samuel D. Dealey

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.



What Kind of Genealogist Are You?

My husband and I are very different genealogists. I love research. I love the challenge of the hunt, the mystery waiting to be solved. I'll research anyone's ancestry just to have the thrill of following the clues. I just love solving the puzzle. Of course I also love finding my own ancestors!

My husband however dislikes research. He finds it tedious and a lot of work.  He loves finding an ancestor, or better yet, having someone else find that ancestor for him. He's passionate about his ancestry, but avoids the actual research whenever possible. Family lore is enough for him and he feels no need to find sources to verify that lore. If it's important enough to him, he'll force himself to push through the research but he'd rather I did it for him. He always says that if he were rich, he'd hire someone to do all the research for him.

I'd hate that, and in fact I often feel bad that I'm doing so much that I'm not leaving my grandchildren the fun of the hunt!

It seems to me that there are several types of genealogists -


Detective-152085_1280 copy
The Hunter or Detective: This genealogist loves the research. While they want to find their own ancestors, they'll research anyone's ancestry just for the thrill of the hunt. They are easily sidetracked from their own ancestral research by the challenge of solving a stranger's brick wall.

The Gatherer or Ancestor Collector: This genealogist loves to know about their ancestors but doesn't really enjoy the hunt. He/she is happy to have others share what they have found.

The Ancestor Finder: This genealogist loves it all - doing the actual research and finding that elusive ancestor but they only enjoy researching their own family tree, not the ancestry of strangers.

The Hoarder: This genealogist does lots of research, finds new things about their ancestors but refuses to share any of the information.

The Junkyard Collector: This genealogist gets excited over online Family Trees and merges them with his/her own. He/she never verifies anything or checks their facts. Before long they have a mess of unsourced information, conflicting data and facts that don't make sense. They'll have female ancestors having children at the age of 100, or men born 50 years after their spouse or children born before their parents.

The Scholar: This genealogist lives and breathes source citations.  Accuracy is everything to this research. You'll often find this person submitting articles to scholarly journals as the New York Genealogial and Biographical Record. Page after page of red edit marks from the editors don't intimidate them. They'll plow through their article drafts, refining and revising and making each more accurate than the last.

Office-991306_1920 copyThe Analyzer: This genealogist finds a new fact, then studies it and analyzes it carefully before moving on to the next bit of research. They use each fact as a stepping stone to more research. They verify every piece of information they find and they view it critically, thinking about what it actually means and what other clues might be gleaned from it.

The Planner: This genealogist is a faithful keeper of research logs. He/she creates research plans and follows them. They are extremely organized in their research and meticulous about planning before they go on a research trip

The Writer: This is the genealogist who is driven to write the stories of the ancestors. Some publish the books they write and offer them for sale, others write only for their family.

I'm not judging any specific type as the best or the worst except the junkyard collectors who make me shudder and shake my head in bewilderment.

Some of us may fit more than one category. I am definitely a Hunter-Detective and a Writer but I'm also a little bit of a Scholar. I don't live and breathe source citations but I have submitted articles to scholarly journals and I've faced the red editing pen with determination. I'm also an Analyzer.  My husband on the other hand is a Gatherer. He doesn't seem to fit any other categories.

Where do you fit in?

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.


Credit: Images are from Pixabay with License: CC0 Public Domain

Another genealogy tragedy averted - using the Genealogical Proof Standard

Another genealogy tragedy averted.

While I am deeply thankful for published genealogies and compiled online family trees, I am also thankful for my knowledge of and application of the these five elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) (from Genealogy Standards):

  • We conduct a reasonably exhaustive search for all information that is or may be pertinent to the identity, relationship, event, or situation in question;
  • We collect and include in our compilation a complete, accurate citation to the source or sources of each item of information we use;
  • We analyze and correlate the collected information to assess its quality as evidence;
  • We resolve any conflicts caused by items of evidence that contradict each other or are contrary to a proposed (hypothetical) solution to the question; and
  • We arrive at a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.

This week as I applied these elements to the research of my Swedish ancestor, Eric Ersson, I avoided the genealogy tragedy associated with the I-found-it-online-and-quickly-added-it-to-my-own-tree-as-truth mistake.

My 15-year-old son asked the perfect question, and I was so thankful for what happened next. While introducing him to the basics of Swedish research we reviewed what was published in FamilySearch's Family Tree about our Eric Ersson. 


I then recommended that we continue to search for and document his life using the original vital and census records as found at ArkivDigital. As we began to search for and cite our findings he asked,

"Dad, shouldn't we just use what's at FamilySearch?"

I understood where he was coming from. FamilySearch already had the exact dates and places for Eric's birth, marriage, and death events. We then had a discussion about the value of a "reasonably exhaustive search". As we continued searching Sweden's household records (a year-by-year census of the family - wow!) we were surprised when Eric appeared in the records - alive - even after he was supposed to have died in 1866.

Here he is, accounted for in 1866, 1867, 1868, 1869, and 1870.


And again in 1871, 1872, 1873, 1874, and 1875.


He's there even in the 1901-1912 register where it finally listed his death as March 5, 1909.


Because these Swedish household records listed the exact date and place of each person's birth, it was clear that we had the right Eric Ersson. This Eric's birth was consistently listed as 19 May 1821 in Norrby parish.

Since FamilySearch had a death date of 26 May 1866, we took a look at its original record. Sure enough, an Eric Ersson died on this date in Norrby parish.


But was it my Eric Ersson, who was born on 19 May 1821? This death record shows that this Eric Ersson died at the age of 45 years, 7 months, and 14 days. Using Legacy Family Tree's Date Calculator (View > Calendar), we plugged in the information.


And pressed the Calculate button. Legacy calculated this Eric Ersson's birth date to be 12 Oct 1820 which was different than our Eric Ersson's birth date of 19 May 1821.


To further clarify, we searched for and located the birth record of this Eric. The Eric Ersson who died on 26 May 1866, and who was born on 12 Oct 1820 was the son of Eric Ersson and Anna Ersdotter.


Our Eric Ersson was born on 19 May 1821 to Eric Ersson and Brita Andersdotter.


And so without a reasonably exhaustive search it is easy to see how these same names were mixed up by a previous researcher. But a consequence to publishing information that hasn't been thoroughly researched is that others can mistakenly accept the errors as truth. Thankfully FamilySearch permits us to correct the inaccurate information, and add the citation and even the digitized records to the individuals. The next step I'll take is to do this for both Eric Erssons.

So, should we continue to use these online compiled genealogies? Absolutely! They may have missing pieces to our puzzles, but we must apply the genealogical proof standard to make sure we are working with the right puzzle.

Genealogical Proof Standard Resources

Genealogy Standards: 50th Anniversary Edition by the Board for Certification of Genealogists


Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case by Christine Rose


Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones


Webinar - Evidence: Guidelines for Evaluating Genealogical Evidence


Webinar - What is a Reasonably Exhaustive Search?



Finding Tips for Using the Upper Canada Sundries

Upper Canada Sundries

Have you ever found yourself completely blocked when trying to find an ancestor? You've found great-grandpa in all the usual records such as census, births, marriages and deaths but now you are at the proverbial brick wall.

That's when the fun starts! There are many less obvious genealogy records out there. Depending on the location and years you need, you may be surprised to find a wealth of other more obscure records.

The Upper Canada Sundries

The Upper Canada Sundries are an invaluable genealogical resource for those seeeking an ancestor in early Ontario, Canada, but many researchers have never used them.

The Upper Canada Sundries, aka Civil Secretary's Correspondence  are found at LAC (Library and Archives Canada) and at the Ontario Archives. They consist of 32 volumes on 14 reels of microfilm, now digitized and are an assorted collection of, as the name implies, correspondence.

The main responsibility of the Civil or private Secretary to the Lieutenant Governor was management of correspondence. The Secretary ensured that it was acknowledged, referred onward or filed. Closely related were the duties of receiving and acknowledging addresses, petitions, memorials and applications for office; transmitting messages and public documents to the Legislature; and referring petitions to the appropriate public offices for opinion or advice prior to submission to the Executive Council.

Although the province of Upper Canada did not come into existence until 1791, supporting documents of earlier date have been incorporated into some series of its records.

Using the Upper Canada Sundries

The Sundries are filed chronologically. There is no name index but the wealth of genealogical information makes them worthwhile to browse through. They contain an assortment of such genealogical items as undated petitions, marriage certificates, land records, letters, petitions for land, testimonies during wartime, military records, petitions for mercy for those charged with treason, etc.

The films have been digitized and can be found online as part of's Heritage Project. There are 94 reels of digitzed microfilm for the Upper Canada Sundries  at but be forewarned that they are not indexed.

Clicking on the "About" tab for each specific film provides limited information. For example Film C-4502, the first reel in the series, tells us only that this film contains Upper Canada Sundries Vol. 1-3. That's not much help to the researcher.

Finding Aids & Indexes

The good news is that there are other projects online which are indexing the Sundries, sort of. The diligent researcher will still have to do some investigative work to figure out which film they need but here are the various projects that will aid you in your quest.

The Index to Upper Canada Sundries on the Upper Canada Genealogy website contains an alphabetical index with surname, first name, date, location and page numbers of document. It does not contain the reel number so this is where investigative skills come into play.

The Finding Aid on the Collections Canada website is a PDF file you can download to your computer. It contains the film numbers, volume numbers and years within each film, as well as a brief description of each item on the films.

Case Studies

Here is one example of a certificate I found with a search of the Upper Canada Sundries. It concerns the daughter of my Loyalist Ancestor Isaac Van Valkenburg aka Vollick. Note the variant spelling of her surname. When searching for an ancestor it is always a good idea to use wildcards if possible, and if not, to try variant spellings of your ancestor's name. The certificate reads as follows with my notes inside square brackets [ ]:

certificate concerning Loyalist Isaac Van Valkenburg aka Vollick
Source: FHL 1683290 p. 137 of Civil Secretary's Correspondence, Upper Canada, Upper Canada Sundries 1791-1800 RG5 A1 Vol. 1A pp41-556.

This will testify that Albert Hainer a Private in the late Corps of Rangers [referring to Butler's Rangers, whose disbanded soldiers settled the Niagara area of present day Ontario], is married to Catharine Folluck [sic. More commonly written as Vollick or Follick], the daughter of Isaac Follluck, likewise a soldier in said Corps and that she comes under the description of a Loyalists Daughter, and is entitled [can't read next word] U.E. [Unity of Empire, a title applied to Loyalists once they were accepted by the Council and officially declared a Loyalist] and that said Albert Hainer now has five children.

[Dated] Newark, 14th May 1796.

This document has some pretty amazing genealogy information! It provides proof that my Loyalist ancestor Isaac was in Butler's Rangers, that he had a daugher Catherine who married Albert Hainer before May 1796 and that Albert and Catherine had 5 children by that date. This document also tells me that Albert was also a soldier in Butler's Rangers and that Catherine's father has been approved as a Loyalist.

If researchers are patient and spend time learning about unfamiliar databases and how to best use them, it pays off. The Upper Canada Sundries are there for your use if you care to spend a few hours of digging in hopes of finding a gem or two about an ancestor.


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.

Exploring My Ohio Roots

The recent release of seven Ohio webinars on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars site has me taking another look at my Ohio roots. I have four generations of Ohio relatives starting with the arrival of David Silver in the early 1800s. I've often wondered what tempted my ancestors to leave Maryland and head inland to Ohio.

Ohio is known as one of the most important states genealogically speaking because of its role as a migration state. Many people settled there or passed through on their way further west.

My Silvers followed an unexpected, at least to me, route in America. They arrived in the 1600s from Scotland and settled in New Jersey. Then the family moved to Harford County, Maryland in the years before the American Revolution. Finally, two sons, David and Amos moved to Ohio by 1809.

My Ohio ancestors were farmers, and while I've been able to find out basic information about them such birth and death dates and census enumerations they have been somewhat elusive to me. I'm very lucky that a book was published called Our Silver Heritage by Benjamin Silver. It does fill in dates and spouses as well as children for the various lines. Otherwise the information on my line is fairly scarce.

One of the most interesting and revealing documents that I was able to find about my Ohio ancestors was a 1850 US Census non-population schedule (agricultural) for Alpheus B. [listed as A.B.] Silver, son of David.  There are 41 entries of names on the page where he is listed and they read as who's who of the Silver family across 4 generations. I see the surnames for the wives in my Ohio Silvers - Kimmel, Barnes, Bair and Binkley. I can imagine how neighbors grew up together and married. It also makes me wonder how many of the other surnames on the page are also family members that I haven't been able to connect yet. The Ohio wives have been particularly tricky to trace.

Alpheus B. Silver
1850 non-populations schedule showing Alpheus B. [A.B.] Silver, courtesy of

In addition to names, the non-population census was revealing in other ways. Alpheus Silver was the second most prosperous farmer on the page with a farm cash value of $3500 in 1850. He had $203 worth of livestock and he was growing wheat, Indian corn, buckwheat and oats. He collected 130 pounds of wool from his sheep and made 300 pounds of butter. He also had an orchard and manufactured hay. I can almost imagine his farm and the amount of labor it would have taken to accomplish all that work.

Regrettably I came up empty when searching for newspaper records.

With the newly released Ohio webinars from Legacy, I now have more resources at my fingertips. These presentations cover probate and court records which I haven't looked into yet. I still have quite a ways to go!

How much success have you had with your Ohio ancestors? How many different types of records have you been able to find?

Boots on the Ground Research: And the Walls Came Tumbling Down

Guest blogger Eric Stroschein was recently in Stockholm, Sweden connecting with relatives and researching his ancestry. This is the fourth in a series of articles from his visit to the old country. You can read his first article here.


It is no secret that I much prefer being in an archive researching, more than sitting at home in front of a computer. The reality is, to optimize your time in a repository, a researcher must do a certain amount of online research to locate records and know what they are asking to be pulled. Nothing beats experience in a specific location, knowing the staff, and being educated on the holdings. Prior planning is extremely important when researching out of town because some of the biggest enemies a genealogist will face are time, expense, and expectations.

From the moment you leave home the clock starts counting down to your return and your expenses start to accumulate. Prior online research is mandatory if you want to effectively manage both of these first two items. Expectations can be the most difficult of these three to tame. In order to maximize your time in the archives it is necessary to manage your expectations of yourself and what you may or may not discover.

Prior to leaving for Sweden I had done a massive amount of research on my family but I also did a lot of research on specific repositories I planned to visit. My study of each archive included locations, hours of operations, holdings, best transportation to and from the repository, cafes in the area, was there a specific expert I needed to consult, and a whole host of other items. I thought I had done my due diligence but as the poet Robert Burns so aptly says in his poem To a Mouse, "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley". Roughly translate, “The best laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry.” This is why you should always have a plan B…or C, D, E, and F.

Recently, when I got to Sweden I found out that my research of the Marieberg main archives for the Swedish National Archives was missing one key component, it was closed to research due to remodeling. I had missed this major point contained in a little side note on their website. It states that this facility will be closed September 1, 2015 through October 1, 2016 and I arrived on September 3rd. Wow…this was bad timing since this was the main repository I had planned to research in. Time for Plan B.

One of the great advantages I have is that about one quarter of my research centers in Sweden. I have had family that has lived from the far north in Lapp to the far south in Skåne. Many of my family have either lived in or came through Stockholm. One of my secondary repositories to research in was the Stockholm stadsarkivet (city archives). I had many different paths I could follow at this archive.

One of the issues that has been nagging me for some time was the story of my second great grandmother Matilda Sofia Forsberg Abersohn. She was a mystery wrapped up in an enigma who seemed to appear in 1880 and disappear just as quick after her husband dies in Stockholm. I had found information that sent me to New Jersey and Chicago, I was fairly convinced that I had found her death certificate in Chicago in 1940 but I was not absolutely sure.

A cousin and I had found a birth record at the maternity hospital Allmänna Barnbordshuset that could possibly be Matilda. The maternity hospital system was set up in Sweden so unmarried women could come and give birth without having to divulge any personal information because at that time it was illegal to have a child out of wedlock. After an exhaustive search, we found the only child in Sweden with the name Matilda Sophia, no last name, born on 2 June 1861, the birth day used by Matilda Sophia Forsberg Abersohn. The mother’s name was Christina Carlsson. According to my cousin who lives in Sweden, the letters M.O. preceding the mother’s name meant the mother was probably unknown and the name most likely was fictitious. We had done another massive search for a Christina Carlsson associated with a Matilda Sophia with no result. Because we were unable to find any other trace of her until 1880 just before she married, it was surmised that she was probably an orphan. This looked like a massive brick wall and question to which I may never find the answer. The one glimmer of hope may be located in the Stockholm stadsarkiv.

ArchiveDigital, Allmänna barnbördshusets kyrkoarkiv, CI-4, 1860-1865, Image 54

In Stockholm, unwed mothers were allowed to write down family information and seal it in an envelope to be included in the child’s file. At the age of 18 the child could request the envelope and learn about their family. Many of these letters still exist and are located in the Stockholm stadsarkivet. This potentially goose chase became my Plan B.

My wife and I arrived at the archive just after opening. It was somewhat busy but we found an open research station. I retrieved my documents and prepared for what I figured was going to be an arduous day filled with dead ends and racking of the brain (expectations) to ensure we had covered every possible angle of the research question, “Who were the parents of Matilda Sophia Forsberg?” I went to the counter to speak to an archivist. Anne was the incredibly helpful person who greeted me and she addressed me in Swedish to begin with. I explained I speak English and very little Swedish. She answered back in English with an English accent which was a bit unexpected. I explained my question and the maternity hospital letters I was trying to access. She said I could pull the letters but first she wanted to examine my information.

We went back to my work station and examined my documents plus the birth record. Anne agreed this could be a very difficult person to find. She then asked if I had searched their database of Stockholm that connects many different resources together called Datasbasen Rotemannen. I had not, the desktop of the PC was in Swedish and scattered with many programs and databases to which I was unfamiliar. She booted up the program and entered Matilda Sophia born 2 June 1861. The results were near instantaneous, at the top of the list was a Matilda Sophia Forsberg Abersohn with 24 linked records. I excitedly said that is her, we were both surprised that she came up right away.

Stockholm stadsarkivet by Eric Stroschein
Photo of the screen at the Stockholm stadsarkivet by Eric Stroschein

This program connects many different databases that are specific to Stockholm like the Mantal Books, tax records, marriage indices, and other census type data. This relational database has been painstakingly assembled by Swedish genealogists that displays the person you are searching for and other people related in the records. You can click on the related people to view the indexes to their records. If the records have been digitized a button illuminates that takes you directly to the digital record.

Photo of the screen at the Stockholm stadsarkivet by Eric Stroschein
Photo of the screen at the Stockholm stadsarkivet by Eric Stroschein

Three of the earliest records for Matilda came from the Mantalsboks[i]. The first one from 1878 shows a Matilda Sofia born 2 June 1861. Could this be my elusive Matilda, she is linked to the Abersohns in this database and she is listed in this Mantals book as a daughter. I researched each and every member in the record above and the mother in this record Helena Kristina Forsberg is listed in the other children’s birth record as Helena Kristina Carlsdotter/Carlsson. Que the music…the angel choir begins…MATILDA HAS BEEN FOUND! Genealogist doing a happy dance in an archive while many confused Swedes look on.

Matilda was born to Helena prior to her marriage to Jakob. They were married 1 December 1861, about 6 months after Matilda’s birth. Tragedy stuck this family soon after this record was made when on 28 May 1879 Helena dies then again 16 April 1880 when Jakob dies. I was so fortunate that the Mantalsbok survived since it is the only place I have found where this family was recorded together. The picture becomes very clear with the new found knowledge that both of Matilda’s parents died prior to her 18th birthday.

This problem currently could not be resolved online and punctuates the need to get out to the archives, libraries, and repositories to research in the original records. I was fortunate that the records existed that helped with the solution and that some very helpful genealogist painstakingly created a database linking the records. A good research plan that had contingencies was crucial to the success of this trip not to mention how fortuitous it was that the Marieberg archives was closed for remodeling. Choosing Matilda as my Plan B and the final result was beyond any reasonable outcome I could have expected.


If you missed previous articles in this series start here.

Eric Stroschein is a Forensic Genealogist. He specializes in resolving difficult genealogical questions. Eric is very active in Swedish genealogical research and has resolved many difficult problems for clients. He is especially adept at finding the origins of Swedish immigrant ancestors. Learn more about him at

[i] Mantalsbok were a type of population register kept by the church from within specific parishes. They kept track of the movements of resident’s movements within the parish.

Coffin Plates – An Overlooked Genealogy Resource

Coffin Plates or plaques are a very unique resource for genealogists. Coffin plates are decorative metal plaques that contain the name and death date of the deceased.


1873 Coffin Plate from B. L. Massey Collection
1873 Coffin Plate from B. L. Massey Collection


Coffin Plates in North America

The oldest coffin plates date from around the 17th century and gained popularity in North America in the 19th century. When a loved one died, the family would hire a local blacksmith, a metalworker, a silversmith, or a coffin plate manufacturer to create a metal plaque and engrave it with details of the deceased person. Depending on the financial resources of the survivors, coffin plates ranged in size, metals used to create them, and how much information was engraved. Common metals used were lead, pewter, silver, brass, copper, zinc or tin.

For a basic funeral, a simple lead plate would be engraved with the name of the deceased, date of death and the age of the departed. The plate was then nailed to the lid of the coffin or propped up on the lid. Families with more money could afford a plate of a more expensive metal and a more elaborate design.

In the late 1840s the first machine made coffin plates began to appear. The earliest machine-made plates were simple shapes stamped out of a flat piece of metal. More elaborate shapes with intricate stamped designs began to appear and by the 1860s there were catalogues of shapes and designs that survivors could look through to choose the coffin plate they wanted. 

1848 Coffin Plate from B. L. Massey Collection
1848 Coffin Plate from B. L. Massey Collection


By the middle of the 19th century almost every family could afford to have a coffin plate put on the coffin of their loved one. During this time period it was a common practice to display the coffin plate on a wooden stand on the lid of the coffin. Sometimes it was placed on a nearby table along with a photo of the deceased. The family then  took the coffin plate home as a remembrance of their loved one. Many such plates were tucked away in drawers and passed on in families but others were framed and hung on walls in the home. 

This practice of taking the coffin plate home started in the early 1840s and was particularly popular in the North Eastern United States - Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. This practice peaked circa 1880 to 1899 and by the 1920s it had fallen out of favour.

Coffin Plates in the United Kingdom

In England the small decorative coffin plates popular in North America were not used as much. English burials for the more famous or wealthy inhabitants usually had a large breastplate attached to the deceased's coffin. These breastplates, usually 12 to 15 inches in height, were meant to be buried with the coffin and the only time you will see them is if a cemetery has to be relocated.

Breast Plate from United Kingdom from B.L. Massey Collection
Breast Plate from United Kingdom from B.L. Massey Collection


In that case, graves are dug up and coffins removed to be transported to their new location. Occasionally the attached breastplates are removed and you will sometimes find them for sale to collectors. They were often made of brass or copper and had ornate shapes such as shields.

 An interesting tidbit about such breastplates is that one that was attached to Oliver Cromwell's coffin was removed in 1661 when his coffin was opened. Last December Cromwell's coffin plate was auctioned off at Sotheby's where it sold for GBP £ 74,500  (US $117, 352.40).

Family Treasures

Your family may have an ancestor's coffin plate or you may be lucky enough to find one in an antique store or flea market. The coffin plate of my great-great-grandfather was found in a local antique store and I was able to purchase it from the man who bought it.

1904 Coffin Plate owned by L. McGinnis Schulze
1904 Coffin Plate owned by L. McGinnis Schulze

My husband inherited the coffin plate of his grandmother's sister who died at the age of 2, and a few years ago he purchased another ancestor's coffin plate at an estate sale for his great-grandmother's brother.

Resources for Coffin Plates

If you are stuck finding a death record for an ancestor or you simply want to flesh out his or her details, you may want to hunt for a coffin plate. Ancestors At Rest website has an extensive database of coffin plates online with images.


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.

Three Tips for Finding Your Pennsylvania Ancestors Online

Pennsylvania has an abundance of resources for genealogists, and the good news is that many of them can now be accessed online. Here are three tips to unlock information about your Keystone ancestors in digitized record collections.


1. Start with FamilySearch.  It’s no secret that FamilySearch  is often the first online stop for many genealogists. For the Pennsylvania researcher, there are plenty of records available in the free digitized collections on the FamilySearch website  You can either or click the “Browse All Collections” link then “United States” and “Pennsylvania.” Here are the current collections (Note: Be sure to read the description of each collection to learn how complete it is as not all records may be included, and note the date the collection was last updated).

 Pennsylvania Obituaries, 1977-2010

Pennsylvania Obituary and Marriage Collection, 1947-2010

Pennsylvania, Births and Christenings, 1709-1950  

Pennsylvania, County Marriages, 1885-1950

Pennsylvania, Crew Lists arriving at Erie, 1952-1957         

Pennsylvania, Eastern District Naturalization Indexes, 1795-1952

Pennsylvania, Eastern District Petitions for Naturalization, 1795-1931

Pennsylvania, Grand Army of the Republic Membership Records, 1866-1956

Pennsylvania, Landing Reports of Aliens, 1798-1828         

Pennsylvania, Marriages, 1709-1940

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Case Files of Chinese Immigrants, 1900-1923

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Births, 1860-1906 

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915     

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Marriage Indexes, 1885-1951  

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger List Index Cards, 1883-1948

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger Lists Index, 1800-1906       

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1800-1882     

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1883-1945     

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Seamen's Proofs of Citizenship, 1791-1861

Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh City Deaths, 1870-1905   

Pennsylvania, Probate Records, 1683-1994

 To access the list of collections for Pennsylvania, go to


Below is a passenger list record I found for my great-grandfather Jan Alzo found in the on Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger List Index Cards, 1883-1948 collection on FamilySearch.



"Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger List Index Cards, 1883-1948," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 7 September 2015), Jan Alzo, 1898; citing Immigration, NARA microfilm publication T526 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,380,256.


Also, don’t forget to check the FamilySearch Wiki for Pennsylvania for details on how to get started with Pennsylvania Genealogy research and for other information.

2. Find the Freebies. Genealogists love free databases. You can find plenty of free Pennsylvania resources if you know where to look. Try USGenWeb (check by county) for its volunteer added collections such as obituaries, cemetery lists and more, or GoogleBooks for items such as town histories, biographies and other historical documents.  The Pennsylvania State Archives located in Harrisburg, holds many documents for genealogy research including county records, military records, land records, census records, naturalization records and ships' passenger lists, and some pre-1906 vital records, as well as records of state government, and papers of private citizens and organizations relevant to Pennsylvania history.  While you won’t be able to search bigger collections online, use the website for the online guide to records so you can plan a research trip there.  In addition, some subscription sites often have some free databases. For example, Fold3 has selected databases available even to non-subscribers . One such publication/record set is The Pennsylvania Archives (early PA government records) – not to be confused with the Pennsylvania State Archives noted above!


3. Go to a Group. Facebook Groups are a great way to connect with other researchers searching for Pennsylvania roots. Simply log in to your Facebook account and search for Pennsylvania groups by town or county or topic (for example: Allegheny County, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Cemeteries, or Pennsylvania Genealogy). A quick way to learn about the groups available is to access the list Genealogical & Historical Groups/Pages on Facebook list compiled by Katherine Wilson. Don’t forget the smaller groups and pages too (I belong to several groups for my hometown of Duquesne, Pennsylvania and made it a point to like page for the Mifflin Township Historical Society). You will be amazed at the historical information you will find in these groups and pages and you connect with other Pennsylvania researchers.

Want even more tips on how to find your Pennsylvania ancestors online? Check out my my new bonus webinar Best Online Resources for Pennsylvania Genealogy  available to Family Tree Webinar subscribers. This webinar follows on from my Researching Your Pennsylvania Ancestors webinar.  In addition, the Pennsylvania Genealogy Legacy QuickGuide contains even more research tips and online resources.


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