Land records prove parentage - again!

I can almost remember the day when I thought land records weren't all that important. I'm so glad that was decades ago and is a distant memory. And with what I discovered today, it reinforces the fact that land records must never be overlooked in our genealogical research.

This 1778 deed, in which Jeremiah Brown and two of his sons sold land to Simeon Potter, was crucial in proving that Jeremiah was my Nathan Brown's father. Marian Pierre-Louis discovered and explained its use in this webinar.

Brown  Jeremiah to Potter  Simeon - deed - 20 Mar 1778
     Bristol County, Massachusetts, Land Records, 1620-1986, 59: 239, Jeremiah Brown, Samuel Miller Brown and Jeremiah Brown to Simeon Potter, deed, 20 Mar 1778; digital images,, ( : accessed 27 Apr 2017)

We did not know it then, but this very same deed, just today, solidified the theory that this Jeremiah Brown's father was Esek Brown. Yet nowhere in the deed did it mention Esek.

Today I located a 1759 deed where a Jeremiah Brown was given land by his father, Esek Brown.

"I Esek Brown of my son Jeremiah Brown...."

Brown  Esek to Brown  Jeremiah - 1759 deed
Bristol County, Massachusetts, Land Records, 1620-1986, 44: 286, Esek Brown to Jeremiah Brown, deed, 14 Sep 1759; digital images,, ( : accessed 27 Apr 2017)

Was this my Jeremiah Brown? If so, then I've now confirmed that his father is Esek Brown. But this could easily be a different Jeremiah Brown. Comparing the 1759 deed with the 1778 deed answers the question.

I first thought to plot the land boundaries and comparing their shapes, but my DeedMapper 4.2 software hadn't yet arrived in the mailbox. So, I created a table in Microsoft Word to compare the key details of each deed.


Remarkably, although the deeds were written about twenty years apart, they both describe the same land. The land Jeremiah was selling in 1778 was the same land that he was given - by his father Esek - in 1759.

Who was my Jeremiah's father? Esek Brown - the land records prove this.

By the way...the mail just arrived. Guess what was in it? My DeedMapper 4.2 software. Today just keeps getting better and better.

To learn more about land records, visit

Your Migration Secret Weapon - the New York State Census


Those of us with westward migrating ancestors know how difficult it can be to trace people from their destination to their point of origin and vice versa. Even harder is finding the short stops along the way.

Many genealogists have learned to use the United States Federal Census as a clue to migration. By looking at the birth location of children in a migrating family, we can often determine some of the stops a family made on their journey westward. The only challenge is that the Federal Census is only enumerated every 10 years. That's a big gap!

New York's Role in Migration

New York played a big role in the lives of migrating families. Families who originated in New England often passed through New York, often stopping there for a few years before moving on. New York residents as well joined the migration west heading to Ohio and beyond.

The Trouble with New York

The challenge for many researchers is that the trail goes cold in New York. Vital records for most towns in New York state didn't start until the 1870s or later. If you have New England ancestors traveling west this come as a cold shock when you're used to vital records going back to the 1600s. Researching in New York is frustrating to say the least.

Your New Secret Weapon

All is not lost! You were on the right track when you used the U.S. Federal Census. While we may not have the advantage of New York vital records we do have the New York State Census.

The New York State Census was taken for the years 1825, 1835, 1845, 1855, 1865, 1875, 1892, 1905, 1915 and 1925. Not all counties in New York have extant records for all years but for 1855-1905 the coverage is very good
with the exception of a few counties.

Each of the census years asks for different information, of varying value to genealogists. It's the 1855, 1865 and 1875 censuses that I want to bring your attention to. These three censuses asked for the county of birth. If
your ancestors are making stops within New York before moving on, this information is invaluable in tracing their steps.

In addition, the three censuses indicate if a person owned land and the 1855 census mentions the “years resident in the town or city”.

An Example in Action

One of my "challenging" families is David Allen, his wife Mariah and their five kids. Between a common surname, transcription errors and migration I was fit to be tied tracking down this family.

Then I found them in the 1855 New York State Census. The family was living in Volney, Fulton City, Oswego County, New York. David was listed as being born Jefferson County, New York according to the 1855 census. His wife Mariah (no maiden name yet discovered) was also born in Jefferson County about 1823. Their first child Henry was born about 1844 also in Jefferson County.

The 1855 New York State Census showing the David Allen family. Please note the image has been altered to show the headers directly above the family listing.
The 1855 New York State Census showing the David Allen family. Please note the image has been altered to show the headers directly above the family listing.

The next child, Elizabeth, only one year younger that Henry, was born in Lewis County. A second daughter, Eleanor, was also born in Lewis County about 1849. The last child, Charles, only 11 months old was born in Oswego County.

This tells me I can place the family in Jefferson County, New York at least up until 1844. They are in Lewis County from about 1845 to no later than 1854. They arrive in Oswego County in time for Charles’ birth around 1854.

But there’s another clue. Column 13 – “Years resident in this city or town” – shows that the Allens have been in Volney, Fulton City for 2 years thus changing their likely arrival date in Oswego County to 1853. Column 20 – “Owners of land” – indicates that the Allen family did not own any land.

This one census helped to clear up where the family started and where they stopped along the way in New York on the travel west. It gave me new locations to search for new records. By 1860 the family had moved on the Manlius, LaSalle County, Illinois.

If your family traveled west during the mid-nineteenth century be sure to check the 1855, 1865 and 1875 New York State censuses (available on to find the clues to solving their migration mysteries.

Unfortunately the Allen family remains a bit of a mystery for me. In the 1880 US Federal Census I find a David Allen, Maria Allen and son Charles Allen of appropriate ages in Faribault, Rice County, Minnesota. But I also find in a different 1880 census a John Slocumb, Elizabeth Slocumb and a widowed Maria Allen living in Port Huron, St. Clair County, Michigan. A Michigan marriage record indicates that a Libbie Maria Allen born in Lewis County, New York married John Slocumb in 1877. It will take a bit more digging to determine which is my Allen family!

For help researching your New York ancestors see our New York series by expert Jane Wilcox in the Legacy library!


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



A Simple Tip to Bust Genealogy Brick Walls

A Simple Tip to Bust Genealogy Brick Walls

I was recently reminded of a simple yet effective tip for bringing down brick walls.

Yesterday one of my DNA matches contacted me suggesting that we might be connected through the Bair family. That got my attention because the Bairs are one of my brick walls.

Before I go any further, let me tell you that I am an ancestral DNA addict! Not because I think that there is a magic DNA bullet that is going to bring down my brick walls, rather because it might provide the simplest hint that I hadn't seen before. That hint, combined with good old fashioned genealogy research is what solves mysteries.

My new cousin shared her online Ancestry tree with me so that I could see where we might connect. She had already taken a look at my tree. She pointed out that "My Bair's were in Tuscarawas Co., OH, for a time, and Anna Bonfield that you have in your tree died in Tuscarawas Co." She continued, "I would think based on shared DNA our match would be a good ways back, so we just mightn't find it, but it still would be interesting to see if your Bair's relate to the Tuscarawas Bair's."

Anna Bonfield is not a Bair so at first I discounted that. Too hasty, of course! Anna is married to a Bair - my third great grandfather, Jesse Bair.

I decided to look at the information I had on Jesse Bair. Jesse Bair was born 11 Nov 1814 in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Further scanning of his life showed locations such as Stark County, Ohio; St. Louis, Missouri; and St. Clair, Illinois. Jesse's adult life is pretty clear to me but his parents and roots in Pennsylvania are a mystery.

His wife's death in Tuscarawas, Ohio was nagging at me.

So I went to my Legacy database and did a search for all individuals whose death place or birth place contained Tuscarawas. I didn't bother with listing towns or a state because Tuscarawas is such a unique name. I then selected Create List. 

Searching Legacy Family Tree for individuals in Tuscarawas County

The results brought up, as expected, Anna Bonfield, but also her son James K.P. Bair. A quick peek at his profile showed that he was born in Dover, Tuscarawas, Ohio. I was so focused on my ancestors that I forgot to look at collateral relatives! James is the brother of my second great grandmother, Anna Elizabeth Bair (1850-1881). James' birth places my ancestors right in the same location as the ancestors  of my new distant cousin. Her Jonas Bair married and raised children in Tuscarawas, Ohio for twenty years before heading further west. It places him in the town of Dover exactly at the time my Jesse Bair was there.

James K.P. Bair was born in Tuscarawas County Ohio.
Surprise! James K.P. Bair was born in Tuscarawas County Ohio.

What was my big mistake when researching my Bair brick wall? Not checking each location for other families of the same name!

A quick search in the 1850 census for Tuscarawas County, Ohio revealed over 150 Bairs! I'm only concerned with the oldest generation from Pennsylvania so I narrowed down my search to those born in Pennsylvania.  That brought 26 Bairs to my attention ranging in birth dates from 1791 to 1828. That date range means there's potential that Jesse's father could be hiding in plain sight in Tuscarawas County!

I haven't brought down my brick wall yet. My next task is good old fashioned genealogy research. I need to recreate the Bair families in Tuscarawas County. Yes, it will be a lot of work but if it helps me find parents or siblings for Jesse Bair then it will be worth it!

For more brick wall tips check out "Ten Brick Wall Tips for Beginners" in the Legacy library.


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


Using the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Online Catalog for Research

  Using the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Online Catalog for Research

With the growing size of digital collections now available, an online catalog is simply no longer just a research tool. They are now online databases where you can do original research. I have used numerous online images from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) catalog in past Legacy News posts as examples of documents that may include an ancestor. There are over four million images and digital objects in NARA’s catalog, a number that grows frequently, so it’s certainly worthwhile to at least check this site when researching. There’s great potential to find a lot of gems.

Before digging, I’d like to help you navigate NARA’s catalog and provide some tips on how to make the most of it. The NARA homepage presents users with the main search engine where you can start with a few keywords, such as a topic or even someone’s name.

Each time you click on a catalog entry in your search, you are presented with a page that has important descriptive information. The catalog is a research tool because you should consult this before doing in-person research to find relevant sources and create a research plan. Each catalog entry has:

  1. Record Group information
  2. ID number for that entry
  3. Microfilm publication number if the collection has been microfilmed
  4. The branch of NARA that has custody of the archived record and it’s contact information

National Archives Catalog Search

Fig 1 & 2. Screenshots of the information held in an online catalog entry for NARA. 
Fig 1 & 2. Screenshots of the information held in an online catalog entry for NARA. 

Remember that names will only appear in the catalog if they are included in the title or description. General keyword searches can present users with an overwhelming number of results, so using the refining tools allows us to focus on relevant entries.

All the refining tools are on the left side of the page. Limiting to only digital objects and images can be done on the top left under “Refine By: Data” and clicking “Archival Descriptions with Digital Objects.” To the right of these filters are additional filters where you can restrict results to only Images, Documents, Web Pages, and more. If a user is looking for records in a particular branch of NARA, this can be accomplished by clicking one of the locations under “Refine By: Location.” The advanced search, which is located to the right of the search bar offers even more refining tools. People who are acquainted with the division and hierarchy of record groups at NARA might want to try limiting results to a particular RG number. Users can also search for "tags" put on documents by other users. NARA's catalog offers crowdsourcing capabilities where users can tag and transcribe documents in the catalog. Any user can make a free account to do this as well as save their searches and specific entries. [1] 

Military records from the Revolutionary War to the late 20th century are available on NARA’s catalog. A favorite of genealogists would have to be the illustrated family records or frakturs from the Revolutionary War pension applications. There’s a little over 100 of these that were submitted as documentation for claimants and their families. Virginia patriot Dawson Cooke’s claim for service includes pages from the family bible of John Newcomb. The Newcombs were friends and associates of Dawson Cooke and his first wife Mildred. It includes four pages of genealogical information of not just the Newcomb and his descendants, but also a memorandum of the births of other families, who happened to be the Newcomb's family property.


Fig 3. Memorandum of the births of slaves of Joanna Newcomb from Dawson Cooke's Revolutionary War Pension File (National Archives and Records Administration, NAID 7455382). 
Fig 3. Memorandum of the births of slaves of Joanna Newcomb from Dawson Cooke's Revolutionary War Pension File (National Archives and Records Administration, NAID 7455382). 

 There are also thousands of other records from NARA’s military series including:

  • Compiled service record cards
  • World War I & II Casualty Lists, i.e. State Summary of War Casualties (Navy, Marine Corps, & Coast Guard) and World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing Army Air Forces Personnel
  • Muster rolls
  • Unit records
  • Correspondence

Many of the documents are digitized because they were deemed historically significant and some of them invoke painful times in our history. Among the digitized records of the Boston Navy Yard is a 150 page file on casualties in the Coconut Grove fire of 1942 that killed 495 people, including 35 personnel of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

Fig 4. Patients at Chelsea Naval Hospital following the Coconut Grove fire of 1942 [names removed for privacy purposes]. (National Archives and Records Administration, NAID 30623174)
Fig 4. Patients at Chelsea Naval Hospital following the Coconut Grove fire of 1942 [names removed for privacy purposes]. (National Archives and Records Administration, NAID 30623174)

 Among the number of other types of digitized records include:

  • Court cases
  • Naturalizations
  • Indian census rolls
  • Maritime logbooks and personnel documents
  • Lists of patients at government hospitals
  • Maps
  • ….and so much more.

There are some microfilm publications, in addition to the World War II casualty lists, like NARA M862, Numerical and Minor Files Of The Department of State, 1906-1910, which include all the records made and kept by United States diplomats and consuls for that time period.

More than 99% of over four million images reproduced in The National Archives and Records Administration’s online catalog are “government works” and therefore, in the public domain.[2] You can easily download a series of documents for free by clicking the .pdf link or one at a time in .jpg format. I think it’s easier to view the images after downloading them. There are a few which have copyright restrictions, mostly because the copyright title belongs to someone outside of the National Archives. You can scroll past the image to view details and it will note any access restrictions. The restrictions are not only pertaining to copyright, but also accessibility of the originals to the public. Even if there is a document or photo that doesn’t directly include an ancestor, it’s nice to know that genealogists can use them freely to assist in telling the stories of their ancestor or to educate others. 

Fig 5. "Clerical force & U.S. Deputy Marshalls, U.S. Land Office, Perry, OkIa. Ter. Oct. 12, 1893." (National Archives and Records Administration, NAID 516459). 
Fig 5. "Clerical force & U.S. Deputy Marshalls, U.S. Land Office, Perry, OkIa. Ter. Oct. 12, 1893." (National Archives and Records Administration, NAID 516459). 

Remember that the NARA catalog isn’t the first or only place you want to stop and try this. Look for all the possible archival repositories in the area of your research and look to see what they have online for special collections. You never know how it might pertain to your family history.


[1] For more information, see National Archives and Records Administration, "Using The Catalog," ( accessed 16 Dec 2016). 

[2] See 17 U.S.C. § 105 ( accessed 16 Dec 2016). See also “Copyright” under “National Archives Frequently Asked Questions” ( accessed 16 Dec 2016).


Jake Fletcher is a genealogist, lecturer, and blogger.  He currently serves as Vice President of the New England Association of Professional Genealogists (NEAPG).


How to Access Canadian WW2 Service Records

A few months ago I sent for the military records of my father's brother, Clarence E. McGinnis. I knew Uncle Clare had been in WW2 as I have several photos of him in uniform. But I never knew where he served, what unit he was in, or what he did during the War.

Clare McGinnis WW2
Photo owned by Lorine McGinnis Schulze

World War 2 Canadian records are restricted. Note that there are no access restrictions on the service files for members of the Canadian Armed Forces who died in service. But the restricted records can be accessed with a bit of time. They are worth the time spent to obtain them, as they can include documentation about enlistment, discharge, military units served with, and may also include other documents concerning medical history, medals awarded, personal evaluation reports and dental charts.

Library and Archives Canada holds military service files for those who served after 1918. Their website explanation of who can access what files and how to obtain them is a bit confusing, so I'll share  with you what I did. It was simple.

I wrote a one page letter requesting the complete military service files for [individual's name] who was born [individual's full birth date or estimated year] in [name of city/town plus county and province in Ontario] to parents [names of father and mother].

I included my uncle's death date and a photograph of his tombstone as proof of death. Interestingly enough they actually returned the photo to me!

That was it. I mailed the letter and photo to

ATIP and Personnel Records Division
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0N4

You can also fax your request to them at this number: 613-947-8456

Your request can be written as a letter or you can print off a blank copy of the Application for Military Service Information form [PDF file 663 KB] also available in Rich Text Format [RTF file 44,516 KB], which should be filled in, signed and sent by mail or fax.

WW2 Uncle Clare Envelope

After a wait of about 5 months a very large package arrived with Uncle Clare's complete military file. I estimate there are about 80 or more pages.  The wait was not unexpected as it is made clear on the Library & Archives Canada website that they are backlogged and requests can take up to 6 months to fill.

There was a lot of interesting information in the military file for Uncle Clare - such as details of his work history prior to enlisting. It include what he was paid! I wish my dad's files had been as complete.

I am really pleased to have some more details to add to my knowledge of my uncle. I knew him quite well but he never spoke of his military service or his early years. I suppose I was too young for him to think I'd be interested.

But I'm really enjoying reading through his files to find out where he went during the war (to England and France) and what he saw and did during that difficult time.

For more information on finding ancestors who were in the Canadian Military during other years you might want to check out The Canadian Military Project.

For WW1 personnel files you will be able to view these online very soon. Library and Archives Canada is busy scanning and uploading the full files to the online CEF Searchable database.

Other WW2 Links

Second World War Service Files: Canadian Armed Forces War Dead

Last Post: Legion Magazine

Since 1928, Legion Magazine has honoured those Canadians who have served their country by publishing in print short death notices for Royal Canadian Legion members with military backgrounds, Canadian war veterans and Legion members with police service.

Books of Remembrance

The seven Books of Remembrance housed in the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower of the Canadian Parliament Buildings in Ottawa are illuminated manuscript volumes recording the names of members of the Canadian Forces and Canadian Merchant Navy killed on active service in wartime, and in other conflicts. Once you find your relative's name, you can view the actual page and you can also find out the exact date when that page will be displayed in the Peace Tower.

Canadian Virtual War Memorial

The names inscribed in the Books of Remembrance can also be found in the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.


Learn more about Canadian genealogy research from these webinars in the Legacy webinar library:


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.


A Melting Pot of Money and Manners: Researching Newport’s Bellevue Ave Neighborhood in the 1880 Census

Researching Newport’s Bellevue Ave Neighborhood in the 1880 Census

The evidence of Newport’s pre-eminence in the world of money is clear from one glance at the 1880 US Federal Census.  Ignore the names and look at the occupations and places of birth. Children born while their parents were working overseas. Servants from so many countries it’s a wonder they could communicate with each other and their employers.  A long list of jobs meant to support the tiny families living in big houses.

Census enumerations keep a basic record of who’s where. Addresses. Birthplaces. Occupations. The amount of detail provided depends on the census and when enumerators captured that information. In the 1880 census that date was June 1st. It was the second decade of the period that Mark Twain later named The Gilded Age.  Wealth expressed in property and lifestyles.  Robin Leach, host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous (1984-1995) would have had a field day.

Browsing the census at the beginning of the summer season of 1880, is a who’s who of nineteenth century personalities. Newport was the place to be seen.

Max Outrey lived on Narragansett Boulevard with his wife steps from the Atlantic Ocean along with their three children and seven servants—private cooks, maids and a butler. His occupation. French Minister. Not a clergyman, but the Minister of France who worked with Presidents and Senators in Washington, D.C.  His household staff was primarily French, with the exception of one woman from Norway and one born in Washington, D.C.

Next-door were John Carey, Jr. and his wife living in their home known as Grasslands. He was a retired metallurgic engineer. They had nine servants from England, Ireland, Massachusetts and New York. Mrs. Carey was the former Mary Alida Astor, daughter of William Astor, of the New York Astors.

In the winter these families lived in Washington, D.C. and New York City but in the summer the social season revolved around Newport. Local newspapers ran columns discussing who was renting which houses and who was in town.

Along Bellevue Avenue stands a series of buildings that stood when the Carey’s and Outrey’s visited.  In July 1880, the Newport Casino opened with grass tennis courts. The building and the grounds are now the International Tennis Hall of Fame.  It was one of the first social clubs that included sports activities. You can still play tennis on the original horseshoe court!

The Newport Casino, now the building and the grounds are now the International Tennis Hall of Fame
The Newport Casino

It’s not surprising that New York businesses that relied on wealthy patrons would also travel to Rhode Island following the money and opportunities. Photographer Louis Alman, who operated studios in both Newport and New York, moved seasonally with his clients beginning circa 1885. He set up his studio on Bellevue Avenue. Down the street was the internationally famous Notman Photographic Studio, which operated establishments in major cities in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere. Every day coachmen drove their employers down Bellevue Avenue in a parade of envy.    

Alman’s city directory listing mentioned that his studio was near Ocean House. It was a significant well-known local landmark. Ocean House was a much-copied symbol of first class nineteenth century tourism located near the Casino. Built in 1846 the Gothic-inspired structure replaced the original Ocean House that burned down in 1845 only a year after being built.  Bigger and better than its predecessor, it was a five-story hotel featuring two hundred and fifty feet of frontage along Bellevue Avenue and accommodations for over four hundred guests.   It is now a parking lot.  Alman knew with that many guests in the area he was bound to get business.

He photographed this woman with her well-groomed poodle in the 1880s. Based on her dress and the dog she was likely a summer visitor. The dog is a pampered pet, likely kept clean, trained and groomed by a servant. A luxury.  Her owner wears the latest style of dress with a modest bustle and a summer style straw turban shaped hat. Her side pose not only shows off the shape of her silhouette, but also presents the best qualities of her canine, reaching for a treat from her gloved hand.  In this period, photo studios used architectural details like balustrades and fake grass to make it appear their customers posed outside. The painted backdrop in the background makes it clear this was taken indoors.

Photo by photographer Louis Alman
Photo by photographer Louis Alman

Unfortunately, this cabinet card ended up discarded. No name on the back and no history of ownership to link it to a family.

If you want to see how the wealthy lived in nineteenth century Newport, RI you can browse the census looking for particulars about where they resided. On, select the 1880 census then on the right hand side of the screen select browse, then Rhode Island for the state, Newport County and then Newport (ED 95). Street names appear along the left hand edge of the census page. Watch for Bellevue Avenue and Narragansett Avenue to see how the affluent lived.

Learn more about Rhode Island and photographic research in Maureen's Legacy Webinars.


Maureen A. Taylor is an internationally known photo detective who specializes in solving photo mysteries for clients and organizations. She is also specializes in Rhode Island research. Learn more about Maureen at



Avoid Being Overwhelmed By Your Genealogy Research

Avoid Being Overwhelmed By Your Genealogy Research

Tips On How To Avoid Being Overwhelmed by Genealogy Research

How could genealogy possibly be overwhelming? You might be saying to yourself after reading the title of this post, that genealogy is what in fact keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. While genealogy is fun and relaxing, it also challenges us to process a lot more data and information then we may normally encounter. Our brain doesn’t treat genealogy like any other part of our daily life; when it’s overwhelmed, it lets us know. This can make us feel frustrated, defeated, and less interested in genealogy then we once were. So how does someone work to avoid this? Try some of these suggestions to prevent this from happening:

Stick to your research plan

A couple weeks ago, I suggested to readers 4 Steps To Better Research Plans. Plans are used for a reason: they keep us on task. With the plethora of online databases and archives we use for genealogy, I think we can all say it’s a bit easy to get sidetracked. I might see something in the stacks that looks interesting, but was it a part of my plan for things to look at for this day? In some cases, our intuition might be telling us something, but we can get easily overwhelmed if we lose focus or try too look at too much in one day. You can incorporate into your plan when you visit the archives to reserve a bit of time to just browse. We shouldn’t completely suppress our curiosity, but when our research time is limited, we need to focus and manage our time effectively to achieve our research goals.

Consider how you organize your information

A common problem for people doing genealogy is being organized and not having an effective system for processing information. Too many documents can make us susceptible to feeling overwhelmed. Organization is especially important if you’re someone who is “on and off” researcher. Without a system for organizing your research, the relevance of a particular source or page you printed may escape you if it’s not documented in some form.

If you feel your organization could use improvement or you have a lot of documents to process to achieve your genealogy goals, take a break from research to get organized. It’s one of the best things I ever did when I realized it was too cumbersome to keep going without a system in place. Whatever system you decide to work with, documenting as you go is very important because you don’t need to rely on personal memory later.

One of my goals in getting my genealogy organized was to make it easier to access my information on a particular ancestor. You never know when your going to need something or share it with a relative, so having your documentation and records in one place helps in being prepared. As a millennial, I have an affinity for working digitally. Even though I have many family documents and take hand written notes, I scan them all or copy them into my logs. Of course, genealogy was done well before the digital age, so there are systems that rely on charts and booklets that can help us stay organized. Explore and think about what systems for organizing best serves you. You can try some of these resources to explore different methods for organizing your genealogy research:

 Don’t overdo it and take care of yourself first

Overdoing anything is not good. Whether we're working on genealogy or not, maintaining a balance is the key to health and happiness. Too much time on the computer or microfilm reader is not good for our eyes and it may be just that were so focused on doing research that it’s becoming stressful and our brain would like us to take a break. Staying off the research every once in a while is definitely a good thing. Try new activities or other hobbies that you enjoy, or devote sometime to your genealogy education with a class, book, or webinar. All of this will help you recharge yourself for research and in the process, give you some new strategies and ideas to use in your genealogy pursuits.

Writers hear all the time that they should proofread work with a fresh set of eyes, so why not do the same with genealogy? Looking at our research or brickwall with a fresh set of eyes can lead us to new clues. This concept reminds me of one of my favorite personal research stories, which led me to solve the mystery of my great-great grandmother Elizabeth Williams Freeman. A long standing brickwall in my family tree, it all came crashing down after browsing old family documents, which included a picture postcard of her son (my great-grandfather) James Wallace Freeman. The name of the recipient “Mrs. Elizabeth Shields of Kellogg, Idaho” intrigued me enough to look into it. Sure enough, my research was able to identify her as Elizabeth Freeman Williams and ultimately led me to learn about what happened to her after she divorced Wallace Freeman.

Screen Shot 2016-11-06 at 8.16.39 PM Screen Shot 2016-11-06 at 8.16.47 PM

James Wallace Freeman Photo Postcard to Mrs. Elizabeth Shields [ca. 1916]. Author's Personal Collection.

 Try a different family or line in your tree

There’s always a tendency to get involved in one particular family. It’s great to be determined, but this determination could turn into frustration. Genealogy is never done and there’s always ground to gain somewhere. Maybe there’s a particular family or ancestor you spent much time on. Perhaps you heard about a new source or database that could help you with a different ancestor. This might be a good way to continue research, but also divert your attention away from the frustration.

Feeling like there’s no ground to gain on your family? Help others with their genealogy. Not only do you give yourself a break from personal frustration, but you get to share your love and knowledge of genealogy with others!

Avid genealogists might say there’s no way genealogy can be overwhelming, but this post serves as a gentle reminder of how we need to approach genealogy with balance. It’s not just about diligent research. We all got into genealogy because of the benefits it brought to our lives and wellbeing. Don’t let being overwhelmed or frustrated take away from that!


Jake Fletcher is a professional genealogist, educator and blogger. Jake has been researching and writing about his ancestors since 2008 on his research blog. He currently volunteers as a research assistant at the National Archives in Waltham, Massachusetts and is Vice President of the New England Association of Professional Genealogists (NEAPG).


Searching the Heir & Devisee Commission for Canadian Ancestors

Searching the Heir & Devisee Commission for Canadian Ancestors

For those searching ancestors in Upper Canada (present day Ontario), has some wonderful digital images of miscellaneous databases online. One of these is the overlooked but valuable Heir & Devisee Commission papers 1797-1854, which are found in their Heritage Collection.

Quoting from their website "In 1797, the government of Upper Canada (now Ontario) established the Heir and Devisee Commission. Its purpose was 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." [Source:]

Film 1146. 1795 Certificate that Jonas & Abraham Larroway were in Butler's Rangers in American Revolution
Film 1146. 1795 Certificate that Jonas & Abraham Larroway were in Butler's Rangers in American Revolution

This digitized but unindexed collection consists of 21 microfilm reels. The reels contain various volumes of the Heir & Devisee Commission papers, starting from Volume 1 to Volume 104. provides a list of each microfilm and what volume numbers are included, plus a very brief description of what is contained in the volumes. For example, the first microfilm H 1143 contains Volumes 1 to 6. Volume 5, as an example, is said to contain Notices of claims, received but disallowed or unresolved, arranged alphabetically for the Eastern District ca 1809-1841.

Film 1140. German Birth Certificate 1767
Film 1140. German Birth Certificate 1767

These descriptions are very useful to the researcher as we can narrow our browsing to those microfilms of interest to us. It's still a time-consuming task as there are no indexes and each volume is arranged differently. Some are alphabetical, some are by district and some appear to have little, if any, organization.  But this listing of microfilms with volumes contained should narrow our search.

Unfortunately's listings of what is in each microfilm are incorrect, as is their main title "Heir and Devisee Commission, 1777-1854". The correct dates are 1797-1854.

10 of 21 Films Are Wrong on

As mentioned, Canadiana.Org has digitized 21 films of the Heir & Devisee Commission Papers and that's a good thing for genealogists. But since their index and description of what is in each film is incorrect for almost half of the films, their usefulness for genealogists is greatly diminished.

I discovered the incorrect listings in the online finding aid when searching for a specific time period in a specific location. Using the list provided on, I chose the appropriate images for Niagara.  But as I scrolled through I realized something was wrong. I seemed to be looking at documents for the Johnston District, not Niagara area. Then I came across a cover page - a typewritten sheet stating what volume number I was viewing and a description of what images came next. But the volume number was wrong and should not have been on that particular microfilm according to the list provided by

With that I began a methodical (slow!) search of every microfilm that has been digitized and placed online. That allowed me to create a corrected list of films and their contents.

I should mention that I approached about the incorrect indexing and offered them my corrected index. After several unanswered emails from me, they finally responded and explained they cannot change the index as that is how it was given to them by Library and Archives Canada. Library and Archives Canada did not respond to my emails about the errors.

To assist other genealogists and researchers, I decided to publish online my correctly identified contents of each microfilm. I will be providing a list of where each volume starts within each film. That is, I will provide image numbers for each volume buried in the films so that researchers can quickly and easily jump to the volume of interest.  This project is underway and I have most of the films completed with only a few more to look through. Please check the Heir & Devisee Commission page for updates as I work through the 10 incorrectly identified microfilms.

Film 1144. Land Record Letter from Christian Bradt in Newark, Lincoln County, Upper Canada
Film 1144. Land Record Letter from Christian Bradt in Newark, Lincoln County, Upper Canada

Following is the corrected list of Heir & Devisee Commission microfilms and volumes contained within each compared to the list. Those in red are incorrectly labelled and identified on For those microfilms with no cover pages indicating volume numbers, I compared page numbers at the start and the end of each film to determine what volume(s) were in each film. I have begun adding a detailed list of what is found within each volume.

Corrected List of Heir & Devisee Commission Films

Film # Volume list

Actual Volumes

H 1133

V 1-6

V 1-6

H 1134

V 6-8

V 6-8

H 1135

V 9-15

V 16-20

H 1136

V 16-20

No V# labels but is V 20-24

H 1137

V 20-24

No V# labels but is V 24-28

H 1138

V 24-28

No V# labels but is V 28-32

H 1139

V 28-32

V 33-37

H 1140

V 33-37

V 38-44

H 1141

V 37-44

V 45-46

H 1142

V 46-51

V 9-15

H 1143

V 51-54

No V# labels but it is V 51-54

H 1144

V 54-63

No V# labels at start but V 56-62 labelled. This is V 54-63

H 1145

V 64-73

V 64-73

H 1146

V 74-78

V 74-78

H 1147

V 78-80

V 78-80

H 1148

V 81-83

V 81-83

H 1149

V 84-86

V 84-86

H 1150

V 87-89

V 90-98

H 1151

V 90-98

V 86-89

H 1152

V 99-103

V 99-103

H 1153

V 103-104

V 103-104

Example of the Detailed Listings I am Preparing for each Film

Here is an example of my listings that I have provided online as I work through each microfilm. H 1135 (Volumes 16-20 Johnston District Location Certificates) does not contain what has listed. H 1135 is described on as containing Volumes 9-15. In fact this digitized film contains volumes 16-20. I have gone through the entire film and provided image numbers and a brief description of what can be found there.

  • Image 14  V16 Johnston District  
  • Image 148 V 17 Johnston District Location Certificates, alphabetical  A-B
  • Image 149 A names Land Certificates
  • Image 186 B names Land Certificates
  • Image 319 V 18  Location Certificates C-F
  • Image 319 C names Land Certificates
  • Image 402 D names Land Certificates
  • Image 434 E names Land Certificates 1787-1795
  • Image 448 F names Land Certificates 1784-1803
  • Image 485 V 19 Location Certificates G & H
  • Image 486 G names Land Certificates 1785-1806
  • Image 547 H names Land Certificates 1784-1803
  • Image 619 J names Land Certificates 1784-1802
  • Image 665 V 20 Location Certificates K-M
  • Image  666 K names Land Certificates 1784-1810
  • Image  701 L names Land Certificates 1784-1801
  • Image 757 M names Land Certificates  1783-1803

I am continuing to work on this project to help those searching for ancestors in Upper Canada so please check the site frequently for updates.


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.

Where is my ancestor hiding in that big database?

Often times the large database providers like FamilySearch, Ancestry and FindMyPast will release a really big database that encompasses an entire state or maybe even a whole country. The dates of the database look promising - perhaps you'll see 1610-1950.  You think "Perfect, my ancestor should be in there!"  

But then you search and you don't find them.  What on earth is going on?

There are two issues at play.

First the date range of the database. Let's take a look at the Ancestry database "Rhode Island, Wills and Probate Records, 1582-1932" as an example. You think to yourself, and rightly so, "But Rhode Island didn't exist in 1582!"

From what I understand (and please correct me if I'm wrong) is that it is a standard practice of archivists to title or name a date range so that it encompasses the entire date range found in a record set rather than the logical and expected date range of the jurisdiction (in this case Rhode Island). So for instance, if a record from London, England from 1582 gets recorded in the Rhode Island probate records in 1685 then it is included as part of the date range of the database record set.

Don't worry about the date range of the database. That's actually the smaller of the two issues.

The second issue, and this is the really important one, is that big databases are really made up of a bunch of smaller databases. You will encounter this in most state databases especially when the individual counties have started recording at different times.

Let's take a look at the "Rhode Island, Wills and Probate Records, 1582-1932" database again. If you go straight to the Search box and type in your ancestor's name you may be frustrated when they don't turn up in the results.

A better approach is to "browse" the database information before using the search feature. 

You'll find the browse feature on the main page of the database on the right hand side. It says "Browse this collection."

Rhode Island, Wills and Probate Records, 1582-1932

Click on the arrow to the right of the word "Choose" and you will  find a county list. Select the county that your ancestor lived in.

What you'll soon discover is that there are different date ranges for each county. See these examples for Bristol County, Rhode Island and Providence County, Rhode Island.

Bristol County Rhode Island Probate records on
Bristol County Rhode Island Probate records on
Providence County Rhode Island Probate records on
Providence County Rhode Island Probate records on

By determining the date range for your target county through the browse feature you'll be able to figure out in advance whether your ancestor is likely to be included in the database. Knowing that your ancestor's 1685 will is not included in the Bristol County database will save you the frustration of many futile searches.

It's important to keep in mind that there are at least two considerations impacting the date range of any given county.

When you search databases in any of the original colonies you have to consider that counties were formed, divided and re-formed over time. One county may have been formed in the 1600s and another in the 1800s. You really need to understand when counties were formed to know where to find the records you were looking for.

For instance, Norfolk County, Massachusetts was founded in 1793. Records from 1793 to the present will be found in Norfolk County. Records before 1793 will be found in Suffolk County, Massachusetts.

The other consideration is that regardless of when a county was formed they may have started recording records at different times from other counties in the same state. What's even worse is it may vary from town to town. 

You can use a tool such as the Research Guidance feature in Legacy Family Tree software as well as research guides such as the FamilySearch Wiki to find out what records were created when for the place where your ancestor lived.

The next time you use a large online database don't get frustrated when your ancestor goes missing! Take charge by understanding specifically what records are included in the database for your specific county. 

For more research strategies from Marian Pierre-Louis see her classes in the Legacy Webinar Library.

Good luck with your research!



Identifying Family Photographs: 5 Types of 19th Century Photos

Have you ever wished you had a photo of a long ago ancestor? Wouldn't it be great to find out what great-grandpa Bert or great-grandma Olive looked like?

If you are lucky enough to own such a photograph, you might want to know a bit more about it, and what clues there are to date it. There are five types of early photographs, and each was popular in certain periods. Knowing the type of photograph you own will help you date it.

1. Daguerreotypes (c. 1839)

A daguerreotype is a unique image on a silvered copper plate. They are very reflective and look like a mirror when turned at certain angles from the viewer. They were put into cases where they were sealed behind glass to prevent tarnishing. The easiest way to tell if your heirloom photo is a daguerreotype is to tilt it back and forth to see if it refects as a mirror would. Photography arrived in the United States in 1839 thanks to Samuel F. B. Morse, an American artist and inventor. Morse visited Daguerre in Paris in March 1839 and observed a demonstration of the daguerreotype process. He returned to the United States to spread the news, and by the end of 1839 some larger cities on the East Coast had very successful portrait studios. A fascinating look at the birth of the daguerreotype process can be found here

LFphoto-daguerreotype-6thplate18546th plate Daguerreotype from 1854. L. Massey Collection

2. Ambrotypes (c. 1854)

The ambrotype was a glass negative backed with black material, which enabled it to appear as a positive image. Patented in 1854, the ambrotype was made, packaged, and sold in portrait studios just as the daguerreotype had been, but at a lower cost. The ambrotype produced a single image on glass. Ambrotypes were usually put into cases just as daguerreotypes were.

LFphoto-ambrotype9thplate18589th plate Ambrotype from 1858. L. Massey Collection

LFT Cased Ambrotype 1861-1862Cased Ambrotype 1861-1862. L. Massey Collection

3. Tintypes (c. 1855)

The Ferrotype process (tintypes) was introduced in the United States in 1855. It substituted an iron plate for glass and was even cheaper than the ambrotype. Because tintypes were placed in albums along with CDVs, they were often trimmed at the sides and corners. Tintypes were produced in various sizes

  • Full plate 6 1/2" x 8 1/2"
  • Half plate 4 1/2" x 51/2"
  • 1/4 plate 3 1/8" x 4 1/8"
  • 1/6 plate 2 1/2" x 3 1/2"
  • 1/9 plate 2" x 2 ½"
  • Gem approximately 1/2" x 1"

LFT Tintype Young ChildTintype of a young child. L. Massey Collection

4. Carte de Visite or CDVs (c. 1859)

CDV stands for carte de visite, a photographic calling card. The CDV process, which began in France in 1854, involved a special camera that produced eight poses on one negative. The CDV quickly replaced the old glass images of the ambrotypes, producing a card the size of the then standard calling card, around 2.5 by 4".

The CDV’s albumen process produced a negative from which any number of prints could be made - and on early CDVs it was important for the photographer to note that more prints were always available.

CDVs arrived in the United States around 1859, on the eve of the Civil War (1861-1865) during which demand skyrocketed as soldiers and their loved ones sought an affordable image remembrance. Many people began collecting portraits of political figures, actors and actresses, Civil War generals, as well as family and friends. Special photo albums were designed especially for cartes-de-visite.

In the United States, the carte-de-visite played second fiddle to cheaper variations on the daguerreotype theme. Thus the early CDVs are rather uncommon.

LFT CDV Mrs Joseph Curtis 1862

CDV Mrs Joseph Curtis 1862. L. Massey Collection

5. Cabinet Cards (c. 1870)

CDV’s were eventually replaced in the 1870s by the larger Cabinet Cards which used the same photographic process but were on a larger 4 by 6" card. Cabinet Cards continued in popularity well into the 20th Century.

Cabinet Card 1902. L. Massey Collection

Learn more about old photographs in Photo Detective Maureen Taylor's webinar "Preserving Family Photographs: 1839 to the Present" in the Legacy Library.


You may wish to watch my YouTube Video showing examples of the five different types of Early 19th. Century Photographs.

If you are looking for a photo of an ancestor you might want to try these sites:

Dead Fred A genealogy photo archive with thousands of identified images

Cyndi’s List has an alphabetical list of sites with ancestor photos

Lost Faces has 69 Civil War era photo albums online with over 3,000 identified photographs.


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.