Using Yearbooks For Genealogical Research

Looking through our school yearbooks evoke for many of us cherished memories of youth. They may almost present laughable (for me personally, cringe-worthy) moments when we see awkward photos of ourselves. However, for genealogical research, yearbooks are an important resource for several reasons. Consider that when we research our ancestors, most of the records begin in their adult life, when they are legally able to marry, vote, and own property. The formative childhood years are often lost to time, but researching in yearbooks and other types of school records are an important avenue for genealogists.

This post focuses on the importance of yearbooks because in many cases, other types of school records such as transcripts and student files are lost or difficult to access. There may exist a variety of records pertaining to schools and students. However, a discussion about those will be for another post. Yearbooks are the best place to start for tracking ancestors as students or teachers, because they are the most available and complete source to date of those who attended or worked in the school.

There’s not a whole lot of history on why and when yearbooks were created, but beginning in the 1600s, students compiled their own yearbooks with newspaper clippings, dried flowers, and personal musings. The first published yearbooks were created in the 19th century, which were traditionally called annuals or class books. Soon after the daguerreotype was invented, a few schools had photographers come into take pictures of graduating students, but the yearbook photograph did not become mainstream until the invention of the Kodak Camera in 1888. Around this time is when yearbook publication in schools begins to greatly increase in popularity and most collections date back to at least the early 20th century. With that in mind, yearbooks may only be useful for genealogy in the more recent generations of our family trees.

Photographs of Graduates, Lebanon Valley College Bizarre (1914). Image source: Internet Archive.
Photographs of Graduates, Lebanon Valley College Bizarre (1914). Image source: Internet Archive.

First and foremost, yearbooks are able to put our ancestors in a time and place. Beyond that, they offer a variety of detail we couldn’t glean from traditional genealogical sources. In yearbook listings, particularly from colleges, they offer a detailed record of a student’s experience at the school. They include any student clubs or organizations they belonged to and sometimes provide insight into what they might have been like in terms of personality, academic performance, and other personal qualities. I have seen some which include date and place of birth, but this is less common. The military and its academies have published annuals for a long time, which could facilitate in a genealogist’s search for military records of their ancestor. If an ancestor were absent altogether from a particular school’s yearbooks even when they had been known to attend, it would provide a strong clue they either dropped out or transferred to another institution.

Amherst College Classbook (1903). Image Source: Digital Commonwealth. 
Amherst College Classbook (1903). Image Source: Digital Commonwealth. 


When you are using yearbooks for genealogical research, examine the entirety of it’s contents. They are never indexed, so take your time with them to find useful pieces of information. I would suggest surveying the entire listing for each class because these are people your ancestor interacted with directly, thus belonging to the “FAN” club and could prove significant in further research.

There are often pages that include personal musings, class histories, photographs of student life and all the student-run organizations. They do provide faculty information and perhaps even photographs of the faculty, so it’s important to think of yearbooks as more useful than just for researching students. Many yearbooks also included advertisements from businesses that sponsored the publication of the yearbook or were closely affiliated with the school, so in some cases, yearbooks have information on ancestors who didn’t attend school at all.

Almeida' Bus Service Advertisement in New Bedford Textile School's Yearbook The Fabricator (1961). Image Source: Internet Archive. 
Almeida' Bus Service Advertisement in New Bedford Textile School's Yearbook The Fabricator (1961). Image Source: Internet Archive. 


Finding yearbooks is relatively easy because they don’t contain sensitive information like other school records and survive in much greater numbers. They could exist in physical, digital, or both forms of publication. It’s best to start by contacting the school directly or library for the town in which your ancestor attended school for the whereabouts of physical copies. In many cases, other local repositories such as historical and genealogical societies have copies of yearbooks as well. If you can’t make an in-person visit, they should be able to do a lookup if you know the school and years of attendance/graduation.

Thousands of volumes of old yearbooks are available online too. Many yearbook sites were created to help facilitate class reunions, but they help genealogists too. Relatively Curious has a great post on yearbook research, listing important sites and databases. Here are a few sites to start with:

Internet Archive

Cyndi’s List

Yearbooks provide us with a fascinating perspective on our ancestors' lives and serve as an important document of social history. What have you learned about your ancestors through yearbooks?


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).

Finding and Understanding Removal Orders in England


A search of the National Archives United Kingdom website can provide many interesting documents for genealogy research. One of the items I found was a Removal Order for my 5th great grandfather Thomas Blanden. Thomas was born in Wenhaston, Suffolk, England in 1739, enlisted in the Suffolk Militia as a drummer at the age of 20, and was discharged in bad health 28 years later.

removal order thomas blandon mary jackson-1
Removal Order FC189/G4/14. Suffolk, Ipswich Branch, Wenhaston Paris Records Date: 1778

Removal Orders were new to me so after ordering the documents from the Archives I did my homework and researched the history of Removal Orders. In 1662 England, an Act of Settlement was passed to define which parish had responsibility for a poor person. A child's birthplace was its place of settlement, unless its mother had a settlement certificate from somewhere else stating that the unborn child was included on the certificate. From the age of 7 the child could have been apprenticed and gained a settlement for himself or he could have obtained settlement for himself by service by the time he was 16.

After 1697, the poor were allowed to enter any parish in search of work, as long as they had a Settlement Certificate signed by the church wardens and overseers of their place of settlement and two magistrates guaranteeing to receive them back should they become chargeable. No one was allowed to move from town to town without the appropriate documentation.

If a person entered a parish in which he did not have official settlement, and if it seemed likely he might become chargeable to the new parish, then an examination would be made by the justices or parish overseers. From this examination on oath, the justices would determine if that person had the means to sustain himself and, if not, which was that person's parish of settlement. As a result of the examination the intruder would then either be allowed to stay, or would be removed by means of what was known as a Removal Order.

A Removal Order was sometimes accompanied by a written pass to the parish of settlement showing the route to be taken. This would apply even within a city or town which consisted of more than one parish. Your parish of settlement was obliged to take you back.

Removal Orders would often take a person or a family back to a place of settlement miles across the country, sometimes to a parish they had only known briefly as a small child. It was not uncommon for a husband and wife to have their children taken from them, each being removed to separate scattered parishes.

On 18 May 1778, a Removal Order was served on my 5th Great Grandfather who was recorded as Thomas Blandon, Drummer in the Western Battalion Militia of Suffolk. Thomas, Mary, his wife, and their children Mary, Elizabeth, Ann, Thomas & Susannah were ordered removed from St. James, Bury St. Edmunds and sent to Wenhaston.

The order made me wonder what the circumstances were surrounding Thomas and his run of bad luck. Having found a Chelsea Pensioner record for Thomas dated 1787 I knew that he had been in the Army for 28 years and was being discharged with “bad eyes” and “worn out.” No doubt he couldn’t provide much, if any, income to support his family and thus the Parish did not want to accept responsibility for supporting them.


Royal Hospital, Chelsea: Discharge Documents of Pensioners WO 121/1/38
Royal Hospital, Chelsea: Discharge Documents of Pensioners WO 121/1/38

A Settlement Certificate would have more genealogical information but since I did not find one for Thomas I was happy to see that the Removal Order gave the ages of each of Thomas and Mary's children – they were aged 1 to 13 years old. How difficult it must have been to be uprooted from friends and neighbours, and sent from the Parish of St. James back to the parish of Thomas’ birth in Wenhaston.

To my surprise the Removal Order was a form with blanks to fill in by the clerk recording the details, which indicates to me that there must have been a lot of them served! What a wonderful item to find. If you have English ancestors, why not have a look on the National Archives website? You might be surprised at what is there. If you have not used this resource, see How to Use the National Archives United Kingdom Website to Obtain Ancestor Documents.

UPDATE: Thanks to Helen Smith for pointing out that most settlement examinations, removal orders will be found in parish chest material for individual parishes so should be found in County Archives rather than in the UK National Archive. Genealogists can use the Discovery Search Engine at the UK National Archives but if a search does not return results they are advised to go directly to the county Archive of interest.


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 Reasons You Should be Using Scrivener to Write Your Family History

It is no secret that I am an avid user of Scrivener, a multifaceted word processor and project management tool. I have been using this program for all of my personal and professional writing projects since 2011.

Three Reasons You Should be Using Scrivener to Write Your Family History

Here are three reasons why you will want to use this amazing tool for your family history and other writing projects.

  1. It’s Plot Perfect. Whether you are a visual writer who likes to storyboard, or if you prefer text outlines, you can use Scrivener your  way! When you start a new blank project, you will be see the “Binder” (located on the left-hand side), which is the source list showing all documents in the project.

    By default you’ll see three folders:

    The “Draft” board (called “Manuscript” in other Scrivener templates) is the main space where you type your text (you can compile everything in that folder for printing or export as one long document later on). You will have one Untitled Document showing. Simply add a title and then start typing. You can move sections around by dragging and dropping. Click the green plus sign (+) icon to add files or folders. Scrivener also lets you import files that you already have prepared in Microsoft Word or text based formats.

    As you work, Scrivener allow to easily “toggle” between its key modes: Corkboard (where you can summarize on “virtual index cards” the key points you want to cover—the virtual cards can easily be arranged in any order you like); Outline (use it if you prefer to control the structure of your work); and Scrivenings (this mode temporarily combines individual documents into a single text, allowing you to view some or all documents in a folder as though they were all part of one long text).

    There is another pane called the “Inspector” that offers additional features to help you manage your project so you can easily plot, plan, and outline away!  Watch the Storyboarding and Editing with Scrivener Bonus Webinar to learn the secrets of Scrivener storyboarding. 


  1. It’s Research Ready. Scrivener has a designated Research folder where you can store notes, PDF files, images, etc. (not included in your final compiled document). Research is one of the three main container folders (the other two are Draft or Manuscript and Trash) automatically included in all of the Scrivener templates. Use the super handy Split Screen feature to have your research items there on the screen as you write. This saves you from having to open up your image or PDF viewer or other program while you are in writing mode. You can even add annotations, comments, footnotes and endnotes to your final output. Watch the Getting Started with Scrivener: Footnotes, Endnotes and Formatting bonus webinar to learn more.
  1. It Does all the Heavy Lifting. The true power of Scrivener resides in its “Compile” (Compile is just a fancy term for exporting your project into any number of final formats—print, eBook, Kindle, PDF, etc.). With compile you specify what Scrivener does/does not include, and how it should look. You will get a crash course in the key steps in the Compiling and Publishing with Scrivener bonus webinar. Mastering Compile takes some practice, so you should also refer to the Scrivener tutorials and forums for guidance.

Here’s a bonus tip: Start small! Begin with a smaller project like an ancestor profile or blog post rather than attempting to write a 200-page family history book your first time in. 

Scrivener is created by Literature and Latte and is available for purchase for use on Mac ($45) and Windows ($40). There is also a 30-day free trial available. Double click the Scrivener “S” icon on your desktop to open the program. Before you start your first project, take a few minutes to review the Scrivener manual for your and watch the helpful interactive tutorials.

I was pleased to be able to record a new five-part bonus webinar series on Scrivener for Legacy subscribers. 

The Legacy Bonus Webinars on Scrivener cover the following topics:

  1. Getting Started with Scrivener
  2. Storyboarding and Editing with Scrivener
  3. Footnotes, Endnotes and Formatting in Scrivener
  4. Compiling and Publishing with Scrivener
  5. Scrivener Ninja Tips and Tricks

Want even more Scrivener secrets? Pick up a  copy of my Scrivener for Genealogists QuickSheet (available for both Mac and Windows versions).



Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A. is a freelance writer, instructor and internationally recognized lecturer specializing in Eastern European genealogy, writing your family history, and finding female and immigrant ancestors.  She is the author of 10 books, including The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide, and the award-winning Three Slovak Women.  Lisa is a frequent speaker for Legacy Family Tree Webinars, and blogs at The Accidental Genealogist. She can be reached at

Ledger Books - a Little Known Genealogy Resource

Ledger books are hand-written books kept by storekeepers, schools and business men in the days before typewriters or computers. Finding 19th century or early 20th century ledger books can lead to wonderful genealogical discoveries.


Several years ago we purchased two ledger books from Winfield, Herkimer County, New York. One is a West Winfield Academy Cash Book and Store Ledger kept by John G. Robinson from 1865-1866.

It is a thin ledger, 12x8 inches in size and laid out inside in an odd format. There are several pages of entries for expenses for what appears to be a store and also for items used in the Academy. The Academy was an early school established in 1850 in the town of West Winfield.

There are two pages from July 1865 with student or parents' names and monies spent or received, followed by pages for January and February 1866, then October 1865. Following the October 1865 entries are several pages of names and items they purchased at what might have been an auction.

Screenshot 2016-09-27 10.16.41 Here are a few of the July 1865 names:

July 1. Amount invested by S S Paerd 4000.00
July 1. Amount invested by John B. Penn 500.00
July 2 Rec'd of Henry Fish in full of acct 500.00
July 6 Rec'd of David Colman 500.00
July 6 Rec'd of Robert Williams 87.50

Wouldn’t it be exciting to find your ancestor’s name in one of these books?

Another fascinating ledger book is an account book kept by a local shoemaker living in or near the communities of Cross Creek and Ritsey's Cove, Lunenburg Nova Scotia. There are no identifying notations to tell me who the shoemaker was, so I researched the names of his customers found in the book. I found them all living in Cross Creek and Ritsey's Cove so we might assume the shoemaker lived nearby.

The entries I read date from 1897 to 1919. There may be some earlier or later - they are not in date order. Whoever kept the account book decided to keep track of money owed and paid by family. Each family has its own page (or pages) and shoe repairs and purchases are noted throughout the years the family used the service.

This shoemaker's ledger book contains 212 pages covering 22 years. It's a fascinating book as it names children and sometimes wives. The shoemaker noted who he made the shoes for, and their cost, putting everyone under the father's name. Sometimes he added a note as to who the father was - if it was a name shared by more than one man, he would put "xx son of yy" as the head of the house. So he might put James Jones son of Levi and then list all of the work he did for James Jones and family.

This shoemaker also sold prescription glasses and other items. He describes shoes and boots being made, being repaired and so on. As an example, under the name Daniel Himmelman he has the date 10 February 1897 and the notation "pair boots Albert" and the cost $1.75. So we know that Daniel's son Albert had boots made in the winter of 1897.

It seems many of the villagers kept running accounts with the shoemaker, some for over a year before paying. When the items are paid for, he wrote a large PAID in script over the entire set of transactions.

Ledger Shoemaker NS.png

His spellng is bad but it's not hard to figure what the names really are. Some villagers have many pages devoted to them. Leonard Oxner for example has a page starting in 1911 and ending 1914 with a final notation "Paid Jan 17, 1916"

In 1914 he repaired Leonard' s harness for 30 cents. In December 1911 he charged Alex Smith 10 cents for "putting on skates" for Arthur (the day after Christmas, I think we all know what Arthur got for Christmas that year!). Arthur must have been quite an active young lad, because he is listed several times between July 3, 1911 and Dec. 26 as having shoes patched, shoes repaired, shoes soled and heeled, shoes patched and the skates put on.

Ledger Books Currently Available

  1.  Staunton, Macoupin County Illinois 1930 ~ 1957 Court Records.
  2.  Orono, Lagrange, Howland, Penobscot County, Maine 1923 to 1925 Store Ledger.
  3.  Maine Store Ledger 1922-1927
  4.  Lubec, Washington County, Maine 1894 to 1995 Store Ledger.
  5.  Lincoln County, Maine 1832 Samuel Hinds Ledger.
  6.  Clear Spring, Washington County Maryland 1861 to 1874 Store Ledger.
  7.  Salem and area Essex County, Massachusetts 1772 to 1780 Student Work Book And Store Ledger.
  8.  Townsend Middlesex County Massachusetts 1868 General Store Ledger.
  9.  Massachusetts Boston Environs Ledger 1892-1894.
  10.  Wheeling, Livingston County, Missouri 1879 to 1889 Ledger Book Of Edward Moore.
  11.  Fillmore Village, Andrews County, Missouri. Town Council Minutes 1900-1913
  12.  Grafton County, New Hampshire 1841 ~ 1877 Account Book Of William Thissel.
  13.  Rushford and area, Allegany County, New York 1868 ~ 1872 Stacy And Kyes Ledger Book.
  14.  Oswego, Oswego County, New York 1858 ~ 1859 Samuel Stevenson Saw Mill Ledger Book.
  15.  Oswego, Oswego County, New York 1875 Samuel Stevenson Saw Mill Ledger Book Money Owed .
  16.  Oswego, Oswego County, New York Samuel Stevenson Saw Mill Ledger Book List of Electors .
  17.  West Winfield, Herkimer County, New York 1865 ~ 1866 West Winfield Academy Cash Book.
  18.  Richfield, Otsego County, New York Auction sale 1880 ~ 1890. Found in the West Winfield Academy Cash Book.
  19.  Lubec, Washington County, Maine 1894 to 1995 Store Ledger.
  20.  Rose Bay and River Port, Lunenburg County Shoemakers Ledger Book 1897 ~ 1918
  21.  Findlay, Hancock County, Ohio 1889 Store Ledger.
  22.  Marietta, Washington County, Ohio 1837~1838 Store Ledger.
  23.  Frederick, Miami County, Ohio 1869~1877 Blacksmith Ledger,
  24.  1858 Bucks County Ledger
  25.  Bernville, Berks County, Pennsylvania 1867 to 1877 Haag, Kline & Co Ledger.
  26.  Bernville, Berks County, Pennsylvania 1863 to 1870 Haag, Kline & Co Ledger.
  27.  Mill Creek Township, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania 1885 to 1890 Mountain Spring Mills Ledger. O
  28.  Elk Creek Township, Erie County 1876 to 1878 General Store Ledger.
  29.  Lower Heidelberg Township, Berks County 1874 to 1903 Farm Ledger of John W Gaul.
  30.  New Hanover Township, Montgomery County 1858 to 1904 Farm Ledger.
  31.  Muncy, Lycoming County, PA 1831 to 1865 Docket Ledger of General William A Petrikin.
  32.  Lebanon County, PA 1887 Heilman Dale Creamery Milk Book.
  33.  Hopewell Township, York County, PA 1890 Tax Collectors Book.
  34.  Schuykill, Pennsylvania Tax Collection Ledger 1913-1922
  35.  Ladonia, Fannin County, Texas 1908 to 1915 Jackson McFarland Store Ledger .
  36.  S. R. Turley Ledger Book, Culpeper Virginia. 1896
  37.  Wytheville, Wythe County, Virginia Court Records Ledger.
  38.  History Of Tazewell County Virginia Book Sales Ledger.
  39.  Clear Spring, Washington County Maryland 1861 to 1874 Store Ledger

Links to the ledger books listed above will be found at

Ledger book images copyright Brian L. Massey published with permission


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.

How to Introduce Yourself at Genealogy Conferences

Whether or not you are attending RootsTech or another Genealogy Conference or Convention, whether you're going as a participant (speaker, presenter, etc.) or as an attendee, you should have a card. Call it what you want - a business card, a calling card, a Genealogy calling card..... but you should have one.

A calling card allows you to connect more easily with other genealogists. You're more accessible with your name and contact details on a card.

Business Card Back copy

This is the new card I designed using Moo. It's a dramatic departure from my 2011 card I had made for my Olive Tree Genealogy website!

The business cards for my Olive Tree Genealogy website that I printed for RootsTech 2011 were too simple.   I wish I'd done color for my logo, not just black and white. I like simple. I like uncluttered. But mine don't contain enough details and I may remove my cell phone number. If I want someone to have that I can easily add it, because my cards are not glossy and they aren't double-sided. It's a personal preference re glossy or matte, there's no right or wrong. But my next card for my genealogy website will be quite different.

Business Card

Do you have a blog? A website? Are you a passionate genealogist? Are you a member of some genealogy societies, a volunteer for a genealogical organization? Are you on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Periscope, Instagram, LinkedIn or another social networking site? Do you run a genealogy business or publish genealogy books? You need a card to let other genealogists know about your interests and how and where they can contact you!

Perhaps you aren't involved in any of the things I mentioned above. But you love genealogy and you like to meet other genealogists. You could benefit from a genealogy calling card. Think of the 19th Century when visitors handed their calling cards to servants who placed them on a silver tray for the head of the house or his wife to look at later. 

Victorian Calling Card
Victorian Calling Card


I'm not advocating anything as fancy as the Victorian calling card shown here but if you like this style, why not? Whether ornate or simple, a calling card is a great introduction and a good way to ensure that genealogists you meet will remember you.

Perhaps you've sat through a wonderfully inspiring and informative presentation on a genealogy topic. You managed to introduce yourself to the presenter. She gave you her business card. Wouldn't it be great for you to hand her your calling card too? Now she has a name, an email and any other information you want to put on it, to remind her of your meeting. Who knows, maybe you'll connect in the future.

Or you got chatting to the genealogists sitting on either side of you. Hand them your card if you think you'd like to continue to engage with them. Maybe you went to the Conference alone and you don't know anyone there. You might decide you'd like to meet one of them for a quick supper. If your card doesn't have your cell phone number, you can scribble it on the back and invite a phone call or text to arrange a meetup.

So I created my new author cards this year. I've got a funky case I can carry them in (thanks to my granddaughter who gave it to me in 2011).

Business Card Case

Oh and no QR codes on mine. A lot of people don't know what those codes are for on a business card, and I'm not convinced of their usefulness on a card that already has the information printed.

Think about creating calling cards or business cards for your next genealogy convention or think about whether or not it's time to revise old ones. There are many online companies such as Moo that print business cards for a reasonable fee. So don't wait, think about which you prefer - modern business cards or old-fashioned calling cards.  Or maybe you will surprise everyone with a combination of the two.  As for glossy or matte, remember that you can write on matte but not glossy. Perhaps you want to omit your cell number on your card but keep the ability to jot it down on the back if needed.


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

5 More U.S. Military Records For Genealogy You Might Not Know About


As promised, part two of this blog series is now here. While the good news is that the U.S. Military kept an absolute plethora of records and spent considerable time extracting and organizing information, they can be difficult to navigate. For this reason I wouldn’t recommend using it as the first place you check for your ancestor. First, examine clues from family papers, photographs, letters, newspaper articles, and other genealogical sources to reconstruct some biographical information and perhaps even create a timeline of their military service. The more specific information you have, the easier it will be to find records of interest. Part 1 focused on medical records, while this post examines specific series of service records and government publications.

Descriptive Lists 

An officer within each company of a regiment was required to keep records of soldiers while in the field. Within the field books are included muster rolls, morning reports, and casualty lists, but the series with the most biographical information about each soldier are called “descriptive lists” or "descriptive rolls." Each entry in the descriptive list will include at least their name, age, place of birth, date, place, and term of enlistment, basic physical description, and amount of pay and effects such as clothing provided to each individual. Descriptive lists can be among series in National Archives Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s -1917. These have been consulted by the War Department to make compiled service records for volunteer units, but are useful to consult because they include extra remarks possibly about the soldier’s character, promotions, nature of death, and role in that company.


Fig 1. Descriptive Roll of Company K, 32nd Tennessee Volunteers, 1861-1862.[1]

U.S. Military Academy Records – There are extensive series of records at the National Archives that can help to reconstruct your ancestor’s experience attending a military academy. The U.S. Military Academy was established at West Point, New York in 1802 and the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in 1846. Many of the 19th century records for applicants, cadets, and midshipmen have been microfilmed and are viewable on Military Academy Cadet Application Papers, 1805-1866, includes 242 rolls of microfilm arranged by year and there under by file number. Each applicant’s files include letters to the Secretary of War requesting appointment, letters of recommendation from relatives, friends, and members of congress, and letters of acceptance from the Secretary of War.

The Naval Academy records are held in Record Group 405, Records of the U.S. Naval Academy. Microfilm Series include actual academic records, such as records of conduct and registers of delinquencies, which includes their overall class performance, exam grades, and lists of demerits accrued by each cadet. Naval Academy registers include biographical information for each cadet including place and date of birth, city or town of residence at the time of enlistment, previous education, religious denomination, and the name, address, and occupation of the parent/guardian. Up until 1889, registers also include the cadet’s signatures, who was required to attest to the information given.

Proceedings of U.S. Military Court-Martials and Military Commissions – Soldiers who violated what are known historically as the “Articles of War,” would be tried under court-martial for capital offenses such as desertion, mutiny, murder or other acts of violence. A special military commission would be assembled if the offense was considered unusual. Court-martials are useful for genealogists because they are records with a helping of information. A court-martial proceeding will usually include detailed testimonies of individuals involved. They usually don’t provide a lot of biographical information about our ancestors, however you could gather additional clues for more records. Pvt. Charles Billingsley, executed by the U.S. Army for deserting his company, reports that he had several aliases during his lifetime. These names could lead to further documentation of that person. The National Archives has court-martial records in different record groups. Union General Court-Martials from the Civil War era, originally filed in Record Group 153, Records of the Judge Advocate General (Army), have been microfilmed along with Navy Court-Martials from 1799-1867. While only a select collection of proceedings have been microfilmed, Army court-martials for 1890-1890 have a case no. index on microfilm. The best way to locate a series of interest is to research entries in the National Archives’ Online Catalog.

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 2.48.36 PM

Fig 2. General Court Martial Proceeding for Private Charles Billingsley.[2]

Francis B. Heitman’s Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army – is important to know if your ancestor who served in the army was volunteer or regular army, because the War Department did not compile service records like they did for volunteer soldiers. You have to search enlistment papers and without knowing the ancestor’s unit, you will have a hard time. Therefore, this publication is a great reference to locate basic information so you can have better success searching in NARA’s collection for the army. While Heitman's register is more useful for service information regarding officers, it is still an important source for accessing history of regular army regiments and battles. Both volumes have been microfilmed by NARA as publication M1858, but are also available on Internet Archive and Google Books. Other publications compiling service data for different branches of the armed forces, exist as well.

Congressional Serial Set – Have you considered using published U.S. government documents for genealogy? While not necessarily a starting place, records of congressional hearings and government documents can provide useful bits on your ancestor. Many congressional documents pertain to information on military personnel. Among the documents in the Congressional Serial Set are lists of pensioners that will include the name of the pension claimant (widow/next-of-kin), original claimant (soldier), soldier’s rank, date of allowance, and pension certificate number. Researchers can also find registers of soldiers, casualty/hospital lists, and annual reports from the Daughters of the American Revolution, which provide list of members, gravesites for Revolutionary War Soldiers, and a description of their service. Records of the first 14 sessions of Congress are called the American State Papers but still belong to the Congressional Serial Set. Library of Congress’s website “A Century of Lawmaking” has free copies of the American State Papers and the Serial Set up until the 64th Congress. The most complete online collection of the Serial Set in on ProQuest.


[1] Image Source: National Archives Catalog.

[2] Image Source: National Archives and Records Administration, Microfilm M1523, Proceedings Of U.S. Army Courts-Martial and Military Commissions of Union Soldiers Executed By U.S. Military Authorities, 1861-1866.


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).

10 Ways to Jumpstart Your Genealogy When it Stalls

The proverbial brick wall. We all hit it at one time or another. You've searched every single document you can think of but you simply can't get past a certain time period or event for an ancestor.

Maybe you can't find Grandmother Mabel on that 1850 census but you have her in 1860 and you know she is hiding somewhere!

Perhaps Great-grandfather James is keeping his Irish origins hidden and you can't go any further unless you can figure out where in Ireland you need to look!

That's when you need to jumpstart your genealogy research. You need fresh ideas, fresh eyes and you need to be rejuvenated.

Here are 10 Ways to Jumpstart Your Genealogy:

1. Revisit and review old research
Take out all your research on that brickwall ancestor. Go over it again. Read it carefully, analyze it, see if there are clues there you might have missed the first time around. I've written about my own reviews of old research and the new clues Ive found at Why Review Old Genealogy Research? and Everyone Makes Mistakes: Why You Should Review Your Research Notes 

2. Search siblings!

Remember that siblings share common ancestors. Even half-siblings share at least one parent. You may find that your ancestor’s brother or sister’s obituary has the information you have been seeking.

3. Search a different ancestor or family line

Sometimes it's time to set Grandmother Mabel aside for a bit and work on someone else. when you are ready to go back to the puzzle of Grandmother Mabel, you may find that fresh eyes will make all the difference in the world.

4. Find a genealogy buddy who will brainstorm with you 
I always brainstorm with my husband when I have a challenging genealogy mystery. It's beneficial to have someone approach the mystery with a different outlook. Often that person comes up with something that you didn't think of.

5. Make a chronological timeline of your ancestor's life events.
This is one of the most helpful ways to organize your thoughts and see at a glance where the holes are in your research. Making a timeline for one of my husband's challenging ancestors I noted that I had his baptism record, immigration record, marriage record, births of children, death of his wife and then his death.

However I did not have a record of land he might have purchased or rented and that sent me off a hunt for those records. To my surprise there was mention of him selling his land to his wife for $1.00 then buying it back two years later. That in turn led me to think about what happened in those two years? Why had he sold the land and then bought it back? Long story short, eventually I found out he had gone to jail in that time.

6. Look for alternate or obscure records. There may be tax records, or perhaps you can find a coffin plate at for an ancestor. Try finding a funeral card at or a medical record.


Coffin plate in collection of Brian L. Massey, published with permission
Coffin plate in collection of Brian L. Massey, published with permission


7. Search newspapers for mention of an ancestor. I found a brief notice in a local newspaper for my great-grandfather Alexander McGinnis, stating he had been sent to jail for selling liquor without a licence!

8. Talk to family members. Someone, somewhere, might have that tidbit of information you need. My husband and I searched for years for the baptism of his great-grandfather. What we didn’t know was that he was Catholic so we were searching in the wrong church records. One day my husband’s grandmother casually mentioned that her mother used to sprinkle holy water on her during thunderstorms! Bingo! I knew we had to look in Catholic records.


ID-DNA green purple

9. Take a DNA test. DNA will match you with others who share a common ancestor. You will have to work to discover the link but many new discoveries can, and do, occur when you have your DNA tested. See DNA Genealogy - Choosing DNA Groups to Join for help if you have not yet had your DNA tested

10. Take a break
Yep that's right. Sometimes it's time to say "Enough!". Put your genealogy aside and go for a walk, or out for lunch with friends, or to a movie. Do something relaxing such as read a book, or visit a museum....  do something completely different and you may find yourself coming back to your research in a better mood and with new ideas.

For more ideas on breaking down brick walls see Ten Brick Wall Tips for Beginners and Ten Brick Wall Tips for Intermediate Researchers in the Legacy Family Tree Webinars 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.

Try This Fun Genealogy Cemetery Hunt for Children

A few years ago my two eldest grandchildren ages 6 and 8 came for their annual weeklong visit. Every summer they stay with me for a week and every summer I create various genealogy games and activities for us to enjoy.

I was desperate for a new genealogy activity and decided I would take them on a hunt through a local cemetery for the grave of my great-grandmother's brother.

I figured they'd be fascinated by the hunt for half an hour tops but it would help fill the time, so I set up a Genealogy Game for them that I called The Cemetery Hunt.

I gave each grandchild a large piece of paper with the surname of the ancestor we were hunting for – Vollick.  I also added her married name of Krull so they now had two names they could look for. I explained, with a brief outline and a chart, the family relationship. They learned that Sarena Vollick, the woman we were looking for, was actually their great-great-grand-aunt, but they could think of her as their second great grandmother’s sister.

Vollick Sarena Photo

Photo of Sarena Vollick Krull

I showed them a picture of Sarena because I wanted them to understand that the stone was marking the final resting place of someone who once lived, laughed, loved, cried, experienced all the emotions we feel, and that she had been very real.

We talked about respecting the graves and gravestones of those buried in the cemetery and the manners one should use in a cemetery – not screaming and shouting, being respectful, not stepping on graves, not disturbing flowers or items left on gravestones and so on. Then I made a lunch and had them choose cookies to share in a picnic we would have in the cemetery and we set out.

I knew that with my physical issues I would not be able to keep up with them, and I was fairly certain they would each want to go in different directions in order to be the “winner”. One very important rule I stressed was that they had to be able to see me at all times. I didn't make the mistake of saying that I had to be able to see them, because of course that can be argued! ("Gee grandma I THOUGHT you could see me even if I went further down the path.....") No child can claim they could still see you if they turned a corner or were behind a tree.

We walked together for awhile, planning strategies – would they simply race around haphazardly or would they follow each row of gravestones to be sure none were missed? I let them decide how to begin but I wanted to give them the idea that planning before doing can often pay off. Off they went! They loved this game more than I could have imagined. Two hours later they were still walking around the stones, reading every single one out loud and running back to ask me questions. They were fascinated by the ages of some of those who were buried there, particularly the children. They wanted to know the stories of the military men whose stones they found, and if I didn’t know the personal story, they asked me about the war the man was in.

This gave us so many opportunities for learning such as math skills in figuring out ages of those buried by using birth and death dates on the stones, reading, history lessons about wars and epidemics, and talking about young children dying more frequently in the 1800s than now, and of course it was a wonderful bonding time.

LFT Krull Sarena Vollick
We finished the day with our picnic on a park bench in the cemetery, then more hunting where they were thrilled to eventually find Sarena Vollick’s gravestone. Then off we went home, having spent an entire afternoon in the Cemetery.

Cemetery-Hunt 640x480

The next day they asked me if we could go on another Cemetery Hunt! All in all it was a very successful Genealogy "game".

One of the questions they asked was why some of the gravestones were partially hidden by overgrown grass, and very dirty so on Day 2 I gave each of them a tiny soft brush to brush off any dirt and leaves and we returned for another half-day of bonding and genealogy fun.

Feel free to use my idea to have some fun with your children or grandchildren this summer!

Image credits: All photos are from Lorine McGinnis Schulze


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.

Find Ancestors' Immigration in New York Almshouse Records

NY Almshouse Records


In the early 1800s port cities in the United States bore the burdens of immigration. By the time immigrants arrived from their native country, many were tired, hungry, and poor. Many newly arrived immigrants ended up in the City Almshouse or Poorhouse. This meant the citizens of their new country had to take care of them.

At first citizens of port cities such as Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York asked their Mayors for funds to support the poor. Eventually they asked the states, and by mid-century some states set up state agencies to deal with the issue. Eventually, beginning in the 1880's, the Federal Government nationalized the programs.

Dating back to the colonial era, New York City assumed responsibility for its citizens who were destitute, sick, homeless, or otherwise unable to care for themselves. The city maintained an almshouse (sometimes labeled a house of refuge), various hospitals, and a workhouse on Blackwell's Island (now called Roosevelt Island) to care for the poor. Some were admitted on a voluntary basis, others were sent by the local courts.

There are many women in these records. Widows or single women with no families to support them often had no recourse except to ask the city for help for themselves or their children. Abandoned children are also found in these records.

These Almshouse records are a genealogist’s treasure and often contain immigration details. Some contain basic information on each person admitted, such as the name of ship, the date of arrival in USA and the port of arrival. Others contain much more information.

House of Refuge, Randall's Island, New York 1853
House of Refuge, Randall's Island, New York 1853

Almshouse records for New York City exist from 1758 to 1953. Olive Tree Genealogy has an ongoing project to transcribe and publish all New York Almshouse Records that contain immigration information.

Project Number One

The first set of New York Almshouse admittance records is for the years 1782 to 1813.

New York Almshouse Records 1782-1813. Records contain name of ancestor, date admitted, age, where from or born, complaint [illness], discharged, died, remarks.

Project Number Two

This set of New York Almshouse Admissions covers the years 1819-1840 and includes Name, Age, Place of birth, Ship Name, Where the person is from, Ship Captain's Name, Date of Bond, Sureties, Date Discharged, Death Date, Remarks, etc. Remarks often include genealogical details of the indigent person.

For example, under date 1820 March 11 Elizabeth Kennedy age 34 is listed as having died June 14, 1820; her daughter Mary Ann died Nov. 5, 1820

Researchers can use the clues in the Almshouse records (admission date, ship captain's name, owner's name, etc) as well as census records, to narrow the time frame of arrival. Families with children born in one country, such as England, and then in New York will find it much easier to narrow the time frame of immigration.

Project Number Three

The third set of Almshouse admission records for New York city is for 1855-1858 and contains the following information: Name, age, country of origin, date of arrival, arrival port, departure port, name of ship, captain of ship, married or single, name of someone who knows them, how many times they have been on the island, and a section for remarks. The remarks field often contains the date of discharge from the Almshouse.


Left side of Almshouse admission book 1855
Left side of Almshouse admission book 1855


Right side of Almshouse admission book 1855
Right side of Almshouse admission book 1855

Other New York Almshouse Resources

There are 30 sets of Almshouse records for New York City that are available on microfilm through FamilySearch.

 For New England poor records see "Looking After the Poor: Finding Your Ancestors in New England Poverty Records" in the Legacy Family Tree 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.

Image Credits:

Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. "House Of Refuge, Randall'S Island." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1853.

Left and Right side of pages from Admission Book copied by Lorine McGinnis Schulze from microfilm.


A Grave Mistake - Even if it's Written in Stone it Could be Wrong

A Grave Mistake - Even if it's Written in Stone it Could be Wrong

This is my great-grandfather Alexander McGinnis' tombstone in Crown Cemetery, near Morriston, Ontario. You can see that his date of birth is 1844. My uncle took me to this cemetery when I was starting my research into my father's family tree. After seeing the tombstone, I copied the information inscribed and dutifully entered 1844 into my genealogy program as Alex's date of birth.

McGinnis Alex Cemetery Tombstone
Photo by Lorine McGinnis Schulze

Then I searched census records for Alex, and the more I found, the more discrepancies were revealed. Each census recorded him with a variety of ages that of course resulted in an equal variety of estimated years of birth.

* In 1861 his age was recorded as 12, giving him a year of birth of circa 1849
* In 1871 his age was recorded as 23, giving him a year of birth of circa 1848
* In 1881 his age was recorded as 30, giving him a year of birth of circa 1851
* In 1891 his age was recorded as 41, giving him a year of birth of circa 1850
* In 1901 his age was recorded as 43, giving him a year of birth of circa 1857
* In 1911 his age was recorded as 62, and the record year of birth was 1848

I knew the questions asked about an individual’s age varied on different census years. That meant that different questions, such as what was the individual's age at last birthday, at next birthday, or right now, would result in an age range of a few years.

Alex's years of birth, except for 1901 census, were fairly consistently showing his date of birth to be between 1848 and 1851. But that was quite different from the 1844 date of birth shown on his tombstone!

I decided to find his marriage record. But that was no help either. At his marriage in September 1876 he gave his age as 22. That put his year of birth at circa 1854. Surely he knew how old he was, or so I reasoned at the time. So perhaps the 1854-year was most accurate. But what about that tombstone?

I eventually discovered that his eldest daughter Mary had paid for his stone and had it engraved. My uncle had also questioned the year of birth on Alex's tombstone but apparently Aunt Mary had always insisted that she celebrated her father's birthday every year and thus she certainly knew how old he was, therefore she knew when he was born.

Alex and his family were Roman Catholic. I knew what church the family attended but the records of that church were not available to the public nor were they microfilmed. Then came a bit of luck. A few years ago the church began offering a research service. For a reasonable fee the church secretary would look through the original church books for a record.

I sent a request for the baptism of Alex, and soon received a copy in the mail. He was baptised on 3 February 1850 but born on 3 November 1849. His tombstone, erected by his daughter, was out by five years.

McGINNIS Baptism Alex 1850
Baptism of Alexander from Church of our Lady, Guelph, Ontario

So why the discrepancies? Why did Alex not give his correct age when he married in 1876? He was actually 27 years old that year, so why did he say he was 22? The census years were fairly close to his correct year of birth so obviously he knew his age. It is not uncommon to find that an ancestor might not his or her exact age but Alex appeared to know his (except for the 1901 census)

Then I realized that the marriage registrations are copies of what was sent in by the minister. So the original entry may indeed have read "27" but the "7" could have been misread as a "2" resulting in the incorrect age of 22 for Alex.

So everything can be explained except for the 1901 census record and the tombstone inscription. But can we explain the census record? Yes. We do not know who gave the information to the census taker. In 1901 Alex lived with his sister, her husband and daughter, and his mother who was in her late 70s. Depending who the census taker spoke to, the age given for Alex could be quite incorrect.

That brings us back to the original culprit - that darned tombstone. Aunt Mary was 60 when her father Alex died. She thought he was 91. In reality he was 87. Was she confused? Had she never known her father's real age? Or did Alex tell his family his wrong age as he reached his 80s?

My mother did that. She turned 92 in 2006, but for two years prior to that birthday she had been adding a year or two on to her real age. In July 2006 she told everyone at a family reunion that she was 93 and would be 94 on her birthday in September. So she added two years to her real age. She was as sharp as a tack so I still have no idea why she fibbed to make herself older. I'm the only one of my siblings who seems to know her actual age, my brothers and sister believe whatever she tells them. If they were to have a tombstone inscribed for her, it's almost guaranteed it would have the wrong year of birth.

And thus we have the moral of my story of a Grave Mistake - that even if it's written in stone it could be wrong.

If you'd like to learn more about cemetery records, watch any of the four classes on the topic in the Legacy 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.