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.

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.