3 Places To Search For Your Ancestor's Occupation

3 Places To Search For Your Ancestor's Occupation


We enjoy meeting new people, and we enjoy exchanging pleasantries and discovering common interests. Invariably the conversation will lead to inquiries into what we do for a living - our occupation, our job, our career. Often we identify ourselves by our career or our job title. What we do for a living says a lot about us.

What your ancestor did for a living says a lot about him or her, too. An ancestor's occupation provides a glimpse inside his/her life. That glimpse into your ancestor's life can lead to important genealogical clues for your research.

3 Places To Search For Your Ancestor's Occupation

Evidence of your ancestor's occupation can be found in a wide variety of records. Let's take a look at three types of records to get you started.

1. Census Records 

The U. S. census takers recorded an individual's occupation beginning in 1850. From 1850 - 1940 (latest released), read beyond an ancestor's name and see what occupation is listed.

1860 Census C S Howard1860 U.S. Census for C. S. Howard (Source: Ancestry.com)

U. S. based researchers will want to explore the special non-population census schedules created to provide more specific information on different aspects of the population. Examples of the special census schedules to check include:

  • Agricultural Schedule (1850 - 1880)
  • Industry or Manufacturer Schedule (1850 - 1880)
  • Mortality Schedule (1850-1880)

For non-U.S. based genealogy researchers, explore the census records for the country where your ancestor resided. What years were occupations recorded (if at all) for that area?

2. Passenger Lists

Ship passenger lists are another resource for finding your ancestor's occupation or profession. Not every passenger list will indicate a passenger's occupation. What information found recorded on passenger lists will vary.  

Below is a portion of the 20 Apr 1905 passenger list for the S.S. Caronia arriving in New York from Liverpool, England. Notice the column for the passenger's occupation. 

Sample-ship-passenger-list120 Apr 1905 Passenger List S. S. Caronia (Source: Ancestry.com)

Examples of occupations included servant, laborer, and engineer.

3. Directories

Many genealogy researchers only think  of searching the city directory when tracking down an ancestor. City directories are also excellent potential resources for finding an ancestor's occupation listed. A business address may potentially be listed as well. Learn how to use city directories in this article.

Occupational-based or trade directories are often overlooked in our search for find out what our ancestor did for a living. An occupational-based directory is simply a directory of individuals working or participating in a specific occupation. These may be local, regional, national or international in scope. 

Was your ancestor a teacher? Check out the New York Teachers Association Members, 1888. Was your ancestor a musician?  Check out the Midwest Musicians' and Allied Artist' Directory for 1925.  This one even has photographs of its members! For the U.S. based research, the United States Online Historical Directories is a great resource for directories.

Bonus Resource - Jail or Prison Records!

Was your ancestor on the wrong side of the law? Was he/she in jail or prison? You can find inmates listed census records. If you do, check for those records! Jail records have a surprising amount of information on your ancestor.

Jail Record Charles Miller1866 Sing Sing Prison Admission Record for Charles Miller (Source: Ancestry.com)

Take a look at the 1866 Sing Sing Prison admission record for Charles Miller. Charles was 22 year old and born in Centerville, Ohio. He was married and his wife lived at 13 Mulberry Street, New York. Charles lived at 30 Bowery Station at the time of his arrest. We find a detailed physical description of him including that his mouth inclined a little to the left. He could read and write, he was a protestant, a moderate drinker and a blacksmith! 

Just note that access to jail or prison records will vary state by state and country by country if you research outside the U.S.  

As you begin research into your ancestor's occupation, do not be surprised if you come across an occupation you do not recognize. Lists such as Old English Census Occupations and Occupations and Trades of the Eighteenth Century can be helpful in learning about an occupation that no longer exists or goes by a more modern title.

Learn more about your ancestor(s) through their occupation. Add details to their stories through their occupations and use those occupations to find new clues in your next research steps! 


Lisa Lisson is the writer, educator and genealogy researcher behind Are You My Cousin? and believes researching your genealogy does not have to be overwhelming. All you need is a solid plan, a genealogy toolbox and the knowledge to use those tools. Lisa can be found online at LisaLisson.com , Facebook and Pinterest


4 Places to Search for Clues for Maiden Names

4 Places to Search  for Clues for Maiden Names

Researching our female ancestors can be a challenge!

Early laws and traditions meant females did not generate many of their own records.

Names changed upon marriage and multiple marriages meant multiple surnames. Determining your ancestor's maiden name can be especially difficult. 

Often we need to take our focus off of our female ancestor and place that focus on the people around her. Shifting your focus can lead to clues about that elusive female ancestor and her maiden name.

4 Places to Search For Clues to the Maiden Name of Your Female Ancestors

1. Check the Marriage Record

Yes, checking the marriage record is an obvious first step, but did you glean all the clues important to your search? If a marriage is a second marriage, her married name may be the one listed on the document - not her maiden name. In this case, look closely at all of the names on the document. Identify each person and their relationship to the couple. Close family friends of both the bride and the groom often served as witnesses. Potentially, a male relative of the bride can be found providing the researcher with a new research path.

Holt Haley Marriage photoWedding Photo of Clara Holt and William Haley - 1883

2. Research a Female Ancestor's Death Certificate (or Death Record)

Death certificates in the U.S. are relatively "modern" genealogy record. Most states did not begin using a formal death certificate until the 1900's. Death certificates did (and still do) ask for the deceased's parents' names including the mother's maiden name.

If the maiden name is not listed, take a close look at the informant's name. The informant is often someone related to the deceased and could be a brother, uncle, etc. Determine the relationship of the informant to the deceased and research this person if warranted.

3. Explore a Female Ancestor's Children

A woman can be found in her children's records. Tip:  Thoroughly research ALL of a woman's children.

Check each child's death certificate or death record for the mother's maiden name. For example, a search for the maiden name of Harriet Richardson (wife of Daniel T. Richardson), can include analyzing the death certificate of the couple's daughter Esther Richardson Talbott. Harriet Richardson's maiden name is revealed as Elliott.

Example of Mother's Maiden Name State on Death Certificate (Source: Ancestry.com)

Explore the middle names of a woman's children. In the U.S., using a mother's maiden name for a child's middle name was (and still is) a common practice.  If you are researching outside the U.S. or within a specific ethnic group, learn the common naming patterns. You will then be able to pick out maiden name clues if they exist.

4. Analyze Your Ancestor's Census Record

Census records are not typically a place we search for a woman's maiden name. Clues to a maiden name do exist within these records, but can easily be overlooked.

Once you find your married female ancestor in a census record, look closely at the members of the household. Are one or both of her elderly parents living in the home? A brother and/or an unmarried sister perhaps? 

Alternatively, look at the neighbors. Do you find any potential candidates for her parents? Is anyone about the right age to be her parents living close?  Anyone with a surname that appears as one of her children's names? Research those individual's records for potential clues to your ancestor.

Finding a female ancestor's maiden name is frequently not an easy or quick task. Researchers can easily miss clues to her name in the records.  Shifting the focus of your research to those individuals surrounding your female ancestor can provide the researcher with clues to continue the search.


Learn more about Finding Females in these seven Legacy webinars.


Lisa Lisson is the writer, educator and genealogy researcher behind Are You My Cousin? and believes researching your genealogy does not have to be overwhelming. All you need is a solid plan, a genealogy toolbox and the knowledge to use those tools. Lisa can be found online at LisaLisson.com , Facebook and Pinterest


Genealogy + Yelp = A Surprisingly Good Combination

Genealogy + Yelp = A Surprisingly Good Combination

Are you familiar with Yelp?

Yelp is a free local search program that helps the user find eateries, entertainment and home services in a specific area. When traveling or just looking for a new place to eat with my family, Yelp is the go-to app on my phone. 

But, can Yelp be used for genealogy research purposes? Absolutely!

Why You Want To Use Yelp for Genealogy Purposes

  • If you are planning a genealogy research trip, use Yelp to find unique repositories in your specified area.
  • If you find yourself unexpectedly in an area, use Yelp to see what genealogy repositories or research sites are close by and open.  
  • Use Yelp to find libraries, cemeteries, local museums, local archives and even genealogical societies.
  • Use Yelp to find local restaurants or coffee shops. After all, a researcher has to eat and researchers do not like to wander too far from a repository!

Yelp can be accessed either from your laptop or from the free app available for your smartphone. Tip: Install the Yelp app on your phone for on-the-go research.

Let's Take A Closer Look At Yelp 

1.Navigate to Yelp.com or open the Yelp app on your phone.  (Find directions to download the free app here.)

2.Type in your search terms.

For our example, we will be searching Portland, OR for genealogy resources. 


 Tip: Try searching  "genealogy" and "family history". The search term "genealogy" seems to consistently yield more results than "family history" for U.S based searches. In United Kingdom searches, "family history" yielded more results.

Our search results yielded 4 potential genealogy research repositories to explore. Notice results include libraries, cultural or community centers AND a genealogy society(!). 


3.To learn more about a repository or library, simply click the entry. Clicking the first result for The Genealogical Forum of Oregon brings the user to the Yelp entry for the group.


On the left side is the basic information of address, phone number, link for directions and the website for The Genealogical Forum of Oregon. Click the website link to learn even more about this entry.

GFO Genealogical Forum of Oregon

Ready to make a visit? Back on the Yelp results page, click "Get Directions" and you are ready to be off.

4. Find insider tips about a repository and genealogy research by finding User Reviews found underneath a repository's entry.  Be sure and leave your own review, too!


Now it's your turn. Explore Yelp with your own examples.

Search for  local "museums" or "historical sites" in your area of interest to learn more about the social context of the time and place your ancestor lived. 

(And when you get hungry....fine local eateries in the area.)



Lisa Lisson is the writer, educator and genealogy researcher behind Are You My Cousin? and believes researching your genealogy does not have to be overwhelming. All you need is a solid plan, a genealogy toolbox and the knowledge to use those tools. Lisa can be found online at LisaLisson.com , Facebook and Pinterest

3 Tips To Fine Tune Your Census Research

3 Tips To Fine Tune Your Census Research

Census  records are some of the first genealogy records  researchers use to begin tracing their ancestors. Tracking an ancestor through the years and generations is exciting and often yields quick results. Once we find an ancestor on one census record, we tend to proceed quickly to the next census record and the next.

Eventually, we can go no further in our census research and are left to wonder - "Now what?"

In our excitement of discovering our ancestors,  we miss vital clues in the census records leading to other helpful records.

3 Tips to Fine Tune Your Census Research

The examples in these tips are based on U. S. census research. However, the tips themselves are applicable to all census research regardless of the country.

Tip #1 - Read and make note of information under every column heading.

Each census recorded different information. Later census records can contain quite a bit of detail on our ancestors. Beyond an individual's name, age or birth date make note of things such as:

  • Is a land value listed?  If so, this indicates your ancestor owned land.  Pursue land records for your ancestor. 

    1870 Pennsylvania Census - Land Value
    1870 US Census (Source: Ancestry.com)
  • Is the indicated marriage a second marriage? If so, expand your research for previous marriages. Typically, a first or second marriage is not indicated, but I have found enough instances in my personal genealogy research to make sure I check.
  • Is an individual's occupation listed? Knowing an ancestor was a factory worker can differentiate him from someone of the same name who was a photographer in other records. 

Tip #2 - Study the individual household and determine if the information recorded in the census makes sense. 

  • Consider a family with a husband, wife and four children. Look carefully at the ages/birth dates and the marriage date (if provided). Are the ages of each child appropriate to be the children of the wife listed? Or do the ages of some of the children pre-date the couple's marriage date?  This could indicate the named wife is a second wife and a need for further research into the marriage records is warranted.
  • Do all of the individuals in the household have the same surname? If not, consider the question "Why not?." Research into each of the individuals to determine the relationship to the head of the household is warranted. Clearly defining the individuals in the household can potentially reveal collateral ancestors important to your future research.

Tip #3 - Use that census records to learn more about your ancestor's community.

To break down genealogy brick walls and progress our research, genealogy researchers must  understand the community where our ancestors lived. 

  • Once you find your ancestor in the census, read the census record 4-5 pages prior to the entry and 4-5 pages after the entry. Consider who was living close. Do you recognize the surnames of collateral ancestors or ancestors of the same surname? Take a look at the birth place column. do you see a common migration pattern from a certain state or country?  You could be looking at a group or chain migration of individuals. If so, look into the history of the town or county further to narrow down an area to research.
  • The occupation column mentioned above can hold clues to the lives of a community's residents. Is there a "popular" or common occupation among the community's residents? Determine if that occupation created records benefiting your research.  For example, did you ancestor work for the railroad? Check for railroad company records.  
    Railroad Record
    Example of a California Railroad Employment Record (Source: Ancestry.com)

Find an in-depth look of the 1910 U.S. census in What Is The 1910 Census Telling You About Your Ancestor?

Spend time in the census records this week.  Take your time. 

What might you have missed in your previous research?

Learn even more from the many census classes in the Legacy Library!


Lisa Lisson is the writer, educator and genealogy researcher behind Are You My Cousin? and believes researching your genealogy does not have to be overwhelming. All you need is a solid plan, a genealogy toolbox and the knowledge to use those tools. Lisa can be found online at LisaLisson.com , Facebook and Pinterest


Tapping Into MyHeritage's Community To Advance Your Genealogy Research

Many think of genealogy research as a solitary activity. Often we are researching on our own, but sometimes we need  a bit of help.  We need help with transcribing or translating a record.  We need help locating resources or a quick look up in a repository we cannot visit. We need a community of researchers!

Whatever our need,  the genealogy community is a generous one! 

Tapping into the MyHeritage Community

Israel Lisson ( 1856 - 1917) and his wife Dora Lisson (1863 - 1930) have been on my genealogy to-do list for quite some time. Israel and Dora Lisson immigrated as Jewish immigrants from Russia in the late 1880's and early 1890's and settled in Rochester, New York. As a genealogy researcher, I have been able to document their lives here in America.

As happens to most (if not all!) genealogy researchers, I eventually hit a brick wall in my research of the couple. I was unable to determine the parents of either Israel or Dora. My research into the Lisson family stalled here for quite a while. 

Recently, I returned to my research and picked up the trail again when I found the photograph below on FindAGrave.com.

Israel Lisson Tombstone

Israel & Dora Lisson, Britton Road Cemetery, Greece, NY (Source: FindAGrave used with permission)

This is great information for the researcher, but..... the back of the tombstone is where even more information was to be found. (You do check the back of your ancestors' tombstones, don't you?!)

Israel Lisson Tombstone - Back

(Back) Israel & Dora Lisson, Britton Road Cemetery, Greece, NY (Source: FindAGrave used with permission)

The back of the tombstone was engraved in Hebrew, and unfortunately, I do not speak or read Hebrew.  I needed help to translate the back of the tombstone.

I turned to the community section of MyHeritage. 


Source: MyHeritage

I uploaded the photograph of Israel and Dorothy's tombstone and inquired if anyone could translate the words on the stone. Within a few days, I had two  gracious genealogy researchers responded with the translation of the stone.

And here's the exciting part......

In the Jewish tradition on gravestones, the Hebrew side gave the names of Israel's father and Dora's father!


Reply to Translation Request at MyHeritage

The MyHeritage Community quickly and generously assisted me in the Lisson research. I can now pick up the trail and move forward in my research of  the Lisson ancestors.

Take Away For Your Research

Reach out to genealogy communities with your research questions as well as your genealogy answers to others' questions.

You can find active communities such as the MyHeritage Community on the major genealogy websites. Local genealogical societies often have active communities you can reach out to for help. Check locally where you live, and also, where your ancestors lived.

Note:  Photographs of the tombstones are used with permission of Sandi (Grimm) Enright, FindAGrave contributor.

Learn more about MyHeritage through the many free MyHeritage series webinars!


Lisa Lisson is the writer, educator and genealogy researcher behind Are You My Cousin? and believes researching your genealogy does not have to be overwhelming. All you need is a solid plan, a genealogy toolbox and the knowledge to use those tools. Lisa can be found online at LisaLisson.com , Facebook and Pinterest

Finding & Using Maps in Your Genealogy Research

Finding & Using Maps in Your Genealogy Research

I recently had an interesting conversation with a long time genealogy researcher in the foothills of North Carolina. Her family has been in the area for generations, and she knows that area - its people and its history. By this, I mean she really knows the area.

At one point in our conversation she said, "Look at the map. Maps tell the story of a person." She was right.

Maps tell us where an ancestor lived.

Maps can show migration patterns.

Maps give us clues to an ancestor's occupation.

Historical maps can show locations of towns no longer in existence.

Maps help researchers view the world through an ancestor's eyes.

Type Of Maps

Most genealogy researchers are familiar with city street maps and land ownership maps, but a variety of maps are beneficial to the genealogy researcher. Maps were created for specific reasons, and as a researcher you must understand the purpose of the map you are researching. By understanding why a map was created and its purpose, you will not miss valuable clues for your research.

Consider exploring these types of maps:

  • City, county and state/province maps - Document roads, communities and/or neighborhoods indicated. 
  • Land ownership maps - Created to show who owned land in a specific area.
  • Fire Insurance maps - Created for insurance companies to assess the risk of fire liability of buildings in more urban areas.  
  • Topographical maps - Show natural and man-made structures in an area such as hills, rivers, lakes, mountains (and mountain passes). These features impacted how our ancestors traveled.
  • Railroad maps - Document railroad routes and showed preferred routes as they changed over time. 
  • Wagon trail maps - Wagon trail maps indicate western migration routes across the U.S.  One example is the Oregon Trail. Towns along the trail are listed and potential places your ancestors may have stayed or even settled. 
  • Military maps - Document an area before and/or during a war. Often include terrain, houses (sometimes homeowners may be listed!), roads, and bridges.  

Just where do you find maps to use in your genealogy research? A number of resources exist. These are 6 great places to start your map research and begin putting your ancestors, well...on the map.

6  Resources For Finding Historic Maps

1. The Dave Rumsey Map Collection - A large collection of historic maps from around the world. Especially helpful to genealogy researchers is the Georeferencer feature which allows you to overlay a historic map over a modern map to make comparisons.

2. Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records (U. S.) - General Land Office records encompass images of over 5 million land titles  including images of survey plats and field notes. 

3. Google Maps - Most everyone is familiar with Google Maps, but may not be using this resource for genealogy purposes. Use Google Maps to find modern day locations of your ancestors. The street view allows you to explore the area as it looks today.

4. University Libraries - Libraries at major colleges and universities are great places to explore for historic map collections. Many collections have maps outside of their area or location. One example is the University of Alabama Libraries Map Collection. While many maps are focused on Alabama, the collection contains maps from around the world as well as special topic maps. 

5. ArchiveGrid - ArchiveGrid is a finding aid for historical documents, family histories, personal papers and more stored in archival institutions. 


6. Fire Insurance Maps - Created to be used by insurance companies, the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps are detailed maps of residential, commercial and industrial areas of cities and towns in the United States. Other countries also created fire insurance maps as well. For example, find British fire insurance maps online at the British Library. Begin your search for fire insurance maps for other countries by conducting a search using search terms "fire insurance maps" + "[insert your country of research]". 

Sanborn-mapSanborn Map of Springfield, Missouri

Tips When Starting Your Map Research

  • Make note of the year the map was made and familiarize yourself with the description of the map. Understanding what the map shows and does not show first will save researcher time.
  • Check if an overlay feature is available. Being able to superimpose a historical map on top of a current day map provides perspective on an ancestor's location.

Now it's your turn!

Explore maps of the locations of your ancestors and see the world through your ancestor's eyes!

Learn even more about Maps from the Legacy library!


Lisa Lisson is the writer, educator and genealogy researcher behind Are You My Cousin? and believes researching your genealogy does not have to be overwhelming. All you need is a solid plan, a genealogy toolbox and the knowledge to use those tools. Lisa can be found online at LisaLisson.com , Facebook and Pinterest

Help! I Can't Find My Ancestor's Death Date

Help! I Can't Find My Ancestor's Death Date

One of the most common genealogy questions I am asked involves how to find an ancestor's date of death. Typically, genealogy researchers first think of searching for a death certificate.

What if your ancestor pre-dates the beginning use of a formal death certificate?  Then what?  What other options as a researcher do you have to find your ancestor's date of death?

Fortunately, genealogy researchers do have options for determining a date of death or a death year. 

Resources To Use When Searching For An Ancestor's Date of Death

Death Certificates

Death certificates are in reality a "new" record. Before beginning a search for a death certificate, check with the vital records office for the state or country where you are researching to determine when death certificates began being issued.  If your ancestor's death preceded these records, do not spend time looking for a record that did not exist. Move on to one of the other options below.



Thomas Maddox (1870-1928) gravestone
Photo courtesty of Lisa Lisson

Your ancestor's gravestone will usually have the birth and death dates. The full date or just the year may be listed. Keep in mind, while these dates are generally correct, errors in the engraving did occur. If the date does not match up with other information you have, continue your research for more evidence of the death date.

Will & Probate Records

Probate-sample-illinoisIllinois Probate Records (Source: Ancestry.com)

Your ancestor's will does not (usually) provide his/her actual date of death, but will provide valuable information in narrowing down a death date. For the date your ancestor signed the will, you know he/she was still living. For instance, if your ancestor signed his/her will on 11 Mar 1871, then he/she was alive on that date. 

Note the date the will was entered into probate.  For our example, we see the will was entered into the court for probate 18 May 1871. This ancestor's death occurred between 11 Mar 1871 and 18 May 1871. 

Mortality Schedules

Example of an  1870 U.S. Mortality Schedule (Source: Ancestry.com)

For U. S. researchers, the mortality schedules of the 1850-1880 census records provide information on individuals who died in the preceding 12 months of the census date. While a specific date will not be specified usually, an ancestor's appearance on a mortality schedule will narrow down a death date.


Obituaries can be found in local newspapers.  If your ancestor was a prominent citizen or politician, regional and state newspapers may also print an obituary or longer article. 

Do not neglect to check religious publications for an obituary as well.

Church Records

Church records offer a variety of genealogical information including information the death of congregants.  Check to see if your ancestor's church recorded a death or burial date.  Church histories, church rolls and newsletters may hold clues to an individual's death date. 

City Directories

See the recent Finding Genealogical Clues in City Directories post for using a city directory to narrow down an ancestor's death date.

Pension Records

1812-pension-david-hainesWar of 1812 Widow's Pension Application for widow of David Haines (Source: Fold3.com)

Pension records are another potential source to find your ancestor's death date. If your ancestor received a pension for military service, a notation is usually made when he died. Additionally, if his widow applied for a widow's pension, she had to prove their marriage and also, that her spouse was indeed deceased.

Family Records

While last in the list, a family's own personal records should not be discounted. In fact, these should be some of the first records you seek out as a researcher. Family records include the Family Bible, funeral cards tucked into a favorite book or box of mementos, and funeral guest books. Check for obituaries and newspaper articles tucked away.  

Look at the family photo album and check the back of photographs for any notations of a death date (or birth and marriage dates!).

Tip: Reach out to more distant relatives and researchers of collateral ancestors. Information on your line in the family may well be in their closet!

If you are unsure where to find an ancestor's death date, explore one of the options mentioned above.  In addition to determining your ancestor's death date, learn about Four Steps to Analyzing your Ancestor's Gravesite.

Learn more about cemeteries and cemetery records from these webinar in the Legacy library.


Lisa Lisson is the writer, educator and genealogy researcher behind Are You My Cousin? and believes researching your genealogy does not have to be overwhelming. All you need is a solid plan, a genealogy toolbox and the knowledge to use those tools. Lisa can be found online at LisaLisson.com , Facebook and Pinterest



4 Steps to Analyzing Your Ancestor's Grave Site

Finding where an ancestor is buried is high on most genealogy researchers' wish list. We not only want to know where an ancestor is buried, but what information can be discovered on the gravestone.

But I have to ask.....

Are you finding all of the possible clues your ancestor's final resting place is telling you?

Let's take a closer look at how to analyze an ancestor's grave site. 

Gravestone of Harriett Thomas
photo credit: Lisa Lisson

Step 1 - Engraved Information

Get the basics out of the way first. Look for the full name,  birth and death dates and any information on a potential spouse. For example, is your ancestor the "beloved husband of Sarah Smith?" Be sure to check the backside of the tombstone, too! 

Step 2 - Tombstone Symbols

The symbols on a tombstone can provide information and clues about your ancestor's life. For example, a cross can represent that the deceased is of the Christian faith.  The type of cross can be indicative of a specific denomination. 

A sampling of other tombstone symbols includes:

  • Clasped hands - represents God's welcome to heaven or a goodbye to an earthly existence
  • A lamb - indicates a child's grave
  • An olive branch - represents peace
  • A tree trunk - represents a life cut short
  • The square and the compass - represents membership in a Masonic Lodge
  • A tree stump or  a log - represents membership in the Woodmen of the World fraternal organization
  • Military symbols and gravestones- military gravestones will usually have a symbol of belief indicating the deceased's faith. Also the shape or design of a military tombstone can indicate  which war the deceased participated in.

This is just a small sampling of the types of symbols or design and what they represent. If you are unsure what a symbol on your ancestor's gravestone represents, a quick Google search of "cemetery symbolism" will yield many helpful sites. A great reference book on cemetery symbols is Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography by Douglas Keister.

Step 3 - Take a close look around 

Who is buried close to your ancestor? Is this a family plot? Could those buried beside or close by your ancestor be parents, children or siblings? Just as you research all individuals appearing in your ancestors records, research those individuals buried near by and determine if they are potential ancestors.

Cromwell White Gravestone Marker
photo credit: Lisa Lisson

Step 4 - Burial Location

Is your ancestor buried in a church cemetery? They may have been church members. Check that church for records! Is your ancestor buried in a  city or town cemetery? Then check for cemetery records possibly naming other family members or for a potential deed to the family plot. Is your ancestor buried "out in the middle of the woods"? This could potentially be the site of the family home place or family land. Check the deeds for the area.

Tip:  Always ask yourself "Why?" Why this location? Why this symbol(s)? Why in close proximity to these individuals?

For more information check out our Legacy Family Tree Webinars on cemetery research.

Still trying to find out where your ancestors are buried? Find 8 resources to check in How to Find Where Your Ancestors Are Buried.


Lisa Lisson is the writer, educator and genealogy researcher behind Are You My Cousin? and believes researching your genealogy does not have to be overwhelming. All you need is a solid plan, a genealogy toolbox and the knowledge to use those tools. Lisa can be found online at LisaLisson.com , Facebook and Pinterest

Finding Genealogical Clues in City Directories

Finding Genealogical Clues in City Directories

City directories are  an often underutilized resource in genealogy research.  Initially, researchers may think city directories refer to telephone directories, but telephone directories are  relatively "modern" directories. 

Early directories were created shortly after the Revolutionary War and were created for craftsmen and salesmen to be able to contact potential customers. 

Six (6) Reasons To Use City Directories In Your Genealogy Research

1. City Directories, which were created yearly, provide a way to track an ancestor year by year. When an ancestor appeared in an area and/or when an ancestor left can be tracked by their appearance/disappearance in the directory.

2. Directories are a great alternate resource for areas suffering significant county record loss.

3. An ancestor's wife's name are often included next to the husband's name. (This varies area to area over time.) In the 1917 Rochester, New York directory, a wife's first name was placed in parenthesis next to her husband's name.  

1917 Rochester, New York City Directory (Source: Ancestry.com)


4. Clues to an ancestor's death date can be narrowed down by the appearance of his widow. In this 1917 Rochester, New York example, Mary Little is identified as the widow of William Little. William Little died prior to 1917. Research into earlier directories can help narrow down William's death by tracking when he disappears and his widow Mary appears. 

1917 Rochester, New York City Directory (Source: Ancestry.com)

5. An ancestor's street address can be found.  Mrs. Lucy B. Armstrong of Columbus, OH in 1874 resided at 256 E. Rich. 

Columbus, Ohio City Directory, 1874 (Source: Ancestry.com)

6. An ancestor's occupation can be found listed. In the example below, the Salem [MA] Directory published in 1850 by Henry Whipple, occupations for individuals are listed. 

The 1850 Salem [MA] Directory (Source: Google Books)

Tip: If you ancestor lived in an area too small to have its own directory, check the nearest town that did have a directory. Smaller towns were sometimes included in a neighboring town's directory.

Don't Stop At The City Directories

City directories are only one type of directory that genealogy researchers can use. A variety of directories have been created over time and are useful in our research. 

Examples include:

  1. State Business Directories
  2. Mercantile and Professional Directories
  3. Church Directories
  4. Telephone Directories
  5. School Directories - These do not typically include students, but rather teachers, janitors and school board members and anyone associated with the running of a school or a school system. The 1883 Directory of Public Schools of the City of Harrisburg, PA is one such example.
  6. Alumni Directories
  7. Society Directories - The Numismatic Directory for 1884 lists names and addresses of coin collectors!

Where To Find City and Other Directories

Directories of all types can be found in a variety of places. The 7 places below are a good place to start.

  1. The Big Genealogy Databases: MyHeritage, FindMyPast, Ancestry.com
  2. WorldCat.org
  3. Local and University Libraries
  4. InternetArchive
  5. Google Books
  6. United States Online Historical Directories
  7. The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Take time to explore the directories for the location and the time period of your ancestors!


Lisa Sig Photo 200 x 200Lisa Lisson is the writer, educator and genealogy researcher behind Are You My Cousin? and believes researching your genealogy does not have to be overwhelming. All you need is a solid plan, a genealogy toolbox and the knowledge to use those tools. Specializing in southern US research and finding those elusive females, Lisa is passionate about helping others find resources and tools to confidently research their genealogy. Lisa can be found online at LisaLisson.com , Facebook and Pinterest

Beginning the Search for Your English Ancestors


You've done it!  You have traced your ancestors back to the immigrating ancestor and discovered (or confirmed) your ancestor immigrated from England. 

Now you are ready to begin your genealogy research in the English records.

Do you know what records for your English ancestors exist? What records should you look in first? Where are those records housed?

Let's explore where to start your English genealogy research.

Begin the Search for Your English Ancestors

As with any new-to-you records, take time prior to the start of your research to familiarize yourself with record collections. Know the answers to questions such as 

  • What time periods and locations do the records include?
  • What type of information does the record include?

Knowing answers to these questions ahead of time prevents you from wasting valuable research time searching for information that was not recorded or was lost over time.

English Census Records

Most genealogy researchers are familiar with census records making these a great place to start your research.

English census records began in 1841 and were taken every 10 years.  Census records actually began in 1801, but prior to the 1841 census, the census records did not include the names of the individuals. The 1911 census is the latest census accessible to the public.

Keep in mind as you explore the English census, an individual's age may be rounded down to the nearest "5". This practice of rounding an individual's age will be a new concept for US researchers as they begin the hunt for their English ancestors.  For example, in the 1841 census, a female aged 24 years will be listed as 20 years of age. Children less than 15 years of age are enumerated with their correct age. You'll find English Census records available on all the major subscription sites (see resource list at the bottom).

Civil Registrations

Remember the year 1837!

Civil registrations of births, marriages and deaths (BMD) began in 1837 resulting in a national index. If you find your ancestor in the civil registration index, you can then order a copy of the actual certificate.

England and Wales Birth Registration Index (Source: FamilySearch.org)


The England and Wales Birth, Death, and Marriage Registration Indices can be found on FamilySearch.org.

Parish Registers

If you are researching ancestors prior to 1837, turn to the parish records. Going back to their beginning in 1538, these can be a gold mine for the genealogy researcher.

Parish records were created and kept locally by the vicar recording baptisms, marriages and burials. Typically, parish records were kept chronological order. The tricky part of researching parish registers is knowing which parish your ancestor lived in and which county that parish was located in. Many parish registers have been indexed, transcribed or digitized. 

Beginning in 1598, copies of the parish register known as the bishop's transcripts were sent annually to the parish bishop. These make good substitutes for damaged or missing parish registers. If you fail to find your ancestor in the traditional parish records, check the bishop's transcripts.

Passenger Lists

Passenger lists are another resource to find your English ancestors. Genealogy researchers are both thrilled and frustrated by the variety of information found in these records. Earlier passenger lists may provide only minimal information on passengers, while later passenger lists can contain quite a bit of information on individual passengers. From example, the 1920's passenger lists out of the UK asked for the last known UK address!

1923 UK Passenger-List
1923 UK Passenger  List for the Aquitania (Source: FindMyPast.org, courtesy of The National Archives, London, England)


Resources For English Records

Watch this Legacy QuickTip video - English Resources in Legacy Family Tree

In this Legacy QuickTip:
- Recording Quarter dates for vital records in the United Kingdom
- Adding English timelines to the Chronology View
- English gazetteer links in Research Guidance

Resources for English records include:

Not sure where your American ancestor immigrated from? Find strategies for researching your immigrant ancestors in Where Did My Immigrant Ancestors Come From? 


Lisa Sig Photo 200 x 200Lisa Lisson is the writer, educator and genealogy researcher behind Are You My Cousin? and believes researching your genealogy does not have to be overwhelming. All you need is a solid plan, a genealogy toolbox and the knowledge to use those tools. Specializing in southern US research and finding those elusive females, Lisa is passionate about helping others find resources and tools to confidently research their genealogy. Lisa can be found online at LisaLisson.com , Facebook and Pinterest