A Suffrage Thanksgiving

A Suffrage Thanksgiving

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, granting American women the right to vote. However, some women already had the right to vote and had been doing so for decades prior to the 1920 federal amendment. One of those groups of women were the women of Wyoming.

Wyoming’s state motto is “Equal Rights,” reflecting their early granting of equal suffrage rights to women. (Some women in New Jersey voted much earlier in 1776 and continued to do so until 1807 when they were disenfranchised, and women in Utah were granted suffrage in 1870 but beat Wyoming women to the polls).

Food might seem irrelevant when we study suffrage, but actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Suffragists used food, cookbooks, and restaurants to spread their message of equal rights for women. Several cookbooks published by suffragists were used to spread the word and raise funds for the cause. One of these cookbooks, The Woman Suffrage Cookbook edited by Hattie A. Burr can be read for free on Google Books.

Wyoming cover

For Thanksgiving, I thought I would spotlight a suffrage cookbook published originally in 1965 to commemorate the centennial of suffrage in Wyoming. Cooking in Wyoming was published in multiple editions (I’m using the 3rd edition, published in 1969). The Wyoming State Archives’ blog Wyoming Postscripts writes of the original edition,

In 1965, First Lady Martha Close Hansen helped to compile a cookbook full of Wyoming family recipes for the 75th anniversary of statehood. This was a special anniversary for Wyoming as there were still many people living who had either seen the original statehood celebration or had heard about it from those who had lived it.[1]

What I love about this community cookbook is that it not only includes recipes but, many times, provides comments about those recipes. The following are a few Thanksgiving favorites for your recipe collection.

Looking for an appetizer idea? Here are some ideas for stuffed celery.

Wyoming celery

A roasted turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving show.

Wyoming turkey

And my favorite pie ( and the best pie) is pumpkin.

Wyoming pumpking pie


I have to show you one more recipe that made me laugh when I saw it. This is a great provenance for the evolution of this recipe.


Wyoming tomatoes


Happy Thanksgiving!

[1] “Friday Foodie: Governor’s Mansion Hollandaise Sauce,” Wyoming Postscripts (https://wyostatearchives.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/friday-foodie-governors-mansion-hollandaise-sauce/: accessed 18 November 2020).


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Baby Books Are More Than Just Memories

Recently the JSTOR Daily blog featured a post based about an academic study of baby books. The Long-Lost Ritual of Baby Books was a summary of an article by Janet Golden and Lynn Weiner titled Reading Baby Books: Medicine, Marketing, Money And The Lives Of American Infants which is a look at the history of baby books. The authors discuss reading baby books as history and that baby books not only record historical information but they include observations. Golder and Weiner write:

Situated between biographies - with their accounts of lives lived within particular historical contexts - and scrapbooks - with their displays of accumulated materials deliberately arrayed for presentation - baby books can be said to be like birder's notebooks. They record information, but also include personal observations. For historians they serve as records of individual experiences seen at close range and as field guides to nursery experiences as the entry pages change. Mothers (the writers of all the baby books we viewed) were clearly conscious of writing for themselves and for the children who would inherit the books.[1]

The authors remind the reader that “babies had a history” and that baby books are an often “neglected source” that should be examined.[2]

Home Sources

Reading the blog post and the article got me thinking of ignored home sources. Although baby books are a more recent source,they are not a common source. While I did find thousands of results from an ArchiveGrid search on “baby book” they are largely a home source. Not everyone's family kept a baby book and while you may not have access to a more recent ancestor's baby book, you may at least have you own.

Baby Book
From the collection of Gena Philibert-Ortega

Genealogical Mentions

Family history isn’t just about researching the dead. It’s also about documenting the living. A baby book can provide us some information and clues as we document our own lives. They also provide what genealogical sources often give us, they situate people in time and place.

Photo of a baby from a baby book
From the collection of Gena Philibert-Ortega


What can baby books hold for the family historian? A quick look at my baby book revealed:

  • Greeting cards from family and friends with notes
  • The newspaper from the day I was born
  • Newspaper notice of my birth
  • Names of visitors
  • Gifts and the names of those who gave them
  • Family tree with photos
  • Photographs from birth to 7 years.
  • Photographs of friends
  • Doctor visits and progress
  • Holiday and birthday celebrations

Besides learning that at 4 months old I drank soda and enjoyed traveling, I found signatures for my grandparents and great-grandparents, read my birth announcement, and learned a little more about my first years.

Detail from Baby Book
From the collection of Gena Philibert-Ortega

So what’s this got to do with genealogy? Our family history should include ourselves. We should not only “interview” ourselves but gather records, both official and the unofficial. Home sources whether they be photographs, scrapbooks, correspondence or baby books, help us to tell our story. They provide the chance to illustrate our story with images and to write about events that we don’t remember but are part of our lives.

Have you used a baby book for your genealogy? Do you have baby books for your parents or grandparents? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.


[1] The article is available at https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/41305376.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3Ad766d3bfc306c0c9b8897e7d74f2ab98

[2] “The Long-Lost Ritual of Baby Books,” JSTOR Daily (https://daily.jstor.org/the-long-lost-ritual-of-baby-books/: accessed 5 November 2020).


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Using Finding Aids to Discover Newspapers Around the World


You’re ready to do some newspaper research. Maybe you’re hoping to find mentions of an ancestor or you just need to add some historical context to their story. How do you find a historical digitized newspaper for a country you aren’t as familiar with? A finding aid might be the answer. 

What is a finding aid? In this case, it’s a resource to help you find websites and repositories with the newspapers you need. It’s an important first step in research especially when you are unfamiliar with the research in a particular place. Instead of going straight to a newspaper website, consider searching a finding aid first to learn more about what is available.

Here are a few resources to help you find historical newspapers worldwide. Remember the following websites don’t have the actual newspapers, they merely provide links to direct you to the website that does.

Cyndi's List

First things first. Cyndi’s List is most likely a familiar website no matter what your genealogical interest. Since 1996, Cyndi has indexed links to websites and today her website boasts over 300,000 genealogical related links. To find newspaper links on Cyndi's List, search for the country and then the category “newspapers.” Some examples include: 

FS Research Wiki

The FamilySearch Research Wiki is another must-see for trying to locate newspapers. Conduct a search for the place of interest and then you may find the category “newspapers” in the Records Type box. You can also conduct a search for the topic of newspapers (without a specific location) and find pages like Digital Historical Newspapers.

While FamilySearch does not have digitized newspapers they do have newspaper content that includes indexes and abstracts as well as some newspaper titles on microfilm.

Online Historical Newspapers

In the genealogy world there are so many people who work hard to uncover and share resources. Many times this is a volunteer effort and three such examples are:

On the Online Historical Newspapers website, you will find links to newspaper content for Australia, Ireland, Mexico, United Kingdom, and the United States. The Ancestor Hunt includes links for Australia, Canada, Europe, the Caribbean, and the US. CanGenealogy includes historical Canadian newspaper links by Province as well as other Candian genealogy links.

Wikipedia newspaper archives

Wikipedia is where you expect to find articles on a variety of topics. But it’s also a great resource find finding websites including newspaper archives. Wikipedia – List of Online Newspaper Archives is a list of online newspaper archives by country.

Newspapers are such an essential source for telling the story of your ancestor. Make sure to take some time to peruse newspaper finding aids to find the newspaper that will help you learn more about your family history.

You can watch my recent webinar "In Black and White: Finding Historical Newspapers From Around the World" on the Legacy website for FREE through Wednesday, November 4, 2020.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


She Was Just a Housewife…Except When She Wasn’t

She Was Just a Housewife…Except When She Wasn’t

Housewife…you see that word, or its related term "keeping house," describing women in the census and other records. But were women always housewives?

You may think that having two working parents is a modern-day necessity, but for most families, that necessity is historical. Women have always had to work to provide for their families. Only families who were well off financially could afford to have wives not engage in paid employment.

Virginia Penny (1826-1913) set out to do something no one had done before. She documented 19th century American women’s work. Her 1863 book, The Employments of Women: A Cyclopedia of Women’s Work (available on Google Books). This work follows her 1862 book, How women can make money married or single, in all branches of the arts and sciences, professions, trades, agricultural and mechanical pursuits. “Penny interviewed thousands of employers and workers in person and by mail-in survey questionnaires. From 1859 to 1861 in New York, she studied various occupations in which "women are, or may be engaged," ending up with 533 listings.”[1]

Virginia Penny documented women’s work for a time period that we incorrectly assume women didn’t work. However, the reality was that women needed to work. She writes in her preface,

I strongly advocate the plan of every female having a practical knowledge of some occupation by which to earn a livelihood. How do men fare that are raised without being fitted for any trade or profession, particularly those in the humbler walks of life? They become our most common and ill-paid laborers. So it is with women's work. If a female is not taught some regular occupation by which to earn a living, what can she do, when friends die, and she is without means? Even the labor that offers to men, situated as she is, is not at her disposal.

In the pages of her Cyclopedia are jobs and descriptions. These entries can help you better understand the time period and the jobs women held. Take, for example, this entry for coverlets where women employed by the interviewee appear to have some real advantages.


Some of the occupations described are all but unknown to us today, take for example, "bone collectors."

Bone collectors

The entry “Postmistresses” provides a look at why women worked. 

I called on Mrs. W., who was for nearly two years at the ladies' window in the general post office, New York. Very few approved of a lady being there. She found some advantages, but many disadvantages arising from her position. In the first place, it yielded her and her child support, the salary being $600.

Penny writes that in 1854 there were 128 postmistresses, and they received the same pay as the postmasters. Her descriptions of jobs include duties and salary and explore the treatment of women in that job.


What's the benefit of looking at an older book such as Virginia Penny's Cyclopedia? Contemporary information. We can better understand our ancestors when we look at materials written at the time they were alive. This work offers us a sense of what it was like to be a working woman in the mid to later part of the 19th century. And it gives us a sense of what was available to our female ancestors working and living in the United States. Using this, along with census data, newspapers, and archival records provide us with information that we can use to write a historical narrative.

In her dedication, Virginia Penny writes, “To Worthy and Industrious Women in the United States, Striving to Earn a Livelihood, this Book is Respectively Dedicated By The Author.” Virginia Penny was one of those women. Having worked as an economist conducting groundbreaking work in women's occupations, she later worked for the census bureau and was involved in the suffrage movement. Unfortunately, in her later years, she would be institutionalized by her brother and would die destitute in 1913. Virginia Penny knew the importance of women's work, and because of her, we can better understand what types of work 19th-century women, our female ancestors, engaged in.


[1] “Virginia Penny, economist and suffragist,” HNet (https://networks.h-net.org/node/2289/discussions/158064/virginia-penny-economist-and-suffragist: accessed 13 October 2020).


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Success in Finding More About Nell

In the last two weeks, I’ve written about research that left me with more questions than answers. One of my goals in doing so was to illustrate some steps and questions you could ask when you have a research project that begins with very little information. 

As you may remember from last week, I discovered through FamilySearch that Nell Howard Enloe was married to William Stewart Smith in 1926. That's why I couldn't find her in the 1940 U.S. Census; I was searching with the wrong surname (Enloe instead of Smith).

Now that we know that she was married in 1926 let's take a look at the 1930 U.S. Census. With the correct surname, I should be able to find her.

In 1930 Nell H. Smith was listed with her husband Stuart W. Smith, Jr living in Manhattan, New York. The census shows that she was born in Georgia and worked as an editorial reporter for a magazine.[1]

1930 census myheritage

You might recall that one of the documents I posted last week was dated 29 April 1930 that Angie Rodesky provided me listed Nell as the Household Editor of Pictorial Review, so it makes sense that her occupation in the census would be an editorial reporter at a magazine.

If we continue on with our census search, Stewart and Nell are also in the 1940 U.S. census. However, Stewart is listed as William, and Nell is listed without an occupation.[2]

1940 census myheritage

Newspaper research provides more clues to her job as a magazine editor/writer. Nell’s appearances on the radio focused on food and homemaking topics. This 1932 Boston Post article mentions such an appearance.[3] 

1932 Boston Post cropped

Nell was well-known in her day and even appeared in advertisements like this 1936 one for Jewel shortening.[4]

Jewel advertisments

The advertisement reads:

Nell Howard, Enloe, noted New York Cooking Authority. As a well-known radio Home Economics expert, former Food Editor of a leading women's magazine-The Pictorial Review, Miss Enloe is one of a group of Northern authorities whom Swift has asked to try Jewel, the Southern Special Blend Shortening. Miss Enloe tried if in some of her most famous recipes (yes, those at the right) and is much impressed with the results. Her report is summarized on this page: Jewel definitely improved her dishes in several specific ways.

How wonderful is that to find a photo of her?!

I could go on and on with information about Nell. Continued research in the census and vital records revealed that she was the daughter of Hoyt and Ellen Mooty Enloe. Though Nell was born in Georgia, her family had lived in Wedowee, Randolph, Alabama (remember that Wedowee was mentioned in the letter?).

So why did the letter to her mother and some occupational ephemera end up for sale? I'm not sure. Nell died in 1976, and her mother died in 1963. She had two sisters, one died more recently, in 2008, so maybe it was part of her sister's estate and was sold.

I have many more places to look to learn more about Nell, including additional newspaper and digitized book searches. Crowdsourcing this research by posting about it on the Legacy blog was possibly one of the best things that happened. And it's perhaps one of the most important lessons I want to leave you with.

Though we conduct most of our family history research alone in our homes, don't forget what other people can offer your research. I so appreciate those readers who provided additional research help like Mike Saunders, who found Nell and her parents in the 1900 U.S. Census and pointed out that she's also listed on FindAGrave.

Another reader, Hartford let me know that Nell is actually on his Legacy family tree and is his 5th cousin once removed! He writes:

Turns out I actually have Nellie in my Legacy tree! I hadn't recalled her name, but she is my 5th cousin once removed. I do not have her husband or any of her descendants in my tree (though thanks to you, this blog post, and the additional research I've now done on her, I will now add them), but I do have all her direct ancestors leading back to that first immigrant...as well as many other cousins, aunts, uncles, etc). Count me amazed and impressed!!

I don't know that I can be any specific assistance, but the "Enloe" surname is one I am very familiar with. My surname is "Inlow" and all variant spellings of that name (i.e. Enloe, Enlow, Inloe, Inlow, etc. etc...one researcher believes he identified over 25 variations!) trace ourselves back to the same common Dutch immigrant, Hendricks Enloos (also variously spelled!). Many branches of the line are fairly well researched and documented. I'll see if I can find anything about Nell Howard Enloe in any of the materials I've accumulated.

Yes, Hartford! I definitely want to connect with you and trade information.


[1] 1930 U.S. census, New York County, New York, population schedule, Enumeration District 1203, Township Manhattan (Districts 1001-1249) sheet 3-B, page 79, Nell H Smith in household of Stuart W Smith, Jr.; digital image by subscription MyHeritage, (https://www.myheritage.com/research/record-10134-215841309/nell-h-smith-in-1930-united-states-federal-census: accessed 8 October 2020); from National Archive microfilm T626, roll: 1548.

[2] 1940 U.S. census, Westchester County, New York, population schedule, Enumeration District 60-39, Township Eastchester Town, page: 5A, Nell Smith in household of William Smith; digital image by subscription MyHeritage (https://www.myheritage.com/research/record-10053-76912157/nell-smith-in-1940-united-states-federal-census: accessed 8 October 2020); from National Archives microfilm T0627, Roll: 2803.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



[3] The Boston Post. Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States. 7 February 1932, page 61. https://www.myheritage.com/research/record-10704-2391764/the-boston-post

[4] The Boston American. Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States. 7 June 1936, page 28. https://www.myheritage.com/research/record-10704-4954434/the-boston-american

How Do You Unravel a Genealogical Mystery?

How Do You Unravel a Genealogical Mystery?

Have you ever had this happen? You find a letter, a document, something of genealogical value. But you know very little about it. Now what? How do you analyze the information that it contains?

Take this letter for example. It was purchased with some other ephemera.[1] If I wanted to learn more about it, where would I start?

Nell Howard Enloe letter to mom


I would first want to read the letter to get a sense of what it's about. After an initial reading, it seems that the letter

  • is presumably to a family member (“Dear Mother”);
  • discusses the weather, everyday activities, food, gardening, visitors;
  • mentions other people (Stewart, Peter, Larry);
  • the writer lives in an apartment with no phone;
  • the writer works a job six-days-a-week until 5:30 pm;
  • is signed Nell Howard (possibly the recipient’s daughter but could be a daughter-in-law).

So what do we not know based on this letter?

  • What date the letter was written. Someone penciled in 1944 at the top left-hand side, and the letter has “Friday” typed on the right-hand side, but it's not clear when and by whom 1944 was penciled in nor what month/day. However, the letter writer does refer to "this summer," so it may have been written during the summer months.
  • It’s apparent that 1944 might be possible for the year the letter is written since she refers to food rationing at the bottom of the letter, "How’s the food situation with you? Can you get meat for your points? We just use eggs and let the meat go for very rare occasions.”
  • She writes about living in Washington, but is that Washington state or Washington DC or some other place (assuming this is a letter writer in the United States)?
  • She mentions names but no relationship (Stewart, Peter, Larry). Because no one is listed with a surname, they may be family or close friends that the mother would know. It seems like Stewart lives with Nell (the letter writer), so maybe it's her husband. If so, is Howard his surname? But it could also be her son or some other family member.
  • We don’t know the mother’s real name. The envelope would have solved this question, but it wasn't part of the materials purchased.
  • The mother might live with other people since the letter is signed “Lots of Love to Everyone…”

Who Cares?

Now you might be thinking, "who cares?" What does a letter with little information outside of talking about food and recipes have with genealogy research? What is genealogically relevant in this letter?

That's a good question, and it's one that people ask when we "stray" from the typical genealogy documents. But this letter provides us with two things necessary for our family history research. Even though the letter offers a vague time period, it places five people at a specific time. Nell is writing about people who are alive as of the writing of the letter and prior. And obviously, she too is also alive. So if we weren’t sure about this family and when their death dates were, they most likely were alive around 1943 and even the early part of 1944 (if this is 1944, but we don’t know what month).

Secondly, the everyday lives of our ancestors can help us tell their story. This includes what they are eating (or not eating) and how they are dealing with food rationing during wartime. How could we take that information and use it to tell a story about Nell’s life?

What Questions Do You Have?

As I look at what this letter tells me about Nell, I still have questions. Aside from everyone's identity, some of the details seem to refer to activities that are specific to that time and place. For example, the comment about “red points,”  "community canning kitchens," and “Gack Attack."

So now what? How would you start your research? Research starts with a question, and the most obvious one is, who is Nell Howard? We could try to answer that by searching genealogy records from the 1940s and then go from there. Where could we look? How would you look?

How would you unravel the mystery if it was your family history research? What sources would you check? Let me know in the comments below, and we will unravel more of this mystery next week.


[1] Special thanks to genealogist and writer Angela Rodesky for providing me this letter.

What Were Your Family's Firsts?

What Were Your Family's Firsts?

Every once in a while, I see an article or social media post that acknowledges a "first." Usually along the line of “the first woman to go to the moon,” these posts are educational and celebratory (though sometimes we may question why that "achievement" took so long).

Thinking about those types of acknowledgments made me wonder about family history firsts. What did your ancestor do that was a “first” for the family?

What family members had a “first?” These might be huge, maybe even award-winning, accomplishments or they can simply be activities that today seem run-of-the-mill but are still a “first.”

You probably have some “firsts” that you have personally achieved. Maybe like me, you’re the first person in your family to graduate from college. Perhaps you're the first person to become a US citizen. But what about previous generations? What firsts did your ancestors accomplish?

It can be difficult to decide what to write about our ancestors. How do you tell their story so it goes beyond just name, date, and place? What about telling the story of your family firsts? This writing prompt could help you enhance a family story that will interest the non-genealogists in the family.

What are some ideas for “family firsts” you could write about? Here are a few that I came up with:


  • First person to graduate from high school
  • First person to graduate from college
  • First person to earn a graduate degree


  • First person to ride in a car
  • First person to own a car
  • First person to fly in an airplane
  • First person to take an ocean voyage
  • First person to ride a motorcycle
  • First person to ride a bicycle


  • First person to work in a specific occupation
  • First person to join a labor union


  • First person to own a house
  • First person to own a radio
  • First person to own a TV
  • First person to have electric lights
  • First person to move off the farm


  • First person to serve in the military
  • First person to serve during wartime
  • First person to serve overseas


  • First person to cross the United States
  • First person to travel outside the country (maybe for vacation or immigration)
  • First person to document a vacation (photographs, correspondence, diary)


  • First person to have twins
  • First person to divorce
  • First person to marry multiple times
  • First person to be born in a hospital


  • First person you researched
  • First new-to-you cousin you met
  • First major discovery
  • First mystery you solved

In thinking about your family firsts there are so many ways you could use this idea to enhance your research and writing. As I wrote this, I realized I need to write about my first ancestor who fought in a war and continue that story through my other direct line ancestors who served in the military since then, from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam. That narrative would start with my “first,” my sixth great grandfather Benjamin Jones and would end with the last soldier in my family tree, my dad.

And obviously, these firsts you write about can include yourself (you might one day be an ancestor) as well as your ancestors.

What are your family firsts? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Who Are the Experts?

Who are the experts?

Do you use Facebook? I use the social networking website to post genealogy resources I think other family historians will be interested in. I also post about women’s history and books, basically anything that I think might be helpful to my Facebook friends. When I’m not posting resources and sources I’m asking questions.

A lot of questions. 

Why? I believe that everyone is an expert in something. That expertise might simply be the experience of having lived in a specific place, witnessing an historical event, or eating a specific recipe. I know that those I network with have something that can benefit me as I try to understand my own family history and my ancestor’s life experiences.

Family history research requires us to delve into numerous types of records created over generations. That research requires us to know more than how to use a website search engine. For example, knowledge of country and county boundary changes and laws that impacted records help in seeking and finding documents. A good researcher doesn’t know everything. They know where to find information or who to ask.

A Sampling of Experts

You need an expert to answer a question, so who do you ask? Aside from using social media to find answers some other experts to consider include:

Professional Genealogists: Professional genealogists have two strengths, knowledge of genealogy methodology and how to solve problems. They also know the ins and outs of researching a specific place, either where they live or the location they specialize in. You can find professionals via organizations like the Association of Professional Genealogists, ICAPGen, or the Board for Certification of Genealogists as well as a local genealogy society.

Librarians: Librarians know how to find information. They know how and where to search. They can take your idea and turn it into finding the information you need. Luckily, there are different types of libraries (think: academic, public, private, national, etc.) which means librarians can specialize in information that you need for your research.

Archivists: What’s important to family history research is original records that are housed offline. Archivists can help you search their archival collections, explain records, and give you ideas for next steps.

History Society/Genealogy Society Volunteers: History and genealogy society volunteers love what you love….family and local history. They know the location you are researching and they know about their resources. They are the perfect people to ask about what resources are available and problem solve local history problems.

Who Else are Experts?

Those four groups of people are a good start when we consider experts to consult, but they aren't the only ones. The expert you need depends on your research question. I recently had a question about harvesting sea sponges so I asked my dive instructor son who answered scuba questions and shared some videos with me. I’ve asked genealogy related questions of everyone from family members, friends, professors and teachers, to complete strangers who I struck up conversations with and discovered a hobby or experience that I had questions about. I even consult other genealogists who have experience in research areas that I don’t.

So consider the ancestor you are researching. What was their occupation, religion, or the membership group they belonged to? Where did they live? What did they experience that you are not familiar with? What record might you find them in but you’ve never researched? What brick wall do you have that seems to be unbreakable? Experts not only help us find records and problem solve but they can also help us better understand a time and place. 

Don’t forget about the power of social media to reach out and ask questions. Facebook is a great place to join groups for the place your ancestor lived, for a topic that’s important for your research. Remember to download the Facebook group lists created and maintained by Katherine R Willson, Alona Tester, and Gail Dever to find groups that would benefit your research. If you are on Twitter, take a look at past genealogy chats or join in a future one to network with other researchers who may be able to help. Twitter genealogy chats include #genchat, #AncestryHour, and #BWBHour (Brick Wall Busters). Don’t forget to use social media to post your question and see who answers.

Genealogy is seen as a solitary pursuit but I know for me, my research is greatly enhanced by the questions I ask and the answers I receive from others. 

Who are your experts? What questions do you have that could use some crowdsourcing?


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



What I Do Know About Betty

Name. Date. Place

Those three facts are not the most exciting information but it anchors our ancestors in a specific place and helps us connect them to family. A lot of emphasis is placed on vital records and the census but there are other records that provide a name, date, and place.


Bertha Chatham with two of her children. From the collection of Gena Philibert-Ortega
Bertha Chatham with two of her children.
From the collection of Gena Philibert-Ortega

Bertha Jane Tenro Chatham. The mother of one of my paternal great-grandmothers, she came to this country sometime around the late 1870s and found herself in Texas. She married an American man and they had 6 children in Texas before moving to Arizona and then California. Now of course some of the important events in her life happen in between census years which means I have to seek out additional records to place her in a specific time and place.

She’s one of those women in my family tree that I don’t know a lot about which can be frustrating when researching someone who is more recent. I do have cousins who were alive when she was and they have childhood memories of her. But her life prior to her marriage is a mystery (did she live in Berlin, Norway, Denmark or some other place?). And because she was “just a housewife” it seems like most of her life is not well documented.

Having said all of that, I do know one thing about Betty. She believed in women’s right to vote and she claimed that right prior to the passage of the 19th amendment.

Betty lived in three states (Texas, Arizona, and California) and while it’s not clear how long she lived in Arizona or when she exactly came to California I know that her last Texas child was born in 1910, she then gave birth to a child in Arizona in 1911, and her last child, born in California, was in 1915.

Arizona granted women’s suffrage in 1912. It appears that when men of Arizona were voting on this, her husband Joseph Chatham was registered to vote. He appears in the voting records as LJ Chatham a laborer from Texas in Hackberry, Mojave, Arizona, the place where their Arizona daughter was born. Although other Hackberry women are registered as voters in this record, Betty is absent from the voting records. Her husband registers in August 1912, but maybe voting was not on her mind considering she had 7 children in a span of 8 years and had recently moved to a new state. Voting might not have been high on her to-do list.

But at some point, between 1912 and 1915 the family moves to California. In October 1911, women’s suffrage barely passed in California. By 1916 we see Betty on the voter rolls in California, four years before the passage of the 19th amendment.

Betty Chatham in voter registration
State of California, United States. Great Register of Voters. Sacramento, California: California State Library. 1916.
via Ancestry.com

This is huge. Yes, it places her in a specific location and time which is important for genealogical research. But for a woman whose life is documented in records having largely to do with her marriage, her children’s births, and her death this gives us some insight into her beliefs. Anti-Suffrage campaigns painted women who wanted the vote as terrible wives and mothers. They were falsely accused of neglecting their children and husbands because they were too busy with matters that were not women’s concern. Anti-Suffrage campaigns claimed that women didn’t want the right to vote and that their husbands would conduct political matters on their behalf since they had their best interests in mind. Only evil could come out of women voting and besides the fact it made you less of a woman.

But Betty voted.

I know very little about Betty. What I know comes from the comments of a few cousins and the character of her daughter, my great-grandmother Mary Chatham Philibert who worked all her life, could run circles around anyone even as an “elderly” woman, and was an inspiration to me as I grew up.

I may not know a lot about Betty but the the voting register she appears in tells me something about her life.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


Picturing Your Ancestor’s Occupation


Blacksmith. Railroad Engineer. Chef. Logger. Farmer.

What occupations did your ancestors have? What do you know about those occupations? You might have proof of their jobs from records such as the census, city directory, or a child’s vital record but what did that occupation “look like?”

My dad, and the men in my paternal line for 3 generations, worked for the railroad. I know what that looked like. I visited the railroad yard with my grandfather and sat in the seat he spent his days in as an locomotive engineer. In my mind, I can still see that day and that up close experience. But I need to use images to pass along that part of my paternal family history to my children.

But what about other ancestors? Details about their occupation fills in the holes of their life story. Learning more about their occupation, telling that story using records and illustrating it with images (whether they themselves are in the pictures or not) helps bring our family history to life.

Sea Sponges at market

I started wondering about occupational images when I recently bought some postcards that looked “interesting.” The postcards are part of a series depicting the sea sponges industry. Those images led me to additional research about the jobs involved in the procuring and selling of sea sponges. Lucky for me my son is a scuba instructor and he provided me information about the divers tasked with sponge collection and provided me reference materials.

All that because of a postcard.

What Images Exist of Your Ancestor’s Occupation?

What images can you find for the occupation your ancestor had? Occupational images might be found on:

  • Postcards
  • Stereographs
  • Lithographs
  • Paintings
  • Photographs
  • Newspaper
  • Magazines
  • Books
  • Patents
  • Maps

What types of images are you looking for? Those depicting the actual job are an obvious choice but what about patent illustrations of a tool or device that had to with your ancestor’s job? What about the end result of their job (horseshoes for a blacksmith, planes for Rosie the Riveters)? How about a photo of where they worked?

Where can you find these? Start with digital collections. These can be through libraries and archives or separate digital collections. Some of my favorites include:

Don't forget to also search eBay. If you have an account, set up an alert for that occupation. That way you automate your search.

Illustrate Your Family Story

Everyone loves to look at images. Stories are more powerful when they are illustrated. Consider telling your ancestor’s occupation story with images.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.