Thursday, July 30, 2015

Cynthia Herrin: A Red Herring

Cynthia Herrin is responsible for a number of genealogy records collections for various locations, but it's believed that at least one of them is not credible, namely "Edgecombe County, North Carolina Vital Records, 1720-1880" aka "Early Families of Edgecombe County, North Carolina, Its Past and Present". According to Cynthia, she had found an old genealogy book relating to Edgecombe County, NC, compiled all the data from it and submitted it to, who accepted it. She then supposedly threw the original book away, claiming it was in poor condition whenever anyone asked her to produce the source and prove her information was reliable. The original book has never been found anywhere else, even by the expert researches at Edgecombe County Genealogy Society. See this topic for more info. Therefore, there is no evidence that this information is reliable.

She claimed the same type of thing with a book called "Bertie Beginnings: The Story of Our County and Its Distinguished Citizens" - see this topic at RootWeb for more info.

And with one called "Our Pioneers: Families of Early Oakland County, Michigan". See this topic for more info.

Most of these have since been wisely removed from but Cythnia is also responsible for this Fayette County, PA collection which still remains on It should probably be removed.

Please comment below if you know of any other dubious collections Cynthia Herrin was responsible for and I will add them to the list.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The New Design

If you haven't noticed already, is updating their site design and layout. I believe they are trying to make it more tablet friendly by providing bigger buttons to click, and fewer options on each page to make everything cleaner and easier to view/use on the smaller screen of a tablet.

Switch between New and Classic site
They had several months of Beta testing it by providing it to certain users and getting their feedback and now it's gone semi-live to all US members. They are now in a transition stage where you can currently swap back and forth between the "classic site" and the "new site" (shown left - clicking your username in the top right corner of the site will give you the option to switch) but in time, only the new site will be available.

This is concerning because at the moment, there are a lot of problems with the new site. Many complaints have been addressed and resolved, which I'm grateful for (see this list of upcoming additions they're working on re-adding), but they have only been regarding missing features which have since been re-added. The bigger concern is the lack of efficient functionality, which in some cases would require another redesign of the layout to resolve, something the developers seem unwilling to do.

Granted, while leaving the new site to return to the classic site, we are given the option to provide feedback on what we don't like about the new site. Unfortunately, there is a max character limit and my complaints exceed it. I have detailed them on the message boards but I will do so again here, so I can also post multiple screenshots of what I'm talking about. I have highlighted in red the most concerning issues which should take priority for resolving. I am also updating it regularly to note new issues that have cropped up or one which have been resolved.

1. Inadequate handling of Before, After, Between, and even About date tags. When viewing Facts, it does seem to respect the "Before" and "After" date options, but it does not respect them very well in the LifeStory view. The event shows the "Bef" or "Aft" tag but in the description, it says "She died IN 1859 when she was 68 years old" instead of saying "She died AFTER 1859" (shown below). Equally, under the individual's name at the top of the profile (while in LifeStory) it just shows a year range of the person's life and does not note even "About", let alone the others, though it does say "about" in the description. Regardless, this will be very misleading to many people, not only while viewing other people's trees but also even while viewing our own.

New site LifeStory handles Before/After/Between, and even About
date tags poorly

Of course, the system doesn't handle the "Between" tag well either, but that was always a problem with the classic site too. Instead of redesigning the whole site to make it look prettier or work better on a tablet (because no genealogist in their right mind would ever do heavy tree work or research on a tablet anyway), they should be focusing on resolving problems that have plagued the site for years.

Member Connect in profile on Classic site
To be resolved: 2. Missing Member Connect in profiles. I know Member Connect can be found under the Community section but it's still missing from the profile view. On one hand, I appreciate that they are removing an emphasis on using member trees to do research but the Member Connect tab on each profile (shown right) was still useful for having a quick look at what info and sources other people had for a certain individual. To do this now, I will have to do a search for public member trees who have the same individual and click on each one to get an idea of what info/sources they have. This will be much more time consuming and a major disruption to my workflow.

ETA: This feature is listed on the things to be re-added.

Can't view sources attached to some facts
without lots of scrolling
Partially resolved: 3. Poor handling of the way the sources for a certain fact are now shown. We used to be able to click on the sources for a fact and see a short list of the sources attached to that fact (shown below). Furthermore, from there we could click on those sources and view the citation details. Now, while clicking on a fact does draw a line to and highlight the sources for that fact, if one source is at the top of the list and another is at the bottom, we can't view all the sources attached to that fact at the same time. Even if there's only one source attached to that fact, if the fact is lower down on the timeline and the source is up at the top, I have to scroll all the way up to the top of the page again just to see which source it is (shown left). This is also a major disruption to my workflow, adding lots of unnecessary and tedious scrolling up and down.

Classic site shows condensed view of fact and all sources attached to it
Also, all sources shown are clickable, taking you to the transcription
or citation details

Edit Fact does bring up a list of sources, but you
can't click them to bring up citation details
Granted, there is the option to double click or press "Edit" on the fact in question and then go to "Source Citations" to see a list of all the sources attached to that record (shown right). Unfortunately, not only does this require extra clicking but also, this list is intended to merely give you the option to delete those sources from that fact. If the source came from a site outside, the source is not clickable so you can't open the citation details from there. While sources are clickable, they only take you to the image of the original document, you can not open the citation details or the transcription of the record from there either. To view the citations details or transcription, you have to close this window and still wind up scrolling up/down the page to find the right source and open the details.

In other words, there is no easy way to quickly view all sources attached to one fact and from there open the citation details/transcription. From talking to others, it seems many, like me, dislike this while there are also others who prefer having all their sources listed in the middle of the page and don't mind the scrolling. So I think I have a solution that would suit everyone: simply bring back the ability to click on "(x) Sources" on the fact to show a small list of the sources (and allow them to be clickable). Basically, it would work the same way it does in the Classic site, but the option to click the fact and show the purple lines to the sources in the middle of the page would remain. So people who want the old method could still use it, while people who prefer the new method could ignore the old method and use the new one. This should be a simple solution that suits everyone and isn't difficult for the developers to implement because it doesn't require rearranging the layout.

ETA: This is partially resolved now. While "(x) Sources" on the fact is now clickable (yay), it opens the same list of Source Citations attached to that fact as if you were to open the fact details and click on Source Citations. So it does save you an extra click, but unfortunately "Other Sources" still aren't clickable from here. Also, this now appears to be "sticky" so if you click on it, from then on opening the fact details will take you straight to the Source Citations instead of defaulting back to the Fact Details. Unnecessary and annoying.

Partially resolved: 4. Everything on the new site seems to take more, extra clicks to accomplish the same thing, such as what I detailed above in point 3. Another example: to make a photo the primary photo for someone's profile, we now have to edit the photo details whereas previously the option to make a photo primary did not require going into "edit".

ETA: Many of the updates have reduced the amount of clicks.

To be resolved: 5. Inconsistencies/inaccuracies with the Historical Insights in LifeStory view. Others in the support community have pointed out date inaccuracies, such as an event during the Great Depression being put in 1953 instead of 1933. But also, I just don't understand how the system decides which historical events to put in which profiles. For example, it mentions the first World Series in 1903 in my great grandfather's profile... but my great grandfather was born in 1902 so he wouldn't have even remembered this event. His parents probably would have remembered it but when I open his parent's profiles, the first World Series isn't mentioned in LifeStory. I could excuse it showing me an event that occurred when my ancestor was only a year old, but I don't understand why I don't see the same Historical Insights on his parent's profiles, where it might make more sense.

August Bauer did not immigrate in 1848, but LifeStory
makes it looks like he did - also, no known "wave"
of German immigration during the 1840s.
When I look at another person, LifeStory tells me he immigrated from Germany during a wave of German immigration to the US in 1848 (shown left), but when I look at the Facts view, he actually immigrated in 1840. Granted, the wave of immigration might have covered 1840 and was not solely in 1848... but LifeStory doesn't tell me this and doesn't tell me the actual date my ancestor immigrated in. Looking at LifeStory, it looks like this person immigrated in 1848, not 1840. This is very misleading and a huge concern. What's more is that according to Homeland Security's Office of Immigration Statistics, the biggest decade of German immigration to the US was actually in the 1880s, not the 1840s. Germans were immigrating to US very consistently throughout history. Unlike other cultures or regions of Europe, there weren't really any German "waves" of immigration, it was more like a steady stream. This is why the Germans have the highest numbers of immigrants in total. There was a dip in immigration around 1770-1830 and so there was a spike in immigration in the 1840s but this applied to all immigration, coming from many different regions, not just Germany. Getting major dates wrong like putting the Great Depression in the 1950s instead of the 1930s is ridiculous but at least it's an obvious error that likely won't mislead most people. Everyone knows when the Great Depression was. But getting your history wrong when it's a lesser known fact is going to be extremely misleading to a lot of people.

ETA: The latest update says of inaccuracies in LifeStory: "We are looking at the language in the narrations and how to better generate narratives."

Resolved: 6. When looking at a media gallery, there is no longer any way to view just stories or just photos. Sometimes I have dozens of photos and only a few stories and I want to look at one of the stories. It's so much quicker and easier to just click "stories" and then pick the one I want rather than having to scroll through dozens and dozens of photos to find the story I want.

ETA: Not only can we now sort by the type of media OR show only one type of media, we also have the option to sort it all alphabetically which is something people have been asking for for YEARS. They're finally listening!

Resolved: 7. Placement of notes. While notes are still available, it's not longer easy to see whether there is a note attached to an individual or not. You have to click on "Tools" and then "View Notes" whereas before, the option to View Notes was displayed on the profile home page, serving as a clear reminder that there's a note for that individual. I don't know how often I will think to check "Tools" for possible notes.

ETA: There is now a global tree setting to show the link for Notes on the profile instead of buried in Tools. Under Tools, click "Show Research Tools" and then the link for Notes and also "View in tree" will appear below the person's name and vital data. Again, this is a global setting for your tree so despite the fact that it is turned on/off within an individual profile, it will apply to all profiles in your tree.

8. No more Military pages? Is this feature being retired or will we see it again? I have data on certain military pages that isn't on the main profile, so if it's being retired, I need to go through them and move them over to the main profile before we lose access to the classic site and they are lost forever. However, if we will see the military pages returned to the new site, I don't want to waste time duplicating data on the main profile. At the very least, an official comment on whether this feature is being retired or not would be helpful. So far, all they have told us is that in the future they will evaluate whether to re-add the military pages or not. So this is still up in the air.

Resolved: 9. When adding a new person, we don't get an option to add death details. We do get an option to add the person's email address though - because that is so useful in genealogy where most of the people you're adding to your tree are deceased. Otherwise, we can only add name and birth details. What if we have their death details too? We have to create the new person first, open their profile, and add the death details from there. Unnecessary extra steps when there's no reason the death details can't be available to add at the same time you're creating the new person.

ETA: It now appears that if the person is living, the death data isn't available to input but if you click "deceased" it will appear. I imagine this was their intent all along but perhaps wasn't working properly at first/at some point.

Resolved: 10. Editing a fact and hitting "save" doesn't update the display. While it does update the fact, in order to actually see the changes, you have to close out of the edit window and refresh the timeline page. Worse is that the edit window gives no indication that the changes to the fact have been successfully made. In the classic site, it would have a note saying the data was successfully updated. Now, when you click "save", you're left wondering if it worked or not and to find out, you have to close the window and refresh the page.

ETA: This appears to be resolved now. Editing a fact now confirms it was successfully saved with a notice in the popup window and when you close the window, it updates on the profile without having to refresh the page.

Partially resolved: 11. The lack of any indication of media on the profile. I have a lot of documents attached to a person or one of their facts/citations but without clicking "Gallery" or opening the fact/citation details, I have no way of knowing when this is the case. We used to have a preview of our media gallery on the home page of a profile and while this didn't show the full gallery, it did show us when any media at all was attach to that person. Additionally, attaching media to a fact or citation used to show up on the fact in the timeline. Not anymore. I know I personally am going to be missing a lot of things because I don't realize it's there! I'd like to see media thumbnails return to the facts in the timeline, and I'd also like to see an indication of which "Other Sources" have media attached to them and which don't.

ETA: Along with "(x) Sources" in small type at the bottom of each fact, there is now the same indication of media attached to that fact (or media attached to a citation which is attached to the fact). Like Sources, it is also clickable, which takes you straight to a list of the media attached to that fact. It's not a thumbnail, but it's something. Staff say they are evaluating whether to include thumbnails again or not.

Resolved: 12. Age of individual not showing in Facts timeline, only LifeStory. Facts view is more suitable for doing research on the individual and I don't want to have to click over to the LifeStory view every time I want to see what age someone was during a particular event in their timeline.

ETA: Ages are now showing on the Facts timeline. They are a faint grey, barely darker than the background, but they're there.

13. Image Display. Images that I have uploaded to my tree won't zoom in to the full sized image. It only zooms in about 50%, if that, making documents difficult or even impossible to read because the text or writing is too small. On top of that, unless you use the full screen button and then zoom in, the quality of the image is pixeled and blurry (shown below). At least there is a work around for this by using the full screen button (above the zoom button), but it's annoying and shouldn't be happening. The fact that there is no way to view the full sized image that I uploaded is unacceptable. I basically now can't read half the documents I've attached to my tree. Here's the original document of the examples shown below for comparison.

ETA: There is a workaround for this by right clicking the image and opening it in a new tab. In Chrome, the option is "Open image in new tab" (in Firefox, it's "View Image", which doesn't open it in a new tab but it's better than nothing - IE has no option for this at all). This will provide the full sized image in your browser without any clunky, buggy image viewer. It's a reasonable workaround for now, but this issue still needs to be resolved since many won't know about it.


Even when pixelating is resolved, image is still too small

Resolved: 14. Bug Report: Once you have ticked the box for "Use as Profile Image", you can't untick it. You can change the Profile Image to a different photo but you can't untick it to leave the Profile Image blank. You can untick it while uploading and keep it blank this way, but once there's a designated Profile Image, you can't revert back to nothing.

15. The titles of photos get cut short when viewing full size. Many of my photos are actually scanned documents and I need to see the full title of the image in order to know what document I'm looking at.

16. Viewing a hint doesn't allow you to attach it to someone else. You might sometimes get hints for someone in your tree which are actually a match for a different person in your tree by the same name. In the past, there was an option to save the hint to someone else in your tree. That is no longer an option when viewing a hint. You will have to find the same record yourself to attach it to anyone else.

Resolved: 17. There is no way to edit someone's living/deceased status after creating their profile. When you add a new person to your tree, it does give you the option to tick deceased or living, but once you've created the new profile, there is no way to change this status later apart from adding a death fact. But what if you know the person is deceased but don't know the date or place? Or what if you accidentally clicked deceased and later need to change it to living? This should be a privacy concern.

ETA: You can now change the living/deceased status under "Edit > Quick Edit".

I am not a glass half empty person, so I will not leave this post without mentioning some of the improvements. Unfortunately, there are fewer than I would have liked to see.

1. The addition of family events being shown in the timelines - ie, birth of the individual's child, death of their parents, etc. I've been wanting something like this for a while because it really helps put the family timeline into perspective, not just the individual's timeline. Also, the ability to hide this feature in case other users don't find it as useful and feel it only clutters the timeline was very wise.

2. Likewise, the ability to show/hide alternate facts. Finally! I don't have to click/open a fact to see if there's an alternate fact. One small example of extra clicks being reduced.

3. The option to "ignore" historical insights/events in LifeStory that don't apply to that individual, as well as the option to hide that global feature entirely. If the problems with the historical insights can't be resolved, at least we can turn them off.

4. The re-addition of many features people have pointed out were missing at first. Such as the ability to add or create a story was originally missing from the new site but has since been re-added. Supposedly, Weblinks will be returning as well so hopefully that is true since I have used this feature at times. ETA: Weblinks are now back too!

5. The fact that LifeStory and Facts views are "sticky", meaning whichever one you last viewed will be the one to appear when you open another profile. I was worried LifeStory would be the default and every time I opened a profile, I'd have to click on "Facts", but this is not the case. Thank you.

6. The look. I will admit that the new design does look nice. I know some people have problems with the contrast being too low but I did not find this to be a problem for personally. The cleaner, simpler style does look good, but it should not be at the cost of the functionality.

7. Quicker and easier to attach a source citation to other facts. Previously, if you had a source citation attached to someone and you wanted to attach it to other facts too, you had to click on "View All Sources" and then click the citation in question, followed by "edit this citation" and then tick the facts you wanted to attach it to and save. Now, you just click Edit on the source from the home page, then click Associated Facts and add the ones you want.

8. Undecided option for hints. No longer do you have to decide whether to accept or ignore a hint, or leaving it hanging in your list of hints still to review. You can now hit the "Maybe" button and it will be stored in a new "undecided" section.

9. Being able to link a spouse to a marriage fact. Previously, if you had created a marriage fact and not linked a spouse to it, you had to create a new marriage fact instead of being able to link them afterwards. This was problematic because certain marriage collections won't automatically link the spouse when you're attaching the record and it's creating a marriage fact. So you used to have to attach the record, create a different marriage fact with the spouse linked to it, swap the record to the new fact, and then delete the old fact. Annoying and time consuming. But not anymore! Now, it's super quick and easy to just open the marriage fact and select the spouse you want to link it it, then hit Save.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

FTM: Creating a Duplicate, Scaled Down Tree OR Splitting a Tree

With ventures into DNA in particular, I see a lot of people wanting to offer a scale down version of their tree, like a simple pedigree, but they may not know how. So I'm going to show you how to do so with Family Tree Maker. I'll be using FTM 2012 but I imagine other recent versions aren't going to be too dissimilar.

Export options
Step 1: Go to "File" > "Export". This will open a pop up window with your export options (shown right). On the right, you can choose options like include or exclude media - note that excluding any/all of the options, your source citations will still remain, minus any photos attached to them. You can also choose your output format as either an FTM file, or a Gedcom. I like to do mine as Gedcom because then I can directly upload it to places like or FTDNA, 23andMe, etc. I recommend not using the option to "privatize living people" since most sites you'll be uploading to do that anyway. But all these options are really your own choice.

Choose individuals to include in export
Step 2: In the same window, on the left you have the options for "Entire File" or "Selected Individuals". Obviously, exporting the entire file will mean exporting your entire tree. If you're trying to scale down a secondary version of your tree, choosing "Selected Individuals" is what you want. After a moment another window will pop up with a list of everyone in your tree on the left side, a bunch of buttons in the middle, and a blank list on the right (shown left). Make sure that you, the home person, is selected on the left (I scrolled down so you wouldn't see my own personal details highlighted for privacy reasons). 

Details of ancestors to include
Step 3: If you want to create your pedigree, which would be a tree of only your direct ancestors, all you have to do is click the button that says "Ancestors". Yet another pop up window will appear (shown right) with options on how many generations to go back and whether to include all parents/spouses or only preferred ones, and whether to include any descendants of these ancestors and if so, how many generations down the line. If you're strictly doing a pedigree, especially for DNA purposes, you'll probably want to choose only preferred parents/spouses, and UNtick the descendants to include. As for how many generations back of ancestors to include, I like to be comprehensive and include them all so I put in the number 999, which might be overkill but it assures it'll include every generation. Click "OK" and on the right hand side of the previous window (shown in Step 2), you and all your direct ancestors will now be listed as the individuals to be included in the export. Click "OK" again and now all those selected individuals will be listed on the original window show in Step 1. If you're happy with this, click "OK" again to export your new, scale down tree. You can then open it as a new tree in FTM (I'd name it something different so you can tell the two apart), or assuming you exported to Gedcom, you can upload directly to someplace like If you want to include more people, not just your pedigree, read on...

Step 4: After adding your own ancestors, while still in the Step 2 window, you will find you can add individuals simply by double clicking their name on the left hand side (or single clicking it and then clicking the "Include" button) and they will appear on the right hand side. So let's say you wanted to include an aunt or uncle whose DNA kit you also manage. You can do so by double clicking their name. Someone like an aunt or uncle has the same pedigree as your parent, their sibling, so there's no need to hit the "Ancestors" button again. If you want to add the pedigree of someone who has different ancestors than you do, like a cousin or your own spouse, all you have to do is select their name and hit the "Ancestors" button again. If possible, I highly recommend creating a separate tree/pedigree for your spouse though, instead of combining them, since the two of you are not genetically related (hopefully), and so having your pedigrees combined might be misleading to DNA matches looking at your tree.

I hope this helps people who are trying to export only certain individuals from their tree into a new one. Any questions about it, feel free to ask below and I'll do my best to explain further.

P.S. - This method also works for splitting a tree. Instead of selecting yourself in Step 2, you will select the person where you want to split the tree from - i.e., the person who will be the home person in one of the new trees. For example, if you are splitting a tree to have one tree for you maternal side and one tree for paternal, you will choose either your mother or father. Or if you are splitting up your tree four ways, one for each grandparent, you will pick one of your grandparents. Then in Step 3, you will choose the options for "include all parents," "include all spouses," and "include ancestor's descendants" by (x) many generations. I would put in 999 generations like you did for the ancestor's generations to make sure it's all inclusive. Export the tree, and then do the same thing for the next person where you're splitting the tree (so if you chose your mother first, now you'll pick your father). Once you have exported a tree for each new home person, you can import them into FTM, check to make sure all individuals, data, media, etc was included, and then you can delete the old, original tree if you want to (you can always keep it as a back up option if things went wrong with the split).

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Online Exhibit of Coins & Currency in Colonial America

Colonial Williamsburg has presented an online "exhibit" - a little interactive tool with lots of interesting information about money used in America during colonial times.

Coin & Currency in Colonial America - Online Exhibit Presented by Colonial Williamsburg

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Names Crossed Off Passenger List

First and second pages of NY passenger list of Taormina
with names crossed off, Jan 28, 1914
I've recently seen a couple misunderstandings about what it means when someone's name is crossed off a passenger list. The first was that it means the individual died while on board. This is sometimes true but not always. The other assumption was that it means the individual never got on board to begin with. This is simply not true, at least not for the 19th century and early 20th century.

What it generally meant was that the individual got on the ship but didn't get off at that port of arrival. This could have been because the individual died while on board, but it could also mean that they simply remained on board until disembarking at a secondary port of call. This was the case with some of my ancestors, who arrived in New York on January 28, 1914 on board the Taormina, but their names are crossed off so they didn't got off the ship there. There is then a second passenger list from their arrival in Philadelphia a couple days later on January 30, 1914 where their names were not crossed off.

Meanwhile, I have an infant relative in my tree who was born and died on board a ship in 1880 but her name is not crossed off the passenger list on her arrival. It does note "died" beside her details but she's not crossed off (see below). I see the crossing off more commonly in 20th century passenger lists.

Australia Domenica Scioli was born and died on board the ship she was
named after in 1880 - while it notes she died, her name is not crossed off

As for the idea that crossing off passengers from the list could mean they never boarded to begin with, this just isn't possible, at least not until there was a record kept of who had purchased tickets produce in their name. Otherwise, the person compiling the ship's passenger list had no way of knowing who had purchased a ticket or who intended to board, so the list could only be compiled from the names of people who did actually board the ship.

First and second pages of Philadelphia passenger list of
Taormina with names of those crossed off in NY,
Jan 30, 1914
So the ship had a record of who boarded at the departure port and then the immigration officers at the port of arrival made a copy of those lists, crossing off the people on their copy who didn't disembark at that port. The passenger lists we see are usually the copies that were made at the port of arrival from the ship's records. The immigration officers probably didn't care why an individual on the passenger list didn't disembark and therefore didn't always note whether it was due to an on-board death or whether they were just carrying onto the next port of call. Their job was probably just to record who disembarked at their port of call.

So if you see an ancestor or relative whose name is crossed off on a passenger list, don't assume they died on board, or never boarded to begin with. Do some more investigating to see if the ship carried onto another port of call where they might have disembarked. If you're not finding anything by searching for the person's name, try searching by the arrival year and the ship's name. The arrival port officers were working off of the ship's records, which meant the handwriting could sometimes be misinterpreted and copied incorrectly (this doesn't mean a misspelling was a permanent name change). And of course, there's always the digital transcription which could be incorrect too and preventing you from finding the record by the individual's name. This also works for when you may have gotten an individual's immigration data from a naturalization record but can't find the passenger list by searching by name. Of course, by the time of naturalization, the individual may have been misremembering the exact details of their immigration so if you don't find the passenger list by the arrival date and ship name, you may need to make use of wildcards in the name. You can use a '?' in place of a letter, or an '*' in place of several letters but you must have at least three real letters in there for it to work.

Happy searching!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

US Immigration Stats in History

2000 US Census Data on Self Reported Ancestry
I often see people trying to determine which European ethnicity most Americans are descended from. Some attempt to use self reported ancestry from census data to show the major European groups Americans today claim to descend from. The trouble with this is that self reported data is unreliable and most Americans are a mix of ancestries but only able to report one. Many actually reported 'American', which although technically may not be inaccurate (if you have ancestors born in the US, then you have American ancestry - the census did not ask what our non-American ancestry was), it's not helpful for these purposes. Probably because of these reasons, the US Census has since dropped this question and therefore the most recent data for ancestry is from 2000.

Others try to calculate which group most Americans today have roots in by using immigration numbers plus basic multiplication to determine their population growth. The trouble with this is that the multiplication is an estimate, and again, so many Americans today are a mixture of European ethnic groups. In the end, we can only say that it's impossible to determine with any real accuracy which single European ethnic group most Americans today are descended from. But the immigration stats are still helpful by showing us the largest European groups to legally settle in the US.

Over the course of history, from colonial times up to 1969, the largest groups to immigrate were the Germans totaling just over 7 million, followed by the British totaling over 5 million. The Italians came in a close third, also equally just over 5 million, with less than 100,000 fewer than the British numbers. Finally, we have the Irish amounting to slightly more than 4 and half million. Those from Austria-Hungary came in fifth at a little over 4 million, and then the Russians with just over 3 million. Finally, we have those from Norway-Sweden with barely over 2 million, and if you add in the Danes and Finnish to maximize the Scandinavian results, it still only equals about 2 and a half million. The spreadsheet (linked below) shows numbers for more groups in case it interests you but none of them exceed 1 million.

When estimating the amount of descends today from each of these groups, it's important to consider the time periods in which they immigrated. The longer an immigrant has been here, the more descendants they will likely have because they had more time to multiple. For example, the Italians may have had more immigrants than the Irish, but the largest period of Irish immigration occurred decades before the bulk of the Italians arrived so theoretically, it's possible the Irish have more descendants. Considering many Irish and Italians intermarried, it would not surprise me if they were about equal though.

With this in mind, if you look at the stats I compiled in this spreadsheet, you'll see that the Germans and British not only have the highest immigrant numbers in total, but also are the only groups to have been consistently immigrating in mass numbers since colonial times all the way up to 1969. I think it's safe to say that most Americans today have German and/or British ancestry. It would probably be impossible to determine which out of the two of them would rank higher, and many people probably also have some other groups mixed in there - personally I also have Italian and Norwegian, but not everyone else will. But it seems obvious from these stats that most Americans with European heritage have some German and/or British ancestry, even if they don't know it.

  1. Demographic History of the United States
  2. US Department of Homeland Security Yearbook 2008

Monday, April 6, 2015

Dating Old Photographs

An example of a cabinet card with
photographer's details - this
photographer was at this address
from 1879 to 1887
Like me, you may have a collection of old photographs handed down to you with no knowledge of who the portraits are of, or even when they were taken. Here's a few tips to help you out.
  1. The Photographer. Many photos may be printed on paper and mounted to stiff cardstock and stamped with the photographer's name and address in the margin or on the back. Using directory records, you can track when that photographer was working at that particular address, narrowing down the time period in which the photo must have been taken. More details on this can be found here: Mystery Photos.
  2. The Fashion. Get to know the clothing and hairstyle fashions of different eras. This article from SheKnows has many useful links to websites that detail fashion from the 19th and 20th centuries. I make the most use out of the University of Vermont guide which also has info on dating photos based on all different topics, not just fashion. Don't be fooled into thinking people in rural areas didn't receive the latest fashions from magazines and catalogs, or that older people didn't stay up to date with modern fashions. See the common myths on this website.
  3. The Format. The materials used to create the original image (watch out for copies made from the original in much later eras) can be very useful in dating them:
    • Daguerreotypes. The first publicly available photographs were daguerreotypes from 1839 until about 1860. A positive image was produced on a sheet of silver plated copper polished to a mirror finish and mounted in a protective hard case. 
    • Calotypes. Available from 1841, the process produced a translucent negative on paper, allowing positive prints to be created from the negative. This created a softer image, often desirable for portraits. Despite these advantages over the daguerreotype, the calotype did not replace it and both processes remained popular until about the late 1850s/early 1860s.
    • Albumen print. A paper photograph with a positive image created from a negative (typically a negative from a collodion process which created a negative image on glass). Invented in 1850 but not popular until 1855 when it became the dominant form photographic positives. Peaked in popularity from the 1860s to 1890s when used for carte de vista and cabinet cards (see below).
    • Ambrotypes/collodion positive. Popular for a brief period of time in the 1850s before superseded by tintypes. They created a positive image on glass. Required mounting in protective hard case.
      A tintype, probably from the late 1880s
    • Tintypes. A positive image produced on a thin sheet of metal, no mounting required but sometimes mounted in a paper mat. Most popular during the 1860s and 1870s, but still remained in use up to the early 20th century, though by that point it was considered a novelty.
    • Carte de Vista. A small paper photograph (54.0 mm or 2.125 in × 89 mm or 3.5 in) typically mounted on thicker paper (64 mm or 2.5 in × 100 mm or 4 in). Introduced in 1854 but not popular until 1859 and remained so until replaced by the large Cabinet Cards (below).
    • Cabinet Cards. A larger paper photograph mounted on thick cardstock measuring 108 by 165 mm (4¼ by 6½ inches). Introduced in 1866 and most popular during the 1870s and 1880s, beginning to decline in the 1890s. Those photos with the photographer's name and address stamped on the margin or back discussed in the first point above were usually Cabinet Cards.
    • Film/Paper. The first translucent negative sheet film was produced in 1885, with rolls of film as we know it today available from 1888. In 1900, the first Kodak Brownie was released and sold for only $1 (about $28 today), with the film for it costing only 15c, making photography affordable for the masses and giving birth to the "snapshot". Positive images were produced on simple, unmounted paper. 

The Horse in Motion, 1878
Misconceptions and Myths.

I see a lot of misunderstandings about photography in history and perhaps dispelling them will also help people understand the time period in which a photo might have been taken. 

Exposure times. Many people seem to think that in history, the length of time required to take or expose a photograph was so long, one wasn't able to smile or move. This was true in the very early days of photography, but not by the late 19th century. The first daguerreotypes and calotypes in the 1840s had exposure times as short as 5 minutes in optimal conditions but later their exposure times were reduced to only a few seconds with the invention of the collodion process in 1851. I have photographs of small children starting from the 1860s (shown below), which wouldn't be possible without exposure times measured in seconds because we all know small children won't hold still very long.

Small child, circa 1867
In 1878, technology shortened exposure times to a fraction of a second, about 1/25th of a second. Have you ever seen "The Horse in Motion", a sequence of photographs of a horse and rider at a gallop, analyzing it's gait frame by frame (shown above)? That was done in 1878. Without getting too technical, anything that is fast enough to capture and freeze the motion of a galloping horse is more than fast enough to capture a smile or movement of a human being.

So why aren't there more photographs of people smiling or moving around from the late 19th century? It's probably due to the fact that until about 1885 or 1900 at the latest, photography was not affordable to the masses and the processing could be complex. Therefore, the industry was very much controlled by professional photographers and that meant that getting one's photograph taken was a formal event. The concept of the candid photograph didn't really exist yet, and people's only basis for a formal image of themselves stemmed from paintings, where there was no smiling or moving around. So the idea of this as a formal portrait carried over into photography until the advent of the candid photograph. There are examples of candids in the 1880s and 1890s, but it really took off in 1900 with the introduction of the Kodak Brownie, which practically anyone could afford.

Detail. Many people also seem to think that pre-20th century, photographs didn't have much fine detail to them. And while it's true that many surviving photographs from the 19th century don't have much fine detail, that doesn't mean the technology didn't exist to capture it. Just look at some of the photographs of US presidents dating the 1850s and 1860s! While these were probably taken by some of the best photographers in the country, that doesn't mean such detail was exclusive to the best of the best photographers. Take for example the image to the right, which was likely from the 1870s or early 1880s. Note the fine detail in the strands of his hair and mustache.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Italian Foundling Surname 'la Casasanta'

Records showing various surnames for Maria
I've been doing a lot of research on my Italian branch recently and came across a perplexing situation in which I couldn't determine why one of my ancestors was seemingly going by two different surnames, and sometimes both together.

My 4th great grandmother was being listed alternately on Sulmona, Italy records for her children as Maria Fasciano, Maria la Casasanta, and Maria la Casasanta Fasciano. One even said "la Casasanta alias Fasciano." So what was her maiden name? Fasciano? la Casasanta? Or both? Why would she have an alias? I knew they were all the same woman, and not a case of her husband having two wives with the name Maria (which wouldn't be impossible in general because practically every female from this town was named Maria) because of the timeline in which the names appear and the records which listed both names. I have come across a lot of people in my tree who were given the middle name of their mother's maiden name, but in these cases, it was always just a middle name, it was never used on it's own as a surname like I was sometimes seeing in this case. So although I kept 'la Casasanta' in mind as potentially Maria's mother's maiden name, I was hesitant to commit to that idea and kept searching.

Unfortunately, Maria was born and married before the online records from Sulmona begin, and I have yet to find her death record (still searching). But I did notice that on her husband's death record, a Venanzio Fasciano is listed as one of the registrants of the death and upon closer inspection, it mentioned that he was the brother-in-law of the deceased - i.e., Maria's brother!

Record of Venanzio's birth naming his father
So then I was feeling pretty confident that her maiden name was Fasciano and la Casasanta must have been her mother's maiden name. But I go searching for more info on Venanzio just to be sure, and because in general, I want find out their parents names anyway. I find Venanzio's marriage record and a copy of his birth record in with the supporting documents for his marriage, which say his father's name is Saverio la Casasanta "alias" Fasciano, and mother's name is Maria Loreto del Rinto. Huh? So it's not the mother's maiden name, but it actually came from the father's original name who appears to have gone by the alias Fasciano? Why would he do that?

Well, I decided to Google the name and couldn't really find anything out but on a whim I popped it into Google translate, mainly because I knew Casa means House and, I thought Santa meant Holy. And I was right: it means Holy House. Like a church.

And that's when I started noticing that while browsing through the indices of the earliest records, 9 times out of 10 when I saw the surname la Casasanta, it was paired with "Unknown parents". In other words, I think infants who were abandoned at a church (aka, a foundling) would often be given the surname "la Casasanta", literally meaning "the holy house". My speculation now is that either Saverio or his father was abandoned at a church and given this surname, but Saverio also went by Fasciano to avoid the stigma of either his father or himself having obviously been abandoned at birth. If it was his father who was abandoned, Fasciano might be Saverio's mother's maiden name, which he took as an alias. Otherwise, I have no idea where Fasciano came from but you can be sure I will keep digging.

Example of someone named 'la Casasanta' whose parents are unknown

I still don't know why, of Saverio's children, one went only by Fasciano and the other by both names, sometimes together, sometimes alternately but at least I now know what the name la Casasanta means and why someone would choose to go by an alias. Unfortunately, it also probably means that at some point I'm going to hit a dead end with this branch, but hopefully I still have a lot more find.

UPDATE: I have since found Saverio's death record which says his parents were unknown. So Saverio was a foundling and the name Fasciano was either chosen at random or could also have come from the family who raised him, if they approved of him using their name. However, the lack of Fascianos in the Sulmona records suggest there was no other family in Sulmona with the name Fasciano. So it may have chosen at random to avoid the stigma of being a foundling, or to avoid confusion among so many other people with the name la Casasanta.

For more info on other foundling names, check out's article on the matter.

Resource: State Archives of L'Aquila

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Post-1922 Philadelphia Inquirer and Fulton History

As all genealogists know, newspapers can be a valuable resource, especially for obituaries. And as many Philadelphia researchers may know, the Philadelphia Inquirer is available at, but for a price, and only up to 1922. Equally, there's some Philly papers available at, and even some available for free at, but none of them go beyond 1922. There is one Philly paper listed at called Checkerboard which is from 1943-1977, but this may have been niche paper since I can't find any information about it. What if you're looking for an obituary from more recently than 1922? Well, you basically have two options, one online and one offline.

Your offline option is to use Chronicling America's newspaper directory, which provides a listing of holdings of nearly every newspaper up to present times. If none of the holdings are near you, you might be able to ask your library if they can order a microfilm copy of it for you.

But there is one online option and those who are familiar with it's website will understand why I'm hesitant to recommend it: Fulton History. It's free, it's digitized, and it supplies the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1860 to 1963. What's the catch? It's not user friendly so unless you already have a specific date in mind, it's not easy to find what you're looking for. If you do have a specific date, you can find PDFs to download of the Philadelphia Inquirer here. If not, there are instructions and tips on using the search engine found in the FAQ/Help section. If the person you're looking for had a unique name, you may get lucky by just typing their name into the search engine. But if you need to narrow it down to the Philadelphia Inquirer, you can do so by using these instructions:
Q. How can I just search one newspaper issue instead of the hundreds that are here? I'm getting way to many hits. A. Solution - The newspaper titles are also indexed. Use this command.... Filename contains and The title of the Paper or part of the title of the paper in the search window along with what you are searching for (you must know how the Newspaper title was entered when I scanned it... look in the index to see the way it is displayed...). 
Here is a sample Using The Boolean search type I want to search just the Newspapers from Buffalo NY for a murder trial and a person called perraton and I know it happened some time in the late 1920s or early 1930s "murder trial" and "perraton" and (Filename contains (Buffalo NY)) and (Filename Contains (1927~~1934))

Here is an example on how to search on one specific newspaper title( I will use Syracuse NY Post Standard in this example) for a range of dates (I will use 1904 through 1920) for a person named john Green and you not sure if he was using a middle initial........ First change to a Boolean search type then enter the following in the search box (ignore the quotes)  “Syracuse NY Post Standard 1904~~1920 and john w/1 Green”
The words you have written is your instruction to the search engine to find only the newspapers that have the title  Syracuse NY Post Standard and only the years 1904 (the ~~ [tilde symbol] means range of dates) through1920 and with the word john and within 1 character of the word Green ...
Boolean searching is very powerful but you must spend the time and learn how to use it. You will find a comprehensive guide for Boolean searches later in this section.

As you can see, it's still not very easy to follow. The Philadelphia Inquirer was indexed as 'Philadelphia PA Inquirer' so using the Boolean option from the drop down menu next to the search field, your search would have to look exactly like this:
"Smith" and (Filename contains (Philadelphia PA Inquirer))
You can remove the name Smith and put in whatever name you're looking for inside the quotes - first and last name or just last - but the rest of it, including the quotes, the word 'and', plus the parentheses all have to be the same for it to work. If you want to also narrow down the year range, it should be:
"Smith" and (Filename contains (Philadelphia PA Inquirer)) and (Filename contains (1923~~1963))
Obviously, adjust the year range as you need to. And again, use the Boolean search.

You also have to keep in mind that these were very probably indexed with OCR - optical character recognition - which means it was done by a computer identifying the shapes of letters and numbers. Naturally, this is very subject to error and you can wind up with an index where a capital letter 'I' or a lower case 'l' gets mistaken for the number 1. As such, you may not always be able to find the person you're looking for if their name was index in a way that doesn't even match the phonetic search (an option you can tick under the search field). So when possible, it's best to manually search the PDFs instead of using the search engine.

Good luck!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Italian Research: One Mystery Solved

Maria D'Amore 1887 Birth in Polizzi Generosa,
mentioning her unmarried parents
I had been stuck at a brick wall for a while on my Italian branch, mostly because so few Italian records are available online, at least for the regions most of my research is in. One of these brick walls was my 2nd great grandfather, Agostino D'Amore. According to family members, he was born in Sulmona, Italy on Aug 13, 1846 and as a solider, was stationed in Pachino, Sicily where he met his wife, Rosaria, and had children with her. However, his passenger list into the United States said he was born in Pachino. I decided to have a look for his birth record in Sulmona anyway, since those records are actually available online from the Italian National Archives.

I searched Sulmona's births from 1844-1848 without finding him so then I began thinking he was actually born in Sicily. First of all, it turns out that he did not meet his wife in Pachino. His wife was born in Polizzi Generosa, where their first child, Maria, was also born so I checked Polizzi's birth records (found online at for Agostino thinking maybe he was born there too, but with no luck. I also searched for his marriage to Rosaria in Polizzi in the few years before the birth of their first child with no results. Puzzled, I finally got a translation of Maria's birth record (I know enough about Italian records to extract names and dates but that's about it) and what it told me was very surprising but totally explained the problems I was having. Maria had been born out of wedlock. That explained why I couldn't find a marriage record for Agostino and Rosaria before Maria's birth!

Agostino D'Amore and Rosaria Potestio
marriage in Pachino, 1891
It also named Agostino's occupation as Carabinieri, Italian National Police. So there was some truth to the family stories. I also knew that the rest of their children had indeed been born in Pachino so sometime after Maria was born and before their next child was born, they had moved from Polizzi to Pachino. I began to become concerned that Agostino and Rosaria had never actually married but just lived in a common law marriage. After all, if they left Polizzi for Pachino to escape the scandal of having a child out of wedlock, it would have been easy for them to show up in Pachino claiming they were already married and no one would be the wiser. I had looked for the marriage in Polizzi after Maria's birth but still not found it. But I really needed a marriage record because it would tell me where Agostino was born. On his children's birth records, it only listed where he was residing at the time, not his birth location. And his death certificate from Pennsylvania didn't specify anything more than Italy.

So I crossed my fingers and ordered the microfilm for Pachino marriages during this time period because they aren't available online anywhere. I had little hope of finding it - I'd convinced myself they never married and I would never find out where Agostino was born. I also ordered the film which included Pachino births for the period he was born in hopes that his passenger list had been correct and I would find him here, even if I didn't find his marriage record. And when the films came in, I checked the births first because I had more hope of finding that than the marriage.

How wrong I was! I didn't find his birth in Pachino but I did find their marriage! Turns out they married Jan 1, 1891, about six months prior to the birth of their second child. To me, this seems to suggest that their society might have accepted one "mistake" by having a child out of wedlock but two? No, it was time to get married, and quickly because Rosaria would be starting to show soon!

Agostino D'Amore's 1849 Birth in Sulmona
Finally, the marriage record told me that Agostino had indeed been born in Sulmona, just as I originally thought! So why hadn't I found his birth record in Sulmona? Because he was born in 1849, and I'd stopped looking at 1848. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I could have avoided this whole fiasco by just searching a wider year range. However, that might have meant that I wouldn't have gotten the translation that told me their first child was born out of wedlock, an interesting little tidbit. So sometimes my stupidity has a silver lining!

My other reason for wanting to find a marriage or birth record for Agostino was to figure out his parent's names. On his death certificate, his father is listed as something that looked like Dibero or Libero and his mother was listed as "Nana", which was clearly not her name but just what her grandchildren called her. With Agostino's birth and marriage records finally found, it told his father was Liberio D'Amore and Maria Majorano. From there, I managed to search the Sulmona records to find Libero and Maria's parents and even some of their grandparents. Finally, I got past that brick wall!