Friday, October 24, 2014

Facebook: A Valid Source to Cite or Not?

Recently the "The In-Depth Genealogist" published an article by Christine Woodcock titled "That Online Tree is NOT a Source!"1 While I agree with most of her article I do disagree with the last sentence in the following paragraph where she wrote [underlining is mine]:
"I’ll tell you what is NOT a source: Someone else’s research. Someone else’s tree. Someone else’s educated guess or deductive reasoning. Neither is information received in an e-mail, from a message board, mailing list or Facebook group."

I find that the last sentence is overly broad since, at least to me, it treats all information received over those media as invalid sources that cannot be cited. Although I do hope that the sentence applies to received information stated previously in the paragraph. Even a simple change to "Neither is the same information received..." would link that statement to the previous sentences as to what is not are sources to cite and I would, in principal, agree with the paragraph.

Earlier she had written "A source is a record of the event, documented at the time of the event with information given by a witness to the event." What makes the mode of communication that is sent by e-mail or posted online any less valid than placing an announcement in a newspaper or writing and photocopying a letter for sending by postal mail? Given that in today's modern world many family announcements are made by e-mail or Facebook why wouldn't an announcement distributed by any of those mediums be not considered a source? As discussed on the Evidence Explained forums, Facebook is accepted as a source for information and can be cited (

What needs to be evaluated, just like with any other document that is received, is who provided the information and when it was create in terms of proximity to the event. If the information being sent or posted is concerning an event from a bygone era or is a repeat of something said elsewhere then, as a good researcher, you should locate the document or post that is being talked about and cite that instead. Unless that too points to another document or post ... follow the chain until you get to the true source of the information.

Yet what about if I am an actual witness to an event and I post the information online or sent it out in an e-mail? Can and should someone else cite what I have stated as a source? I know I have received or seen those announcements of births, marriages, and deaths via e-mail and Facebook posts. Knowing the person that has posted the information and the fact it was posted the same or next day after the event, in my mind, has the same weight as receiving a letter in the mail announcing what has happened. I just make sure I save the information as a screen shot or in a text file just in case someone asks me to show my source for the recorded fact.

I do agree that hearsay information passed over those means of communication should not be cited. At best they should be treated as possible clues and follow up questions need to be asked such as "Where did you find that information?" and "Can you share the source of your information?"

As always: read, analyze, and think when using any potential source of information.

1. Retrieved 24 Oct 2014 at 11:41 am EDT

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Ottawa Shooting ... a few thoughts

Unfortunately Ottawa has joined the list that no city wants to be part of ... that of a target of violence and terror. I'm not going to repeat the details, rumours, and comments of what occurred on October 22nd, 2014. You can easily find them online from your favourite news source or from CBC at

While it is important to reflect on what has happened and to seek answers as to why it occurred it is just as important to not become fixated on this event.

So reach out to your loved ones by phone, text, Facebook, Twitter or in person. Give a smile to those you pass on the street, greet your neighbours with a kind hello, and say thank you to all those that stand in harm's way as part of their duty and calling. However, don't just do it when a tragedy strikes but reach out when all is good in the world.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Canadian Gravemarker Gallery - Beechwood National Cemetery photographed

From the Canadian Gravemarker Gallery Update Newsletter that came out October 1st:

"We are very pleased to announce that The Beechwood National Cemetery in Ottawa is now completely photographed and online. There are over 50,000 grave marker photographs to browse; and the cemetery owners report that there are over 90,000 burials in this "park-like" beautiful cemetery."

For those that don't know about this wonderful resource for images of grave markers in Canada they have almost 865,000 images from over 1,400 cemeteries across Canada and they are constantly adding more images every month.

Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada was established in 1873 and is the home of the National Military Cemetery and the RCMP National Memorial Cemetery. The cemetery registers for Beechwood Cemetery can be found digitized and indexed on Ancestry in the "Ottawa, Canada, Beechwood Cemetery Registers, 1873-1990" collection.

John D. Reid has mentioned he is slowly exploring the lives of the 98 soldiers of the Great War of 1914-18 that are buried in Beechwood Cemetery. He will be posting some of those details on the anniversary of their death in his well-known blog Canada's Anglo-Celtic Connections. On September 21st John gave details on what he was able to find about the first WW1 Ottawa soldier, Thomas William Hardingham, that was buried at Beechwood Cemetery.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Where are you Laben Mazey?

One of the attendees to the seminar I co-presented at the recent 20th Annual BIFHSGO Family History Conference had run into a problem where she couldn't find a death registration. What made it seem strange to me was that the person's name was fairly unusual. In her e-mail she spelled his name as "Leban Mazey". The known facts are:
  • He was born in Llantwitvairdre, Glamorganshire, Wales in 1841
  • He was married to Margaret Jones in 1867
  • The last known place he was in was in Llanwonno, Glammorganshire, Wales in the 1901 living with his daughter and her husband

My starting place was Ancestry (just because it is usually open) and when I searched for Leban Mazey born 1841 only a few entries popped to the top of the list. His birth registered in the Cardiff registration district along with the 1901 census. But an interesting thing jumped out at me ... in both cases his forename was spelled "Laban"

Ancestry sarch results for Laben Mazey
So off to my favourite free site for genealogy research and that is FamilySearch.

When searching FamilySearch, especially when you know the region to look, it is a good idea to limit the Location the country. In this case, I restricted the search to only return records for Wales. I also used the spelling of "Laban"

FamilySearch,org search page for Laban Mazey

And a whole slew of records were returned including the link to an image on Findmypast for his marriage registration ... not the index but the registration document itself (Happy dance since it saves £9.25 because it doesn't need to be ordered!). But it seems he was married in 1865 and not 1867. But we can't get sidetracked but that discovery (stay focused!). What is also found appears to be his death registration in Pontypridd district in 1905. Since he was found there in the 1901 census it is a fairly good chance that it is his registration. search results for Laban Mazey, born 1840-1842, restricted to Wales as the location

But the only way to be sure is to order the death registration from the General Register Office and pay the £9.25.

Don't forget about checking the newspapers. The National Library of Wales has been digitizing and indexing a number of newspapers at the free Welsh Newspapers Online site. Sometimes you get lucky in finding a notice of probate, the person selling an item, a family notice, or you find out the person is not a saint but more of a sinner.

Yet why didn't we find his death in the FreeBMD index on Ancestry? After a few more searches I did find him on Ancestry but his last name was transcribed as "Mazet". Looking at the image from the index book I can see how it may be seen that way. Fortunately FamilySearch used their own transcribers for this index.
FreeBMD, "England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index: 1837-1915," database, ( : accessed 23 Sep 2014), entry for Laban Mazet, Mar quarter 1905, Pontypridd district; citing the General Register Office's England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes.
FreeBMD, "England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index: 1837-1915," database, ( : accessed 23 Sep 2014), entry for Laban Mazet, Mar quarter 1905, Pontypridd district; citing the General Register Office's England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes.

So today's tip is if you can't find the information within one site, check the other sites that hold the same collection. The transcriptions used for the indexes may be different.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

20th Annual BIFHSGO Family History Conference Brick Walls

One of the activities I set up for the Research Room at the 20th Annual BIFHSGO Family History Conference that took place the weekend of September 19-21, 2014 was a brick wall board. If you know of any pointers or solutions to these problems posted by the attendees, don't hesitate to leave a comment (with additional information and/or contact details) or contact me and I can forward on the information to the poster. My e-mail address is:

The Brick Walls

Name: Lydia Ferin
Dates: b. ~1798, d. ?
Question: When and where was she born? When and where did she die?
Details: Lydia was married to Nathaniel Chamberlain (b. 1788) and settled in Chelsea, Quebec. Moved to Osgood circa 1856 - no trace after that.

Name: Christian Doho (Dohoo)
Dates: married ~1738 in Southwark
Question: Where was he from?
Details: Had several children born in Lewisham, Kent. Name later changed to Dohoo. Doho was (and is) common name in Africa. This is part of a One-Name research project.

Name: Eunice Hutchins
Dates: b. ~1807 in USA, d. 1 Mar 1891 in Chelsea, Quebec
Question: Who were her parents?
Details: Eunice married John Bradley and subsequently Thomas Childs. Lived in Chelsea Quebec.

Name: Archibald Campbell Turner
Dates: b. ~1790
Question: Where was he born?
Details: Indicated are that he could have been born in Ireland but lived in Scotland before emigration to Canada in 1820.

Name: Samuel Dowdall, Private Canadian Fencibles 1816
Dates: 1809-1816
Question: Is there a regimental roll or list for Canadian Fencibles Regiment at their discharge in 1816?
Details: Would like to find out Samual Dowdall's place of origin and if he had transferred into the Fencibles from another regiment. There was a Samuel Dowdall in the 41st Regiment in the Niagara Theatre during the War of 1812. Would like to determine if this the same Samuel Dowdall as that found in the Canadian Fencibles.

Name: Midghall/McKervney
Dates: 1890+
Question: Looking for the Kathryn Jackson of Australia that is/was researching the same uncommon surnames. She had left messages on several boards 10 years ago but is not longer responding or seeing the messages left for her. Would love to contact her.

Name: Peter Grant
Dates: b. ~1815 in Inverness, Scotland, d. 17 Apr 1890 in Ontario, Canada
Question: Who were his parents? Where are they?
Details: Peter Grant was a Justice of the Peace in Ontario. Did he possibly study low in Scotland? He came to Canada about 1836 but we don't know which ship. He married Elizabeth Muir about 1855 in Gainsboro Township, Markham. He lived in Pelham.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Research Methodology Case Study: When did John Wragg die?

Sorry about not posting for the past week but I was involved in the very successful 20th Annual BIFHSGO Family History Conference this past weekend where I was not only the host of the Research Room but also a co-presenter on Friday for a seminar on researching your English and Welsh ancestors. As you can imagine it was a busy week.

One of the challenges we all faced as a beginner was not knowing where to look for answers. Sometimes even what should be the easiest question to answer becomes a major brick wall for someone just starting out. The following question was asked at the Friday seminar and here are the steps I took to find the most likely answer:


When did John Wragg die?

Known facts

  • He was living in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, England
  • An elderly aunt said he died the day she was born which was August 25, 1901
  • His wife's name is Annie Marsh
  • The following children are known: Rosa (b. 1876), Lydia, Annie, Lucy, William, John, Dorothy Lydia (b. abt 1891)

Step 1 - Finding out John Wragg's birth year

Which the last child born about 1891 I decided to start looking for the family in the 1891 census of England. Since I have a world subscription to Ancestry that was the easiest place to look for the family, especially since their search system allows me to include all his children as part of the search. Below is the Advanced search screen I used for the query.

As you can see, I only entered in the very basic details and restricted it to collections from England online.

When I focused the search results to the 1891 census of England there were only two results that percolated to the top of the list. Of those two, the first one had five of the seven children that we knew about.

Unless additional information appears the proves otherwise I'd say that the first census is the one we are interested in.

1891 census of England, Yorkshire, Civil Parish of Sowerby, Sowerby Bridge, folio 101, page 2, Household of John William Wragg; digital images,, ( : accessed 23 Sep 2014); citing PRO RG 12/3600.
1891 census of England, Yorkshire, Civil Parish of Sowerby, Sowerby Bridge, folio 101, page 2, Household of John William Wragg; digital images,, ( : accessed 23 Sep 2014); citing PRO RG 12/3600. 

Viewing the image of the census reveals some information we didn't know when we started.
  • His full name appears to be John William Wragg
  • He was 38 years old when the 1891 census was taken so he was born about about 1853
  • He was born in Wadsley, Yorkshire
  • He is recorded as being a labourer in 1891

Step 2 - Set the limits on when he died

Can we find him and the family in the 1901 census of England (according to the elderly aunt he should still be around)?

1901 census of England, London, Civil Parish of Camberwell, folio 143, page 4, Household of John Wragg; digital images,, ( : accessed 23 Sep 2014); citing PRO RG 13/506.
1901 census of England, London, Civil Parish of Camberwell, folio 143, page 4, Household of John Wragg; digital images,, ( : accessed 23 Sep 2014); citing PRO RG 13/506. 

This looks to be the household but now they are residing in Camberwell, London and not all the children are there but that is understandable since the eldest children are of marrying age and have probably moved away. But it does seem that John Wragg is alive in 1901, but is he still living in 1911?

A search for him in the 1911 census of England returns no results that appear to match but searching for Annie Wragg, born about 1853, in Swindon, Wiltshire (from the 1901 census) returns her listed as a widow living with a son Jack, age 24 years, in Dunstable, Bedfordshire.

So it appears that John Wragg died between 31 March 1901 and 2 Apr 1911, the dates of the 1901 and 1911 census respectively.

Step 3 - Finding his death registration

Using FreeMBD (just because I like to highlight other resources, especially if they are free, but you can use Ancestry too for this) I entered the details I believed I knew were correct into their search form:

Surprisingly there were only two possible entries found. A John William Wragg that was 52 years of age that was recorded in the registration district of Luton and a 2 year old in the registration district of Rotherham. I'm fairly certain we can rule out the 2 year old.

So what does the registration district of Luton include? Clicking on the Luton link a screen pops up stating that "The district Luton spans the boundaries of the counties of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire". He was in Bedfordshire in 1891 and his widow is back there for the 1911 census. This looks promising. Following the links on FreeBMD to find out more about the Luton registration district brings up a page on UKBMD that has Dunstable on the list of civil parishes for that district.

You could stop here and order his death registration from the General Register Office (never order it from Ancestry since they tack on a surcharge) to confirm that it is him. But there is one more place to check and that is the "England &Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966" collection on Ancestry.

Step 4 - Extra Credits

A search of the "England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966" collection results in finding the following entry:
Name: John William Wragg
Probate Date: 4 Oct 1904
Death Date: 20 Aug 1904
Death Place: Bedfordshire, England
Registry: London, England
Looking at the entry on the index page you see that he was of the "Crown" inn Houghton Regis near Dunstable. This actually matches additional information that was known about the family (but not divulged until I had found this record). Even better we now know that he died on 20 Aug 1904., "National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966," database and images, ( : accessed 23 Sep 2014), John William Wragg, probated 4 Oct 1904; citing Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration made in the Probate Registries of the High Court of Justice in England. London, England., "National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966," database and images, ( : accessed 23 Sep 2014), John William Wragg, probated 4 Oct 1904; citing Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration made in the Probate Registries of the High Court of Justice in England. London, England.

Everything appears to fit with what had been provided. Except that the elderly aunt was wrong as to the day and the year of his death.

Just remember to always take with a grain of salt anything that has been told to you. There is usually a kernel of truth contained within but stories need to be verified.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What's in a name? Just Confusion

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;"

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene I

Only if that was true when it is comes to the names of places and people when doing genealogy research. As I posted in "When is a Wilkerson a Wilkinson?" following the possible variations in a surname can cause no end of confusion. It can get even worse when a person changes their forename like Oscar James Little AKA James Austin Little (but that is for another day and another post).

Another of the challenges faced by all family history and genealogy researchers is to accurately record where an event took place. Some people try to keep it simple by using the place name as it exists now when adding details to their family tree. However, that can create some interesting brick walls when it comes to locating some of those hard to find records. What I try to do is to record the name of the place as it was at the time.

As some of my gentle-readers may have guessed, I've been spending the past several weeks researching various lines that originally settled in what is now called the Regional Municipality of Niagara and that is where it gets interesting. For example, a place like Niagara-on-the-Lake, Regional Municipality of Niagara, Ontario, Canada also is known by the following names (years are approximate and depended on when the necessary legislation was passed and signed law):
  • 1781-1788 Butlersburg, Montreal District, Province of Quebec
  • 1788-1791 Butlersburg, Nassau District, Province of Quebec
  • 1791-1792 Butlersburg, Nassau District, Province of Upper Canada
  • 1792-1798 Newark, Home District, Province of Upper Canada
  • 1798-1841 Niagara, Niagara District, Province of Upper Canada
  • 1841-1851 Niagara, Niagara District, Canada West, United Province of Canada
  • 1851-1867 Niagara, Lincoln County, Canada West, United Province of Canada
  • 1867-1970 Niagara1, Lincoln County, Ontario, Canada
  • 1970-now Niagara-on-the-Lake, Regional Municipality of Niagara, Ontario, Canada
And that is just one place!

So why is it important to know the various names of a place? When looking for land records and if you are just looking for Niagara and ignoring Newark or Nassau then you will probably miss all those critical early records. You might also ignore a key record just because the place name used is not the same name in use today.

It can get even more confusing for early records in Ontario since there were counties created in 1792 but they co-existed with the district names until about 1851 when the districts were abolished. The counties during that period were for electoral, land registration, and militia purposes. So even though Newark was in Home District in 1792 you will also find land registrations and probates listed as being in Lincoln County.

Yes it can get very confusing at times. The Archives of Ontario even has a page called "The Changing Shape of Ontario" where you can view and download maps showing the progression from districts to counties from 1788 to 1899.

So look for web sites and other resources that can help you figure out that correct name. In my case I purchased AniMap County Boundary Historical Atlas by Gold Bug for my USA and Ontario research (Ontario is only district and county borders unfortunately and not place names). I also make use of the web pages of various historical societies and even Wikipedia to give me clues and pointers. Also for the United States of America there is the online Atlas of Historical County Boundaries that is available for free. Don't forget about gazetteers to help you out in figuring out what something is called, which county or country it may be and when.

1. Niagara-on-the-Lake was the postal designation from the 1880s but it wasn't until 1970 when the Town and Township of Niagara was merged that the name became "official".