Sunday, March 16, 2014

Why research the female line?

Recently I came across a question in one of the genealogy groups on Facebook where it was asked "Shouldn't I also be researching the female lines?" and it actually made me pause. From the context of the rest of the posting, the poster had only been researching the male line up to this point.

For most of us researching in English speaking countries such as Canada, United States of America, United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia normally the male line is the easiest to research. Often the male's surname doesn't change through their life, the men are the ones with long term occupations and they are the poor souls that are drafted or voluntarily join the military to fight in the wars. Simply put, males, in our patriarchal society, seem to have the most records.

But if you are only researching the male line then you are missing out on 50% of the family, 50% of your heritage and potentially a whole bunch of information on the lives of your ancestors.

In my own case, I've always researched the female lines along with the male lines. On many occasions the documents found for the women have led to additional clues as to the whereabouts of missing male ancestors. Sometimes what has been found has been eye opening. One example was the discovery of the separation agreement between Wills Frederick Knox and Submit Howe that was recorded on 5 Mar 1824 in the "New Brunswick, County Deed Registry Books, 1780-1930" collection on Because I was looking for her information I was able to find one of the key documents needed to prove a relationship between her, her brother, and subsequently to her father, Lt. Caleb Howe. Out of that discovery I also took the opportunity to learn more about the history of property when it came to women living in the British Empire. You see, she couldn't receive the land she brought into the marriage but instead, upon her separation, her brother had to be the party of the second part to get the land for her. Strange but that is how it was written in the document.

So to answer the question, "Shouldn't I also be researching the female lines?", the answer is a resounding:


Saturday, March 15, 2014

30th Gene-O-Rama in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

From the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society:

The 30th Gene-O-Rama takes place less than a week away on March 21-22 at the Confederation Education Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. If you haven't already registered, there is still time! Registration information can be found here:

We are really excited for this year's event! We have lined up some great presentations for you. Here are just a few you can look forward to:
  • Excited to learn more about the largest collection of genealogical information on the planet at Gene-O-Rama? Even if you have used before, Shirley-Ann Pyefinch will tell you about all the newest features! 
  • Local genealogy guru Glenn Wright and's Lesley Anderson will be educating us about the Military settlements in Richmond, Perth and Lanark - and since many Canadians can trace their ancestry to Eastern Ontario, there should be useful information for almost everyone!
  • author Jane MacNamara from Toronto will be telling us about the evolution of women's property rights in Ontario - and the records associated with land ownership contain some of the richest genealogical treasures out there.
  • Hoping to learn more about your First World War ancestor? The work being done by volunteers at the Rideau Township Historical Society and the Rideau Branch of the City of Ottawa Archives should showcase sources you can use while learning more about the young men from Rideau Township who gave their lives during that global conflict.
  • Hoping to overcome your brickwall at Gene-O-Rama? Ken McKinlay is ready to educate you about various ways to work around them, using real-life examples! 
In addition to speaking at the conference I will also be the host of the Research Room. So if you are attending, please drop by and say hello!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Speakers announced for British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa Conference

Speakers announced for British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa Conference

OTTAWA, 8 March 2014 — The British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO) has announced the speakers for the annual conference, to be held 19-21 September, at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa.

For its 20th anniversary year, the society will celebrate with an ambitious program which will help family historians delve into their British Isles roots.

The society expects to welcome more than 250 attendees at the event, which has three special themes:
  • English family history;
  • Immigration from the British Isles, including Home Children; and
  • Genetic genealogy.
“Our nation’s capital is also its family history capital. Every year we have welcomed folks from far and near, researching their ancestors in collections at Library and Archives Canada and learning about resources for discovering their British and Irish roots at our conference” said BIFHSGO President Glenn Wright.

This year’s conference speakers will include:

Dr. Lucille Campey — emigration historian, author of numerous books on British Isles emigration to Canada who will launch her latest book Ignored but not forgotten - Canada's English Immigrants at the conference.

Gail Dever — BIFHSGO webmaster, social media expert and blogger at Genealogy à la carte.

John Dickenson — a former professor at Liverpool University who now researches Canada’s Home Children, especially their involvement in the First World War.

Dr. Janet Few — freelance researcher and prize-winning author specializing in the south-west of England who will give a streamed-in presentation on North Devon immigrants to Canada.

Paul Jones — retired publisher, “Roots” columnist for Canada’s History magazine who speaks
frequently on offbeat topics at family history events.

Debbie Kennett — an avid genetic genealogist, author of DNA and Social Networking (2011) and The Surnames Handbook (2012). Debbie is Honorary Research Associate in the Department of
Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London.

Paul Milner — an internationally recognized speaker specializing in British Isles research, author
of Discover English Parish Records and Genealogy at a Glance: English Research.

Gary Schroder — long-time President of the Quebec Family History Society and a frequent
guest on Quebec radio and television promoting family history research.

In addition, speakers at pre-conference seminars on September 19 will include, from Library and Archives Canada, Paul Marsden and Sylvie Tremblay.

BIFHSGO looks forward to welcoming you at its 20th anniversary conference. Reserve 19-21
September 2014 in your agenda now and look for more details coming soon on the society website at

BIFHSGO Contacts:
John D. Reid, Conference Program Chair,
Mary-Lou Simac, Publicity Director,

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Genealogy Red Flag ... What Next?

There you are ... happily entering in the various census records of a distant relative when you suddenly realize that the listed daughter of the head of household appears too old to be the daughter of his wife. What do you do now?

That was the case when I was recording the 1920 census details1 of Manuel Bell Thorne with his wife Etta and 5 year old daughter Mariam. Only problem was that I had found what I believed was the index to the marriage of Manuel to Etta M. Draper in the Minnesota Official Marriage System (MOMS) that took place on 28 Aug 1919 in Hennepin County, Minnesota.

Red Flag

What I did next is fairly simple ... I stopped what I was doing.

OK, there was a little more to it than just that. Here is the process I when through to try to understand what was going on.
  1. I stopped the data entry (recording where I had been in my work so I can pick up where I left off).
  2. I then reviewed the records I had previously found concerning Manuel Bell Thorne for anything I might have missed or had recorded in my research notes (you do keep research notes, right?).
  3. In his US World War I draft registration card2 I had noted a Mae Elizabeth Thorne listed as the nearest relative and she was residing at the same address as Manuel. Could this be a possible wife?
  4. Back to MOMS for a search but nothing was found.
  5. A search on resulted in finding an indexed entry for a marriage of Manuel B Thorne to Mae E McMahon. Yet it pointed to a database on (More of these databases are appearing on the various sites as FamilySearch has been partnering with the other genealogy research web sites.)
  6. So off to to look for that entry. There were two records for that marriage: one that was the index entry in the "Minnesota, Marriages, 1849-1950" collection of a marriage taking place on 15 Jan 1914 in Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota, USA3 and the other was in the "Minnesota, County Marriages, 1860-1949" collection with an image of their Application for Marriage License4 in Hennepin County, Minnesota, USA.
  7. Back to MOMS yet again for another search but this time using Mae McMahon as the search criteria. There I found the index entry for the marriage of Manuel Thome and Mae E McMahon.
  8. The details of that marriage were then recorded in my database since I believe that is the correct marriage.
  9. A To Do item was also added to order the microfilm containing the marriage registration from the Family History Library so I can verify all the details and find out what else was not recorded in the index.
  10. Finally, I linked Manuel's daughter Mariam Thorne not as a daughter of Etta M. Draper but as the daughter of Mae Elizabeth McMahon. A To Do entry has also been created for 2015 to search for and hopefully order Mariam's birth registration to answer the question as to who is her mother.
Yet I had an unanswered question ... did Mae E. Thorne die or was there a divorce? I already had a To Do item to order the marriage registration for Manuel B. Thorne and Etta M. Draper so that would probably answer the question. But it would be some time before I would be placing the order. So I did a quick search on the Minnesota Historical Society's Minnesota Death Certificates Index for a Mae Thorne. There I found the index entry for a Mae E. Thorne that died 20 Jan 1919 in Hennepin County, Minnesota, USA. Looks to be the right person based on name and county and she did die several months before Manuel married Etta. So another To Do item was created to order her death registration to confirm that she is the right person I am looking for.

Always keep a look out for those "What the heck?" kind of red flags when you are reading and analyzing the records. If it doesn't make sense then stop and think. Don't continue and blindly accept what is written. The informant may not know the truth or the record you are looking at may not actually hold the answers. If you are using an application to record and track what you have found, does it has a potential problem report that you can run? If so, run it periodically. This report can help you identify details such as :
  • missing children, 
  • marriages that take place when either party is possibly too young,
  • wrong years entered in for events, and
  • events that may have taken place after a death (possible wrong record?)
So pay attention to what you are recording. If it doesn't make sense ... STOP!

1. 1920 U.S. census, Hennepin County, Minnesota, population schedule, Minneapolis Ward 13, enumeration district (ED) 237, sheet 9B, dwelling 186, family 222, Household of Manuel B Thorne; digital images, ( : accessed 7 Mar 2014); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T625, roll 838; 
2., "World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918," database on-line, ( : accessed 6 Mar 2014), entry for Manuel Bell Thorne, serial no. 1129, order no A1990, Draft Board 13, Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota; Original data: United States, Selective Service System. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. M1509, 4,582 rolls. Imaged from Family History Library microfilm.
3. "Minnesota, Marriages, 1849-1950," index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 07 Mar 2014), Manuel B. Thorne and Mae E. Mcmahon, 15 Jan 1914.
4. "Minnesota, County Marriages, 1860-1949," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 07 Mar 2014), Manuel B Thorne and Mae E Mcmahon, 1914.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"Teach a Man to Fish" or How to Answer Questions

As many readers may have noticed, I spend time in various genealogy groups on Facebook. Some of those groups deal with areas of Canada where I am doing research for my own lines. Yet several of the other groups deal in general genealogy and family history research questions and problems. Previously I've written about how to write "good" questions but what about writing good answers?

We've all seen the posting on forums along the lines of "I've looked everywhere but I can't find ____ can anyone help me?

Many times an answer is just presented as a fait accompli with no additional information as to how the documents or details were found. Of course the person receiving the information may be ecstatic because you've helped them out but have they actually learned more about the resources available. If they haven't learned where it was found then they will just dip into that well again in the hopes that someone will help them again. Instead, think about doing the following:

  1. At the top of your response, give the answer
  2. Next, give the source of where you found the information
  3. Finally, explain how you found the details

Yes it can make for a long post but you will not just be educating the original poster but also those that read the message thread. You will also be helping yourself since you now need to take the time to explain how something was found. This means you have to organize your thoughts and write them down so that others can understand the process you went through to find the solution.

So it comes down to "... if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour; if you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn"

Sunday, March 2, 2014

But I Know I am Descended From a ...

One question that I've seen pop up from time to time is "Why should I do all the work to prove that I am a descendant of a DAR/SAR/SCV/UEL/Mayflower/etc. ancestor? I already know I am."

For some people it is just for bragging rights. Yet for many others it goes much deeper than that.

Often times the interest starts because they have heard a story from their grandparents that, according to their grandparents, they are descended from a famous person that fought in the American Rebellion Revolution or the Civil War or arrived in the colonies on the Mayflower.

It might begin with that but as you start to dig into the family tree you then realize that you just might have the documents that prove the story is true. So wouldn't it be nice if you could put the rumours to rest and prove all those naysayers in the family wrong? Even better, if you do the research work yourself and it is accepted as valid, you also validate your own research skills.

In my own case, it was the story that my mom's mom's line was descended from a United Empire Loyalist that settled in New Brunswick that helped get me started in genealogy research. We even had the certificate from 1930s stating that her father was a member of the United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada. I even came across newspaper articles talking about him attending meetings. But ... there was no proof handed down through the ages and the standards of evidence weren't as strict as then. So it became for me one of those questions that just had to be answered once and for all without any question of doubt.

Over a 10 years period I gathered from the files held by various family members documentation such as life insurance applications, birth, marriage and death certificates, along with the stories they recalled. Then it was off to to work backwards starting with what I knew and could prove. The easiest route was census records along with birth, marriage, and death registrations. But, as with most lineage proofs you sooner or later run out of civil records. Yet this line were Baptists and many of those records have been lost in the mists of history. I then learned that the New Brunswick land deeds were online so it was off to FamilySearch to locate those records. I also needed to find out when and where my ancestor served so I needed to consult the RG 8, C Series files at Library and Archives Canada. Suddenly I was learning about additional record sources I would never have thought to look in plus I was learning about the history of the time. But beyond all the research knowledge I acquired I also connected to distant cousins I never even knew I had.

Was it worth it to me to do the all that work? Let's see:
  1. I improved my research skills
  2. I found out more about history
  3. I connected with previously unknown cousins
  4. I learned more about my own family's role in history
  5. I was able to confirm the story

So yes, I would say it was definitely well worth the effort.