Wednesday, November 25, 2015

5 Steps for Finding Pilgrim Ancestors

Are You a Mayflower Descendant? 

5 Research Tips to Help You Find Out

Thanksgiving Genealogy - How to Find Pilgrim AncestorsIf you know your history, then you know the reason we stuff ourselves with turkey and pie each November is because of the Pilgrims; a group of brave souls who sailed to America on the Mayflower and celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. But did you also know that there are millions of Mayflower descendants living today? It’s true! It’s been estimated that 25 million people from all over the globe can prove they have Pilgrims in their family tree — and you could very well be a descendant, too.
These genealogy research tips will help you discover if you have Pilgrim ancestors of your own. Perhaps your family members can join in on your genealogy research endeavors this Thanksgiving!

Quick Guide for Finding Your Pilgrim Ancestors

1. Write Down What You Know

You’re probably reading this blog post because Grandpa Joe or Aunt Jan has told you that your family members are descendants of the Mayflower. If so, then the most important thing to do is record what you’ve been told about these Pilgrims from your ancestral past. What were their names? Who told you this information? Where did they live? Write down everything you know and ask other family members if they have information, as well. Once you have everything recorded, you’ll be able to take your genealogy research further by searching for Pilgrim ancestors’ names on passenger lists.

2. Search Pilgrim Surnames

The next step to finding your Pilgrim ancestors is to familiarize yourself with the surnames on Pilgrim ship passenger lists. From here, you can then learn names of descendants, as well. Maybe your family tree already includes the surname Bradford or Tilley. If so, you could be a descendant of the Mayflower! Begin your search by looking through the list of passengers on the General Society of Mayflower Descendants website. The Society of Mayflower Descendants in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania also has the complete passenger list, including surnames found in the first three generations after the Mayflower landed. Perhaps you’ll find you’re also a descendant if your family tree includes the name Fitch or Wilcox.

3. Read, Review, Repeat

Even if you’re new to genealogy research, you know that reading is a big part of the process. This is especially true when researching your Pilgrim ancestors. But which books should you choose to read? Thankfully, the General Society of Mayflower Descendants has made the process easier on you by publishing numerous books on Mayflower passengers and the first five generations of each Pilgrim passenger with their “Mayflower Families in Progress” project. So head to the library or buy yourself these books written by colonial genealogy experts.

4. Prove Your Findings with Primary Sources

Utilizing primary source documents for all genealogical research is the best way to find true information. So, while conducting your research, use Pilgrim primary source documents (birth, marriage and death records) to confirming your familial link to the Mayflower. Have you stumbled upon census records, deeds, probate (wills), gravestones or family bibles that contain information about your Pilgrim ancestors? If so, you can prove your lineage as long as you have original documents, or the scanned images come from original records.

5. Cite Your Sources & Check Your Research

If you’ve gotten this far in your research and feel you can prove you have Pilgrim ancestors, then a big “Congratulations” to you! You’re related to some of the most  famous people in history. But don’t forget to cite your sources correctly so you and future generations can check your research for errors. Don’t miss this crucial step so you can confirm your Pilgrim lineage — especially if you want to apply to a Mayflower family association. Checking your research could help you find that your Mayflower ancestors are anything but authentic. And who wants to submit false information? Once you can confirm that your findings are correct, click here for membership information to the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.
Additional Pilgrim & Mayflower Genealogy Research Resources
  • – The world's favorite and largest family history research firm with over 1,200 professional genealogists.  They access the records wherever they are located.
  • American Ancestors: The Mayflower Descendant – A journal of Pilgrim genealogy and history published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS).
  • Cyndi’s List: Mayflower Lineage Societies – A list of Mayflower lineage societies by location.
  • – The Internet’s most complete resource on the Mayflower and the Pilgrims, with genealogy, history, primary source documents, a complete passenger list, and more.

Are you a descendant of the Mayflower? Let us know in the comments!

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

5 Reasons for Not Finding Ancestors’ Occupations

Research Mistakes & Remedies

5 Reasons Why You Can't Find Your Ancestors' Occupations
Photo credit: By Pierce, C.C. (Charles C.), 1861-1946 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Family historians should always be thinking of out-of-the-box ways to trace the steps of their ancestors, especially when they hit brick walls.  But what if you’ve finally found a handful of your once-elusive ancestors, yet still can’t seem to figure out their occupations? Not only can this leave gaps in your family’s story, but it can also be rather frustrating when you wish to create a more robust and comprehensive family history.

If you think you’ve exhausted every available research resource, but still can’t figure out your ancestors’ occupations, then you could be making some fairly common research faux pas. And just as there are unique tips for finding your ancestors online, there are other ways to find your ancestors’ occupations — you just have to be willing to dig a little more deeply.

Why You Can’t Find Your Ancestors’ Occupations

The following common mistakes may be keeping you from finding your ancestors’ occupations. If you’re making any of them, consider taking a heavy dose of our research remedies!

1. Only Searching the Obvious Records

Searching certain occupational records can often be a great way to figure out an ancestor’s line of work. But if you’re simply searching the most obvious record types (think union, retirement, and trade association records), then you may not find your ancestor’s occupation at all!
Research Remedy:
  • Search Federal Records – By 1850, the US Federal Census started listing occupations for each enumerated individual — not just heads of household.
  • Search Vital Records – If you want to find your ancestors’ occupations, try searching death certificates, marriage licenses, and other vital records as they sometimes note occupations of the person in question.
  • Search City Directories – If you know the city in which your ancestor lived, you can always look through that city’s old directory to find their occupation. It was fairly common to list residents’ occupations here.
  • Search Military Draft Records – Was your ancestor drafted into the military in the United States? If so, keep in mind that occupations were listed on draft registration cards for World Wars I and II.

2. Not Researching Historic Newspapers

I don’t think we can stress enough just how important it is to research old newspapers to trace your roots and find valuable information about your ancestors. Newspapers can offer up a great deal of clues about your ancestors’ occupations.
Research Remedy: 
Start researching historical newspapers right now! Look through articles, legal notices, classified ads, and even advertisements. You’ll be surprised at how many clues you may have been overlooking for far too long.

3. Devaluing Volunteer Work 

Think about it: If you are a family historian or genealogist by trade, volunteering for your local family history or genealogical library may just seem like second nature. And just like you, your ancestors would use their occupational skills to volunteer for various organizations and committees in their own communities. This is something that is often overlooked when searching for an ancestor’s occupation.
Research Remedy: 
If you know your ancestor volunteered time to a certain group or organization, then pay close attention to the skills they brought to the table. This could be your clue as to what they did for a living! Unsure if your ancestor was a volunteer? Don’t forget to ask your immediate and extended family members for some insight.

4. Forgetting About Family Heirlooms

Those dusty books, broken watches, and knick knacks from yesteryear could hold key information to discovering a family member’s occupation. So, head on up to the attic to sift through your hand-me-down family heirlooms, or pay a visit to Great Aunt Abigail and ask to take a closer look at her bookshelf and fireplace mantle.
Research Remedy: 
Pay close attention to old membership pins, occupational awards, cuff links, watches, and other items that could all contain workplace logos, union emblems, and even inscriptions. Those old books on your great aunt’s shelf may also contain inscriptions with clues about your ancestor’s occupation if gifted from a boss or coworker. Plus, old holiday menus and even office newsletters may offer information about the company for which your ancestor worked.

5. Neglecting Tax Records

Just as you shouldn’t forget to file your taxes, you should also remember to search through tax records to find valuable information about your ancestors — including their occupations. Of course, just like doing your taxes, searching through records of this type can also be…taxing. It may take you a while to find what you’re looking for, but you should never let that stop you from completing this crucial part of your ancestry search.
Research Remedy: 
Bite the bullet, and begin that taxing search through different types of tax records such as land taxes, personal property taxes, and more. Once you know what types of taxes your ancestor paid, this could provide some tell tale clues about his occupation. Perhaps your ancestor was taxed on a large amount of heavy machinery. Figure out what it was used for, and that could provide a clue as to what he did for a living.

Do you have other tips on how to find ancestors’ occupations? Let us know in the comments!

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

7 Strange Interests of Our Victorian Ancestors

 Your 19th Century Ancestors Were into Some Seriously Weird Stuff 

7 Strange Hobbies of the Victorian Era
Photo Credit: Wurzeltod via Compfight cc
Back in the 19th century before modern technology took over the entertainment scene, our ancestors were forced to figure out how to alleviate their boredom. Sometimes, reading a book or story telling just didn’t cut it. In addition to their fondness for dressing their pets as humans for family portraits, our Victorian ancestors had a plethora of other odd hobbies that were also surprisingly popular back in the day.
The following interests of your Victorian ancestors will make your weird hobbies seem totally normal!

Strange Hobbies from the Victorian Era

1. Participating in Vignettes

Victorian Era Hobby - Vignette
Photo credit:
Without iPhones or the Internet for entertainment, your Victorian ancestors (whether upper or middle class) would get together with friends and family members, dress up in crazy costumes, and then pose for each other enticing laughter and applause. This was a very popular interest at the time — and perfectly normal. If you can imagine doing this for your friends today, then you’re just as odd as your ancestors were! 

2. Attending Freak Shows

Victorian Era Freak Show Poster
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes, our Victorian ancestors could be fairly judgmental and enjoy laughing at people who looked strange. In both 19th century England and the United States, freak shows were at the height of their popularity and considered commercial successes. A “freak show” was an exhibition of biological rarities — think people with secondary sexual characteristics, and those with rare diseases that manifested outwardly making their physical appearances shocking. 
Sometimes this was the only way the “freaks” could make an honest living — all while passersby gawked. Yikes. Queen Victoria actually loved freak shows herself. Could you even imagine the Queen of England or the President of the United States participating in these demeaning behaviors today? It would truly be considered politically incorrect — and downright mean!

3. Displaying and Practicing Taxidermy

Photo credit: charlesfosterofdensen on Tumblr
Photo credit: charlesfosterofdensen on Tumblr
When you think of taxidermy, you likely think about Uncle Dan’s prized, stuffed deer head that he proudly displays on the wall of his den. Or, perhaps your mom even called upon a professional taxidermist to preserve your beloved family dog. But what you probably don’t think about is the act of anthropomorphic taxidermy — a hobby that delighted Victorians of all ages. With this type of taxidermy, mounted animals were either dressed as people or displayed in the home as if they were engaging in human activities. Walter Potter was the most successful and well-known anthropomorphic taxidermist creating scenes with everything from kittens playing croquet, to rabbits writing on slates in a schoolhouse.

4. Collecting Odd Things for Curiosity Cabinets

Victorian Era Strange Hobby - Cabinet of Curiosities
Photo credit: Steam Punk Things
Your ancestors from the Victorian era were likely avid collectors. Sometimes, they would stick to one type of item for their collections, but their curiosity cabinets also displayed some rather outrageous things that didn’t fit together at all. Curiosity collections would contain “curiosities” spanning everything from weird botanical finds, shrunken heads, geological specimens, bones found in the woods, shells, old weaponry and more. The more odd the collection was, the better! 

5. Hunting for Ferns

Victorian Era Fern Hunting - Strange Hobby
Photo credit: Darwin Country
In the Victorian era, your ancestors were also obsessed with exotic plants. So much so, that not only were their gardens filled with pretty flowers, but their wallpaper, clothing fabrics, jewelry and more fashion items were botanically-themed. Not too strange, right? Well, by 1855, pteridomania was all the rage. In other words, your ancestors loved hunting for ferns and cultivating them. Fern expeditions were popular in Europe, Asia and other other countries where Victorian people could find and bring wild fern specimens home. It may sound like another walk in the park to you, but fern hunting was actually quite dangerous — exactly why your ancestors were thrilled to go on the hunt!

6. Communicating with the Dead

Victorian Era Seance - Strange Hobby
Photo credit: Steam Punk Circus
Spiritualism was at its peak during the late 19th century. And as you likely already know, your Victorian ancestors were obsessed with the dead, and for good reason. Back in the Victorian era, practically everyone experienced a death of at least one of their immediate family members. People living in the 19th century thus had an affinity for the afterlife that fueled their hobby of performing and participating in seances. During a seance, mediums would help your ancestors communicate with deceased family members and friends. Even if it didn’t actually work, it helped your ancestors reach loved ones and feel more at peace.

7. Posing for Mourning Photos

Victorian Era Mourning Photo
Photo Credit: liquidnight via Compfight cc
One of the most creepy and popular interests your ancestors participated in during Victorian times has got to be post-mortem photography. As stated previously, our Victorian ancestors were very much obsessed with the dead. So much that they photographed dead family members and posed with them for family portraits. Even when a family pet would pass away, families would pose for memorial photos with their furry friends. Yes, this may freak you out a bit, but it was a normal photography practice back then.

Have you found any Victorian photos where your ancestors are participating in strange hobbies? 

Let us know in the comments!  

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