Picturing Your Ancestor’s Occupation


Blacksmith. Railroad Engineer. Chef. Logger. Farmer.

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

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

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

Sea Sponges at market

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

All that because of a postcard.

What Images Exist of Your Ancestor’s Occupation?

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

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

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

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

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

Illustrate Your Family Story

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


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

The Search for More about the Incredible Mary Ann Patten

Remember Mary Ann Brown Patten? In my last post, Mary Ann Patten: A Case Study I told you a little but about her amazing life and the beginning of my research into her life. I started with an online survey to see what information I could find. Next, I wanted to explore books and periodicals that could assist me in telling her story. Remember, these aren’t necessarily resources that will provide me genealogical data but instead provide me context for her life.

I’m going to begin by using WorldCat. WorldCat is a worldwide library catalog with over two billion items (books, periodicals, theses, archival collections). While not every library participates in WorldCat, it’s a great place to start my search. Best of all, I can enter my zip code or city to see what libraries “nearest to me” have the item I need.

My goal for using WorldCat is to see what books might help me learn more about Mary Ann’s life on a clipper ship. I want to also explore books that will help me learn more about where she lived, her family (her birth family but also the family she married in and created), maritime history, and 19th century Massachusetts women.

WorldCat Search


I know that the ship Mary Ann navigated was the Neptune’s Car so I’m going to search and see if I can find a history of that ship. The search for “Neptune’s Car” resulted in 64 results. A few of those results are children’s books and historical fiction accounts about the ship and Mary Ann, however, I did see one interesting result that I thought initially would be useful.


As I looked at this result I thought it might be a broadside celebrating Mary Ann’s historic voyage. Unfortunately, since it’s impossible for me to get to a library that has this item it may seem like I should not pursue it. However, I noticed that the website listed as having an online version is Newsbank. Newsbank owns GenealogyBank. Taking a chance I could find it there, I look and I do find it. However, although there isn’t a clear year when this item was printed, the month (April) listed on the item does not match when Mary Ann docked in San Francisco (December 1856). While it is an item I could use to tell the history of the ship it doesn’t directly deal with the time period that Mary Ann was on it.


My search of WorldCat does uncover some other archival items I’m interested in and not surprisingly one is located in San Francisco at the Maritime Research Library located at the Maritime Historical Center. It appears that this item is in the periodical American History (Feb 2005) which means I can look for it somewhere else. However, it’s a good reminder that since Mary Ann docked in San Francisco, I may want to look at manuscript collections in maritime museums and archives in San Francisco.


One other item that I am interested in is located at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem Massachusetts and is called [Material relating to the clipper ship Neptune's Car and Mary Ann Patten who assumed command of the ship when her husband, Captain Joshua Adams Patten became ill on a voyage from New York to San Francisco in 1856]. I’m not really sure what that is. It’s listed as a biography/book with 12 pages. But I’m unsure who wrote it or when or if it can shed anymore light on Mary Ann. After exploring the Peabody Essex Museum website, I decide that I’ll contact them and see what more I can learn about this items and other items that might help tell this story.

I want to momentarily go back to the historical fiction book about Mary Ann that I found on WorldCat. I don’t want to discount it as a possible help to my research. My experience is that most historical fiction authors conduct a lot of research into their subject. They visit libraries, archives, and interview historians. So I will read the book I found (The Captain’s Wife by Douglas Kelly) and see what insight and what sources were used in the compiling of this narrative. I also need to access the history I found on Neptune’s Car written by Paul W Simpson.

Now there’s much more I need to do in WorldCat including identifying other books about clipper ship history, the time period, the place where Mary Ann and Joshua lived, and even possible family histories. But for now, let’s move on to JSTOR.


If you haven’t used JSTOR, please do yourself a favor and explore it. JSTOR’s About page explains that it “provides access to more than 12 million academic journal articles, books, and primary sources in 75 disciplines.” You can sign up for a free account that allows you to save three articles at a time on a virtual bookshelf. You can also pay for a subscription or use it at a subscribing library (the Family History Library in Salt Lake City has a subscription).

Image5It seems obvious to me that I should have some luck finding articles written by historians about Neptune’s Car. I do a search on JSTOR and only receive 21 results. I have to admit this is disappointing but I realize I may need to do more searches using other keywords to find what I need. A few of my results deal with clipper ships but nothing that looks really promising.


So I play around with search terms. I use Mary Ann’s name and nothing relevant matches. I try a search on maritime women and receive some promising results that would help me better understand what it was like to be a woman on a ship. I then find one hit that looks promising.


I used Google Books to learn more about this book and read that

In 1852 Hannah Rebecca Crowell married sea captain William Burgess and set sail. Within three years, Rebecca Burgess had crossed the equator eleven times and learned to navigate a vessel. In 1856, 22-year-old Rebecca saved the ship Challenger as her husband lay dying from dysentery. The widow returned to her family’s home in Sandwich, Massachusetts, where she refused all marriage proposals and died wealthy in 1917.

Another woman who did almost exactly what Mary Ann did! The author of this book used Hannah’s writings that she donated to a historical society. I know I need this book to get ideas of sources and context for Mary Ann’s life.


Now do you remember in Part one I wrote about Eleanor Creesy? I had found her when I did a Google search and she had also navigated a clipper ship, the Flying Cloud. As I did more searching for her story I realized that I owned a book about her life appropriately titled Flying Cloud by David W Shaw. I pulled that book from my shelf and went searching for any relevant bibliography and sources. Now unfortunately there are no source citations in the book , however, he does say that the Flying Cloud’s log is at the Peabody Essex Museum (there’s that museum again, so it’s quickly becoming a must-visit for me). The author also talks about other sources consulted such as crew diaries, vital records, and archival collections. I’m going to use these sources as a guide for what I need to be searching. These collections he found were in varied places including Massachusetts and California reminding me that multiple locations could hold what I need and that our ancestors are found in the personal papers of others (remember the FAN club)?

Now What?

I still have a lot to do. I’m not done identifying all of the genealogical and archival materials I need. I have some books to read by authors who’ve done similar research. I also want to plan a trip to Boston and Salem to take advantage of various historical societies, maritime museum, and library collections. I’m feeling fairly confident at this point that I could find enough materials to describe what it was like for Mary Ann on Neptune’s Car and what she did with a combination of genealogy, local history, maritime history, and social history sources.


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

It's OK to Take a Break

It's OK to Take A Break

One of my Philibert cousins discovered genealogy in her early 40s. This discovery led her on a journey where she did everything she could to find the answers to her family history mysteries. She learned French so she could read the records of our French-Canadian ancestors. She interviewed the neighbors of her immigrant grandmother to discover insights into her life. She strolled the grounds of the asylum where that same grandmother's life ended. She scanned and preserved the World War II letters of her parents, before that was a “thing” to do. She even took a trip to visit her paternal Eastern European homeland.

And then after almost two decades of enthusiastic research, travel, and sharing her findings with family via her annual Christmas letter she stopped. She took a break.

Now of course, genealogy is never “done.” She wasn't done. But she felt she came to a point where she could take a break. She took a genealogical break until I came around asking questions. She then picked it up and together we talked about family, looked over photos, and she generously shared the documents she had devoted years her to collecting.

My article A Genealogical To-Do List While You Keep Your Distance provides different ideas about what you could do if you are sheltering in place. I wanted to share those ideas because I know that sometimes I can lose focus and need a reminder of what I could do next. I thought that those who find themselves with a little extra time right now might enjoy some fresh ideas to choose from.

Some of us have been sheltering in place for over a month, I know that this time can be filled with stress. For some, this time of quarantine is filled with more to-do items than normal life requires. Some of you might be homeschooling, something you would have never volunteered to do. I homeschooled two kids so I know what type of effort that takes. Some of you might be taking care of loved ones who are sick. Even if your family is well, they are now home 24/7 which requires a lot of cooking, cleaning, and patience. I know this is a difficult time and emotions and feelings are raw and at the surface. Those feelings will continue the longer everyone's routines are disrupted.

That’s why I want you to know that I also think it’s ok to take a break. Put the genealogy research away. One of my friends said it best when he told me, “our dead ancestors aren’t going anywhere.”

Genealogy isn’t a contest. We don’t get a prize for having researched the most ancestors, writing the most narratives, or citing the most sources during a pandemic. It’s ok to say that you want to take a break. In fact, I think that taking a break can make us better researchers. I know I get some of my better ideas when I’m not doing anything related to research.

So this is a good time to binge watch that weird show everyone is talking about or to finally learn how to crochet, or to go photograph the birds outside. In addition to working I’m also trying to work on my GoodReads reading goal for the year (38 more books to go!).

Now’s the time to consider doing genealogy in a different way. We are so lucky to have access to online tools. Focus on your living family. Use video calls, online meeting rooms, instant messaging, social network websites, and email to connect with family. Ask them questions or provide prompts that will have them talking about memories of holidays, recipes, photographs, and family. Start a Facebook group for an ancestor and invite everyone to post what they know including photos of documents and heirlooms.

Use this time to create your own genealogy conference by creating a playlist of webinars. Use the Libby app to check-out books about genealogy and history. Connect with some of your online genealogy friends and meet virtually.

This is a great time to do genealogy differently. It’s ok to take a break. 

Best of all, do what’s best for you and stay healthy. Genealogy will always be here.


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


Pre-internet "Cousin Bait" Creates 21st Century Resources


Some family historians refer to their blogs as “cousin bait.” Why? Because blogs and the information they contain leave a virtual paper trail for potential cousins to find. In all actuality there are various kinds of online cousin bait that researchers leave behind in the hopes that someone will discover our shared family history information and contact us. For example, online family trees are a form of cousin bait. Even online DNA profiles serve as a means to attract long lost family.

Those who have researched their family history prior to the advent of the Internet also left “cousin bait.” They accomplished this differently than today but it was still done with the same purpose, to find family history researchers for potential collaboration. One example of this older cousin bait is found in the page of Everton’s Genealogical Helper Magazine.

Started in 1947, at one time Everton’s was the genealogy magazine. For those of us who have been researching family history in the United States for longer than a few decades, we remember how Everton’s was a place to read how-to articles and scan postings by other genealogists hoping to network with long-lost cousins. While this kind of magazines is typically long forgotten when it ceases publication, in the case of Everton’s some parts continue to exist via the MyHeritage website.

One example of this is the Everton Pedigree and Family Group Sheets collection.

The Everton Pedigree and Family Group sheets

The Everton Pedigree and Family Group Sheets collection is “more than 3.5 million names in more than 150,000 pedigree charts and family group sheets.” MyHeritage explains that

Started during the Mar-Apr 1979 issue of Everton's Genealogical Helper, the information was originally gathered through user-generated submission via advertisement in Everton's Genealogical Helper, this collection displays the archival efforts of thousands of genealogical enthusiasts, all who are trying to connect with their relatives across time and space. The records within this collection may not be up-to-date to present day research, but they are believed to be up-to-date as of the date of reception of the individual record. All records have this date stamped on them. Many of the pedigree charts and family group sheets contain documentations and sources, although others simply cite the information collector, or the person who is sending in the material. Pedigree charts and family group sheets within this collection range in date from fourteen and fifteenth centuries (information on the charts, not the charts themselves) to the present.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. This is user submitted information so how good could it be? Point taken. Just like with online family trees, these should be used as a clue and researchers should do their own research to prove (or disprove) information provided. But even with that said, let me show you what you can find and the value of this content.

Consider this example of a Family Group Record for John Delbridge and Jane Nichols. On page two the submitter notes that some of the information for the husband and wife is from the 1870 and 1880 census for Mercer County, Pennsylvania, a marriage record, and a naturalization record. While not complete source citations they do provide clues that would need to be followed up on. But notice the sources for the children: “letter from Lena Delbridge to Richard Delbridge in possession of Florence Delbridge of St. Clairsville, OH; family records of Florence Delbridge concerning Richard; Wm Henry's birth record, marriage record, death record, and obituary; naturalization records; 1880 & 1900 censuses of Clay Co., IN; 1900 census Jefferson Co, Al; 1900 Census Belmont Co, OH.

The submitter also goes on to say that "many of the children were coal miners and moved from place to place with the availability of work." The thorough family history researcher would need to double check these sources, but what a clue they provide.




This next example, also a Family Group Record, I used in my recent free MyHeritage webinar available from Legacy Family Tree Webinars. I love this example from Harry F. Spitzer because it provides information that the submitter knew first hand.

Dad was a farmer all his life. Mom was a teacher at Star School in Bent Co., Not sure weather [sic] it was before or after she married dad. Mom died when I was very young (5 yrs old) from complications associated with cancer. Dad raised all of us kids with a lot of help from my older sisters especially Mary.


How great is that? He provides genealogically important information about his parents and siblings and then includes his own memories. Something we should all consider doing as we upload our own information onto online family trees.

I love this database because it provides us with ephemeral information from a magazine that no longer exists that we might otherwise assume wouldn’t still be available. It’s also searchable by every name, allowing us to find family members , especially women, with their nuclear family or the family they married into.

This MyHeritage database isn’t the only one that provides the ability to search Everton’s Genealogical Helper content. MyHeritage also has the Everton’s Genealogical Helper Magazine database which should also be searched. Researchers may find that someone else was looking for the same ancestor decades previously.

What Have You Found?

There are paper trails out there, and part of being a thorough researcher is knowing where to look. Unique databases on subscription websites provide us a glimpse of much more than just census or vital record information. The key is to search their catalogs carefully.


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

What Uncommon Sources Have You Used?


It's probably not a surprise to anyone that I’m a huge fan of uncommon sources (my Legacy webinar on 25 Uncommon Sources for Your Genealogy was recently released) and I’m always on the lookout for them. Why? Because they can provide you the genealogical information you’re looking for and so much more. They are especially important as substitutes for records that no longer exist.

Where did my love of uncommon sources start? My background is researching women's lives and so records that document their lives have always been a favorite.  Friendship quilts and community cookbooks are particular favorites of mine. I also love other sources that provide surprising information like Farm Directories that I have found that include directory information, and in some cases,  the wife's maiden name.  

As a beginning genealogist I devoured the book Hidden Sources (2000) by Laura Szucs Pfeiffer. This guidebook of  little used sources, some that are more common in today’s world of digitized records, was one I studied chapter-by-chapter learning more about exciting sounding records such as Body Transit Records, Bird’s Eye View Maps, Midwife Records, and the US Serial Set. She taught me that that there were other records genealogists needed to use aside from the more common genealogical sources of the US Federal Census and vital records. Reading about these records and then looking for examples is what hooked me into wanting to learn more about what could possibly exist.

The idea about using unusual sources really is that we need to think more in terms of what is available for a time and place and not just what are “genealogy sources.” It’s sort of like going to a local bookstore. You could look at the “genealogy” section but you could also find relevant books in the history, sociology, and even cookbook sections.

So where do you find unusual sources?

  • It’s probably no surprise that I’m going to say that you should READ! I read a lot of magazines, online articles and non-fiction books. I always turn to the bibliography and footnotes and see what they have that might be relevant to my own research or for me to know to suggest to others.
  • Go through the FamilySearch Catalog. Choose the State or country you’re researching and go through the various subjects. What do you see that you’re not familiar with? If you narrow your search by Online (look to the right of your results list) you can go through the records you find and to become more familiar. Once you conduct that search, do a second search for the county or similar region and go through those subjects.
  • Listen to more webinars! Ok, you know I had to say this, right? But I am serious. I’m a huge believer in continuing education and Legacy’s over 1000 webinars is the perfect example of how you can learn more. Choose a topic or a favorite presenter and listen. If you’re a subscriber, download the handouts and take note of any source you’re not familiar with.
  • Decide on an uncommon source goal. Think of a source you’re not familiar with and make it a goal to learn more about it this coming year. I’ve done that in the past like the year I decided to study all of the women’s repatriation records at the National Archives at Riverside. Studying various records whether it’s at home through a website or in person is the way for you to learn more about what is available.

This year I’m taking a closer look at voting records (2020 is the anniversary of the 19th amendment here in the United States), runaway wife newspaper ads, and divorce records. My hope is to learn more about these records, why they exist and what they can tell us about our ancestors.

Now it’s your turn. I want to learn from you. What is an uncommon source that you love? What’s something you’ve used in your family history but it seems like few people know about it. What’s a source that you are going to spend time learning more about? Tell me about that source in the comments below.


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

Did You Notice? Google Books Has a New Look

This month Google celebrates 15 years of providing digitized books to the world by updating the Google Books website. If you’ve heard any presentation I’ve given you know that I believe Google Books is the best non-genealogy genealogy website there is. Google Books provides family history researchers with free digitized books that include local histories, city directories, genealogically relevant periodicals, family history books and more. In addition, there are “card catalog” entries for books under copyright protection with the ability to find that book in a library or bookstore.

Google Books home

Google’s  blog post unveils the new changes and reminds readers that over 40 million books in 400 languages are available on the website.[1] This new redesign allows you to access everything you want to know about that book in one place. About the update, Google writes “We’ve redesigned Google Books so people can now quickly access details like the book’s description, author’s history and other works, reader reviews and options for where you can purchase or borrow the book. And for those using Google Books for research, each book’s bibliographies are located prominently on the page and the citation tool allows you to cite the source in your preferred format, all in one spot.” (Watch the video found on the blog post to catch genealogist Lisa Lisson talk about how she uses Google Books for genealogy). 

The new look is clean and allows you to easily read more about the book, the author, view the table of contents and a source citation.


Google Books 1


By clicking on the Search inside button you can page through the book or use a search engine to find your keywords of interest.


Google Books Add to my library

Don’t forget the Add to my Library button which allows you to place books on virtual bookshelves. This is a great feature for creating bookshelves for the surname, location, or topic you’re researching. You will need a Google Account (your Gmail credentials serve as a Google Account) in order to access this service.

Scrolling down the screen for the book you are interested allows you to easily find  a place to buy the book or enter your zip code for the library nearest you with that item via the worldwide library catalog WorldCat. The book’s page also shows other editions of that book.

Google Books 2

Are you using Google Books? If you’re not, start today! Conduct a search on your ancestor’s name or the place they called home. I know that you will find something you can use for your research.

[1] “15 Years of Google Books,” The Keyword (https://www.blog.google/products/search/15-years-google-books/: accessed 20 October 2019).


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

Finding Genealogy Clues in Coroner’s Records

Did your ancestor meet a tragic or untimely death? Perhaps you tracked down his or her death certificate and it included a notation about an autopsy, and/or a medical certificate of death, with the signature of a coroner or medical examiner.

Death certificates are staples of genealogy research, but many times there is more to the story. Coroners investigated all types of unexplained deaths from drug overdoses to drownings, mishaps to murders, making their records useful for learning more about an ancestor.

A coroner is a public official whose primary function is to investigate by inquest any death thought to be of other than natural causes or occur under unusual circumstances. Sometimes an elected position, the Office of the Coroner dates back to the Anglo-Saxon Common Law system of government, making it the oldest administrative office. This is sometimes an elected position, and the individual may not have a medical background. The powers and responsibilities have changed over the years.

In general, coroners look at all available information to determine the cause of death (natural or not), decide whether to order a post-mortem examination (autopsy) if there are questions around the cause of death, and hold an inquest if the post-mortem shows the death was due to something other than natural causes. The purpose of an inquest is to find out the facts not for judging who was to blame. In many areas, the Office of the Coroner was abolished and replaced with the office of the Medical Examiner. Medical Examiners are appointed to their position and almost always are physicians (learn more here).

Bain News Service, Publisher. Coroner Israel L. Feinberg. , . [No Date Recorded on Caption Card] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ggb2006013195/. (Accessed May 08, 2017.)


In addition to detailing specifics about an ancestor’s demise, coroner's records can also reveal plenty of genealogy research clues. Typically, a coroner used a standard pre-printed form. The contents and format will vary by locality and time period may include some or all of the following:

Inquest form (details on deceased). If the coroner determined the cause of death was criminal negligence or murder, he held an inquest.
• Testimony/ies: During an inquest, the court appointed jurors and called witnesses to testify.
• Affidavit (testimony/deposition). Some of these witnesses may have been relatives, and in addition to their names and relationships to the deceased, the records might include their addresses.
• Postmortem findings (autopsies).
• Necrology report; Pathology Report, Toxicology Report
• Proof of identity

How to Locate Coroner’s Records

Coroner and medical examiner files generally are open to the public. If the ones you need are not, family history research may be a legitimate reason for access (check the local laws). Here are a few suggestions for starting your search.

First, check home and family sources (documents, photographs, etc.) and ask relatives if they can remember details about any unusual or suspicious deaths.

A quick Google search on the county and state, plus “coroner case files” or “coroner records” will usually turn up a website for the coroner or medical examiner office in the jurisdiction where the death occurred. Use online databases provided by the county or other government office. Sites such as Cyndi’s List and USGenWeb are also great resources for finding other websites. Also, the Online Searchable Death Indexes and Records site by Joe Beine offers a quick glance at different types of death records available online for free or in subscription databases. The site is organized by state and under Indiana has a link the Monroe County Indiana Obituary Index, which includes a downloadable PDF file of The Monroe County Coroner’s Reports (1896 – 1935) in a summarized table format. Below is a sample page.

[Image courtesy of Monroe County Public Libary https://mcpl.info/indiana/monroe-county-obituary-index; accessed 17 May 2019]

For older records, consider searching at state, regional, local or university libraries and repositories, or genealogical and historical societies. For example, I have had success with locating coroner case files for several ancestors in the Allegheny County Coroner Case Files housed at the University of Pittsburgh. You can view samples of their case files here.

Also, consult the FamilySearch Wiki online (do a keyword search for “Coroner’s Records”) to find digitized records now available online, or links to other FamilySearch Historical Records Published Collections. And don’t forget to check the Family History Library (FHL) catalog for microfilm available for viewing at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City (do a place search for the locality and look under vital records. For example, this digitized image from Coroner's records, Waterbury District, 1917-1931 (New Haven, Connecticut) on Family Search offers details about Irving Webster, who died on 1 January 1931 in New Hartford, from “a saw wound of the skull by being struck by a flying fragment of a circular saw.”

[Image credit: FamilySearch https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C348-M95H-W?i=108&cat=530541 <accessed 17 May 2019>.


Scour historical newspapers for articles about your ancestor. Check websites such as GenDisasters.com to learn about disasters or tragic events, or search for blogs that discuss murder, suicides and other suspicious deaths in a locality. Google Books can turn up unusual record sets or books. For example, I found an eBook History of Pittsburgh & Environs and in it there is a photograph of, Samuel L. Jamison the Coroner for Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, whose signature appears on reports I located for two separate ancestors.

Researching Coroner's records may take some extra time and effort, but if you are lucky to find a file or report for your ancestor, there may be useful genealogy clues included to help you solve some of those family history mysteries.

To learn more about this record set, you may wish to check out my webinar on “Cause of Death: Using Coroner's Records for Genealogy” (available for subscribers in the Legacy Family Tree Webinars Library).


For over two decades, author and instructor Lisa A. Alzo has been educating and inspiring genealogists around the world to research and write about their ancestors. She has presented 45 webinars for Legacy Family Tree Webinars. Lisa coaches aspiring family history writers through her online courses at Research, Write, Connect https://www.researchwriteconnect.com



Where did the children go?


There are some U.S. states that give researchers more problems than other states. Lately I've been researching my Pennsylvania ancestors. Before 1900, Pennsylvania gives me a lot of trouble. Here's an example of one of my problems.

In 1857 my 3rd great grandfather, Simon George, died Indiana County, Pennsylvania. At least we can say that he disappears from census and other records by 1860. But Simon is not my problem, at least not for today. What bothers me is that Simon left behind a 33 year old wife, Lydia, and four small children: Jacob, age 10; Sarah, age 8; Ann, age 6, and Susan Jane, age 5. I can't find any trace of Lydia or her children in the 1860 US Federal Census. My mind doesn't seem to want to let go of missing children so here's f I'm doing to find them.

Start with what you know

I started with what I do know for sure - that the family lived together (Simon, Lydia and the first two children born by 1850, Jacob and Sarah) in Brush Valley, Pennsylvania in 1850. It would make most sense to start by searching the 1860 census for the family in Brush Valley also, but 10 years is long time for a mother with four young children. I carefully looked for every Lydia without a surname (in case she got remarried) and with four children matching the names, Jacob, Sarah, Ann and Susan. No results. Strike one.

I also know that Jacob, my 2nd great grandfather, lived in Burrell, Indiana, Pennsylvania in 1870 with his new wife. Perhaps the family had moved to that town which is the next town over? I searched for every Jacob George in Burrell and all of Indiana County in the 1860 US Federal Census. Strike two.

Get on to a different website

Next, in an attempt to find different information, I decided to use a different database site. In an unusual move I chose FindaGrave.com. My thought was, if I could locate one of the family members in a cemetery maybe by searching the same cemetery I could find the rest. FindaGrave has a handy feature that lets you search the same surname in the same cemetery making searching very easy. You can also then switch over to searching any name in the cemetery.

Jacob George, the son, died in 1909 and is buried in Greenwood cemetery in Indiana, Indiana County, Pennsylvania. There are many Georges buried in Greenwood cemetery. Unfortunately, none of them are his siblings or parents. A general search of FindaGrave.com for the father, Simon George, in Indiana County, Pennsylvania came up empty. Strike three.

Broadening Out the Search

I was beginning to think that the whole family was hiding behind a new husband's surname not just potentially Lydia. Sometimes census enumerators wrote all the children down with the surname of the head of the household. They weren't helping descendants and future genealogists!

I focused in on Jacob, the only son, and my direct ancestor. I constructed searches with varying information such as a last name and a birth year. And then simply Jacob with a birth year (plus or minus a few years). I had to carefully scan every entry looking to find the other members of the family - mother, Lydia and sisters Sarah, Ann and Susan.


There in the 1860 US Federal Census I found Jacob Murphy born about 1847 listed in the household of Jacob Murphy, head, in Brush Valley. Ironically you might think they were father and son because of their sharing the same name. The rest of the household had wife Lidia (lesson to me to be more careful to look for misspellings!), Sarah, Ann, Susanna and one year old (what looks like) Bullian Murphy. I would imagine the name were really William Murphy but the enumerators Bs and Ws are clearly different on the page. So it appears that Lydia George got remarried to Jacob Murphy sometime between 1857 and 1860.

Post Script

I was relieved to finally solve the mystery of Lydia and her family in the 1860 census. But one mystery leads to the next. As quickly as they are found, they disappear. Jacob Murphy, Lydia and 1 year old son disappear and are no where to be found in the United States in the 1870 US Federal Census. That's another mystery for another day. Some day I will discover when and where Lydia died.

Lessons to Learn

Today's genealogy databases and search engines are very good but they can't make up for errors written into the census. If you are having difficulty finding your ancestors get creative with the spellings of their names (or "loosen" up the search parameters so that you don't search for "exact") or consider that, like in my case, they were hiding under a different surname. Any time there are mixed families in one household this can happen. Not just with second families but also with households that contain grandparents and grandchildren with different surnames. In this case, stop focusing on the surname and search instead for the first name and a birth date.

How would you have solved my dilemma? What tricks do you have up your sleeve for finding missing ancestors in a census record?


Marian Pierre-Louis is the Online Education Producer for Legacy Family Tree Webinars. She hosts the monthly evening webinar on the second Tuesday of each month. She is also the host of The Genealogy Professional podcast. Her areas of expertise include house history research and southern New England research. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.

OneNote Q&A: Your Questions Answered

This is a special guest post from Legacy Webinar Speaker, Tessa Keough.

Using OneNote with Genealogy

We got lots of questions during last Wednesday’s webinar Using Microsoft OneNote with Your Genealogy. I answered most of them, but a few of them only partially and one or two stumped me. As promised, I did a bit of sleuthing and found the complete answers for you. Thanks to everyone who attended the webinar, asked questions, and posted comments after the webinar. I really appreciated the feedback and hope you will give Microsoft OneNote a try. I think you will enjoy using it as one of your genealogy tools.

1. Stanley asked "Does OneNote support footnotes?"

I did not use OneNote for writing and publishing my work (I use Microsoft Word or Scrivener) but was aware that OneNote has a style entitled “citation.” I took a look at citation – it simply formats what you type into 9 point font. If you select Home, then select superscript at Basic Text features, you could add a footnote number at the end of a sentence and manually add a footnote (I wouldn’t). So, No, OneNote does not have a footnote feature, as Microsoft Word does.

Best Tool

2. Jerry asked "If you have shared a OneNote Notebook, can the person who has privileges share your Notebook with others without your permission?"

There is a difference between Sharing with "Can View" permission and "Can Edit" permission.

Notebooks marked Can View – person has view-only permission so they can only open and read the notebook. They cannot move it or change it.

Notebooks marked Can Edit – person and move and copy the notebook and share the notebook with others.

While you could add a message asking recipient not to share without permission or a footer to your notes with copyright information – you need to Share with Can Edit permissions with those you trust.

3. Clara asked "Does OneNote have storage limitations?"

The free OneDrive account comes with 5 GB of storage and theOffice 365 accountOneDrive account has 1 TB of storage. If you don’t have a subscription to an Office 365 account and are interested in storage only, you can purchase 50 GB of additional storage for $1.99/month.

4. Stanley asked "If you attach a file in OneNote, does it need to be located on OneDrive?"

If you are using the OneNote App and saving to OneDrive, you would need to save your PDF to OneDrive as well if you are linking the document to OneNote. If you are adding the PDF file, it will be on the page in your OneNote (and synced to OneDrive) so the PDF would not need to be located on OneDrive.

5. Matt asked "What the difference is between Windows Snipping Tool and OneNote Clipper and which would be best to use with OneNote?"

The OneNote Clipper is specifically designed work with OneNote AND to clip from your Internet browser to OneNote – it sits in the upper right hand corner of the browser ready to work (full page, region, article, or bookmark). The clip contains the source as a link, and you can add a note to the clip before clipping. You can also choose where to file the clip (you choose the notebook and section). If you are doing online research, use the tool designed to clip and file automagically to your OneNote notebook(s).

The Windows Snipping Tool sits on your taskbar and can snip anything from a browser’s full screen, window, or a region. However, that snip is then saved as a capture (in the form of a png, gif, jpg, or single file HTML) in Windows Photos (by default). You must name and file that capture (on your desktop, with images, in a document, etc.) but the snip does not contain source information. Note that theWindows Snipping Tool is moving and will now be Windows Snip & Sketch. It looks like it has the same features; however, your capture is now called an annotation and it includes the date. An added feature is three choices for a time delay before snipping. The look of Windows Snip & Sketch is similar to the updated Windows Photos and Windows Printing function.

Clipper vs Snipper

6. Beverly asked "How to find which version of OneNote you are using?

In OneNote 2016 (or earlier versions) you will select File (on the Ribbon) and select Account. Your Office product information includes About OneNote, listing the version and build. In OneNote App you will select the three dots in the upper right hand corner and select Settings and select Account. Your OneNote product information lists the version and build.

7. Finally, Marnie and Linda both asked "Are there size limitations for OneNote?" – page limits, section limits, and notebook limits.

There is no limit as to how many notes you can take in OneNote, you are only limited by how much storage you have. If you use the OneNote App, check your OneDrive storage limit. If you use OneNote 2016 (or earlier versions) and keep your notebooks on your local drive only – check your hard drive storage limits. And from Microsoft OneNote Support - there are no maximum number of notebooks, sections, and pages you can create in OneNote AND the maximum size of a file upload to OneDrive is 10GB. I think you have plenty of note creating and note keeping storage available!


Tessa Keough takes advantage of 21st century technology to work on her own family history as well as engage in specialized projects. These projects include a one-place study of her grandfather's native community of Plate Cove East, Newfoundland, and a one-name study of her Keough surname. Check out her webinars in the Legacy Family Tree Webinars Library.

Try Goodreads for Genealogy Inspiration

Are you using Goodreads ? I will admit that I wasn’t until recently. It was one of those websites that I signed up for years ago and then almost as soon as I had, I forgot about it. Recently my nephew helped me to see the importance of Goodreads and how it can be helpful to family historians.

Goodreads website

First, let me explain what Goodreads is. The Goodreads About Us web page states, “Goodreads is the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations. Our mission is to help people find and share books they love.” Wikipedia  explains that Goodreads is “a social cataloging website that allows individuals to freely search its database of books, annotations, and reviews. Users can sign up and register books to generate library catalogs and reading lists. They can also create their own groups of book suggestions, surveys, polls, blogs, and discussions.”

To be honest, even though I LOVE books, these website descriptions weren’t enough to interest me. What did finally interest me was the ability to create virtual  “bookshelves” of books I want to read or have read. Goodreads does more than this but I want to focus on this aspect of the app and how it can help family historians.

What really convinced me to give the Goodreads app a try were the experiences and enthusiasm of  those around me. My brother and nephew use it to find new books and track their reading. My brother even challenged himself to set a reading goal for 2018 which you can do via the Goodreads Reading Challenge (you can find this under the More link on the app). Legacy Webinar speaker and archivist Melissa LeMaster Barker (The Archive Lady) says, “I am an avid user of the Goodreads app. I love the fact that I can access my collection of genealogy and archives books that I own anytime and anywhere. This comes in real handy when I am at the bookstore and I am wondering if I have a particular book, I just check the Goodreads app. Also, if I come across a source citation for a particular book in a reference work at the archives, I can check to see if I have that book by checking the app. I can also add genealogy and archives related books to my “to-read list” by just accessing the app and adding the book to the list.”

So after talking to friends and family it became obvious to me that Goodreads would enhance my reading life by tracking genealogy books I read and finding new books  to read to learn about my ancestors' life.

Getting Started

How do you get started with Goodreads? You can sign up for a free account on the Goodreads website or through the mobile app. I suggest that you use the app since that will give you the tools you need away from home at libraries and bookstores. To use the app you will need to first download the free Goodreads app  from your mobile device’s app store. Although you could just use the desktop version of the service, the Scan  feature is only available using a mobile device with a camera (more on this later).

Searching for Books

The Goodreads app is fairly simple to use. Why I fell in love with it is its ability to add books to virtual bookshelves labeled, Want to Read, Currently Reading, and Read. Goodreads allows you to create additional bookshelves. I, of course, created a “genealogy” shelf but I could see this being useful for more specific genealogical topics (think DNA or Eastern European Genealogy). You can view your shelves and the books on them by clicking on My Books at the bottom toolbar of the app.


Two ways to add books to your bookshelves are by searching for a book (click Search at the bottom of the app and then enter a title or author) or  click on the books featured on the Goodreads  home page in  categories like  Trending and Popular or based on what you have read or what your “friends” have read/reading/ or want to read. Yes, Goodreads allows you to “friend” others (family, real life friends, those with similar reading interests) just as you do on other social media websites.

My books 2


Another way to add books is actually my favorite part of the mobile app,  the Scan feature. I don’t know about you but when I’m at a bookstore, the books I’m interested in far outweigh the amount of money I have to spend. So when that happens, you can scan the book’s barcode (look at the back cover) and Goodreads will identify that book and allow you to place it on a bookshelf. Easy! Now when I’m at a library,conference, a bookstore, or even a friend’s house, I can easily upload the books I want to read. And, I can even upload books in my own collection. What a great idea since I’ve bought the same book more than once on several occasions!

Scan book 2

There’s More

I’m just touching the surface of what you can do with Goodreads. Goodreads has other features that will enhance your genealogy as well including the ability to join groups, review what you’ve read,  and connect your Kindle with Goodreads (Goodreads is owned by Amazon) so that you can view your Kindle notes and highlights on the Goodreads app (to learn more about using Goodreads and Kindle together see the Goodreads Help subjects on this topic.)

Use Goodreads for your genealogy? Yes! Keep track of your 2019 genealogy reading goals by using Goodreads to track what you have read and what you want to read.


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