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American Ancestors – free database for genealogists at Curtis

June 26th, 2015

American-Ancestors-SymbolIf you are new to genealogy and have started researching ancestors who lived in New England, don’t forget that Curtis Library has purchased a subscription to for its library patrons.  The following describes the database:

It provides family historians access to more than 400 million records spanning the U.S. and beyond, including one of the most extensive online collections of early American records, and the largest searchable collection of published genealogical research journals and magazines. Special strengths include English, New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont), New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia materials.

You can use this database for free at Curtis Library.  Simply log on to the library’s website ( anywhere inside the library .  Click on the “Research” tab at the top of the page, then click on the “Genealogy” box.  There is a box with a link on the right side of the Genealogy page or you can click on the link on the left side that says “New England Historic Genealogical Society”.

Happy research!


Trouble reading handwriting?

June 5th, 2015

d0f6993a5d77b0095a8030b0c7860b73If you do genealogy for any length of time it is guaranteed that at some point you will need to decipher a handwritten document that seems to have been written by a Martian.

I have thrown my hands up in despair more than once because I can’t read words or names in a document that I’m convinced has useful information for me.

I’ve learned a few simple tricks over the years that have helped a bit in all of this.
• Look for words that you recognize and see how the writer formed letters in that word. Then compare to the word that you are trying to decipher and see if there are any similarities.

• Try writing the word yourself that you are trying to understand. Sometimes the actual process of writing unlocks something in our brains, allowing us to suddenly “see” the word in question.

• Try saying a word out loud. Again, that will sometimes unlock your brain so that it can “see” the word in question. Think phonetically – spelling of both language and names was often done by sound versus by any standardized spelling process.

There are a lot of great resources available online to help decipher handwriting. FamilySearch provides tutorials for multiple languages here.

The UK National Archives has an entire section of its website focused on paleography (reading old handwriting). You can access it here.

Check out the book Reading Early American Handwriting by Kip Sperry available at Curtis Library (Literature & Writing 427.973.S781 1998).

Happy research and I hope these tips are helpful!

Give genealogy podcasts a try – you’ll be glad you did!

May 29th, 2015

Blog_PodcastsI don’t tend to listen to podcasts much. I’m not sure why other than it is not a habit I’ve ever acquired. For those of you who don’t jump on the technology bandwagon, podcasts are the equivalent of radio shows but they are available for free on the internet. They are pre-recorded so they can be listened to anytime. Anyone can easily produce a podcast so the quality of what you find can vary tremendously.

Recently I’ve discovered that there are a LOT of genealogy podcasts and many of them are very well done.   It seemed silly to not explore what might be a great source of information for my genealogy research so I jumped into doing some research about what is available.

In the spirit of sharing what I’m learning, following are two highly recommended (by expert genealogists) genealogy podcasts that you might want to check out:

The Genealogy Guys – “The longest running, regularly produced genealogy podcast in the world!” Go their website at and then click on the image by each entry that says POD and the podcast will start playing. I was particularly interested in their March 17, 2015 podcast about newspaper research.

Lisa Louise Cooke, a well-known genealogist, also has a podcast called “Genealogy Gems”. You can start listening to her podcasts by going to , reviewing the various episodes to find what interests you, and then clicking on the POD symbol.

If you are interested in exploring more options take a look at these lists of genealogy podcasts:

I think I’ve discovered something new to do while I’m walking on the treadmill getting my exercise. Happy research!

The National Archives as a Genealogy Resource

May 15th, 2015

250px-US_National_Archives_BuildingI taught a genealogy class last week at People Plus in Brunswick.  One of the participants asked me about what the National Archives provided in terms of genealogy resources.  I had no idea so I decided to do a bit of research.

Here is where I started.  On the first page of the Resources for Genealogists you can find a nice PowerPoint tutorial for beginning genealogists.  It walks you through what is available at the National Archives.  You can download the presentation here, assuming you have PowerPoint on your computer – National Archives beginning-research.

The website also has an interesting list of resources available to be searched online, most of which will be very helpful to genealogists.  You can find the list by scrolling down to the bottom of this page.  Included here are POW lists from WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War; passenger lists into the Port of New York from 1846-1851, including the “Famine Irish data files”; and Japanese-American Internee File, 1942-1946.

Finally, there is a useful page about how to care for your personal family archives.  You can see that information here.  I was particularly interested in this because I have huge quantities of old photographs that I’m trying to figure out how to preserve.

Happy research and I definitely recommend spending a bit of time researching the National Archives website!

New Irish Genealogy Resource

May 1st, 2015

diocese2Are you studying Irish genealogy as part of tracing your family history? If so, you’ll be interested in the following information.

The National Library of Ireland ( has announced that its Roman Catholic parish registers collection will go online, available for free, as of July 8, 2015.  You can read more information about this on the Irish Genealogy News website.

These records, which are considered the single most important source of information on Irish family history prior to the 1901 census, consist primarily of baptism and marriage records and date from the 1740s to the 1880s.

ie--dublinIrish genealogy research can be intimidating because the majority of relevant records were destroyed during the Irish Civil War in 1922 when the Public Record Office of Ireland, a major repository of records, was hit by a shell which exploded and destroyed almost all of the records.

However, more and more Irish genealogy resources are being digitized and going online.  So, if Irish genealogy is on your to-do list, keep an eye out for this new resource and others to come. Happy research!

Map tool for U.S. genealogy research

April 13th, 2015

If your genealogy research is in the United States, the following is a useful (free!) tool to explore:  The Atlas of Historical County Borders (found on the website of The Newberry Library of Chicago – worth a visit on its own) can help you identify how changes in county borders may have an impact on where you seek out your genealogy records.

The website provides interactive maps for all states in the US. If you click on the state of particular interest, you can then select a time-frame. The county configuration from that time will then show up on the map, overlaid on the current county structure.

Several additional map layers are provided, including modern county seats, unsuccessful county proposals, modern county boundaries, and state boundaries. Each of these layers can be toggled on or off by the user.

This allows you to plug a date into the map of a state and immediately see in what county that community was located in that time-frame. Many genealogy records are located by county and given how often counties changed during the formative years of the United States, it can be very confusing to try to identify the right county without a tool like this one.

On a different not – if you are a user of the Curtis Genealogy Room, please feel free to participate in the 10 Days 100 Great Ideas Project going on right now at Curtis Library. We are collecting community input about the library and it would be great to get feedback from our local genealogists also. If you would like to participate, feel free to do so online on the library’s website – you’ll see the link to the 10 Days project there.Each day we post a specific question but feel free to ignore that and just tell us what resources would be helpful in the Genealogy Room.

Thanks and happy research!

April 3rd, 2015

sidebar-highlight-box-curtis-genealogy-room-volunteersJust a reminder for local Brunswick/Harpswell/Topsham genealogists that on most Fridays from 10:00am to 1:00pm (and sometimes later) you can find a genealogy volunteer at the Curtis Memorial Library Genealogy Room. These are very experienced genealogists who are happy to help teach you how to research your family tree. If you call ahead and check with our volunteer coordinator Jessica Flaherty (725-5242, x237) you can make sure that one of the volunteers will be available.

I have been working on various aspects of my family tree for about five years. I hit a brick wall several years ago on my dad’s side of the family and have never been able to break through that wall with the standard genealogy resources.

I decided to chat with Lynne Holland who was today’s genealogy volunteer in the Curtis Genealogy Room to see if she might have any ideas that would help. She immediately came up with a suggestion that I never considered which was to see if there were any poor house records where my great-grandfather lived that might clarify some of the conflicting information that I’ve discovered in my family’s records. I’m excited about trying out this new path of research since I’m very tired of banging my head against my brick wall!

I wanted to share Lynne’s suggestion for two reasons. First, I want to make sure local genealogists remember that there are wonderful volunteers just waiting to help on Fridays at Curtis Library. Second, I thought this story was a great way to reinforce a smart genealogy tactic: when you aren’t getting any results in your research, question all of your assumptions and be open to looking at new resources that you might never have considered.

Happy research!

Genetic Genealogy Help

March 20th, 2015

malepa4I continue to be fascinated by the potential of “genetic genealogy”. Just yesterday one of my first cousins emailed to let me know that he had the Ancestry DNA test done. The results indicated that on his mother’s side (his mother and my mother were sisters) that there were Irish connections.  Given that neither of our mothers ever mentioned anything that would have indicated this background, we are both highly intrigued and very interested in discovering more.

My problem with genetic genealogy is that I continue to find it more than a little confusing. To help I went searching for some (free) resources that might help clarify the topic with the goal of being able to continue the genealogy conversation with my cousin. The following are two of the most helpful articles:

Family Tree Magazine is offering a free e-book on the topic. All you have to do is give them your email address. You can find the link here.   I particularly liked this article because it provides a cheat-sheet that explains the commonly used terms in genetic genealogy. It has helped a lot as I read through other articles.

I also discovered a genetic genealogy blog that is I actually understand – the Genetic Genealogist.  You can find it here.  The author (Blaine Bettinger) also provides a free e-book article about how to interpret the results of your genetic testing. Simple to understand and not too detailed – just what I wanted!

I hope you find these resources helpful.  Happy research and good luck with your genetic genealogy!

Don’t give up!

March 6th, 2015

dont_give_upMost genealogists have a lot of tenacity as a basic part of their character.  They love to sink their teeth into a good research problem and find infinite satisfaction in finally discovering answers to long-standing questions.

However, most genealogists have also encountered research questions that just can’t be answered.  But, one of the most exciting parts of doing genealogy today is the fact that the “library” of genealogy records available online expands almost on a daily basis as more and more information is digitized and made available to the public.  What was hidden ten years ago (or even a year ago!) might be just a mouse click away today.

To that end FamilySearch just announced on February 27 that they have added more than 19.2 million INDEXED records and images to their Canada, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and United States collections of digitized information, available for free at  Click here to read their press release.  I’m excited about this because it opens up new paths of opportunity to find more information about my ever elusive Canadian ancestors.

This leads to my point for the day – don’t ever give up on your research.  You may not find the information today (or even tomorrow) that you need.  However,  there is so much genealogy information being made available online that it is worth your time to review your “problem research” on a regular basis with an eye to newly available information that might provide solutions.

Happy research and here’s to never giving up!

Genealogy Blog – Turn Assumptions on Their Head

February 27th, 2015

Here is a great tip from from their February 15, 2015 posting:

If you’re stuck on a problem person, make a list of all the assumptions you have made about that person.

Don’t forget things like where you think they were born, married, and died; what types of job they had; how many times they were married; their educational level; their socioeconomic status; how many places they lived; when they moved; etc.

cross off assumption

Then cross one of those assumptions off.

How would your research change if that assumption were not true?

I love this idea.

As I mentioned before in this blog, I’ve been stuck on my great-great-grandfather for several years.

I’ve tried a lot of different ways to get through this brick wall but have had no luck so far.

This BWB (brick wall buster) appeals to me because it forces you to turn your assumptions on their heads and (as Apple Computer would say) “Think Different”.

Happy research and hopefully this idea may help you break through your research walls!

Free online recorded sessions from RootsTech 2015

February 19th, 2015

28759920c95da431e66b80800bdaf8a9 RootsTech is a global family history event, sponsored by FamilySearch, at which participants learn to discover, share and celebrate their genealogy through the lens of technology. RootsTech is held in Salt Lake City, Utah in February each year.

A trip to Utah is probably not in my immediate future so I was excited to discover that the key sessions at RootsTech each year are videotaped and provided on a free video archive online. This year’s sessions can be found here.

There is a tremendous diversity in content but all with some point that touches technology.  I’m particularly interested in “30 Pieces of Tech I Can’t Live Without” and “Getting Started in Genetic Genealogy”. I’m not sure how long these sessions are provided free online, so if you have any interest check them out soon. Happy research!

Golden Rules of Genealogy

February 6th, 2015

Today I’m cheating a bit.  I found this document on the Got Genealogy? blog and thought it was so well done that it was worth sharing here (which the Got Genealogy? folks kindly allow).  The experienced genealogist probably knows all of these “rules” but for those of us closer to the beginner end of the spectrum, they are all good things to learn/remember.

The one that resonates most with me and that I had to learn on my own is “Speling dusn’t cownt”! When I started research my family name (Doucett) the mythology among my relatives was that we had “always” spelled our name that way.  So, when I started doing genealogy I automatically discounted any Doucetts that I ran across that weren’t spelled my way.  I quickly discovered that in fact the only generation to spell the name that way was my grandfather’s!  Prior to that there was absolutely no consistency.

Given that many folks three generations back had minimal if any schooling, variations in spelling make a lot of sense…that and the fact that census takers often wrote down names as they heard them.  So, my thought for today is to learn early on in your research all of the many ways your family name “could” be spelled and be prepared to research them!

We have sunshine and no snow falling today so it is indeed a Happy Friday!  Good luck with your research!


Discovering What Photographs Have to Say

January 30th, 2015

12fdbc25b68401d7227e8f2a80e33a0e[1]My mom’s side of the family has always been good about identifying who is in a photograph.  I’m able to pick up most of the pictures in the family archives, flip them over, and discover names, locations and often even the date of the photograph.  I love scanning these photographs and uploading them to my genealogy database.  Having a face that goes with a name in my genealogy adds so much richness and interest to the information I’ve collected that it adds immeasurably to the research.

My dad’s side of the family is another matter.  There aren’t nearly as many photographs in the family and while I’ve been able to identify some of the people in the photos that I’ve discovered, often I don’t have a clue as to when or where the picture was taken.  So, I’ve started doing a bit of research about how to date photographs and uncover the “secret” information that they sometimes hold for genealogists.  I thought some of this information might be of interest to other genealogists in the same position. is a website dedicated to the “research, restoration, and preservation of 19th and early 20th century photographs”.  I found this site helpful because it has a gallery of over 1,000 images (photographs, daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, etc.) that are dated.  You can compare your photo to the images that have been dated, looking at hairstyles, clothing, and background information with the objective of finding a match for your undated photo.  There are also a series of case studies about images that Phototree helped date.  They are fascinating reading in their own right but also provide great information about what to research in a photograph.  I found the original link to this site on Cyndi’s List ( which has a page dedicated to websites that provide information about dating photographs.

Maureen Taylor writes a blog for Family Tree Magazine titled Photo Detective ( that  has a tremendous amount of information on this topic.  She also provides an opportunity for you to submit an undated photograph to her for help with dating and uncovering clues – for free!  She also provides past cases as a source of information for readers.

Finally, the website has a wealth of resources about fashion throughout history.  They have one page dedicated to dating family photographs by the costumes being worn in the photo.  It was was particularly useful.  The advertisements that show up throughout the website are annoying but there is so much information available that it is worth putting up with them.

That’s it for today – there is another snowstorm getting started and the library is closing early.  Good luck with your genealogy and your photograph dating!

Happy Genealogy Friday!

January 16th, 2015

T52-ancestors-squareoday’s genealogy thought for the week:  why not set yourself your own genealogy challenge for the year?  I’ve seen a lot of variations of this online from genealogy bloggers, along the lines of “find 52 ancestors in 52 weeks” or “104 ancestors in 104 weeks”.  I’m going to try this to get myself out of my personal genealogy rut – 52 ancestors in 52 weeks.  I’ve started a bit late but I’ll let you know how it goes!  If you would like to read more go to the “No Story Too Small” genealogy blog.

By the way, if you have not yet discovered the Legacy Family Tree webinars as a resource, you should check them out.  You can sign up for most of the live webinars for free.

The webinars are usually held on Fridays which is the calmest day of the week for me so I can take the time to sit down for an hour at my computer and learn! The teachers are very good – succinct and articulate. Topics cover a broad range from beginner research to the more advanced.  Today I’ll be taking a course on “Expanding Your Research from a Single Fact”.  I’m hopeful it may give me some new ideas for breaking through my personal genealogy brick wall.  I also enjoy their webinars about Irish genealogy research which can be very challenging.

After the webinars are aired they are kept in an archive.  The webinars are all free for 7 days after first being aired.  After that time period you have to pay to access some of the webinars and some remain free.

Good luck in your research!


Finding free map resources for genealogy research

January 9th, 2015

map_1882 Maps are an important resource for genealogists for several reasons.

1. A map from the time and place of your ancestors will help you follow their travels, identify the names of places that may no longer be on today’s maps, and in general will give you a sense of the environment in which your ancestor existed.

2. Many historical maps can be found that have plot ownership listed. So, you can frequently use a map to confirm that your ancestor did indeed live in a specific locale during a specific time period.

3. Maps reflect history. Your ancestor may have lived in an area that belonged to different countries at different periods of time. Understanding those situations will help you figure out which records in which countries you need to look at in order to find your ancestors.

Here are a few map resources that I’ve found helpful in my genealogy research. All of them are free:

The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project at was developed by McGill University. McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections Division owns many of the original 43 atlases scanned for this project. The collection is a searchable database of property owners’ names in the 1880 Ontario counties. Township maps, portraits and properties have been scanned, with links from the property owners’ names in the database.

If your research takes you into the Midwest U.S., check out Chicago in Maps at There are direct links to over three dozen historic maps of Chicago, from 1834 to 1921. The thematic maps include Chicago railroad maps, transit maps and geological maps. If you click on the Sources and Links page you will find links to guides to house numbers and street name changes.

Another free resource for maps is The Library of Congress website at The focus of Map Collections is Americana and Cartographic Treasures of the Library of Congress. These images were created from maps and atlases and, in general, are restricted to items that are not covered by copyright protection. Of particular interest to genealogists are the Cities and Towns digitized maps. They include Sanborn Fire Insurance maps as well as panoramic maps of many communities.

Finally, check out the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library at The Map Center has cartographic holdings which extend from the 15th century to the present. An extensive portion of the holdings are available online and you can search by location which makes the maps particularly useful to genealogists.

Happy research!

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