Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Wishing you and yours a very happy holiday season!!

I know Santa brought my family some very wonderful genealogy gifts including Tracing Your Irish Ancestors by John Grenham (an incredible book of resources on Irish history and records for those of us with our research still stuck in America) and a gorgeous daggerreotype to complement the ambrotype I received last year.  I don't actually know the difference between the two yet, but I can sense a new "To Do" for 2013!

Let's not forget the true meaning of this season, though - family, friends, and giving.  No matter what holiday you celebrate, if any, reach out to someone you haven't talked to in a while.  Tell someone you appreciate them.  Or, to keep up with the theme of this blog, just help a stranger with their genealogy any way you can.  It'll only cost you a few minutes.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Tackling the Québec Drouin Collection for English Speakers - Part 1

Working with a large database of records written in a foreign language can be daunting, even if you have some prior experience with that language.  I took French throughout middle and high school, but I am by no means fluent, especially after years of not practicing.  So, at first I struggled to properly understand and use the records in the Québec Drouin Collection, which contains centuries of church baptism, marriage, and burial records.  Eventually I got the hang of it, but I know how difficult it can be.  I've prepared this series of "how-to" for English speakers to more easily decipher the Québec Drouin Collection records (although it may help you in other French records as well).

Through this series of posts, I will cover determining the type of event, the dates of the events recorded (baptism, marriage burial), the dates of birth and death for baptism and burial records, the individual's name, the individual's marital status, the individual's spouse or parents' names, and where the event occurred, among other facts.  I will try to go in the order the information appears in the records.

If you have any questions (in general or specific to your research), corrections, additions, or anything else, please do not hesitate to leave a comment or email me directly!

Records Start with Dates

The first and most important thing to remember is that the date at the very beginning of the record is NOT necessarily the one you want.  Almost every record starts off with a date.  Keep in mind that these include baptisms and burials, NOT births and deaths.  The starting date in a baptism or burial record may be the birth or death date, but oftentimes it is not.  You must keep reading the record for a hint of the actual birth or death date, which many times is noted separately.  In a later post you'll find some key words to look for to help you determine the birth or death date.  Simply copying the date at the start of the record is a common and easily fixable mistake in online family trees, so I thought I should note it upfront.  I used to make this mistake when I started using the Drouin Collection.

Every record starts with the date of the event - baptism, marriage, or burial - usually written out completely.  The order will be day, month, then year.

Numbers in French:
  • One through ten, in order:
    • un
    • deux
    • trois
    • quatre
    • cinq
    • six
    • sept
    • huit
    • neuf
    • dix 
  • Eleven through nineteen, in order:
    • onze
    • douze
    • treize
    • quatorze
    • quinze
    • seize
    • dix-sept (notice this is just the words for ten and seven combined, as if you're adding)
    • dix-huit
    • dix-neuf
  • Twenty through sixty-nine are written like "twenty and one" for 21, 31, 41, 51, and 61.  The rest are written like in English, "twenty-two," "twenty-three," and so on.  For example, "vingt" means "twenty" in French.  "Et" means "and."  To write "twenty-one," you would write "vingt-et-un."  Thirty-one would be "Trente-et-un."  Sometimes the "et" and/or the hyphens are left out in records.  Thirty-two would just be "trente-deux" - no "et."  Twenty, thirty, forty, and fifty, in order:
    • vingt
      • vingt-et-un
      • vingt-deux
      • vingt-trois
      • etc.
    • trente
    • quarante
    • cinquante
    • soixante
  • Seventy is written in French as "sixty ten" (kind of like you're doing some more math).  You follow the same procedures as the lower numbers but add eleven through nineteen to sixty in order to get seventy-one through seventy-nine.  Seventy through seventy-nine, in order:
    • soixante-dix
    • soixante-et-onze
    • soixante-douze
    • soixante-treize
    • soixante-quatorze
    • soixante-quinze
    • soixante-seize
    • soixante-dix-sept
    • soixante-dix-huit
    • soixante-dix-neuf
  • Eighty is written in French as "four twenty" (since four multiplied by twenty equals eighty). Eighty through eighty-nine are treated just like the numbers twenty through sixty-nine.  For example, eighty-three is written in French as "quatre-vingt-trois."
  • Ninety is written in French using the word for eighty, the same way seventy is written using the word for sixty.  Therefore, "ninety" is "quatre-vingt-dix," and ninety-one is "quatre-vingt-onze," and so on.
  • "Hundred" is "cent."  If you see "cent" alone, it means "one hundred."  If there is a number below ten in front of it, it means it is that number of hundreds.  For example, "sept cent" means "seven hundred," "huit cent" means "eight hundred," etc.
  • "Thousand" is "mil."  It works the same way as "cent."  In years, you will only encounter "mil" standing alone, since the records will be after the year 1000 A.D. but before the year 2000.
Months in French:
  • janvier - January
  • février - February
  • mars - March
  • avril - April
  • mai - May
  • juin - June
  • juillet - July
  • août - August
  • septembre - September
  • octobre - Octobre
  • novembre - November
  • décembre - December
Some key points to note:
  • The date may often be written in the format of "The twentieth day of April..."  Therefore, the number day wouldn't be the exact French equivalent of "twenty."  Often, to express the "nd," "rd," or "th" (as in second, third, or fourth), the number, when written out, will end in "ieme," which is more or less the French equivalent.  For example, "Le trentieme" can appear in a record to indicate the day is thirty (or the thirtieth).  One exception is for the first of the month, in which case the record will read "The first day..."  In French this is written as "Le premier jour," with "jour" being the French word for "day."
  • The year will almost always be written out in the Drouin Collection in words.  So, 1878 will be written out as "one thousand eight hundred seventy-eight."  This is where you will need to know how to read numbers in French higher than thirty-one.  In the Drouin Collection, you will see 1878 as (something very close to if not identical to) "mil huit cent soixante dix-huit."  Remember to break each piece apart to read the year.
  • Twice I've seen "improper" French used when it comes to numbers.  It may have been a local dialect, but I had never before seen these words, and you probably won't either.  I give them to you just in case.  I once saw "septante," which I realized was being used for seventy instead of "soixante-dix."  Another time I saw "neuvante," which totally threw me for a loop until I figured out it was meant as ninety instead of "quatre-vingt-dix."
  • At times, the writer may begin a record with something like "Ce jour" or "Le même jour" instead of writing out a date.  In that case, you must go up to the previous record to determine the date.  "Ce" means "this," and "Le même" means "the same."  The records are written top to bottom, left page to right, in order that they occur, so the previous entry should have the date if yours says it`s the same day.
As an example of a full baptism date, I will use my third great-grandmother, Angèle Corriveau (1807-1847).  The entry begins, "Le quatorze aout mil huit cent sept..."  Notice the French is imperfect and there are no breaks here.  We can ignore "Le," which means "the."  It's superfluous.  "Quatorze" means "fourteen," so this is the day Angèle was baptised (but NOT the day she was born). "Aout" is missing the accent mark but clearly is intended to mean August.  The actual text is a little unclear and can be mistaken for April, but the line through the last letter tells me it's a "t" not an "l" and therefore is August.  "Mil huit cent sept" means "one thousand, eight hundred, seven" (put the commas in mentally or physically if it helps you separate the parts), in other words 1807, the year of her baptism.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - A McTiernan Family

In October, I took a trip to Saint Bernard's Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut.  It's a very old cemetery that contains, among other types, many late 19th century headstones for Irish families.  What's so special about these Irish headstones?  Many if not most of them include both the county and parish of birth back in Ireland of at least one of the family members.  Sadly, the cemetery is also suffering from severe vandalism, and this wealth of information may be lost in a matter of several more decades.

While at Saint Bernard's I took the following photographs of a McTiernan family from Drumreilly, county Leitrim, Ireland.  They are not my ancestors, but I do have McTiernan ancestry from either Leitrim or Roscommon that settled in New Haven.  Therefore, I may share common ancestry with this family.  Sometimes it's important to look at collateral relatives or potential cousins to connect the dots and find your own past.

My camera was malfunctioning, so I was unable to get a photograph of the bottom portion of the back side of the obelisk, which contains information on Margaret McTiernan, most likely the wife of Patrick Brady.

Main face of the McTiernan stone.
Photograph Copyright 2012.

Photograph Copyright 2012.
 In memory of
Oct. 3, 1866.
AE 51.
He was born in 
Parish of
Co. Leitrim, Ireland
May he rest in peace
his affectionate Sister

Right side of the stone. Presumably John's sister.
Photograph Copyright 2012.

Photograph Copyright 2012.
NOV. 14, 1880[?].
AE. 72.

Born Aug 10, 1865
Died April 20, 1889
May his soul rest in
peace, Amen.

Back side of the headstone.
Photograph Copyright 2012.
In Memory of
Jan. 13, 1844
March 29, 1882


Monday, November 26, 2012

DNA Testing - Part 3

My father recently took and received the results back from his own AncestryDNA test.  We were really interested in seeing how our results differed and how our matches would compare after I took my own test a few months ago.  There were a few surprises!

While I won't go into detail about my father's results, I will say that he had no Scandinavian in his results.  This was a big surprise to me because of my mother's French Canadian background.  I've traced many of her lines back a few hundred years through Québec to France, with only a hint of English to be found.  Yet my results indicated that 25% of my DNA is Scandinavian.  Could half of the DNA my mother passed onto me really be Scandinavian?  Her side of my family not only genealogically, but also physically, favors French ancestry.  Perhaps the 25% was an overestimation on the part of AncestryDNA?

I've also been able to compare my father's DNA matches with my own.  I should have matches that he doesn't since half of my DNA is from my mother, but I was surprised that (not looking further than "moderate confidence" distant cousins) he has about 100 matches that I don't.  Three of those matches are in the 4th-6th cousin range with 95% or higher confidence.  I suppose I just didn't get the DNA that matches so closely with these individuals.

Comparing my and my father's results and matches is certainly interesting, and I look forward to taking a closer look at our matches.  I still haven't identified any of my matches as actual relatives; most with public trees don't have any individuals or even surnames in common with my family tree.

If you've taken the test, have you had troubles making relative matches?  Have you and a relative taken the test and compared results?  Please feel free to share your experiences with DNA testing for genealogy!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Motivation Monday - Genealogy Odds & Ends

Over the past few weeks I've been neglecting my blog in order to work on parts of my fall genealogy to-do list and then some.  I'm happy to say that my work in the often over-looked "little things" is progressing along nicely.

First off, I updated my main family tree.  In order to keep myself better organized, I separated branches of my ancestry into a series of smaller trees.  It is these smaller trees that I make public and work on.  By separating my tree, I can compartmentalize the families and surnames to better remember who is related to who.  The problem with this strategy, however, is that my all-encompassing tree can quickly become outdated.   I recently used Family Tree Maker 2012 to update it by first copying my smaller trees' files, then merging these copies into my large tree.  Because a lot of individuals don't have much detail, there were many duplicates I had to go through and delete, so the process took a number of hours.  It was worth it though, because I use my main tree to identify distant cousins through Ancestry DNA.

Secondly, I purchased a book for my Kindle by Pierre Berton called The American Invasion of Canada: The War of 1812's First Year.  Although I'm not too far into it yet, it's a funny and exciting read, and it's not at all like a history book.  I'm looking forward to reading about Fort George in particular, because I know an ancestor of mine who served in the British military there and then remained in Québec with his family.

Of course I've been furthering my genealogy research as well, delving into families I had not researched at all.  My family tree is growing quite nicely, and I'm getting to know more about my direct ancestors.  Once I have "enough" (realistically, that would mean when I hit all the brick walls I can find), I'll branch out to siblings and cousins in order to help better connect with other distant relatives and gain a broader picture of my ancestors' lives.  (This is part of a larger plan that's still in the works of looking more carefully at my DNA matches and cleaning out my "shoebox.")

Finally, I purchased my first smartphone and immediately downloaded the Ancestry app.  I'm able to view my family trees, individuals' events, and records connected to those events.  Recently there was an update to the app, but I haven't had the chance or need to explore it further.  I thought the app could help me if I venture to another cemetery or make it to the state archives.

With a lot of odds and ends out of the way, I should be back to regular blogging!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

New Haven Dead Rises...Literally

Just before Halloween, and as a result of Frankenstorm Sandy, an old skeleton was discovered on the New Haven, Connecticut town green after partially "rising."

Probably thousands of remains are buried under the New Haven Green, which was used as a cemetery until the early 19th century.  The headstones were all relocated to New Haven's Grove Street Cemetery, but the bodies were not.  Sandy's strong winds apparently caused an old oak tree to fall over on the green, revealing  parts of a skeleton that the tree had been planted over.

You can read more about the finding (as well as see photos!) and the New Haven Green's history at the following sites:

  1. http://www.wtnh.com/dpp/news/new_haven_cty/sandy-stirs-up-skeleton-in-new-haven
  2. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/31/skeleton-new-haven-tree-hurricane-sandy_n_2049768.html
  3. http://articles.courant.com/2012-10-30/community/hc-sandy-skeleton-1031-20121030_1_burial-ground-oak-tree-human-skeleton

Happy Halloween!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Trying Out FamilySearch's New Family Tree

Thanks to an incredibly helpful blogpost at Genealogy's Star, I learned how to gain access to FamilySearch's new Family Tree feature.  Eager to see what all the fuss is about, I immediately began exploring the how-to videos and then the feature itself.

My personal family tree

FamilySearch Family Tree allows you to build up your own personal family tree, much like Ancestry at first glance.  I'm not comfortable using this though, because it seems like the privacy offered by Ancestry is lacking here.  Although you cannot search for an individual who is marked as living on the Family Tree site, you can navigate to them and at the very least see their full name, date of birth, and birthplace if you search for and find a deceased relative of theirs.  So, if you enter this information into your own tree, it is not actually private.

Searching the new FamilySearch Family Tree

The search feature is what I'm most interested in because right now, I pay to see researched family trees that include my older French Canadian ancestors and help me piece together families.  While I intend to find the church records myself, it's nice to occasionally reference a guide in order to verify my findings or see if there are any facts I should double-check.  On my "American" side, I hope this tree can help me get past brick walls and fill my families in more fully.

I started by testing the information available via search.  I searched for Jean Bouffard and included his spouse, Marguerite Leportier, in the query.  They are my 8th great-grandparents.  I haven't yet looked into them because I believe they lived in Rouen, Normandy, France, which is where their son, Jacques, was born about 1655.  I got 6 "strong" hits back that appear to match, and a series of not-so-strong results, some of which also may match, but with mis- or alternate-spellings of Marguerite's last name.  The results for each match were as follows:

  • Born 1613. Married 1638. Two sons listed: Jacques and Martin, whose genders listed as unknown. No source citations.
    • Dates make sense, but I don't know where they come from.
  • Born about 1613 in Rouen. Baptised about 1615. Died and buried after 1655 in St. Martin, Rouen. Married first to Marie Laferriere about 1635 in St. Martin and had Jacques and Martin with her. Married Marguerite Leportier in 1639 in St. Martin. No source citations.
    • I have never come across this supposed first marriage before and found in my own research that Jacques and Martin are Marguerite Leportier's children. The dates and locations fit, but again, the reliability is in question.
  • Two other hits list no details about Jean other than he was married to Marguerite and had Jacques as a son. No source citations.
    • Martin is missing as a child.
  • One other hit lists no details about Jean other than he was married to Marguerite and had Martin as a son. No source citations.
    • Jacques is missing as a child.
  • The final "strong" hit lists no details about Jean and no children. No source citations.
As for the not-so-strong search results that seem to match:
  • Born about 1630 in Saint-Pierre, Île-d'Orléans, Québec. Married Marguerite Le Poithier about 1654 in Saint-Paul, Île-d'Orléans. Listed Jacques as a son. No source citations.
    • Jacques was actually married in Saint-Pierre, which is why I think this mistake was made. Jacques, however, I believe was born in Rouen. Therefore, his father wouldn't have been born in the New World. I also don't know where the information for birth and marriage years and the marriage location came from.  Marguerite's last name appears to be mispelled. Martin is missing as well.
  • Born about 1638 in Rouen. Married Marguerite Leperbier about 1658 in Rouen. No source citations. No children listed.
    • This may be another misspelling of Marguerite's last name.  Again, where are these years coming from? And where are the kids? Rouen would probably be correct.
For the sake of comparison, I then tried searching for my ancestors on my Irish/English side of the family. Despite trying numerous ancestors, I was unable to find a match until I searched for my 3rd great-grandmother's second husband's sister.  There were fewer duplicates, but otherwise the problems appeared consistent with those listed above.  Overall, there was a serious lack of information available, which can probably be attributed to a much smaller pool of descendants, and thus a smaller number of individuals researching those ancestors of mine.

Fixing the family tree

I first wanted to correct the gender of Jacques and Martin in one family listing.  They're males and should be listed as such.  Doing this was easy enough.  All I had to do was edit the gender through the child's individual page.  Note that FamilySearch won't allow you to do this if the person whose gender is incorrect is in a relationship indicating that the gender is correct (I guess it's taking into account the lack of same-sex marriages back in the day).

Next, I decided to examine the possibility of merges.  I had 8 matches for my ancester, Jean Bouffard.  Based on the listed relatives, locations, years, and my knowledge/the nature of French Canadian genealogy, I know these Jean Bouffards are the same person.  I clicked the first Jean that came up in my search results to see what I could do with him.  On the right-hand side of his detail page, I clicked "Possible Duplicates."  Only 3 out of my additional matches appear, so these are the only records I have the option of merging with my first match.  Because I have so little information on these particular ancestors, I opted NOT to merge them.  The process seems simple enough, with a "Review Merge" button for each potential match that brought me to a side-by-side comparison of the two entries with accept/reject fact options, similar to the side-by-side comparisons on Ancestry when you're adding a new source to a person on your Ancestry tree. I may play around with this feature later, as you can undo merges.


I've read on other blogs that duplicate people seem to be a problem on FamilySearch's new Family Tree.  Based on my search for Jean Bouffard and Marguerite Leportier, this would seem to be very true.  I think it would take an incredible amount of time and effort to eliminate the duplicates.

Furthermore, I'm concerned about the privacy issues related to living people added to the Family Tree.  I like being able to block any information about living people from being visible to the public.  The privacy of living (and recently deceased) persons is  incredibly important in this day and age.  If people want to put their own information online, then no one can stop them, but I worry about people who also put all of their living relatives on to build their tree.

I've worked so hard on my family trees on Ancestry that I feel like I don't want to redo it all through edits of the FamilySearch Family Tree.  My Ancestry trees are generally well-sourced; people just don't necessarily pay attention to them and will copy wrong information that's copied on ten other trees rather than look at my information and my sources.  While I want to share my information, I'm not sure that I want to put more work into it than I already am, especially if someone can just come along and undo what I've done.  Because this new Family Tree is completely edit-friendly, anyone can add to, change, or delete the information you put into it.  I'm more than willing to work things out with other researchers, but I'm afraid others may not be so willing.  I suppose that's more of a lack of faith in other people than in the site itself.

I think the new Family Tree needs a lot of work to fix the errors and duplicates.  Maybe the solution is to set aside an hour or two a week to working on FamilySearch so that I can contribute without feeling like I'm wasting time that could be spent finding more ancestors.  I think over time it will improve with everyone's contributions.   For now though, I don't think it's of much use because of all of the errors that need to be worked out.

For a detailed guide of how to use the FamilySearch Family Tree, see FamilySearch's official guide here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

(Belated) Tombstone Tuesday - Charles Cody & Bridget Hennessy

I know it's a few days late, but this headstone photo could not wait until next week!

On Sunday, I took a trip with my father to Saint Lawrence Cemetery in West Haven, New Haven county, Connecticut.  I found it interesting how sections of the cemetery were clearly segregated into Italian and Irish family names.  The cemetery was actually quite "busy" with people, but we were able to locate my great-great grandparents' headstone.  My dad had seen it a very long time ago and vaguely remembered its location in the vast cemetery, so it didn't take too long to find.  Also, the cemetery office is closed Sundays, so we would've been out of luck if we needed directions to the headstone.  I was really impressed by the size and style of the headstone.  Hopefully it will stick around for many more years to come.

Photograph Copyright 2012.
Charles Cody
1867 - 1953
Bridget M. Hennessy
His Wife
1868 - 1936

Both Charles John Cody and Bridget Mary Hennessy (sometimes spelled Hennessey) were born in Ireland.  They came to Connecticut and spent most of their lives in New Haven.  Various records indicate Charles arrived in 1885 or 1890, while Bridget arrived in 1886 or 1892.  They had 5 children together of whom I'm aware, 4 daughters and 1 son, all born in New Haven I suspect.  I have photos of their son in WWI attire and one of a daughter in high school.  I've been told by family that the symbol between Charles' birth and death years is the symbol of the company where he worked for many years.  I haven't done as much research into this family branch as I intended yet because the relatively recent immigration from Ireland feels like an early brick wall, but seeing this stone was just the inspiration I needed.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun - Genealogy Posters

I'm home for a change on a Saturday night so decided to participate in Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge at GeneaMusings!  Using www.memegenerator.net, I created the following poster, because we all know at least one genealogist who will copy hundreds of people from other family trees without citing sources or verifying the facts, and I love Lord of the Rings:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Canadian Citizenship - Part 1

Even if you never lived in a particular country, you could be a citizen under that nation's laws.  In April 2009, changes to Canada's Citizenship Act automatically granted citizenship to many individuals, including but not limited to, those who were born outside of Canada to a Canadian parent.  The changes also limited citizenship to only the first generation born outside of Canada to a Canadian parent.  Citizenship and Immigration Canada advertised this change in a cute Youtube video (also available in French).  As a result of the legal changes, on April 17, 2009, I "[woke] up Canadian."

I was born in the United States and have lived here my entire life.  My mother, however, grew up in Canada and was still a Canadian citizen at the time of my birth.  The changes in Canada's Citizenship Act therefore granted me Canadian citizenship.  Canada has since not only been my ancestors' country, but one of mine as well.  Knowing that I am a citizen gave me fresh meaning to my family history research.  I have a deeper connection to the research because I don't feel like so much of an outsider.  Any actual history I learn is MY history, not just my ancestors'.

The one snag in my new dual nationality status as both an American and Canadian citizen is my complete lack of PROOF of Canadian citizenship.  As far as border guards are concerned, I am an American only.  Citizenship and Immigration Canada provides all Canadian citizens with the opportunity to apply for a Citizenship Certificate, which serves as proof of your Canadian citizenship.  In August, I finally got around to gathering up all of the evidence I need to prove my Canadian citizenship and mailing it in to obtain a certificate.  Today, I finally received a letter from the CIC acknowledging receipt of my application.

If you or any of your relatives have close family ties to a country you weren't born in, look into that country's citizenship laws.  You may be a citizen and not even know it!

For information regarding Canada's citizenship laws and the Certificate of Citizenship, visit the CIC website.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Odile Lessard

Photograph Copyright 2012.

Died March 15, 1954
at the age of 78 years


Odile Lessard was the sister-in-law of my second great-grandfather, Théophile L'Heureux, and the mother of Rosario L'Heureux from my earlier Tombstone Tuesday post.  She was born about 1876 to Louis Octave Lessard and Marie Odile Bilodeau, probably in Saint-Ferréol, Québec, Canada.  On November 3, 1896, she married Alfred L'Heureux (1867-1936), whose name appears on the bottom of this stone.  They had about 15 children together, but only about 5 of those children tops lived to reach 2 years of age.  The first to not die in his infancy was Rosario, who was their sixth child to my knowledge.  Odile Lessard, according to this headstone, died on March 15, 1954, probably in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, where she is buried.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Mary/Frances/Ellen Downey

Mary Downey was born on September 4, 1875 in Springfield, Hampden, Massachusetts to John Francis Downey (1854-1885) and Mary E. Showler (1857-1914).  She died on July 17, 1876 in Springfield and was buried with her maternal grandparents in Saint Michael's Cemetery in Springfield.

Photograph Copyright 2012.
Mary is the given name of baby Downey on her headstone, as shown above.  However, her birth record in Springfield lists her as "Frances Downey," and her death record lists her as "Ellen Downey."  Baby Downey was a single not multiple birth.  Her death records lists her as 10 months and 13 days old as of the date of her death, which, if you count backwards, matches the date of birth on her birth record.  Mary/Frances/Ellen Downey is a prime example of the age-old "What's his/her name?!" problem in genenalogy.  I've personally favored Mary as her first name because I assume her headstone would be engraved with the name her family called her, even if it isn't her legal name.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Fall Plans

Okay, okay.  As much as I'm grasping onto what I can of summer, with tank tops and iced vanilla chais, I will finally admit that Fall is here.  I'm wearing long sleeves, occasionally day-dreaming about snow (it did come early last year in the northeast), and strongly considering trading in my summer Starbucks drink for a hot pumpkin spice latte.

It's also time to start planning my genealogy work for the next few months and set a few goals:

  1. Completely rework my approach to my Québec genealogy.  I want to treat my French Canadian family history more like a drawing than my other half of the family.  I've generally been using the same approach in all of my family trees, and it just doesn't work for me when it comes to Québec.  Usually, I go generation by generation, making sure I have all of a direct ancestor's siblings and in-laws before I go back another generation.  This works just great in my Irish/English half because those ancestors didn't have nearly as many children as my dutiful Catholic French Canadian ones.  I found myself getting completely bogged down in infinite cousins and siblings who I don't really care about, unable to move back in time.  It was like I was playing oozeball and getting stuck in all this mud.  Instead, I want to treat my French Canadian genealogy more like a drawing; I want to start with a sketch and then come back and fill in the details later.  I want to trace as many lines as I can back to their immigration to Canada (since the Drouin collection and other sources makes doing so awfully easy if you can read enough French), and just stick to my direct ancestors.  When I've done all I can, then I will worry about every ancestor's 10 siblings, and each of their 10 children, and each of their ten children...I realize actually sketching out my tree will take much longer than a few months, but I want to get it started.
  2. Take a trip to the State Archives.  I haven't gone to the Connecticut State Library since I was a child.  The problem with that is there are no Connecticut vital records available online for a good portion of the 19th century.  My genealogy research in Connecticut thus hits brick walls relatively early.  Sure, I have the work others have done and family knowledge to get me past it, but genealogy is about the hunt for me, and I've learned that even the most careful person can make errors.  I want to find some of this information myself.
  3. Read a history book relevant to a direct ancestor.  When I was a kid, I read the history of the 27th Regiment of Connecticut during the Civil War.  I want to read more now that I "know" some of my ancestors, in order to learn what they went through and what their lives were like.  Recently I learned I have an ancestor whose family moved from England to Canada with the Royal Artillery and fought at Fort George during the War of 1812.  I'd like to read about his military service, or at least about this one battle, for instance.
  4. Get a friend (a little) hooked on genealogy.  If anything, this is probably one of my loftier goals.  People who don't do genealogy just don't seem to get it!  My boyfriend at least admits that he unintentionally tunes out when I start on a genealogy-related ramble.  But, there's hope yet!  A few months ago I sent him the link to Find-A-Grave, and he found his grandfather on there.  Then I started asking questions, which led him to finding his great-grandparents' separate passenger list records.  He was (temporarily) hooked!  I want to help him out and see him get that excited at least one more time (I hope you're reading this-- you've been warned!).  I've brought it up a few times, but this may take the season to actually accomplish.  Admittedly, it's also a little self-serving; I don't have any ancestors of my own who came to the U.S. when the passenger lists were rich with information in the early 20th century, and I've never had the chance to work on Italian family history in particular.
So, I have some pretty big goals, but overall, I think they're doable.  What are your own goals or hopes for the coming months?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mystery Monday - Mabel Frances Downey - Part 2

Last Monday I wrote a post detailing my 2011 discovery of a mystery (presumed) relation and the brick wall I hit when trying to figure out who she was.  Aside from that one census record and the not-really-a-match directory record from the same year, I could find no trace of a Mabel Frances Downey.  You know the saying about how you only find something you're missing when you're not looking for it?  That proved to be the case here when I accidentally stumbled across Mabel again just a few weeks ago.

Here's a quick overview of the family involved: Mary Ann Keegan had a child, Mary E. Showler, by her first husband.  Mary Ann later married John Mullett.  Mary E. Showler married John Francis Downey.  After John Downey's death, Mary E. married George Tootill.

In September of this year, I was tracking George Tootill through the U.S. census records and picked up one record I hadn't seen before, 1910 (above).  I found a George Tootill, born in Connecticut, living in Springfield, Massachusetts with Carlton R. Merry, his wife Mabel F., and their children.  The name Mabel F. stuck out; maybe Mabel F. Downey from 1900 had gotten married and that's why I hadn't been able to find her!  The Merrys were listed in 1910 as being married for only 10 years, so Mabel F. Downey could have gotten married sometime after the 1900 census was taken.

Looking more closely at the record, other pieces fell into place (besides approximate ages).  Mabel F. Merry was born in Massachusetts, like Mabel F. Downey.  George Tootill's listed relationship to the head of household, Carlton R. Merry, was father-in-law.  If Mabel F. Downey was in fact one of Mary E. Showler and John Francis Downey's children, George Tootill would have been her step-father and probably recorded in a census as the father-in-law of her husband if they were living together.

Furthermore, Mabel F. Merry's father was listed in 1910 as born in Maine, and her mother was listed as born in England.  As discussed in my previous post, John Francis Downey was born in New Brunswick, Canada, and Mary E. Showler was usually recorded with the birthplace England.  So the mother's birthplace matched.  Although Mabel Merry's father's place of birth was listed as Maine and not New Brunswick, a few things kept my hopes up that this was the mystery Mabel from 1900.  Census records are notoriously unreliable because only one person in the household provides all of the detail for everyone else.  So, there are often errors.  I normally wouldn't try to force a connection with such a glaring difference  in locations, but
I had one other piece of critical information up my sleeve; the marriage record for Mary E. Showler and John Francis Downey, who were married in Springfield (above), listed John Downey's residence at the time of the marriage as Portland, Maine.  I thus had a plausible explanation for that particular error in the 1910 census record.

Armed with this new find and feeling like this connection was more than a hunch, I added Mabel F. Downey to my family tree as the daughter of Mary E. Showler and John Francis Downey, with Carlton R. Merry as her husband, noting that this was all still theory.  I still couldn't find any record of her birth or marriage on Ancestry or FamilySearch.  However, Ancestry started shaking a little green leaf at me, and for once, the hint it had for me cracked the case.  When I clicked the hint, I got a "California Death Index, 1940-1997" record for Mabel F. Merry.  California?!  Not likely.  I read the record anyway.  This Mabel's birthday was January 31, 1878, and her birthplace was Massachusetts.  Actually, this looked like my mystery Mabel so far.  This woman died on June 4, 1965 in Los Angeles.  Unlikely for my family, but there was one more line to the index record: "Mother's Maiden Name: Schoular."  Say "Showler" out loud; now say "Schoular" (with a little bit of a German twist on the "ou" part-- the marriage record indicates Mary E. was born in Bremen, Germany, not England).  BINGO!!  Not only was this my Mabel F. Downey, but I have my first piece of unambiguous evidence that she was in fact the previously unheard-of daughter of Mary E. Showler and John Francis Downey.

I can't answer why Mabel Frances Downey's siblings have Massachusetts birth records on FamilySearch while she doesn't.  I can't answer why she previously was unknown to my family (although later finding that she was already in Los Angeles in the 1930 U.S. Census as "Frances M. Merry" indicates she wasn't close to the rest of the family who stayed in southern Connecticut).  What I do know, however, is that her son's Massachusetts birth record says she was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, where one of her other siblings was born.  I also know that one of her sisters, Margaret Ann Downey, used the surname Downing in her own marriage record, which would explain finding "Mabel F. Downing" in the 1900 Springfield City Directory.  Lastly, there are just way too many connections for this to be a mistake.  After more than a year of wondering who this mystery Mabel was, I finally uncovered a new sibling, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew to my great-grandfather.  An entire branch of the family had moved away and been forgotten, and I found them.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mystery Monday - Mabel Frances Downey - Part 1

Whenever I'm researching an individual, I try to lay his or her entry foundation with census records.  Doing so, I not only get some idea of birth/death dates and locations, but I can also connect the person to other family members who may not otherwise pop up in my research.

About a year and a half ago, I was "tracking" John W. Mullett in the U.S. Census records and stumbled across an unknown individual with a familiar surname living with him.  John was the second husband of my third great-grandmother, Mary Ann Keegan (spelling debatable).  Mary Ann had one living child with her first husband, Mary E. Showler (sometimes Scholes or Scholer).  Mary E. Showler, my second great-grandmother, was born on March 4, 1858, in Manchester, England according to most records.  On September 21, 1874, she married John Francis Downey, who was born about 1854 in Saint John, New Brunswick.  As far as I was concerned, they had five children together in Springfield and Worcester, Massachusetts, before John F. Downey died in 1885.  Mary E. Showler eventually remarried George Tootill, who was born about 1856 in Suffield, Connecticut.  They had two surviving children together before Mary died on March 15, 1914 in Springfield.

According to the 1900 U.S. Census record (below), John Mullett was living on Franklin Street in Springfield with his and Mary Ann's daughter, Ellen Mullett.  I already knew about Ellen.  With them, however, the census also lists a "Mable F. Downey."  Since John Mullett's step-daughter, Mary E. Showler, married a man with the surname Downey, this immediately caught my attention.

Mable [sic] F. Downey is listed as being John Mullett's niece in the census.  I knew this was unlikely by today's definition of niece because she appeared to be related to his late wife's first husband, and the census states she was born in January 1879.  While still possible, the age gap bordered on large for an uncle and niece.  So I assumed the term "niece" was used broadly while keeping the possibility open that John Mullett could be related to some Downeys.

Furthermore, this record lists Mabel's father's place of birth as English Canada (of which New Brunswick is a part), and her mother's birthplace as England.  There is only one couple matching these birthplace descriptions in my family tree who could be Mabel Downey's parents, John Francis Downey and Mary E. Showler.  However, this is not nearly proof enough that Mabel was their daughter, especially since I had been able to find so many other records of Mary's children.  Why would all traces of just one child be missing?

A quick search on both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org came up with nothing for this mysterious Mabel.  I then went to the Springfield City Directory for 1900 for clues.  I found John Mullett, the career shoemaker, living at 116 Franklin with his daughter, Ellen A. Mullett.  There was no one named Mabel Downey in the directory, and none of the Springfield Downeys by any given name lived on Franklin Street.  There was one Mabel F. Downing listed as boarding at 32 York, so I made a note of that in my research log, scanned the other Downings for anyone living near the Mulletts or this Mabel F. Downing, and, after finding none, called it a day.

My father has separately been researching our family history for over a decade now, so he has more knowledge about individuals and families than I do.  He personally knew his grandmother, a daughter of Mary E. Showler and John Francis Downey, as well as other older relatives I never had the chance to meet. Yet when I asked him about mystery Mabel, he only knew as much as I did from that one census record.  He had never heard of her, thus begging the question, who is Mabel F. Downey?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a new lead that enabled me to answer that question and add an entire branch to my family tree.  For the sake of not writing a book instead of a post, I'll conclude next Monday with my findings.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Rosario L'Heureux

In August, I went to visit some family in Québec city.  I looked up the locations of certain ancestors' hometowns, hoping I could take a side trip to a town cemetery and find them.  A number of my ancestors and their overwhelmingly-large extended family came from a small town called Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, just outside of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré and only about a half hour drive from Québec.

Information on the town's one, small cemetery was scarce online, and it took quite a bit of time googling the town and looking at one of its main roads on Google satellite to determine the precise location.

Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges is still a relatively small town, but with a significant number of new condo complexes being built up to accommodate the growing ski industry from Mont Sainte-Anne.  When I arrived at the cemetery, I was surprised to see that despite how "new" many of the stones were, it was still, in terms of cemeteries, pretty small and manageable.  I was also pleasantly surprised to open the car door and see that I had parked right alongside a stone engraved with a familiar name, Rosario L'Heureux.

Photograph Copyright 2012.
Rosario L'Heureux is one of my great-grandmother's many first cousins.  He was born in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges on May 7, 1903 to Alfred L'Heureux (1867-1936) and Odile Lessard (1876-1954).  Although I don't have a death or burial record for Rosario, I learned from this stone that he died, presumably in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, on March 22, 1971.  

What struck me about this stone in particular is all of the blank space!  Entire families spanning multiple generations are frequently buried together in Québec plots, with each plot having only one stone naming all those buried in that spot.  Was Rosario's wife buried elsewhere?  Are she and any possible children still alive?  What about his siblings or in-laws?  These are all questions that will have to remain unanswered for now.

(Rosario's wife was born in 1914, which would make her about 98 years old if she's still living, which is quite possible.  I omit her name because I have a general policy of not publicly publishing information in my genealogy research about anyone born within the past 100 years to help protect those individuals' privacy.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

DNA Testing - Part 2

My AncestryDNA results just came in, less than two weeks after Ancestry informed me that they had received my DNA sample.  I'm certainly pleased that it was so quick compared to the promised six to eight weeks.  I'm not yet sure what to make of my results, but I hope that as Ancestry opens up its test to non-paid subscribers and does more genetic research, I'll get a better grasp on my heritage.

The results

A neat pie graph tells me that my DNA test revealed my ethnicity to be 71% British Isles (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales), 25% Scandinavian (Norway, Sweden, and Denmark), and 4% uncertain.

I expected to see British Isles and Scandinavian in my results.  My research indicates that my father's side of the family is very close to if not entirely English and Irish.  The Scandinavian was expected due to the well-known history of raids on the British Isles by the Vikings, coupled with my paternal side of the family's light complexion, hair, and eyes.

The huge surprise to me, however, was the lack of French ethnicity.  My mother's side of the family is almost exclusively French Canadian.  I've traced most of my ancestors on that side back at least one hundred years because of the availability of Québec's vital records.  Two lines I even traced back to early 17th century Normandy (and one of those has an English-sounding surname).  Aside from those two lines, I have yet to find anyone on my maternal side of the tree who was born anywhere other than Québec, and most of my ancestors have French-sounding names.

The full results page additionally provides some important historical information about the areas of your ethnicities.  For example, Ancestry states that the British Isles faced many raids, not only from the Vikings, but also from the Jutes of Denmark, and even the Normans in northern France.  This may help explain the results' lack of French ethnicity.  Not only is Normandy in such close proximity to the British Isles that the DNA may have many common markers, but Normans were raiding the British Isles.  Perhaps there was enough mingling of the DNA in my family that these results aren't leaving out a separate ethnicity at all.


Because AncestryDNA is still in its Beta phase and has a relatively small sample pool, I did not expect much in the way of matches just yet.  So, I wasn't too disappointed when no matches came up that were closer than a 95-96% probability of being my 4th cousin.  I did get my hopes up that I'd be able to make connections to the supposed matches, and I was let down.

When you review each match, you can view their family tree if it's open to the public.  On the left side of the screen, there's also a list of surnames that you can use to pinpoint individuals on matches' trees without using the tree view.  I saw some familiar surnames, but not one person whose tree I could view had a common ancestor with me.  Maybe I'm missing something, or maybe Ancestry's predictions were wrong.

Moving forward

While somewhat surprising, my results aren't entirely off-base or inconceivable.  I've confirmed a good amount of my ethnicity and have plenty of possible distant cousins to play around with as my research continues.  Ancestry has also promised users of its DNA test that as more people take the test and new genetic markers are discovered, our results will continuously update.  This is what I'm counting on.  I purchased and took the test primarily as an investment in future results, knowing the test-taker sample size is still small.

If anyone else has taken this test and received results, I would love to exchange opinions and stories.  As (or rather, if and when) my own results change, I will update with a new post to indicate any changes that may be significant.

September 11th - 11 years later

Eleven years ago today, my home, the United States, suffered an unimaginable tragedy.  Let us remember all of the victims of the World Trade Center attacks - those inside and around the buildings and the first responders who died that day, as well as those who died years later from illnesses contracted while digging through the rubble to save others - and their families.  Let us also remember what these innocent victims died for, our country's freedoms and ideals.  Let us never forget that the few who are responsible for this tragedy are just that, a few, and let us always be united, regardless of religion or ethnicity.

"If we love our country, we should also love our countrymen."
-Ronald Reagan 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Funeral Card Friday - Léda Chabot

My second great-grandmother, Léda Chabot, was born on June 6, 1861 to Joseph Chabot and Louise Labrie.  I haven't been able to find her baptism record yet, so my best guess as to Léda's birthplace is Saint-Lazare, Bellechasse, Québec, which is where she was living with her family in 1881.  She married my second great-grandfather, Célestin Bouffard, on July 13, 1881 in Saint-Lazare.  Together they had about 10 children between 1882 and 1901, who were born in Saint-Lazare at first and then later in Sainte-Hénédine, Dorchester, Québec.  At least one child, Catherine Alexandrine Bouffard, died at the age of only 15 months in 1888.  Léda's husband passed away in 1931, at the age of 84.  Léda passed away on October 14, 1956 in Québec.
Photograph Copyright 2012.

Remember in your prayers
wife of the late Célestin Bouffard,
died in Québec,
14 OCTOBER 1956,
buried at Sainte-Hénédine,
at the age of 95 years, 4 months.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

DNA Testing - Part 1

To take the test or not?
I've been reading various genealogy blog postings about DNA testing with great interest but never decided to try it out myself.  As a female, I could only take the old mtDNA test, which, quite frankly, sounded like a total waste of time and money.  It seemed overly broad and overly priced, and I couldn't see how it would ever benefit my research or satisfy my curiosity.  I also remain very skeptical about sending a DNA sample out to an ancestral DNA project that I've never heard of before reading about it in someone's blog post.  Because of this, the new AncestryDNA test, still in its beta phase, piqued my curiosity.  This test examines over 700,000 points in your DNA, which makes it much more specific than the old tests.  Also, by having an Ancestry account, you can use your results to make family connections to other users.  I'm not optimistic about making connections just yet because it's so early, but I can see this being a significant tool a few years down the road since so many people, including myself, already use Ancestry.com.

Paid subscribers first served
So I decided to sign up for an "invitation" to try the new DNA test.  I figured I could always back out if I didn't want to take the test after all.  When I initially signed up, I was not a paid Ancestry subscriber.  Months went by without me hearing anything about trying out the test.  Just over a month ago I paid for a new subscription, and in under two weeks, an invitation to purchase the test was in my inbox.  Was I annoyed by how quickly the invitation came once I became a paid subscriber?  Yes, very.  It seems unfair because I realized paid subscribers are at the top of the waiting list for an opportunity to purchase the test, and this is a cost some people just can't afford to pay in addition to the $99 for the test and about $10 in shipping charges.  This isn't a truly first come, first served waiting list.  However, since so much of the advertising seems to focus on the connections to family trees and other members, I can see from a business perspective why Ancestry would prefer paid subscribers at least during the launch and beta phase--they're the only people who could use the full features of the DNA test.  From Ancestry's standpoint, it would make little sense to have all of the initial testers be people unable to use the product fully.  On the other hand, a wait of months as opposed to a week or two seems way too out of line, and I think Ancestry needs to scatter non-subscribers into its initial pool of "invitees" (or do a much better job of it if they're already doing it to some extent).

The AncestryDNA test
About two weeks after ordering the DNA test (you only get one week to decide to order or not- no pressure or anything), I received my testing kit in the mail.  The instructions in side were incredibly easy to understand and follow.  In fact, I kept re-reading them, thinking I was missing something.  The test itself calls for a certain amount of saliva to be deposited in the tube provided.  Closing the cover to the tube releases some sort of stabilizing chemical.  I then replaced the cover with another one provided, seal it up in a provided baggie, put it in the pre-paid envelope, and mail it out.  Afterwards, I went online and activated my kit on the Ancestry website and chose my settings (whether or not to allow my matches to see all of my ethnicities or only shared ones, for instance).  About two weeks later, I received a confirmation email that my DNA sample was received and that my results should be available in six to eight weeks.  I'm very excited to receive my results and see how this works out.

For now, I wait.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Ever since I was a kid, I've had a fascination with genealogy and family history.  I was the 10-year-old who went on family vacations to places like Gettysburg and Plymouth.  For a long time I was content listening to my dad's theories and latest research, but I was also incredibly excited to help out whenever I could.

Just over two years ago I began my own family history quest.  I'm fortunate enough to still have both of my parents around as resources, but I've primarily been blazing my own research path.  School kept me busy for a while, but I have a lot more time now to dedicate to genealogy and blogging.

By starting this blog, I hope to share both my personal family history knowledge and research skills with other members of the genealogy community while learning new tricks and meeting new people along the way.

Welcome to Reaching the Heartwood!