Viewing Tip

If you see a large "X" at the top right of Ask Olive Tree Genealogy blog, click on the "X" to close it. Closing the "X" will give you the best viewing experience and allow you to leave a comment on a blog post

Monday, December 10, 2012

Give All Information When Writing a Query

 Teddi sent a request for help to Olive Tree Genealogy. Here is her email to me:
I have been searching for my grandmother, Theodora Marino Pensyl, for several years now. She was married in Elkton, Maryland, on August 31, 1939 to Charles Wilbur Pensyl from Bedford, Bedford County, PA. They lived in Philadelphia, Pa near Jackson Street and my mother was born on September 18, 1940.
My mother's names is Dorothy Alice Pensyl; she was christened at the Catholic Church in the early part of December, 1940. My mother never had a birth certificate.
She never met her mother and she was raised by her grandmother, Alice Pensyl, until she turned five; at which time she was able to live with her father and his new "wife" (although they never legally married).
We do not know if Theodora was dead, or living and not able to see my mother due to my grandfather's ability to keep her hidden. I have tried and was unable to reach anyone for assistance. Any ideas you could give me would be greatly appreciated.
Dear Teddi

Sometimes when a reader asks me for help, I immediately have questions. In this case I'm wondering how you knows these exact dates of marriage and birth of her mother. Why am I wondering? Because if you have the marriage record it must surely show an age for Theodora - and that would at least give an approximate year of birth. The birth record of Dorothy may show more details. Both are worth sending for if you do not already have them. If you do have them, you should consider sharing the information found on them when writing a query on a message board or privately (as you did to me)

Even though you say your mother never had a birth certificate, it is quite likely that one was filed and can be obtained. It's worth requesting it. 

Next question - have you found Charles and Theodora on the 1940 census? That would be very helpful to know because that will give you an age for Theordora and a location of birth.  It will also give the place of birth of her parents plus more detail.

Being curious, I had a quick look on Ancestry and I also googled the names. I found several queries you posted over the last several years. To my surprise you gave tidbits of information with each one - different each time - about Dorothea. I suspect you didn't realize how important and helpful each of these little pieces of information could be.

For example in one query you said Theodora sometimes went by Dottie. So that is another name under which to search, and I suspect Dorothy is yet another. In another query you mentioned you thought she had a sister Annette and a brother or father named Leo - these are names you can also search for online. It's crucial to provide these bits and pieces to anyone whose help you want whether on message boards or via email. Even family lore can prove helpful when facing a challenging research puzzle.

So please send for the birth and marriage records and let us know here on the Ask Olive Tree Genealogy blog if you have any other details (plus that all-important 1940 census record!)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Analysing Clues to Help You Figure Out Where to Search Next

Sherri asked about her grandfather's death:

I have been looking for information for about 5 years about my grandfather who is named Burrell Charles Ball first married to Doreen Roxie Morcombe (from Omemee) and then afterward I think Estelle Ball was his wife.  Burrell’s brother I know was from Emily Twp, Albert and he died a few years back and Burrell died around 1993 but I do not know when, where, how etc. 

Also Russell Charles Ball was their father and I believe he lived in Lakefield but there is little information about any of them.  I know there was a fire in Russell’s Lakefield home where he had Burrell, Albert and Barbara E. Ball (I think).  He was married to Julia Secreta Wood that I believe died when she was young.   Where can I go to find out more information?

Olive Tree Genealogy Answer:

Hello Sherri. Since you did not provide an estimated year of birth for Burell, I had to hunt on the 'net to find some mention of him.  Luckily I happened on one of your message board posts where you stated he was born circa 1920 and, best of all, that he was in WW2.

His military service is a great clue and means there are a number of steps you can now take:

Step One:
Did you know that you can send for his military file from Library and Archives Canada? This will give you lots of detail about your grandfather, and may include his death date and location.

Step Two:
Also you can search the online records of the Legion Magazine's Last Post. These are death notices for servicemen and women. Burell is found - just conduct a search under his name. His death date is given as November 14, 1992 (no location). So if he were my ancestor my next step would be to write to the Legion Magazine and ask if they have any other information on Burrell.

Step Three: 
Write to the Legion Branch (Haliburton) where Burrell was a member. Ask if anyone remembers him or if there is more information available. 

There are other steps you can take even with the few clues you have given me.

Step Four:
Send for Burrell's birth certificate from the Registrar General in Thunder Bay.  This will give you an exact date and location of birth, as well his parents' names and ages. With any luck the info found there will lead you to finding his parents in the 1911 census or in earlier records.

Step Five:
Lakefield is in Peterborough County so I would write to the Peterborough Museum & Archives and ask if they have any information on the family.

Burrell's Parents
Now, turning to Burrell's parents. You don't seem to have found the information available on Russell and his wife Julia. has Ontario marriage records to 1927 online. The marriage of Russell Charles Ball age 29 to Julia Secreta [sic] Wood age 19 is found in Peterborough County 6 June 1917.  You will want to obtain this record. Julia's middle name appears to be a mistranscription of the actual name given in the image. has very nicely shown that there are other records online for Russell and Julia - namely Russell's birth, 1891 census, 1901 census, 1911 census, Julia's birth and her death. Their places of birth and parents' names are found in the record of marriage record.

Next, since Lakefield was mentioned by you, why not search the online Lakefield Cemetery website? I did, and found Charles Russell Ball, Julia and several other Ball burials. You may be able to match some of them with whatever you find in the census records. This will give you some family groups with dates.

Going clue by clue I've now found Russell Charles Ball's birth record, marriage record and burial. Each new bit of information was a clue I used to find another bit. I have also found his parents' names and  their deaths too. Their deaths provided me with their locations of birth.

There is much more available online but I'll leave you the fun of following the trail I started for you.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Finding an Ancestor's Arrival in Canada in 1842

Jim asked Olive Tree Genealogy a question about transportation from Quebec to Montreal in 1842

My great grand parents (John & Mary Anne White), and their family (6 children) arrived in Quebec City, in June 1842, from Sligo, Ireland.  They were granted their Land in Albion, Ont.,  in Oct 1842. 
What is the most likely method of travel, and route,  from Quebec to Montreal, and then on to York? 
Olive Tree Genealogy Answer:

Jim - Most immigrants traveled up the St. Lawrence by boat to reach Montreal and then often continued on by boat to get to York (present day Toronto). From there they might have taken a stagecoach or wagon or walked to their inland destination. 

Sometimes the original ship carried on from Quebec to Montreal but sometimes they had to transfer to another boat. 

Sue Swiggum of The Ships List website has been busy for a few years transcribing the steamship passenger lists for boats carrying immigrants to Canada West (aka Upper Canada aka Ontario) from Quebec and Montreal.   Ship arrivals in 1842 from May to July are found here.  If you know the ship name you will find more details on Sue's page. There are some ships that have passenger names attached to letters or special notations made by the Captain.

The St. Lawrence steamship records start in 1819 and are found here

You can also search the Immigrant Agents' Records. There is much detail to be found here. See Filling in the Gaps for a comprehensive list of all available Immigrant Agent Records and other resources for your time period of interest.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Can't Find Ancestor's Death Record - Now What?

Cliff asked Olive Tree Genealogy for help finding an ancestor's death:

I've been looking for my great great grandfather's death date for the past 20 years, and I have been noteably unsuccessful :-(
- Robert "Red Robin" Johnston, b. ca. 1807-1808, Ireland,
- came to Upper Canada ca. 1822-1832, married Mary Francis McQueen in 1833 - marriage bond issued on July 22, 1833,
- farmed just NW of Pendleton, N. Plantagenet Twp., Prescott Co., Ontario, CANADA, died ca. 1895-96 - estimated by the activity on the land record of the farm. [large portions of email edited by Lorine]
Any help that you can give me before I die - I will appreciate it very much :-)  I would like to place a tombstone on his grave site - there is none there currently.  The cemetery has no record of his death date - just where he is buried among family.
Olive Tree Genealogy's Answer

Clff  - Since you know where your great-great-grandfather is buried, you might want to think about  erecting a tombstone that  simply bears his name, place of birth and death and perhaps that he was the husband of Mary Francis. I would add her years of birth and death if you know them just to give some idea of Robert's time period for future historians and genealogists.

The sad fact is that not all deaths were registered! If he died in the winter and it was a difficult trip to the registry office, the family might not have bothered. And if it were registered in the Church records (which you noted burned) they could have felt they'd done enough.

Have you seen the Ancestor Death Record Finder? You may want to have a look as it gives many other sources for finding an ancestor's death date.

You provided me with a nice list of where you've searched - thank you! But you didn't tell me what names you searched under. His surname can be recorded as Johnstone, Johnston, and Johnson and it can be mis-recorded many ways! If you didn't use wildcards in your searching, you should. Also his first name and nickname. Perhaps he was record as Rob, Robbie or Robert. Perhaps as Robin or Red. Hopefully you checked under all variants including just initals (R. Johnstone)

A little caveat - be careful narrowing that estimate of his death only based on the land record activity unless it states the land was going to his heirs! Otherwise you might want to stick to 1891 census (if you found him there) as the last record for him and note that he does not appear in the 1901 census (if that is the case)

I think it's wonderful that you want to erect a tombstone to honour him. I'd do that right away and put as much information on it as you know. You can always add to it later if you find an exact date of death.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Searching for an ancestor born 1925 in Ontario Canada

Jodie asked Olive Tree Genealogy a question about her grandfather:

would there be any way possible that you might know of a William Bulger born June of 1925 in Toronto Canada? it is my grandfather and I am trying to track down ancestry information, sadly his parents died when he was young and there is little information on them, I don't even have a name and my grandfather passed in 1994, can you help or advise me on where to look?
Jodie - Births in Ontario after 1914 are available by contacting the Registrar General. Here  is the address

Office of the Registrar General
Box 4600
Thunder Bay, ON
P7B 6L8
1-800-461-2156 (toll-free, Ontario only)

Provide them with the date of birth, parents' names if known and any other details you have. That will provide you with his parents' names and other information. From there you can start going backwards. 

Presumably if he was born in 1925 his parents were likely born 1909 or earlier so you should be able to find them in census records (the most recent is 1911), marriage records (these are online up to 1928) and so on. Deaths are available online to 1938 so if his parents died before that year you should be able to find them too - and that may give you more information on their parents.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Finding Asylum Records in Ontario Canada

Pierre asked Olive Tree Genealogy about insane asylum files in Ontario.
I have reason to believe that a great aunt of mine ended up in the Penetanguishene Asylum for the criminally insane and died there in December 1968.

I would like to verify this fact first before looking into why she was there in the first place.Her name was xxx [Lorine's note: I have removed her name for privacy reasons]. Any guidance would be much appreciated.
Hi Pierre,

You would be better to request your aunt's complete medical file from Penetanguishene. If she died while an inmate her death information will be found there. The cemetery does not have marked graves, instead there are numbers which relate to the number assigned to each patient.

You can request her file at Ontario Archives or check if the microfilmed records are available to the public. See the page on available Medical Records of Ontario at Olive Tree Genealogy website. There is a complete list of what files for different institutions have survived. Penetanguishene has many.

The files do not generally cost much to obtain. I submitted my request for my husband's grandfather's sister's files directly to Ontario Archives with a FOI (Freedom of Information) form. It was very easy and I received almost 100 pages of her records. Some was redacted by the Archivist as it was considered sensitive information. But most of it was intact.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

FIguring Out Where an Ancestor Arrived and Settled in Canada Before 1865

Gail wrote to Olive Tree Genealogy with a challenge.

Since you say you love a challenge, I have one for you. Franz Alois Frankenberger was born in Monchberg, Germany in 1833. He came to Canada before moving on to Buffalo, N.Y.  My challenge is to find the port they came into, and where they actually settled. The first 4 children were born in Canada before 1865. The other 3 were born in Buffalo. Can you help find them?

Gail - Here are some ideas and suggestions for your research.

The first important thing you need to know is that ships passenger lists arriving in Canada did not have to be archived until 1865. So your chances of finding your ancestors on a ship manifest IF they came in directly to a Canadian port are slim. However - and here is the second important thing for you to note - there are scattered substitutes. There are shipping agent records, immigration agent records and records of steamship passage along the Great Lakes carrying immigrants further inland.

There is a comprehensive list of *all* available substitute records, and links if they are online, at Filling in the Gaps in Ships Passenger Lists to Canada 

Third important fact - Ontario vital records were not registered until 1869 so if Franz' children were born in Ontario before that year you will need to locate church records IF they still exist. Remember that these are early years for Ontario as it was not settled until after the American Revolution. So records are sparse and scattered. It takes time, energy and patience to find what might be relevant to your ancestral search. 

You may have noticed my assumption that Ontario was where Franz settled. I only suggest that due to your noting that he ended up in Buffalo. Had he settled in Quebec he would likely have gone to Vermont. If an eastern Maritime province, Maine or another eastern seaboard state is more likely. That doesn't mean he couldn't have gone to Buffalo from another province, I'm just suggesting the most likely candidate.

Other things you can look for: 

* Try to find a more precise location of settlement in Canada. Here's a few ideas:

1. Check USA census records for each of the Canadian born children as well as their parents. Do they say those four children were born in Canada or do they say Canada Eng (usually refers to Ontario), Canada East, Canada West or some other designation. Canada East = Quebec. Canada West = Ontario. 
2. Look for death records and obituaries of the four Canadian born children.
3. Look for the death record and obituary of Franz and his wife.
4. Look for marriage records of the Canadian-born children as they might contain more precise birth locations

I like for Canadian census records and GenealogyBank for American newspaper records. You can also consult Fulton Postcards for New York newspapers.

* Did you look for the family in available Canadian census records for 1861? You haven't told me when his four children were born so I don't know if they were in Canada in that year. 

These are just a few of the next steps you might want to take in your search.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Finding an Ancestor in Early Ontario Records Before 1869

Fred wrote to Olive Tree Genealogy with quite a few questions about his ancestors who were in "Canada West" between 1856 and 1863.

I have traced my Winslow family from Dublin, Ireland to the ship "Constantine" on which they sailed and landed in the Port of NY in 1856. The entire family, which consisted of John, his wife Eliza and their children William Thomas, John, Oliva and Jane, were destined for "Canada West" according to the ship's manifest. Only a few other passengers on that voyage stated their destination as Canada West. I believe I was able to trace one of those other passengers (not related to me) to Perth in 1860. 
    The elder John was a carpet cutter and upholsterer and I presume he was seeking a better job in his field.  However, there is no trace of John or any member of his family in the Canadian or US census for 1860.  Also I have reason to believe that Eliza Winslow died in Canada not too long after immigrating there but I can find no trace of her death record.   
    By 1863, the family moved to Connecticut and took up work in the spinning mills there and from that year I have been able to trace them without much difficulty.  Are there large gaps in the Canadian census that are listed on and FamilySearch?  Presuming they were in Canada in 1860, why am I unable to find any trace of them?
Ask Olive Answers: Fred, first things first. Hopefully you looked it up and discovered that "Canada West" is present day Ontario. So you need to find early Ontario records for your family.  Before being called Canada West it was called Upper Canada.

1861 Census Canada West
Example of 1861 Census
Second: There is no 1860 census for Canada. Canada did not exist as a country until Confederation in 1867 and thus the first census for Canada is 1871. The census prior to 1871 was 1861 (not 1860) and consists of records for the 5 provinces of that time.

Unfortunately not all of the 1861 returns survived. For a  list of the missing returns, see Ontario GenWeb Census Project.  As well, many surviving records are badly faded and could not be indexed,  so a search on might not find a name even though a record survived. You would have to do a page by page search of the images in hopes of spotting your ancestors' names.

In the Ontario 1851 and 1861 Census, the agricultural returns are listed by
the name of the head-of-household. 
Agricultural Census returns are often overlooked by genealogists. Agricultural returns provide information such as lot and concession number, acreage, livestock and agricultural products. has the 1861 Agricultural portion of the census online. That's

the good news! You can search for an ancestor in it by including the keyword
"AGRICULTURAL" in the search fields.

The bad news is that only half of each page has been scanned.

Third: You say you cannot find a death record for Eliza "in Canada". Again, you are looking in Ontario and a look at the explanation for Ontario Vital Records on or the Archives of Ontario or other websites (such as Olive Tree Genealogy Ontario section) will reveal that registration did not begin until 1869, well past the date your Winslow family left for USA.

This brings me to an important note for researchers - don't overlook the explanation or description of record sets online. This is where you will learn what the records consist of (what is missing and what is available) and what years the records cover. When you are searching for an ancestor in a place where you are not familiar with the records, you should always consult the local archives or genweb site to find out when records were kept, where they are kept, and what has survived.

It is also important to remember that Ontario was not settled until the time of the American Revolution so these are relatively early records you are seeking. Any hope of finding a death record for Eliza rests on knowing a more precise location where they settled in Ontario. If they owned land you might find them in land records, or petitions. If you know their religion you could search church records. But there are few Ontario-wide databases to search, and that is why you must have a more precise location of a county or preferably a township where your family lived.

You could also check OCFA (Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid) in case Eliza's grave is recorded there. If you get a result you will need to read the website instructions for details on how to obtain the burial information.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What To Do When There's No One Around to Ask

Katie asked Olive Tree Genealogy about finding out information on her family tree when there is no one around to verify what she uncovers.

I am really lost....There is really no one to verify this information.

My Father was Royden E Simms 11/23/1942-6/5/2007 Cincy, OHIO
My Grandfather was Royden E Simms 8/5/1912-3/28/1989
My Great Grandfather was William F Simms born about 1886 in West Virginia (to Frank and Kate Brannon/Brennon according to his marriage cert.)

I cannot find info about Frank and Kate. I have found some info about a man named Frank with a father named Willis, but some research I have found points away from this. Can you help???
The first thing I did was have a quick look in the Ohio census for Royden born 1912. The 1920 census on confirmed that his father was William F. born W. Virginia about 1886. It also showed his parents being born in W. Virginia.

If William was born circa 1886 he should appear with his parents on the 1900 census. This is a way to confirm family groups. Sure enough, the 1900 census for Carthage, Hamilton Ohio reveals a William Simms born June 1884 in West Virginia, with his parents Frank born Aug. 1856 in Indiana and Kate born March 1861 in W. Virginia

Census Records Have Many Clues

This 1900 Census shows that Frank and Kate had a total of 7 children. This is important because you can search each of these children to find more information on their parents. For example, a birth, marriage or death record for one of the children should reveal Kate's maiden name. It may reveal more, the only way to know is to start looking.

Look For Migration Pattern

Each of their children is noted as being born in W. Virginia. If this is correct you now know that sometime between 1897 (the youngest child's birth year) and 1900, the family moved.  So before 1897 you will want to hunt for them in W. Virginia records.

But moving on, you now know that Frank born ca 1856 should be found with his parents in 1860 and probably 1870 census records. You may as well start with Indiana since that is given as his birth location. Don't believe absolutely that Frank was born in 1856, when searching you need to allow a couple of years on either side of that date given in the 1900 census.

Vital Records Can't Be Beat!

You can also hunt for Frank and Kate's marriage record. I found one in Cabell, W. Virginia for Frank O. Simms and Catherine Brannan in March 1883. We can look for verification that this could be your Frank and Kate by finding what year they say they were married (you'll find that in the 1900 census) and by verifying Kate's maiden name in a birth, marriage or death record for one of their children. It does agree with your William's marriage certificate information. It also gives you a possible middle initial for Frank.

Frank's birth in the marriage record is shown as 1860 in Harrison Co. Indiana while Katherine is listed as 1860 in Cabell County. The image is available for free at but sadly the columns for parents' names are blank on this page of records. You can search births, deaths and marriages on this site

The 1900 census states Kate's parents were born in Ireland and she has been married 20 years. It doesn't match exactly but it's close enough that you should keep it as a possibility and look for more evidence to either prove or disprove that the 1883 marriage is correct.

Census Records Aren't Always Accurate

Frank's mother is noted as being born in Kentucky, his father as unknown. Keep in mind that census records are not always correct. Ages might vary and birth locations can be recorded as different in each census. That is because we don't know who gave the information to the census taker and thus we don't know how correct it is. Perhaps a neighbour gave the answers! Perhaps a young child. Keep that in mind as you research.

Search the Children's Records Too

I had a very quick look at each of Frank and Kate's children from the 1900 census - and found a couple listed in the Ohio death records. You could send for the complete record to verify Kate's maiden name.

Also I found a birth registration in Cabell, W. Virginia for Clarence 1 Sept. 1889 to Frank Sims and Elizabeth K. Brannon (no doubt Elizabeth K. is Katherine from the 1883 marriage and Kate from the 1900 census) This birth record give Frank's birth location as Kentucky so you need to make note of this discrepancy. But Clarence born in 1889 in W. Virginia matches the 1900 census listing for Clarence born Sept. 1890 in W. Virginia. It's looking more and more like your Kate is Elizabeth Katherine Brannon.

Doing more research on Clarence, his WW2 records indicate his middle name is Francis. Don't overlook the fact that "Frank" is often a nickname for "Francis" or shortened from "Franklin". 

There are other children born to Frank and Kate in the W. Virginia birth records found on Ancestry - Kate 6 Jan 1888; Eddie/Edward, 4 Apr 1891; Clara 4 April 1893; daughter 1894 (note that for this child Frank's birth is given as Missouri); Maggie 22 Feb 1896 plus two children with no first names given. You can check these for yourself at or view the actual images at

Finding Frank's Full Name on a Death Certificate

Now here's the really good news - I took my own advice and searched for death records for Frank and Kate's children. The bingo moment was finding Maggie's in 1935 in Ohio. Her death registration gives her father's name as Franklin (remember how I pointed out earlier that Frank can be short for Francis or Franklin?) Owen Sims born Indiana and her mother as Catherine Brennan born W. Virginia. The image is on under her married name of Margaret Brown

Now you have something a bit more concrete to go on with researching Frank! I also found John Sim's death in Ohio in 1923. His death registration gives Frank's birthplace as Albany, Indiana. Do you see why it's helpful to search all the children to glean bits and pieces of vital information?

It Just Keeps Getting Better

Armed with the married name of Frank's daughter (Margaret Brown) I had a hunt in census records and found her living with her father Frank O. Simms in New Albany, Floyd, Indiana in 1930. The location fits with Frank's place of birth as per his son John's Death Certificate. The middle initial "O" fits with the middle name of Owens as per Margaret's Death Certificate. Frank is shown as divorced and father born Kentucky.

More Census Finds for Kate

Carrying on with some methodical census searches (searching for each of the children of Frank and Kate Sims) finally turned up a 1910 census for Kate. She had remarried to Joseph Casey and will be found as Katherine in Cincinnati Ohio with children James (Jim), John, Clarence, Sannie? and Margaret (Maggie) Simms.

Your Turn to Have Fun

I suggest you carry on and attempt to find each child, Katherine/Katie and Frank in all census records from 1870 to 1940. That will take you some time but the rewards of clues and information you should find in each census will be well worth it.

One last thing - there is an 1870 census record in Indiana for Frank O. Sims age 10 born Indiana, father Willis F. Sims, 37 born Kentucky, mother Sarah, 36 born Kentucky. This fits with other information gleaned from some of the records I found so I would definitely continue looking for more information on this family group if I were you. Hint: Check the 1860 census for Harrison, Harrison, Indiana for Willis and Sarah.

I also found a marriage record in August 1917 in Floyd Indiana, for Frank Simms born 12 Aug 1859 in Corydon Indiana, son of Willis Simms and Sarah Ellison. Frank was marrying Tillie Deppeus [sic]. I suggest this is your Frank marrying his second wife after divorcing Kate.

Did I say only one more thing? I have more... the death of Willis at the age of 69 is found in Indiana Death Indexes on FamilySearch for 14 Jan 1893 in Corydon, Indiana. The source notations reads "The source of this record is the book CH-25 on page 9 within the series produced by the Indiana Works Progress Administration." Perhaps if you access the complete record you will find his parents' names.

So there you have it. I had some fun but I left you lots to do too. My sources for all my findings were, and West Virginia Vital Records

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Searching for The Ships List Mailing List

Pat asked about the abbreviation F/O
I saw a message on rootsweb, by DC Smithin from 4/12/2000 where s/he defined F/O. The meaning of this abbreviation had been bothering me for over a year. I would like to thank this person but cannot find him. The ShipsList-L doesn't seem to exist anymore. Can you help me?
Hello Pat - F/O is an abbreviation found on naturalization records and the message you referred to states in part

 "Final Order.  This is usually recorded on the petition (or perhaps some otherdocument prior to 1906) indicating the final order of the court (i.e., the court ordered that the person be naturalized, or the court ordered that the person's petition for naturalization be denied)."

The Ships List Mailing list is still alive and well and run by Sue Swiggum. I am not sure why you thought it didn't exist anymore. Researchers can subscribe to the list or search The Ships List archives at

 You can also obtain more information on Naturalization Records as well as search online records, by going to website

Monday, July 16, 2012

Query About a Naturalization Record and Ships Passenger List

Bob asked a very interesting question which I believe this may be useful to other genealogy researchers.  Here is my edited version of Bob's email:

My 2nd great grandfather was Michael McGinnis.  He is said to have been born 1805-1807 in Dublin, Ireland. He was m. to Catherine McGuire in Ireland. Children born in Ireland were: Patrick- abt.1826, Edward-abt. 1829, and two daughters- abt.1831 &1834.  A daughter, Ellen was born in New York, Dec. 27, 1836. The family inferentially dates his immigration to America between Jan.1835-Dec. 1836, possibly on the Barque Tweed (although no other family members are shown).  
He lived in Johnson Co., Iowa from 1841 until his death Jan. 11, 1870. I recently found his date of naturalization, July 22, 1844, in Dist. Court, of Keokuk Co., Sigournery, IA. The card only shows his name and country of birth as Ireland. No other information.  Do you think there would be a Declaration of Intent record somewhere?  I've checked Keokuk Co. clerk and recorder, public library, historical society, and genealogical society, without success.
Bob - For naturalization records you may want to visit the USA section of  Since your ancestor naturalized in 1844, you will want to look at "Naturalization Records Before 1906". There should be a Declaration of Intent for your ancestor and it will almost certainly have more details such as exact date of arrival, but may not have an exact location of birth.

Continue reading at Hunting For an Elusive Passenger List and Naturalization Record

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Does Sharing a Great-Grandmother Prohibit Cousins from Marrying

One of my pet peeves is anonymous queries to AskOliveTree. I figure if someone is writing to ask for some help or advice, the least they can do is provide their first name. So, against my usual "rule" of ignoring any requests without a name attached, I'm going to answer this one which was was not signed:

Maybe you can help me... my question to you is that I met a cousin by facebook and I we like each other Im starting to like him. My grandma is halfsister with his grandma they are from the same mother but different dads so we only share a great grandma so I would like to know if is ok if we have a relationship and can we have kids?
AskOliveTree answer: It depends. Different countries have different laws regarding degrees of cousinship and legal marriages. Different religions have different rules about who can marry.

Your relationship with your cousin is considered Canon Degree 3 and Civil Degree VI (6).  This is probably not a problem at all, but you should find out what laws your country or religion have regarding Canon or Civil Degrees of relationships and marriage.

Canon Degree is simply the furthest number of generations back to a common ancestor (in this case it is 3 - parents, grandparents and great-grandmother)

Civil Degree adds both individuals generational numbers back to that common ancestor. For you and your cousin it is 3 each, giving you Civil Degree of 6.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Figuring out a Dutch Word in Church Records

Liz asked about a word in a Dutch church record

I recently found your site while researching some Dutch ancestry for a friend and wondered if you knew what the abbreviations "Get."meant in a birth record

"Elisabeth, d. van Samuel NUTMAN en syn huisvrow (!). Get. Jan Knokkaerd, &ce."
Dear Liz

You can start with a list of translations of words in Dutch church records  at the New Netherland section of Olive Tree Genealogy. Translations of Dutch phrases in Church Records will take you directly there.

However I believe I overlooked the specific abbreviation you asked about. Here is a tip for anyone who can't find a foreign language word in any lists or dictionaries.  Study the record at its source. It always helps to see a record in context and see other records in that record set.  When I say "at its source" I don't necessarily mean you need to see the original record (although that is always best). I mean take a look at the microfilm or online site where you found the record. Look at all the records in that database. Analyze what you see.

Since you didn't tell me where you found this record I searched and  found it online at Studying the other baptisms and births that were recorded with the record you are interested in, and looking at the context of the word, it becomes clear that get. is the abbreviation of the word getuige which means witness, thus the sponsor of the child.

So your record above is simply recording the baptism/christening of Elizabeth, the daughter of Samuel Nutman and his wife (her given name is not recorded). Sponsors are Jan Knokkaerd, etc.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Some Tricks to Deciphering Old Handwriting

Ken asked Olive Tree Genealogy a question about hard-to-decipher handwriting in an 1892 marriage record

I wonder if you could help me. I have attached a small portion of  marriage registration document that occurred in Dresden in 1892. I cannot decipher the word for the grooms residence which appears under "24years" in the image. It looks like Tp Davis or something similar. Can you relate to this location at all and tell me what and where it is?
Ken's question and his effort to read the word in this old document points out the dangers in struggling to interpret letters and character formations without having some clues to help.

My first tip is to look for other words in the document that you recognize. Carefully study the letter formations. Does this unknown word really look like "Davis"? Does the last letter truly look like an "s"?

Next, you can see that the word in question is shadowed. That makes it more difficult to read. It's also a good idea to isolate the word you're struggling to interpret so you can see it without distraction.
My next step was to take a look at the entire page (which I found online on in Ontario Marriages). It was easy to spot another instance of the same word, but in a more legible format. I would have extended my search to pages before and after to try to find another similar or identical word.

It's starting to look pretty clear now that the word might be "Dawn".  "Tp" of course is the abbreviated word "Township". We need to find out if there was a Dawn Township in Kent County in 1892.

Next step is to check Kent County, which is where the marriage took place, to find out what the names of the townships are. Off I went to the Kent County Ontario Genweb site And yes, Dawn Township used to be part of Kent County.

So there we have it. Any time you're faced with a challenging old document that is difficult to decipher, follow these tips:

1. Isolate the word/letters you are trying to read.

2. Try to find the same word or letters on the document or on other documents written at the same time in the same hand. Compare any that you find.

3. Study the word/letters and come up with various ideas for what they might be. Write down all the possibilities.

4. Look for other clues to help narrow down the possibilities. Other clues might be the geographic location as in the case above.

5. Last resort - try tracing the word you're struggling with. Sometimes the letters will suddenly become much clearer.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Finding Grandpa's Brothers in Canada

Dolores asked Olive Tree Genealogy for help finding her grandfather's brothers.
 I have been trying to locate my grandfather’s two brothers, is there a list of indentured servants in Canadian the 1890’s and early 1900’s.  Ottawa Valley area
Dolores - I'm not aware of any lists of indentured servants. You may wish to simplify your search by checking the 1891 and 1901 census for these brothers.

You can search Canadian census records on and on Automated Genealogy

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Finding an Ancestor Arriving in Canada Before 1865

Cindy asked Olive Tree Genealogy a question about her Irish ancestors' immigration to Canada.
thank you in advance for your time,  I am trying to find my husbands family.
Robert Moynan born 1821 in Ireland and his wife also from Ireland lived in Farnham and is buried there along with his wife. I am looking for records of emmigration but find nothing.  I do know that some records from Ireland are missing and I don't know if they came as "Poor" any ideas?
 Hi Cindy - I see from your online tree that the family were in Quebec before 1851 when their daughter was born. That's a challenge because prior to 1865 ships passenger lists for Canada did not have to be kept. So finding one is tricky. Some have survived but most have not.

Don't despair though as there are substitutes to finding an actual passenger list, such as shipping company records, Emigration Agent records, Steamship records from ships taking immigrants up the St. Lawrence River, etc.

Read the rest of Olive Tree Genealogy answer at

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Relationship Calculator Revisited

Robert asked Olive Tree Genealogy about a relationship

I recently came across My Grandfathers' brothers sons daughter on Facebook. My question is what relation is/was 1) My grandfathers brother to me 2) My grandfathers brothers son to me and 3 My grandfathers brothers sons daughter to me? Thank you for your help in answering this because I do not have a clue!!

Robert - it can be confusing. All you need to do is read my previous blog post Relationship Calculater to quickly and easily figure out the relationship.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Writing a Good Query Will Get You Better Responses

Nina asked a question but unfortunately didn't provide details necessary for Olive Tree Genealogy to answer specifically.

I have worked in both USA and Canadian records regarding Jackman and Reynolds families.  I know that Richard Jackman married to Mary ? (surname may be Morton, Reynolds, or Miller, but mostly likely was Reynolds.)  Their Bible had John Jackman (for whom I cannot find residence, wife, children), Elizabeth Jackman who md. William Wallace, William Jackman who md. Catherine Monks/Munks, Edward Jackman who did not marry, Ann/ Nancy Jackman or whom I don't have a marriage.  There was another child whose name was not in the bible - Hiram Reynolds Jackman who md. Martha Oliver.
Do you have any information on this family?  What was the surname of Mary who was md. to Richard Jackman Sr.?  Is there any proof available regarding Hiram Reynolds Jackman who had land dealings with Richard Sr. and his sons, and certainly seems to have been another son.  He moved to Michigan after selling his land.  Please help if you can.

Nina - I'm afraid I can't answer your question precisely because there is information missing that is needed

1. You have not provided any dates. I don't know if your family was living in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, 1900s.

2. Your locations (Canada and USA) are too broad to give specific answers as to repositories you might want to check. You mention Michigan for Hiram but again with no dates or a more precise location it is not possible to give you specific answers.

Depending what years your ancestors lived and where they were living during those years affects where you should look for more details. For example I can't tell you to check church records for such and such a town/city in such and such a township/county in such and such a province/state/territory.

And since every country, township, county etc has different records for different time periods and keeps them in different locations, I cannot give you anything other than generic answers.

My generic answer would be to consult local church records where your ancestors settled. Consult local land records for deeds, wills and general information on the buying and selling of their land. Consult census records and tax or assessment records. Look for obituaries and vital registrations of births, marriages and deaths.

I can't be more specific because I don't know where or when your ancestors lived.

 Remember there are 3 key items needed when asking someone for assistance - names, locations and dates.  You may want to take a look at an article "Good Query Bad Query" for some suggestions and reminders

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Finding an Ancestor in Canada Requires More Precise Location

Angela asked Olive Tree Genealogy a question about finding someone who moved to Canada.

I am searching for my great uncle, Julius Idavain, born 1/12/1918 in Estionia,  he had brother Edward 1/3/1910 , (my grandfather)   a sister HIlda 2/5/1913  , Edward took ill and later died in New york in 1942,   Julius visited my mother when she was a child,, she was told by her grandfather that Julius had moved to Canada , and used to keep in contact by ltr with her grandfather,   I have searched records for canada but cannot find anything , even on any ship records, . Any ideas ??
Angela - You will have trouble searching for records unless you can narrow down the geographic location. Canada is the second largest country in the world and every province and territory has different records from different years kept in different locations! So unless you know at the minimum a province or territory you're going to have a challenge.

Also, ships passenger records to Canadian ports of arrival are not available online after 1935. Immigration records after 1935 are in the custody of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. To obtain a copy you must meet certain requirements which are outlined on the website.

You could try the Border Crossing records for USA and Canada if you have not already done so.  These are found on

Canada also has strict privacy laws so it will be quite difficult for you to get information for the years you require it. For example our most recent searchable census is 1911. This will give you some idea of how far back you need to go to access many records.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Assumptions or Working Theories - Which is Best?

Steve asked Olive Tree Genealogy a very good question about making assumptions from details on a census.
How can one determine the relationship of individuals on the 1860 census. On the 1860 hardy county va census, my great grandfather Thomas Wilson is placed below a Pamelia Wilson, and above that a Judy Wilson. Can I safely assume that Thomas is Pamelia's son born out of wedlock? 
Steve - This is an important question in genealogy. The short answer is "Absolutely not!"

You should never assume anything in genealogy research. You can however create what I call a Working Theory, based on the facts you have found.

Continue reading the rest of my answer at Olive Tree Genealogy blog

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Questions (and Answers) About Genealogy Numbering Systems

Dan asked the following question about genealogy reports and numbering:

I am a rank amateur at this, but have adopted one of the variety of
generational numbering systems. But now i have a problem trying to
figure out how it works when a discovery is made of new and older

I am wondering what to do when additions are made to a generational

numbering system based on (starting with) the earliest known ancestor,
when even earlier generations are discovered. My earliest known
ancestor is 1David Cooper. His first child was 1.1John, and his second
was 1.2David. This David's first child was 1.2.1William, and so on.
But what happens as far as numbering is concerned, when I discover
1David's father?

The numbers here are supposed to be super-scripted but the email

program doesn't appear to like that idea.

Of course, that may be unnecessarily optimistic, but I still have to ask.
Dan - Hopefully you are using genealogy software to input your genealogy data. If you are not, you should. The program will correct your numbering automatically when you generate your report.

So not to worry. You can carry on finding more and more ancestors and rest easy knowing that each time you generate a report your software program will automatically find the oldest ancestor and do the numbering accordingly.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Not All Genealogy Research Can be Done Online

Lynden asked about births and marriages in Ontario.

I feel like I've hit the "brick wall" looking for information on my spouse's great grandfather, Eugene Herley (Herlihey). I am hoping you can help.  I've scrolled through 100's of marriage and birth files including and Ontariogenealogy  and not finding the marriage (abt 1861-62) of Eugene Herlihey to Mary McNamara. Nor, do I find the birth of their first two children James P (abt 1863) and George Francis (abt 1865).  I've seen marriages and baptisms for other members of his family, but not Eugene.  I'm open to suggestions on where to look next.
Lynden - Ontario did not begin Vital Registrations (of births, marriages and deaths) until 1869. That is why you have not found the ca 1861 marriage and the two births ca 1863 and 1865.

You will have to search alternate sources, which includes church records. I see that you found the family in two early Ontario census records (1851 and 1861). Go back and see what religion they were.

Then check the location where they lived and find out what churches existed for that area in the time period you need. I would then look at Ontario Archives website to determine what, if any, have been microfilmed. You will have to obtain the relevant microfilm(s) and start looking. With any luck you'll find your family!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Canadian Case Study Finding Ancestors in 3 Parts

A Canadian Case Study

Michelle (Stephens) Hutchinson sent Olive Tree Genealogy a great puzzler from her family tree. Here is Michelle's email which I've edited slightly for length.
I've hit a bit of a brick wall in my search for my 2nd Great Grandfather William James Stephens, and I was hoping you'd be able to provide some direction. 
 I've told that he may have immigrated from England to Canada due to a scandal with a scullery maid, or that he was hanged as a horse thief.

Over the years, I've been able track down some information about him, but have never been able to get any details about his life before Canada.

William James Stephens, at 28 years old, first shows up in the 1871 census in Essex County Ontario, along with a woman who is most likely his first wife, Elmira at 23 years old.  William's age here is most likely a miscopy, and should have been 26 years instead, as all further records point to a birthday in 1839 or 1840.  I have not been able to track down the marriage certificate for this.

Next, he appears in a marriage record as a Widower in 1875, marrying my 2nd Great Grandmother Annie McLean.  They spent the rest of their lives together in Essex county.  In this marriage record, his parents are listed as John and Bridget Stephens, and his birthplace was England.

I've been able to prove that he was not, in fact, hanged as a horse-thief through his death certificate from 1906 in Essex county.

I haven't been able to find any details about his first wife (Elmira) other than her appearance on the 1871 census... and can't confirm if she came over with him or if she met him in Canada

So the questions I'm trying to answer are:

1) Who was Elmira?

2) Where was William James Stephens living in England before his immigration to Canada?

3) Was there in fact any controversy in his life?

Could you offer any suggestions on how to answer these three questions?
Michelle - 

Thank you for outlining what you have found and what you want to know. That's a great help when posting a query. I can answer question #1 as I've found the marriage record of Elmira and your great grandfather William James Stephens and several other records concerning her. I believe I may also have found William's parents but that find needs to be verified.
Please see Part1, Part 2 and Part 3 to follow along as I researched  this fascinating and challenging query. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Relationship Calculator

Many genealogists find figuring out relationships of one person to another or to themeselves, very challenging. Understanding generations removed and degrees of cousinship can also prove a challenge. Harold asked a question that illlustrates the difficulty

I'am trying to figure out a relationship.
My grandmothers, has a sister , she had a daughter who has a child what is the relationship to me.

There are many websites online that explain relationships and degrees of cousinship and so on. But I simply went to Steve Morse's One-Step Relationship Calculator and punched in, one at a time, exactly the relationships Harold outlined above.

You simply press the buttons one at a time to indicate the relationship of one person to the next. So it is Harold's mother, then his mother's mother (his grandma), then his mother's mother's sister and so on like this:

Mother \ Mother (his mother's mother) \ sister (sister to his grandmother) \ daughter \ child

And the answer popped up as

2nd cousin

There you go Harold. That child is your second cousin.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Finding an Ancestor in Canadian Records

Carole asked Olive Tree Genealogy some questions about her Johnson ancestors who settled in Ontario Canada from England. I've edited Carol's email slightly:

William Johnson, born 1821 in Lancashire, England; died 1908 in Varna, Ontario.  Occupation, carpenter. [He married] Mary McQuarrie Johnson, born 1825 in Ireland; died 1912, in Varna.
William Johnson's parents were Thomas Johnson and Jane Martin Johnson Mary McQuarrie's parents were Andrew McQuarrie and Mary (maiden name unknown)
I have no further information concerning my Johnson and McQuarrie forebears.  Any help you might be able to provide will be greatly appreciated, including dates of migration to Canada and the ships on which they migrated. 
AskOliveTree response: Carole,  I hope you have gathered all the census records available for your family. Since Ontario and England took their census every 10 years in the same year starting with 1841, you should be able to find William in 1841 England, then 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 in Ontario.

I use but you can also find some Canadian  census records on Automated Genealogy, FamilySearch and National Archives of Canada

I've suggested these years and locations based on the 1861 census for Stanley Township in Huron County where I found the family with their oldest child age 13 born in Canada. We know from this record that William and Mary were married and living in Ontario by circa 1848.
Questions Asked on Census Records
Each of those records will provide you with clues to further research such as occupation, religion and so on.  The 1901 census for example asks for a year of immigration to the country and this will narrow your timeline for William's arrival.

For a list of what questions were asked on each of those census years, see

Agricultural Census Records - Don't Overlook These!
An important and often over-looked resource of the 1851, 1861 and 1871 census in Ontario is the Agricultural Census. This shows the exact land location of an individual, how many acres he had, how many were cultivated, what he grew on the land and so on.

For help with the Agricultural census you may want to refer to my blog posts on Finding Ancestors on 1851 Agricultural Census Canada and Ancestry Goof with 1861 Canadian Census

 I suggest searching the Agricultural Census for three reasons - first you will learn more details about your ancestor if you find him, and that means you're getting a better sense of the person other than names and dates. Secondly finding his exact land location (Lot and Concession Number) means you can branch out to searching the Abstract Indexes to Deeds, the Township Papers and more.

Land Records Are Useful

Each of these records has different information. The Abstract Indexes for example will give you dates for when your ancestor first purchased his land and when he was last living on it (sold or transferred it to another individual) Sometimes you will find references to other family members, or even a will.

The last reason is that your William is listed as a farmer in 1861, 1881, and 1891. I'm not sure why you gave his occupation as "carpenter" in your email to me but perhaps he showed that occupation on a census I didn't check? It is a pretty big occupation discrepancy though so I'm a bit puzzled by it.

Farmers usually owned their own land so he is almost certain to be found on the Agricultural Census records.

Ships Passenger Lists & Immigration Records

From the 1901 census we are told that William immigrated in 1845 while Mary says she immigrated in 1843. Since Canada did not require that ships passenger lists be kept before 1865, this will be a challenge for you to find records of their passage. Surviving lists are few and far between. What has survived are other records such as immigration agent records, shipping company records, steamship records of travel down the St. Lawrence River from Ports of Arrival in Canada - and those records are what you will need to search in.

Some of these alternate ship records are online and links to all known substitute records, offline and online, can be found at Filling in the Gaps on Olive Tree Genealogy website. This is where your search for their immigration should start.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Challenging Search in Canada: A Case Study

A Challenging Search in Canada: A Case Study

Recently Olive Tree Genealogy received a request from Melissa to help with finding a challenging ancestor. Melissa didn't have a lot of information on her family but she did send the following:

I don't have much about my dad's father's side of the family. They resided in Brandon, Manitoba and were on the 1911 Census as Stephi, Annie and Mary Pravada .  I don't know if Stephi was short for something, but his headstone says Steve.

I also know that, for whatever reason, there are 3 different spellings of their last name.  One being Pravada (per censes), one being Prawada and my maiden name was Prewedo. 
My family attended a Ukranian Catholic Church in Brandon. I'd really like to find their immigration record or more about the family.
Melissa's query intrigued me as ancestors with such a variety in their surname are often very challenging to find. And I like a challenge! So I did a little research on Melissa's behalf and thought I'd share with readers how I found records that will provide answers for Melissa and will take her back at least one more generation to the parents of both Stephi and Annie 
Continue reading the step by step guide to research on a challenging ancestral tree in Canada.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Looking For an Ancestor in Canada, eh?

Fiona asked some very intriguing questions about her Anderson family from Scotland to Ontario Canada. Because I covered so many different aspects of Canadian genealogy in my response, I decided to publish Fiona's question and my answers on Olive Tree Genealogy blog  Here is Fiona's question:

George Anderson was born in 1806 or 1807 in Roxburghshire in Scotland. Jessie Powell was born about 1805 also in Roxburghshire. We don't know when they married however their son Archibald McLaren Anderson was born in Scotland in 1822. Their daughter Janet was born in 1835 but we are not sure if she was born in Canada or Scotland. We know George, Jessie and Janet (and their youngest child Elizabeth) all died in Canada in the Huron County area. We have photographs of their tombstones in the Wingham Cemetery. George died in 1857, Jessie, Janet and Elizabeth all died in 1880. We know Archibald arrived in Australia from New York in November 1852. We can then follow his movements from then..
Our questions are as follows:
1. When did the Anderson family migrate to Canada from Scotland?
2. What happened in 1880 to cause three deaths in the one family?
3. Was Janet born in Canada? We believe Elizabeth was born in Huron County in 1848.

Fiona - I edited your email for space reasons and removed question 4, preferring to focus on your first 3 questions. First I must thank you for a well-written query. You summed up what you knew, what you don't know and what you found out. You also provided me with a list of resources you have used. Well done!

And now, on to my answers  on Olive Tree Genealogy blog. I hope you'll be pleased with what I found and my suggestions for further research.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Finding Parents' Names When all You have is Birth and Death Year

Deb asked

I was wondering if you had any suggestions on how to find info on a person who is buried in the Colborne Township Cemetery Ontario ? This cemetery is online with photos of the headstones. However the stone for the person that I am researching only has the year of birth and the year of death. I am trying to find the names of his parents but with out an exact date of date it is difficult to find an obit etc. His name is Clayton Steels . By the stone he we born in 1920 and died in 2005. I was hoping that a local Genealogy Society had a clipping file by year and name or something. Any ideas.

Olive Tree Response: Deb - there are several ways you could try to find Clayton's parents' names

1. Send for his birth registration (assuming he was born in Ontario). You can request a search  by contacting the Office of the Registrar General.

2. Hunt for an obituary or ask on a mailing list if anyone has access to the 2005 newspapers for the area where he lived and died

3. Write to the cemetery where Clayton is buried and request any information they have.

4. Check out the other STEELS family members who are buried in that same cemetery. There's a very good chance they are all related. In fact I see that James Steels (1881-1947) would be a good age to have a son born 1920. James' wife was Anna (1888-1969), her name is on his stone. Just something to take a look at.

5. If all the above ideas fail, take heart because in six years the 1920 Ontario births will be available to the public. 

Good luck, I hope your quest is successful.