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Thursday, April 29, 2010

We're Unique Bowls of Alphabet Soup

Amanda asked a different kind of question

I have a third cousin who looks identical to me (the family would bring her photo out when I was young to show visitors and say this is Amanda and they all believed it, and then laughed). I studied the photo, we were identical, the teeth were exactly the same. She was 4 years younger than me. This was’nt just a look alike, it was more identical than that. What reason would there be to us being so identical ?


It's called genetics.

Each of us is made up of genes passed on from our parents, their parents, their grandparents and on and on back in time. This is also called hereditary transmission, meaning the characteristics that come from the DNA we inherit from our ancestors.

Think of it like an alphabet soup. You're a bowl of unique alphabet soup (each of us is) but in your case your cousin got pretty much the same mix of letters. There'll be differences in her soup but the two of you got enough of the same letters in your bowls to resemble each other.

For a scientific explanation you will have to visit a few sites. Just google DNA or GENETICS and see what pops up.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Finding an Ancestor in the Canadian Merchant Marine

Cornelia asked
my older sister tells me that our maternal grandfather, Allen John Wagner, ran away when he was about 15 and joined the Canadian Merchant Marine. that would be around 1900, give or take a couple years. we have no clue what the name of the ship was, he doesn't show up on the 1901 Canadian or 1900 American census as far as I can find, and we've no idea how to find his seaman protection papers. Allan John Wagner was born May 3rd 1886 Boston, MA to Charles Wagner of Poland and Annie McDonald of Nova Scotia.he returned to his parents by 1910 and by 1920 they had crossed the nation and settled in California.can you help us find his seaman's protection papers?

OLIVE TREE ANSWER: Hello Cornelia, it looks like you've done some good research on your grandfather. I can only direct you to the available records for the Canadian Merchant Marine and for seamen.

Available records include

Central Registry of Seamen, 1875-1983

Registers of Marine Certificates, 1872-1971

Lloyd's Captains Registers, 1851-1947

Best of luck with your search!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

From Germany to Canada, but when??

Andrea asked
I am looking for my fathers family. Our surname is Morische and we are the only ones in Canada. He is from Germany and the story is that we wre kicked out of France around the time of Napoleon. Should I use a german site? I've tried but came up short

OLIVE TREE ANSWER: Dear Andrea. Once again I urge my readers to please provide DATES when writing to ask for help. Here's the problem. You say your father is from Germany.

Since I don't know how old YOU are (20s? 30s? 60s?....) I have NO idea of your father's age or when your father was born. You've also not given me a timeframe for his leaving Germany and coming to Canada. So it could be 1900 or 1940 or 1980 or yesterday!

To add to this problem of no dates is the fact that you said "Canada". It would be helpful to know what province or territory, in fact a more precise location would be extremely helpful.

Depending when your father came from Germany to whatever province/territory in Canada, you may be able to find census records online. Or birth or marriage records. This will provide you with clues! Best of all you may find him on a ships passenger list which will give more clues.

From there you should research in the usual way - going backwards, one generation at a time. Once you reach the end of Canadian records, you will have to begin searching in Germany or wherever else your hunt takes you.

Go slow. Do one generation at a time, gathering all the facts you can. Details such as dates, locations and full names are very important, don't overlook them.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Finding Your Ancestor on Canadian Ships Passenger Lists

Elaine asked
My grandfather immigrated to Canada from Denmark in 1908. I imagine it was by ship but I know nothing more than he lived for a while in Hamilton, Ontario. Where would I find Canadian immigration records for that time? Any place online?

Olive Tree Answer: Elaine you are in luck. Ships Passenger Lists to Canada from 1865 to 1935 have been put online. The images of the manifests up to 1922 are available for free at Library & Archives Canada. There is NO index by passenger name at the LAC website.

But more good news - these ships passenger lists have been indexed by Each passenger name found in the index links to the actual manifest page.

Have fun!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Evaluate your Sources, Think Outside the Box!

Jim's Question:
My great grandmother was Frances Elizabeth (Fannie) Phillips. She was born 3 Apr 1868 (I believe in Wayne Co., TN) She died 21 Jan 1955 at the home of her youngest child, Grover Cleveland Phillips, in Lauderdale County, Alabama. I have run into solid dead-ends in trying to determine who her parents were, or her siblings, or any of her ancestors. I believe Phillips was her maiden name even though she married Solon D. Phillips. Solon was born in 1863 and died in Lauderdale Co., AL in 1902. Solon and his mother Hester moved to Lauderdale Co., AL from Wayne Co., TN sometime during the 1890’s. Any clues anyone can provide would be greatly appreciated.

OLIVE TREE ANSWER: Hello Jim - You've got some very good clues and details for your family.

You haven't said if you've found Fannie on census records. These should provide many clues for you - for example where her parents were born. I would start with 1930 and work backwards until the time of her marriage to Solon. Then use location clues to trace Fannie before her marriage. In other words look for the couple after marriage (location) then look for Solon before marriage to see where he was living. It is likely that Fannie was nearby. I use for census records

Also, have you looked for that marriage record? I see from the 1900 census that they married circa 1885.

Another clue could be the naming of their children. Look to see if there is a pattern, perhaps they named children in honour of their parents. Speaking of children, have you looked for birth records or baptism records for them? They may provide their mother's maiden name.

Also death records. Find the death records, not just of Fannie but of her children. Any one of them might give her maiden name.

My next suggestion is to look carefully at the census records. Often families lived near each other. See who else is living near them in 1900.

My last caution is to be careful with those names! You call your ancestor Frances or Fannie but I see in 1900 she is indexed as Annie.

How do you know Fannie was born April 3, 1868? That's a very exact date of birth? The 1900 census says April 1871 so presumably you have a better source for your date? Be careful to evaluate your sources for each bit of information you have.
How reliable is your source for her date of birth?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Use Accepted Genealogy Methodology to Prove Relationships

Dorothy asked
My brick wall is on the Bradshaw part of my tree. I have information back to Joseph Cecil Bradshaw (Artist) b.1856 Manchester. Marries Emily Jane Slinger b. 1858 Scarborough. Have the birth cert.of their son Joseph Cecil(Artist/Photographer) and his marriage certificate .Joseph and Emily are in the 1881 census living at 2 St.Johns Rd. Manchester. Other researchers and I, think there should be a connection to the Bagnall/Champion Bradshaws from the pottery area of Cheshire as they were all artists. Joseph Cecil's siblings were Arthur,George Herbert,Ada Lillian. Has anyone any clues?

OLIVE TREE ANSWER: Hello Dorothy. You have found out some good information on your Joseph Bradshaw. You haven't mentioned what census records or vital statistics you have for him.

My suggestion is that if you do not yet have him in the 1861 and 1871 census, you look for that information. Finding him in the 1861 census should provide his parents'
names. Failing that, look for his birth record. You can try Free BMD which is a searchable index of vitals. If you find Joseph, you can then order the full certificate which will provide both parents' names, plus mother's maiden name and a few other details.

See How to Use the National Archives UK Website to Obtain Ancestor Documents for help ordering a certificate.

The way to learn if a branch of one family is connected to another branch is to follow accepted genealogy methods - start going backwards, one generation at a time. Prove each generation as you go until you find the common link! IF it exists.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tip: Give Details When Asking for Help

John asked
I found my grandfather’s and great uncle’s registration cards online. One says at the end of page 2 “OK Dept of Justice Special Agent JM Hopper”. Do you have any idea what this means? The other one, my grandfather’s doe not have this.

Olive Tree Answer: Dear John,

Unfortunately you did not indicate a country (USA? Canada? England? Some other country?) and thus I don't know whether "OK" refers to the state Oklahoma or the word "Okay" or is an abbreviation for something else specific to whatever country this is in.

If you wish to respond you can either comment here on the AskOliveTree blog or you can write to my email askolivetree @

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Good Query Bad Query - Don't Fall into the Trap!

BH sent me the following query. I've removed all names,including BH's. I chose B's query because it's a perfect example of how NOT to write a query! But please don't think I am bashing BH or trying to make B feel bad. I'm not. Because I truly want to help BH find her ancestors, I want her to learn how to write a query that stands a chance of being answered.

Okay, here is the original query

I am trying to find lost relatives from the Ukraine, last name of my gradmother is H-------. I don’t know if that is the correct spelling, first name is M----. My mother’s maiden name is W--- and her first name was A---.Can you help me?

Let's look at what is wrong with this query.

First, as the responder, I have no knowledge of how old B. is. Therefore I have no way of estimating the years of birth of her mother and grandmother. So I have no timeline, no dates to work with. Was her grandmother born in the 1890s as mine was? Or is B a 20 year old whose grandmother was born in the 1940s?

Also, the questioner should NEVER make the person they are requesting help from, work this hard! Make it EASY for the person who wants to help you. Don't make them spend time trying to figure out something you know the answer to.

Number One Rule: DATES, DATES and more DATES! Estimates are better than nothing. Your query must include dates.

Next - what continent or country are we talking about? Yes you said they were from the Ukraine. Are they still there? Have they left for other countries? If so, which ones and when??

Number Two Rule: LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION! Provide at a minimum a country where your ancestors live or where you need help.

Lastly, you really have not told me what you want help with. Are you looking for living descendants? Are you trying to find your Grandmother's parents? I can't tell from your query.

Number Three Rule: WHAT? Tell the person whose help you want, EXACTLY what you want!

B, I really would like to help you. If you read this and recognize your query, please do send it back to me with dates, locations and exactly what you want help with.

Meantime, you may want to read Good Query Bad Query for more help with query writing. It may improve your chances of success in future queries.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Finding out if a surname is Jewish

Cindy asked
My maiden name is Martz and I have been trying to find out if that name is Jewish. Could you help me with that please?

OLIVE TREE ANSWER: Dear Cindy. I don't suggest trying to determine if a name is Jewish without actually tracing the family back in time. In other words, follow established genealogy research methods by starting with yourself and continuing back through each generation.

Along the way, at some point you should find evidence of Jewish background IF it exists! For instance in a census you may find a notation that the family is Jewish. Or you may find it in a marriage, death or birth record.

Just start searching and see what turns up!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Meaning of Markings on Ships' Passenger List

Millie's question:
I am researching my great-grandfather,JANOS HEIMLICH. On Oct. 4,1899 he picked up his son Emanuel Heimlich at EllisIsland. He arrived on the ship Werra from Bremen, Germany. They resided in Hungary. Emanuel was 9 yrs. 6mos. old. The manifest said pick up by father, residence would be New York.
That is the only information that I have. I can't find anything more. Any help would be greatly appreciated.


Have you found your ancestor in census records after his arrival?

The 1900, 1910 ,1920 and 1930 census identify citizenship status, with notations showing the individual was an Alien,or had started the Naturalization process or had his final papers.

You can read more about the value of census records in your search for an immigrant ancestor at

Have you found Emanual's Naturalization Records?

I took a look at the online manifest. You didn't mention the notation beside Emanuel's name - in the occupation column. Perhaps you didn't realize it had any meaning. It does

In 1926 verification clerks began to record the verification (record check) and naturalization certification activity on each passenger list record. The annotations may be found on any passenger list, before or after 1926, but they will all relate to naturalization activity occurring in 1926 or later.

In Emanuel's case, the markings are a bit hidden but appear to read

3X-16023 2/4/34 [it is the /34 that is questionable]

The "X" means Emanuel did not have to pay the Certificate of Arrival fee. He was exempt because he arrived before 1906.He would be issued a Certificate of Landing. The numbers 16023 are the application number, the 3 before the X is the district number. The second group of numbers is the verification date.

You can read about Manifest Markings and their meanings(plus refer to a District Number decoder) at

There is an explanation and Resource Guide to Naturalization Records at

Good luck, don't despair, you have more information than you realize