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May 27, 2021

The Pitfalls of Census Records

How accurate are census records? I'm sure this question has arisen for every genealogist at some point in their research.

Why does Great Grandma's age change every census by less (or more!) than the 10 years between census? What's up with Great Grandpa's surname being spelled incorrectly? Why does Grandpa have a different first name every census year? Is it even the right man?? And why does great great grandma give a different place of birth for her parents each time?

These are all questions that might arise as you delve into census records. We quickly learn that census records cannot be considered the absolute and final authority. There are good reasons why we see so many discrepancies, but discrepancies doesn't mean we should ignore the information, just that we need to check for other collaborating records (or records which will disprove the anomalous information)

Why Are Census Records Inconsistent?

How can the census be so wrong sometimes? Consider first what question was actually asked by the census taker. For example with ages - did he ask how old the person was, or how old they were on their last birthday or.....

People lie about their ages. In past generations individuals often did not know their exact year of birth. I have a letter written in 1847 by my ancestor Levi Peer to his mother, asking her when he was born! At the time he was 38 years old but he obviously only had a vague idea of his birth year.

Spelling Doesn't Count

What about names? Spelling was not exact back in the 1800s and earlier. A census taker wrote what he heard, and whether or not he was a good speller or was familiar with the surname dictated what we see rendered on the census page. Don't forget that great grandpa might have been a recent immigrant with a difficult accent. The census taker might not have had any idea what name was being spoken.

If great grandpa was German or Polish or.... any other nationality find out what the English equivalent of his first name is. If you only know him as Walter but you know he came from another country, find out what his English name is in his native land. You may find him recorded either with his English equivalent or his ethnic origin name. For example Wladyslaw can be Walter. And on and on it goes...

Different first names? Children were usually given at least two names at birth and a man (or woman) might choose to use his first or his middle, or perhaps a nickname. Your ancestor might not have settled on his or her name until later in life, so may have used one name on one census and another on the next. Parents may have called their child by the name they bestowed on him but when he grew up he may have decided he didn't like his given name and used his middle.

People also had nicknames - Jack for John, Delia for Bridget, Polly for Mary - there are many standard nicknames which we can easily find with a search of Google. But what about invented nicknames? My husband's grandfather had the first name of Leon and middle name of Thomas but was called Charlie his entire life. We have to keep an open mind about whether or not individual A is the same person as individual B on another census!

Who Answered the Census Taker's Questions?

The next question we need to ask ourselves is - who provided the answers on that census? Was it a parent? And if so, was it Mom or Dad. Mothers may have had a better idea of their children's birth years and ages than dad. Was it an older child (perhaps mom or dad were not home) or even a neighbour giving the information? All these factors will affect the quality of the census information.

Immigration and naturalization years are among the most mis-remembered of all on the census. Let's face it, can you recall the exact year you did something? If I am asked what year I went backpacking through Europe, I can only say it was sometime in the mid 1970s. To figure it out more precisely I'd need some time to sit and think about how old my children were, or some other trigger for my memory. The census taker was not going to sit there while mom or dad thought about what year they arrived in this country so the year you see on the census may be pretty much their best guess, given quickly.

As for great great Grandma giving a different place of birth for her parents (or even herself!) remember that she may only have heard how her mother lived in New York, and not have heard that actually her mother was born in Illinois and moved to New York as an infant. She may know that she herself was born in New York but moved elsewhere as a child and considers that her birth place. Again, think about who might have given the information! Perhaps great great grandma was sick in bed and her husband provided the details, or an older child.

Take it With a Grain of Salt

Treat the census as you should every other genealogical source - with a bit of suspicion. Find other records and assess them all before arriving at a decision as to which (if any) is correct. But don't toss away information in one record as being completely wrong until you have thought about all the variables involved. You may find that you are indeed on the right track chasing Jurgen Muzzel even though you were told your great great grandpa was George Maxwell.....

May 24, 2021

Why Do We Do Genealogy?


I wrote this blog post almost 10 years ago. It still holds true and I decided it was worth sharing again.

A friend asked an interesting question. "Why do you do genealogy?" she asked. Sounds like a simple question doesn't it. And the answer should be simple - "I do genealogy because...."

But guess what? It's not simple. The reasons I currently "do genealogy" are not the same reasons I would have given 20 or 30 years ago. When I began my genealogy quest at a very young age, it was because my father had expressed such curiousity about our Irish McGinnis origins. He died when I was 14 and I made a vow after his death to find out about our McGinnis ancestors for him. In his memory. So my answer to that question, had it been asked, those many years ago, would have been simple. "I do genealogy because I want to find my McGinnis ancestors for my father."

That isn't my main reason anymore. I've grown. This has been a journey - still is a journey, and as on any journey, my needs and desires and goals along the way have changed. For example I've discovered that I can't let a mystery lie without digging into it. I need to find answers. So my answer to that question now would be

"I do genealogy for many reasons. One is my curiousity about my ancestors - who were they, what were they like, what experiences did they live through. My love of history is part of the reason I do genealogy. My desire to solve mysteries is a huge part of my passion for genealogy. And I do genealogy because I want my children and grandchildren to know and recognize the individuals over the centuries whose lives helped make us who we are today."
Genealogy isn't a pursuit well suited for those who require instant gratification. It's a long-term process and seems incredibly boring and tedious to those who are not like-minded. I've spent more hours scrolling through microfilm searching for that one entry with an ancestor's name, then I care to remember. Many people would consider those wasted hours. I don't.

Some of my family are not the least bit interested in our ancestors. Some are interested to a degree. Tell them stories of the more interesting or outrageous ancestors such as our daredevil Peer ancestor who walked Niagara Falls on a tightrope and they listen. Tell them about great great grandpa, the farmer in England, and their eyes glaze over.

I once had a friend say to me "But why do you care? They're all dead!" and yet another said "They're not really your ancestors if they're dead." Hmmm... I can't quite get my head around that mindset!

Some are not interested in the treasured photos of ancestors. To me those are the icing on the cake! They make my ancestor "real" for me. One of my relatives told me she wasn't interested in seeing a photo of our 2nd great-grandfather. Why wasn't she interested? Because, she said "Why do I care what he looked like? I never knew him."

To me that's kind of the point. A photo allows us to "know" our ancestors. With a photo I can study faces and ponder over whether or not great-grandma's nose isn't just like one of my granddaughters.  I can imagine the ancestors in those photos living their daily lives, just as we do today. And I feel a connection to those people.

How about you? How would you answer my friend's question, "Why do you do genealogy?"

May 20, 2021

Identifying Ancestor Photos: Daguerreotypes

Photography arrived in the United States in 1839 thanks to Samuel F. B. Morse, an American artist and inventor. 

Genealogists often have old family photos in their possession or they find some in Great Aunt Matilda's attic. But how do we know when the photograph was taken? One method is to determine what type of photograph it is. The earliest type is the Daguerreotype.

Identifying a Daguerreotype

Morse visited Daguerre in Paris in March 1839 and observed a demonstration of the daguerreotype process. He returned to the United States to spread the news, and by the end of 1839 some larger cities on the East Coast had very successful portrait studios.

Every daguerreotype is a unique image on silvered copper plate.  Daguerreotypes are small, usually about 2x3 inches and they tarnish easily. What else makes it unique? 

Daguerreotype Cases

Daguerreotypes are fragile and were always put in protective cases. Here are a few from my personal collection.

 This is a daguerreotype from 1854

This daguerreotype of a woman in formal evening wear is from the Civil War era.

A rare beautifully decorated double case holding a daguerreotype on side, an ambrotype on the other 

Learn More

Watch my video Five Types of Early 19th Century Photographs

Read more about daguerreotypes on Lost Faces website

May 17, 2021

Finding a Quaker Ancestor


Quaker: The Society of Friends was formed in England in 1648. Early restrictions brought them to New Jersey in 1675 and some 230 English Quakers founded Burlington, New Jersey in 1678. William Penn was granted the territory of Pennsylvania in 1681 and within two years there were about 3000 Quakers living there.

Records of Quaker Monthly Meetings hold the most vital information for genealogists. They may contain a history of the meeting, lists of members, marriages, deaths, removals, and disownings. Quakers did not practice baptism.

William Wade Hinshaw Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy consists of six volumes, each dealing with a different region, and is supplemented by Willard Heiss Abstracts of the Records of the Society of Friends in Indiana in seven parts. Volume I of Hinshaw is the abstract of the early records of North and South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. Volumes I through VI can be searched online at U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935 on Ancestry 

There are more records and links, both free and pay-to-view at Quakers and Moravians on Olive Tree Genealogy

May 14, 2021

Find Ancestors in the Missing Friends Project

The Missing Friends Project on is extracting the names of those who immigrated from UK to America or Canada and who were inquired about by family in various 19th Century newspapers.

Missing Friends Project starts with Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, published in London England and their weekly column (1886-1900) called "Long Lost Relatives". We also have begun extracting names of those in the Boston Pilot, published in Boston Massachusetts (1831-1921).

Our Boston Pilot project is only extracting the names of missing Irish individuals who sailed to Canada. It is important to note that many who sailed first to Canada went on to USA and are so noted in the extracts. Many of the relatives and friends seeking them were based in USA and their location is also given.

We also plan to publish extracts of weekly columns of Missing Friends from The Irish World (1892-1899), published in New York and The Manchester Weekly Times (1891-1893) published in England. We will add other newspapers as we find them and can access them.

The fields being extracted are name of person in America or Canada who is missing, where they lived in the UK, when they left, where they intended going, ship name if known, when they were last heard from, where they were living when last heard from, who is seeking them and any miscellaneous comments.

There are  links and databases at Missing Friends

May 11, 2021

FInd Ancestors in New Jersey

My Peer family came from New Jersey to Upper Canada (now Ontario) in 1796. It has been the second most challenging genealogy search in existing records. For anyone interested, finding genealogy records in Ireland is my number one research challenge! 

In light of the challenges of early New Jersey research I have put together some links to online databases for other genealogists to use. 

The Olive Tree logo denotes those are free records on

On Site List Selected Baptisms of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Ramapo, Bergen Co., New Jersey 1750-1817 NEW September 2010
On Site List Records of the Reformed Dutch Churches of Hackensack and Schraalenburgh, New Jersey Membership Lists Hackensack 1695-1769
On Site List Records of the Reformed Dutch Churches of Hackensack and Schraalenburgh, New Jersey Membership Lists Schraalenburgh 1797-1801
On Site List Records of the Reformed Dutch Churches of Hackensack and Schraalenburgh, New Jersey Marriages Hackensack 1696 - 1801
On Site List Records of the Reformed Dutch Churches of Hackensack and Schraalenburgh, New Jersey Baptisms Hackensack 1696-1783
On Site List Records of the Reformed Dutch Churches of Hackensack and Schraalenburgh, New Jersey Consistory Records Hackensack 1701 - 1780
On Site List Baptisms Old Dutch Church, Totowa, NJ: 1756-1774 | 1775-1777 | 1778-1779 | 1780-1781 | 1782-1784 | 1785-1787 | 1788-1789 | 1790-1791 | 1792-1793 | 1794 | 1795 | 1796 | 1797 | 1798 | 1799 | 1800 | 1801-1802 | 1803-1804 | 1805-1806 | 1807-1822
On Site List Marriages Elizabethtown, (was Essex Co.)
On Site List Marriages in Hackensack pre 1700
On Site List Early Settlers in Hackensack
On Site List  First Reformed Dutch Church at Montville, Morris Co., Baptisms 1786-1828
On Site List First Reformed Dutch Church at Montville, Morris Co., Marriages 1826-1873

New Jersey Naturalization Records on

Calendar of New Jersey Wills, 1670-1760 on Ancestry

 New Jersey, U.S., Abstract of Wills, 1670-1817 on Ancestry

New Jersey, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1739-1991 on Ancestry

See more links and records at Olive Tree Genealogy New Jersey page

May 8, 2021

FInding a Loyalist Ancestor

Have you discovered you have a Loyalist ancestor? A Loyalist is any person who is loyal to their allegiance (especially in times of revolt). During the American Revolution in what was to become the United States of America, a Loyalist (also called UEL - United Empire Loyalist) was anyone who remained loyal to the King of England. They were called Tories in their own country but Loyalists elsewhere. Most fled to Canada and helped settle that country, particularly Ontario and Nova Scotia

Guide to Finding a Loyalist Ancestor in Upper Canada (Ontario) is available in paperback or as an e-book on and on

Here are some Loyalist resources to help you in your hunt: 

More resources can be found at

May 5, 2021

Find Ancestors in Almshouse & Poorhouse Records

Discharge Ledger 1923-1926

Almshouses (also known as  poorhouses, or hospital) are charitable housing provided to impoverished people in a community.

Almshouses were originally formed as extensions of the church system and were later adapted by local officials and authorities.

 Below are links to online Almshouse records - some free and some pay-to-view. You will also find more links at

United States Almshouse Records

New York Almshouse Records 1782-1813. Records contain name of ancestor, date admitted, age, where from or born, complaint [illness], discharged, died, remarks. 

New York Almshouse Registers

Almshouse Records New York 1819-1840

Almshouse Records New York City 1855-1858

Society for Relief of Half-Orphans & Destitute Children 1900, Manhattan New York

Milwaukee County Almshouse & Poor Farm Cemeteries Wisconsin List of Burials 1872-1892; 194-1974 available at

Child Apprentices (Orphans & Impoverished Children) in America from Christ's Hospital, London 1617-1778: Child Apprentice

Chester County, Pennsylvania, U.S., Poor House Admissions Index, 1800-1910   
Chester County, Pennsylvania, U.S., Poor School Children, 1810-1841   
Canada Almshouse Records

Poor Law Union Immigrants England to Canada 1836-1871

Ireland Almshouse Records

Return of Destitute Poor Removed from England to Ireland, from the 1st day of December 1860 till the 1st day of December 1862

Poor Law Union Removals From England to Ireland, 1859-1860

Ireland, Poor Law and Board of Guardian Records, 1839-1920

Ireland, Sustainability Loan Fund, 1812-1868   

Ireland, Poor Law Union Removals From England, 1859-1860   

UK Almshouse Records

London, England, Poor Law Hospital Admissions and Discharges, 1842-1918
London, England, Poor Law School District Registers, 1852-1918

Leeds Moral & Industrial Training School, Yorkshire, England 1881

Bedfordshire, England, Workhouse and Poor Law Records, 1835-1914

Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland, Poorhouse Records, 1888-1912

North Lanarkshire, Scotland, Poor Law Applications and Registers, 1849-1917 

Swansea and Surrounding Area, Wales, Poor Law Union Records, 1836-1916    

Dorset, England, Poor Law Settlement and Removal Records, 1682-1862   
Dorset, England, Poor Law Apprenticeship Records, 1623-1898   
Medway, Kent, England, Poor Law Union Records, 1836-1937   
West Yorkshire, England, Select Removal and Settlement Records, 1689-1866   
West Yorkshire, England, Select Poor Law and Township Records, 1663-1914   
London, England, Workhouse Admission and Discharge Records, 1764-1930   
England, Norfolk Poor Law Union Records, 1796-1900   
London, England, Selected Poor Law Removal and Settlement Records, 1698-1930   
Warwickshire, England, Parish Poor Law, 1546-1904   
Dorset, England, Poor Law and Church of England Parish Records, 1511-1997   
London, England, Poor Law and Board of Guardian Records, 1738-1926

May 3, 2021

20 Traits of a Good Genealogist

Most of us want to be good genealogists. We want to do our best to find our ancestors. We want to find the facts,and know that what we found is accurate.

It's never fun to spend time searching an individual's ancestors and adding them to our family tree only to find out it was the wrong person.

That means we need to be thorough and methodical and cautious. We should not accept an ancestor without verifying and double-checking every clue and document we find.

Here's my list of what I believe are the 10 most important characteristics of a good genealogist.

A good genealogist

1. Finds every document possible on an ancestor. He/she does not stop at census and vital registrations but looks beyond to records such as land records, court records, military records, church records,immigration records, education records, newspaper articles, tax and assessment records, etc. A good genealogist looks for more obscure records such as coffin plates, funeral cards, and other miscellaneous records pertaining to the time and location of his/her search.

2. Learns what records have survived for the location and time period for each ancestor's life. Then learns where those records can be found - online and off.

3. Copies documents exactly as found, not as he/she thinks it should be.

4. Cites sources for all facts found. Citing your sources means others can look up what you have written, and verify for themselves. Sources means you've got proof of some kind to support your fact.

5. Never relies blindly on family stories or online family trees, but searches out a source for each. Verify, verify, verify!

6. Makes an accurate copy of all records found. Carefully notes spelling of names while copying and does not make changes.

7. Keeps a research log of all sources checked, and notes if the search was successful or not.

8. Analyzes each record and document carefully in order to spot clues that may lead to other areas of research and to accurately understand what the record is  and is not.

9. Searches siblings of a challenging ancestor in order to find more documents that may hold clues pertaining to his/her ancestor.

10. Leaves no stone (record) unturned. Extends his/her search to records not found online such as in local courthouses or archives.

A good genealogist also tends to have the following personality traits:

1. Attention to detail
2. Perseverance
3. Loves a challenge
4. Passionate about family history
5. Methodical
6. Organized
7. Thinks outside the box
8. Good analytical skills
9. Thinks of themselves as a detective
10. Is patient. Building a family tree isn't a quick fix

What would you add to the list?