Thursday, December 31, 2020

A Look Back on 2020 and an Update on a Brickwall

2020 was a year that tested us all in so many ways. Multiple months of quarantine, fighting for PPE and basic supplies like toilet paper and cleaning wipes (forget about finding Purell for months on end), wearing masks (who doesn't already have a favorite one they like to wear?), etc. It was also a huge month for genealogy as events that were normally held in person in far away states or countries were converted into online events - conferences, seminars, webinars galore! 

 I can safely say that this was the year where I created the most amount of lectures over a year. It felt like I was creating new content every few weeks. While it was challenging at times as I wasn't always onsite at the library, it forced me to get done as much as I could get done through the power of the Internet. I used online collections and even crowdsourced stories, photographs, and documents. 

And when I couldn't find that elusive record on American Ancestors, Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast, etc., I turned to repositories to look for records not online. It forced me to finally work on one of my brick walls, my 3rd great grandfather Francis Dougherty. I wanted to confirm exactly where and when he died. It was believed that his death details were inscribed on his daughter-in-law Margaret's headstone in Dickinson County, Kansas. 

I first enlisted the help of reaching out to a Kansas genealogy Facebook group to ask if someone will go out to the cemetery to get a close-up of the headstone as the photos previously posted on Find a Grave were not very easy to read. I found a wonderful volunteer who went out twice to the cemetery and got great pictures using the light to pick up on the details. And there was Francis' name on the back of Margaret's headstone as expected. It stated that he died on August 22, 1892 and was 93 years old (which calls into question a newspaper article I previously found that stated he was 103 years old the year prior). You can see the pictures on his Find a Grave memorial: 

I still wanted more proof and in lieu of a vital record (Kansas did not start statewide vital records of deaths until 1911), I needed to turn to other sources. First, I tried reaching out to the local Catholic church as Francis was supposedly buried in the local Catholic cemetery in Elmo. Unfortunately, their records did not go back before 1911. However, the priest I corresponded with did get me in touch with a man that was on the cemetery board and the historical society board. He went out to the grave site and was doing surveys of the plots and he says the grave site was big enough for 3 bodies. It's very likely Francis was buried there along with his daughter-in-law Margaret, and his son Peter. He is going to poke around (literally) in the cemetery plot to see if there are any sunken stones that went below the surface. I'm hoping that Francis' headstone will arise (literally). 

I contacted the Register of Deeds and there was no mention of Francis Dougherty purchasing any portion of his son Peter's homestead property. According to the newspaper article, Francis did live in the next township over (in Holland) so it's possible he could be witnessing a deed signed by Peter for the new property. More research to be done here. 

I paid a research fee by the Kansas Historical Society to look for an obituary in three different newspapers that were on microfilm. Unfortunately, no death notice was found. 

The next step was to contact the probate court to see if there was any probate files for Francis. Unfortunately, there are no indexes before 1926 so this will require an in-person researcher to manually go through microfilm in hopes there is some handwritten index. An expensive task but one that I may initiate when the COVID-19 crisis is over and visitors are allowed in the courthouse. Unfortunately, the case files on FamilySearch also do not have Francis in the estate files index. 

So what's next for my search:

  • Review the Dickinson County, Kansas tax files coming online on FamilySearch at a future point
  • Use plat maps and other records to identify where in Holland township Peter and Francis lived prior to Francis' death. Then request a search of the deeds from the Register of Deeds.  
  • Review the Boston Pilot newspaper on microfilm to see if any mention of Francis' death. The obituary column notes the deaths from New England, Canada, and out west. 
  • Continue searching the Prince Edward Island newspapers for a mention of Francis' death

So what have I missed? Where else would you look to confirm a death? 

Happy New Year my friends! Here's to breaking down more brick walls. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

RootsTech 2021 is going Virtual!

 FamilySearch announced today that RootsTech 2021 will be going virtual. This is going to be an exciting new conference as not only will it be held online, it is FREE! Yes, you heard that right. Absolutely free. You will need to register but you will get access to the same type of content: keynote speeches, genealogy classes (offered in multiple languages), and a virtual marketplace where you can engage with your favorite genealogy and family history organizations. The full press release can be read here

As a RootsTech ambassador, I am looking forward to sharing these updates with you over the next few months. 

Register at RootsTech Connect at

Check out this wonderful promo video created by FamilySearch 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day - Remembering Joseph McKenna

Over the last few months, I have been researching the military records for my ancestors. I'm always looking for a story about their life so I can feel a deeper connection with them. They are more than just the birth and death dates on their headstone (if they have one). 
Since it was Memorial Day it was fitting to look into one of my ancestors who died in service for their country. I have been tagging members of my family tree with a "Died in service" or "Killed in action" tag to help filter on those individuals I want to come back to. I want to memorialize each one of them. I researched one of my Canadian relatives today. 

My 2nd cousin 2x removed, Joseph Alphonsus McKenna, died on August 19, 1942 in France. He served in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. Using his Find a Grave memorial, his service file, and some creative Googling, I learned his story of sacrifice.
Joseph enlisted at the age of 18 in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. He was a farmer, working on his father's farm. He left high school at 14, only attending one year. His mother had died earlier that year. I wonder if Joseph was feeling lost at the time.
His rank was ordinary seaman and he moved up the ranks to an able seaman, working on different ships (listed in his service file).

According to his Find a Grave bio, he was involved with the Dieppe raid. He was shot in the chest and killed instantly while manning a Lewis gun on one of the landing craft.
I found the memoirs of A.G. Kirby posted on a blog that described what he found the next morning:
"Evidently, poor Joe had taken a burst of machine gun fire through the windscreen and with his chest torn asunder, collapsed into the bilge along with his Stoker. They both died immediately, we were told, and lay together in a pool of blood all the way home. For Joe and his English Stoker, R-84 had become a plywood coffin."

What an awful way to die.

McKenna's body was taken to Newhaven, England where he was buried in the cemetery there.
You can pay your respects to his memorial
Thank you Joseph for your service. You are not forgotten.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

A long overdue update

It has been far too long since I really blogged here. And over the last few weeks you would think I would have more time to do so. While my commute is lot shorter and no longer requiring me to wake before 6 am each day, I still find myself very exhausted each day. I have been quarantined in my condo for nearly 5 weeks now due to the COVID-19 epidemic.

So what have I been doing while home? I am still serving our members and general public as a staff genealogist for American Ancestors. My days consist of catching up on Ask-a-Genealogist emails, writing lectures, presenting webinars, working on some project work (top-secret for now!), participating in chat service 3-4 pm, preparing for and giving consultations, and answering general inquiries that may come via phone. We may be closed in person but there is still a lot of work being done behind the scenes. Recently I participated in a tweetup on Twitter to help touch base with other genealogists during this time and see how they're keeping up with their genealogy.

I'm looking forward to some upcoming webinars I'm giving for some genealogical societies as well as some upcoming conferences that hopefully won't be cancelled. Many societies are making the move to host more webinars so we can all stay connected and not outright cancel anticipated events.

When I'm not working, I'm watching mindless tv as I can't bear to watch the news and death tolls. It's been far too depressing and mentally I need to keep busy and calm as much as possible. I have several health issues so freaking out about getting ill with a new virus is not going to help. Stress levels need to be controlled as much as possible and sometimes that involves eating junk food (yes I stress eat).  I do want to say that it's ok to freak out. These are scary times and I wonder how I'll feel when I look back on this entry a year from now, 10 years from now.

How are you keeping busy/sane/safe during this time? Leave a comment on how you're doing.