Wednesday, August 26, 2015

7 Strange Interests of Our Victorian Ancestors

 Your 19th Century Ancestors Were into Some Seriously Weird Stuff 

7 Strange Hobbies of the Victorian Era
Photo Credit: Wurzeltod via Compfight cc
Back in the 19th century before modern technology took over the entertainment scene, our ancestors were forced to figure out how to alleviate their boredom. Sometimes, reading a book or story telling just didn’t cut it. In addition to their fondness for dressing their pets as humans for family portraits, our Victorian ancestors had a plethora of other odd hobbies that were also surprisingly popular back in the day.
The following interests of your Victorian ancestors will make your weird hobbies seem totally normal!

Strange Hobbies from the Victorian Era

1. Participating in Vignettes

Victorian Era Hobby - Vignette
Photo credit:
Without iPhones or the Internet for entertainment, your Victorian ancestors (whether upper or middle class) would get together with friends and family members, dress up in crazy costumes, and then pose for each other enticing laughter and applause. This was a very popular interest at the time — and perfectly normal. If you can imagine doing this for your friends today, then you’re just as odd as your ancestors were! 

2. Attending Freak Shows

Victorian Era Freak Show Poster
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes, our Victorian ancestors could be fairly judgmental and enjoy laughing at people who looked strange. In both 19th century England and the United States, freak shows were at the height of their popularity and considered commercial successes. A “freak show” was an exhibition of biological rarities — think people with secondary sexual characteristics, and those with rare diseases that manifested outwardly making their physical appearances shocking. 
Sometimes this was the only way the “freaks” could make an honest living — all while passersby gawked. Yikes. Queen Victoria actually loved freak shows herself. Could you even imagine the Queen of England or the President of the United States participating in these demeaning behaviors today? It would truly be considered politically incorrect — and downright mean!

3. Displaying and Practicing Taxidermy

Photo credit: charlesfosterofdensen on Tumblr
Photo credit: charlesfosterofdensen on Tumblr
When you think of taxidermy, you likely think about Uncle Dan’s prized, stuffed deer head that he proudly displays on the wall of his den. Or, perhaps your mom even called upon a professional taxidermist to preserve your beloved family dog. But what you probably don’t think about is the act of anthropomorphic taxidermy — a hobby that delighted Victorians of all ages. With this type of taxidermy, mounted animals were either dressed as people or displayed in the home as if they were engaging in human activities. Walter Potter was the most successful and well-known anthropomorphic taxidermist creating scenes with everything from kittens playing croquet, to rabbits writing on slates in a schoolhouse.

4. Collecting Odd Things for Curiosity Cabinets

Victorian Era Strange Hobby - Cabinet of Curiosities
Photo credit: Steam Punk Things
Your ancestors from the Victorian era were likely avid collectors. Sometimes, they would stick to one type of item for their collections, but their curiosity cabinets also displayed some rather outrageous things that didn’t fit together at all. Curiosity collections would contain “curiosities” spanning everything from weird botanical finds, shrunken heads, geological specimens, bones found in the woods, shells, old weaponry and more. The more odd the collection was, the better! 

5. Hunting for Ferns

Victorian Era Fern Hunting - Strange Hobby
Photo credit: Darwin Country
In the Victorian era, your ancestors were also obsessed with exotic plants. So much so, that not only were their gardens filled with pretty flowers, but their wallpaper, clothing fabrics, jewelry and more fashion items were botanically-themed. Not too strange, right? Well, by 1855, pteridomania was all the rage. In other words, your ancestors loved hunting for ferns and cultivating them. Fern expeditions were popular in Europe, Asia and other other countries where Victorian people could find and bring wild fern specimens home. It may sound like another walk in the park to you, but fern hunting was actually quite dangerous — exactly why your ancestors were thrilled to go on the hunt!

6. Communicating with the Dead

Victorian Era Seance - Strange Hobby
Photo credit: Steam Punk Circus
Spiritualism was at its peak during the late 19th century. And as you likely already know, your Victorian ancestors were obsessed with the dead, and for good reason. Back in the Victorian era, practically everyone experienced a death of at least one of their immediate family members. People living in the 19th century thus had an affinity for the afterlife that fueled their hobby of performing and participating in seances. During a seance, mediums would help your ancestors communicate with deceased family members and friends. Even if it didn’t actually work, it helped your ancestors reach loved ones and feel more at peace.

7. Posing for Mourning Photos

Victorian Era Mourning Photo
Photo Credit: liquidnight via Compfight cc
One of the most creepy and popular interests your ancestors participated in during Victorian times has got to be post-mortem photography. As stated previously, our Victorian ancestors were very much obsessed with the dead. So much that they photographed dead family members and posed with them for family portraits. Even when a family pet would pass away, families would pose for memorial photos with their furry friends. Yes, this may freak you out a bit, but it was a normal photography practice back then.

Have you found any Victorian photos where your ancestors are participating in strange hobbies? 

Let us know in the comments!  

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

5 Time-Saving Tips for Finding Maiden Names

Discover Your Female Ancestors Using These Smart Research Tactics

5 Time-Saving Tips for Finding Ancestors' Maiden Names
Photo Credit: SaltGeorge via Compfight cc
If you’re deep into your family history research and have not yet been able to find some of your female ancestors, you’re not alone. There are actually good reasons as to why you and many others can’t seem to locate these elusive ladies from your familial past.
For one, if you’re looking for journals, letters, or important documents written by your female ancestors who lived as early American settlers, you could be wasting your time. This is due to the fact that most women were illiterate during that time period and written communications were mostly created by men.
Secondly, federal census records dated before 1850 were only required to list the male heads of household. Even if a married woman owned property before she decided to get hitched, it was turned over to her husband — as well as the rest of her rights. This means seeking maiden names in census records prior to 1850 will likely be unsuccessful, as well. Of course, there are some exceptions to these rules. For example, you might have an ancestor who was widowed. Her maiden name could then be listed as the head of household. Unfortunately, after her husband died, she may have simply been recorded as “Widow” with her deceased husband’s surname listed after — not her maiden name.
The good news is that there are some time-saving research tactics to uncovering the maiden names of your ancestors that can help you finally discover a new branch on your family tree — and some new surnames!
Plus, if you get stuck, remember has over 1,200 researchers ready to assist with whatever help you might need.

Research Tips for Finding Ancestors’ Maiden Names

1. Start with Marriage Records

The smartest way to begin your search for an ancestor’s maiden name is by scouring marriage records. This may be your only way to find an ancestor’s maiden name, so it’s important to start your research here.
Find Ancestors' Maiden Names Using Marriage Certificates
Photo Credit: FotoSupplies via Compfight cc
How to find maiden names using marriage records:
Don’t go into your research blindly! In order to find marriage records including certificates, contracts, returns, and registers, you must know the groom’s full name, the bride’s first name, the (approximate) date they were married, and the state or county in which they were wed. From there, you can sift through free online indexes, and head to family history libraries. Keep in mind that these documents can also be found at your local library, funeral homes, old churches, and elsewhere. Tip: Never overlook the names of witnesses in records, who could be on the bride’s side of the family.

2. Opt for Obituaries

At times, death records can be a bust for finding maiden names — especially when a deceased relative’s parents aren’t listed on the death certificate, or the witnesses aren’t related to the family. Alternatively, looking through obituaries can help uncover some pertinent information on your female ancestors.
Find Maiden Names of Ancestors in Old Obituaries
Photo Credit: McBeth via Compfight cc
How to find maiden names using obituaries:
The power of the internet has made it easier to find obituaries., and are all great places to start. In addition to searching the names of your ancestor’s parents, obituaries can list siblings names which may also suggest maiden names. Tip: Look at obituaries of your female ancestor’s children or husband, as well. This tactic could also uncover a maiden name you’ve been searching for.  

3. Rifle Through Military Records

Did your ancestor or her spouse serve in the military? Then definitely search through military records, paying close attention to Veteran’s Benefit Records which could show her maiden name.
Find Maiden Names of Ancestors in Military Records
Photo Credit: Pip R. Lagenta via Compfight cc
How to find maiden names using military records:
You can obtain all sorts of military records by contacting the National Archives online, by mail or fax. To find an ancestor’s maiden name using military pension records, you must know the veteran’s name, the branch and state in which he/she served and began their service, plus the war in which your veteran ancestor fought. More information on obtaining military records can be found on Genealogists.comTip: Unsure about the branch or time period in which your veteran ancestor served? Look to old photos for help. If your ancestor is in uniform, it could provide you with some clues.

4. Research Historic Newspapers

This research tactic can often be overlooked when it comes to finding ancestors’ maiden names. But if you’re already researching historic newspapers to find family stories, be sure to add a maiden name search to the list. You can uncover them by looking for wedding announcements and obituaries along with photos of the individuals in question.
Search Newspapers for Ancestor Maiden Names
Photo credit: Library of Congress
How to find maiden names using newspapers:
Use online newspaper directories to find owners of historic newspapers from the times and places in which weddings occurred or obituaries were published. If you find a newspaper you need, simply request to search a copy of the newspaper (see the list of resources below). In order to make this type of maiden name search go smoothly, you must know the approximate date of your ancestor’s death, and the full name of the deceased if searching obituaries. If you’re looking through wedding announcements, you must know the date in which your ancestor married and the name of the groom.

Finding maiden names in old newspapers:

5. Ask Living Family Members About Your Ancestors

It seems like a no-brainer that you should ask your family members about female ancestors. But sometimes, we get so deep into our family history and genealogy research that we can forget this important step. Even your younger, living cousins, uncles or aunts might know some of the maiden names you’re so desperately seeking. And if they don’t know the maiden name themselves, they may also have various documents or memorabilia stashed away in their attic that could help you uncover clues to finding your ancestors’ maiden names.
Ask Family Members About Maiden Names
Photo Credit: timailius via Compfight cc

Helpful Videos and Articles for Finding Maiden Names

What time-saving tactics do you use to find your ancestors’ maiden names? 

Let us know in the comments! 

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

7 Reasons Why You Can’t Find Your Ancestors Online

Avoid These Common Research Mistakes

7 Reasons You Can't Find Your Ancestors Online
Photo Credit: TaylorB90 via Compfight cc
Researching your family’s history has become increasingly easier thanks to the power of the internet. Whether you’ve opted to search online census records, library collections, or Flickr for old family photos, you’ve likely found some ancestors along the way. But what if you continue to painstakingly search online for an ancestor, and are repeatedly unsuccessful? The most frustrating part is when you know that this person exists, so you’re left wondering, “Why can’t I find anything about him/her?”
When you’re unsuccessful at conducting an online search for an ancestor, it can be due to a number of reasons. The good news is that by simply changing the way you search for your ancestors can save you even more frustration and discouragement when you hit those genealogy brick walls.
The even better news is that if you cannot find your ancestor online, most likely will find your ancestor offline in any of the over 2,000 archives worldwide where they do research.
These common genealogy research mistakes may be prohibiting you from finding your ancestors online. Are you guilty of any of them?

Why You Can’t Find Your Ancestors Online

1. They’re Actually Not Online At All

It’s true. One of the biggest reasons why you continue to search for months and still can’t find your 3 times great uncle online is because records of his life aren’t online at all. This is one reason why researching family history and genealogy offline is just as important as using online tools.
Searching big ancestry and genealogy sites that have large databases is sometimes not enough to find those elusive ancestors. So it’s important to use offline collections, head to genealogy libraries, ask local historical or genealogical societies for help, get your family members involved in your research, ask for help, and book your flight to a major genealogy or family history conference to fill your noggin with new know-how and tricks of the trade.
Keep in mind that sometimes, you may not be able to find ancestors at all by searching on or offline because back in the day, many records weren’t kept. It’s important to know that you’re not alone in this, and to take a deep breath, relax, and step away from your research for a while to recharge your research batteries.

2. You Aren’t Searching for First Names or Nicknames

When you’re searching online for surnames, you should also think about searching for first names as well as any known nicknames of your ancestors. If you know where a certain ancestor lived, and know his first name, search databases for that first name as well as that ancestor’s location (i.e., “Joe” and wife “Marie” in Fresno, California). This search tactic will also be helpful just in case your elusive ancestor’s surname is misspelled in the records.
Searching for nicknames is also a good idea as your ancestor’s real name may not be recorded, either. This could be the exact reason why you aren’t finding him! This blog post by genealogist and family historian, Lisa Lisson will help walk you through how you can find ancestors by searching for nicknames online.

3. You’re Only Searching for Exact Surnames

Sometimes, the records themselves actually have it all wrong! People make mistakes, so names can certainly be misspelled and indexes can be mistyped. Because your elusive ancestor likely didn’t write any of these records himself, the information can be incorrect. So what can you do about it? Deliberately search for misspelled names or variations of surnames.
Perhaps the surname you’re searching for is McDonnell. You should also try searching for McDonellMcDonnel, or even MacDonnell. You may also want to search MDonnell (just in case the ‘C’ was left out by the transcriber). This simple step may be all that's needed to find your long-lost ancestor — and find other ancestors along the way!

4. You Aren’t Using Boolean Searches

When searching online databases for ancestors, it’s important to use boolean search phrases such as words (AND, OR and NOT) and symbols (-, “) to help you pinpoint exactly who you’re searching.
Here’s how to use a boolean search phrase in online databases:
Rather than typing in “Joe Smith born in 1857,” use some operator words in your search like this: “Joe Smith OR Smithe born 1857 NOT Smyth”.
For more help with boolean search phrases, reference this tutorial from The Colorado State University.
Are you searching for your ancestors on Google? You will need to use symbols for that. Thankfully, Google provides their own handy guide that walks you through what each of the symbols mean.
Mastering these boolean search tactics will help you become a better researcher and find your ancestors much easier.

5. You Aren’t Active on Social Media

If you still can’t find your long-lost ancestor online, there are a plethora of social media resources that can help. Because you’re already searching online anyway, one of the best steps to take is to get connected to other passionate family historians and genealogists just like you in the fast-growing genealogy social media community.
You can do this by signing up on TwitterFacebook, and Pinterest to search for, follow, and interact with other genealogists, family history aficionados, genealogy bloggers, and even professional genealogists. They are always happy to help and willing to share some of their favorite tips.  Two of the best and most popular Facebook pages are and Genealogy! Just Ask! Many people have found long-lost family members just by using social media resources, so get on these sites or start your own blog ASAP!

6. You’re Searching Blindly Without a Plan

You might want to organize your searches to start finding more ancestors! You’re most likely not going to find them without an online and offline research plan in place. Simply searching on Google or starting an online family tree in hopes that your family members will fill in the gaps in most cases is not enough to find your ancestors. So, clean up your workspace, create a log of what you plan to research, and stick to it. There are even free genealogy research templates to keep you on track with your goals. Try these research templates from Family Tree Magazine.

7. You Aren’t Searching Historic Newspapers

If you haven’t tapped into historic newspaper research in order to find ancestors, you need to get on this crucial part of genealogy searching, pronto! Newspapers can be very useful in finding information about your relatives. They provide obituaries, marriage and birth announcements, old photos, and fascinating stories to add to your family tree.
Many genealogy and family history websites offer online newspaper search features. This blog post by Kenneth R. Marks, author of The Ancestor Hunt, shows how to search online for newspapers to help you find more information on your elusive ancestors. 
It’s important to know that genealogy and family history research can take up a lot of your free time. Remember that going in with an open mind and introducing new online research skills to your plan can help you find more of your long-lost family members.

Do you have other tips for those who can’t find ancestors online? Let us know in the comments!

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