Speaking of Banns…

There has been a lot in the news lately about bans…which reminded me of a number of great genealogical records — including marriage banns.

Perhaps you have heard about banns before, but weren’t quite certain what they were.  To be brief, marriage banns were nothing more than announcements that a couple were to be wed, and they were required to be read the three Sundays previous to a couple’s wedding.  The intent of the banns was to publicly announce the upcoming marriage, and provide anyone with the opportunity to come forward if they possessed information that might make the marriage inappropriate — either one (or both) of the individuals might be under age, might already be married, might be too close a family relation, etc.

Unofficially, the Catholic Church began “calling banns” in the early 1400s, but it wasn’t until the 1700s that they became a requirement.  But — that’s a lot of marriages for which you may find information about the proposed marriage of a distant ancestor of yours.  (Banns are not limited to just the Catholic Church — the Church of England called them, as well as many other churches.)

St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland

In that last paragraph, I mentioned proposed marriage…just because you discover that banns had been called for an ancestor of yours, that does not mean the marriage actually took place.  As now, either the bride or groom (or both) may have changed their mind as the marriage date approached, and no marriage actually occurred.  So…just be cautious lest you make an incorrect assumption.

Recorded marriage banns range from a line in a Parish marriage book to ornate, flowery certificates.  Often, the latter will include information about each member of the wedding party — the bride’s and groom’s ages are sometimes listed — sometimes the bann will only say “of full age” or “over 21.”  So close to finding out the age of that 15th-century ancestor of yours!  I have seen banns that listed the groom’s occupation, the names of the groom’s and bride’s father and mother, etc.  These are fabulous records!

Ah — but what if the couple didn’t want to wait three weeks+ for their wedding to take place?  There are lots of reasons this might be the case — the bride was already pregnant (oh my!), one of the parties to the marriage was under age, they were too closely related, the bride and groom were many years apart in age, or the groom was in the military and was on leave, and needed to make things happen quickly.

What then?  Well, for a price, the couple could request a marriage license, which was just that — a license to marry.  They didn’t have to wait the obligatory three weeks that they would have had to have waited had they waited for their banns to be called — for whatever reason.

Like the banns, a marriage license isn’t proof the couple was actually married, but again, is a valuable bit of genealogical data in your search to tie down the loose ends on an ancestor that has been particularly difficult for whom to find information!

So — where, you ask, might you find these genealogical gems?  Well, for starters, you could check out several of the books in the Quillen’s Essential Genealogy series, specifically Tracing Your Irish and British Roots, and Tracing Your European Roots.

You can also find information on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org and Cyndi’s List, just to name a few of the huge genealogy websites out there today.  Just search for bann or marriage license in the search sections of the websites.

Good luck and Happy Banning!


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New Edition — New Cover!

Greetings! After somewhat of a blogging sabbatical, I am back to let you know that a new edition — the fifth — of Mastering Online Genealogy hit the bookstores recently. And — it’s sporting a new look (and a low price at $9.95) which we intend on carrying through to the other Essentials books:  So — if you’d like some common sense counsel, plus some tips that might help you uncover more documents and pictures for your ancestors (even when you’ve hit brick walls!), please check it out.

Dan Quillen
I Seek Dead People…


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Finding Ould Country Cousins…a Tip

I was going through my e-mails, cleaning out old ones and reviewing some I still needed to do something with, and I ran across an e-mail from Wendy N., a faithful reader.  She had made a suggestion of a topic for a blog post some months ago, and I thought it was a great idea, but I just plumb forgot about it!  But now you get to see what it is!

In Secrets of Tracing Your Ancestors, I have a section on Ethnic Research, and provide some websites and research techniques for a few ethnicities: African American, Native American, German, Jewish, Hispanic and of course Irish (of course Irish, because I am of predominantly Irish lineage).  At the end of the Ethnic Research section I write about traveling to a foreign land to unearth your roots.  I shared something I did that has yielded an incredible amount of genealogical information, but perhaps more important, it had generated some warm and lasting memories.

My wife and I were planning a trip to Ireland, the land of my forefathers.  I located the section of Northern Ireland the McQuillan Clan was from (McQuillan is the original spelling of my surname) and then randomly selected twenty towns around Northern Ireland.  Then I penned the following letter:

Dear McQuillan Family,

Greetings from your long-lost American cousin! Doubtless you were unaware that you had a long-lost American cousin, at least not this one. But you do. In 1619 my tenth- great grandfather Teague McQuillan left County Antrim to see if he could improve his fortunes in the wilds of America. Ten generations later here I am, intensely interested in visiting the part of Ireland he left so long ago.

But that’s not all. I am as interested in meeting other members of the McQuillan family as I am in seeing the Emerald Isle. Hence my letter. In May of next year, my wife and I are planning to visit Ireland and would like to be able to visit some of the cousins as well as the part of Ireland Teague was from.

We will be in Northern Ireland from May 3 through May 10, and would love to stop by and meet you. Please let me know if you will be available during that time, and we’ll arrange our schedule to meet with you.

I know this may seem rather presumptuous and just a bit bold, but I really am interested in meeting other members of the McQuillan Clan, however distant along the family tree they may be.

Thanks, and I look forward to meeting with you when we are there.

Daniel Quillen

After writing twenty identical letters, I slipped them into envelopes and addressed them to:

McQuillan Family
Larne, Northern Ireland

Each envelope carried the name of McQuillan and a different Northern Irish town. In the bottom left-hand corner of each envelope I wrote:

     Postmaster: Please deliver this letter to any McQuillan family in the area.

Ever the optimist, I executed my bold plan by mailing the letters.  Imagine my delight when we heard back from seven Northern Irish cousins!  Our trip – and many subsequent trips – to Northern Ireland was enriched without measure by meeting and coming to love these Irish cousins of mine.

From time to time I hear from readers who tried the same thing, and the wonderful successes they had in meeting and getting to know long-lost cousins, and the amount of genealogical information that was exchanged as a result of these trips.

Wendy, who suggested I make this a blog post, sent this note about her efforts to do the same thing:

By the way, in rereading one of your first books I realized that I should thank you. My sister and I went to Italy last year to visit the places (little towns) our Great Grandparents were from. I wanted to find living relatives beforehand. So I Googled “how to find someone in Italy”. I got the Italian white pages (“paginas bianches“) I went to the town, entered the last names of my great grandfather and of his married sister. I got 5 of one and 3 of the other. I then wrote a letter similar to your Irish one, used Google Translate to translate it into Italian and included my email address. I got three replies, all cousins. One was the grandson of the sister. He got the whole family to meet us at the family town, showed us around, fed us 2 meals of local specialties and introduced us to the mayor (also a cousin)! It was fabulous.

I have heard from readers who have tried this in a variety of countries, including Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Italy and Spain.

Perhaps you should try too!  The worst that could happen is that you enjoy a trip to the “ould” country!

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Mastering Online Genealogy — a New Edition! (And another new book!)

Just wanted to take a moment and mention two writing projects I recently completed.

The first is of most interest to those who follow my genealogy books — the fifth edition of Mastering Online Genealogy has shipped to bookstores and online retailers and is now available for purchase everywhere. Click on the title in the previous sentence to order at a discount from amazon.

This edition of Mastering Online Genealogy features updated links and an updated section on computers and software you might find of interest.  Also, I provide updated information on the Chronicling America project — a project focused on making America’s old newspapers accessible online to genealogists all over the world.

And now to a book I am very excited to announce…it doesn’t have much to do with your ancestors, but it may very well impact your descendants. The book is Your First Job – The Recent Grad’s Indispensable Guide to Getting a Job:

(Great cover, huh?!)

The Millennial Generation (aka Gen Y) faces steep challenges to finding work — many are deep in educational debt, unemployment among recent grads is near a record high and underemployment is much worse; many millennials (nearly 50%) are finding it difficult finding work in the field for which they paid tuition to study.  And yet — the news isn’t all bad and the future is bright — Baby Boomers are and will be leaving the workforce in droves, and in just a few years (five), the predominant generation in the workforce will be millennials (46% to 50%).

In addition to being a genealogist and writing genealogy books, I am by profession a Director of Human Resources, and through the years I have learned a thing or two about what it takes to conduct successful job searches.  And I use those skills to assist people — in particular recent grads — to find work.  Through the pages of Your First Job I provide counsel and direction for recent grads in how to successfully search for work in today’s economy. If you know a young person looking for their first job, with all due humility I think my book will really help them out!

You can order Your First Job by clicking on the title.

So whether you’re looking for a book to assist you in overcoming the technological challenges of finding ancestors, or one to assist one of your descendants in overcoming the employment challenges of the New Economy, you have two books to assist you in your quest(s)!

And — in case

As always — Happy Hunting!


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Linking Families / Broken Links

Have you ever had the experience during your genealogy research where you have been following the whisper of a thread of a clue about an ancestor, working your way back further and further on the Internet, progressing from one link to another, and just as you are ready to view the final link…it’s broken!?

That happened to me several years’ ago.  I was pursuing information on my fourth great grandfather, Samuel Horney.  I found a link that was to take me to his biography in an old book.  The link was: http://iltrails.org/schuyler/oldsettlersbio1.html#47.  One more click and I would have the information I was seeking on Samuel.

Alas — much to my dismay, I discovered that the link no longer existed.  So I did what I always do when I run into that situation: I began slowly trimming back the link, hoping to find a good link that would then allow me to find the rest of the link about my ancestor.  Often that works, but sometimes it doesn’t; such was the case this time.

Not to be stymied, I turned to another method.  I copied the website link, then went to www.archive.org.  At the top of the page was a window labeled with the term Wayback Machine.  I entered the broken web link into the window, held my breath, and hit return.

Voila!  I was shown a calendar, that told me that the particular website I was seeking had been cached (saved) by Google on February 24, 2004 (which just happened to be the 97th birthday of another of my ancestors — my grandfather).  When I clicked on that date on the calendar, I was magically transported to the “broken” link.  Within moments, I was able to locate a 550-word biography of my fourth great grandfather from which I was able to glean the following information:

— he was considered honorable (can’t exactly say that about all my ancestors!);

— his birth date (1788) and place (Guilford, North Carolina);

— the fact that his parents had four boys, and he was the youngest of that four;

— a tremendous amount of information about his parents (my fifth great grandparents!), and even his mother’s father – my sixth great grandfather;

— information about his military career, which included the War of 1812 and the Blackhawk War (both of which contain records that may shed additional light on his life and family);

— the fact that he had only one son, my third great grandfather, and his birth place;

— his grandparents’ marriage date and place;

— his various vocations (farmer, teacher, deputy, constable, etc.);

— his movement through the years (especially important if other children had been born during the moving years);

It is important to remember that this is all secondary data, but can be used to guide me to primary sources of information. Some of those sources, due to the age of this gentleman, may never be found, so this information is critical indeed.  Here is a picture of my fourth great grandfather:

I was reminded of this experience as I was finishing up a new edition — the fourth — of Mastering Online Genealogy, one of the books in the Quillen’s Essentials of Genealogy series.

So — happy hunting, and don’t be stymied by broken links any longer!



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Who’s Next?

For those of you who read my first two genealogy books, Secrets of Tracing Your Ancestors and The Troubleshooter’s Guide to Do-It-Yourself Genealogy, you may recall that I spoke of my great aunt Ruth.  Ruth was the member of my grandfather’s family that had all the interest — and knowledge — about the family.  While my grandparents couldn’t tell me much about the family, my grandfather’s sister Ruth knew all the information, the stories and even a great deal of the specificity about who was born where and when, who married who, what their children’s names were, where they moved and when, etc.

My aunt Ruth is gone now, after having lived over 90 years.  The genealogical flame for the Quillen Clan (and extended lines!) has passed to me (along with some of her books and research).  For years I have been known as the Family Genealogist in our family, and I have enjoyed that role.

But — who’s next?!  To whom do I one day pass the genealogical torch, so to speak?

In my case, I have three likely candidates — my daughter Emily, my niece Sallie and my great-niece Mady.  Each of these young women has shown an intense interest in our family, in their stories, their lives, photographs of our ancestors, etc.   Currently, my daughter Emily is invested in the other side of the family tree – her descendants (8-month-old twins will do that!), so the time is not now for her to jump in with both feet.  But I know the day will come when that will occur.

Dan Quillen and Emily at the tombstone of
Julia McQuillan, a distant ancestor
who lived in 17th-century Ireland

My niece Sallie, a young mother herself with a growing brood (including twins) now has a little more time to spend searching for her ancestors.  She has been remarkably persistent (and successful) in finding information about her father’s Volga River, Russia clan members.  She has had to navigate the intricacies of a different language, evolved spellings of the family’s given and surnames, and poorly kept records.  I have been impressed with Sallie’s perseverance and ingenuity in finding records.

Fifteen-year-old Mady, my great niece, is doing research and finding ancestors that usually only 60 to 70-year-olds have the time and drive to find, and she weaves that around a busy high school career of academics and athletics.  Her love for and commitment to our family bodes well for those ancestors who seem to enjoy playing the game of hide and seek, but who in the end, really want to be found.  (But they want you to work for it!)

I try to encourage all these next-generation genealogists by sharing stories of our ancestors, research techniques, photographs of ancestors, etc.  I have to admit, though, that several of these young ladies could probably teach me a thing or two (or three or four)!

So — who’s next in your family, and to whom will you pass the genealogical torch, not to mention your research records and all those documents you have collected?

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Disappearing ancestors? A few census tips…

Every once in awhile I begin following an ancestral family from one census to another, and all the sudden — Poof! — they’re gone!  Try as I might – I simply can’t find them.  If you’ve done much work with the censuses, you have probably had that exact situation occur in your research.

Through the years, I’ve discovered a few tricks to finding those disapparating ancestors (apologies to Harry Potter…).  In fact, I included many of those tricks in one of the Quillen’s Essentials of Genealogy books: Mastering Census and Military Records.  Here are a few thoughts that might help you find those ancestors who seem to be dodging your best efforts:

Here are a couple:

1. Check the neighbors.  Find the census either before or after the year you’re seeking where your ancestors appeared.  For example, let’s say you locate your family in the 1860 and 1880 censuses in the same town, but you can’t find them in the 1870 census.  Go to both of those other censuses and look for your family’s neighbors.  People weren’t nearly as mobile in the 19th century as they are now, so there’s a good chance at least a few of them will still be there.  If you can find the same neighbors in the 1860 and 1880 censuses, see if you can find them in the 1870 census.  (Note: when I say neighbors, I am talking about the three or four families listed immediately before or after your family in the census).  Often your family will be living right next to them then, just like they were in 1860 and 1880.  I find this happens most often when I get dependent on using indexes in my census searches.  Misspellings, carelessness or a host of other reasons may cause your family not to be listed in the index.

2.  Check out their children.  Often, between censuses, older children listed in previous censuses have married and moved away, and now mom and dad and/or younger siblings are often living with them.  This is especially true with widowed mothers.

(My grandmother Alma Hudson Lowrance — front row center — her parents and siblings.  The Frank and Maggie Hudson family — Oklahoma, ca 1921.)

3.  Check out their children, Part II.  If you can’t find mom and dad, search the index for their children.  This is particularly effective if some of the children’s names are a bit different: Rourke, Mahalia, Burton, Shelby, etc.  Often, if you find the child, you’ll find the rest of the family.

4.  Check the township of your ancestors.  Often, I have just identified the township where my ancestors were living, and then just checked, page-by-page, the township in the census where I cannot find them.  This is particularly effective for rural locations — tougher for larger cities.

So — try a couple of these tactics to see if you can’t find those shy ancestors of yours!

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Happy Memorial Day 2014!

(Tombstone of Leonidas Horney, Lt. Colonel, 10th Missouri Infantry. Thompson Family Cemetery, Littleton, Illinois)

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day, and was initially a day set aside each year for us to decorate the graves of those who served our country in the military.  It was a holiday that evolved out of the Civil War — Decoration Day was initiated by General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans.

On this Decoration (Memorial) Day, what better way to honor your military ancestors than by doing research about them!?  And, if you’re within a close enough distance, you can also go and decorate the graves of these veterans, many of whom gave the ultimate sacrifice for you and their country.

Fortunately for us, the government kept pretty good records of their military personnel through the history of the nation.  Much of this information was genealogically significant (and interesting!), and can provide a great deal of information on your ancestral heroes. Here are a few tips to finding and using military records:

1.  Which war?  Determine what war(s) your ancestor may have been old enough to fight in.  Generally, if they were between 18 and 45 during any of the conflicts the US was engaged in, there is a chance they were in the military.

2.  Military records.  Exceptional records — much of which is of interest to genealogists — were compiled and kept for men who served in the Civil War in particular.  My third-great grandfather, Leonidas Horney, served as a Lt. Colonel during the Civil War. From various military records — all of which are available online — I was able to glean the following information:

  • His date and place of birth
  • His wife’s name, date and place of birth
  • Most of his children’s names, dates and places of birth (all those 16 years of age and younger)
  • His death date
  • His wife’s death date

3.  Draft Registration Cards.  During World War I, draft registration cards were required for all men in the United States (whether citizens or not) who were born between September 11, 1872 and September 12, 1900. The cards included the following information: name, age, birth date, birth place, citizenship status (native born, naturalized citizen or alien), name of nearest relative, a (very) brief physical description.  It is estimated that 98% of all the men in the US between those birth dates completed a draft registration card.  Similar draft registrations were done for World War II, but only one of them is available at this time due to national privacy protections.

4.  Google.   Don’t forget that great genealogical search engine Google!  Type in the name of your military ancestor, and see what comes up!

5.  Subscription Genealogy sites. Ancestry.com, Fold3.com and many other subscription genealogy sites have extensive military sections.

6.  Findagrave.com. This is one of my favorite genealogy websites.  You may find photos of the tombstones of your military ancestors on this great website.

7.  FamilySearch.org.  This is the genealogy website provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The LDS Church is one of the oldest and most prolific genealogical organizations in the world.  Their records are available for free to genealogists of all denominations (or no denomination!). They have an extensive military section.

So — those are just a few thoughts and hints about doing research for your military ancestors.  You can learn more about searching for your military ancestors by picking up a copy of several of my genealogy books: Troubleshooter’s Guide and Mastering Census and Military Records, one of the books in the Quillen’s Essentials of Genealogy series.



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Modeling…Resumes…and Cemeteries

What do modeling, resumes and cemeteries have in common, you may ask?  Why — genealogy of course!

For those of you who follow this blog (thank you!), you may have noticed that I have been absent for a little while (my last post was a little over three months ago).  Well, there are several reasons for this.

First of all, you might say I have been modeling one of the traits most genealogists I know have — the ability to go 90 mph on their genealogy, then step back a bit to attend to other pressing matters, then pick their genealogy up months later with the same rabid enthusiasm they had before.  That’s been the case with me lately.  There are two primary reasons for my pause in blogging:

1.  My personal genealogy, and

2.  Resumes

On #1, one of the things I have found is that as I spend my time writing and updating eight genealogy books (and responding to readers’ questions and research conundrums), my own genealogy research lags behind (my ancestors would likely say it dwindles down to nil.  Nada.  Zip.  Zero…).  The last few months, I have found myself following the slimmest thread of information on a long-neglected ancestral line, and I have made amazing progress…but it has taken a lot of my discretionary (ie — blogging) time!  Sorry about that (but my Lindsey ancestors thank you for your patience!).

And on #2, the last several months have seen most of my writing energies being directed toward the other writing genre in which I participate — business, in particular books about how to get a job in this difficult (though improving) economy.  Last October I announced the arrival of Get a Job!, a book that outlines the steps to take and follow to increase your likelihood of getting a job.

With that short preamble, I am happy to announce that one of the other reasons for my three-month blogging sabbatical is a new job-search book: The Perfect Resume, which will soon be winging its way to your local bookstore and favorite online book purchasing website (e.g. — Amazon.com).  The Perfect Resume further explores the job search topic introduced in Get a Job! by focusing on the effective development and marketing of your resume — the Perfect Resume!  If you or someone you know is looking for work, check it out!

Now — finally — I’ll get to the third element of this post — cemeteries.  When you find yourself running into genealogical brick walls, don’t overlook the vast power of cemetery gravesites such as www.findagrave.com.  This user-friendly website has information on over 115 million graves.  Many (most) of them have photos of tombstones / headstones, and often the person posting the information has also provided insightful genealogical information about the person and their family members.  I have been a frequent visitor to this superb site for years, have contributed photos and genealogical information on many of my ancestors, and have used it to unravel some gnarly family history enigmas!

Following is a photo I took not long ago of the tombstone of two of my ancestors.  Recently, I went to place the photo on FindaGrave.com, but I was embarrassed to find that someone had beaten me to it.  Regardless, these two great-great-uncles of mine were brothers – and were some of the leading business men of a remote town in southern Colorado.  Originally from Pennsylvania, these intrepid and entrepreneurial brothers carved their niche in the business community in which they found themselves over 100 years ago.

Arthur Ingrhram Lindsey and WilliamWalter Lindsey, Knights of Pithius Cemetery,Aguilar, Las Animas County, Colorado

And here is a photo of them sitting in their Hardware store in downtown Aguilar in about 1923.  Arthur I. is seated at the desk on the right, and William W. is on the left behind the counter.

So – if you are running into brick walls, turning to marble or granite monuments may help you overcome them.

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Can’t Find an Ancestor?


Searching for your ancestors is often a little like playing hide-and-go-seek with your four- or five-year-old little brother. He loves the game, but doesn’t quite get the rules. Giggling or moving, he seems to delight in being found.

And so it is with many of your ancestors – it seems that often they do all they can to be found. As you work (play!) in genealogy, you’ll be surprised at how much information will come to you – almost as though by accident.

Through the years I have found that the smallest amount of effort on my part often yields immense genealogical success. Anyone who has done much genealogy at all has multiple stories of amazing coincidences that resulted in genealogical progress – chance meetings with other genealogists working on their line, intuitional feelings leading them to  information in least-expected places, etc.

Don’t get me wrong – there are still those ancestors out there that seem to be extremely  good at playing hide-and-go-seek. Unlike the little brother mentioned at the outset of this section, they are experts at hiding and dodging even your best efforts. They will bring out your best detective instincts! In the mean time, keep looking!

So — if all else fails, try calling, “Olley olley oxen free!” to see if they will reveal their hiding places.

Or — on the  outside chance that doesn’t work — you can always look for help in any of the Quillen’s Essentials books:

Mastering Online Genealogy

Mastering Immigration & Naturalization Records

Mastering Census and Military Records

Tracing Your European Roots

Tracing Your Irish and British Roots

Mastering Family, Library & Church Records

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