Category: News

March 12th, 2014

Digitizing America’s Oldest Documents

A collection of centuries old papers filed away in the basement of a Catholic convent in St. Augustine, Florida have turned out to be America’s oldest written historical and genealogical documents. The documents date from 1594 till the mid-18th century, and are actually vital records (birth, death, and marriage records) and baptismal records of residents of St. Augustine. They are written in Spanish, and are now being digitized by a team from the University of South Florida headed by Michael Francis, professor of history.

The students and Professor Francis have spent many months digitizing the 6,000 plus pages so that the records survive beyond the life of the paper they are currently printed on. The documents have a historical value as well as a genealogical one. “The documents shed light on aspects of Florida history that are very difficult to reconstruct,” Francis said. Florida was discovered in 1523 by Juan Ponce de Leon after Spanish monarchy sent him on a mission to find another island off Cuba rumored to have vast riches.

It is moist likely that De Leon wasn’t the first European to land in Florida, and it is uncertain whether or not he visited St. Augustine or cities more to the north and south. St. Augustine is however America’s oldest European settlement, settled nearly a century before Jamestown, Virginia and Plymouth, Massachusetts. Because America is an English speaking country, historians believe that emphasis is placed on the accomplishments of English speakers rather than those of foreign nations.

The documents discovered in St. Augustine however hold the key to the forgotten history of 16th century Florida. They are written in a beautiful, flowing script, and for genealogists and historians researching early Florida inhabitants, they are a treasure trove of information. They have even revealed that early Florida life was quite comfortable, and not the terrible struggle that it was in the colonies further north. “People’s daily lives here weren’t the difficult struggle that was often represented,” said Professor Francis, “most homes had gardens and fruit trees.”

Although the documents are worn and yellowed as expected, they are not as well preserved as they could have been, as someone in the past had attempted to preserve them by enclosing them in shrink wrap. The acids in the plastic have damaged the paper, though it is generally around the outer edges of the pages, so most of the text is intact.

The parish where the documents were found was established inn 1565, but parish records from the first 25 years are missing. They are however continuous from 1594 through 1763 (the year the British took control of the city), giving researchers nearly 200 years of historical records that were previously unavailable. Initially the records were sent to Cuba, but were returned to St. Augustine in 1906.

The documents reveal that 16th century St. Augustine was a very diverse place, as the records contain accounts by and references to Spanish missionaries, Irish priests, Native Americans, and freed slaves. Francis was particularly amazed at the accounts of slaves who had escaped plantations from other southern states and as far north as New York.

“Many accounts are of slaves who escaped plantations in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, slaves in fact who had come all the way from New York City, to come to St. Augustine,” he said. “And when you read those, one immediately begins to imagine a situation in which they’re in these plantations, and they decide, one day, to try to escape and make their way to St. Augustine.”

The documents will eventually be made available online for anyone to view; they are currently hosted by the Archives of the Diocese of St. Augustine.

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January 15th, 2014

Richard III Even More Mysterious Than We Thought!

In our Blog of February 26, 2013, we revealed how the remains of warrior King Richard III of England were uncovered after years of speculation about where he was buried. As it turns out, there is even more mystery attached to Richard’s burial than initially believed. As it turns out, a second coffin has been discovered in his grave. The strange part is that the second coffin, made of lead, was found inside that of Richard III himself!

The second coffin is believed to have been sealed sometime between the 13th and 14th centuries, more than one hundred years before King Richard was buried there in 1485. Archaeologists who are excavating the site think the coffin may belong to a high ranking medieval knight, or one of the founders of the friary where Richard is buried. A statement issued by the University of Leicester states “The inner coffin is likely to contain a high-status burial — though we don’t currently know who it contains.”

The second coffin is quite large, measuring &ft. long and 2 feet wide. Because it is made of lead, it took a team of eight to lift the lid off the coffin. The coffin itself has been moved to the university of Leicester research center where it will be examined by a team of researchers to determine the safest way to open it without disturbing the remains. The only glimpse they have had of what is inside the coffin so far has been via a hole in the bottom of the coffin where they have been able to glimpse the feet of the skeleton.

The archaeologists have two candidates as to whom the remains may belong to. One is Peter Swynsfeld, the other William of Nottingham, both founders of the Grey Friar’s friary, and who died within 60 years of each other, in 1272 and 1330 respectively. Historical researchers are in possession of records that suggest a knight who was “sometime mayor of Leicester” may have been buried there. It is possible that he is the knight Sir William de Moton of Peckleton, who died in the 14th century sometime between 1356 and 1362. DNA testing will inevitably be put to the test again!

This is the first time that archaeologists have encountered a lead coffin, so it presents them with some unique challenges. “None of us in the team have ever seen a lead coffin within a stone coffin before,” said archaeologist Mathew Morris, director of the Grey Friars site, “We will now need to work out how to open it safely, as we don’t want to damage the contents when we are opening the lid.”

It is amazing how much the field of genealogy has contributed to the advancement of DNA testing, and how valuable that now is in learning about, not just our individual family histories, but that of the world as well!

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December 18th, 2013

Genealogy Giants Hit Family History Home Run!

It was recently announced that and will be pairing up to place over one billion new genealogy records online. The records that are to be digitized and made available to researchers via the internet are currently part of’s microfilm collection held by their Family History Library network.

Currently researchers must visit one of the worldwide Family History Centers or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah to access the wonderful collection of records, the largest collection of genealogical data in the world. What an exciting project for genealogists, especially researchers who are limited in their capacity to travel, or confined to their homes.

The two giants of genealogy are currently in the process of working out the details, though sources reveal that more than $60 million has been allocated to the project. and are considered by the majority of genealogists to be the two most important such organizations in the world; their unification in this huge project is a fantastic development that will allow many more budding genealogists to trace their family trees.

The partnership is indeed an intriguing one. is owned and managed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), and is the largest genealogy organization in the world. Access to their records is free to anyone. is the largest commercial genealogy organization in the world, with nearly 3 million paid subscribers. One might think they make somewhat of an odd couple,

The senior vice-president of’s patron and partners branch, Don Anderson, however, views the partnership as an opportunity to expand its mission of making genealogy research materials available to everyone. “I think from a FamilySearch perspective, what we’re trying to do is work with a variety of partners where we can make the records the most accessible to individuals to use them,” he said. currently operates primarily in English-speaking countries with the exception of Sweden, but CEO Tim Sullivan sees the alliance as an opportunity for to expand both its record collection and customer base. “We’re really excited about the chance to potentially open up new businesses in new international markets,” he said, “but as important, give Americans access to records from some of the nations of their homelands.”

The two giants of genealogy have collaborated on projects before, but by and large this is their greatest undertaking ever. It is indeed an exciting prospect for every genealogist; we just hope that we won’t have to now pay for material that was previously free to access. We’ll see, so stay tuned to this genealogy channel!

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December 11th, 2013

Fancy a Cruise to Visit Your Caribbean Cousins?

If you have family members in the Caribbean, there is no better time to meet or visit them than now. This year from December 7-14, Cruise Everything, a Fritz Travel Company, will be hosting an Eastern Caribbean Genealogy Cruise on board the Celebrity Silhouette, one of Celebrity Cruise Line’s fantastic new Solstice Class ships. The especially great part of this cruise is that there will be three professional genealogists on board who will be available by private appointment to consult with you about your Caribbean heritage.

On board the Celebrity Silhouette you’ll be able to partake of all the amenities and bathe in the splendor of a luxury 5 star hotel. The ports of call are of the most interesting in the Caribbean, and you’ll be able to indulge in five course gourmet meals, revel in top notch nightly entertainment, and explore the uniqueness of destination when ashore.

Some of the fantastic genealogy based activities that will be on offer while on board the Silhouette and ashore are:

  • Welcome Cocktail Party (Open Bar!)
  • Daily Private Genealogy Events
  • Access to Speakers and Hosts Throughout the Trip
  • Meeting Rooms for Private Discussions
  • Surprise Events and Activities
  • Selected Shore Excursions with an Escort for purchase

The cruise will be departing from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (you’ll have to make your own way there) at 4:30 EST on December 7. The first port of call will be San Juan, Puerto Rico, where you will spend an entire afternoon. From San Juan the Silhouette sails to Basseterre, St. Kitts where you have an entire day to explore or meet with family members. St. Maarten is next where you will again spend an entire day before returning to Ft. Lauderdale. The three days that you will spend at sea will feature genbealogy events that include talks, instruction, and insights into Caribbean family tree research.

The genealogists who will be accompanying you on the cruise are professional genealogists Gary and Diana Smith, Certified Genealogist (CG) Jana Sloan Broglin, and renowned genealogy blogger and expert Dick Eastman of Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter. All are nationally recognized speakers who will give discourses on a variety of subjects related to Eastern Caribbean genealogy.

Each of the genealogists will also make themselves available for a private 20 minute session with anyone who wishes. Spaces are limited however, so you’ll need to get your request in early. This is an excellent opportunity to get some free coaching from some very experienced and knowledgeable genealogists, while having some fun and enjoying the Caribbean sun!

It is estimated that at least between fifteen and twenty percent of Americans have roots in the Caribbean. If you’re one of them, this is a great opportunity to get some first-class instruction and to visit the land of your ancestors, maybe even meet some relatives for the first time. You can find out more about the Eastern Caribbean Genealogy Cruise on its Cruise Everything webpage.

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March 6th, 2013

Comments On Our Blog Posts…

Hi everyone.  I hope you’re doing well.

I’ve received a lot of e-mail from many of you mentioning that your comments haven’t been published to the blog. Due to the volume of spam comments this blog received on a daily basis, it was nearly impossible to filter through all of the comments.  We were receiving an average of 300 spam comments a day so it’s really hard to filter the real comments from the individuals that are selling Louis Vutton (sp?) bags.  With the help of my helpful website administrator,  we were able to filter through much of the spam and we’ve installed a captcha to the commenting area to reduce the spam.  I’m crossing my fingers and hoping this works long term!

We’ve tried to filter through as much spam as possible but with a backlog of over 8,000 blog comments, it was a really arduous task.  We unfortunately couldn’t filter through all of the real comments.

The issue is now fixed and I’m looking forward to reading and responding to your many comments!  Thank you so much contributing to my posts and I wish you all great success in your endeavours to learn more about your ancestry.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me about any blog post ideas you have.  Melanie (@) obituarieshelp (dot) org

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September 10th, 2012

New Nineteenth Century Collection to Go Online

I was recently informed of an exciting collection of nineteenth century primary content that will be made available online this spring. Gale Cenage Learning, a well known publisher of reference and research sources for businesses, schools, and libraries recently announced plans for its program of studies Nineteenth Century Collections Online. It is a global publishing and digitalization program comprised of rare nineteenth century content (primary source), and though still being developed, the first four modules will be released sometime between April and the end of May 2012.

Nineteenth Century Collections Online will remain a work in progress, with content from partner libraries such as the Bodleian Library (Oxford University), the British Library, and archives such as the UK National Archives and the US National Archives being added regularly. Such institutions and other smaller ones will in total contribute over 150 various collections this year, providing genealogists with yet another immensely important online resource.

The content to be on offer has never been digitalized, and most has never been put onto microfilm, so this is exciting unique content of a rare and valuable nature. Some of what will be available is:

  • The Corvey Collection of European Literature: 1790-1840 –an original collection of essays covering an array of Romantic literature that was published in German, French and English sourced from Corvey Abbey located in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. This collection is one of the most prolific and important existing assemblages of works from this period. It specializes in rare, hard-to-find compositions by obscure female writers. It contains Dramatic Works, Gothic Novels, Poetry, Short-Form Prose, and Novels
  • Asia and the West: Diplomacy and Cultural Exchange – This collection covers topics such as U.S and British diplomacy and foreign policy,  the Philippine Insurrection,  Asian political, economic, and social affairs, the Opium Wars and much more.
  • British Theatre, Music, and Literature: High and Popular Culture – includes a wealth of materials, including scripts, playbills, musical scores, and operas. Many of these have never been filmed or made available in digital or other electronic format. They cover topics such as street literature, penny dreadfuls, Victorian popular culture and includes the Archive of the Royal Literary Fund.
  • British Politics and Society presenting a catalogue of primary sources that cover topics like Chartism, Owenism, radical movements, the cartographic record, political reform, and British domestic and foreign policy. It also contains working class autobiographies, British Cabinet papers, and accounts of riots and civil disturbances in nineteenth century England.

These works will be released in increments beginning in mid-2012, and will provide an exceptional resource to scholars. Family historians, and history and literature buffs. Genealogists will be able to get an even more detailed picture of how their ancestors may have lived during this period. You will come to know what sort of entertainment and literature they may have enjoyed, the civil disturbances and unrest they might have encountered, been involved in, or been affected by. You can learn what sort of domestic or foreign policy may have influenced them to immigrate, or uncover clues as to where they may have emigrated to. Such information can really help you to compile interesting and exciting Family History Reports.

So often we get bogged down in a records search that we forget just how interesting, educational, and entertaining genealogy can be. This collection will avail us of all these fringe benefits of pursuing our family history, and is a collection to be cherished. Mark your calendar for the spring of 2012, and subscribe to our Blog if you haven’t already. We’ll keep you up to date on the progress, and inform you when the collection comes online. Until then, Happy ancestor hunting, and enjoy genealogy!

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December 12th, 2009

Researching Your Genealogy Could Make You A Billionaire

Researching your genealogy could result in your inheriting billions, which is exactly what happened to two brothers who were so poor they lived in a cave outside Budapest, selling junk to buy food.

According to the article, the two bothers Geza and Zsolt Peladi, were abandoned by their mother who also severed ties with her wealthy parents. Their mother has since passed on.

The brothers’ grandmother passed away in Germany and her estate rests at over 4 Billion British Pounds. (more…)

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