google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html The Armchair Genealogist: November 2009

What's in Your Genealogy Tote Bag?

I have a nice black tote bag that is ready and waiting at a moment’s notice. Much like a mother with her bags packed anticipating the birth of her baby; I have a tote bag ready for just such an occasion. However, my tote bag is ready and waiting for my next genealogy adventure. If I get up in the morning and decide, I’m heading off on an excursion then I grab my genealogy tote bag. Regardless of whether you are headed out to do a family interview, visit a library or an archive, maybe off to prowl a cemetery or just looking to find a quiet place to do some research, a well-stocked tote bag can save the day. Surely, I am not the only one with a genealogy tote bag.

A look into my bag will reveal plenty of pens and pencils. A highlighter, a notebook, a camera with back up batteries, extra SD cards and an audio recorder and copies of pedigree charts. Other items include an umbrella and a clipboard,

This bag really developed out of necessity. When I first started researching my family history, I often found myself in places unprepared. In a cemetery taking pictures, I have had my battery die or my SD card say it is full. I have driven sometimes 100 miles or more to a particular cemetery, what you do mean I can’t take any more pictures. I have been in libraries and stumbled across a family name but have been unsure if it was my family. I wish I had my pedigree charts with me for a quick reference.

I keep an umbrella handy, because inevitably it rains on me when I get to a cemetery. Plenty of pens , because I have a deep-seated fear if I only carry one it will run out, and plenty of pencils because many archives will not allow pens near their documents. The audio recorder I have used for family interviews but it also comes in handy to record my thoughts or ideas that come to mind while I am driving. My mind usually starts racing after I have visited a cemetery or a library, usually about avenues I need to investigate. The audio recorder allows me to make a note to myself for follow up when I get home, while still keeping two hands on the wheel.

So tell me my genealogy friends, what is in your genealogy tote bag? Leave a comment or send me a tweet. I will include your suggestions in a future post giving everyone credit for his or her input.

Follow Friday - Local Canadian Histories Digital Library

In a recent post, I expressed my delight in Google Books and the ability we have to create our own Digital Research Library. Now I would like to inform you of another website available to you, so that you may continue to expand your digital library even further. This library is located at The Our Roots library carries a collection of over 5500 digital texts on Canadian local histories.

If you are looking for information about the history of your small town, rural area, large city or maybe research on Acadian migration, the Metis heroes or the Irish at Grosse Isle then you should take the time to browse Our Roots.

These books have been digitized from libraries, archives and individuals across Canada. They are not for sale. However, you can contact the publisher for further inquiry.

You can begin to narrow your search by selecting to search within a particular province.You have the ability refine your search further by  searching title, author or subject of a book. Once you find a book your interested in, you can then search within the volume by a key word. You will receive a link to the page. This is a very easy site to maneouver offering a great deal of Canadian history.

A simple registration is required to have full access to the site and there is no cost involved to the user. Unlike Google books you cannot store your finds within your own library on the Our Roots site, however you certainly can bookmark your finds from your own desktop for easy reference. Happy hunting.

Great Gifts for the Genealogist - Buy Here!

Black Friday is here, and the holiday shopping has begun. If your looking for the ideal gift for the Genealogist in your family then here are the top 5 items your family historian needs.

1. Genealogy books, we can never have enough, from how-to write a family history to reference books.
2. Software, such as Family Tree Maker 2010, to create your own family tree.
3. A camera, can't be without it, for family pictures, tombstones and archive documents.
4. A voice recorder, for recording interviews with living relatives.
5. A laptop or netbook, portable and convenient for working anywhere.

If you don't wish to stand in line or fight the crowds then check out the Armchair Genealogist's Store, located on this page where you can purchase any of these items. Be sure you look after the genealogist in your family this Christmas.

Writing Your Family History - Your How To Guide Starts Here

Three years ago, I began a journey in genealogy. More specifically, I began to assemble and document my genealogy into a family history book. Thirty years earlier, my uncles and aunts assembled what they called the Anniversary Book, which they presented to everyone at the event of my Grandparents 50th Wedding Anniversary. I was 15 years old at the time. I filed that book away in my keepsake box. Occasionally, as I got older I would pull it out. When I began to discover genealogy, the anniversary book became my constant companion.

In the fall of 2007, my cousin who lives in Virgina and I who live in Ontario, decided to establish a long distance relationship based on our love of genealogy. We knew it had been 30 years since the Anniversary Book was published and a new updated book was long overdue. We had been dabbling in genealogy separately and be both realized our research had unveiled many mistakes in the first book. We made the commitment to create a family history book before our next family reunion in July of 2010.

Now we are less than 5 months away from our book going to print. We are still very busy but it truly has been an adventure, a journey and an education. It is this education, that I wish to share with you. Therefore, on this blog each Wednesday, I am going to dedicate to writing your family history. Every Wednesday, I will share with you some tips, how-tos and knowledge that I learned along this journey. We will break the process of writing a family history book down into easy manageable steps.

Many family historians spend years researching, only to have a pile of photos and documents that will never see the light of day. At the Armchair Genealogist, you will discover the tools you need to take your genealogy research and organize into a history book you will be proud to share with your family. Join me next Wednesday, our topic will be getting organized.

Tombstone Tuesday- The Strength of an Irish Women

Ellen Phelan was born in 1826 in Ballyragget, Kilkenny, Ireland. She was the youngest child born to John Phelan and Susanna Whitaker. In approximately 1829, she travelled with her family to Canada. They settled in the Huron Tract, Stratford was their first home for a few short years. Most of the Phelan family later migrated further north and began the small community of Chepstow, Ontario. Around 1841, Ellen married James Stapleton and they settled on a piece of land just on the outskirts of Clinton, Ontario along the Huron Road. Ellen gave birth to her first child Margaret in 1842, Thomas was born in 1846, John in 1848, Susan in 1850 and Ellen in 1855.

According to a family story recorded many years ago, in the spring of 1856 after a storm had passed through the town and blew the roof of the shanty, James headed into Clinton for some wood to repair the structure. While James was in town, there was an accident; a boiler blew up, and James was killed.

Ellen Phelan Stapleton moved her children up to Chepstow, Ontario to live near her brothers and mother. It was here in Chepstow, in the fall of 1856 that she would give birth to her final child, son James.

Some of the Phelan family later moved into Gagetown, Michigan and brought with them their sawmill operations. An industry they had established themselves in while living in Canada. Ellen Phelan followed youngest son James to Michigan. It was here that she lived the remainder of her days until her death in 1901. This is her tombstone in Gagetown, Michigan.

I am still searching for the tombstone of her husband James Stapleton, 1810-1856.

From Junk to Jewels- How to Turn Your Stuff into Memorable Christmas Gifts

This is not an article about turning junk into crafts. I am not about gluing, cutting or pasting. I am not about creating more work for myself. I can appreciate those who can handcraft a keepsake. Unfortunately, not all of us have that talent. However, I am also not about going out to buy a gift just to say I gave a gift. I am trying to become smarter about spending hard-earned money on useless items just to conform to a holiday. With age, I think comes wisdom and I am putting more thought into gift-giving that has meaning rather than grabbing something off the shelf.

Christmas time is upon us and before we become all consumed with Christmas shopping, I would like to encourage everyone to take a different approach to your holiday spending habits. Everyone should think about shopping within the four walls of your home. Some of the greatest gifts I have received in my life have been small keepsakes that belonged to my ancestors. For instance, I have a lovely pink Depression glass cake plate that my grandmother gave to me at my bridal shower 22 years ago. It was given to her at her bridal shower over 80 years ago.

Every year at Christmas, I have a lovely nativity scene I put on display. It does not have any great monetary value but it was the nativity scene that was displayed in my home when I was a child. I have been displaying it every Christmas since I was married.

When my in-laws passed away, we inherited many of their belongings. However, proudly displayed in my kitchen is my mother-in-law’s rolling pin, cooking is a passion I shared with her, so that simple rolling pin has great meaning for me.

Therefore, before you head to the mall, take a good look around your home, if there is a momento you feel you would be willing to part with and share with your children, grandchildren and friends, than I encourage you to consider a new approach. Don’t wait to leave it in a will or an inheritance, present it to them now, while you can share the joy on their face when they receive it.

Think about it like the ultimate in conservation, preservation and recycling. Now don’t get crazy and use this as an opportunity to get rid of your junk. Be selective and intuitive to what you think your children, grandchildren and friends would appreciate. Include a little note with the gift, stating its history, special meaning or a memory that is attached to the item.

A piece of jewellery, a picture, a Christmas ornament, a favourite plate or serving dish, a special cookie jar, a quilt, a teapot, a chair, a book, pay attention to what your family and friends comment on when they visit your home. Make a mental note, and when the occasion arises, like Christmas or a birthday or anniversary use the opportunity to give a gift that is more valuable than any item, in any big box store.

It is not necessary for these gifts to have any large monetary value attached to them. Maybe you purchased it 20-30 years ago on sale at your local department store. The value comes in the memories that have evolved around this item in your home. Maybe it has become a mainstay, a presence in your everyday life. Pass the memories forward with the present, its presence in the hands of your children or a grandchild extends far beyond its monetary value.

So save your money and your time. This Christmas, shop at home and give to your family a token of your love money can’t buy. I would enjoy hearing your ideas. What special gifts have you received or given? Feel free to post a comment and share your gift giving ideas with everyone.

Follow Friday- The Largest Gathering of Family Historians in Canada, Count Me In!

I am getting very excited about the Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2010. Set to take place Friday May14th-Sunday May16th at the Doubletree Hilton in Toronto. You may think I’m getting ahead of myself but if you subscribe to their blog and feed you too will get caught up on the exciting things they have going on this year.

This blog keeps me updated regularly on what is being planned along with speakers, as they are booked. With each new detail released, I am convinced more and more that if you have some Canadian roots in your ancestry, then The Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2010 is going be well worth the trip.

This conference is entitled Essentials, Innovations and Delights. So far, the line up of speakers is impressive. Photo Detective, Maureen A. Taylor will be offering four lectures over the course of the weekend. Dave Obee will be speaking, rated one of the best, informative and entertaining genealogists who has researched in more than 17 European countries. Gary Schroder is an expert in Quebec records as well as in Canadian, English, Irish and British military resources. Lisa Louise Cooke from will be offering three lectures on Saturday.

John Philip Colletta will offer a number of lectures that I am looking forward to including starting on Friday with, “Stories that Instruct: Using Case Studies to Teach Genealogy Methodology” and “Principles of Good Writing and Good Storytelling.” John will also offer on Saturday a special lecture on Italian Ancestry and John will be the speaker for the closing plenary on Sunday afternoon his topic ”Hacks and Hookers and Putting Up Pickles: Snare of Yesteryear’s English.” As well on Sunday John will give a two-part morning lecture on “Writing a Narrative History

This is only a partial list of the some 27 speakers already booked, you can check out all of them at the Ontario Genealogical Society Conference blog.

This conference will also be offering guests an Irish Heritage Tour of Toronto as well as hands-on research excursions to key Toronto archives and libraries, along with a 10,000 square foot marketplace and many other activities and workshops yet to be announced. I am gearing up for one very busy and impressive conference.

Unfortunately, registration has not opened yet, but you can book your hotel now to get the best rates. If you want to keep up to date on the conference, speakers, workshops and registration then I encourage you to follow their blog. If you want to learn more about The Ontario Genealogical Society then visit their website at

Kreativ Blogger Award- Paying It Forward

I want to thank Thomas at GeneaBloggers and Julie at Banjos and Babydolls  for recognizing my blog with the Kreativ Blogger award earlier this week. The online genealogy family has been very gracious in welcoming me into the fold. So in keeping with the rules here are 7 things you may not know about me and my picks for the Kreativ Blogger award.

Seven Things You May Not Know About Me

I live in Southern Ontario, Canada with my husband of 22 years and two daughters age 18 and 14.

Besides my love of genealogy and writing, my other passions include cooking and reading.

I am currently writing a family history book with my cousin, it has been 3 years in the making, it will be two hundred pages long and will be published in time for the 2010 Kowalsky Family Reunion.

One year ago, I never read a blog let along wrote one, now I read a dozen or so daily.

In my past life I was a restaurant manager, I retired 5 years ago to be a stay at home Mom. Best decision I ever made.

I currently write magazine articles for Family Chronicle, Discovering Family History and Internet Genealogy.

My genealogy goal is to travel to my ancestors villages in Ireland, Germany, Poland and France.

My Kreativ Blogger Picks

I am only listing five picks since I noticed many of my regular blog reads have already received this award this week, so I will spread the love around.

Canada Genealogy

Family Puzzle

Genealogy Canada

Adventures of a Fledgling Genealogist

A Couple of Bubbles off Centre

Another Brick Wall-Your Ancestors Secrets and Lies

As genealogist s, we are all too familiar with the infamous brick wall. When our family research reaches an impasse because we have been unable to locate a document with a scrap of information that will keep us moving forward, we often times throw up our hands and presume it must not exist.

I thought that way for a while. I was researching my GGGGrandfather James Stapleton. James married Maggie Coots in 1885 in Gagetown, Michigan. They immediately began having a family and within three years, they had James in 1886, Ellen in 1887 and Margaret in 1888. However, Maggie Coots Stapleton died giving birth to Margaret in 1888. Moving forward, I presumed that James probably remarried with the burden of raising three young children. Nowhere could I find evidence of James until he shows up living in Canada where his married children were living. What happened between 1888 and 1908?

I could not account for this family for 20 years. I had found a 1900 Michigan census for a James Stapleton married to Catherine and with two children James and Ellen. There were a whole lot of similarities but some major problems. First, Margaret the third child was missing. Now it is possible she died young. It is also possible James remarried Catherine, but I had yet to find a marriage certificate to prove that. As well, on the census James and Catherine are listed as being married for 15 years. This puts the marriage in 1885; I knew this could not be since I have a marriage certificate for James and Maggie in 1885. Therefore, for all these reasons, I initially disregarded this family as being mine.

Nearly 1 year, later two pieces of information came to my attention and I was able to answer some questions. First, I found a census for John and Teresa Coots, parents of the late Maggie Coots. On the census a young girl, Margaret born 1888, is living with them and is listed as adopted daughter. Next, I received a photo of the gravestone for Maggie Stapleton and on the very same headstone is Catherine second wife to James. Bingo! James has given the baby to the Grandparents to raise and James did remarry Catherine.

The census showing James and Catherine was indeed my family. However, this also tells me that James and or Catherine lied to the census taker. Yes, probably to protect the kids, they were young and probably didn’t know that Catherine was not their biological mother.

This is only one small example of the many lies and secrets our ancestors have orchestrated in the protection of their families. Although we have been forewarned many times that mistakes are made on documents when they are initially filled out or when they are transcribed, know one warns us of the secrets and lies. We cannot forget that some ancestors may have lied or kept secrets about their families. Some secrets through perseverance can ultimately be revealed. However, some secrets have been so well manipulated on paper that without a living relative, who knows, and is willing to reveal the truth, your family history may in fact be changed forever.

Follow Friday - Build Your Own Research Library

I love books. I am always looking for a good book whether it is for my own recreational reading, for my genealogy learning or for my own family history research. The web has become our number one source for research; many have put books on the back of the shelf. I believe we have lost site of the many wonderful books about the very people, places, and times that we are researching in our family history. We need to seek out these books to gain a full understanding of the lives of our ancestors. Google Book Search has become my first resource when I am looking for information on the area, events or culture in which my ancestors lived.

Since I am a writer, research is a big component of my writing. When you are writing your family history, it’s important to not only include all the lovely details you have uncovered on census records, marriage and death certificates, but it is also important to take a look at the world in which your ancestors were living. This is where Google Book Search can help.

I find books particularly important when I want to learn of an ancestral home or if my ancestors lived through a specific world event. I want to read about how life was for people during these times. Revealing these kinds of details in your writing will breathe life into your ancestors.

Researching about towns and events can be time consuming. The web can be a great resource for information but books for me are still a wonderful tool. For instance, if I were researching an ancestral village on the internet, I would most likely get a description of it today, maybe a little history. However, if you search Google books, let us say your ancestors lived in a village in the 1830’s, you may actually find a book written in the later 1800’s of this very area. Sometimes deep in the pages of a book written in the late 1800’s you find a paragraph or two about the very town your ancestors lived in. This kind of discovery is exciting because you will begin to see and feel a closer authenticity to the lives you are researching. You will be able to relate more clearly to the life of your ancestors.

At Google Book Search, you may not have access to an entire book on line, some are offered in previews or snippets while others you can read completely online. If the copyright on a book has expired then Google Book Search will have the entire book available for you to read online. In fact, they have more than 7 million digitized books, including over 100,000 genealogies and local histories. If you want further access to a particular book, Google Books will help you find it.

You can search by book name, authors, a word, or even a surname. My favourite tool; Google Books allows you to save books to your own library for easy reference. You can create your own library on Google Books or download the books on to your own computer and begin to create your own digital research library.

Google Books is the first library I head to when I want to learn about a culture, a specific region, an ancestral home or an event or time in history.

Here are just a few examples of what’s in my Digital Research Library:

In The days of the Canada Company: the Story of the Settlement of the Huron Tract by Robina Lizars and Kathleen MacFarlane Lizars 1896

Tracing Our Ancestors in Canada: The Desmarais Family by Louise Lefebvre-Hudon 1999

County Kilkenny, genealogy and family history, by Michael C. O’Laughlin 2002

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 1870

Remembrance Day Roll Call

This blog post is in honour of all my ancestors and relatives who have served are currently serving and those who served alongside them.We are eternally grateful.

George Strub WWI died Nov 19th, 1917 at age 25 in the battle of Passchendaele
Robert Kowalsky  WWII Canadian Forces
Karl Kowalsky      WWII Canadian Navy
William Kowalsky Stapleton     WWII Canadian Forces
Antonio Palermo WWII Italian Army
Richard Noppe Canadian Reginment 1983-1986
Staff Sargeant Michael Rossi  United States Air Force (retired)
Jonathon Rossi      United States Army, Army Specialist,  Killed in Action 2007, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Awarded the Bronze Star
Jason Patrick Rossi , PFC United States Army (currently serving)

Click on the link below for a moving Remembrance Day Video

Genealogy News Weekend Update Nov 1st-Nov 7th

The Photo Detective to speak at  the OGS Conference 2010

According to Ontario Genealogical Society

Maureen A. Taylor, "The Photo Detective", will present a series of lectures on collecting, preserving and understanding photographs. In four lectures at Conference 2010 on Saturday and Sunday, Maureen will give us the essentials of building and preserving our family photo collections, as well as strategies for identifying, dating and extracting every shred of genealogical information from our photos.

To learn more about Maureen, please visit her websites; and

New Database GenQueries Opened this Week

Dick Eastman has brought GenQueries on line. Visit this site to search for your family surname or add your family surname to the database. GenQueries offers

No invasion of your privacy! Your personal information is not revealed to anyone else.
No fees!
 No spam!
No account required - you do not need to sign up for anything.
Visible to everyone.
All queries in one centralized database, no need to search all over the Web.
RSS feed available.

Try it today at http://

Remember Your Ancestors on Wednesday Nov 11th

This week genealogy bloggers will be remembering their ancestors on Wednesday Nov11th. This Remembrance day honour your ancestors who have served in the military by listing them in your blog on Wednesday.

Follow Friday- Google Alerts Brings Genealogy to You

One thing about genealogy it can be a real time waster. I am trying to get smarter about how I research online. Of course the databases, like Ancestry and Footnote confine your searching to one location. However, you need to consider the entire worldwide web when researching your family history. I believe a real shift is happeing in how we are researching our family trees on the internet. Instead of us spending countless hours chasing down information, more tools are becoming available that will bring the information to us. I believe Google Alerts is one of those applications that can help bring your genealogy to you. Google alerts will email you the most update and relevant information results on the web, in the news,via blogs and videos.
How can it be used for your family history research? You can send out search queries on the surnames you are researching as well as towns in your family tree. Everytime some one writes about the town or surname you will know about it,  if those names appear in a news story you will know about it as it happens. You can keep up on the news of an event such as conferences or genealogy fairs. You can monitor news stories that you are following, and it is a great way to keep up to date on the most recent news in the genealogy industry.

This application is very simple to use. Go to and sign up. This only requires an email address and password, so they can send you the alerts into your inbox. Then start entering in your queries into the search box. Keep in mind too broad a query will bring broad results. You may have to play with it until you get it right. When you perform regular google searches and you have favourite queries that you use, and that bring you the results you are looking for, then they make for good queries in your Google Alerts. You can have as many google alerts as you like, you have the option of drawing your searches from news, blogs, web, video or all of the above. These alerts can be dropped into your box as-it-happens, once a day or once a week. Google alerts offers a handy tool to manage your alerts, edited, and delete them or add others in a quick easy click of the button.
If your tired of spending hours searching check out Google Alerts  as a handy tool to help reduce some of your surfing time.

Tombstone Tuesday - The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

One question in my history was actually confirmed by a tombstone. James Stapleton my GGG Grandfather was married in Gagetown Michigan in 1885 to Maggie Coots. They had a three children in 3 years, James, Ellen and Maggie. But upon the birth of the third child, Maggie Coots died in child birth. We suspected that James probably being fairly young and having 3 children to raise married again.
However, we could never find any documentation to prove our assumption. We came across a  1900 Federal census with a James Stapleton and wife Catherine and two children James and Ellen. There were a few problems with this census. First one child was missing Maggie, the last child born. Secondly, the dates on the census for the marriage of James and Catherine does not line up with the date of the death of his first wife. So, although this census sure looked like our family we had more to do to be sure.
When we received this tombstone picture  most of our answers were revealed. Now the fact that this tombstone proves the existence of James' second wife it does not answer why they lied on the census. I suspect to protect the children who may not have known that Catherine was not their biological mother. However,  another mystery still remained, where was the youngest child, Maggie?  Well that mystery, I will share with you in my next post.
Although difficult to see in this picture, this tombstone reveals both of James Stapleton's wives on the same same tombstone. Maggie Stapleton in 1888 and Catherine Stapleton in 1901.