Tuesday Tips #2

How can I tell if my ancestors were Illiterate?

First, let’s define Illiterate, Illiterate means “unable to read or write” (Oxford Dictionary). Many of our ancestors were illiterate, especially if you have non-western ancestry, Eastern European ancestry, or poor ancestors. Historically public schools didn’t exist and even when they did not every child attended. Some children and adults learned to read and write at a place of worship like a Synagogue, Church, Mosque, Ect. In 1900 in America, the illiteracy rate was ten percent or one in ten (https://nces.ed.gov/naal/lit_history.asp), and it was lower in the past, it’s very likely one of your ancestors were illiterate weather 100 years ago or 200 years ago.

But let’s go back to the question. “How can I tell if my ancestors were Illiterate?”, there are many ways, one common way is contextualizing our ancestors in their world. Was your ancestor poor? An Immigrant from a Non-Western European Country? These are just a few questions to ask yourself. But this isn’t a definite way to prove that your ancestors were illiterate, we can only do this with records.

One of the easiest ways for an American researcher to find out if your ancestors were able to read and write is the Census, particularly 1850 through 1930 Census. 

“United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DRM5-9N?cc=1325221&wc=9BQL-3T1%3A1030551501%2C1032387601%2C1032387602 : 5 August 2014), Arkansas > Arkansas > ED 1 Arkansas & Chester Townships > image 11 of 53; citing NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

But not everyone has ancestors in the USA so another way to figure out if your ancestors were illiterate is if a record has a signature, if your ancestors were illiterate then they would have written their Mark and not their name. As you can see in the records below Wojciech Myszak was illiterate, but his wife Katarzyna was Literate. 

“Pennsylvania Civil Marriages, 1677-1950,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6957-XDT?cc=2466357&wc=QDNG-M11%3A1588753668%2C1588754300 : 30 January 2017), Philadelphia > Marriage licenses, no 334900-335499, 1915 > image 1416 of 2075; citing the Register of Wills Offices from various counties.

What other ways do you find to tell if your ancestors were literate or literate? I’d love to know! 

Oral History: An Interview with Miyamoto Loretta Jensen.

‘Oral history’ is a widely-used term that we are struggling to understand. On one hand, online searches for this term bring up synonyms such as ‘myth’, ‘folklore’, and ‘fairy tale’. On the other hand, Indigenous cultures rely on ‘oral history’ for the generational exchange of information. In the field of genealogy especially, a majority of researchers verify their research with vital sources to meet a standard of proof. Often, any conclusions reached without sufficient evidence will be rejected. This leaves little place for genealogists with ancestral information outside of the written medium.

Miyamoto Loretta Jensen, image from Twitter @miyajensen

To understand more about the importance of oral history and its current and future place in genealogical research, I reached out to Miyamoto Loretta Jensen, a prominent, young, Indigenous genealogist who specialises in Polynesian genealogy.

Miya describes her work for the genealogy community as “barrier-breaking, fresh and authentic”, always trying to “”keep it real” whenever talking about complex issues”. She has certainly, over the past few years, come to my attention as an important role model for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous genealogists.

What does the term ‘oral history’ mean to you?

Oral history is family history to me. Oral history really is everywhere, if you really think about it. The movement, motion, and expression of emotions via the body and voice are all forms of oral history. My ancestors transmitted their power, stories, families, and lives through the spoken word way before the written language was ever introduced to them. It was once said that my ancestors knew to etch their histories in the minds of their posterity and people because the ocean can wipe away anything. When I listen to oral histories, I feel something move within me. I connect deeply and intimately more than I ever could just reading a piece of paper. Oral history is the giving and receiving of power. Period. I would also say, too, that oral history is literally everywhere. We would die if we didn’t practice oral histories. From news reports to songs being sung on the radio to lectures to talking with friends and family, it is literally everywhere. We would not progress as a society and people if we didn’t have oral histories.

Is oral history important to you, and why?

It matters because this was how my ancestors lived and breathed. In order to understand who they were, I need to take the time to know why oral history was important to them. And I can’t help my own people if I don’t know how they functioned.

How has oral history influenced your understanding of your own history, and what role has oral history played in your own/family/community history?

I used to be angry that oral history was my ancestors’ way of preserving their lives. I used to think that paper was the only thing that mattered. I’ve since then have “come to myself” and decolonized my methodology. I needed to understand my ancestors from their perspective and not impose myself and today’s standards on them. It has changed my life since I have done this! I know now that oral histories were taken seriously. There was a protocol and strictness to learning the oral genealogies of our families. In other words, these were not taken lightly because of the functions oral histories had in society. It determined everything in one’s life including land ownership, marriage regulation, feud support, etc. I can’t relate to these perspectives as much because my genealogy has not determined my life, but I can understand now why they were vital to one’s survival. 

Upon doing a google search of the term ‘oral history’, the synonyms that are associated with it include ‘mythology’, ‘fairy tale’, and ‘folklore’. Does this association damage our perception of credibility in oral history? 

If you are thinking in terms of Polynesian genealogy, then yes. Our oral histories were crafted in poetry and were riddled with metaphors and symbolism. These stories were actual histories, but portrayed in ways that reflect the importance of ancestors. So, I personally reject the idea that oral histories are just made up stories. They all contain treasures of truth within them. It is only a matter of language skills and internalizing ancestral perspectives and history that unlocks them.

Why do you think oral histories are perceived as untrustworthy sources of information in Western societies?

Great question. I have thought, too, about why paper has become such a vital part of our Western societies. Many indigenous societies believed that their word was their bond. Somewhere down the line, that practice was destroyed and no one could be trusted except through the signing and writing down of paper. I understand that paper does allow us to remember things that we may have forgotten throughout time, but paper holds so much value because we do not put an importance on practicing remembering. To me, that is why Western societies don’t trust oral histories as much. Their faith in remembering comes from paper, not from themselves or their families.

How can we change the way oral histories are perceived by some societies in the modern world?

I think this has to start with each of us. We need to commit to practicing remembering. That can come in so many different ways and forms. What can be extremely meaningful for us is looking to our ancestors and learning how they remembered, then practicing those rituals, sacraments, and skills ourselves.

How do you contribute to continuing the legacy of oral history in your own life, and what role does it play going forward?

 I enjoy listening and watching my own cultures in practice via songs, dances, and chants. Because of our unique challenges with COVID-19, I have only witnessed these practices via video. They still carry so much power within them and I am moved every time. I also have been interviewing the elders in my family more. I have called my grandmothers more than I ever have before during quarantine. I am eager to record their stories to make sure they are preserved before anything happens to them. At night, I enjoy reciting these stories to my four year old son. Even though he doesn’t understand much, I know these stories will come back to him in times of need as he experiences life himself. All in all, I am trying my best.

History in academia has become almost ‘scientific’ (in my personal opinion). It is focused on finding the truth through evidence, a common pattern in a white Eurocentric setting.  To me, history is the study of human thought and memory, which never conforms to a particular structure. Has oral history had a voice in historical academic settings, if not, how can we give it a voice? 

Such a good thought and question! Oral histories and the practice of transmitting oral history was heavily disregarded in the past. With the introduction of Christianity and missionaries to Oceania, much of the sharing of gospel involved destroying indigenous cultural practices because there was no room for embracing what was outside the norm of Eurocentric Christian culture. The effects of this are seen today when my own people struggle with researching their ancestors. Many still believe that it is not possible to research their ancestors pre 1850 because there are no more written records then. This mentality calls for decolonization in our genealogy industry. To save our people, we have to shift our mindsets and perspectives. Academia is extremely biased and full of Western perspective because they are used to being the loudest and being respected for their thoughts. Many before me in Oceania have put their feet down and said no more to these biases. They are desperate to share our histories from our own people. To give these individuals, myself included, a voice, just listen to us. We have so many wonderful platforms to speak up and speak out on these issues and many of us are. Take the time to listen to what we are saying and check your social biases. All of us have them. To end the social biases, we all first need to check ourselves. Please choose to not get so defensive when a call of correction comes your way. 

In a world that is progressively becoming more scientific, we, as the future of genealogy, need to ensure that other non-written sources are being validated and not ignored. It is not only a way to ensure Indigenous genealogists and their genealogies are accepted into the community, but the process is also a step towards decolonizing our own mindsets.

I would like to extend a big thank you to Miya, who graciously accepted my request to interview her and responded with the most profound answers. I hope the readers of this interview take her words into their future research to create an awareness and a validated space for Indigenous histories. Miya really epitomizes the next generation of genealogy and is one to keep an eye on!

If you wish to follow Miya,

Twitter: The Polynesian Genealogist (@miyajensen)

Instagram: Miyamoto Loretta Jensen (@thepolynesiangenealogist)

Tuesday Tips #1

Welcome to Tuesday Tips! You may be asking what are Tuesday Tips? Well, Tuesday Tips are little tips I will give every Tuesday. My main goal with Tuesday Tips is to educate young or not so young genealogists about the small details often hidden or overlooked in a record.
This week’s question is “What is the plus next to my relative’s name?”

“Poland, Tarnow Roman Catholic Diocese Church Books, 1612-1900,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:X5S8-J6X : 11 March 2018), Edwardus Fijotek, 28 Jan 1900; citing Baptism, Wola Lubecka, Wola Lubecka, Kraków, Poland, volume years 1865 – 1941, page 124, Tarnow Diocesan Archives, Tarnow; FHL microfilm 1,956,071.

Preview(opens in a new tab)

First, this plus sign is called a crutch cross or cross potent. They have historically been used in medieval heraldry and other religious organizations like the Teutonic Order or the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

So what does the cross mean? The cross signifies that the baptized died. Sometimes there’s a date accompanying the cross but most of the time there isn’t a date, the date shown next to the cross is the death date.

Württemberg, Germany, Lutheran Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1500-1985 . Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com

Both Catholics and Protestants used this symbol in their baptismal records. Do baptismal or birth records in your country or religion use the crutch cross? Or do you have a completely separate symbol? I’d love to know! You can Tweet us at @thehiddenbranch.

National Library of Ireland; Dublin, Ireland; Microfilm Number: Microfilm 04992 / 03

Genealogists of the Past – Kale Hobbes

Genealogists of the Past – Interview 2

Hello there! Our blog writer, Tyler, is starting a new series of blog posts called “Genealogists of the Past.” This series will be a collection of interviews from people who were young (early teens to early 20s) genealogists from different decades! Our first interview comes from experienced genealogist and book writer, Ben Nicholls! So, if you began genealogy as a teenager or a young adult in the 2000s, 1990s, 1980s, 1970s, or beyond, please consider contacting our co-founder, Tyler, for an interview.

A little Info on Kale…

Kale Hobbes, better known as “Leprechaunrabbit” on his social media venues, has been doing genealogy research for nearly 50 years! He began his genealogy journey back in 1972; his grandmother and 3rd grade teacher helped introduce him to family history research when he was only nine years old. In the time since, Kale has become a very successful genealogist, running his own blog site, “Down the Rabbit Hole.” He is also very active in the genealogy community on Twitter and Instagram, being an #AncestryHour Ambassador and is involved in #genchat. Now, Kale has agreed to be the second interview of Tyler’s “Genealogist of the Past” series to talk about how the past five decades has changed the field of genealogy.

The Interview Questions…

  1. Give us a brief introduction about yourself.
  • On Twitter, I am the long-eared bunny bartender from #genchat and an #AncestryHour Ambassador: SirLeprechaunrabbit® I can be found on most of the social media venues, as “leprchaunrabbit.” 
  • I happily promote all genealogy discussion groups as I find them; and I try to participate in their discussions – my German is improving (my Tante E would be so proud!). 
  • I embrace all ages and experiences of those who hold an interest in genealogy. We have all started out with nothing and built up our documented collections; it is just the lucky few who started out younger than most. 
  • I am married to MiLadyRabbit; it will be 18 years this July. From our previous marriages, she has a daughter, and a son and two grandchildren, while I have my “trio of Army men” (sons) and one grandson.

2. How old were you when you began your genealogy journey? 

  • I was only nine years-old and innocent. I did not foresee the dark, apocalyptic endeavor that would slowly take over my life! It has survived marriage, divorce, a military career, a cross-country move and fourteen computer crashes.

3. How did you get into genealogy? Did you do it by yourself or did someone help you?

  • My Grade Three teacher is to blame! Madame Gallant exposed me to genealogy, but it was Gramma Rabbit (AKA my paternal grandmother, Emily MOREAU, year-1975) who made certain it would be fatal! 
  • Disguised as homework for social studies, Madame asked the class to draw our family tree! No explanations just draw. 
  • I was artistically challenged back then – and, yes, even to this day a big, smiley face is beyond my capabilities, so, I thought that I could do one better: bring it in for Show ‘n’ Tell! [BAD IDEA] 
  • I wrote on my blog how I failed my genealogy assignment, if you are interested to read it.

4. What was it like being a young genealogist in the early 1970s? Did you meet anyone your age at the time who also was interested in family history research? 

  • The Alex Haley movie ROOTS came out in January 1977. Everyone got bit with the genealogy bug, and they eagerly sought help from each other, but they would not consider any assistance offered from a 14-year-old with five-years research experience! 
  • “Go away kid, you bother me,” was their glib remark (but more often times a flippant W.C. Fields impression) that made my involvement very unwelcome. 
  • It had only been one and a half years earlier (June 1975), when my Gramma Rabbit had passed away; and with all the negativity from the senior-aged researchers around me, I was missing her very, very much. 
  • Half-heartedly I continued in silence, enjoying the quiet but loathing the loneliness, with only my school studies taking precedence. 
  • For years, Mama Rabbit tried to convince herself that it was just a phase I was going through. By the time I reached my 21st birthday, she gave up trying.

5. How do you think genealogy research has changed since you started back in 1972?


– Most repositories had banking hours that conflicted with  

school hours. 

– Mail was via the postal services and took ten days for across 

town delivery and up to eight weeks for international replies – 

IF they replied! 

– Pens were NOT permitted in public libraries or archives.  

– White gloves were a must! 

– Internet access was limited to universities and R&D*  



  • At nine-years-old, my traveling was limited to public transit or walking.  
  • If money was involved to acquire proofs or copies, it could not go beyond a self-addressed stamped envelope or ten cents a page using the public library photocopiers! 
  • It was not until 1993, when I got access to a computer! 
  • The next major leaps forward were ZIP drives (1994), thumb drives (2000-2018), EVERNOTE® note taking software (2000), AXCRYPT® encryption software (2002), digital camera (2005), wireless headset/microphone (2012), external hard drives (2015), PHOTOMYNE® photo scanning app (2015) and multiple screens (2 in 2017, and 3 in 2019). 
  • As of 2018, I am now on my second laptop (fourth computer); and, as of 2019 my third cellphone with 64M extended memory. 

6. What were the challenges of searching for family back then?

  • Back in the early 1970s, with Gramma Rabbit leading the way, I would take gravestone photographs – long before it was cool.  
  • Trying to arrange meeting my eldest generations to talk with them. Once I got my driver’s license, most of them were already gone. 
  • Unfortunately, my mother and father’s generations did not want to talk when I asked them. When they finally did, I was either serving overseas in the army, or busy with a growing family of my own. 

7. How did you do your research with limited technical or less access to information? 

  • Extensive note taking! I went everywhere with two spiral bound books. 
  • One was a research log, while the other contained transcriptions, citations, postal addresses and observations. 
  • Obituaries were my first go-to, followed by family plots in cemeteries.  
Kale has extensive and well organized genealogical binders!

8. Tell us a bit more about your work as a genealogist.

  • It is still just a hobby. I would love to certify, but I have not seen a professionally prepared genealogy report to understand IF I could piece one together. (Yes, I am afraid of taking on too much and failing).
  • When I have less than an hour to do some (daily) research, I go online and look up obituaries; and whenever I have some spare time outside, I still take pictures in cemeteries. Sometimes filling requests, other times, capturing the artistic work of the stonemasons. 


To conclude, Kale has seen the field of genealogy change completely since he began family history research when he was nine years old. Although, some things being a genealogist never change, like visiting cemeteries or archives. I can definitely relate with Kale about not having family understand our passion for research. My grandparents also hope that my genealogy “stuff” is just a phase XD. It is also still good to be resourceful, even though technology and the internet has made genealogy easier than ever. You still need to know to do the “footwork” with genealogy, going to archives for records, visiting cemeteries, requesting family records and documents, etc. I really admire and respect Kale for all the work that he has done to build up the genealogy community online, with his professional blog, being involved with different things are Twitter like #AncestryHour and #genchat; it is a big inspiration to me.

Again – if you started researching family history genealogy as a teenager or young adult (early 20s) in a previous decade. Please consider contacting Tyler for an interview just like this one!

The Life and Tragedy of Mr. McGinty

Hi! My name is George Hall and I am the newest member of the Hidden Branch team. I primarily research in the North of England with most of my ancestry originating in West Yorkshire. I have nearly been working on my tree for a year, starting just before the whole world shut down in March 2020. The unusual circumstances gave me plenty of time to build my tree and I have been hooked ever since!

I am lucky enough to have plenty of stories about my ancestors. Some are long, building a clear picture of who the people who preceded me were while some are shorter leaving more questions than answers! I believe all these stories should be told regardless of the contents and it gives me joy to be privileged enough to tell these stories.

My Great-Great Grandad, Luke McGinty, was an elusive figure at first, but soon his tragedy would become apparent.

Luke McGinty was born to Peter and Mary McGinty, Irish immigrants, on the 14 Nov 1860 in Southwick in County Durham, England. He was the eldest of 8 surviving children. He was baptised at the local catholic church on the 25 Nov 1860.

In 1861, he was living with his parents at a private house on Stafford Street in Southwick. They lived with another family as was common at the time. Peter was working as a quarry labourer. Conditions were poor at best, with diseases rife and working hours long. Luke would sadly lose 2 siblings, Ann and Peter, over the next decade to short illnesses.

By 1871, he now had 2 brothers and a sister and was living with them and his parents at Bow Street in Southwick. He was a scholar along with his brothers.

Luke married his first wife Sarah Hannon in the first quarter of 1881. By April, they lived at 7 Cross Place in Sunderland. 3 families, including Luke’s, lived in the house, once again, highlighting the grim conditions Luke faced across his life. In a land of no workers’ rights or protections, he worked as a labourer providing for a growing family.

Luke was unfortunately not a stranger to personal tragedy. His eldest daughter Mary would die suddenly, after a day’s illness, on the morning of the 21 Dec 1881. Luke, his second-born, would live to see the birth of his brother Peter, but tragically would get burns from the fireplace causing his death at the infirmary in Jun 1884. Peter would die the year after. Sarah was born in 1886 and would be the only child from his marriage with Sarah to reach adulthood.

In 1891, Luke lived with his wife and daughter at 57 Rothsay Street in Monkwearmouth. He worked as a mason labourer. He would lose more children over the next decade; two daughters called Annie and Ellen and three boys named Luke, John and Thomas. It is likely they died of diseases like Tuberculosis which spread swiftly with the inadequate sanitary and housing conditions Luke experienced.

1899 was not only the year when his daughter Ellen died but also saw the death of his wife Sarah. She succumbed to heart disease and lung problems, aged 35, on the 27 Feb 1899 at 20 Whitburn Street in Monkwearmouth. Luke had lost 9 of his ten children and his wife, aged only 38, yet he never seemed to be broken by these terrible events instead he focused on moving forward.

Things did seem to improve for him for a brief period.

He married Catherine Conley, the widow of John Jobling, at St Benet’s RC Church on 12 Jul 1905. Tragedy seemed to follow them both with Catherine having lost all children she had to John in their infancy. Luke continued to work as a mason labourer and the couple moved into 20 Whitburn Street. Their only son James was born on his father’s 46th birthday, the 14 Nov 1906, at the couple’s new home.

10 years and 1 day, on the 28 Feb 1909, after the death of his first wife, Catherine would die of Tuberculosis. She was 35 years old leaving a 2-year-old son behind and a heartbroken husband. The death of his daughter Sarah would soon follow in 1913 at the hand of the same disease.

Tuberculosis would kill once again on the 3 May 1917. Luke would die, aged 56, at the Workhouse infirmary leaving his 10-year-old son an orphan. His sister Harriet was present at his passing and registered his death.

Luke’s life and tragedy will always stay close to me. He has a striking legacy of perseverance regardless of personal tragedy. He never gave up and survived as long as he could. His son would display this legacy by joining the army and risking his life in WW2 in the protection of freedom Luke never got to experience.

I will always be so proud to be his Great-Great Grandson.

James McGinty during WW2, left, and with his wife Edie circa 1970, right.

Ten fun projects for kids and teens!

1. Transcribe a census record.

This is fun and easy. You can transcribe your family or a random person in the census or you could transcribe records on FamilySearch or similar websites. This project works for American genealogy as well as International research. After finishing your transcription you could try to find out what happened to the people in the census. If you’re lucky and their living you could try and contact them.

2. Do a one-street study

Research your house and streets history, in America you can use public records for more recent history and census after 1940. This is fun because you get to learn about your house and maybe even find a skeleton in the closet!

3. Make a decoupage

A decoupage is a piece of  art made from many different materials, like paper or fabric. You can make one about yourself or ancestor or just a country. There is so much you can do with this project, I really recommend making it even if you’re not into making art.

4. Make a book 

Writing a book can be fun, I’m not very good at writing so when I make a book I put as many charts and pictures as I can. You can make a book about yourself or about your family. These books make amazing gifts.

5. Start a collection

Starting a collection can be fun and you can help persevere history. People collect Prayer cards, Postcards, Photos and Trading Cards.

6. Write yourself a letter for yourself in the future

I find this super fun! You’re making a historical record. The big bonus is you get to open a letter from yourself and see how much you have changed.

7. Make a Family tree for a Movie or TV Show

This is a fun idea and can help you understand the characters and how they fit into the series. It’s also a great way to get into genealogy, especially for young children.

8. Read a history book

Reading a historical book can give context to your ancestors lives. One of the most important things in family history is contextualization, it is essential to understand the world that our ancestors lived in.

9. Draw a map of where your ancestors lived

Maps are amazing for One-Place research, maps help one visualize the area in which we’re studying. 

10. Make a diorama of an ancestors house

I find this one just plain fun. But it also is a tool, by alwaying you to get into what home life would have been and if one doesn’t know a lot about one’s ancestors home then you will get to learn about the typical house in the era you’re researching.

Argentina & Me

Hi, my name is Gearoid D. P. Clarke, you’ve probably never heard of me before as I am new to The Hidden Branch team. I’ve been building and expanding my family tree for several years now, and I’ve found loads of interesting people and places throughout my journey. But there is one place in particular that has topped the rest, Argentina. 

Now, you may be wondering, “How did you find Argentina in your family tree when pretty much all of your ancestors are Irish?” Believe me, I was wondering that too. Turns out, Argentina has a very large Irish diaspora, as many Irish immigrated to there during the 1800s. My 4th great-uncle on my father’s side, Hugh Doogan (often written as Duggan in records) had many children with a woman by the name of Jane Kelly. Two of these children, Tomas Doogan-Kelly and Anne Doogan-Kelly, emigrated from Ireland to Argentina. While I have no date or location of death for Anne, Tomas’ death took place on the 8th of June 1913, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Tomas Duggan-Kelly, FamilySearch

At first, I thought, “Huh, that’s cool, a small branch of my tree is in Argentina.” Oh, how I was so naïve. Upon further investigation, thanks to the brilliant website that is FamilySearch, I uncovered a huge branch of my tree, in fact, it’s probably the biggest branch of my family tree. It’s insane. As I uncovered more leaves, I quickly began to discover some interesting differences between Irish and Argentine genealogy.

  • Argentinians (as well as most Latin-Americans and Spanish) hyphenate their surnames. For example, Tomas Duggan-Kelly married another Irish-Argentine by the name of Marcela Casey-O’Neill. Their children bore the surname Duggan-Casey. 
  • Despite being of Irish descent, Irish-Argentines would give their children Spanish-sounding first names, such as ‘Bernardo’ ‘Juana’ and ‘Carlos.’ This would lead to the quite humorous sounding combination of eloquent Spanish names followed by thick, rural Irish surnames. 
  • Middle names were a lot more commonplace, children would often have two names, followed by their last name. This would eventually grow until you have some very, very long names. One of Tomas Duggan-Kelly’s children had the name of Alberto Huberto Duggan-Casey. 

I also noticed that I was finding more people who were well-known in Argentina than in Ireland. My first ‘famous find’ was my 3rd cousin 3x removed Juan Diego Nelson-Duggan, commonly known as Jack Nelson. Nelson was the grandson of Tomas Duggan and the son of Juana Luisa Duggan-Casey and John Nelson McCormack. Jack Nelson was a polo player and a very good one. He represented Argentina in the 1924 Paris Olympics and in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, winning a gold medal in each, becoming the first person to win 2 gold medals for Argentina in the Olympics. 

Another well-known figure I was able to find is Eduardo Casey. Eduardo Casey is the brother of the wife of Tomas Duggan-Kelly, or in other words, the brother-in-law of my 1st cousin 5x removed. Casey was a well-known businessman in the region who founded several towns in the Buenos Aires district. 

I can go on and on about different people I’ve discovered in my tree, but I’d be here for ages, so I’ll just briefly list them here and my relation to them. Mind you, because this is Argentina, which is miles away from where I live, all of my relatives here are very distant, so you’ll see a lot of ‘removed’ or ‘in-law.’ Are most of these people related by blood? No. But I think the ability to connect them back to me on a family tree is stunning. 

  • Jack Nelson, olympian (3rd cousin 3x removed)
  • Eduardo Casey, businessman and rancher (brother-in-law of 1st cousin 5x removed)
  • José Francsico De San Martín y Matorras, military general, liberator of Argentina (husband of great-grandaunt of husband of 2nd cousin 4x removed)
  • Manuel Pedro De La Quintana Saenz-de Gaona, president of Argentina (grandnephew of wife of 2nd great-grandfather of husband of 2nd cousin 4x removed)

And much more!

Jack Nelson, Ancestry
Eduardo Casey
José Francsico De San Martín y Matorras
Manuel Pedro De La Quintana Saenz-de Gaona

What’s the point of me telling you all this? Well, I just want to encourage everyone reading this to keep digging, because there is a good chance that you may find something that surprises you. Everyone has their own version of my Argentina story, some just haven’t found it yet. Uncovering new branches also helps you learn the history of new areas, which helps improve your knowledge on the world, and hey, maybe you just found a new holiday destination. If you have found it, what is it? Feel free to tweet or message me or THB with your surprising stories, it’s always fun to learn about other people’s stories!


Genealogy Research…in 2050?!?

Researching family history has its challenges. Often when genealogists are trying to understand more about their ancestors, they run into problems or “brick walls”, such as problems locating information about an ancestor, who their parents were, where did they live, etc. Now, we currently live in an “Age of Information” but this can also be a double edged sword, there is a ton of information out there and not all of it is correct. The sheer amount of information available in our digital age brings up an interesting question: what will all this research be like in the future, say, in 30 years? Will genealogy be an easier field of study due to major improvements in documentation? Or will genealogy research be increasingly more difficult as people seek privacy online?

New Challenges & Excitements

How it will be easier:

In many ways, genealogists in the future will have an easier time researching their ancestors. This is because now, everyone’s vital information is documented and recorded in various ways, unlike in the 1700s or 1800s. The inventions and innovations of the modern era have documented our lives in more detail than ever before. Some examples are new records/sources, genealogists in the future can use are…

  • Birth certificates
  • Hospital/Medical records
  • Baby books
  • Social Security records
  • School records
  • College forms
  • Travel/Visa records
  • Etc, etc, etc…

Records today have become mostly standardized and probably by 2050, many more records will be digitized and available online. Not to mention, that finding photos of your ancestors will definitely not be an issue in 2050 for many genealogists. In fact, some genealogists then may be overwhelmed by the amount of family photos they come across, as modern phones and cameras have made photography a normal part of life. Family photos that are stored digitally will also not be subject to any physically decay or deterioration overtime, so our photos could look the same forever!

Other things to note:

  • Many more U.S. censuses will have been released, the United States 1980 Census will be released to the public in 2052. In 2051, the U.K. and Ireland will also release their census data from a century earlier.
  • People will also be living a lot longer then we did in the past so their stories will more likely be passed on.

Greater Complexity:

Genealogists in future decades will undoubtedly have a lot to look forward to, that does not mean there still are a fair amount of challenges and “brickwalls” to deal with. In many cases it could become fairly hard and complex to piece together. 

For one, there will be a lot more information available than before, a lot of which will be inaccurate or false. So the family historians of the future will have to be very careful with the information they gather and put in their family tree. 

Another point is that it may seem like finding and identifying relatives in photos will be a piece of cake in the future. Although, there will likely still be many challenges in this part of family history research. Sure, some genealogists in 2050 may have an overabundance of family photos, to a point where that they don’t know what to do with them all! Others might find that there is little to none. This could the case because many family photos, nowadays, are simply stored on someone’s smart phone or computer, never printed or uploaded. This makes them far easier to lose, then something in a photo album. It’s possible that many of these pictures and memories will have long gone by 2050. Another issue is that people don’t write on the back of printed photos anymore like that they used to. This issue could give the family historians of future decades tons of headaches, trying to figure out who the people in the pictures are or when they were taken.

Also, genealogists should record accurate and detailed information and stories of their family today, so in the future, genealogists won’t have such a hard time researching. Since nowadays, people move more frequently for employment or personal reasons. Many families may relocate several times. So it might be harder for a genealogist in 2050 to research their family. The information you record should be on paper instead of online for privacy reasons. 

One fact that will make genealogy research harder in the future is that modern family structures can be much more complicated than they were in the past. Unfortunately, divorce rates are on the rise. In the past decades, around 40%-50% of U.S. marriages have ended in divorce. Not to mention, in some circumstances, a child’s parents don’t even get married. Another aspect of modern culture is acceptance of different types of relationships people have and many couples don’t have children. These differences will mean future genealogists will need to work especially carefully!

The Impact of Social Media on Genealogy Research

Social media will likely have a major role in genealogy research in the future. It will definitely make discovering and learning about your ancestors’ lives a lot more fun and interesting than today. Just imagine…finding your ancestors’ Twitter could tell you what they thought, discovering their old Instagram page would show who their friends were or where they went for vacation, their Facebook could have a photo of the family reunion Christmas 2019, the possibilities are endless!

How I could see this becoming reality is old/inactive social media accounts could be archived and preserved like any other genealogy record, perhaps after a couple of decades. The accounts that are archived eventually could end up onto genealogy websites. Imagine genealogy database titles like, “U.S., Facebook Accounts, 2004-2010” or “U.S., Instagram Accounts, 2011-2016.” In this scenario, if you would want to find more about your ancestors, you would not only need to keep track of their vital information but also note their contact information like their Snapchat or Instagram username.


Of course, these are just speculations and this probably isn’t exactly what genealogy research in the future will be like. But, these are just my thoughts. Family history research will definitely be a lot different in the future, for better or for worse. Hopefully the field will continue to grow overtime. Well, we at the Hidden Branch wish you happy holidays and a good end to the year!

See you in 2050!


  1. Futuristic City Night View Wallpaper
  2. Vital Records
  3. The 1980 U.S. Census Logo
  4. Family at the Airport
  5. U.S. Divorce Rate Statistics
  6. Social Media Apps
  7. Skyline of Sydney, Australia, 2050

What’s In A Name?

So, my first ‘tip’ for young genealogists is to not take names so seriously. Unless you have someone named, for example, Robert Herbert Marshmallow and you are able to find a vital record for a Robert Herbert Marshmallow. In that case, you are lucky. But what happens when the names don’t work in your favour? I never realized how important spelling and names were in genealogy until I began research on my McDonald ancestors.

Let’s have a look at an example from my own family tree.

This one family, consisting of Findlay McDonald, Catherine McDonald and their five children Ferchan, John, Nancy, Margaret and Catherine moved from Scotland to NSW, Australia in 1839. I had always had trouble finding information on this particular family before and after their arrival in Australia, and it was all because of their names.

To begin with, my grandfather has always told me that these McDonald ancestors were always spelled with a ‘Mc’, never ‘Mac’. It surprised me to find that many of the records had the family listed as ‘Mac’. The marriage of Findlay’s parents, Ferchan McDonald and Mary McIllwraith (spelling from the Immigration records) turned up no results. It turns out that Mary’s maiden surname was in fact, Macillavrae. Findlay, the father, has been found many times in other Australian records with his name spelled as Finlay/Finley and even Finly. If that doesn’t make it hard enough, I could find no record of their eldest son Ferchan, so I looked at other variations of the name, including; Ferchar, Fearchar, Feracher, Fergus and Farquhar, all of which have turned up no results. To make that even more confusing, it seems to be that Findlay and Catherine had another son after their arrival in 1844, by the name of Francis. This leaves out any possibility that “Ferchan” could be “Francis”. Francis, you would think, would be easy to find information on. However, on Findlay’s death certificate the informant was his son, Frank McDonald. This meant that Francis went by two names. Still no results.

For a while I gave up on the males and began looking for the female children, which is notably a lot harder as at marriage they would have changed their surnames. Searches for Margaret/ Margarete turned up no results, so I looked for Nancy. After finding nothing with the name “Nancy McDonald” I turned to Rootschat.com to see if anyone else could find anything for this particular person. A baptism notice for the particular year of her birth in Scotland came back with the father as Finlay, no mention of a mother, and the child’s name as Ann.

Moral of the story, be lenient with your names. A name registered at birth may not be the name they used in the Census records, they may go by their middle name or even by a nickname.

Thanks for reading!

Emmerson B~

G’Day from Down Under!

G’day! I’m Emmerson and I’m one of the newest members of The Hidden Branch. If you can’t guess from the title, I’m from a little country in the Southern Hemisphere called Australia.

I’m 21, which admittedly is a bit older than the rest of The Hidden Branch. However, I started my family history search when I was 12 years old. So that’s 9 whole years of genealogy!

I remember what it was like, with little access to money in order to purchase those vital records, and how annoying it could be as a 16/17 year old.

With that experience, I hope to help other young genealogists who encounter that same paywall problem with the tips and tricks I used! As well, I hope I inspire others to understand that family history is much more than dates and places. I would like to show you how you can access the emotions of your ancestors with these vital records.

I specialize in Australian and New Zealand records, as well as English records. I’m trying to enlighten myself upon the Scottish and Irish record system as I also have ancestors from there!

I have almost finished my History degree, and have just started my Diploma of Family History. After both are completed, I aspire to become certified as a genealogist and am studying hard to do so!

When I’m not at work or University, I’m in the archives room at the library, at home compiling my family histories or strolling around the local cemetery.

If you are on Instagram or Twitter, you can reach me at: @/ourpasts