Planning a successful genealogy trip

In less than a week, I am taking off for a little genealogy trip out east. This trip, I will be researching my maternal side of the family. A few years back, my dad and I went on a road trip out west to research his family, and a year prior to that, he and I took a short weekend trip to Illinois to do some research. As my trip gets closer, I’ve been starting to plan a research strategy. Since I’ll be flying several states away from my home town, I want to make the most of my time.


  1. Create a research plan. I have made a list of the records I want to find, the people I want to research, and the places I want to visit. I have found out which records are available where, and made note of specific details like call number, etc, if possible. This time around, I have adapted a spreadsheet as a research plan. I’ve made a calendar of the days I will be on the ground out east and included the opening hours of all the places I’d like to visit. I also mapped out the locations I want to visit so I can hit up places that are geographically close together and therefore minimize back tracking.
  2. Make contact before I depart. I have emailed the archives I plan on visiting before I leave to make sure they have will be open, clear up copying fees, and clarify special rules I need to be aware of. On the first trip with my dad, in order to see church records, we had to make an appointment. We learned the courthouse doesn’t allow cellphones in the building so knew to store them safely away. Some places may only allow a certain number of people in research rooms, some don’t allow pens, or scanners or cameras. It’s best to know before I go.
  3. Prioritize. This means doing some research before I leave. Since my trip involves a flight, I don’t want to get home and realize I missed something. In order to maximize our time, Dad and I had a list of the top questions we needed answered. We prioritized the records that weren’t available online or would otherwise be difficult to obtain. This trip I might visit some cemeteries, even though there are already photos on Find A Grave. That will be low priority, but if I have time, I’ll do it.
  4. Be flexible. When dad and I went out west, we stumbled upon a historical society we didn’t know existed. They turned out to be a wealth of information, and since it was a very, very small town, they knew the families we were researching. They told us we needed to go visit with an elderly relative who lived nearby and even got her phone number for us. We also learned that a general store had a sort of local museum in the basement and the walls were covered in old (labeled) photos, including some of our ancestors. These stops weren’t originally in our plan, but they turned out to be valuable.
  5. Bring snacks. We were so busy skipping to and from sites that we didn’t even think about lunch. But when our stomachs started to grumble, I had snacks ready to go and dad had a cooler of drinks. Genealogy fuel!
  6. Take a risk. At the courthouse, we found death listings for a man and a lady with our family name but we weren’t certain if they were part of our family. We ended up requesting the death certificates anyways, figuring we could at least rule them out. Turns out the man was our family member, but the lady was not. Boy am I glad we didn’t pass on those death certificates!
  7. Pay it forward. On both trips with my dad, we visited cemeteries. After visiting our ancestor’s graves, my dad turned to me and asked if there were any requests for photos on the Find A Grave website. And each time, I whipped out a list I had in my pocket. I have requested photos on the website before, so I feels it’s just good karma to pay it back when I can. I will do the same on my upcoming trip.
  8. Don’t forget the living. While searching for dead people I managed to learn more about my dad along the way as well. We also had the serendipity of meeting our older relative who the locals led us to. On my upcoming trip, I will try to meet with my great uncle. I am also going to interview my aunt. A few weeks after returning from our trip out west, my dad received news that his aunt had passed away. You never know when someone won’t be around.

#52Ancestors | Natural Disaster

Messina Earthquake Underwood_&_Underwood_©_1906_No._10495_-_Messina_-_The_once_beautiful_Water-front_after_the_earthquake

The once beautiful waterfront after the earthquake. Digging for bodies.

My great grand-father, Frank DeCarlo (Francesco Carlo) was born in 1880 in the tiny town of Rosalí, just outside Reggio Calabria in the south of Italy. His parents were Giuseppe Carlo, a laborer, and Maria Arecchi, both also born in Rosalí. I’m not sure what his life was like there, but by 1909 he had immigrated to the United States. Records of his exact arrival in the U.S. are conflicting, indicating dates as early as 1898 and as late at 1913, but I know he was in the U.S. in 1909 because that is when he married my great-grandmother, Maria Bianculli.1

His immigration to the U.S. was timely though, because in the early morning hours of December 28, 1908, Calabria and Messina, Sicily were rocked by a 7.1 earthquake. The quake is said to have been “preceded for a few seconds by a singing sound like a far away wind storm which rapidly drew nearer and became a rumble and a roar when the earth movement began.”2  About ten minutes later, a 30 foot tsunami further destroyed the Reggio seafront.3

One report stated that the whole of the city has been razed to the ground.

“The greater part of the sea front is under water. The whole area of the ground below Reggio seemed to have turned over and a great part of the city is in ruins, covered by the sea…Access by sea is impossible and the town cannot be approached by land…the country has a torn and twisted appearance, roads, bridges, foot-paths and railway lines being uprooted.” 3

At least 75,000 lives were lost, including at least two of Frank’s uncles and six cousins. Neither his parents nor his siblings were listed in the death registers for the town following the earthquake.4  The disaster precipitated large amounts of people emigrating to America. Whether my Frank was one of these, or he managed to escape before the disaster, I don’t yet know.

Photo: Underwood and Underwood, The once beautiful water-front after the earthquake. Messina, Sicily, Italy. 1908 catalogue # 10495. Accessed 10 Sep, 2018 from:



  1. State of New Jersey, Bureau of Vital Statistics. Certificate and Record of Marriage for Francesco Dicarlo and Teresina Bianculli (24 Apr 1909). State file #9-90. New Jersey State Archives. 
  2.  Perret, Frank A. “Preliminary Report On The Messina Earthquake Of December 28, 1908”. The American Journal of Science. 1909 p 323. New Haven, CT; Google Books, accessed 10 Sep, 2018. 
  3.  “The Italian Earthquake” Scientific American Supplement No. 1726: 71–74. 30 January 1909; Google Books, accessed 10 Sep, 2018. 
  4. Morti, terremoto. 1908.  Sfoglia i registri, Archivio di Stato di Reggio Calabria, Stato civile italiano, Rosalì. Accessed 7 Sep, 2018 from 

#52Ancestors | Back to School

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It’s that time of year. In thinking about this subject, I remembered I had these school photos of my grandfather, William Ray Fitzgerald, and great aunt, Lona.

In 1937, they were living in North Cowiche, Washington. My grandfather, called Pat back then, attended Cowiche School for 1st and 2nd grade.1 My aunt Lona wrote about this in a letter2 to my mom:

“Mother always sewed all our clothes -every Christmas- new flannel pj’s and later school uniforms- made from her own patterns from newspaper. I still have one. We (Pat and I) started school in Cowiche. We lived next to a apple orchard and Daddy would always bring us huge apples to take to school to share with class. Pat went to school to a whole year with no kids diseases and I got them all in my first year. My second year was spent a lot at home with ear problems.”

In 1940, their father died of pneumonia. The family then moved to Renton, WA where they attended St. Anthony School. The last photo, though not marked with a year, is likely his 3rd or 4th grade school picture.1 My aunt Lona also makes an appearance in this photo, front and center. How cute are they? She wrote:

“Daddy made mother promise to raise us Catholic, so we went to St. Anthony’s school and had to walk- it was a long way.”

She also recounts how they always had lots of school related things like homework and bazaars, which involved selling raffle tickets.

“One time mother was really mad because she had to buy the tickets we couldn’t sell. She wouldn’t go to the bazaar and felt ashamed when she won a huge set of Franciscan China.”




  1. All three photos owned by my father, given to him by Lona Fitzgerald. 
  2. Letter written by Lona Fitzgerald, approximately 2007, in possession of my parents. 

#52Ancestors |Smallpox Lands Keegan in the Pest House

While searching for my Keegans of Montana in the online newspapers, I stumbled upon a mention of my 3rd great uncle, Hugh Keegan, being held in a pest house after contracting smallpox. Sounds creepy crawly, right?

Born in 1874, Hugh Keegan was the youngest child of Hugh and Margaret (Cavanagh) McKeegan and brother to my 2nd great grandmother, Catherine (Keegan) Fitzgerald. The family actually started in the Ormstown area of Quebec where Hugh’s sibling were born. They then moved to Morris, IL, where Hugh was born. In 1890, the Keegan family left for Sand Coulee, Montana. In 1900, Hugh is 25 years old and living with his parents, who are in their 60’s, his older sister Martha, and her husband, and his nephew, William J Fitzgerald (my great grandfather). Hugh is working as a coal miner. 1

Two years later, by April 28, 1902, Hugh has contracted smallpox. The paper states he has been brought to the pest house in Great Falls from Sand Coulee to be cared for.2 On May 4, 1902, another article states that he is “afflicted with a malignant form of smallpox” and has caused a great scare among the locals. It goes on to say that “he exposed may before his removal to the pest house, sleeping with members of the family, going on the streets and mingling with men in the saloon.” He was quarantined but “should have reported to the proper authorities before going home to his aged parents.” 3 By May 19, 1902, he been proclaimed cured and is released from the pest house.4 His illness lasted about 20 days.

I was curious about these pest houses, so I did a little research. Basically, these were houses where people with contagious diseased such as smallpox, scarlet fever, and typhus would be quarantined until they either recovered or died.5 One local article about the opening of a new pest house explained the need for the house because hospitals refused to accept such cases. The city had been renting a shack and employing a nurse when cases popped up, but it was too expensive, so they were going to build a shack on the county poor farm.6

As a reminder, smallpox was a contagious disease characterized by a fever and a distinctive rash that progresses to pustules. Before eradication, three out of ten people with the disease died. The article about Hugh mentions that he had a malignant case of smallpox, so I looked into that too. It was a rare version of smallpox, more common in children. It was also called flat-type because the lesions remained flat and never progressed to the pustular stage.7 A vaccine was developed at the end of the 1700s, and in 1901, after the creation of the Montana State Board of Health, vaccines were required before attending school.8 Smallpox was eradicated in 1980.



  1. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Year: 1900; Census Place: Sand Coulee, Cascade, Montana; Page: 18; Enumeration District: 0151; FHL microfilm: 1240910 
  2.  The Butte Daily Post, Keegan Has Smallpox,  28 Apr 1902, page 4 (accessed 12 Nov, 2017) 
  3.  Great Falls Tribune, Afraid of Smallpox, 4 May 1902 , Page 3 (accessed 12 Nov, 2017) 
  4.  Great Falls Tribune, Cases of Smallpox, 18 May 1902, Page 8 (accessed 12 Nov, 2017) 
  5. Jones, Jennifer; The Dead History: Giving the Past New Life, History of Ogden’s Pest Houses; 15 Feb, 2016 (accessed 4 Aug 2018), 
  6. Great Falls Tribune, Another Pesthouse, 8 Feb, 1901, page 10 (accessed 4 Aug 2018) 
  7. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Smallpox, 12 Jul 2017 (accessed 4 Aug, 2018) 
  8. Hollenbach, Natasha; Montana History Revealed, Vaccination Not Quarantine, 15 Jul, 2015 (accessed 4 Aug, 2018) 

Eating our way through Reykjavik

In June, my two sisters-in-law and I took a little trip to Iceland. We stayed for 5 nights in this AirBnb and explored Reykjavik and the nearby countryside via car. The weather was in the 50s, mostly overcast with some rain and one day with some blue skies and sunshine! With is being a few days before the summer solstice, we had nearly 24 hours of daylight.

After an early morning arrival, we spent the early evening on a food tour with The Reykjavik Food Walk.

There were about 12 people on the tour, including New Zealanders, Canadians and an Irish couple.  We walked around the Old Town area, learning about the early politics of the country and slowly ate our way up toward the big white church, aka Hallgrimskiirkja. We also learned about the country’s strong belief in elves.

One of the first things we ate was the famous Iceland hot dog, which is mostly made from lamb. It comes with condiments on top, but I ordered mine without because I am super picky (the guide was horrified I’d eat it plain). Now, they weren’t bad hot dogs, but coming from a state like Wisconsin, where we take our sausages seriously, it was just okay in my book.

We ate two fish meals. The first was a fish pan meal, with a white fish and veggies cooked together in one pan. This was lemony and delicious! Their traditional fish stew was next. This was not a stew like I think of it, with a broth or gravy. It looked more like Thanksgiving stuffing to me.

Continuing on with a lamb theme, we stopped in a pub for some lamb stew (and actually looked like a stew should). It was mostly like eating any other stew, but was tasty and especially warming on a cool day. One things I realized over the course of the trip was that Icelanders like their soups, which makes sense in a country that almost never sees temps over 60 degrees.

After a stop at a delicatessen for some cheeses and smoked meats (including horse!), we ended at a cafe for some dessert of rye bread ice cream. It sounds horrible, but it’s not! It has little chocolate bits mixed in and is topped with whipped cream and a rhubarb syrup. It was so good, we went back two days later for more!




#52Ancestors | Travel


Stopping points on the Richmond’s route

My 4th great grandfather, Reuben Richmond, took his family on one heck of a road trip. In the 1860s. Via covered wagon.

Reuben, his wife, Sarah Jane Miller, and three children, Clinton Marshall, Joseph O. and Sarah Etta left their home in Glencoe, KY, in the late 1850s. It’s not known when they left, but it was after 1856, when Sarah Etta was born in Kentucky, but before 1858, when a 4th child, Mary, was born in Missouri. It is said that Mary was so frail her mother didn’t believe she would survive the trip and wouldn’t leave St. Louis until they had acquired a casket. The family was travelling by covered wagon drawn by oxen and leading one cow.

They arrived in Denver in 1859 and set up in a village there for a bit while the children attended a subscription school. It was here in Denver that Reuben met up with George Bruffey, with whom they joined on their way west and who documented their travels.


See source below

The Richmonds and George left Cache la Poudre outside Fort Collins on September 7, 1863. They traveled with a group of 47 men, 9 women and 14 children. They had with them 2 yoke oxen; some steers and heifers; 2 muzzle loading rifles; a Colt revolver; and flour, bacon, coffee, salt, 3 gallons of whiskey, beans and rice to last them a year. Take note, Oregon Trail players!

They traveled over the Laramie Plains to Fort Halleck where they stopped for two days to shoe the horses and oxen. They then joined up with the Mormon Trail at the Laramie River. They camped at Muddy Creek in the Salt Lake Basin and then moved on toward Soda Springs, where they met a group of people from Alder Gulch and decided to make that their destination.

On November 4th, they reached the Snake River where they had to row the wagons across. They arrived in Nevada City, MT on November 12th. At the time the city had 20 cabins. Daughter Sarah reported that the family stayed in an abandoned cabin until a new one could be built. Reuben later opened a blacksmith shop.

Mary Richmond did survive that trip, despite her mother’s worries. She grew up to marry August Wehrle and became my 3rd great grandmother.


Pioneer Trails and Trials Compiled by the Madison County History Association 1976. Entry for Richmond Family by Larry K. Jacobson

File:Oregon Trail reenactment – NARA – 286054.jpg. (2015, February 22). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 01:25, July 15, 2018



#52Ancestors | The Six Wives of James Baker Warner

Yep, I’m going rogue. I’ve struggled with some of the prompts, so I am just going to write about whichever ancestor strikes my fancy.

James Baker Warner is my 3rd great grandfather on my mom’s side. He was born June 22, 1879 to Mary Ann Baker and James Warner in Surrey England.1 He was the first of ten children. The family immigrated to Canada when he was 142, and then down to New Hampshire after 1901.

In 1903, at the age of 23, he marries Annie Hughes, age 22. It’s the first marriage for both of them. He is listed as a laborer.3 A stillborn son is born to them in August of 1904.4 In 1907, another son, James, is born, but he dies two month later of marasmus.5

The next record of James I have is his second marriage. I don’t have any record of Annie’s death or a divorce. In 1908, James marries my 3rd great grandmother, Sara Matilda Zutavern. They are married at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chester, PA. He is working as a cotton finisher in Bergen, NJ at the time of their marriage.6 They settle in Bergen and over the next two years, have two children, including my 2nd great grandfather James William Warner. 7 Six year after their marriage, Sarah dies, leaving him with two small children.8


In the 1920 census,  he is working as a finisher at a silk mill and is listed with an Irene M Warner. Along with his two children is a third child, Edith D.9 She is older than his two children, so I suspect she is Irene’s daughter from a previous marriage. This is the only mention of Irene that I have. I have been unable to find a marriage record for James and Irene, or a death or divorce record. I also have been unable to track Edith further.

By 1928, James has moved to Virginia and married Ruth Virginia Nunnally. Their marriage record lists him as a widow.10 In the 1930 census they are living in Delaware, but he’s still working in the textile industry as a cotton finisher. Ruth’s son from her previous marriage is living with them.11 1940 finds them living in New Jersey where James is working as a foreman at a cotton mill.12 Ruth dies shortly after the census is taken.13

James makes his way back to Virginia and marries Lillian Ragan in 1949. This is the wife I have the most doubts regarding because their marriage certificate lists James as being a doctor. However, his age and the names of his parents fit. And Lillian is listed as working in the textile industry, the field James has worked in up to this point.14 They must divorce, because Lillian doesn’t die until 1987.15 However…

James marries one last time in 1953 in North Carolina. Clevra Glendolia Batchelor becomes his sixth and final wife.16 When James dies in 1966, she is mentioned in his obituary along with his daughter, Iola.17

The longest period of time (as an adult) James went without being married was 9 years. I don’t know if he was just the type of guy that needed a woman to take care of him or what, but he was certainly a serial husband!



  1. 1881 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004. 
  2.  UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. 
  3. New Hampshire Death Records, 1654-1947, database with images, Family Search. Entry for Stillborn Warner, 4 Aug 1904; citing Manchester, New Hampshire, Bureau Vital Records and Health Statistics, Concord; FHL microfilm 2,131,878. 
  4.  New England Historical Genealogical Society; New Hampshire Bureau of Vital Records, Concord, New Hampshire; New Hampshire, Marriage and Divorce Records, 1659-1947. [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: 
  5.  New Hampshire, Death and Disinterment Records, 1754-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2013. 
  6.  Pennsylvania, Marriages, 1852-1968 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016. 
  7.  Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1669-2013 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. 
  8.   Delaware County Daily Times – 29 May 1914. Chester, Pennsylvania. [database online: accessed 20 Jan 2018]. 
  9.  1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Year: 1920; Census Place: Easton Ward 3, Northampton, Pennsylvania; Roll: T625_1609; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 110 
  10.  Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc, 2014. 
  11.  1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2002. Year: 1930; Census Place: Wilmington, New Castle, Delaware; Page: 17A; Enumeration District: 0040; FHL microfilm: 2340025 
  12.  1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. Year: 1940; Census Place: Millville, Cumberland, New Jersey; Roll: m-t0627-02327; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 6-60. 
  13.  Virginia, Death Records, 1912-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015. 
  14.  Virginia, Marriage Records, 1936-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015. 
  15.  North Carolina, Death Indexes, 1908-2004 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2007. 
  16.  North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015. 
  17. Wilson Daily Times Thursday, April 5, 1973. Wilson, NC. [database online: accessed 28 May 2018] 

#52Ancestors | Same Name

Yikes, I’m falling way behind on the posts. This week’s prompt, Same Name, could take many directions. I have so many people in my tree with the same name. I’ve got a string of William Fitzgeralds, James Warners and more. And while I could have written about them, I decided to instead write about my and my sister’s namesakes.

So the story goes that my mom didn’t know she was having twin daughters. My parents had decided on naming a baby girl “Wilma Jean” after my paternal grandmother (pictured on right), who died several years prior. Having entered the world first, my sister became Wilma Jean. And then I made a surprise entrance and my parents needed another name. They chose Mary Ellen, after my maternal grandmother (pictured on left). So despite us being twins, we have very un-matching names, which I have always appreciated.



#52Ancestors | Going to the Chapel

Going to the chapel…to view records! Back in 2015, my dad and I took a little road trip to Morris, IL to research his Fitzgerald and Keegan ancestors. During trip preparations I sought out all the places we would likely need to visit. I knew his family was Catholic and decided to email the local Catholic church to see if they had any records, and to my great delight, they did! I just had to make an appointment for the day we would be there and they would have someone there to pull the books out of the vault.

On the appointed date and time, we watched as the kind lady pulled the old parish register out of a fire proof vault and presented it to us for our perusal. We flipped to the known dates of birth and marriages to find those records first, then we perused the book looking for the Fitzgerald and Keegan names to find relatives. The back of the book also had a list of donations given by members at occasions such as Easter and Christmas

William Fitzgerald and Catherine Keegan were married on November 23, 1883 at Morris Catholic Church. Their witnesses were Patrick Keegan (her brother) and Hallie Lindsey. 1


Their son, William, was baptized on July 28, 1889. His sponsors were William McGuire and Ann Fitzgerald (his aunt). 2

Even though we had proof of birth and marriage before visiting the church, it was neat to see the original records for ourselves. I’m glad I took the time to find out if the records still existed and where they were stored. Just goes to show you, it doesn’t hurt to ask!

  1. Photo of  title page and marriage record taken by me, November 2015, at Immaculate Conception Catholic Parish, Morris, IL. 
  2.   Photo of  baptism record taken by me, November 2015, at Immaculate Conception Catholic Parish, Morris, IL. 

52 Ancestors | Another Language


Birth record of Francesco Carlo, 1880, Reggio Calabria, Italy

As I’ve traced my family further and further back, I’ve come across records in languages other than English. After the initial excitement of finding such a record comes the frustration of trying to translate it. Half the battle is deciphering the penmanship, and when the language is foreign, this can be more difficult.

I found the above birth record for my great grandfather, Frank DeCarlo (Francesco Carlo) simply by paging through the Archives for Personal Data Research in Italy. I have no idea how I even found the website but once I did, I clicked through to the records for Reggio Calabria until I found birth records (nati) for the town I knew he was likely born. And luckily for me, he was born in January, so I didn’t have to flip far until I found his record. The first step was to punch all the typed words into Google translate. Not so easy was trying to read the handwriting. I struggled with this for some time, even asking a friend fluent in Italian to help but she had trouble with the handwriting. Eventually, I found this helpful guide to translating Italian records. I still don’t know what all the writing at the end says, but it looks pretty standard from record to record, so I am hopeful it doesn’t contain crucial information.


Marriage of Hugh McKeegan and Margaret Cavanagh, 1855. 

Though I don’t have any French ancestors, some of my Irish ancestors lived in Quebec before coming to the United States. And that means records in French. Thankfully I can find these on Ancestry pretty easily. The handwriting again was a struggle and I admit it took many perusals of this record to figure out everything it said. My particular record was a little fuzzy, but I read a similar, more clearly written record to decipher the filler words. This guide was also helpful.

While records written in another language are challenging, they are that much more rewarding when you finally crack the code!


Italian record:  Antenati, Gli Archivi per la Ricerca Anagrafica. Archivio di Stato di Reggio Calabria, Stato civile italiano, Rosali, Nati, 1880, Immagine 4. (accessed 20 Mar, 2016).

French record: Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2008.