• News

    Welcome to the Crossroads!

    Welcome to Genealogy Crossroads, where your ancestors and history meet. 🙂 Today marks the launch of a new adventure!

    Genealogy Crossroads

    The adventure starts here with the blog. Genealogy Crossroads’ primary purpose is to explore where our ancestors intersect with history. We often get caught up in the pursuit of finding more family members and data but don’t spend much time thinking about what life was like for them.

    However, it is important to also think of them three-dimensionally. They were living, breathing people whose lives and choices have brought you to where you are today: reading this blog on technology they couldn’t have dreamed of!

    Exploring the history around our ancestors can also help us break through brick walls, answer important questions, and bring us closer to the events that shaped their lives and ours. Why did your ancestor move across the country? What was it like to travel across the ocean on a wooden ship or fight in the Civil War? What did they eat? And the eternal question: Where on earth did all the records go?

    Just a few members of the family

    Who am I?

    After leaving corporate America last year, I’ve been on a long, strange trip involving teaching, writing, training, surviving a pandemic (knock on wood!), and stalling out on a move abroad–thanks to said pandemic. After all of these pivots, I needed to figure out what to do now instead of waiting for the world to figure things out.

    What has emerged in these uncertain times is that you just have to grab the bull by the horns. And buy the toilet paper when you see it.

    I needed a new career. What I wanted was a career that would be sustainable, allow me to help people, and also let me do what I love.

    When I reviewed my skills and passions, I realized that there had been an obvious choice all along: genealogy!

    My interest in genealogy really blossomed back in 2003. I had been laid off but not yet let go, so I had a lot of free time. I was also engaged to be married and thinking a lot about family. And online genealogy was taking off. Voila! A new love was born!

    Remember when?

    What To Expect

    Genealogy Crossroads (GC) will look at the big and small events and the details that were a part of our ancestor’s lives, including:

    • Daily Life: What life was like, such as food, music, clothes and more.
    • Social & Cultural History: What was going on in the community? And in the country?
    • Migration: Why the wilderness of Arkansas Territory? Or the wilds of Wisconsin?
    • Wars and Conflicts: No dry battle facts! Instead, we’ll look at what these events meant for our ancestors’ lives.
    • Maps and Geographic Challenges: We’ll examine changing boundaries and place names plus historic map goodness.
    • Last but not least: Genealogy Skill Building–the eternal pursuit!

    Never fear, resources to help you on your own journey will be included in the articles. The primary focus will be on American history, though also expect some exploration of foreign lands (especially Europe–my area of expertise).

    You’ll get to meet my own family along the way and find out how I’m working through my research challenges. Like what happens when your ancestor’s regiment burns down the courthouse full of family documents. 😣

    My goal is to help expand your understanding of your ancestors and their lives. I also hope to help you with your own research as we go along.

    I look forward to our journey through the past. Please let me know below what area of your family’s history interests you most or that you find most challenging!


    Michelle 🙂

  • Newsreel,  US Civil War

    Introducing GC Newsreel!

    Welcome to the first Newsreel article!  This is a new feature for sharing quick genealogy news and updates. I know this isn’t (yet?) a short news film but it does include a video so close enough. 😄 

    Civil War Widow Dies…in 2021

    After starting my family research I realized something that blew my mind: My grandmother was partially raised by/near her grandparents (not the mind-blowing part).  And her grandfather had served in the Civil War.  Though her grandparents passed away before I was born, I did know my grandmother before she passed away.  This meant that I knew someone who knew someone that was in the Civil War! A war fought 150 years ago was suddenly much closer at hand! 🤯

    Which brings me to more recent news:  A 101-year old woman passed away this month, which is news in itself.  But more surprisingly, she was the last known (and plausible) Civil War widow.  Apparently, at the age of 17, Viola Jackson married 93-year-old former Union Soldier James Bolin.  She was his caretaker and he married her in part to pass on his service pension as a thank you for her care.  She never applied for the pension after his death, however. And there is talk of his children threatening her with exposure of her “sin” if she did apply. 

    Setting aside the unfortunate family drama, this makes my own connection pale in comparison.  It is an excellent reminder that the past is never as far away as it seems.  We may now have few if any living connections to the Civil War. But we don’t have to try too hard to make a connection similar to mine:  the people who knew people.  And to take it a step further, those who fought in the Civil War would have known the last of those who witnessed the American Revolution.  So we know people who knew people who fought in or survived the American Revolution. 

    Of course we could take this to its absurd extremes, but it is a powerful reminder that we are all connected.  Past, present, and future!

    Research Tip

    If you have found your own Civil War ancestors, you can order their service and pension records from the National Archives for a fee. Check out the NA’s site for Civil War Records. For any Confederate soldiers, note that the pensions were received from the state they served in. You’ll need to contact the state’s archive department for those.

    New Season of Finding Your Roots

    It’s back, baby!  The amazing and dapper Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and the team will be back with a new season of Finding Your Roots on Tuesday, January 19th.  Check out the preview: 

    Consult PBS for your local schedule.  If you, like me, have cut the cord, you can stream it live when it airs (click on the Live TV button in the upper corner).  For past episodes, you can find some online and all of them through then PBS Passport (which requires a monthly membership donation of $5+)

    Are you as excited as I am for FYR’s return?  What connections to historic events have found in your research?  And what do you think about the Newsreel idea?  Please let me know below! Thanks!

    Happy Viewing!


    Image Credit

    Newsreel Graphic: by author, ©Michelle Keel 2021

  • Research

    New Year, New Research Form

    We haven’t known each other very long, but I have to confess something.  I struggle with organization.  Wrangling all those family members feels like a full time job!

    As I mentioned in the beginning, I’m pivoting to life as a full-time genealogist.  Part of doing this was getting my own ship in shape. If I was going to do genealogy in earnest, I wanted to be an example. And not have the genealogy equivalent Monica’s Messy Closet. This should be easy, right? I can hear you laughing now…

    Organizing Blues

    Our historic counterparts had a difficult challenge.  Reams and reams of paper: notes, documents, family trees, you name it.  They had to find systems to organize everything and keep it straight.  By hand.  On paper.  

    I love paper (maybe too much) but in the 21st century there is no excuse for not digitizing the process as much as possible!  But how?  

    Keeping Track of the Peeps

    The available genealogy apps will help you keep track of your tree as you build it.  But I haven’t found one yet that lets you keep track of all of your notes, especially when you are still building a case for an ancestor or a family branch.  Or if you are also building a database of geographic and general historic information that pertains to your family.  Or those random tidbits that you find that you need to follow up on (aka distracting and tempting bright shiny objects).   

    Research Template

    One of the most rewarding but most complicated facets of genealogy is doing the deep research.  I’m a big fan of research.  But there are times when it can feel overwhelming.  You are going in circles and not finding anything.  And you really can’t imagine why so many generations of your family decided to go with the same name.  Over and over and over again.  They didn’t need to use Apple or North, but could they ditch Hardy for maybe Daniel just once?!  I digress… 

    Thank you, census taker, for confirming there really are two Hardy’s

    Brick wall ancestors especially can hang out for years, unknown or unconfirmed.  And your research will ebb and flow as time and interest allow.  It is these ancestors that definitely need dedicated research notes.  So you don’t spend half of your valuable time trying to remember what you looked at, what you found, and what you thought about it all.  

    But even your “easier” ancestors deserve their own individual notes.  We are all guilty of citation failures. Having a record of where you found your information and why you thought it was relevant or accurate will save you much heartache later!  

    The Template Search and Creation Process

    While I had been loosely note-taking for years for the medium-to-difficult ancestors, one particular person inspired me to get more organized with my research. 

    Meet Hardy Keel, my paternal 4x great-grandfather.  This guy is a ghost!   I’m not even sure he is the correct individual–this is just my best guess.  I have been picking at him for over 10 years and notes about him were scattered throughout his page, his son’s page, a family page, a few random musings pages.  A complete mess.  

    I knew I needed a few things to make this easier for myself:

    1. A template to track my research–a traditional Research Log–and
    2. A place to collect all the info for that person in one place.
    3. And all of this had to be easy to use or I would stop using it and be back into chaos.

    Basically, I wanted one-stop shopping for everything about a person and where I left off, what I already knew, and what my thoughts were about all of this.

    After googling and researching, I found a template that seemed like a good starting place.  However it didn’t quite meet all my needs for centralizing a person’s info as much as reasonably possible.  So I supersized it to more of a dossier on the person and my research.  

    The Template

    The template acts as a master sheet for both the ancestor and my on-going research.  

    We start with the basics: Who is this person? What do I know?

    The Top Part: Who Am I Researching?

    For the infamous Hardy, this is what I have so far:

    Note all the “Assumptions.” And my note-taking fail. Good times.

    For the rest of the file, I have sections to complete as I work through the research on the individual:

    I know this diverges a bit from common practice.  Usually, a research log is presented as this stand alone item, that should be used as a master sheet for research only and is in a restrictive table format.  For me, my template works better.  I’m highly contextual and having it all laid out in one space helps me find connections I can’t find across multiple notes.  

    In the Real World

    There are exceptions, of course. Info or inquiries shared across numerous individuals deserve their own note. Nor would you paste in all of your location information and research. This is where tagging or using keywords and a good search function can help (see Applications below). If you would like to copy the Evernote template, it is available here.

    I want to emphasize that you should always do you.  Edit this to your heart’s desire.  If you like a more compartmentalized structure, break the template up into separate parts you feel makes sense.  Play with it until it works.  My template is always a work in progress and gets edited to meet the person in question.  If something doesn’t apply, delete the line. Need a line? Add one in!

    Lastly, of course individual notes are only one piece of the puzzle.  In the future, we’ll discuss keeping track of entire families and how to track your overall research history.  Yep.  There is no way to escape some form of overall tracking!  


    This is where a note-taking application enters the equation.  And where personal preference really comes into play.  I’m partial to Evernote* but others prefer Microsoft’s OneNote.  There are any number of other applications as well.  Fair warning:  I’m a PC user but also an iPhone/iPad mobile user.  I look for apps that work well with this multi-OS environment.  

    The two big players: Evernote & OneNote


    The important things to consider:

    • Does it have desktop and mobile applications that sync easily?  And is the mobile app robust enough for your needs?  Both Evernote and OneNote have desktop and mobile apps that sync. And both have mobile apps that are functional but not fully operational.  
    • How will you organize your notes?  If you are using Tags, Evernote is the reigning king.  If you like tabs, OneNote is better. But beware the differences between the robust OneNote (formerly OneNote 2016) desktop app (Office subscription required) and the much more limited default OneNote for Windows 10 free app.  
    • Do you like using templates?  Evernote again is excellent for this, as is OneNote.  The free OneNote for Windows 10 app does not do templates but you could get creative if you needed.
    • Cost and Data Limits:  Evernote has a free version but come with data limitations.  If you are adding images or documents to your notes, you may run out quickly.  Their paid versions allow you more space.  I use the Premium version and have never run out of my allowance, despite being a daily user.  The robust OneNote requires a subscription/license to MS Office 2016/2019/365.  OneNote for Windows 10 is free.  Both mobile apps are also free, but have limited functionality.  

    Please let me know below what you think of the template:  What do you like?  What would you change?  Do you think you will adopt for yourself?  Lastly, which note taking app do you use? Thanks!  

    I hope you are now ready to start cleaning out the genealogical closet and getting all those ancestors in line! Happy Organizing! 🙂

    *Evernote is in the middle of rolling out their shiny new Version 10 for desktop. It is taking some getting used to. I use both the Legacy and v10 on my computer currently, since 10 is missing some features still (like easy backups, weirdly).

    Image Credits

    Header Image: From Adobe Stock Photos, “Closeup a pile of old paper on a table in an abandoned building”.
    Friends GIF: From Tenor. “You Weren’t Supposed To See This – Messy GIF”
    Hardy Keel Census Excerpt: Ancestry.com1820 United States Federal Census [database on-line], Beaufort, North Carolina. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.
    Evernote Templates: Created by Michelle Keel ©2020, using Evernote (not sponsored).
    Evernote/OneNote Logos: Pinterest Pin 62557882302806936.

  • Holidays,  News

    Happy New Year!

    Just a quick note to say we made it!!

    May this year be a much better year for everyone! Stay safe and stay tuned for some organization tips to get the year started right! They will hopefully be more helpful than the weight-loss tips we forget by January 15th. 😀

    In the interim, check out New Yorkers going wild on New Year’s in this footage from 1938! Have you or your family ever been to Times Square for New Year’s Eve? Let me know below!

    Image Credit: 2021 Images created with Canva

  • Colonial

    The Mayflower at 400

    This year we celebrated the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage. While this milestone wasn’t the biggest news of the year (😐), it is still important to history. And to the large number of us with colonial ancestors!

    Mary Chilton arriving on land

    Since we are all busy this holiday season, I want to focus on some of the new resources released with the anniversary. And for good measure, some additional places to look to find your Mayflower ancestry.

    Mayflower At 400

    400 years ago, the Mayflower landed at Plymouth (Plimouth), setting into motion centuries of myth and legend. While the story we were taught as children is straightforward and sanitized, it left out a lot of hard reality. Thankfully we are now starting to look at all the aspects of the Mayflower. This includes the historical context of the New England region and the reality of the relationships between all of the peoples, both indigenous and European.

    For a relatively quick primer on the expanded and inclusive examination of the Mayflower, check out this documentary. Be forewarned: it is 50 minutes, but it gives pre-voyage context and a look at what is being done now to tell the entire story.

    This major anniversary is being celebrated not just here in the U.S. but also in the UK and the Netherlands. Websites have been set up to examine the Mayflower’s legacy, one for each major country in the story:

    The UK (the best and most useful of the websites)
    The USA (the most commercial of the websites, sadly)
    The Netherlands (where the Puritans lived in exile before deciding to relocate to the American colonies)

    Unfortunately, there isn’t a formal associated anniversary website for the Native nations. The British has the better page dedicated to Wampanoag history.

    Mayflower Family?

    Thankfully, the importance of the Mayflower to the mythology of the United States has resulted in a large amount of existing research. The trick is getting your family tree back far enough to connect with that information!

    Mayflower Offspring

    Not all of the passengers managed to procreate or have surviving offspring. Below is a list of those known to have created New World families. This list includes the women who bore the children as well, so it is a bit longer than some of the standard lists.

    Recognize any names from your tree? I have the family names but not yet any direct branches. Maybe someday!

    Ancestor List

    • John Alden
    • Priscilla (Mullins) Alden
    • Bartholomew Allerton
    • Isaac Allerton
    • Mary (Norris) Allerton
    • Mary (Allerton) Cushman
    • Remember (Allerton) Maverick
    • Elinor Billington
    • Francis Billington
    • John Billington
    • William Bradford
    • Love Brewster
    • Mary Brewster
    • William Brewster
    • Peter Browne
    • James Chilton
    • Mrs. Chilton (wife of James)
    • Mary (Chilton) Winslow
    • Francis Cooke
    • John Cooke
    • Edward Doty
    • Francis Eaton
    • Samuel Eaton
    • Sarah Eaton
    • Moses Fletcher
    • Edward Fuller
    • Mrs. Fuller (wife of Edward)
    • Samuel Fuller (son of Edward)
    • Samuel Fuller (brother of Edward)
    • Constance (Hopkins) Snow
    • Giles Hopkins
    • Stephen Hopkins
    • Elizabeth (Fisher) Hopkins
    • John Howland
    • Richard More
    • William Mullins
    • Degory Priest
    • Joseph Rogers
    • Thomas Rogers
    • Henry Samson
    • George Soule
    • Myles Standish
    • Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland
    • John Tilley
    • Joan (Hurst) Tilley
    • Richard Warren
    • Peregrine White
    • Resolved White
    • Susanna (Jackson) White Winslow
    • William White
    • Edward Winslow

    For a full list of passengers, whether or not they successfully went forth and multiplied, check out this site.

    I would definitely be praising the heavens and kissing the ground after two months at sea!

    Online Resources

    There are a number of societies and groups for the European Mayflower descendants. Here are a few to get you started. Alas, most resources have subscription or membership fees ($$). Check with your local library for access to some of the databases to help save some money.

    Physical Resources

    For a lot of us, physical resources are a little hard to get our hands on right now. But once we can move about freely again, there are some options that have yet to be digitized:

    “The Silver Books” by Bruce Campbell MacGunnigle. Printed by the Mayflower Society, these are detailed histories of the folks listed above. They include about 5 generations of descent, so if you can get within roughly 100 years or so of 1620, you may find a gold mine. You can buy them from the Society or hopefully find them at your local library.

    Speaking of, your local library–especially if they have a genealogy center or section–may have a number of publications for you to get your research on!

    If you know of a specific book title, check WorldCat to find a copy near(ish) to you. Most libraries offer interlibrary loans if it is several states away. And don’t forget Google Books and Archive.org for digitized public domain books.

    There are also a number of general history books that explore the Mayflower, Plymouth, their history, and the impact of the settlers. Some of the newer ones include:

    Please note that each of these books has a different perspective and aim. Check out the description and reviews to best meet your interests.

    Native American Resources

    If you have or suspect you have Wampanoag or other regional tribal ancestry, we’re finally starting see some resources available for your research as well. A good place to start is with the American Ancestors’ Native Nations of New England page. It includes tribal information, available records, historical resources, and more to begin or expand your research.

    John Smith (of Pocahontas and Jamestown fame) mapped New England in 1614. Not exactly uncharted territory! Also note the super-fancy P on Plimouth. Prescient? Or just filling in blank space?

    Before We Sail On

    Do you have any Mayflower connections? If so, what do you know of them? As we widen our view of the history of the Mayflower, has your opinion of this connection changed in anyway? Let me know below!

    Personally, I have found ancestors going back to at least 1630. This fills me with tremendous pride–good job on surviving, peeps! But also with a sense of responsibility to understand their history and how it has shaped–for better and worse–the America we have today.

    Thank you for following along on this quick resource overview of the Mayflower! Stay tuned for a more seasonally appropriate article soon!*


    * Author’s Note: Apologies for the Thanksgiving after Christmas theme. I fell afoul of the plague and am at last recovered. This was already drafted and I wanted to release it in the actual anniversary year. Thank you for humoring me! 🙂


    Mayflower Oil Painting: Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall. 1882. From collection of Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain, PD-US-expired.
    Mary Chilton Arrives: Excerpt from Stories of the Old Bay State by Elbridge Streeter Brooks. Published by American Book Company, 1899. Page 29. Google Books. Public Domain.
    Successful Landing: Desembarco de los puritanos en América by Antonio Gisbert. 1883. In the collection of Palacio del Senado, Madrid, Spain. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain, PD-US-expired.
    John Smith Map: Excerpt from A Description of New England, or, Observations and discoveries in the north of America in the year of Our Lord 1614, with the success of six ships that went the next year, 1615 by John Smith. From The University of Pittsburgh Collection. Public Domain.

  • Holidays

    The Sound of Colonial Christmas

    That magical time of year is upon us, when we are frantically trying to get everything done for the holidays. Added bonus: all things 2020 are making the season even more difficult! So let’s take a much needed break and chill out with some traditional Christmas music.

    A forgotten spelling of Noël

    While our modern Christmas often looks quite different from our ancestors’ holiday season, we do have one thing in common: Christmas Carols. Music, like food, is a way we can reach across the ages and experience what people in the past experienced. Through our shared musical history, we can connect in a very visceral way.

    For today, we’re focusing on carols found in the colonies that have English/British origins. This represents the largest population group in the colonies and seems to have the greatest proportion of carols we still enjoy today. Of course, some colonists weren’t so OK with the singing and dancing–conservative Puritan New England was not down with the revelry! But most colonists incorporated music into their daily lives, just as we do now.

    I can’t imagine why the Puritans weren’t on board…

    For these performances, I chose versions that would approximate what the colonists would have heard. No giant choirs singing at Westminster or modern pop interpretations. There would have been improvisation but no jazz, blues, or rock influences since those genres didn’t exist yet.

    Without further ado, grab some eggnog, mulled cider, or hot chocolate and check these out these carols!

    The First Noël

    “The First Noël” has a bit of a fuzzy history. The song is probably Cornish from the Early Modern period (~15-16th centuries). And it is possibly based on an even older musical style from medieval France. Side note: I’m a huge music geek. We won’t discuss the rabbit holes that happened during this research! 🤐

    I like this performance because it is small and intimate. It would have been easy for colonials to perform in this style at home or in church. The guitar, in several historic forms, was available at the time, as were a number of other string instruments.

    God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

    One of the oldest known carols, going back to at least the 16th century, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” is also one of the most enduring. Questions of the language use and the tricky rhyme in the third verse aside, this would have been a common song among the English-language colonists.

    Here again we have a smaller, intimate performance with instruments available in the period: voice, violin, and guitar. Having Joshua Bell on violin and Alison Krauss on vocals is an added bonus!

    The Coventry Carol

    Another oldie but goody, “Coventry Carol” is also from the 16th century or earlier. This time, we’re going with a small choral group (renowned artists The Sixteen) to represent the scale of colonial churches. We didn’t have giant cathedrals like Westminster or York in the colonies. Instead, the churches were built for our smaller communities.

    Check out those historic harmonies! Note that the sheet music shown is a different version from what is being performed. Browse the comments for discussion on the technical aspects, if you are interested.

    I Saw Three Ships

    This is a fun way to end our quick exploration. Here we have a great example of the improvisation that would have been popular in the time period. Printed music was expensive and a lot of musicians would have learned by ear and then creatively filled in the gaps.

    The song itself is probably from the 17th century (or, like the others, possibly earlier). “I Saw Three Ships” is one of my favorites to play because of the jaunty tune. Lindsey Stirling (sitting still!) and crew add a Gaelic feel to it, which would have been common in some regions of the colonies.

    I hope you found these entertaining and just what you needed this week. 🙂

    Which of these did you like most? In general, what is your favorite holiday song? Is it a traditional tune like these or are you more of a Santa Baby fan? Does your family have any “must be played” holiday music? Let me know below!

    Personally, Ukrainian Carol/Carol of the Bells is my favorite, with God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen a close second. I love those minor keys! However, no Christmas is complete without Elvis!

    Have a happy and safe Holiday Season! 😀


    Image Credits

    I Saw Three Ships Sheet Music: From William Sandys’ Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern Published London: Richard Beckley, 1833. Available on HymnsAndCarolsOfChristmas.com.
    First Nowell Sheet Music: From William Sandys’ Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern Published London: Richard Beckley, 1833. Available on HymnsAndCarolsOfChristmas.com.
    Country Christmas: Pinterest: Colonial Williamsburg Education board.

  • Holidays

    Happy Halloween!

    As we manage a new normal for our Halloween, let’s see how our ancestors used to celebrate!

    Like Christmas, Halloween as we know it today began in the 19th century. They were the masters of decoration and party planning! Much of our secular symbolism and traditions come from this era. Cute “spooky” images? Yep. Commercial holiday products? Of course. Magazine articles that make your own efforts pale in comparison? Food Network and Instagram have nothing on the Victorians!

    In 1891, the American women’s magazine Ingall’s Home & Art published a very extensive article on how to celebrate Halloween in style. Included are a list of activities and games, plus a full menu for what appears to be the party of the season. Dancing, courtship games, fortune telling, tongue salad. This party had it all. 😄

    Actually, times haven’t changed that much. The article implies a true hostess should hand-paint each hand-made invitation. To be fair, the overall theme of the magazine is art and decoration. But you can also imagine this being in a YouTube video on how to plan the perfect party. Maybe this is how I go viral?

    The suggested design for the invitation. My art skills are not up to this challenge.


    Before we dive into the menu, lets take a quick glance at the suggested activities:


    Per the introduction, “Halloween dancing parties are much in vogue at present” and the use of dance cards–“a quaint device”–are still used in the country and in an unspecified “modified form” in the city. However, “dancing may be indulged in until the supper hour,” after which we move onto the food and the various games.

    Proper: Spaghetti Arms. Improper: Hand on arm, other arm extended.
    Johnny would not approve!

    Bobbing for Apples

    This is not quite what you would expect! First, it is for the gentlemen only. The game involves using your teeth to grab apples suspended from the ceiling on a rod hanging on a rope. For an added challenge, there are burning candles ready to drip hot wax on the player who doesn’t keep the rod straight! The man must attempt to secure the apple while avoiding tipping the candle enough to burn himself with wax.

    Helpfully, we are reminded to protect our carpets from spilled wax. The author indicates, “This [game] is a decided improvement, in every way upon floating the apples in a tub of water, as the task of securing them is so damaging to both clothing and carpets.”

    This party has both bobbing options!

    The BBC Series Edwardian Farm recreated the candle version as part of their Halloween festivities. Peter for the win!

    Romantic Divination

    Fortune-telling activities at Halloween go back centuries and it is fun to see what was in vogue in the 1890s. The Cup of Fate, For Good or Ill, Fortune in the Meal Bag, Kaling, and the very traditional Roasting Chestnuts are given as possible options. The methods are different but all are meant to discover who you will–or won’t–marry. Would you like to partake in these games?

    A version of Cup of Fate known as Three Bowls. Beware the Pumpkin Head!
    A Chestnut Love Poem

    Fairy Boats

    More fire! The hostess (or more likely her housemaid) makes little candle boats out of walnut shell halves, including scenting them with lavender. During the party, each boat is marked with the initials of a guest. The little boats are then lit and set afloat in a tub of water. Next, the water is disturbed enough to create some motion of the boats. The fate of your boat reveals your own, from longevity to partnerships!

    If you want to make your own little boat, check out these instructions.

    My personal favorites are the dancing (though I fear my dance card would be empty once they saw me in action!) and the walnut shell fairy boats. It seems a tad dangerous by our standards but a lot more fun (and safe!) than bobbing for apples. Which are your favorites?

    I wonder how Batman feels about this…

    The Meal

    The full spread, as recommended by the magazine:

    This is not a low cost affair. It is meant for either a comfortably middle class home or to be an aspiration for the rest of us. The instructions state that this is for a “large dancing party.” They do recommend that for smaller parties or one where only games are played (no dancing), a simpler bill of fare would be appropriate. Dancing does build up the appetite.

    While this menu is often shared in blog posts, what is left out are the associated recipes. One that really stands out is the Halloween or Dumb Cake (dumb at the time meant “can’t speak”, not a statement on the person’s intelligence). This is yet another divination option, using an elaborate method to bake a cake with special prizes inside. Most importantly, the entire process must be done in silence!

    Supper was usually a late repast. This explains the heavy emphasis on dessert items. I would not be interested in tongue salad but I do embrace the three-cake concept!

    Trying It At Home

    One of the best ways we can connect with the past is through food. With Halloween here and most of my time and budget tied up in lockdown prepping (2020 is a seriously weird place), I opted to try out the Baked Apples, Browned and Glazed.

    Yep. That’s it.

    The original recipe was a bit vague. Alas, this is the way of historic recipes. Our ancestors were extraordinary: they either had deep foundational knowledge or were culinary adventurers! Thankfully, I am happy to channel my inner Townsends and did some research and experimenting.

    This is what I ended up with:

    4 Granny Smith Apples–peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 in. slices
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1/2 cup water
    2 tbsp salted butter

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is heating up, peel, core, and cut the apples into 1/2 inch slices. Place them in a 2-quart cooking dish. Make a simple syrup with the water and sugar, over low heat, stirring frequently. Once the syrup is blended and heated through, turn off the heat and add the butter. Stir butter until melted and incorporated. Pour syrup over apples and stir to coat. Bake 30-40 minutes, until tender, stirring occasionally.

    The Results

    My original experiment used 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar with 1/4 cup butter. This was entirely too much liquid with the juice from the apples. I also baked them covered, which resulted in basically stewed apples instead of baked. The reduced syrup and no cover should balance everything out.

    In the end, they are quite tasty and make a nice snack or condiment. The hardest part for me was not adding any cinnamon or other fall spices! But they didn’t really need them. The brown sugar and butter did the trick. As they often do. 😉

    Which of the recipes would you like to make? Which would you absolutely leave out?

    And would your late 19th-century ancestors been able to have such a lavish party? Or would they have had a more modest affair? Mine definitely would have thrown a smaller party on a farmer’s or miner’s budget. They would have also probably included some beer!

    Thank you joining for me on this quick trip back to the 19th century. Please let me know below what you thought of the journey!

    Happy Halloween!! Best wishes for a wonderful and safe holiday!

    Image Credits

    Merry Halloween Black Cat: 1909 Postcard, Ellen H. Clapsaddle artist. Found on Pinterest. Public Domain.
    Party Invitation: Circa 1920s Party Invite. Found on SheWalksSoftly. Copyright unknown.
    Three Bowls: “Halloween Greetings” postcard, Victorian. From article, “Browse These Spooky Vintage Cards“, last modified Nov. 2, 2018. Presented by The Kansas City Public Library. Public Domain.
    Chestnut Poem:Halloween Postcard HIR 363-3 Bat Acorn People Fantasy Vintage” from Pinterest (based on expired ebay bid). Public Domain.

    Dancing Instruction: Illustrations from Dancing and its relations to education and social life with a new method of instruction, including a complete guide to the cotillion (German) with 250 figures, by Allen Dodworth. 1900. Publisher: Harper & Brothers, New York. Library of Congress Music Division, Control #00002075. Pages 300-301. Public Domain.
    Bobbing Party:Hallowe’en Festivities from an Old English Print” from the The Book of Hallowe’en, by Kelly, Ruth Edna. 1919. Publisher Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co. WikiCommons. Cropped and rotated for viewing. Public Domain.
    Grewsome Halloween Owl: From the article, “The Witch’s Hour” from the Los Angeles [Sunday] herald. 24 Oct. 1909. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. Public Domain.

    Ingall’s Home & Art Magazine Clips: Ingall’s Home and Art Magazine. United States, J. F. Ingalls., October 1891. Available on Google Books, in the collection “Volume 4, November 1890-October 1891, pages 501-505. Public Domain.

    Cooking photos ©Michelle Keel 2020

  • Civic Life

    Voting Records – Hidden but Helpful

    As we move closer to a historic election, we should also to look back at our voting history. Our ancestors helped shaped our country just as we are preparing to do on November 3rd. What can we find out about historic voting? And why does it matter?

    Massachusetts Voting Ticket from 1848
    (More on straight ticket voting)

    Voting in the U.S. has been messy, complicated, and disappointing for most people in our history. The land of the free has a long record of working against giving everyone a voice in our democracy.

    One of the most awesome benefits of genealogy is how we get to look more deeply into our history, warts and all. There are many incredible and amazing things in our past. But there are also a lot of incredibly awful things that we must reckon with. This includes the deliberate disenfranchisement of Americans across time.

    The ongoing challenges presented by the lack of genuine universal suffrage also mean it can be very difficult to locate historic voter information. We must temper our expectations with the reality on the ground. That said, let’s take a look at the history and what we can hope to find!

    History & Research

    Knowing the general history of voting rights can help us narrow down what to expect when we search for voter records. But why do we want to find them at all?

    First, they can serve as another layer of potential location and family information to fill in gaps between censuses. The info can also help confirm erroneous research data. Those random names or addresses can make more sense with the registration data. And they can shed additional light on a person: Where did they live? Who did they live with? What party did they affiliate with?

    A Crash Course On Voting History

    Here is a quick timeline of voting in the United States. It is a sordid tale. History has many lessons.

    Also, for brevity and sanity’s sake, I won’t go into each state’s history. See below for some resources!


    Voting rights were determined by the individual colonies, based on British laws. These rights were restricted to white males of varying levels of wealth. Voting was only for local matters, though elections could be rowdy! Colonists (famously) did not have direct representation in Parliament.

    Post-Revolution/Constitution/Early U.S.

    The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. After the Revolution, our founders make voting a states’ issue. Most of the original states keep (or quickly find their way back to) the status quo of allowing only rich white guys the vote.

    The new post-Colonial states usually have a more broad definition of qualified voters, though still generally restricted only to white males. However, this is based on the reality on the ground. A majority of the early settlers of the new states and territories are not as wealthy as their coastal counterparts. Expansion is a necessity.

    Check out this Google Arts & Culture Exhibit for a visual look at Colonial and early American voting. For a very in-depth look at the voting rights of the early American period by state, this article by Donald Ratcliffe is fascinating.

    The County Election by George Caleb Bingham. Note the different social classes among the homogenous voters.

    1820s – Civil War

    Leading up to the Civil War, most states begin incorporating universal white male suffrage. Exceptions are the former colonies of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Delaware, and North Carolina. They continue to use varying form of wealth restrictions, in some cases beyond the Civil War.

    From 1861 to 1865, we fight the Civil War over slavery and the associated socio-economic beliefs of the time. In 1863, slaves in Confederate states are freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. The war effectively ends in 1865 with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox (but doesn’t technically end until 1866!).

    Reconstruction Era ~1865-1877

    The Reconstruction Era follows the Civil War, as the country tries to rebuild. The “Reconstruction Amendments” are enacted to protect and enfranchise the newly freed slaves. Slavery is officially abolished in 1865 with the 13th Amendment. Citizenship, equal protection, and due process are covered in the 14th Amendment in 1868. And at long last, in 1870, the 15th Amendment prohibits states from preventing people from voting based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

    Conversely, in the former slave states, ex-Confederate soldiers are (unevenly) disenfranchised at the state level in this period. They are, however, re-enfranchised by the end of Reconstruction, either through presidential pardon, legislative reform, or lack of enthusiasm for the laws.

    In Women’s Suffrage news, Wyoming Territory elects to allow its female citizens to vote in 1870–the first territory or state to do so!

    The First Vote – 1867


    The Reconstruction Era ends with the Compromise of 1877. This opens the doors for systemic disenfranchisement of blacks, other minorities, and the poor in general. The foundations of Jim Crow laws are laid.

    1877 – 1920

    Jim Crow becomes firmly entrenched. The Women’s Suffrage Movement grows, including several states and territories granting women the right to vote.

    A Postcard from the Georgia Association Opposed to Woman’s Suffrage.
    As plainly stated here, anti-suffrage sentiment was not just about women voting.


    Women are granted the national right to vote with the adoption of the 19th Amendment. Check out this cool map to see the history of the women’s vote across the country.

    Less cool is the reality that the 19th Amendment is only a partial victory for universal suffrage. Not everyone yet has the right to vote and there are still many restrictions and hurdles to voting.


    The Civil Rights Movement grows, becoming an undeniable force by the early 1960s. Native Americans and Asian Americans are granted to the right vote (finally).


    Landmark legislation is enacted prohibiting a poll tax as a requirement to vote in federal elections (24th Amendment) and wealth and tax payment requirements in state elections. The expansive Voting Rights Act of 1965 is put into place. So much progress! But, as always, universal suffrage is not yet achieved.

    1960s – early 2000s

    In the decades that follow, additional barriers to voting are removed. These include barriers for young adults, language minorities, the elderly and people with disabilities, military personnel abroad, and–in some places–felons who have served their sentences. There are still (often successful) attempts at disenfranchisement through gerrymandering and other grey-area activities to subvert popular vote and representation.

    Gerrymandering–a probem since we were worrying about Napoleon!


    In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court rules that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. 4(b) required states outlined in the VRA to submit any voting law changes to the U.S. Attorney General before enactment. Predictably, a number of states have a field day with this and begin creating barriers to voting for minorities and the poor.


    Well, you know. 😐

    As you see, who can vote, when, and where varies considerably by time, place, and if your ancestor is a white male. Let’s see where we can find our folks in the voting records!

    Finding the Records

    First, these records are often not as easy to find as other government registries. In addition to the vagaries of voting laws, the records are not as easily available online. Some perseverance may be needed.

    That said, there are a variety of ways to start hunting down these records and unlocking more of your ancestors’ stories! Here is a list to get you started.

    My Great-Grandmother’s registration from 1948 (found on Ancestry.com).
    Address + party affiliation!


    Note: These records may not be digitized and COVID may slow down any record retrievals. Like everything else in 2020, patience is a virtue.

    • State, County, and Local Historical Societies + Local Libraries: Yep, our old favorites. These collections can help us here, too. Since voting is mostly a local affair, I recommend starting with the county or community of your ancestor. Google is your best path to finding the local societies and libraries. Check out some basic Google tips or use the Advanced Search to help as well.
    • FamilySearch Wiki: The intrepid folks over at the FamilySearch Wiki site are there for you. While you can click on “Voter Records“, the information there is pretty light. You can also try just searching for “Voter Registers”, adding place names as needed. Lastly, there is considerably more information if you drill down geographically. Click on the state and go forth!
    • Ancestry.com ($), MyHeritage ($), and FamilySearch: The big genealogy sites have some voting data. It may take digging and manually searching through collections instead of relying on the main search panel.
    • Cyndi’s List: She has a whole section dedicated to Voting Lists. Be sure to check out the state and local sections as well.
    • USGenWeb Archives: Now mostly defunct, this can be a great source for older data. The information was provided by volunteers, so it varies by location. You will most likely find where records are located, not the records themselves.

    Some Random Options

    Happy Hunting!

    One Caveat: Remember that political parties and their affiliate beliefs have changed over time. A mid-19th century Republican or Democrat would not recognize their 21st century counterparts’ ideologies as their own. You’ll want to search for party info on the era your ancestor voted in.

    Whew! We need a kitten break after all that!


    Thank you for joining me on this quick journey through our voting rights and how we can find our ancestors through voting records!

    Before I go, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t provide one last resource. If you are eligible to vote in the United States, please vote!! In most states, there is still time to get your vote on. If you need more information on how to do this in your state, please check out Vote.org.

    What about your ancestors? Where do you think you will find them in the voting records? What are you hoping to discover? Please let me know in the comments!


    Image Credits

    Women Voting: [Three suffragists casting votes in New York City(?)]. 1917. National Photo Company Collection, Library of Congress. Record number 97510725. Cropped for size. Public Domain.
    Free Soil Ticket: 1848 Free Soil Massachusetts Ticket. American Antiquarian Society Document 503953b1f1_0044.tif. From Box 1 Folder 1, Election Ballots, Massachusetts, National and State Offices, ca. 1826-1848 Collection. Cropped to reduce border. Public Domain, published prior to 1925.
    The County Election: The County Election by George Caleb Bingham, 1852. Saint Louis Art Museum. Public Domain.
    Harper’s Weekly: The First Vote” Harper’s Weekly, November 16, 1867. Illustration by Waud, Alfred R. (Alfred Rudolph), 1828-1891. Goldstein Foundation Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Record number 2011648984. Cropped to reduce border. Public Domain.
    Georgia Anti-Vote Postcard: Postcard from the Georgia Association Opposed to Woman’s Suffrage” 1916, from the National Archives. Record #119222090. Public Domain.
    Gerrymandering: The Gerry-Mander, or Essex South District Formed into a Monster!” by Tisdale, Elkanah [?]. Salem Gazette, Friday, April 2, 1813, page 1. From Cornell University – PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography. Cropped for clarity. Public Domain.
    Voting Kittens: [Unknown?]. Harry Whittier Frees, date unknown (pre-1920 presumed). Version used above found here.