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  • The Weekly Genealogist

  • Vol. 14, No. 22
    Whole #533
    June 1, 2011
    Edited by Michael J. Leclerc and Valerie Beaudrault

    Greetings from the New England Historic Genealogical Society! This newsletter has been sent to people who asked to receive it. If you would like to unsubscribe or change your email address, please click on the link at the bottom of the email and follow the instructions provided.

    NEHGS collects, preserves, and interprets materials to document and make accessible the histories of families in America.

    * RootsTech 2012 Call for Presentations
    * Research Recommendations: Bursting Another Bubble
    * Name Origins
    * This Week's Survey
    * Spotlight: Nebraska Cemetery Resources
    * Stories of Interest
    * Sale on NEHGS Gifts
    * Upcoming Education Programs
    * NEHGS Contact Information


    RootsTech 2012 Call for Presentations

    The first RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City was a tremendous success. The second conference will be held February 2–4, 2012, at the Salt Palace Convention Center. The conference has issued a call for papers. Organizers are looking for:

    “proposals that address technology challenges and solutions that have the potential to improve family history and genealogical research. Special emphasis will be placed on submissions that find ways for genealogy technology users and technology creators to work and interact together. Particular consideration will also be given to proposals that provide a hands-on or interactive experience, with presenters giving step-by-step approaches to using technology, software, hardware, algorithms, APIs, plug-ins, extensions, etc.”

    Sessions include presentations by single individuals, panel presentations or discussions, hands-on workshops, and informal participant-led discussion groups.

    You can find more details or submit proposals at

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    Research Recommendations: Bursting a Bubble
    by Michael J. Leclerc

    I burst another bubble yesterday. In speaking with a television producer about a segment on genealogy, I mentioned the biggest myth in American history — that anyone ever had their name changed at Ellis Island. Despite the numerous families with this tradition passed down, there is not a single documented occurrence of this ever happening. She was quite surprised to hear this.

    I’m certain that a number of people reading this are even now thinking “That may be true, but in the case of MY family it really did happen!” I’m sorry to disappoint you, but such is not the case. And this makes complete sense. Think of your ancestor, most of them poor or working class. They have left the only home they have ever known for better opportunities in America. They did not make this decision lightly. In most cases they had no desire to return. Indeed, many of them were quite terrified of being forced back to their homeland. Imagine the fate of a Russian Jew trying to escape the pogroms at the turn of the century, making it to the shores of the new world only to be forced to return to Russia. If you were that immigrant, would you do anything that might jeopardize your ability to stay in America?

    Have you ever taken a cruise? Try getting off the ship using a different name than the one with which you boarded. I don’t think you would make it past the security gate, let alone off the ship and onto shore. You showed your papers when you got on board, and showed the same papers when you disembarked.

    The tradition in many families is that they arrived and nobody at Ellis Island spoke their language. This is hogwash. The staff of Ellis Island spoke languages from around the world. They processed up to 11,000 immigrants per day. Many of these staff were themselves immigrants or the children of immigrants who spoke their parents’ native tongue. Together with hundreds of interpreters hired to work with them, communication was not an issue. (Well, no worse than communicating with any other bureaucrat, I’m certain.)

    Some immigrants changed their name prior to arriving in the United States. A friend of mine’s great-grandfather was a Russian Jew, probably escaping the pogroms at the turn of the century. He did not come directly to America, but went first to England for a time. Between the time left Russia and the time he boarded the ship in England, bound for Ellis Island, he changed his name from Moishe Cohen to William Smith. The point is, he got on the ship as William Smith and left the ship as William Smith. The name change did not occur during passage.

    More common is that the immigrants changed their name once they had arrived in America. Many were trying to settle in and feel more “American.” Some may have been trying to escape the ethnic prejudice rampant in America. Others may just have tired of spelling their Eastern European names to Americans.

    Indeed, spelling is, I believe, the crux of the issue for many. Remember that at this time of massive immigration, literacy was not very prevalent. People were more concerned with putting food on the table, clothes on their backs, and a roof over their heads, than with how to properly spell their name or any other word. Standardized spelling of names is a twentieth-century concept that came with greater education of the public. This is why we find so many spelling variations in names. It wasn’t that people didn’t know how to spell their name, it was that there was no “proper” way to spell a name, and for the most part they didn’t care.

    After a time, the family’s name would change from the original and that would be that. It wasn’t a big issue. In my own family, the spelling of my surname varies among the descendants of my great-great-grandfather. Variations include Leclair, Le Clair, LeClair, Leclerc, LeClerc, and Le Clerc. Which one is the “correct” spelling, and who am I to tell another family member that their spelling is not the "correct" version?

    Despite all that has been written to dispel the myth (try Googling “myth of name changed at Ellis Island”), it continues to be handed down in some families. I feel bad for people who are more connected to their family myths than learning the truth. And the truth is usually there to be found if one examines the records closely.

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    Name Origins
    by Julie Helen Otto

    PHILANDER (m) (Greek-derived compound love of man[kind]): A typical Greek-derived compound embodying the optimistic view of human nature entertained during much of the Enlightenment.

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    This Week's Survey

    Last week’s survey asked about the military service of our readers. 74% have never served in the military. None of the respondents currently serve in the U.S. Marines, the Army National Guard, or Air National Guard. The remainder is as follows:

    • 11%, U.S. Army Veteran
    • 7%, U.S. Navy Veteran
    • 5%, U.S. Air Force Veteran
    • 1%, U.S. Marine Veteran
    • 1%, U.S. Army National Guard Veteran

    Less than 1% each are in the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, or veterans of the U.S. Air National Guard, U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Merchant Marine.

    Interestingly, 2 respondents are currently in the military service or a country other than the United States and 12 are veterans of the military of a country other than the U.S.

    This week's survey asks about your research interests in the British Isles. Take the survey now!

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    Spotlight: Nebraska Cemetery Resources
    by Valerie Beaudrault

    Otoe County Genealogical Society

    Otoe County is located on the Iowa border in the southeastern part of Nebraska. The county seat is Nebraska City. The Otoe County Genealogical Society has made some resources available on its website.

    Otoe County Cemeteries
    Click on the Otoe Co. Cemeteries link to access the main cemeteries research page. The cemeteries are grouped by precinct. There are nearly fifty cemeteries in the county’s sixteen precincts. Click on the individual cemetery name link to open a new page containing a cemetery/church history, burial listings, cemetery/church contact information, gravestone photographs on, cemetery photographs, and a map of cemetery's location. Please note that the burial listings for a number of the cemeteries are not available online. The Society offers for sale a CD-Rom with burial listings for 42 Otoe County cemeteries.

    Otoe County Civil War Veterans
    In 2009 OCGS member Dean Podoll initiated a project to identify Civil War veterans buried in the county’s cemeteries. During the study, he identified and verified 317 Civil War veterans buried in 23 cemeteries. They were veterans 16 different state volunteer units, the United States Regular Army, United States Colored Troops (USCT), and United States Navy. An additional 70 possible Civil War veterans were found and their names are included in data from the study at the end of each cemetery's summary page. Click on the cemetery name link to open the summary page. You must have free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view them. The information for each veteran includes name, unit, date of birth, date of death, date enlisted, date discharged, and additional biographical information about the veteran.

    In addition to the cemeteries information, researchers will find township pages with the following, where available: clerk information, town history, area cemeteries, local churches, library information, organizations, publications, and web links. Click on the Otoe Co. Townships link in the contents to access them.

    Washington County, Nebraska Genealogical Society

    Washington County is located on the Iowa border in the central part of Nebraska. Blair is the county seat. The Washington County, Nebraska, Genealogical Society has made available on its website thirty-one searchable cemetery databases. An off-site link to the Blair City cemetery database has been provided.

    Click on the cemetery name link to open that cemetery’s search page. The information provided on the search page includes a link to the county map showing the location of the cemetery, a link to the search function, location information, alternate names for the cemetery, if any, contact information, and statistical information. The statistical information includes the number of recorded graves and the range of burial dates. The databases can be searched by last name and first name. Click on the search link in the cemetery’s profile to begin your search. You can also click on the search link in the site’s contents list to open the search page. It does not appear that there is a way to browse through the burials, however, you can choose to search all of the cemeteries at one time by choosing “All County Cemeteries except Blair” from the search page’s dropdown list.

    The data fields in the search results include name, cemetery and comments. Information in the names field can include full name, date of birth, date of death, place of birth and place of death. In the cemetery field you will find the name of the cemetery and grave location information. Information in the comments field includes military service, where the person was born, spouse’s or parents’ names, and even information on the condition of the gravestone (knocked over).

    Click on the Blair City Cemetery link on the Washington County, Nebraska Genealogical Society’s cemeteries search page to access an external search page ( This database can be searched by last name, first name, date of death, mother’s maiden name, father’s name, and date of birth. To limit the search you can also provide a date range for the individual’s date of birth and/or death. The data in the search results returned includes grave location information, date born, date died, date buried, age, and place of death, as well as mother’s and father’s names.

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    Stories of Interest

    Original Providence Charter a Case of Lost and Found
    The original town charter for the city of Providence, granted by the colonial legislature in 1648, was recently located in a 50-year-old pocket folder labelled "To be Indexed."

    Trilogy of Clerk Tales Offers Good Lessons
    Sharon Tate Moody’s genealogy column in the Tampa Bay Tribune is always a good read. This week she has an important reminder about working with government clerks in understaffed and overworked offices.

    British Library Creates a “National Memory” With Digital Newspaper Archive
    The Guardian offers a progress report on efforts by the British Library and BrightSolid to create an online database of more than 40 million British newspapers.

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    Sale on NEHGS Gifts

    NEHGS is happy to offer a discount on the NEHGS Boat and Tote Bag and the NEHGS Seal Tie. The LL Bean Boat and Tote bag has the NEHGS seal and name printed in classic blue. The sturdy totes were made in Maine using heavy-duty cotton canvas, and they have reinforced flat canvas bottoms and overlapped seams double-stitched with nylon. Their color is natural, with blue contrast-color 6” handles. The bags measure 12"H x 13"W x 6"D. Our ties are hand-made, 100% silk custom designed by Vineyard Vines especially for NEHGS. The motif on the ties is taken from the NEHGS seal, designed in 1845 by Horatio Gates Somerby. The ties are available in red or light blue and measure 59” x 3 ¾”.

    NEHGS Tote, $30 (members), $35 (non-members)

    NEHGS Tie, $65 (members), $75 (non-members), Available in Red or Blue.

    Members ordering online will need to enter a special discount code. To receive your discount code, please email Orders can also be placed by calling 617-226-1212. Prices do not include shipping. MA residents will be charged 6.25% sales tax. Limited quantity available.

    Did you know that the NEHGS Book Store offers library-quality copies of over 10,000 rare and out-of-print books? Some titles ordered by recent customers include:

    • Scandinavian Immigrants in New York 1630-1674. with Appendices on Scandanavians in Mexico South America Cananda New York Plus Germans in New York (Item P5-NY0137H, $47.00)
    • New York [City] Directory from 1786 Prefaced by a General Description of New York by Noah Webster An Appendix of the Annals of New York City 1786. (Item P5-NY0216H, $29.50)
    • Ancestry of Rev. William Howe Whittemore Bolton Connecticut 1800 - Rye New York 1885 and of His Wife Maria Clark Whittemore. New York 1803 - Brooklyn 1886 (Item P4-S27387, $22.50)
    • Index of Wills For New York Co. (New York City) from 1662 to 1850. (item P5-NY0449H, $49.50)
    • Descendants of Claude Le Maitre who Came from France and Settled at New Netherlands Now New York in 1652 (item P4-H08025, $46.00)

    You can search the entire Classic Reprints catalog online at If you would like a list of FAQs and search tips for the Classic Reprints catalog, simply send an email with "Classic Reprints" in the subject line to

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    Upcoming Education Programs

    Each year the Society presents a number of dynamic lectures, seminars, and tours for genealogists and the general public. Programs are held at 99–101 Newbury Street unless otherwise indicated. For more information, please contact D. Joshua Taylor at 617-226-1226 or

    You can view a full listing of upcoming programs at

    Public Lectures

    Talking Back To Your Ancestors: Reweaving the Family Narrative
    Wednesday, June 22, 2011, 6:00PM
    Using as a case history her own experience with her father’s papers, Dr. Barbara B. Reitt will describe what she learned in a four-year search for truths long hidden by the family and what compelled her to respond to her late father’s memoirs by researching and writing a biography of his grandmother. Her talk will be followed by discussion among audience members of their own approaches to problems lurking in their family papers.

    Dr. Reitt, who has a doctorate in American Studies, recently retired after more than 40 years as an editor of academic and scientific books. She has been researching her family history for more than 20 years and is currently teaching a course in beginning genealogy as part of the Five College Learning in Retirement association in the Pioneer Valley.

    Seminars and Tours

    Come Home to New England
    June 13–17, 2011 and August 14–20, 2011
    Uncover the treasures at 99-101 Newbury Street and "Come Home" to the nation’s oldest and largest genealogical society. As one of the Society’s most popular programs, Come Home to New England features an intensive week of research, lectures, individual consultations, group meals, and other activities.

    London Research Tour
    September 25 – October 2, 2011
    Discover the wealth of information available in London's repositories as NEHGS returns to London in 2011. Participants will take part in two group dinners, consultations, and guided research through the Society of Genealogists (SOG) and the National Archives (UK). Daily educational activities include lectures and tours by the experts at the National Archives (UK), SOG, and NEHGS. Featured NEHGS experts include David C. Dearborn and Christopher C. Child.

    Salt Lake City Research Tour
    October 30 – November 6, 2011
    You won't want to miss our thirty-third annual research tour to the world-renowned Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Following a continued tradition of excellence, NEHGS staff will guide you through a week of research, consultations, lectures, group meals, and other activities as you explore the collections of the largest genealogical library in the world.

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    NEHGS Contact Information

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    Copyright 2011, New England Historic Genealogical Society
    99–101 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02116

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New England Historic Genealogical Society
99 - 101 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116, USA

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