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Day of the Dead Traditions

Sun, 07/28/2019 - 06:00

During Day of the Dead, or Día de Muertos, October 31 through November 2, families gather together to remember and honor their deceased loved ones. A sacred, joyous time, Day of the Dead traditions include food and flowers, visits with family members, prayers, and stories about those who have died.

Day of the Dead began as a traditional Mesoamerican celebration in southern Mexico meant to guide the spirits of departed loved ones in the afterlife. Today, the holiday is observed throughout the country and includes Christian influences.


Customs vary by region, and some Day of the Dead traditions are more well-known than others.


Central to the celebration are ofrendas, individualized altars designed to remember departed loved ones. They often include photos, possessions of the deceased, candles, flowers, calaveras, water, and toys for los angelitos (little angels). Pan de muerto and small portions of favorite foods and drinks of the deceased are also included.


One Aztec tradition that continues today is decorating with cempasúchil (marigold) flowers. The vibrant colors and scent are thought to guide spirits to visit the living during the celebration. They are also a beautiful representation of the fragility of life.

In addition to vases of living flowers, children often make marigolds out of tissue paper and pipe cleaners to help decorate ofrendas. 

Sugar Skulls

Calaveras, another Aztec tradition, are skulls made out of compressed sugar and water with the name of the deceased written on the forehead. A reminder of the cycles of life, calaveras are colorful folk art skulls decorated with colored foil, icing, beads, ribbons, and feathers.

Food and Drink

Families gather to eat pan de muerto along with their loved ones’ favorite foods and drinks and share stories and memories of past family members. Pan de muerto is a special sweet bread baked especially for the holiday, with recipes that vary from region to region.

Moles, tamales, chocolate, candies, and drinks of atole and coffee are other common foods made for the occasion.

Regional Traditions

In some places, such as the Sierra Norte region of Oaxaca, bells ring from midnight on November 1 through November 3, with the sounds of the bells varying in tone. Light, tinkling bells welcome the souls of deceased children (los angelitos), and deeper tones sound for adult spirits. Some people may also build small welcoming fires to guide visiting spirits through open doors and windows.

In other regions, people may leave out blankets and pillows for visiting spirits to rest or include a wash basin, soap, and mirrors.

Some areas feature special dances for the occasion, such as La Danza de los Viejitos in Michoacán.

Remembering the Past

These and other traditions are an important way of keeping families strong as they remember ancestors and their stories.

As your family gathers for Día de Muertos, consider activities that will help you remember your family members. Don’t forget to record your ancestors’ memories on FamilySearch as you share their stories. Think of it as a digital ofrenda!

Tracing Your African-American Genealogy

Fri, 07/26/2019 - 13:40

Researching African American genealogy can be challenging, particularly as you work through records from before the Civil War. The good news is that wonderful resources are becoming more accessible all the time.

Post-1870 Research

If you are tracing African American ancestors in records after 1870, your research path looks like the research path of any United States-based family line. Begin with yourself and your immediate family. Work back using standard records, such as censuses and vital and land records. FamilySearch’s online United States Genealogy guide in the FamilySearch wiki is a good place to start.

The Transitional Period

For many people tracing African American genealogy, the period during and right after the Civil War is key. In 1860, nearly 4 million enslaved individuals lived in the United States, representing just under 13 percent of the population.

Here are some records to look for in this important period that can help you understand your ancestors’ lives and possibly help you locate the names of the slave owners so you can push their lines back further:

  • 1870 United States census. This census is the first census to include the names of formerly enslaved individuals. It lists all members of each household, which provides a foundation of knowledge to build on.
  • 1867 voter registration. As part of reentering the United States, Southern states had to meet certain requirements, including registering all African American men over the age of 21 to vote. Some of these records haven’t survived, and some weren’t very thorough. However, with the mandate to include useful information such as the “place of nativity,” they can be of great help if your ancestor was included.
  • Freedmen’s Bureau and Freedman’s Bank records. These records are probably the most important for tracing African American ancestors in this period. They cover the years 1865–1872, and they are now indexed and searchable at Records from the Freedmen’s Saving and Trust Company, often referred to as the Freedmen’s Bank, date from the years 1865–1874 and are included with the Freedmen’s Bureau records.
  • Records of United States Colored Troops (USCT) in the Civil War. Over 186,000 African Americans served as part of the United States Colored Troops. Some of the records are available online. You can read more about the collection in the FamilySearch wiki and as well as how to access them.
African American Genealogy Before the Civil War

Tracing enslaved ancestors prior to the Civil War often requires you to explore new types of records. Enslaved people were considered property and so were not included by name in most records before emancipation in 1863.

Census records, which theoretically moved from only including heads of the households in 1840 to including every name starting in 1850, did not record the names of slaves. Even the slave schedules kept with the 1850 and 1860 censuses typically only include information on enslaved individuals by sex and age—although there are a few exceptions.

Often a key to finding your ancestors in records before the Civil War is locating the names of those who owned your enslaved ancestors. This discovery can focus your search on specific records of that family, which may also include information about your family. Records from this time that are likely to list information about slaves include the following:

  • Will and probate records of slave owners. Since slaves were considered property, they were often included with other possessions bequeathed to family members and others. Enslaved ancestors may be listed by name in wills and probate records.
  • Deed records. Although we generally think of deed records as relating to land, since enslaved people were unfortunately classified as property, records of buying and selling them can be included in these kinds of records. Slaves were even sometimes used as collateral in loans.
  • Plantation records. Many enslaved individuals worked on plantations. Personal papers from plantation owners often contain information about them—but they can be difficult to locate and sift through. Indexes for some records are available.
  • Other local records. In some areas, names of enslaved individuals were included in other records, such as tax records or vital records. These records varied by time and place.

For more details on finding and using these records, see FamilySearch’s African American Slavery and Bondage wiki page.

For Further Information

If you are ready to jump in but would like a little more guidance, some great resources online can help you. Here are just a few to get you started:

Norwegian Names—What Are They All About?

Fri, 07/26/2019 - 13:00

More and more people are naming their children according to what they find on their family trees. Names such as Sofie and Jakob have topped name lists in recent years for top Norwegian baby names; interestingly, those were also the most popular names at the turn of the century in the early 1900s.

Often, when you name your children with names of significance, it gives them confidence and joy knowing that they have something to strive and live up to—the honor of their ancestors.

Popular Norwegian Names

Popular Norwegian names in the last two years include the following girl names:

  • Emma
  • Nora
  • Olivia
  • Sara
  • Emilie
  • Leah

These boy names were most popular:

  • Lucas
  • Filip
  • Oliver
  • Oskar
  • Emil
  • Noah 

If you have any Norwegian names in your family tree, you may have noticed an interesting nuance: surnames often change from person to person without an explanation. Much of the change is related to patronymics.

What Is a Patronymic Surname?

Patronymic surnames are usually created from the name of the father or other paternal ancestor by adding a prefix or suffix. This naming system was used in all of Scandinavia and the most common affixes are variations of -sen, -son, -sson, -søn, -datter, -dotter, or -dottir. Those affixes are most often added to the father’s name. In addition, Norwegian women often did not take their husband’s names when they married; instead, they would keep their patronymic surnames from birth to death.

When Norwegians moved into a city after the 1850s, they also often used their farm names as a surname. Before the 1870s, some farmers would even change their names if they moved from one farm to another. Farm names are recognizable because they lack the patronymic prefix or suffix; these farm names include names such as Kleven, Melleby, and Storhaug.

By 1875, a law was passed in the countryside requiring people to stick with a set surname. Norwegian children born in or around 1875 could have been given their father’s patronymic surname, but the next generation could not change their last name.

Some people did go back to their farm surname when they got older though. Because of this practice, in many Norwegian records a surname is crossed through with another surname written after it in reference to the 1875 law. These kinds of corrections proved to be quite confusing, so in 1905 another law was passed to give more clarification.

Same Parents, Different Names

The unique thing about the name game in Norway is that siblings would sometimes pick different surnames, especially during immigration. Some would pick their patronymic name while others would adopt the family farm name. When immigrating to the United States, sometimes the spelling would also change from “-son” to “-sen.”

Discovering Your Family’s Norwegian Names

As with all family research, start small, and don’t overthink it! Talk to living relatives who may have insights. Take good notes, perhaps even recording conversations so you don’t forget what was said. Census records, newspaper articles, and immigration records can also be priceless treasures. Many of these can be found by starting at Family Bibles are also a great way to trace the proper spellings of names.

Check Your Family Tree for Norwegian Names

If you already know you have Norwegian ancestry and are looking for names for your children, take a few minutes and peruse your tree. You might be surprised at what you find!

Discovering Your Norwegian Heritage

How to Find Your Relative on the Shared FamilySearch Family Tree

Fri, 07/26/2019 - 09:25

FamilySearch Family Tree is the world’s largest shared family tree. This free, public tool strives to have one public profile for every deceased person who has ever lived. You can search for information and find your ancestors here, even if you’ve never visited FamilySearch or connected yourself to the Family Tree.

Gather what you know about your deceased ancestor—such as his or her name, birth or death information, and perhaps the name of a parent, spouse or child—and follow the steps below to see if he or she is in the Family Tree.

Find Relatives Using the Tree Search

If you want to search for a relative who may be in the Tree (even if you haven’t used the Family Tree before) you can go to FamilySearch, and under the Search tab, choose Family Tree. From here, you’ll either need to log in or create a free FamilySearch Account.

On the search screen, enter what you know about your deceased relative:

1. Names

For the best results, fill in both the First and Last Names boxes. When you fill in the First Names box, you can include given names, middle names, initials, and nicknames. You can also enter multiple surnames into the Last Names box (including maiden names, birth names, maternal and paternal surnames, etc.).

2. Male or Female

Choosing Male or Female, if known, can help narrow your search results.

3. Life Events

Under Search with life event, enter what you know about the person’s birth, marriage, where he or she lived, and his or her death.

Note: The Birth information box will appear automatically. Open the Marriage, Residence or Death boxes by clicking on each word.

4. Relationships

Under Search with relationship, enter what you know about that person’s spouse or parents. The Spouse information box appears automatically, but you can click the Father or Mother box to add data.

Note: It is not generally recommended to click the Match All Exactly box, since a person’s information may not appear exactly as you enter it.

Once you have entered the information you know, click Find to search for your ancestor’s profile on the Tree.

When the search results appear, you can check each name to see how closely it matches the information you entered. Click on a name to see a summary of that person’s information. Click on the name in the popup window to navigate to the person’s full person page.

Tips for Finding the Right Person

If multiple search results appear similar, they may represent the same person with a duplicate profile. Click to review these as well, since they may reveal additional information if it is about your relative. (Here’s how to merge duplicate profiles for the same person, if you feel confident the profiles are definitely the same.)

If too many results appear, or if the information just doesn’t seem to match, try entering more information.

If no matching results appear, you may need to broaden your search—or the person may not have been added to the Family Tree yet. If that is the case, you can add them and help others learn what you know about your shared relative.

Finding and Adding Relatives from Your Tree View

If you already use the FamilySearch Family Tree—or if you want to start—you can search for your relatives from within your tree view. First, log in to FamilySearch. Under the Family Tree tab, select Tree,and choose the Landscape view on the top left portion of the screen.

From here, if you know who a person’s mother or father was, click Add Father or Add Mother to enter his or her information, and check if there is already a profile for him or her in the Family Tree.

You can also search for known children of a couple by clicking on the down arrow by Children and selecting Add Child. Enter his or her information, click Next, and look for a profile that matches.

Note: From the Tree view, you can also click Find up at the top to open the full Search feature for the Family Tree.

Searching for Unknown Relatives in Records

If you don’t know much about a relative, you may have to do additional research to identify him or her. If you’re looking for a parent, child, or spouse of someone who already has a Family Tree profile, go to the known person’s profile. Here you can explore Record Hints and search for additional records about the known person to see if the unknown person is named in records about the known person. Use these additional record search strategies once you have a little information about someone.

Ready to learn something about one of your ancestors? Pick a deceased relative, and see whether he or she is among the 1.2 billion names in the FamilySearch Family Tree!

More about the FamilySearch Family Tree What is a Shared Public Tree?

How to Fix Incorrect Record Links in Your Family Tree

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 14:12

In a public and collaborative family tree, having an incorrect source linked to your ancestor is not an infrequent occurrence. Luckily, an incorrect source is an easy fix. Here are a couple ways to correct inaccurate links.

Detach Links

One way to tackle incorrect links is simply remove them. This correction can be done in a few simple steps:

1. Navigate to the ancestor’s person page.

2. Once on the person page, click the Sources tab located on the top toolbar.

3. You will be directed to a page with the person’s list of sources. To view a source, click the View Source link below the title of the source.

4. After you’ve clicked View Source, if you believe the source is incorrect, click the Detach link to detach the source from the ancestor.

Rest assured that if you later discover that the source was accurate, this change can be undone in the Latest Changes box (located on the right side of the person page).

Move Links

Often, the link has been attached to the wrong ancestor in the same family. If you know the Person ID number of the ancestor that the record belongs to, you can move the source to that person’s list of sources.

1. Navigate to the person page of the ancestor with the wrong source attached and then to the Sources tab at the top of the person page.

2. Find the inaccurate source from the list of sources. Click View Source.

3. Select Review Attachments from the options given, which opens the source linker page.

4. In the top right corner, click Not your family? Find your family.

5. A pop-up window will appear that reads Find a Match in Family Tree at the top. From here, you can either choose a recent ancestor from the History List, or you can enter the Person ID of the ancestor you want to attach this source to.


You can usually find the contact name of the person who created or contributed a link. You can find this name by going to the ancestor’s Person page, selecting the Sources tab at the top of the page, and finding the Created By column on the right of the source list.

In the Created By column, you will find a name associated with each record source. Select this name to find any available contact information or to send a message through FamilySearch messaging. This contact can be a way to clear up any confusion or misunderstandings surrounding an ancestor.

Remember to be courteous and respectful when collaborating with others. One of the best things about genealogy is its power to bring families together, and this opportunity to communicate can foster that spirit of unity.

Announcing The BYU Genealogy Conference for 2019

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 10:42

Need an extra boost to get up and over that block in your family line? You might find what you need at the 2019 BYU Genealogy Conference. This week of professional and beginner genealogy classes will be held at the BYU Conference Center on July 31–August 2.

The classes on the agenda this year will cover topics from beginners’ tips to DNA research and include just about everything else in between. Learn how to tackle international research or where to track down that military record. Discover effective methods for finding your ancestors as well as fun ways to record your discoveries to share with your family.

If all that doesn’t get your family history senses tingling, check out this year’s lineup of keynote speakers:

So ready your laptops, tablets, and notebooks, and come learn more tips and tricks in your journey to uncover your family’s story. We hope to see you there!

Register Now More about the BYU Genealogy Conference See the Full Conference Schedule for 2019