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Mapping & Timelines for Genealogy

24 Jun

It’s not the first time I have envisionned mapping my genealogy data in order to get a clearer picture of my ancestors’ lives. Like many of my fellow geek genealogists, my first try was by using Google maps (you can read all about it here). It was interesting work and it enabled me to verify my data thoroughly before using it for any project. I was disappointed though that I couldn’t add layers to my map: like for example a specific address over the years (my ancestors moved a lot for employment purposes).

A recent blog post enabled to try again mapping data with Google Maps, I did so using multiple .CSV files: one for biographical info, the other with residence, employment location, etc. It’s tedious work if you do not have your genealogy data saved in that format, it means you have to rewrite it yourself (I’m unsure about this, it’s possible that some genealogy software can export your data in CSV files. If you do, please share the info!). Here’s what it looks like:

But I was still not satisfied with what it “looked like” so I tried out two other mapping/timeline tools: Heganoo and Storymap


Heganoo is a visual app that displays custom maps on mobiles, tablets and pcs. I tried them out using my genealogy data about Paul Genereux. I found it slightly difficult to use at first (remember to hit the “save” button often to see your changes!) but finally simpler by creating a “slide” for each event of my ancestor. The cool part is that you can link your Dropbox account to import images to each slide. You can add more than one image per slide. Although I would have wished a “credit” or “source” field for each image imported I’m well satisfied with the result.

You can also customise the zoom level of each slide: for example if your ancestor was born in Canada (but you don’t know where precisely), your first slide will zoom out to show the entirety of Canada. Then let’s say you found in in the 1901 Canada Census living on Champlain street in Montreal, you can show the map at street-level. There are many other features (free and paid) that allows you to adjust colours, background images and so on.

Have a look at my Heganoo map here


StoryMapJS is a free tool to help you tell stories on the web that highlight the locations of a series of events. The interesting part is that it offers you to create a “standard” map or a “Gigapixel” map with large artwork images and photographs. It’s very simple to create a map, you choose a location, customise and then on with the next slide. I loved the “credit” field for imported images so I could cite the source, unfortunately I could only add one image per event/slide. There are less custom options than in Heganoo but if you get your hands on the code, I promise that you can pretty much create the map you want.

Have a look at my StoryMap here

The only thing that bugged me is not being able to set the zoom level of my events on the map, my guess is that he can only be customised if you import JSON data from a webfile. (I know it sounds pretty technical but here’s an overwiew of JSON).

So, what do you think? Are there any other mapping tools you use? 


Alfred Genereux: from crime in Boston to fame in Lynn

14 Sep

Alfred Genereux: a 13-year old burglar

I love old newspapers, I mean I really do, especially being so far away from my country I really appreciate the fact that I can research my family history (or just history in general) from the comfort of my own home nestled in the French Alps countryside.  I have discovered several articles about my ancestors who went stateside in the late 19th century that helped me flesh out their lives in New Hampshire, California and Massachusetts.

Here is one individual that gave me plenty of hours of research in newspapers: Alfred Genereux, son of Paul Genereux. He was born on the 9th of November, 1862 in Quebec city. He moved with his family to Boston around 1869. He married Minnie Etta Cash (daughter of Charles Emery Cash 1832-1907 and Elisabeth Chapman 1835-1886) on the 1st of March 1892, in Lynn, Essex, Massachusetts. But before he was married, Alfred was a very naughty boy.

In the space of ten years, he got arrested at least three times for burglary and theft. On his first attempt Alfred was only aged 13!

Source: The Boston Post, 18 May 1875, p.3 on

Source: The Boston Post, 18 May 1875, p.3 on

Source: The Boston Daily Globe, 5 Jan 1876, p.5 on

Source: The Boston Daily Globe, 5 Jan 1876, p.5 on

Source: The Boston Herald, 8 Oct 1884, p. 4 on

Source: The Boston Herald, 8 Oct 1884, p. 4 on

Luckily, he put a stop to his youthful enthusiasm for shiny things and married his Etta. They had four children :

Alfred went on to become a Century Road Club Centurion for the region of Lynn, he won several bicycle races and became involved in local fraternities such as The Improved Order of Red Men, the Odd Fellows Society, the Knights of Pythias as well as local cycling clubs.

Source: Boston Globe, Sep 8th 1926, p.10

Boston Globe, Sep 8th 1926, p.10


Online Newspapers Archives Quick Tips

There are so many newspapers archives out there that it can seem a bit daunting so I’m sharing (again) a few tips for researchers out there who want to get the best out of newspapers.

  • Start your research by identifying a location (state, county, city, etc) that might have an online archive of newspapers. I use the U.S. Newspaper Directory from the Library of Congress to locate specific newspapers (online or not) and publication dates.
  • Don’t spell properly : OCR is not infallible so whenever I search for a surname (especially foreign ones), I use wildcards (they are your best friends in online research). A “*” to replace a given letter in a word and a “?” to replace the ending of a word.
  • Search for addresses and locations, names of businesses, neighbors you have found in census records, clubs and fraternities, etc. Anything that might be connected to the individual you are researching.
  • Check out Kenneth R Marks, the Ancestor Hunter’s Beginners Guide to Newspapers Research for Genealogy: this is the best info and updated lists of links to several newspaper archives in the U.S. and Canada

There is one thing missing out on big newspapers archives databases: the possibility to create alerts for a specific individual, newspaper or time frame in a given region. That would certainly help my research instead of having to crawl through the websites every so often to search for a reference.

Is the Death Index a proof of being deceased?

29 Aug The Microcosm, Simmons College Annual, 1913.

I know, it does sound like a silly question but bear with me for a moment. From what I have learned, death indexes are pretty much useless if you don’t look at the original record but there’s always other ways of verifying information from the indexes. So here’s my little mystery:

Frank Albert Volz was born 8 August, 1885 in Genesee County, New York. His father was a real estate man (a very busy one), Albert Joseph Volz (1853-1937) from New York to Kansas and finally Oklahoma, with the “1889ers” who made the first land run. Frank (or Frank A) followed his father and the rest of his family there.

He founded his first company “Volz & Horigan Undertaking” with his half-brother, Lawrence Timmons Volz, in 1911, then quickly moving on to clerk positions in labor unions in Oklahoma City and accounting in oil corporations.

Volz Horigan Undertaking

Volz-Horigan Undertaking in The Evening Free Press, January 27, 1911, p. 3

In 1920-1921, he went to San Francisco, presumably as a clerk again. I had found him in the city directories and there was an article in 1921 (Daily News, Batavia, New York. Tuesday Evening, July 12, 1921, p.4. Source: that mentioned him being in California.

He didn’t go to San Francisco for nothing, he met this lovely young lady : Katherine Louise Mcgurk (1891-1981). Now Louise (she wore this name in records for most of her life) was a secretary by trade, and she liked to travel a lot. I didn’t quite know how she got from Malden, MA (her place of birth) to San Francisco and THEN to Tulsa, Oklahoma in the house of Frank Volz. I started backtracking my research and found a record of her in the Simmons College Review (Boston) that told of her departure for California.

Simmons College Review

The Simmons college review. v. 3 (Nov. 1920- June 1921).
Source: p. 365

Then I found her also in San Francisco directories, with her mother Alexina Louise Genereux (1861-1941) living at the same address as Frank Volz in 1923! So this was definitely love: Frank Volz and Louise McGurk got married on the 25th of September 1929, in San Francisco. They left the Golden State and went to live in Tulsa, Oklahoma where I found records of them for 1930 and 1940 in US Censuses.

Thanks to hint features (when you have a paid subscription), I managed to track them both down again in 1956. They were living in Laguna Beach, Orange County, California (source: California Voter Registration 1900-1968). Now according to the California Death Index (I have double-checked on every site that hosts the database): Frank A Volz died April 6, 1961 in Orange County. His mother’s maiden name is Bissell, which concurs with my data. His wife, Louise M Volz died herself in January 1981, Long Beach. She is buried in the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, in Orange County. Her maiden and parent’s name (Genereux & McGurk) also concur with my data.

Since I had only the death index to rely on for Frank and Louise, I cross-referenced the Social Security Numbers I discovered in the records. First, I had to eliminate a result for Louise; on some databases the SSN for her is that of her husband. I have tracked down hers (using reverse search engines) and using Steve’s Morse Five-Digit Decoder, I now knew that her SSN (565-26-****) was issued in California from 1936-1950.

Then there’s a Social Security Number attached to Frank Volz, it begins with 443-03-****. Still using the decoder, I found that it was issued in Oklahoma from 1936-1950. I tried reverse search on this number but I came up with no results, zip, nada, nothing… Most the time using SSDI or SSN search, it provides me with proof of my initial information: what I don’t understand is how can one database, in this instance the California Death index, give me a SSN that’s seems to be false?! I tried wildcards, switching Frank’s name and surname around, even his birth date and I still have no result for him. Online obituary search has yielded no results as well.

So, what’s your take on this? Can a Death Index database be wrong? Can a SSN be “reused” (if somebody died some time ago)? Do you have any tips or tricks that I have missed?


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