Genealogy tools, Newspaper articles

Aunt Mayme’s Recipe for Green Tomato Sweet Pickle

I’m sure there’s a story behind how Aunt Mayme (really my great grandmother’s aunt) ended up publishing a recipe for Green Tomato Pickle in a San Francisco newspaper. I have no idea what that story is.

Aunt Mayme was Olive May Rhodes. She never married but supported her nephew Homer on a schoolteacher salary in Texas. She liked going to the movies and collecting the free gifts given to encourage ticket sales. In fact, one of those free gifts – a candy dish – sits on my dining room table.

Money was always a concern. She often didn’t even have enough money to send a letter so I doubt she ever traveled to California.

My point is that you never know what you’ll discover when you put someone’s name into a newspaper search engine. Sometimes, you can even search for free if your library has a subscription to Genealogy Bank, or Newspaper Archive.

In the meantime, enjoy Aunt Mayme’s recipe from 1913.

Genealogy tools, New Orleans

Louisiana birth records

Finding old birth records in Louisiana can be a bit tricky.

Take my grandmother as an example. She was born along Bayou Boeuf in 1913. It was the same year the Model T started rolling off the assembly line in Detroit so the world was definitely changing and advancing. However, Louisiana wouldn’t start keeping statewide birth records for another five years.

Because she was Catholic, I found her baptism record, which made note of her birth date as well as the day she was baptized – no doubt screaming at the top of her lungs when the water hit her head. I have to imagine she was already a spitfire in the making.

Church records are a great resource if your ancestor was Catholic. Many of the records in south Louisiana have been published and can be found in local libraries.

Another thing to consider is whether your ancestor lived in New Orleans. For Louisiana records, New Orleans is always the great exception. Records there go further back than in any other city.

Family Search’s database of New Orleans birth records goes back to 1819. Search here.

Sadly, the images of the certificates themselves aren’t online. However, this is a good index that includes the parents’ names.

Happy searching!

Genealogy tools

How to find out if you’re related to Jane Austen

Not to brag, but Jane Austen is in my family tree. Granted, I’m about as closely related to her as I am to Lady Di (another relative). The point is that you’re all peasants to me now.

Just kidding – although Jane and Di apparently are my cousins. They could also be your cousins. I’ll tell you how to find out.

I’ve always been more of a Brontë fan than an Austen fan, but I watched a little bit of the Colin Firth version of “Pride and Prejudice” last night. Perhaps that’s why I opened up and saw this teaser: Jane Austen and I are seventh cousins (seven times removed).

It’s a wonder this never came up at the childhood dining room table.

Here’s our really close connection (read with sarcasm but still delight at discovering we’re “related”):

Thomas Throckmorton and Elizabeth Berkeley begat William and Mary. William is my great-grandfather (times 12). Mary was Jane’s great-grandmother (times five).

I discovered the very long distance connection through a new feature at If you know me – and most of you don’t – it would seem far more likely that I would be related to Lucille Ball than to Jane Austen. Both redheads (mine used to be natural). Both slightly nuts.

And wouldn’t you know it? Lucille and I are 11th cousins once removed! This connection is actually a little more recognizable than my connection to dear Jane. My grandfather’s beloved granny was descended from the Holleman family. Lucy and I share a Holleman ancestor. We last shared a real family connection in the 1500s before the family tree started growing in different directions so it’s not a close connection.

All you need to do in order to use the “Am I related tool” is to upload your family tree. Then, it’s just a matter of clicking on celebrities’ pictures to see if there’s a connection. Now, be warned. Unless you’re Colin Firth’s first cousin, most of these “connections” happened centuries ago. You’re not likely to be invited to a family reunion.

Here are the rest of my celebrity connections:

Sean Astin? Sadly, we’re not related.

Walt Disney? 9th cousin, 3 times removed. Had I only known that summer I sold ice cream at Walt Disney World!

George Washington? 7th cousin, 7 times removed.

Charles Dickens? No connection.

Babe Ruth? 12th cousin, twice removed.

Princess Diana? 11th cousin.

And, here’s where I should add another word of caution, as much as I’d like to be related to Lady Di. This connection is through John Millhollon, who’s as far back as we’ve gotten in our Millhollon family tree (Millhollon is my maiden name). I don’t know who decided that his mother was Martha Scroggin, whose ancestors were also the Spencers’ ancestors. So, it’s obvious that Family Search is taking my family tree and making it more robust using other people’s submissions.

Have fun with this, but don’t make a claim to the throne of England based on it.

Now excuse me. I have an inexplicable craving for a cup of tea.

Genealogy tools

Free Stuff Friday: Sean Astin

I should probably clarify: Sean Astin is not free. He’s the keynote speaker on March 4 at Family Seaarch’s Roots Tech conference. And you can tune in for free!

Given his wild family history (he had to take a DNA test to figure out which of three famous contenders was his biological father; his mother, Patty Duke, wasn’t accepting of the results), I’m expecting a great speech. Plus, I’ve been a fan since the “Goonies” and may have ugly cried on the couch during a fateful scene in “Stranger Things.”

So, I am super excited.

Roots Tech offers a lot of goodies and no booby traps (get it?).

The 2023 calendar is crammed with workshops on DNA, research tools and oddities (my favorite). For example, even though I can’t claim any ancestry in Denmark, I will most likely tune into a Danish census webinar just because the title – “Counting Peasants” – grabbed me.

You’ll also learn how to figure out if you’re related to royalty, navigate adoption reunions, use manuscript collections and more. The fun starts Thursday, March 2, at

Here’s a little calendar of events that might be of particular interest to those researching in Louisiana:

March 2, 9 a.m. CST: Antebellum Emancipations and Free People of Color

March 2, 10:30 a.m. CST: FamilySearch: Finding What You Need and What You Didn’t Know You Wanted

March 2, 2:30 p.m. CST: State and County Courts

March 3, 10:30 a.m. CST: Digging into Death Certification Data to Uncover Family History and Family Health Information Treasures: A Physician’s Perspective

March 3, 10:30 a.m. CST: Using Manuscript Collections

See you in “Counting Peasants!”

Genealogy tools

We love a parade

I went to the Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade (it’s a Baton Rouge thing) Saturday and was somehow talked into adding rum shots to my giant daiquiri. Let’s just say that I had a marvelous time and came home, ate a baked potato and went to bed while the sun was still up. I didn’t wake up until the next day.

So, I laughed when I came across this postcard while scanning in old family photos. Apparently we love a parade so much that this postcard from April 1918 is carefully saved amongst the portraits of long forgotten babies.

According to the Texas Historical Commission, This is the 36th Infantry Division who fought bravely in World War I. Because they mobilized at Camp Bowie near Fort Worth, they were called the Texas Division. They later even had T patches for their uniforms.

It looks like the entire town turned out to cheer them.

Historic postcards are a useful way to get a glimpse of the past. Our ancestors bought them to remember places and events. Until cameras became commonplace, postcards were a nice memento.

I love so much about this postcard, from the different flags to the spectators perched on rooftops.


Genealogy tools, New Orleans

The secret recipe for easily researching Louisiana death records

Searching death records in Louisiana used to be rather frustrating.

In days of olde, your only resource was the Secretary of State’s Office for records old enough to be released to the general public. True, the state helpfully put together online indexes, but you still had to request the death certificates by mail or drive to the State Archives in Baton Rouge and laboriously find records on microfilm.

Fortunately for those of us who have an irrational fear of microfilm readers (I’m raising my hand here), there’s an easier way. Best of all, you don’t have to live in Louisiana to utilize it although it might require a tank of gas.

The Church of Latter Day Saints has death records for every parish in Louisiana. Now, curb your enthusiasm for a moment.

If your great-great grandfather died in Louisiana but outside New Orleans in 1840, you’re out of luck. Only New Orleans and the adjoining Jefferson Parish started keeping records before 1911. And, if I’m being honest, most parishes (outside Orleans and Jefferson) weren’t good at insisting on death certificates until closer to the 1920s.

Not to curb your enthusiasm any further, but I should point out that I’ve yet to find death certificates for my great-great grandparents John S. Hebert and Rosalie Penisson even though they died in the 1920s. My guess is the family called a priest instead of a doctor because their deaths are dutifully recorded in church records. But it also could have been that the doctor just couldn’t be bothered.

Dr. B. A. Taber – the register of vital statistics for the town of Jennings – even made a joke about filling out death certificates in 1913 (see newspaper clipping below). Do you get the sense that he wasn’t keen on paperwork?

Here’s what the Church of Latter Day Saints has:

And .- just like the Secretary of State records – they’re searchable. Here’s the difference. The certificates at the Church of Latter Day Saints have been digitalized.

When you find a certificate you’d like to view in the Church of Latter Day Saints’ index, you can view early Orleans records with the click of your mouse from the comfort of your home. For other death records, you can view with the click of a mouse at a Family History Center. No microfilm!

There are Family History Centers across the globe and across the U.S. The pandemic’s made researching a little tricky in Baton Rouge. The center is currently closed although I’ve been able to email a church member and make arrangements to spend a few hours on a Saturday happily researching. Take my advice and call or email ahead.

The Church of Latter Day Saints has done a tremendous job of collecting records and making them accessible. You don’t have to be a member of the church to research their records. When I was a teen, my Southern Baptist grandmother took me, her Catholic granddaughter, to a Family History Center in Arizona. I’ve been a fan of their work ever since.

Happy searching!

Genealogy tools

Did your ancestor own a radio in 1930?

I came across an article today that suggests radio was the internet of the 1930s. Maybe that’s why the U.S. Census Bureau included a question about radio ownership on the 1930 census.

Forty percent of Americans owned a radio in 1930. The USDA even created a character called Aunt Sammy to dispense cooking and cleaning advice to housewives via the radio waves while they went about their day. You can check out some of Aunt Sammy’s radio recipes on the Henry Ford Museum’s website. What made them radio recipes? No idea.

I was curious what my grandmother’s radio situation was in 1930. She was sweet 16 that year and living with her aunt and uncle in Assumption Parish. The granny I knew loved music (Elvis and Conway Twitty were particular favorites) and television soap operas although she was remarkably deaf most of her life (Granny was a riddle). Did her aunt and uncle have enough money to own a radio in 1930?

Ancestry has a new tool that walks you through the 1930 census. All you have to do is find your ancestor and look at the actual census image. A window will pop up asking if you’d like to take a deeper dive.

Here’s what I learned: Granny wasn’t in school but she could read and write (this is true). She lived on what Ancestry calls Ponist Road (I believe it was actually Parish Road). She was born in Louisiana (this is true). And, now for the big reveal, did the rented home have a radio?


Are you really ready?

Are you sitting up straight?

The census taker either didn’t ask or didn’t record whether Granny or any of her neighbors had a radio.

I know. I’m disappointed as well.

Here’s Aunt Sammy’s cookie recipe to console you.

I will say this: I don’t remember Granny ever making cookies during her long life. Meatloaf, yes. Spaghetti, yes. Bread pudding, yes. Cookies? Those were lemon flavored and came from the country store. So, I’m doubtful she was an Aunt Sammy fan. I’m also doubtful her family home had electricity in 1930 or that they would’ve sprung for batteries to operate a radio.

Genealogy tools

My very own genealogical Narnia

It’s not the door to Narnia, but it’s close …

A few years ago, I was rooting around on Ancestry when I discovered my very own genealogical Narnia. I consider it consolation for all those hours I spent in my grandmother’s quilt-filled armoire hoping – hoping, oh so much – that the back of it would open into a secret world filled with snow, sleigh rides, talking animals and Turkish Delight. I even memorized a map of Narnia I found in my uncle’s childhood bedroom just in case I needed to navigate this fascinating world. Like algebra, it turned out to be useless knowledge.

I’m going to share my secret in case you also spent your childhood crouched atop a pile of old-smelling quilts looking for Narnia. The secret is a cache of Louisiana court records on Ancestry. For the most part, they’re not indexed, but they are sorted by parish. This means they don’t show up in the search engine, making them a somewhat hidden portal. This little treasure trove came in handy when someone asked me recently for help locating records on the Opelousas Post.

Opelousas is in St. Landry Parish, near Lafayette. It was home to an Indian tribe called the Opelousa when Europeans moved in and established a trading post long before Louisiana became a state. The post switched from French to Spanish hands over the decades.

1801 was a busy year in the Opelousas Post.

Probably the best way to think about the Opelousas Post is as a vast colony in the wilderness. As explained in this excellent writeup, the post stretched for miles and was known as “the west.” The people who settled there crossed an ocean to live in a wilderness. They married, divorced, bought cattle, built farms and died. All of that had to be recorded.

Because the Opelousas Post existed before Louisiana became a state, it was a puzzle as to where the records would be located. I’ll save you the tumble down the rabbit hole. At one point, the St. Landry Parish Courthouse had them. In the 1980s, they were turned over to the State Archives, where they take up 1 cubic foot of space.

Now I could grab a pencil, notepad and a pair of gloves and head over to the State Archives to carefully read centuries-old documents. First, though, I checked my little Ancestry portal. And, just like that, I was transported to decades of slave sales, mortgages, marriages, deaths and squabbles in the Opelousas Post. No, I didn’t read every record that’s been scanned and placed in my portal (yes, I now think of it as my portal). Someone did that for me and summarized the records. That someone included names, the language the record is in (French, English or Spanish) and the general topic (marriage, murder or boring property sale).

It’s fascinating to get a glimpse of life in a trading post on the Louisiana frontier.

Even better, you’ll find records for just about every parish and post in the state of Louisiana. All you have to do is take the time to browse through them. If you’d like to do so while sitting atop a pile of quilts in an old armoire, I won’t judge you.

Here’s how I find this cache of records: I type “Louisiana wills Ancestry” into the Google search engine. It takes me to the collection, which is officially named “Louisiana, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1756-1984.” You could also just go through Ancestry’s card catalog.

You’ll land on a search page, which is only somewhat helpful and rather misleading. Only a fraction of the records is indexed. So, if the search engine doesn’t produce anything, don’t despair! The landing page also has a “Browse this collection” section on the righthand side of the page. This is the treasure trove. You can pull up records by parish, including all the records that someone hasn’t indexed for you. But … some of them contain the courthouse indexes so it’s just a matter of pulling up the digital files and flipping through those indexes. Easy peasy.

This little treasure trove can save you a trip to the courthouse to look through succession records, will books and estate inventories because a lot of them are in this portal. It’s by no means a complete collection, but I’m thankful it exists.

Happy new year!

Genealogy tools, House History, Uncategorized

The Branch mansion in Alexandria

One of my favorite ways to explore the past is through fire insurance maps. I’ve talked about Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps before, but I always discover something new when I revisit them.

The maps were launched in 1867 to help insurance agents determine the risk of insuring properties. They offer a bird’s eye view of every building on a plot of land and detail how many stories, doors and windows a dwelling had.

The first thing to do when looking at the maps is to find the key. This will explain all the notations on your ancestor’s home. Usually, it’s on the first page of a map series.

I decided to revisit the maps after driving past the home of silent film star Mary Miles Minter’s cousin in Alexandria. I’d visited the home in real estate listings and wondered why in the world it was selling for such a bargain basement price. Well, a drive past the day after Christmas ended that wonder. The neighborhood’s definitely seen better times. We didn’t even get out of the car. I wanted to see what the neighborhood looked like in 1914 so I turned to Sanborn.

Introducing the Branch Mansion, circa 1914:

With a little imagination, the neighborhood quickly comes into focus even though more than a century’s passed. 103 Bolton Avenue was the lone house on the block. A servant’s dwelling was located behind the beautiful mansion. Today, the servant’s quarters are gone as are most of the neighboring houses on 16th. The steps to one house still are there.

It happens. Houses burn down. Other times, they’re abandoned and quickly crumble.

Turning to the key, I learn more about the Bolton Mansion. It’s two stories. Oh, that building at the far right was a stable (now gone). All the houses in the neighborhood were frame. Fascinating!

These maps tend to focus on cities rather than rural areas. Enjoy!