Archive | Genealogy

This blog is about genealogy and family history. From the beginning of time, people have sensed a need to belong – to be connected with others. Genealogy is a unique and personalized form of history, transferring photos, documents, medals, personal letters, and oral history from one generation to the next.
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Independence Day

Thomas MacEntee of High Definition Genealogy investigates the origins of Independence Day and how our families have celebrated the holiday.
Patriotic family

Recently, I went through some old photos of my family celebrating Independence Day and it was interesting to see some of the same traditions from past generations still hold true today. Naturally I had to do some research as to how some traditions got started and why we mark this national holiday in certain ways.

The Declaration of Independence – Read Wide and True

The first printing of the Declaration of Independence was made late in the afternoon on Thursday, July 4, 1776 by a local Philadelphia printer. Since the Continental Congress had mandated that proclamations of the document be made throughout the nation, copies were dispersed on horseback to each colony. While the Pennsylvanischer Staatsbote (German language) newspaper was the first newspaper to announce news of our nation’s independence, it was the Philadelphia Evening Post, which printed the declaration in full on July 6, 1776.

When Was the First Independence Day Celebration?

The first celebration of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776 was a year later in Philadelphia, the same city where the congress was held. Festivities included music, parades and fireworks. The first official recognition of Independence Day as a holiday was by the Massachusetts legislature in 1781. The oldest continuous Fourth of July celebration is in Bristol, Rhode Island, where it has been held since 1785.

It wasn’t until 1870 that Congress made July 4 of each year a national holiday to recognize the start of this nation. And in 1941, it became a paid holiday for all federal government employees.

July 2 – The Real Independence Day?

Did you know that originally there was quite the controversy over which day to celebrate our nation’s independence? The original resolution put forth in the Continental Congress by Richard Henry Lee, the delegate from Virginia, was adopted on July 2, 1776. It was that same day that John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”

Adams was so adamant as to the “correct” date for celebration that he supposedly refused to attend events related to our nation’s independence if they fell on July 4. Ironically, he and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826.

United States Flag as Photo Identifier

Many of the old photos of your family marking the Fourth mostly likely show them holding small flags or have flags displayed. If you know the history of our country’s flag, and when the configuration of stars was changed, you have a handy clue to help you date a photo.

Visit the Flag Timeline at and you’ll see that the U.S. flag had 45 stars as of 1896 (when Utah became a state on January 4)and then had 46 stars after November 16, 1907 (when Oklahoma became a state).

It isn’t always easy to count the stars due to folds etc., but look at how the edges of the field are laid out and there is a difference between the versions. Also keep in mind that although some families didn’t replace their flags right away, you’ll at least know that a 46 star flag had to be after 1907, etc.

Fourth of July Ephemera and Memorabilia

As you sift through your family archives and mementos, you may come across a variety of items related to the Fourth of July: old photos, postcards, programs for concerts and readings of the Declaration of Independence.

These items offer a glimpse at how our families celebrated this holiday in years gone by. Look closely at what people wore, what activities they attended and, if you’re lucky enough to find letters and diaries, how they felt about the holiday. Many of these items are easy to scan using the Flip-Pal mobile scanner and the digital images can be incorporated into your family history research.

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No matter how you choose to celebrate this year, capture those memories through photos, stories and writing. Preserve a snapshot of how you and your family mark this, and other holidays, so future generations can better understand the importance of Independence Day.


Shall Our Gratitude Sleep? Remembering Our Veterans

RobertSAustin[Editor’s note: Genealogy expert Thomas MacEntee discusses how you can memorialize the military service and achievements your ancestors.]

“When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep?” (—George Canning) represents the sentiments of many when it comes to honoring those who gave their lives in military service. We often feel a duty not just to remember our military ancestors, but also to make sure future generations never forget their sacrifices.

Most of us will mark Veterans Day or Remembrance Day on November 11th in different ways: attending a memorial service at a military cemetery, watching a parade or simply noting the day with our own thoughts and memories of family members who served.

And some will take time to work on projects devoted to memorializing the military service and achievements of brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and generations on end.

Gathering Records, Photos and Mementos

Before you create any tribute, take time to gather as much information about the veteran as you can. Here are some obvious and not-so-obvious hiding places:

  • Photos: Family photo albums and scrapbooks; also ask relatives if they have any related photos. These should be scanned using your Flip-Pal mobile scanner and digitized so you always have a secure copy.
  • Medals and Patches: Medals awarded in combat during military service; patches worn on jackets and other items of clothing; dog tags and other ID items. These can be scanned as well and incorporated in digital or online tributes.
  • Letters and Diaries: Letters from the veteran sent home and vice versa, from loved ones to the veteran if they were saved. If the veteran or people mentioned in the documents are still alive, make sure you get permission to use the items. And again, don’t forget to scan these letters and diaries!
  • Interviews: If your veteran family member is still living, take time to conduct an interview about their service. The Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress has sample interview questions on their website: Record the audio or video interviews and transcribe the text as well.

Create a Lasting Tribute

There are various creative ways you can remember family members past and present that served in the military. Many of these projects involve photos—both printed and digital—as well as the use of medals, ribbons, patches and even written diaries and letters. Some inspiring ideas:

  • Create an Online Memorial Page: There are many sites such as Fold3 where you can create a multi-media online tribute to a veteran. Most are free and don’t require a membership or subscription.
  • Build or Fill a Shadow Box: If you have several 3-dimensional items such as medals and patches or dog tags along with photos, you might choose to build a shadow box, which is basically a deep-framed box with a glass door. You can also choose to purchase a shadow box and then fill it with various items you’ve collected.
  • Publish a Memory Book: Once photos and documents are scanned, they can easily be uploaded to various publishing vendors to create a quick and easy photo book. Include quotes and scans of medals as well.
  • Create a Military Family Tree: Many families have generations of veterans who served in various wars and engagements. Consider creating a family tree chart listing names and dates of service along with photos.
  • Write A Story: Use letters, diaries and interviews, as well as other items gathered through research, to write the story of a veteran. Make sure you include ways to share your written tribute including blog posts, a printed book or even an e-book.

Any tribute you create will help tell the story of that veteran and their service and allow you to pass the story down to future generations.

Image: Robert S. Austin, abt. 1918. Photo in possession of Thomas MacEntee. Used by permission.

Preserving Military Memories

[Editor’s note: Genealogy expert Thomas MacEntee of High-Definition Genealogy shares his family’s own story of a World War II era veteran and a condolence certificate signed by President Harry Truman.]

 matthew mccrickert certificateSeveral years ago, I came upon a variety of family photos and documents when cleaning out my mother’s house in New York. Many of these items belonged to my great-grandmother, Therese McGinnes, who passed away in 1988 and some to my great aunt, Ethel McCrickert, who passed in 2002. Among the items was a Certificate of Condolence signed by President Harry S. Truman.

For me, this item has always been a mystery and I knew it held an interesting story related to my family. But with my older relatives now gone, I had no one to ask about the item and its importance. My search was on…”

Condolence Certificates

The certificate reads:

In grateful memory of Corporal Matthew T. McCrickert who died in the service of his country in the American Area, June 11, 1946. He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live and grow, and increase its blessings. Freedom lives, and through it, he lives—in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.

Harry Truman
President of the United States of America

My first point of research was to determine “what I had” in terms of this item. What I’ve determined is that this document, measuring about 14 x 11,” was sent to the family of a United States military service member killed in action during World War II. The document was signed by President Truman and as far as I can tell, the signature is authentic and not from an auto pen. Although Truman was the first President to regularly use an autopen (which is an automated way of signing thousands of documents), such use was restricted to basic correspondence, not something as important as a condolence certificate.

Scanning the Condolence Card

Before I started my research I wanted to scan the condolence card, so I had a digital image to work with and I wouldn’t damage the original. I used my Flip-Pal mobile scanner and removed the top to scan the document in sections.


After scanning 15 different sections, I was ready to open the Toolbox folder and use the Flip-Pal EasyStitch program to stitch all sections together into one image. The entire process took about 10 minutes from start to finish.

The Search for U.S. Army Veteran Matthew McCrickert

In my search I also found a funeral card for Matthew McCrickert in the same box of possessions. It had basic birth and death information as well as a photo of a young man whose life held such promise but ended at a very early age.

Matthew McCrickert funeral card

My mother cared for Ethel McCrickert Macari Hannan for several years towards the end of her life and Matthew was her only brother, but she never talked much about him. My goal was to learn more about Matt and how he actually died and what the loss meant to his immediate family.

I explored all possible avenues based on the information I had:

1. A death date

2. Bits and pieces of a family story about a plane crash

However, I lacked important information, including where the crash took place.

News Stories: A Fatal Plane Crash in Freehold, New Jersey

My first research step was to search for “Matthew McCrickert” with the year 1946, the year he died. No results. Next, I moved on to a date range of June 1-15, 1946 and added terms such as plane crash.

A glance at a newspaper from upstate New York—the Kingston Daily Freeman—revealed the date and location of a crash in Freehold, New Jersey involving a military plane. While Matt was not listed as a victim of the crash, the story in the newspaper fit with what I had been told by family members.


Further research located another newspaper article, this time in the Middletown Times Herald. This article held an important clue: bad weather along the Eastern Seaboard due to a series of violent storms.

McCrickert Crash

matthew mccrickert news


A Precious Document and A More Complete Story

While I don’t yet have all the pieces to this family mystery, my motivation to learn more about my cousin Matt motivated me to preserve the condolence card, which holds great value to my family.

Over time, as I find more information, I can use the images created using the Flip-Pal mobile scanner and my research to fully tell the story of Corporal Matthew T. McCrickert and his service to his country