Posted in Research tips

Fools, Jokers, and Dimwits…and their records

Today, the day we honor the venerable prankster named April Fool, the Fairy Tale Genealogist decided to find out a little bit more about this farceur. First off, have you ever heard the word farceur before?  Neither had I before today.  Thank you for this clever way to describe a a jokester.



I found April Fool easily enough in the U.S. Public Records Index, with a birthdate of April 1, 1950.  Not one to be casually taken in by the first record I find, I astutely noted that April Fool’s Day predates 1950. This poor child was merely born to farceur parents, and was not the original April Fool. You can hardly blame the Fool family for what must have seemed like an imperative when their daughter was born on April 1st. Nevertheless, I must pass on this outstanding record and dig deeper.

After several shovels-full I was rewarded with a tantalizing array of records for Fools, along with some impressive Joker, Dimwit, and Simpleton options. Some of my favorites were Talking Fool, Fool Hearty, Big Fool, Fool Goon, Rich Joker, and Ernest Fool. I even found Tom Fool in the Findagrave cemetery index. But then I discovered it was a record from an equine (horse!) cemetery.  I give high marks to Crazy-Heart/Fool-Head, a Native American who appeared in the Index to Indian Wars, and am left to muse over the story behind that name. Likewise, I am considering the circumstances that led to this entry in the 1901 Canada Census, where someone’s 15 year-old nephew was merely listed as “The Fool.”

When I came across April Fool Harris in “Florida Births and Christenings, 1880-1935” on FamilySearch, I mused over the Harris family’s good intentions. Born April 1, 1908 in Pensacola, Escambia County, Florida, I sensed that April had parents who wanted her to feel special.  After all, I was born on a holiday–Thanksgiving–and that has always made me feel special.  No, the holiday was not named after April Fool Harris, but it was the other way around. “April Fool Too,” another awesome name by the way, was also likely named after the holdiay, or perhaps was just named by unwary  Asian immigrant parents.

Historical facts about the 18th century origins of April Fools Day aside, I kept digging.  I was rewarded with two highly credible options, and think I am really on to something.  First, we cannot overlook Little Joker Ford, born in 1894  in Mississippi, and I must ask myself if that was her birth name or did she just show an unusual talent for pranking by age six?  She may have had what it took to really start something Big.

But then again, I am rather inclined to credit the whole “April Fool’s Day” tradition (and I think you’ll agree) to a certain Chinese-Canadian, who has a name that says it all…”Fool You.” And seeing how his occupation is listed as “Trader,” can I just add, “Let the buyer beware.”

Fool You
Enter a caption

Year: 1891; Census Place: Vancouver City, New Westminster, British Columbia; Roll:T-6291; Family No: 244.

Posted in National Archives, Research tips

  How to File a FOIA request with the National Archives

File clerk at the FBI
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was passed in 1966, and allows anyone to request records from U.S. federal government agencies.  To obtain information from local or state governments a request must be made according to state public records laws.

What does this mean for a genealogist?  Well, think about the ways your ancestors might have interacted with federal government agencies throughout their lives as employees, citizens, or aliens, and then go for it. Did they work for a railroad or the WPA? Were they part of the CCC? Were they an alien living on U.S. soil during WWII? Did they have an FBI file? You’d be surprised where a file on your ancestor might show up.  Not all requests for federal records require an FOIA form.  Some you can simply order through the National Archives, so look into it before you make the effort.

NARA’s website has a research guide explaining how to use FOIA for genealogy records, but it is only the tip of the iceberg as far as the kinds of agencies your ancestor might have interacted with.  You might find that the Guide to Federal Records, an online list of official federal Record Groups, triggers some ideas for you.  Also, here is the link to a 2010 article in Family Tree Magazine titled, “Under Surveillance”  which explores ways a genealogist might use FOIA.

To get you started, the National Archives recently posted a handy video on FOIA, so I am sharing it here:

Posted in Research tips

Family and local histories digitized on FamilySearch

It seems like only yesterday I checked the count for digitized books on and there were only 35,000. Time flies! Obviously, someone has been busy. If you’ve never looked at this collection, or it’s been awhile, I suggest you take a few minutes to see what they’ve got. I can almost guarantee you success if you search for a surname or locality in your family tree. 

This collection is easily overlooked. We tend to rush right by and plug names into the records or tree search boxes. You can access the books by clicking on “search” from the home page, and then clicking on “books”. Easy-Peasy! Unlike other book digitization sites like Google Books, HathiTrust, or Internet Archive, FamilySearch’s book collection focuses on family histories and local histories. These books come from the following repositories:

  • Allen County Public Library
  • Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records
  • Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library
  • Brigham Young University Hawaii Joseph F. Smith Library
  • Brigham Young University Idaho David O. McKay Library
  • Church History Library
  • Family History Library
  • Historical Society of Pennsylvania
  • Houston Public Library – Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research
  • Mid-Continent Public Library – Midwest Genealogy Center
  • Onondaga County Public Library
  • University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries
Posted in Research tips

Dear Librarian: (Silly) Letters from Genealogists

Today I’m starting a feature I will call “Dear Librarian” –just a little something to make you smile.dear-librarian-2-1