The AhHa for Genealogists Blog is moving!

September 10, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Posted in Welcome | Leave a comment
Moving Day! AhHa for Genealogists Blog is Moving

Moving Day! AhHa for Genealogists Blog is Moving

Moving Day!

The “AhHa for Genealogists!” Blog is moving to a new home.  I’ve relocated it on my new website – Genealogy Decoded –

The new “Ah Ha Moments for Genealogists” blog is now here .  It’s packed with all of the post archives including the tips, resources and stories you’ve enjoyed in the past.   And you can look forward to even more good genealogy stuff in the future.  I’ve still been researching while the site has been under construction, and I have a TON of great stuff to share with you.

IMPORTANT!  This is important, if you’ve been subscribing to the email feed for this blog, you need to resubscribe on the new site, just like you did with this one to keep getting the blog posts.  However! At the new place you can follow through social media, too.  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn will all be joining us in the new digs.

While you’re on the website, look around.  I’ve got great tools on my Resources Page that I’m sure you’ll enjoy.  There are cheat sheets, worksheets, maps, charts, and bibliographies from my classes.  And check back often, I’ll be adding good things to the list as they get unpacked.

But wait!  There’s more.  On the home page, you can find an up-to-date live calendar of all of my upcoming speaking engagements.  If you’ve been to one of my classes, do come back!  If you’ve never attended before, I’d invite you to come on out.  We have a great time, and most events are free.

So follow me to the new website –  There you can check out my class schedule, follow the blog with email, Twitter or Facebook, get genealogy tools you won’t find anywhere else, and enjoy a lot of great genealogy fun!

And if you have just a moment, let me know what you think of the new site.  I’d love to hear your feedback.

See you at the new place & happy researching.


Where to find Records for Sections 16 & 36 of Public Domain Land

August 8, 2012 at 1:04 am | Posted in Genealogy Research Strategies, Researching Land Records | Leave a comment
Tags: , , ,

If your ancestor “homesteaded” or was the first purchaser of land in the Public Domain (states not including Texas, Hawaii, and the 13 Colonies), the place to go for records is the Bureau of Land Management website.  It is a super easy way to get the patent (deed) for free.  From there you can chase down the Land Entry Files (everything in his application file) at the National Archives.

There are a number of exceptions to this rule, and one is if your ancestor purchased land designated as “Section 16” or “Section 36” within a township/range under the Public Domain Land.  These lands are special in that they were designed to generate revenue for schools in each state.  The land wasn’t necessarily set aside as the property upon which to build the school, but it was left to the local authority to dispose of and use the proceeds to build schools.

The Section 16 & 36 Records

Unlike the “normal” research route for typical Public Land records, the Section 16 & 36 records are found in a whole different manner mostly because they weren’t sold by the Federal government.  They were sold – at least in Kansas – by the State of Kansas.  Isn’t that an eye-opener?  Therefore the records are stored on a local level and not with the Bureau of Land Management or the National Archives.  As you might expect there are seller and purchaser records, and they aren’t in the same place. Continue Reading Where to find Records for Sections 16 & 36 of Public Domain Land…

Really Cool Land Patent Maps for Genealogy Research

August 5, 2012 at 8:28 am | Posted in Researching Land Records | Leave a comment
Tags: , ,

Many of my favorite genealogy subjects to research and understand are those of any ancestor that does something “first.”  I love the thought of someone being a pioneer in their family history.  First to go to college, first to go to high school, an immigrant to a new nation, or the first to own American soil (Native American land ownership notwithstanding).That’s why I love the study of patents.  Patents are the record signifying title or ownership of land to the first individual American to hold possession of it.  It clearly says, this ancestor was here and claimed stake to this land – first.  All subsequent owners of that property hold deeds, as to be distinguished from the first owner who held a patent.

Family Maps

I have recently discovered the most amazing series of published books that make patent research a whole lot easier and shed a most enlightening perspective on the lilfe and times of our forebearers.  Each book in the series is entitled Family Maps of “X County”, “Y State”, for example, Family Maps of Bates County Missouri, or Family Maps of Johnson County Missouri.   The books are by Gregory Boyd.  You can check out the authors and the series at their website,

What’s in the Family Map Books?

Greg and his wife, Vicky, Boyd have taken on the monumental task of mapping every patent holder  – regardless of when and how they acquired the land – in each section and township of many, many counties.  They are drawing on data from the Bureau of Land Management, so the information is most authoritative.  But imagine what they are doing for genealogists.  If your ancestors were the pioneers of a county or township, they purchased the land from the Federal Government and received a patent for 40, 80, 160, 460 or some quantity of acres.  That acreage was in a very specific location and can be – and has been – mapped by the Boyds.  Further, the other pioneers of that county or township did likewise and have been mapped, too – most likely right next to your ancestors.  And they may be kinfolk!

You can see on the map below the names of patent holders within their respective land plots and the year they received the patent.  How truly cool is that?

Family Maps - Ownership Map

Family Maps – Ownership Map

You may have seen Plat Maps on or at your state archives.  The maps are land ownership maps of a township.  The Boyds have done the same thing with their maps.  HOWEVER, the Family Map books are of that unique period in time – which may span decades depending on how long it to the land to be first purchased – when the property was first settled.  Unlike the Plat Maps which are for a specific year and may contain deed and patent holders undistingquished from each other.

Further, beyond these amazing maps of first patent holders, you will find two more maps of each township – one depicting the topography (lakes, streams, etc.), and one marking the major roads.  So you can easily compare and contrast the maps to get a pretty good handle on the lay of the land.  Below is the corresponding topography map for the above map.

Family Maps - Topography Map

Family Maps – Topography Map

Finally, in these spiffy books there are indexes.  Each township has an alphabetical listing of every person by surname that owns property in that township.  Isn’t that the coolest thing ever?  If your ancestor settled in one township, it would be super easy to scan the list to look for kinfolk.  (Don’t forget to look at nearby townships for kinfolk, too.)

Family Maps - Surname Index

Family Maps – Surname Index

AND, there is a cross reference index from the name list to “Appendix A,” which with a simple flip of the page will tell you under what legislative Act your ancestor acquired the land.  Did they purchase the land with cash?  Was it acquired under the Homestead Act?  But wait, there’s more.  Appendix A gives you a count of how many settlers in the county got land under each Act.  It will answer the question of how the county was settled – was it 90% Homestead Act, was the county a bastion of Bounty Land migrants, were they all cash sales?  HUGE information for understanding the world in which your pioneer ancestor lived in.  And it’s all available thanks to the Boyds.

Family Maps - Appendix A

Family Maps – Appendix A

Now the “Bad” News

The good news is that these books exist for townships, counties, and states within the Public Domain or Federal Land Grant area.  Those are all states EXCEPT the 13 Colonies, Texas, and Hawaii.

The “bad” news is that the Boyds have yet to document every county.  It is as I mentioned earlier a monumental task, so we should give them a break and some time as I know they are working diligently on the project.   You can find the list of what counties they have completed on their website (, where you can also purchase any books you find relevant to your research.

But Wait!

Before you pull out your debit card, check first with your local library, archives, or genealogy center.  They may have a copy of the series for your reference.  I know the Midwest Genealogy Center has the full series, and I’m sure they will keep up with any new publications as they are released.

Final thoughts –

Maps are often the unsung hero of genealogy research simply because they aren’t valued for the rich genealogy treasures which they often hold.  These maps – if you’re into researching patent holders for your family or even the founding of a township or county – are a must for your research agenda.  Oh, one last tip, if “your” counties aren’t yet documented, don’t dispair, you can and are encouraged by the Boyds to put in your “vote” or request for a county.  Just email them – politely – through the contact page on their website.  They are always eager to hear where the interest lies, and where they should next turn their efforts.

Happy Researching.

Using Alternative Census Databases When Stumped by

August 2, 2012 at 9:25 am | Posted in Genealogy Research Strategies, Genealogy Websites | Leave a comment
Tags: ,

The digital age has been an unquestionable boon to genealogy.  So many records are found so much easier.  However, it has pushed genealogists to learn how to “work” a database to find what we’re looking for.  And it’s not always easy. – the 10 billion record and county genealogy repository – is without question the first reach source for census records.  But as good as it is, there is still the human element in getting the information from household to census taker and from census record to indexer to overcome.  Learning and mastering ways to crack their database of census records can prove quite challenging.

The Alternative

I often talk about the other sources for census records in my classes because they are simply another tool to find those elusive ancestors, when you don’t first succeed with

This truism played out in real time for me recently when looking for Pietro Cevetti.  Pietro Cervetti immigrated from Italy and settled in Polk County, IA.  As may be more familiar to most of us, Polk County is the home of DesMoines.  I knew from other records that Pietro probably was in Polk County, IA in 1920.  He had a child there in 1919 and again in 1922, and registered for the WWI draft in Polk County in 1918.

But try as I might with every trick I had, I could not find him in the 1920 Census on  I was certain the challenge boiled down to a translation or transcription issue.

I turned to Heritage Quest for a solution.  Heritage Quest is a free online database with US Census records up to 1930 (partial for 1930) available exclusively through libraries and other institutions.  (Midwest Genealogy Center has a subscription.)  You can access it if you have a library card to this institution either onsite at the library or remotely at home.

What Makes Heritage Quest Awesome

It uses a different type of database than  Both repositories are good.  Both have their place.  But you can do things in Heritage Quest that you can’t do in Ancestry.  Things like sort the results page by age, location, birthplace or name.  And things like see the count of how many people fit your search criteria by county for that state.  For example, I can search for all Italian born people living in Iowa in 1920.  The results will tell me that there are 911 in Polk County, IA,  and only 126 in the next most dense county of Webster.  All of this to say there are a number of ways you can look at the data to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Pietro Cervetti

I found Pietro not by looking for either his first or last name in the search.  I didn’t even try looking for anyone named “Peter” in Iowa.  Instead I looked for all of the Italian-born residents living in Polk County, IA in 1920.  And as I mentioned there are 911.  To narrow that down I looked at the results list only for those last names that started with “C”.

This is what I saw:

Pietro Cervetti - 1920 US Census for Iowa - Index

Pietro Cervetti – 1920 US Census for Iowa – Index

“Peter Charvich” seemed to fit the description of the person I was looking for.  There is NO way I could have found that name by playing with the spelling variations of “Cervetti.”  And this is exactly why I hit a brick wall searching in for him.  But this was indeed “Pietro Cervetti.”  The listing matched dates, locations, and family members consistent with what I knew about him.

Transcription Error?

You may be wondering how he came to be listed in the census as “Peter Charvich.”  Was it a translation or a transcription error?

Pietro Cervetti - 1920 US Census for Iowa

Pietro Cervetti – 1920 US Census for Iowa

Can you see the name for the head of household in the above image?  The name was written, then written over by the census taker, who was trying to correct the spelling or make the letters clearer.  As a result the name became virtually illegible.  As a transcriber I would have NEVER gotten “Cervetti” out of that.

Fortunately, with a little creative searching and a little known tool like Heritage Quest, the family was found in 1920 in Polk County, IA, just where they were expected.

Here’s to creative search techniques!

Happy Researching.

Revolutionary War Genealogy Websites

August 2, 2012 at 12:57 am | Posted in American Military Genealogy Resources, Genealogy Websites, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: ,

Family Tree Magazine has published a wealth of articles on Revolutionary War Genealogy Research.  Now one writer for Family Tree Magazine has compiled a wonderful list of the articles and linked the reader to them.

The articles focus on websites, so many of them are lists of Revolutionary War websites.  Some focus on one group – Loyalists or Hessians.  And some focus on where to find and access the records.

It’s a great list, well worth the time to investigate.

Check it out here.

Happy Researching

How to Access Kansas Historical Newspapers Online

July 7, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Posted in Genealogy Websites | Leave a comment
Tags: , ,

Recently I wrote about the amazing newspaper search service that The Historical Society of Missouri offers.  In an attempt to offer equal time to my home state, Kansas, I should let you know about the really cool project they have undertaken to make Kansas newspapers readily accessible.

In 2009 the Kansas State Historical Society (KSHS), Topeka, KS, received a $260,004 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress to digitize their newspaper archives.

What you need to know is that KSHS has the preeminent newspaper collection for the state of Kansas.  They have nearly every page of every paper ever published in the state of Kansas.  It’s amazing.  Their devotion to capturing this archive started with the founder, who was a newspaper man himself, and continues on today.

Now this tremendous archive is being digitized and made available on the Internet through the Chronicling of America Project of the Library of Congress.  Accessible now are a mere 100,000 historic Kansas newspaper pages!  Plenty enough material for a good Sunday morning read with a cup of coffee.

In 2011, KSHS received additional funding to digitize another 100,000 pages.  I know I’ll be watching the website for more good things to come.

For a list of papers already digitized, those scheduled to be digitized, and a spiffy interactive map of towns with digitized newspapers enumerated visit here.

Happy researching…and pass the Danish & coffee.

The Big List of Beginner Genealogy How-To Guides

July 6, 2012 at 7:10 am | Posted in Foundational Genealogy, Genealogy Reference Books | Leave a comment
Tags: ,

As you may have noticed, I’m a big fan of genealogy how-to books.  I like them so much because there is so much to learn in genealogy any assistance I can find is most welcome. To that end, you may have seen my blog posts on The Source, The Family Tree Problem Solver, and on maps in The Red Book.  All of these are excellent reference guides.

But there’s nothing like a handy professionally-collected bibliography of beginner how-to books to get one planning a trip to the library.  I found such a nifty guide the other day on the Midwest Genealogy Center’s website.  It is a neat bibliography of beginner how-to books entitled, How-To Guides for Beginning Genealogists.  You can access it here.

Organized alphabetically by author and sorted by “Books” and “Periodicals,” it’s a great beginner guide and excellent reference tool for the rest of us.  But wait! There’s more.  If you happen to be able to visit MGC (Midwest Genealogy Center) in Independence, Mo, the compilers of this list have included the handy-dandy Dewey Decimal number for each of the books.  Finding the books couldn’t be easier.

Finally, the compilers have annotated the list by marking their favorite books.  One happens to be Unpuzzling Your Past by Emily Anne Croom, which interestingly, was the very first genealogy book I ever bought.  I suspect that it did its job in getting me started on the right foot because lo these many years later I’m still at it!

Check out the list and let me know if you have a favorite book and why.

And happy researching.

Found: Missouri Newspaper Article

June 25, 2012 at 2:52 am | Posted in Genealogy Research Strategies, Genealogy Websites | Leave a comment
Tags: , ,

Recently, I blogged about How to Obtain Missouri Newspaper Articles.  I stumbled upon this resource when looking for the answers to the untimely deaths of Catherine Vanderstay Gerling and Wilhelm Gerling, her son, in Weston, MO in 1867.

I was hoping the State Archives would find an obituary that would explain the cause of the deaths.  They didn’t find any obituaries, but undaunted they kept searching, and found something just about as good – something I would have never thought to look for.

A News Story

In the Reveillie, the Platte City Newspaper, on August 23rd – the week after their deaths – there was a very brief news story.  It doesn’t mention Catherine and Wilhelm by name, but it says two persons in Weston died the prior week from Cholera.  It must be them.

Reveille Newspaper Article on the Gerlings

Reveille Newspaper Article on the Gerlings

The Lesson Learned

My take-away from this experience is to keep my eyes, ears, and options open in my searches beyond my stated objective.  I don’t know that if I were the one searching I wouldn’t have stopped several times prior to getting this article – first when there wasn’t a paper in Weston available, and second when I didn’t find an obituary.  But the PROs at the State Archives knew better and found this wonderful treasure.

Rest in peace Catherine and Wilhelm.

Happy researching to the rest of us!

How to Obtain Articles from Missouri Newspapers

June 15, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Posted in Genealogy Resources, Genealogy Websites | 5 Comments
Tags: , ,

I like to share with you new genealogy resource finds under the self-delusion that I’m the only one that has discovered this resource.  I realize that isn’t true, but I like sharing none the less.

While researching my Platte County, Missouri family, I came across The State Historical Society of Missouri website.  In Columbia, they are the holders of non-government, non-bureaucratic records for the State of Missouri.  This would include manuscripts, artwork, photographs, and newspapers.  This would be contrasted with the State Archives in Jefferson City, which holds the military records and legislative records among other things.

I’m writing today specifically about the newspaper collection for two reasons, 1) newspapers hold a wealth of information – stories, birth, death, and other life-event notices, 2) newspapers are hard to find.  Because of the size of any collection local – even big local – libraries and archives don’t attempt to manage such a collection.

So, the State Historical Society of Missouri has the primary collection of Missouri newspapers for towns big and small and for papers current and extinct.  Like many archives of newspapers the have a growing digitization project and have a very respectable collection online.  You can access the collection of digitized newspapers here, where among other things they have a Missouri county map identifying digitized papers by county.  Isn’t that just too cool?

But the neatest thing I found is their newspaper article request service.  If you, like me, are looking for any article such as an obituary or death notice or maybe your ancestor was involved in a newsworthy event, you can fill out the online form and for $10 the Society will look up the article and mail a copy to you.  Is that too easy or what?  You don’t even need to know the newspaper.  Just a date or date estimate, a location, and some description of the article or type of subject you are researching.  And they can go to town.  The look up service takes about 2 weeks, and they ask that you request one article at a time and wait for your first result before asking for another.  I can see the reasoning there.  It’s kind of like getting stuck behind the person with two filled grocery carts at the store.  You don’t want to be the person “next in line” behind the person who’s asked for 20 articles.  So the service one article at a time.  Seems very fair to me.  You can access the online request form here.

So, next time you’re looking for an ancestor who died, but you can’t find a headstone or funeral record, order the obit from the State of Missouri Historical Society.  Or if you’re wondering if two ancestors really did get married, order the marriage announcement in the local newspaper.  And if you really want to know if the murder-suicide made front page headlines in the town currior, send $10 to the Historical Society.

Your answers are just a mail box away.

Happy researching.

Video on the Bureau of Land Management Website

June 11, 2012 at 3:54 am | Posted in Genealogy Websites | Leave a comment

Did your ancestor make the first purchase of land as he or she moved West?  Were they the first to own land, previously held by the Native Americans?  Did they receive Bounty Land or land through the Homestead Act?  Did they receive a Patent for their land?

If so, you may be able to download for FREE the actual patent (title/deed) for their land from the Bureau of Land Management website.  This organization and website is one of the many unsung heroes of genealogy archives.  Once you have the Patent, you can order the Land Entry Files (their application papers) from the National Archives.

To learn more about the site and how to access the records, watch my new video.  You can access it here.

Happy Researching.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at
Entries and comments feeds.