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
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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…

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Using Alternative Census Databases When Stumped by Ancestry.com

August 2, 2012 at 9:25 am | Posted in Genealogy Research Strategies, Genealogy Websites | Leave a comment
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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.  Ancestry.com – 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 ancestry.com.

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 Ancestry.com.  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 Ancestry.com.  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 Ancestry.com 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.

Found: Missouri Newspaper Article

June 25, 2012 at 2:52 am | Posted in Genealogy Research Strategies, Genealogy Websites | Leave a comment
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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 Find Ancestral Records Using Friends, Associates, and Neighbors (FANs)

June 10, 2012 at 2:44 am | Posted in Genealogy Research Strategies, My Family History Stories | Leave a comment
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I suspect we all have “problem” ancestors.  They are the ancestors that “play hard to get” and don’t give up their secrets so easily.  John Vanderstay is one of my “problem” ancestors.

I have spent more than a decade attempting to nail down his immigration path.  I knew he immigrated from Germany, or was it Holland?  I was certain he first settled in Weston, Platte, Missouri, or did he settle somewhere on the east coast first?  I was sure he arrived in 1857, but it could have been 1856 or 1858 maybe even 1855.  Finally, I was absolutely confident that I had no idea through what port he entered or with whom he migrated. See what I mean?  A “problem” ancestor.

The perplexing nature of this problem has been exacerbated by the sheer multitude of name spelling variations.  I understand that spelling variations are one of the “givens” in the book of genealogy challenges.  But in my experiences, the Vanderstays tilt the difficulty scale.  Here is a sampling of the ways I’ve found it spelled.  One, two and three word variations.  Van vs. Von prefixes. Vanderstay or Vanderstag or staag or steng.  Vanflustay.  And the all time winner – Vandermaaij!

Tackling the Genealogy Problem with FANs.

From preeminent authorities down to us mere itinerant preachers of the Genealogy Gospel, have spoken of the wonders of researching not just an ancestor’s direct line, but looking at the world in which they lived in through the experiences of their “FANs” – friends, associates, and neighbors.  Why, because our ancestors lived in communities, traveled in communities, and died in communities of people.  And where you find their marriage witnesses, their children’s baptism godparents, their next door neighbors, their naturalization sponsors, their witnesses to deeds or probate, you find your ancestors.  Look to your own life for evidence.  In your life were any of the above witnesses, sponsors, neighbors your relatives?

Outline What the Known Facts

After many years of “hit and miss” research, I decided to get serious create a timeline of everything I knew about John Vanderstay and his immediate family.  With a preponderance of research I had a fairly rich description of his life – albeit without the critical immigration story.  I knew when and where he was born, married, had children, lived, sat out the Civil War, and died.  Yet nothing pointed to his immigration other than knowing which children were born in Germany and which were born in Missouri, and letting that frame the probable period of migration.

John Vanderstay Timeline

John Vanderstay Timeline

Expand the Research to the Birth Family 

John was one of five adult Vanderstay siblings who migrated and settled in Weston,Missouri.  They were Catherine Vanderstay Gerlings, Frank Vanderstay, Anna Maria Vanderstay Foelling/Felling, and Wilhemina Vanderstay Merwick.  I opted to start with Frank Vanderstay because he, unlike his sisters, didn’t change last names and complicate my research.

I outlined Frank Vanderstay’s life to clarify when he most probably migrated to America.  Then I looked for his passenger record or naturalization record – anything that would tell me his migration story.  Maybe he migrated with John?

And as luck – and a good strategy would have it – I came upon a passenger where which another researcher had identified as that of his great grandfather, Frank Vanderstay. The name, written on a torn and taped section of the record was transcribed “Frane Vandermaaij.” This seemed very promising.  But we need to check these things out before “hurrahing!” and adding the record to the tree.  Frank’s wife’s name was Elizabeth on the passenger record.  That was right.  Frank’s sisters, Wilhemina and Maria, were listed with their correct yet approximate ages.  That’s good compelling evidence.  Finally, there were two persons (a man and a woman ages 59 and 60) clearly listed as part of this family.  Although the handwriting was hard to decipher, I can suspect that they were Frank’s parents.  When the family members and ages correlated, I felt there was a case to be made that this indeed was the passenger record for Frank Vanderstay.

If this is correct, Frank came to America with his wife, parents, and two older sisters. Now I had a pool of FANs on which to base further research.

Which Nationality?  German or Dutch.

Frank Vanderstay’s passenger record was in the database entitled Dutch Immigrants to America – New Orleans Passenger Records 1820 to 1845 on www.ancestry.com.  Here Frank self-identifies as being from “Holland.”  I did not expect to find the Vanderstays in a database of Dutch Immigrants.  Further, I was surprised at Frank saying he’s from “Holland.”  All of my research to date pointed to the family origin being Pfalzdorf, Germany.  It seemed logical to look for them in German records. I’d never thought to look for them in Dutch passenger records.

Until this discovery and I looked at a map.  Pfalzdorf is very, very close to Holland.

Pfalzdorf Germany

So Where’s John Vanderstay?

Now I had a record group or database in which to focus my research. Hurriedly, I typed in “John Vanderstay” in this singular database very eager to find John Vanderstay.  And nothing.  I tried every other spelling variation.  Nothing.  Surely, he must have migrated in the same or similar manner as his brother either before or after him but nothing was materializing in my searches.

Again, Remember the FANs.

I took a deep breath and looked to John’s extended birth family to search for another FAN in this database.  I had accounted for three siblings (Frank, Anna Maria, and Wilhemina) coming to America, but not Catherine.  Catherine married John Gerling in Germany!  Maybe they migrated together with John and his wife, Gertrude?  Gerling, I thought, was a more easily spelled last name than Vanderstay and I might have a better chance of finding it, so I tried it.

And viola!   Catherine (Vanderstay) Gerling, her husband, John, and their three children (Johann, Wilhelm, and Heinrich).   And a few lines up, there it was plain as day, Johann Von der Steny.  Accompanying him were his wife, Gertrude, and son, Wilhelm.    Finally, at the bottom of the same page the Foellings – Gerhardt, the soon-to-be brother-in-law of Anna Maria Vanderstay, his wife, children and parents.  The three families arrived in the Port of New Orleans on April 28, 1856 on the ship, Fanny Fonsdick, as citizens of Prussia, mixed among other passengers from “Holland.”

Lessons Learned

John Vanderstay and dozen immediate and extended family members migrated to America and settled in Weston, Missouri.  Then a year later almost to the date, the remaining members of this triad of families (Frank, Wilhemina, Anna Maria Vanderstay and their parents) followed their family members to America to complete the community.

If ever there was a testimony to the evidence of the power of FANs, I believe this to be it. I was up against a brick wall for a decade having only researched John Vanderstay and never finding his immigration story.  However, it only took me a couple hours to break through the wall once I looked at his extended family.

Happy Researching.

Ancestor Falls off Radar? Look at the Map for Clues.

April 30, 2012 at 1:45 am | Posted in Genealogy Research Strategies | Leave a comment
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Jonathan Rhoades Migration from Lynn MA (A) to Southbridge MA (B)

Jonathan Rhoades Migration from Lynn MA (A) to Southbridge MA (B)

By now you’re well acquainted with the near infamous Jonathan Rhoades.  And while the story is quite rich, there are still questions to be answered.  Among them is what happened to him between 1843 and 1852?

Jonathan’s first wife, Lucinda Parrot(t) dies at the age of 28 from consumption in 1843.  Yes, Jonathan married Lucinda first, then Mary E. Allen, THEN Louise Bolster (Bullard Rhoades Watson.)  Jonathan and Lucinda were only married two years.  Lucinda came from a seemingly very distinguished family.  Her father was a Revolutionary War Patriot.  Given Jonathan’s proclivity to military service, I can imagine him quite at home with the Parrott family, and looking forward to a long and happy life with Lucinda.  But such was not the case.

After this very unhappy turn of events, Jonathan only next turns up on radar in 1852, when he marries Mary E. Allen in Southbridge, Worcester, MA.  I can reason, that Jonathan shys away from the family life for awhile (okay, 9 years?), but the question remains what happened to him during those intervening years?

1850 Census

I have been frustrated that I could not find Jonathan anywhere in the 1850 Census.  I looked high and low in Lynn, MA, where he is from and married Lucinda.  I looked high and low in Southbridge, MA where he married Mary and remained until he retired and returned to Lynn, MA.  Nothing.  He was certainly old enough in 1850 at age 33 to make the 1850 Census as a head of household.  So, where was he?

The Hint Found in a Map

All along I had assumed that Lynn, MA and Southbridge, MA were very near each other.  I had assumed – even in light of seeing that they were in different counties – that Johnathan hadn’t moved far away between marriages.  That was until I Googled the cities, and had Google give me the travel route and mileage between the two. (see above)  Lightbulb!  After the death of Lucinda, Jonathan traveled75 miles to Southbridge, MA.  For us that’s a mere hour-and-a-half morning drive.  For Jonathan, that’s a world and a lifetime away – or in horseback time it must have been at least a couple days ride.

Now, the possible reason why he isn’t found inthe 1850 US Census becomes clearer.  He was in route.  As my “new friend” Marsha Hoffman Rising, says sometimes migrants aren’t counted in the Census because they tell the census worker that they are “just passing through” or the census worked chooses not to count them because they aren’t settled “there.”  Further, censuses are enumerated in the summer, a prime travel time for someone like a single man not concerned with moving a family or livestock.

Had I not looked at the map, I’d never realized that geography played such a role in Jonathan’s life.

Next Question

Now, the question becomes, why Southbridge?  Why did he choose of all places to migrate Southbridge, MA?  Did he know someone there – friends, family, former neighbors?  Did he migrate with friends, family or neighbors who were already going there?  Although, I’ve looked into these possibilities I have yet to find the “lightbulb” moment, but I’ll let you know when I do find the answer.

Until then happy researching.

Mysteries, Scandals, and an Ancestor’s True Identity Revealed

April 23, 2012 at 8:48 am | Posted in Genealogy Research Strategies, My Family History Stories | 2 Comments
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Jonathan Rhoades - images from www.nextech.de/ma51regt/
Jonathan Rhoades
images from http://www.nextech.de/ma51regt/

I honestly never gave a second thought to researching Jonathan Rhoades, even though I tell genealogists all the time to look beyond the blood line at friends, neighbors, and associates.  You may recall Jonathan Rhoades was Louise’s second husband, who abandoned her, from a recent blog post – A Civil War Wife’s Story Told Through Genealogy Records.   He was a mere supporting character in the drama of my ancestors, George and Louise Watson, so why bother looking into his story.   Then a kind and loyal reader of this blog asked, did Louise ever get a divorce from Jonathan?  Of course, I couldn’t let that lie.  And I’m so grateful for the question, because in pursuing an answer a story rich in mystery, scandal, and family legends revealed came to life.

Who Was Jonathan Rhoades?

Jonathan Rhoades (b. 1817 Lynn, Essex, MA) was a shoemaker by trade his entire life.  He must have been either very good or very proud of his profession because every document I touched called him out as a shoemaker.  Which I must say, was a godsend in helping track him over time.  Again, it is those extraneous facts we sometimes overlook that are the keys to genealogy success.

Jonathan at the ripe (old) age of 35 married Mary E. Allen (b. 1826, Albany, NY) in Southbridge, MA on January 27th 1852.  They settled in to a conventional life by all indications, raising three children, Albert (b. 1848), William (b. 1853) and George (b 1854).  You may notice Albert’s birth pre-dates the marriage.  That could mean either this is the reality as is (birth before marriage), there was a transcription error somewhere, or another marriage.  We just don’t know.

What we do know that is that tragedy befell the family in 1859.  Mary died of “fever” at the young age of 33.  Jonathan is now 42-years old, single with three dependent children.  As is common for the time, single men did not raise children alone.  Either they married seemingly quickly a suspiciously young bride or they found alternative arrangements for the children.  The later is the case with Jonathan.  William and George are raised in the home of Joseph U. Royce (age 69 in 1860) and Mary Williams Royce (age 64 in 1860) in Wales, Hampden, MA.  Seemingly, as they are no longer able to care for them they are cared for by close neighbors and maybe relatives George and Mary Boynton.

By 1860 (US Census for MA), Jonathan is living as a single man, shoemaker by trade, in Mrs. Kendall’s Boarding House in Worcester, MA.  In the boarding house were 15-20 adult men of varying ages all tradesmen by profession – tinmen, painters, polishers, carriage painters, blacksmiths and wire drawers.  It’s not hard to imagine a rough and tumble, very manly lifestyle Jonathan experienced at this stage of his life.  Sad, too, he’s lost his wife … and children.

Mrs Kendalls Boarding House where Jonathan Rhoades Lived
Mrs Kendalls Boarding House where Jonathan Rhoades Lived

Jonathan Rhoades and the War

The country had been at war from April of 1861 and by the time Jonathan had enlisted in the late summer/early fall of 1862, Lincoln was calling for another 300,000 troops and the cities and towns were offering a bonus for enlisting to get recruits.  As a Private, his occupation at the time of his enlistment, was a bootmaker.  For more on this regiment visit the 51st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Site.  Know that at this time in our American history we were an all-volunteer army and  Jonathan enlisted as a volunteer as most men did at the time.  Indeed, the draft did not come into play until 1863, at which time Jonathan officially registered for the draft – occupation: shoemaker.

Jonathan and Louise

While Jonathan is married and having children in the early 1850s,  Louise had married Francis Bullard, and they had two children –  Elvira Josephine and Walter Henry.  Additionally, by 1862, Francis, like Jonathan, had enlisted in the Massachusetts militia.  However, unlike Jonathan, his fortunes were short-lived, dying in battle in September 1862.

With the fall of 1862 upon them Louise and Jonathan were both widow and widower having had children and each a family.  I can see where when their paths crossed they found common cause.  By November 1862 – only two months after Francis died – they wed.

New records recently discovered force changes to my original narrative of their lives.  According to the 1865 Massachusetts Census for Worcester, MA, Jonathan and Louise are still the tight little family in 1865! (I had thought they were separated by 1865.)  Jonathan’s children are not in the household, but Louise’s children from her marriage with Francis (Elvira and Walter) are with the family.  Realize, too, that Louise had set up a guardianship for Elvira and Walter with Allen Price two years earlier.  Nonetheless, she retained custody – at least until May 1st, 1865, when the census was taken.

Jonathan and Louisa Rhoades - 1865 MA Census
Jonathan and Louisa Rhoades – 1865 MA Census

Just to recap –

  • Jonathan and Louise are still together in 1865
  • Jonathan gives away his children from his first marriage – at least they are not with him.
  • Louise legally gives up custody of her children from her first marriage.
  • Jonathan and Louise keep Louise’s children from her marriage with Francis Bullard.

Then we have Francis.  Little Francis Rhoades joins the family in September of 1864 to be recorded as eight months old in the 1865 MA Census.  The family was growing. Life was looking up and settled.

Louise and George

But wait! You might exclaim, if you recall I previously had George and Louise wed in 1863.  How could they possibly be married if Jonathan and Louise are married in 1865?  Very easily.  I made a mistake.

George, upon further investigation, did return from battle and stayed at home with his parents, Samuel and Olive Watson at least through 1865 to be identified in that same census. Further, it seems George and Louise were married in 1867, not 1863.  There it was clear as day on the marriage register.  Ooops.

I also noticed in revisiting the marriage register was who exactly George married.  George married a “Maria J. Bullard” from Clayton, Michigan.  Both listed the event as their first marriage.  But look at the name of the bride –  Maria (Louise’s middle name) and Bullard (from her first marriage).  Additionally, I know she’s given her name in pension records as “Louise M J Bullard.”  I’m certain she is Louise.  I’m also certain this is the right George H. Watson, because the parent names (Samuel B. and Olive) are exactly correct in the register, and they aren’t the common Mary and John-type names to be easily confused.

Marriage Register for George H Watson and Maria J Bullard
Marriage Register for George H Watson and Maria J Bullard

It’s clear to me that Louise married to George under an assumed name.  She never divorced Jonathan, as we might infer from her statement “he (Jonathan) abandoned me” in the pension records. She seemingly didn’t want it exposed that she was marrying illegally.  Why she picked place of residence as Clayton, Michigan, I don’t know.  Maybe she felt it couldn’t be disputed or she identified easily with a distant location.  Louise, you sneaky girl.In November of 1867, Louise and George form a family, and by 1870 they are inDes Moines, Iowa on their way to Kansas to start a new life.

What About the Children? 

What became of Elvira Josephine and Walter Henry and Francis Rhoades?  Before I answer that, I do want to confirm that Jonathan did go his own way.  By 1870 he was living with a family, who must have offered a small boarding house connected to the home.  There were a handful of adult men – railroaders mostly – living there with Jonathan, the shoemaker.  He remained inWorcester Countythe rest of his life dying at the age of 82 and was buried in the Lynn Cemetery with a GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) headstone.

As for Elvira and Walter, they were, as mentioned in the first blog post, given to Allen Price.  But we now know it was sometime between May of 1865 and November of 1867.

And Francis? 

It is my belief, for reasons I’ll explain, that Francis Rhoades stayed with George and Louise and became the man we know as Frank Watson.

  • There has always been a family legend that Frank Watson was adopted.  This would support that case.
  • In spite of exemplary vital records kept in Massachusetts, I’ve never found a birth record for Frank Watson.  If what I’m saying is true, “Frank Watson” was never “born.”
  • Frank Watson in every record throughout his life maintains he was born in 1864.  George and Louise didn’t get married until 1867.  Indeed, Louise was married to Jonathan until 1865.  They couldn’t have been Frank’s biological parents.
  • Francis Rhoades was born in September 1864 – exactly the time presumed to be Frank Watson’s birth.

Therefore, it is my contention that Frank Watson’s biological father is Jonathan Rhoades.

In Conclusion… 

What a heart-stopping journey this has been.  Abandonment.  Illicit marriage.  Assumed names.  Changes of identity.  A mystery writer couldn’t have concocted this with any measure of believability.  But it is true, or so the records would have us believe.  Speaking of records, I don’t source my stories in detail in the blog.  However, if you would like the detailed timeline with sources – all 26 of them – I’d be happy to share.

And in the meantime, happy researching.

Uncovering the Reasons for a Ancestor’s Migrations

April 17, 2012 at 1:47 am | Posted in Genealogy Research Strategies, My Family History Stories | 1 Comment
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Vincent Smarsh 1860 US Census for PA

Vincent Smarsh 1860 US Census for PA

I’ve diligently worked to understand the life of my maternal gggrandfather, Vincent Smarsh (b. 1804 Austria, d 1882 Kansas) – copiously gathering records for years.   From my records the story of an immigrant’s migration was clear.  Leaving Austria he and his young family arrived in Pennsylvania then migrated to Kansas through Tennessee in the years between 1854 and 1872 all within the backdrop of the historic transformation of America during the Civil War. Continue Reading Uncovering the Reasons for a Ancestor’s Migrations…

Six Search Tips for Ancestry.com

March 25, 2012 at 5:49 am | Posted in Genealogy Research Strategies, Genealogy Websites | 1 Comment
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Improving Search Results By Adding Family Members

Improving Search Results By Adding Family Members

Ancestry.com has become the Goliath of genealogy record repositories in the last decade virtually revolutionizing the way we play the genealogy game.  The same principles of solid research apply, but the means and methods have changed.  To make the most of Ancestry – and for that matter the most online multi-database- sites, you really have to be a “Search Wizard.”

Here are a few tips I’ve discovered in the many late night hours of fuzzy-slipper-I’ll-be-to-be-in-a-minute, honey-searching.  I hope they are helpful for you, too. Continue Reading Six Search Tips for Ancestry.com…

Wonderful County Maps to Tell Your Ancestor’s Story

March 6, 2012 at 2:29 am | Posted in Foundational Genealogy, Genealogy Research Strategies, Genealogy Resources | 1 Comment
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Finding County Relative Proximities with a County MapYou may have noticed that a cousin-discipline to genealogy is geography.  Maybe that’s why the words look alike.  They are related!

You don’t have to be a genealogist for very long before geographic questions of where, how far, and proximity raise their topographic heads.  And the very best method to find these answer is a map, preferably one with county names, because, as we all know, genealogy is all about the counties.

For those looking for county maps, have I got a tool for you!

The Red Book

The Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources (yes, the color of the book is red) edited by Alice Eichholz, published by Ancestry, should be a staple resource in every genealogist’s library.  In sum, it is where to find any resource.  If you’re looking for military, church, vital records, maps, land or probate records, or even some background on the area, this is the source for you.  It is packed full of the best sources and respositories to find anything you’re looking for to answer a genealogy question.  The book is organized alphabetically by state.  If you want information on Missouri resources, you can simply open to Missouri chapter at the end of the “M” states.  Among the many references within each state-chapter, you’ll find a table of counties, when they were founded, if the county is a child of another county, and most importantly – when the county started keeping records by record type.  When did they start keeping birth, death, marriage, land, probate and court records!  It makes quick work of what would otherwise be a painfully tedious process of record discovery.

The County Maps inThe Red Book

One of the best resources within The Red Book are the county maps.  For each state you willl find a clean, clear, black & white, perfect-for-duplication, state map with each county clearly marked.  NOTE: this county map reflects the counties as they are today.  For more on the changing county boundaries, you’ll want to consult the table mentioned above or other resources the breakdown of county (and state) lines over time.  Nonetheless, the contemporary county map affords us a wonderful tool to identify county locations, county proximities to cities, other counties, landmarks, nearby states and much more.  I was recently looking at a family that came from Wayne County, Kentucky, and moved to Tennessee.  What could have seemed like a huge migration from one state to another was put in perspective with the aid of the map.  Wayne County, Kentucky is on the Tennessee border!!  The family could have moved just a couple miles and changed counties and states! (see above)

But wait, it gets better!  Digital maps.

The Red Book, with its wonderful county maps, is available online – for free – on Ancestry.  That’s right, you don’t have to subscribe to Ancestry to have access to this wonderful tool.  Check it out here.  Further, within the digital version of the book are digital versions of the county maps.  You can right click on the map, choose “save as,” name the file whatever you want, and choose a location on you computer to save it, then hit “save.”  You’ve just added a perfect county map to you ancestor’s story to help tell the tale.

For those interested in a map that tells an even more personal story, you can open your new digital map in Microsoft Paint (a free accessory program that comes with any Microsoft Office package), and mark up the map.  You can highlight counties, draw migration routes, color-code families and their locations.  I used a map like this to eliminate possible ancestors based on location.  I had several “John Browns” that could be the ancestor in question, but they were scattered across the state.  Mapping which counties they were in and looking a their locations relative to the rest of the family helped me eliminate options and shorten the research process.

A Quick Note About Copyright

You may be concerned that I’m advocating breaching copyright rules in using these maps.  I’m not a copyright attorney, but I believe the intent of a copyright is to prohibit the profiting off of another’s copyrighted work.  As long as you don’t claim these maps as your own product and publish them in your manifesto for sale on family history, I think you’re fine.  Go ahead and use them for supporting documentation.  I think the authors would be pleased.

In Summary –

It only takes a few minutes to go online or pop open The Red Book to find answers and save yourself countless hours of frustration in knowing where your ancestors were.  So take the time, pull up the map, save it in your family archives.  You’ll be glad you took the extra step to tell their story geographically as well as genealogically.

And you?

Have you used county maps before?  What did they tell you about your ancestors’ lives?

Happy Researching.

Investigating a Family Legend with Ancestor Timelines

March 1, 2012 at 2:19 am | Posted in Genealogy Research Strategies | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Frank Watson & William Allen White

Do you have a family legend that you’ve always wanted to get to the bottom of?  I think that’s one of the best parts of genealogy.  It’s the detective work unpacking fact from fiction among the family stories that we all carry forward.  Was grandpa a bootlegger?  How did that family make their fortune?  Did our family encounter the Indians on the frontier?  Did we cross paths with a famous person?

We all love shaking the family tree to see what falls out.

One tool I’ve found indispensible in researching my ancestors and even shining light on a family legend is timelines.  The reason timelines prove so helpful is that they can clearly outline – and in my ancestor’s case – contrast time and place for two persons, making the conclusion pretty clear.

Let me show you what I mean.

The Legend of William Allen White

One of the many family stories I heard growing up was that my great grandfather, Frank Watson (b. 1864, MA, d. 1954, KS) worked for, or specifically set type for, William Allen White, the famed newspaper publisher and activist.  Wouldn’t that be neat if ggranpa Frank played a role – no matter how small – in the work of this historic American figure?  The story is all the more exciting because my father was a career printer, maybe following in the footsteps of ggrandpa, Frank.

Research Road Traveled

Step 1. Outline the Ancestor’s Life

Long before resolving the William Allen White legend, I dutifully built a fairly detailed timeline of Frank Watson’s personal history which included: 1)  how and when he came to Kansas, 2) where he married, 3) his employment and birth of children in Atchison, Kansas, 4) the migration to Wichita, Kansas, his employment history, and church involvement there, and finally 5) his death in Wichita.  With his personal story in hand, I could turn to investigating the family legend.

Step 2. Make a Plausible Hypothesis

When Frank Watson’s timeline was complete I knew Frank worked at a newspaper in Atchison, so he was in the right professional field for at least some of his life to make the legend plausible.  He lived in Atchison and Wichita, which although they aren’t Emporia, where William Allen White lived and worked, they were close.  And I had a five year gap in Frank’s story, that made a “layover” in Emporia between Atchison and Wichita possible.  So, with a handful of hope, and a few loosely tied together facts, I had a working theory that my ancestor, Frank, could have worked for William Allen White.  The legend could be true.

Step 3. Paint a Timeline of the Historic Figure

At this point, I have a pretty good handle on my ancestor’s life timeline, but only a vague knowledge of where and when William Allen White lived.  So my next step was to create a timeline of Mr. White’s life, which honestly, was pretty easy. A quick visit to Wikipedia, an online general knowledge encyclopedia, gave me the basic dates and facts about William Allen White.  He was born in Emporia, Kansas, briefly lived in ElDorado, Kansas, then returned to Emporia, where he spent the rest of his life.  So his migration map – and opportunity to encounter my ancestor – was pretty limited to Emporia and/or ElDorado.

The Emporia Gazette, according to the Kansas State Historical Society, was published from 1890 to 1900.  Mr. White purchased the Emporia Gazette in 1895 and owned it for the next five years.  (This would prove to be the critical piece of information in solving the legend.) Beyond the information found in Wikipedia, a quick search on Ancestry, brought up many, many US and state census records, passport records and passenger records (Mr. White sure traveled a lot!).  Combined, these records painted a pretty clear picture of a life primarily spent in Emporia, Kansas.

Here are the highlights of Mr. White’s migration map from these records –

  • Date – Location – Source
  • 1870 – ElDorado – US Census
  • 1880 – ElDorado – US Census
  • 1890 – 1899 – Emporia – Gazette Owner – Wikipedia
  • 1905 – Emporia – KS Census
  • 1910 – Emporia – US Census
  • 1915 – Emporia – KS Census
  • 1918 – Emporia – Passport Application
  • 1920 – Emporia – US Census
  • 1925 – Emporia – Passenger Log
  • 1930 – Emporia – US Census

Step 4. Contrast the Timelines of the Two Key Players

The last step is simply to put the two timelines together and see what they say.  You can see the spreadsheet I crafted with the relevant slice of time for both men’s stories above.  For Frank Watson to have worked for William Allen White, he would have had to do so at the Emporia Gazette.  Mr. White owned the Gazette from 1890 to 1899.  At which time, Frank Watson was married, living in Atchison, and working at the Atchison Globe.  Unless Frank Watson freelanced, moonlighted, or worked on a special assignment for the Emporia Gazette while at the Atchison Globe, that at this point isn’t evident, it is not probable that he worked for William Allen White.  The two timelines simply don’t agree. If you’re wondering about the gap in the Frank Watson timeline between Atchison and Wichita that was a possible basis for this theory, the gap proved to be long after the time in which Mr. White owned the Gazette. 

In Conclusion –

Although I didn’t prove the family legend to be true, I feel assured, that my deduction was based on real historical facts, some sound analysis, and good old fashioned genealogy sleuthing.  Sure, I’m sorry I don’t have the story to add to my tree, but Frank’s story is good enough as it is.  Each of our stories is good enough.

How about you?

Have you used a timeline?  What have you done to chase down a family legend?  Did you prove it or disprove it?  Let me know your stories.

In the meantime, Happy Researching.

Post Script

I shared this story with the Johnson County (KS) Genealogy Society this week.  After the class, an industrious genealogist looked up William Allen White’s biography.  It seems that in 1886, he had “long and extended conversations” with the Atchison Globe.  Humm….

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