16 April 2015

My Grandfather Owned that Farm

Land records can contain a variety of information.

This affidavit from 1942 discusses three generations of land ownership in the Rampley family of Walker Township, Hancock County, Illinois. 

It was located using the tract index to land records that the Hancock County Recorder's Office has--that index locates records geographically based up on the quartersection in which the property being referenced is located.

That's how this item was found. 

But there are a few lessons with this document.

Records may be created or recorded decades after the person of interest died.  James Rampley (the grandfather) is the ancestor in this case. James the affiant and grandson of James the ancestor is a an actual cousin of mine. This document was recorded nearly sixty years after James the grandfather died and could have easily been overlooked if I had only used records created during James the ancestor's lifetime. Genealogists don't always think to research land records quite this far after someone dies.

Items recorded with land records may not be actual "deeds." This affidavit was created to assist in clearly up some title issues to the property referenced in the deed. Like many records, it doesn't precisely state what precipitated its creation. That was determined by looking at other records and creating a time line--and by using a little logic and reasoning.

Cook County Birth Certificates Updated At FamilySearch

I can't guarantee how "updated" is it, but this database is showing as updated on FamilySearch since our last update:

Illinois, Cook County Birth Certificates, 1878-1938

Database only--no image links.

15 April 2015

A Short Hiatus

We've not left the blogging world, but are taking a short hiatus. We'll post FamilySearch updates if there are any, but that will be it for a short while. We'll be back...stay tuned.

12 April 2015

Dixies in Bear Creek

Would you guess that line 4 on this 1880 agricultural census enueration was indexed as "Dixie G.?"(with last name unknown).

That first name looks like Felix to me.

And I'd be willing to wager that the middle initial is a "J."

The last name is a little more questionable,but I'd interpret it as something close to Vergave.

But Dixie? Sometimes it is easy to see "incorrect" interpretations of names even if we would not make them ourselves. But "Dixie" I'm having difficulty seeing. And Dixie is not high on my list of variations of Felix.

And in reviewing index entries for this enumeration--particularly those in Hancock and Adams Counties in Illinois, many had no last name entered. For those of us who use "exact" matches and use something in the last name box, this is a problem as entries with no last name will not be returned.

Takeways from this enumeration:

  • first names can be read incorrectly
  • illegible names will be omitted from indexes and if you put a last name in the search box, matches without last names may not be returned as hits.

He's Not In the Agricultural Census, But His Farm Is

While working on something totally unrelated, I realized that I did not have the 1880 agricultural census schedule for my ancestor, John H. Ufkes, on his farm in Hancock County, Illinois.The farm is still owned by a relative and is farmed by my father and brother and I was interested in seeing what was said about its operation in 1880.

I conducted two searches of the Ancestry.com database that includes the 1880 agricultural census (Selected U.S. Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880") before I remembered:
John and Noentje Ufkes purchased the farm in Hancock County 1881.
They are not going to be enumerated in the 1880 agricultural census in Hancock County.

But their farm should be listed under the name of the previous owner, Henry Schuster.

However locating the farm in the 1880 schedule is not as simple as finding Henry Schuster and concluding I have the right place. There are some items to consider.

Henry might not have owned the farm at the time of the agricultural census in 1880. Property deeds would confirm the date he acquired the property.

Henry might have owned additional property in the township in 1880. All of his real estate would be lumped together in his 1880 agricultural census enumeration. If I think I've found him in the 1880 enumeration, I should compare the acreage listed on the enumeration with the acreage of the property as stated on the deed. Real property tax records for the township would also confirm how much property Henry owned in Bear Creek Township, where the farm is located.

I can find the Ufkes farm in the 1880 agricultural census, even though my ancestor didn't own it in 1880. It will just take a little work-and even if I locate it, separating out what later became the Ufkes farm from the rest of the previous owner's landholdings may be impossible-at least in the enumeration.

10 April 2015

My Two Missing Guys In 1870

I have two ancestors that I cannot find in 1870: John Ufkes and Ira Sargent.

Both men were single in 1870, under thirty-five, had never been married, and had no children. Ufkes probably lived in the general area of Hancock County, Illinois, and Sargent probably in the area of Union County, Iowa. Both were likely working as hired men or laborers of some sort. That's part of the problem--they were unattached and had relatively mobile occupations.

But the question remains: "When have I looked enough?" At what point do I decide the time searching is not time well spent and is time I could devote to other research activities?

It is a question that does not have a hard and fast answer and really depends upon the individual in question. It also depends upon my personal research philosophy.

Ufkes is well documented and has been located in a variety of records in the United States. He's generated and left behind virtually every record a German immigrant farmer who lives in the United States from 1869-1924 should leave--except for his 1870 census enumeration. His place of birth in Germany is known, as are the names of his siblings, parents, and extended family. I've conducted a reasonable search for him in 1870 and don't think the enumeration of him will probably alter the life chronology and portrait I already have for him. It would be personally satisfying to find him, but it's not likely that the enumeration will provide me with an entirely new avenue of research on Ufkes (possible, yes--probable, no). Because of that, I have stopped looking for him 1870. Would I like to know where he is? Yes. Is it worth manually searching three states to potentially locate him? Probably not.

Sargent is not as well documented and comes from a hazier background than does Ufkes. Sargent's family was moving around Iowa and Missouri in the 1860s. His parents names are known, but not much is known about his mother's family. He marries in Union County, Iowa, in October of 1870, so it seems reasonable that he's there at the time of the census, although it is possible that he is not. Most of Ira's siblings have been located in 1870 (he's not with or near them) and it's possible that he's living with one of those who cannot be located. Ira's 1870 enumeration has a greater chance of assisting me with my research on him than Ufkes' does. If Ira could be located, his residence could provide another location in which to conduct a general record search.

Both men were probably working as hired men or laborers in 1870, perhaps living with a family and enumerated with that family's last name. They could have been in between residences at the time of the census and simply not enumerated. As unattached men, they simply could have been missed by the census enumerator.

Sometimes I occasionally look for Sargent--just to see if I overlooked something.

While I like to determine as much about each ancestor as possible, there comes a time when one has to admit that there may be other ways to spend your genealogical time.

After all, there are other ancestors whose stories are just begging to be researched as well.

07 April 2015

Indirectly I'm In First Families of Ohio

It is the only lineage society to which I belong.

Years ago, when I was still pretty much a kid, I realized that one of my ancestors qualified me for membership in First Families of Ohio. At least I thought I did. Membership in the organization is limited to those who have a descent from an ancestor who lived in Ohio before December of 1820.

A county history from 1881 said that my family moved to Coshocton County, Ohio in the Fall of 1817. I thought that would be my "proof." A county history should be reliable.

It wasn't good enough. I'm pretty certain county histories were on the list of "unacceptable" items. It was one of my first lessons in what was acceptable and what was not.

This was in the mid-1980s. There was no internet where I could start performing searches in an attempt to solve my problem. I was going to have to rely on what I could access via the mail. I was also going to have to rely on what I already knew how to use. That limited me.

Thomas did not appear as buying any property in Coshocton County before 1820, so that was not an option. Even if he had purchased property there, a case could be made that he might have been a non-resident landowner.

Thomas was also not on the 1820 Ohio census. That would have been too easy.

To make a long story short, my proof that Thomas was in Ohio before December of 1820 rested in Maryland.

Thomas was sued in Harford County, Maryland because of errors in the legal description of a piece of property he sold. In that court case, he makes a deposition wherein he says that he left Maryland for Coshocton County, Ohio, and that he returned to Maryland from Ohio after his father's death to settle up some affairs. He made it clear that he moved to Ohio before his father died.

The will of James Rampley was admitted to probate in Harford County, Maryland in 1817, sometime after his death.

There was my "proof" that Thomas was in Ohio before December of 1820--but it took several documents to establish that fact.

One of the first times I used indirect evidence. It's indirect because there's not one document that says "Thomas was in Ohio by 1817." Together several documents lead to that conclusion.

04 April 2015

All You Need Is Spit and the Biggest Advance Since the Shaking Leaf?

I'm a little behind on my reading and since Ancestry.com doesn't send me press releases any more, I just came across the "DNA press release" from Ancestry.com. There is significant opinion in this post. Significant opinion. Other blogs may tell you they give you opinion when they really don't. That's not how we operate here. You have been warned.

(c) 2015 Michael John Neill
although I doubt anyone will
steal this tree
According to a press release from Ancestry.com, they've made the biggest advance since the "shaking [Ancestry.com] leaf."

I nearly choked on my spinach salad. That's about as close as I get to any shaking leaf.

Biggest Advance Since the Shaking Leaf?

I'm not even certain that the shaking leaf qualify as an advance to begin with. The "shaking leaves" on Ancestry.com and the hints on their site are based on some sort of mysterious fuzzy search parameters and the suggestions of other researchers. It's hard to know where their search parameters end and the suggestions of other researchers begin. The hint "match" algorithm is apparently a closely guarded state-level secret. We've seen in other posts on this site that those hints are not all that reliable and often miss the mark by centuries. It's difficult for this researcher to take seriously any announcement that uses the "shaking leaves" and "hints" as a starting baseline for improvement. That's setting the starting bar pretty low.

The shaking leaves apparently don't make genealogical research easy enough for the the powers-at-be at Ancestry.com. According to the press release, genealogists can now "find ancestors from their past using just a DNA test, [with] no genealogy research required." That's a direct quote: "no genealogy research required."

Yes...the word "no" is leading that phrase.

All you need is spit.

Ancestry.com's innovation comes from three places (quoting their press release)--with my comments in italics:

  • "1) millions of family trees created by Ancestry members [with varying levels of documentation and frequently of questionable accuracy],
  • "2) the fastest growing genetic database in the world, currently with more than 800,000 genotyped members [again relying upon the accuracy of ancestral information submitted by members] and
  • "3) a dedicated team of scientists who are pushing the boundaries of genetics and statistics to help people make family history discoveries in ways never before possible.”[I can't speak to the genetics, but the statistical algorithms used to create "hints" and "shaking leaves" clearly leaves something to be desired]."

Taking millions of user-submitted trees, some created willy-nilly, as a starting point upon which to base research conclusions, seems a little misguided to this researcher. Genealogy methodology experts generally suggest using the trees for clues and not simply incorporating the online trees into the user's own database. Ancestry.com seems to suggest that researchers can just reach the nearest tree within spitting distance and claim it as their own.

The phrase "no genealogy research required" makes this researcher cringe. Cringe. And that's the nice, family-friendly blog version of a phrase that feels much more appropriate. I realize the importance of encouraging new people to research their family history. But there's a key word in that sentence: research. And there needs to be balance when trying to convert new members to the family history fold.

I'm not naive enough to think that every newly-minted genealogist is going to run out and cite every sources in way that would put Evidence Explained to shame. But even newbie genealogists know they need to do some research. The thought of encouraging new family historians to simply scratch their cheek and look in their no longer shaking tea leaves to find their ancestry has taken "encouragement" to a new level. Enticing people to learn about their family history is one thing. Promoting the belief that research is as easy as spitting is something else.

Bring GIGO Back! 

Years ago, there was a phrase in data processing: GIGO--Garbage In, Garbage Out. As we've left behind the phrase "data processing" for the sexier "information technology" and "crowdsourcing," some seem to have forgotten GIGO.

I haven't and you shouldn't either.

All this crossed my desk just as I was about to dip my toe in the sea of AncestryDNA. It's enough to make me head away from the beach, put on long pants and real shoes and leave the ocean in the distance. DNA has it's place in genealogy research and can be used to answer a variety of family history questions. But the use of DNA is a slightly more involved than Ancestry.com would have us to believe.

Thanks for reading--and remember: 
All of us have ancestors who deserve to have their lives documented as accurately as we can. And that takes time--a life cannot be researched in five minutes.

I was really tempted to subtitle this post based on two pop tunes:
  • It's not "All you need is love," but "all you need is spit."
  • It's not "No jacket required," but "no research required."
Reminder: I am an Ancestry.com subscriber and make regular use of their indexes and digital images. I am entirely content to limit my Ancestry.com time to that portion of their site.

My Event and Summaries Announcement List

I am moving blog summary updates, webinar announcements, and similar content to a separate email list at Constant Contact. There is no charge to be on the list and it is completely separate from this blog. To be added to the announcement list, visit our sign in page here.

02 April 2015

Assuming Negative Lessons from a Photograph

1930-1931 Basco, Illinois High School Basketball Team,
Scan made 2000 from photo in possession of
Michael John Neill taken from collection of
John H. and Dorothy A. Ufkes
I wrote briefly about this photo in 2010 ("Basco Basketball Team 1930-1931").

Five years later, a correspondent located someone who was able to identify the individuals in the photograph.

That's lesson 1: answers take time.

The picture was in the personal effects of my grandfather, John H. Ufkes (1917-2003) and I assumed he was in the picture. He wasn't.

That's lesson 2: assumptions are not always right and people can have pictures in which they are not shown.

My grandfather may still have been on the 1930-1931 Basco High School basketball team. His absence from the picture does not mean he was not on the team. His absence from the picture means he was not in the picture. He could simply have been absent the day the picture was taken.

That's lesson 3: think about what sources say and what they do not say.

Genealogists sometimes use the phrase "negative evidence." This picture does not present any negative evidence in the sense in which that phrase is typically used in the genealogical literature.

We'll save a discussion of negative evidence for a future post.


For those with an interest in this picture: I do have a higher quality scan of it with the identified names (and the identifier) listed. Email me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com if you have an interest in the picture.

01 April 2015

FamilySearch Update: Tennessee Death Records

The following database is showing as new or updated on FamilySearch  since our last posting:

Tennessee, Death Records, 1914-1955

More on Statements and Looking at the Whole and the Parts

I realized I wrote about "statements" before ("Statements, Genealogical Statements, and Definitions").  [In looking at that blog post now a year later I see a few minor grammar errors--so please forgive me for those until I have time to go back and edit.]

The reason I feel that there needs to be some sort of definition for a "genealogical statement" comes down to the analysis. I understand that information is primary or secondary depending upon the person's perceived knowledge of the event. It is the quantity of information contained in one document that is the problem. Not every piece of that information in that document is created equally.

A death certificate is the best example of the variation that can exist in one document. The informant on a death certificate may provide information on the parents of the deceased, the date of birth for the deceased, and the death date of the deceased. The analysis needs be done partially in the aggregate so that the researcher can tell how generally reliable the informant is--keeping in mind that an honest person can give incorrect answers if they've been lead to believe an incorrect fact their whole lives. That information provided also needs to be analyzed as separate pieces as that informant is providing primary information in some cases and secondary information in others. 

Look at the information as a whole to see how generally reliable the person is. Look at the information piece by piece to see how likely the informant was to know that one specific piece of information.

It's a mistake to lump all that information the informant provided in one analytical pot. A child providing information on their parent's death certificate is not a primary informant for the names of the parents or the places of birth for the parents. The child would be a primary informant (at least probably) for when and where the deceased person died. 

That's why I think it's good to ferret out each "genealogical statement" from the document, so that each statement can be analyzed on it's own perceived merits based upon the informant and their likely knowledge of the specific event. 

But it's also good to look at the overall reliability of the informant--keeping in mind that they may simply be repeating information someone told them decades ago that they have no reason to doubt.

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That's it!


31 March 2015

What Is Genealogical Information?

Sources are said to provide genealogists with information, but what really is "information?"

I've thought quite about what information is and what information isn't.  I'm not entirely certain I hae any sort of formal definition.

It seems that genealogy "information" is a statement:

  • that has a person participating in a certain event, at a certain place, at a certain point in time
  • or expresses a relationship (biological, legal, or social) between two individuals
I'm still working on this...thoughts are welcomed.

The analysis of whether a statement is perceived to be true or false is a separate matter.

FindAGrave Photos Versus Memorials--There is a Difference

When I use information from FindAGrave, whether it comes from the "memorial" tab or the "photos" tab makes a difference. I analyze the information differently. If the image of the stone is clear, then I conclude that it's representing to be the stone it claims to be--especially if the inscription can be read. It's always possible that the picture of a stone is placed in the wrong virtual cemetery on FindAGrave, but unless I have information on the burial location that is inconsistent with FindAGrave, I will conclude that the stone is where it claims to be.

The memorial is different. That information sometimes cannot be compared to the stone. It often does not even from the stone and the "source" of the information in the memorial is not often given by the compiler. For that reason, one has to take caution in using the information from the "memorial."

I think it's important to make the distinction when using FindAGrave information to include whether the information came from the "memorial" or the "photo." If the source of your photo of a stone is the "photo page" on FindAGrave, then you should so state.

We'll work on crafting some citations and post those in the next several days.

30 March 2015

If There Was A Bear in the Creek, I'd Never Find It On Ancestry.com

Locations are crucial to genealogical research.

Ancestry.com understands that in theory. I'm not so certain they understand that in practice.

One of the civil townships in Hancock County, Illinois, is Bear Creek Township. Bear Creek Township has been called Bear Creek for some time. How long I'm not certain, but Hancock County adopted township government in November of 1849.

Ancestry.com obviously knows that Bear Creek Township exists--they've coded it in as location in the 1910 census as shown below.

However, Hancock County's Bear Creek Township does not appear in Ancestry.com's drop down list of locations.

How hard can it be to include geographic locations from the census in the drop-down list of geographic locations? It certainly would make it easier for the user to narrow their searches to just Bear Creek Township if desired (now the workaround to search just Bear Creek Township is to use "bear creek" as a keyword and search only in a location of Hancock County, Illinois). It's frustrating to have to gerryrig the search for some locations and not for others.

What about Bear Creek Township?

Bear Creek Township--from Wikipedia
 placed in the public
domain by creator Omnedon
Errors like this are frustrating for paying users of Ancestry.com. The naive user will think the location does not exist if it's not in the drop down menu. They may even blame themselves for not being able to find it. Experienced users will realize that it's probably just a quirk in Ancestry.com's system and see what workarounds are available.

Cynical users will wonder if Ancestry.com can't manage to find a 36 square mile area in Illinois what else can't they find?

Keeping Track of the Ps and Ws

Abbreviations and symbols are great, but can be confusing when users are unaware of what they mean.

Such is the case of P and W on the Bureau of Land Management website.

The results page on the Bureau of Land Management website indicates that names on the patent are either the name of a warrantee or a patentee. The warrantee is the person(s) who qualified for bounty land based upon their or someone else's military service. Warrants were for a specific amount of property--but not location specific. The patentee is the person to whom a deed was issued for a specific piece of property. Patentees could have obtained title to federal property through a cash sale, a preemption claim, a homestead claim, surrendering their own warrant, or surrendering a warrant they had purchased from someone else (in addition to a few other ways).

Generally speaking cash land sales have the least in the way of genealogical documentation. Homesteads, preemption claims, and warrant applications have more genealogical material in them.

We've mentioned these files in the past, but will be looking at some new examples in upcoming blog posts.

If you'd like to learn more about federal land records, check out my three webinar offerings on this topic.

How Do You Know Who Those Tic Marks Are?

It can be difficult in pre-1850 United States census records to know to whom reference is made in various age category tick marks.

Usually the person listed as the head of the household is the oldest male shown in the enumerator's tick marks. However there are potential exceptions:

  • a widowed female is the head of household and the oldest male is her underaged son or the oldest male is her aged father or father-in-law who may not actually be the actual "functional" head of household but is still living in the household
  • the oldest male is the father or father-in-law of a younger male in the household and that younger male is the actual head of household
We'll have a future post about "Grandma and Grandpa" hiding in the pre-1850 census tick marks.

29 March 2015

Newspaper and Ancestry.com Census Search Strategy Webinars Released

Getting More From Newspapers

There is more to newspaper searching than obituaries and marriage announcements. In this presentation, we will see how to see what newspapers are available, both digitally and on microfilm. We will look at effective search techniques for online newspapers, including search structures, keyword searching, and more. We will also discuss approaches for accessing newspapers that are not available online. Order an immediate download of this product.

Effective Census Search Strategies for Ancestry.com

There is more to searching the online census than simply putting a name in a box and clicking. We will look at effective use of wildcards, soundex options, location parameters, and more. Included will be a discussion of a general organizational strategy so that searchers spend less time "going in circles. This presentation is not sponsored or endorsed by Ancestry.com and Michael John Neill is not an Ancestry.com employee. Order an immediate download of this presentation.

View a complete list of webinars here.

27 March 2015

FamilySearch Update: Massachusetts Marriages 1695-1910

This database is showing as new or updated on FamilySearch:

Massachusetts, Marriages, 1695-1910

I suspect that it's not new--but rather updated. How updated it is I can't say. Nor can I say how complete the coverage is for any specific county.


I don't often repost items from Genealogy Tip of the Day here as many readers get both, but for those who missed our "venter" tip--it can be seen here.