30 June 2008
The article "Married in Kentucky in 1820--Now What?" can be viewed on the Ancestry.com blog.
25 June 2008
How Do I Know I Have the Right Family? --this originally appeared in the Ancestry World Journal on 15 Dec 2006
by Michael John Neill
When families migrate from one area to another, it can be hard to
determine if you have really located the same group of individuals.
The difficulty is compounded if the last name and first names are
relatively common. It's important to be certain that the "true"
family has been located and that one has not mixed up families with
similar names. Male cousins bearing the same first and last name are
particularly easy to confuse.
One quick way to track families in the post-1850 era is through
population census schedules. The listing of all household members
facilitates the matching process, and every-name indexes make the use
of these records much easier than before, especially when the
residence is not known. However, the first close match on the list of
results is not necessarily the correct family. All matches to the
search terms should be analyzed and eliminated based upon what is
known about the family. What appears to be the "right" entry must be
compared in light of other records to determine if there really is
On the other hand, searches of databases must not be overly strict,
as this can sometimes eliminate potential matches. I generally
perform a variety of searches for individuals I am seeking, including
some using Soundex and wildcard functionality. Sometimes it is easy
to determine if the correct person has been found (the person has an
unusual name, the person is living in the right location, names,
ages, and birthplaces of family members match up, etc.). Other times
it is not possible to make a definitive decision that the desired
person has been located. When families are eliminated, the researcher
should keep notes as to why these families were stricken from
Generally speaking, when searching online census databases it is
helpful to track the type of search that is being performed as it is
being performed. Key elements in this tracking are:
- The first and last names that were put in the search box
- Whether a Soundex option was used
- Whether a search was performed with wildcards
- What year of birth was used (and what range of years)
- What birthplace was used
Reasons for tracking the search include:
- It is impossible to effectively modify an unsuccessful search when
one is not certain how one searched originally or how one searched
- Searching the same static database in the same way will typically
produce the same results.
- It is impossible to remember each combination of search techniques
that was applied. The "correct" combination will always be
overlooked. It's Murphy's Law applied to genealogy.
One quick and easy way to track your online searches is to make a
spreadsheet with column headings for the various search boxes for the
database being searched. This spreadsheet can be printed and written
on while searching or those who are adept at toggling between
computer windows can fill out their chart as they search. Personally,
I prefer to fill out my chart of searches before I search, making
certain no combination of terms was eliminated. Then I can use the
chart to make certain I have conducted all the desired searches.
An earlier column mentioned the family of William and Anne Brice and
how they were tracked in census records from Illinois to Kansas to
Missouri between 1860 and 1900.
As an example, let's
look at how their entries were obtained and what leads me to believe
I have the same family in four separate locations over four census
Generally speaking, census enumerations on any family should not be
viewed in isolation. (Space considerations do not allow us to include
the complete analysis in this column.) Rather, other records should
be utilized in order to determine if the tentative family structure
and migration paths are supported by other documents. Wherever
possible, obtain maps of all relevant areas to assist in viewing the
family's overall migration path. Search for reasonable alternate
spellings before assuming the "actual" family has been located and
consider if there are alternate situations that could explain the
records that have been found. We should search to see what is found,
not search to prove an already determined conclusion.
1860 Census-Ursa Township, Adams County, Illinois
William Brice, age 21, born Ireland, married within census year
Anne J., age 22, born Ireland, married within census year
The reference to the marriage within the year caused me to search the
Illinois State Marriage Index. An
index entry appears for William Brice and Ann Jane Belford indicating
an April of 1860 marriage. It seems very reasonable that this is the
same couple, especially since there were no other marriages in the
index for a William and Anne Brice (or any reasonable spelling
1870 Census-Chili Township, Hancock County, Illinois
William Brice, age 34, born Ireland
Ann, age 33, born Ireland
William, Jr., age 6, born Illinois
Mary A., age 4, born Illinois
Robert, age 1, born Illinois
Chili Township in Hancock County, Illinois, is close to Ursa Township
in Adams County. The ages of William and Ann are consistent with the
earlier enumeration. In both cases, William is a farmer (it is
important to note any extreme inconsistencies with occupation as
well). The ages of the Brice children are consistent with an 1860
marriage. The initial census search was conducted for a William Brice
(and Soundex variants) born in 1838 in Ireland, plus or minus five
1880 Census-Bruno, Butler County, Kansas
William Brice, age 45, born Ireland
Anne J., age 48, born Ireland
William, age 16, born Illinois
Mary, age 14, born Illinois
Robert, age 11, born Illinois
Sarah J., age 9, born Illinois
James, age 6, born Illinois
John, age 2, born Kansas
The family structure is consistent with the 1870 enumeration. The
ages of the parents are off slightly from earlier enumerations, but
not so far off as to warrant any special concern. The initial census
search was conducted for a William Brice (and Soundex variants) born
in 1838 in Ireland, plus or minus five years.
1900 Census-Grant Township, Caldwell County, Missouri
William Brice, age 62 (born March 1838), Ireland
Ann, age 62 (born March 1838), Ireland
Jno. H. M., age 20 (born Mar 1880), Kansas
An unexpected move of the family. However, this was the only "match"
using our previous search terms that came even close to our desired
family. Anna Brice's death certificate (obtained via the Missouri
State Archives website) indicates that she was born in Ireland on 28
March 1836, the daughter of Daniel and Mary Jackson Belford. This is
the same maiden name for the "known" Anne Brice, wife of William.
Further research needs to be done, but it appears I have the same
Wrapping It Up
- Perform searches that are not overly narrow so that close matches
(which maybe the right family) are not overlooked.
- Constantly review information in light of already known
information to be reasonably certain the same family has been
- Track what you do, so search terms can be modified as necessary.
by Michael John Neill
Families rarely migrate in complete isolation. The ties of family and
friends are not always obvious to the researcher several lifetimes
later. The difficulty with most families lies in finding those
connections that led to migration. This week we see how the databases
at Ancestry, along with some detective work and analysis, can allow
us to begin discerning those connections.
A Little Background
Brothers Samuel and Joseph Neill were both born in County Derry,
Ireland, in the 1830s. They immigrated to New Brunswick, Canada, in
1864--Joseph, with his wife Anne Bryce (Brice), and Samuel, as a
Samuel married Anne Murphy in St. John in 1865 shortly after his
arrival and the marriage record is the earliest documented existence
I have of Samuel's wife, Anne. All later extant records on Anne
Murphy Neill only indicate that she was an Irish native.
In the late 1860s, both Neill families left Canada and moved to West
Point, Hancock County, Illinois. West Point was not an urban area
where jobs were plentiful. It was hoped that a better understanding
of the family's migration might lead to information on the origins of
Anne Murphy Neill.
I began with a careful review of the 1870 through 1910 census entries
for both Samuel and Joseph Neill. My intention in reviewing entries
- determine if I had overlooked any clues in the enumerations,
- determine a timeline for migration from Canada to the United
- determine if there were neighbors who were also Irish immigrants
(by reading at least three pages before and after the located
My review of the census entries indicated the Neills likely came to
Illinois around 1867. There were a few other Irish families living
nearby, but they did not settle in a neighborhood that was heavily
Irish. These other families will be researched to determine if their
Irish origins are geographically close to the Neills or if these
families spent time in New Brunswick before settling in Illinois.
Searching the Census Index in Other Ways
The census indexes at Ancestry offer additional
search options that should be explored. Instead of searching for
names, I could search for other natives of Ireland living in the same
area as the Neill family. I could perform searches for individuals
with a birthplace in Ireland born within five years of 1835 in an
attempt to locate other individuals roughly the same as Samuel and
Joseph. All census indexes at Ancestry for censuses 1850 and later
provide this option. A search of the 1910 census could also include a
year of immigration in an attempt to find other Irish immigrants who
immigrated in the same time frame as Joseph and Samuel. The database
interface affords me search possibilities that never existed several
years ago unless I read the census one page at a time.
There is one potential pitfall to such searches. A search of the 1910
census for natives of Ireland living in Hancock County, Illinois, who
immigrated in the 1860s (performed by searching for an immigration
year of 1865 plus or minus five years) does not locate Samuel Neill
even though he is enumerated in the 1910 Hancock County census. The
reason is simple: the year of immigration on Samuel's entry is left
Using the Ancestry search page to locate immigrants from the same
country as your ancestor who came over around the same time as your
forebear is an excellent way to generate additional research leads.
However, one must do it with the following things in mind:
- The year of immigration could be incorrect in the census entry,
either for your ancestor or for the others who might have immigrated
- The year of immigration could be omitted completely for some
- Places of birth could be completely incorrect or vary slightly
from what you think is correct, Prussia or Hanover for Germany, etc.
Searches of databases are frequently made under the assumption that
our ancestors gave the correct answers, that those answers were
written legibly and that the reading was transcribed correctly. This
assumption only causes a problem when the researcher fails to
Before madly entering search terms, think about what you are trying
to locate and the best way to go about finding it. Then keep a record
of the different ways in which you have searched so that searches are
not repeated and new searches can be developed if necessary. In the
case of Samuel Neill, the best search was simply to look for other
Irish natives born in the same decade who were living in the same
county. This did not result in an unmanageable number of hits for any
census year. Samuel's residence near the county line also warranted
performing a search in the neighboring county. Geography must always
be kept in mind.
Similar searches were conducted in the 1870 and 1880 census in the
county where Samuel lived. The number of entries in both cases was
small enough that all the names could be manually scanned. Particular
attention was paid to any names in townships that neighbored the
township where Samuel lived from ca. 1868 until 1912. There were a
handful of other Irish immigrants living relatively close to Samuel.
However, the entry for one Irish native stood out: William Brice.
The connection was easily made. Samuel's brother's wife was Anne
Brice. William Brice and family lived in the township due east of the
Neills, most likely within five or six miles. Of course, it might
easily have been coincidence that a William and Anne Brice were
somewhat near neighbors of someone with whom they shared a last name
and a country of birth. One could not immediately conclude they were
related to Joseph's wife Anne Brice Neill. However, the entry was
worth following in other census years.
Back to the Census
Searches easily located William and Anne Brice in the following
- 1860 Ursa Township, Adams County, Illinois
- 1870 Chili Township, Hancock County, Illinois
- 1880 Butler County, Kansas
- 1900 Caldwell County, Missouri
Ancestry census database for a William Brice, born in Ireland within
five years of 1838. These were the only entries that were relatively
consistent with the family structure of William Brice in 1870 when he
was a neighbor to the Neill families. Further research on William
Brice needs to be conducted in order to determine if he is related to
Anne Brice Neill. If this William is related to Anne Brice Neill, it
looks like he was what brought the Neills to west-central Illinois.
(Ursa Township, Adams County, Illinois, is relatively close to West
Point, where the Neills settled.) Unfortunately at this juncture,
direct connections to Anne Murphy Neill have not been discovered.
Things Worth Remembering
- Census records can provide a tentative outline of a family that
should be documented with additional records.
- Searches of census records without using names, focusing on
places of birth, ages, etc., may result in the location of unknown
extended family members.
- Tracking experimental search techniques is important so that the
same searches are not conducted repeatedly.
In an upcoming article, we'll see how the migration trail and
extended family discovered thus far are only the beginning.
The image on this post is the death entry for Franciska Trautvetter, who died on 15 January 1888 (wife of Michael Trautvetter). The entry indicates she was 36 years, 5 months, and 21 days old--and also indicates a date of birth of 22 July 1851.
The pastor even provides the funeral text: Psalms 102: 24-25.
Some translations of verse 24 refer to being taken in the "midst of my days," a likely reference to Franciska's age at the time of her death.
23 June 2008
The database allows for searches on parents' names. The only drawback is that soundex searches are not possible on the names of the parents, only on the name of the enumerant.
I entered in a bit of information on my wife's Freund family, including Conrad Krebs (b0rn 7 Oct 1818 in Goldbach, Bavaria) who married Margaretta Freund. This family lived in Davenport, Scott County, Iowa, after immigrating in 1854.
I entered in Conrad's date and place of birth from his obituary. I realize an obituary is a secondary source for a date/place of birth, but right now it is all I have.
Ancestry did an "automatic" match for Conrad and found many things that were misses, but it did find him in the 1870 and 1880 census. I attached these entries and images to Conrad, making certain not to attach the census to his 7 Oct 1818 birth in Goldbach. Yet the program insisted on connecting the 1870 census to that date of birth.
Problem? Yes. The census gives an age that leads to a date of birth of about 1818, most certainly not 7 Oct 1818 in Goldbach. This is implying the census says something it does not. If people are not careful, they will tie records to information that they do not say. I realize it may seem like a minor detail, but it is not. Saying something says something it does not is inaccurate and leads to all kinds of confusion.
- the ability to "mark" hits that have already been viewed. I don't always have time to get through all the hits on a search before I have to do something else. It would be nice to "mark" those that have already been looked at.
- the ability to make "notes" about a hit. I would settle for marking a hit as something I had already looked at, but adding a quick little note--even just 100 characters--that I could view later would be really nice.
- the ability to search all papers in one town (or one state) at once, without having to search the entire set of newspapers. Ancestry.com has several Davenport, Iowa, newspapers on their site. UPDATE: This can be done--you just have to be in the right place.
Just my 2 cents.
19 June 2008
Researching the Entire Family
Using Records from the Family History Library When You Don't Know the Language
Determining Your Own Migration Trails and Migration Chains
Effective Internet Search Techniques
More details about the workshop can be found on the Society's website.
Unnatural Process--Naturalization Records
Researching Your European Origins Online
Seeing the Patterns: Organizing Your Information
An Introduction to Reading Non-English Handwriting
The seminar will be held at the Butte War Bonnet Hotel in Butte. There is more information on the Society's website.
Of course newspaper pictures are not as good as having actual photographs--the quality is not as high. However, if family does not have pictures, something is better than nothing.
George K. Freund is a first cousin of George A. Freund, my wife's 2nd great-grandfather. Both men were Scott County, Iowa, natives born in the 1850s.
16 June 2008
My suggestion to most of these sites:
Do not post "hit and miss" issues of newspapers. While I realize that not all newspapers are extant, in several cases, a few issues for a month or a year are put online when more issues were microfilmed. I would rather see just the year of 1877 put online rather than a smattering off issues from 1877 through 1930. It makes searching more effective.
Just my opinion.
Sometimes it is clear to see how names get misread. This 1830 Census entry for Monroe Township, Licking County, Ohio, was located by searching manually. There are still times when a manual search is necessary. Not every name is easily readable.
Ancestry.com indexed this as "Gs Hyles" and it is easy to see how that might have happened--particularly with the last name. However, I think this is actually meant to be Jas. Kyle. James is known to have lived in the township for several decades
Our registration fee will remain the same as it has since we began the workshops 10 years ago: $35.
More details will be posted on our site as they are developed. Anyone with suggestions is welcome to send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
11 June 2008
07 June 2008
Anna Fecht married Bertus Grass (brother to my gg grandmother Noentje Grass), which makes her my aunt by marriage. This same Anna Fecht was also a double first cousin of Jans Janssen (a gg grandfather of mine) and a single first cousin to Anke Fecht (another gg grandmother of mine). Anna Fecht's nephew, Harm Fecht, married a sister of another gg-grandfather, Jann Habben. Now that everyone is as confused as I am
Question: Is there any genealogical program that will allow me to choose just these people and chart their relationships? I don't want charts with all ancestors or all descendants of some individual(s) in my database--I want to chart just these people. I could easily make one chart manually. The problem is I have numerous double/triple or even quadruple relationships in my low-German families and would like something to at least give me a working chart which I could tweak. I am not really interested in charting extremely distant relationships, but am desiring to chart those connections of which the indivdiduals involved were likely aware.
An extended question: I would also like to be able to choose say 5 or 6 specific people in my database and chart their connections/relationships. Again, I do not want hourglass trees, descendant or ancestor trees. I want to choose a few people and just show their connection(s) to each other. I use these to keep the kinship "straight" when I'm working on a specific group of families.
I could make the charts manually, but would rather there were something that could take my database I already have.
04 June 2008
02 June 2008
Both trips went well and trippers were able to locate materials. No one solves every problem, but many made headway and one even came precariously close to doing the happy dance.
We'll be posting some of the information on the site as it gets organized. We'll also be posting tips and suggestions based upon our experiences as well.
I would encourage those who have never made a trip to consider making a face to face visit to a large genealogical library if at all possible. It can be a great experience.