31 December 2008

Passport Applications on Footnote.com

Passport applications are an excellent source and one that is particularly helpful for searching on those extended family members. Passport Applications 1795-1905
icon are currently available on Footnote.com.

John Goldenstein was born in Wrisse, Gemany, 4 January 1876. He is a first cousin of my great-grandmother. His passport was dated 1905 and it indicated he had naturalized in Albuquerque in 1902. It also provided his date of immigration to the United States.

He had lived in Gothenburg, Nebraska; Sterling, Nebraska; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Douglas, Arizona; since coming to the United States. The first two locations were areas where other family members were known to have lived. He was a 29 year old motorman on the application. The witness was L. U. Albers, a distant relative, who lived "out west" but I was unaware that Albers had spent time in the Southwest.

These images are pretty nice as well.

Too bad his uncle, Frank Goldenstein (my actual ancestor) never got a passport when he visited Germany in 1910.

Check out the applications for more than just your direct line ancestor. If I had not known where the Goldensteins were from, this would have been a very helpful document.

Those wishing to search the Passport Applications 1795-1905 can do so at Footnote.com.

(The first time this entry was published, I hit the publish key a little too fast and all that was published was the image.)

30 December 2008

Now Writing for Dick Eastman

Starting today, I'll be writing pretty much a weekly column for Dick Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter. I'm looking forward to being a part of the writing team and getting back to writing on a frequent basis. Readers are welcome to submit ideas and suggestions to me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com.

That said, my site here will be making a few changes. There will be even less posting of genealogy "news" to this site in order to devote more time to actual research and writing. I'll still be posting research experiences and discoveries on the ancestors and families of my children. And I'll still be speaking at conferences and workshops as my schedule allows.

21 December 2008

Happy Holidays 2008!

I will be taking a break for a week or so from regular blogging as the Holiday Season swings into full gear at my household.

As a reminder...

  • We are still accepting registrations for the 2009 trip to Salt Lake. If you learned about it after our early registration deadline of 15 December, let me know and you can still pay the early rate. Our trip's website is http://www.rootdig.com/slctrip.html
  • We are adding images to our "Famous Census" site at http://www.famouscensus.com. Right now the bulk of our images are from 1850-1870. We are taking suggesions for additions to our site.
  • "Genealogy Tip of the Day" is running at http://genealogytipoftheday.blogspot.com. Feel free to check it out and subscribe or become a follower. And spread the news, our advertising is zero.

And we'll be making a big announcement, hopefully by the first of the year. Stay tuned.

18 December 2008

1870 Census 98% complete at Family Search Pilot Site

The Pilot site on Family Search is now reporting that the 1870 census on their site is 98% complete. A complete list of currently indexed states is available on their site. Give it a try.

More in the Florida State Census at Ancestry.com

As mentioned in an earlier post, Ancestry.com just released the set of Florida state censuses 1867-1945 on its website. I found cousin Martin Fecht in 1945, apparently with a different wife and two new children. He still is operating a gas station in Dade County, though. The nice thing is that the 1945 census provided his address.

Ancestry has Florida state censuses for

Florida State Censuses at Ancestry.com 1867-1945

Ancestry.com just released the set of Florida state censuses 1867-1945 on its website.

This includes the years of:
  • 1867
  • 1875
  • 1885
  • 1935
  • 1945

I actually found a cousin of my great-grandfather in the 1935 census for Dade County, Florida--Martin Fecht. I split his entry over two images, but he is shown with his wife Gladys and children, Billie and Harlan.

On the second image, his family's four entries start with the one where the husband is born in Illinois. I was not aware that he ran a service station and I did learn that he must have gone to school through the eighth grade and that his wife graduated from high school.

Readers with Florida ancestors can search the Florida state censuses 1867-1945 on Ancestry's website.

16 December 2008

Famous Census Pages are Back!

After a hiatus, our famous census pages are back. It will take a while to bring all the images again to our website, but we are making progress.

Our pages have a new look and a new domain name

Take a look--we're starting off small while we work out the bugs.
Suggestions for additions are welcome and can be sent to me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com.

15 December 2008

Stick with the Facts

Ancestry.com has revised their New York City Passenger Lists database (or at least it showed up as "new" on their home page recently). This prompted me to look for an elusive ancestress, Barbara Siefert.

Barbara was born ca. 1826 in Germany. She is known to have married in 1849 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Peter Bieger. They headed to Illinois shortly after.

I would love to find her in a passenger manifest.

Barbara's obituary indicates she came to the United States as a "young girl," originally living in Ohio. I am really wondering how accurate this "young girl" phrase actually is. After all, it was in her obituary which was probably written by one of her children born in Illinois. To the best of my knowledge, Barbara had no blood relatives in Illinois other than descendants. Consequently her children would have used what they remembered from their mother in compiling an obituary. It wasn't like there was an aunt or uncle they could ask for information. As a result, I'm not assuming too much about the age at which Barbara immigrated. And "young girl" could mean different things to different people.

The 1900 Census for Barbara indicates she arrived in 1846. And while the census can be incorrect, I am slightly more inclined to believe it than the obituary. Barbara is listed in Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois, in 1900--living by herself with her married daughter as a neighbor.

Before I search for Barbara in the manifests, I should review what I know about her. And this analysis is best done before I start typing information willy-nilly in search boxes.

Based upon census records, I think Barbara was born between 1824 and 1826. She immigrated before her marriage to Peter Bieger in 1849 (if I have a specific date, that should be kept in mind). I also need to think about how accurate I believe her maiden name is. Then I can start searching the passenger lists.

But analyzing what I have before I search is important.

Last Day for Early SLC Trip Registration

This is the last day to register and get the early price on our 2009 genealogy research trip to Salt Lake's Family History Library. Trip planning will begin after the first of the year, but participants are welcome to submit questions before then.

To get your registration in under the wire, it is okay to email me that it has been mailed. Those wishing to use a credit card are welcome to pay via Paypal. There are instructions on our site or those with questions can email me.

More information on the trip can be found at


New Look to Rootdig.com

We have chosen a new template for the website and have some additional housekeeping items to do as well. While we are in transition, do not be surprised if some occasional formatting looks off. We are tweaking things and fixing broken links, etc. as we find them. Any errors or comments can be directed to me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com.

We are also excited about the new blog "Genealogy Tip of the Day" which is running live now at http://genealogytipoftheday.blogspot.com


13 December 2008

Genealogy Tip of the Day

Beginning tomorrow, 14 December, my new blog rolls live:

Genealogy Tip of the Day


More to come--check it out.

Where did they get That?

Where Did They Get That?

Michael John Neill

Confusion is often in the mind of the beholder. The ongoing release of the every name 1900 census index at Ancestry.com has caused me to revisit some relatives in this census. When I viewed one entry, I remembered how confused I was when I first saw it. Like many genealogical records, the enumeration contained an error. And like many errors, the incorrect statement was a clue. In this case it was a clue that I failed to notice.

In 1900, John M. Trautvetter is a 60ish widower, living with his four youngest children on a farm in rural Hancock County, Illinois. The bulk of the census entry is consistent with other records, including John's age, place of birth, year of immigration, and citizenship status. What confused me was the place of birth listed for the children's mother--Ohio. No other record ever listed that state.

John's wife, Frances, was the mother of all his children (there was not a second wife, although different places of births for the mother can sometimes indicate this), and she died in 1888 well
before the 1900 enumeration. Every document indicated she was born in Illinois in 1851 with no hint to another possible state of birth. While I had no direct evidence of her birth date and place, Frances' parents were known to have resided in Illinois as early as November 1850, and Frances' guardianship records (created when she was five years old) clearly state she had been born in January 1851. There was no evidence that her parents lived anywhere except Illinois after November 1850. But still, in the 1900 census, entries for four of her children indicate she had an Ohio place of birth.

Frances' three oldest children were out of the house by the 1900 enumeration, and their entries were also located. These children indicated their mother was born in Illinois. While this was not
consistent with the Ohio birthplace listed by the other children, at least it was consistent with what I already knew about Frances.

So Where Did Ohio Come From?

I do not know who provided the information for the Trautvetter household in 1900. But now I do know that the informant was not entirely confused when they indicated that the mother of the children in the household was born in Ohio.

It was years after I first discovered that 1900 census entry that I learned that Frances' parents were German immigrants who married in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1849. Their stay in Ohio was short, but it was where they were married and where the husband was naturalized. I wish I had considered the Ohio reference as a clue from the start instead of simply ignoring it as some off-the-wall mistake. Whoever told the enumerator the children's mother was born in Ohio must have known that her family had some connection to that state.

In this case, the error was a lead as to the family's origins. Some discrepancies in records are clues as to other locations where the family lived. Unfortunately, not all inconsistencies can be understood as easily as this one. However our point is that apparent errors should not immediately be tossed aside.

Many Errors in Records

There are many errors in genealogical records. If all records were completely consistent, genealogy research would not be nearly as difficult (or as interesting) as it is. And some of us become skeptical when all the records completely agree. And while an error is still an error, there are times when the error is a clue. The error can result from many scenarios, but it is worth remembering that we were not present when the information on the record was obtained. We do not know who answered the questions and what distractions might have been in the respondent's mind. All we have is what is written on the document.

Did our ancestor think the clerk meant, "Where is your mother from?" instead of "Where was your mother born?" Where a person is "from" is not necessarily the same place as where they were born. In the case of Frances, the children still living in the household in 1900 were relatively young when she died in 1888. Their memories of their mother may be very dim, and their only knowledge of her and her origins may come from their father--who might not necessarily know where she was born either.

Other Types of Errors

- Hearing and Speech Problems

Your ancestor's ability to speak the language of the country in which he or she lived can easily impact how the name is written in various records. Combine that with regional dialects, hearing problems, and inattentive clerks and the problem can be greatly compounded. This topic was discussed in this column some time ago in an article titled "Do You Ear What I Ear?"

- Bald-faced lie.

Was your ancestor hiding from his or her past? Was he or she lying to get out of something? Was he or she lying to be able to do something? If your ancestor lied on a document, there is usually a reason. The difficulty lies in determining what that reason was. If your ancestor made up several lies, the problem can be even worse.

- They were not there.

Many documents that genealogist use reference events that took place long before the document was created and, perhaps, even before the informant was born. The amount of time that has elapsed, combined with the fact that a story may have passed through several individuals, can
cause facts to be reported incorrectly. And the mistake may be an honest one, particularly if the informant on a document is an in-law.

- A little detail they did not know.

My parents have lived in the same county their entire lives. And yet they were born in a different state because the nearest hospital was across the state line. I can remember that when I gave the clerk in the marriage records office the birthplaces of my parents, my soon-to-be
wife looked at me when I indicted my parents were born in Iowa --and yet they were.

- Sometimes there's no telling what they were thinking.

One relative of mine said her father was born in Canada, the United States, Iowa, or Kentucky. It all depends upon what census enumeration you believe. (Skeptics can view the census entries here.) This is a case where I just wonder exactly went on when the census taker knocked
on the door. (To read our fictionalized view of the census taker read "The Census Taker Cometh.")

Consider the Errors

Some errors are errors. Some errors are clues. It is the job of the genealogist to determine the difference as best they can. Your ancestor might have been giving you the biggest clue when they gave the wrong answer.

Note: This article originally ran in the Ancestry Daily News on 20 Oct 2004.

Requests to repost or reprint can be sent to Michael at mjnrootdig@gmail.com

12 December 2008

Do You Ear What I Ear

Do You Ear What I Ear

From the Ancestry Daily News 27 July 1999
reprint requests can be sent to me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com

Last week's article used the term "birder" house. One astute reader gently indicated that I most likely meant "brooder" house. I thank them for the correction and must plead ignorance for while I was raised on a farm, we did not have chickens. You can be certain I will not make the same mistake using bovine phrases—I would never hear the end of it!

The mistake makes a point and I'm actually glad it happened. Mishearing and misinterpreting words and phrases can cause problems genealogically in several situations. I have categorized the difficulties here, but bear in mind that there might be some overlap and that the distinction between some categories is not really important.

Did Not Hear Correctly

Just as I misunderstood Grandma, it might be that the respondent on an official document or record did not hear correctly and gave "incorrect" information as a result. This same difficulty can arise when family members are asked for information. In one of my families, confusion arose between the two names "Augusta" and "Geske." These names are distinct, however, an individual with a hearing problem might easily confuse the two.

Misunderstood the Question

The respondent might have heard all the words and thought he understood the meaning of the question. If your ancestor gave an "incorrect" birthplace for his mother or father, is it possible that he interpreted the question as "where is your mother from?" instead of "where was your mother born?" Mother might have been born in one place and "been from" somewhere else (depending upon where she grew up and where her family originated). It might have been this place that she considered herself "from" even though it was not actually where she was born. We cannot know for certain what our ancestors were thinking when they were answering questions for the census taker or the marriage license clerk. All we have is the document they left behind.

When interviewing family members use as many names as possible. Relationships can create confusion. When interviewing my grandmother, it took several minutes to make it clear to her that I was asking about her grandfather Trautvetter, not her father. She had referred to her own dad as a grandfather for so long (to her own children) that she originally answered the questions as if I was asking about her father. Using her grandfather's name of John reduced the
confusion (her father, fortunately was named George). While it may not be possible use names exclusively, minimizing the number of relationships used when asking questions can reduce confusion.

Did Not Know the Language

Was your immigrant ancestor answering questions that were asked in a language he did not understand? Even if your ancestor could speak English, it seems reasonable that she might have easily mistranslated a key word or phrase.

Was Not Listening

Have you ever answered a question without ever really listening to it? Asking your parent, spouse, child, or co-worker might provide a different answer. Is it possible your ancestor was not paying one hundred percent attention when the 1920 census taker knocked on his door? Did your ancestor assume no one would ever really care about the answers eighty years later?

No One Cared

When the clerk was filling out my marriage license, he asked me how to spell my mother's maiden name. And so I spelled it out. If I had married in the county where I was born and raised, most of the office staff would have known how to spell the surname (and many would have known it without even asking). Close attention is not always paid to detail today and it certainly was not one hundred and fifty years ago either.

Spoke a Dialect, Used Slang, or Had an Accent

Dialects and variations in pronunciation can impact how words are spelled in records. "Gibson" can easily be pronounced so that it is spelled like "Gepson." There are numerous names where this is a problem, a problem compounded by dialects, "drawls," and "twangs." While it may be possible to know how our ancestors pronounced a name or a word, this information is generally not available.

It Has Been a While Since I Was Able to "Ear" It

In some cases, it is literally a lifetime from the day when a family tradition is heard until that day it is told. You grandfather might have heard a story when he was a child and not repeated it until he had grandchildren of his own. The chance that as a child he misunderstood something is reasonable. This difficulty is compounded by the effects time can have on one's memory.

The Ancestor Was Not Literate

If your ancestor was unable to read, she could not "proof" any answers or words listed on any form she might have signed. Even if your ancestor could read, if the forms were not in her native tongue, she might have easily misunderstood a question (or her answer). The clerk might not have been concerned about explaining it to her either.

Genealogists need to bear in mind auditory difficulties when dealing with records. These difficulties are compounded by problems with how our ancestors might have interpreted various terms and phrases. Documenting these difficulties may be impossible in many cases. When it can be done, it should, especially with pronunciations.

I always track the ways names are pronounced when I know it. One of my ancestral surnames is Behrens. My great-grandmother pronounced it as "barns" (the kind cows sometimes reside in). This pronunciation is duly noted in my files. While it's not written as technically as it would be in a dictionary, it serves the purpose.

But I Don't Know How It Is Pronounced

Asking older family members is a good first step, but not always possible. As your research progresses further and further back in time, the chance that living family members have heard the name decreases. Researchers who do not know how a name is most likely pronounced may
wish to post such a question to one of the mailing lists for the surname or the message boards at http://boards.ancestry.com/ or the mailing lists at rootsweb http://lists.rootsweb.com/.

Individuals with the name may post replies, but it is important to remember that the pronunciation today may be significantly different from one hundred and fifty or two hundred years ago.

Genealogists use their eyes for the bulk of their genealogical work, and rightly so. But we must also use our ears and mouths—for that's how many of those words made their way from our ancestor's minds to those records.

Good Luck!

Copyright 1999, Michael John Neill.

From Their Mouth to Your Computer Screen

From Their Mouth to Your Computer Screen

Michael John Neill

While it would be nice for our ancestors' information to instantly appear on the computer screen, most of us know that it simply does not work that way. This week we take a look at the steps that data took to get from our ancestors' mouth to our computer monitor. Being aware of these steps is crucial to effectively searching for ancestors in transcriptions, indexes, and other finding aids.

From the Ancestor's Mouth

Few of us were present when our ancestor gave the answers to the census taker or the records clerk. There is no way for us to know exactly what question came out of the clerk's mouth and how this question was interpreted by our ancestor, particularly if he or she could barely understand the language the records clerk used. Even if the ancestor understood the question perfectly, there are additional considerations. Did the person answering questions have a German accent? Did she have an Irish brogue? Did he insert a guttural sound into the name that might have been interpreted as an extra letter? Did your ancestor have difficulty speaking? Did your ancestor fail to give complete answers? Did your ancestor even really understand the questions, even if they spoke the same language?

To the Clerk's Ear

Did the clerk ask for clarification or just spell a name the way it sounded? Did he even care if he spelled the name correctly? Did he spell your Danish ancestor's last name the way a Swede would spell it because many other mmigrants to the area were Swedish and not Danish? Did the clerk say the question in a way that was confusing to your ancestor? Did the clerk have difficulty understanding your ancestor and wrote down his best guess instead of clarifying the answer with your ancestor? Was the census taker a German native who insisted on spelling even the English language last names the "German way?" Did the records clerk put down "Germany" as the place of birth because that was easier than writing down Wildbrechtrode, Thuringen, Germany?

To the Official Document

Did the clerk have handwriting that was very flourished and difficult to read? Was his handwriting sloppy? Did his letter "u" look like a letter "n?" Did he use an ink or a pencil that has faded over time? Was the document written on low-quality paper? Is there an inkblot right over the most crucial word in the entire document?

To Be Filed Away

Many of the documents used by genealogists were not originally stored under the most ideal conditions for long-term preservation. Some are still not stored under such conditions. Extreme heat or cold, mildew, water, insects, or other environmental factors could easily have impacted the condition of the records used to create an index or a finding aid.
Bottoms of pages may have worn away after years of use. Pages may have fallen out and gotten lost as the binding of the book deteriorated beyond repair. Does the transcription of finding aid you are using make it clear whether such issues were encountered when the records were read? Were original documents folded, creating an illegible line of
text that invariably is the most important line in the entire document.

To the Transcriptionist's Eye

Is the indexer using the original document or a microfilm copy? Is that microfilmed copy the only copy and a poor copy at that? Is the transcriptionist familiar with the last names of the area or the language the individuals listed in the records likely spoke? I recently helped someone find their family in the 1880 census only and realized that the last name of Pundt had been transcribed as Bennet. When the microfilm was viewed, it was easy to see how the interpretation was made. I might have thought it was Bennet myself. The handwriting was faint, the "B" was difficult to read and the other letters before the final "t" were not clear. I would not have read it as Pundt, but it was (based upon the first names that all matched the family group of the researcher).

To the Database Entry

Those who key in data occasionally make a mistake. For this reason, vary which search box you leave empty when performing online searches. Use wildcard operators and Soundex options when available. And if the records are not impossible to search one at a time, consider a manual search of the information page by page. You never know what you might discover.

To the Researcher's Search Technique

Are you considering all the possible variant spellings? Is there a chance that you do not understand completely how the search interface works? Are you assuming something about your ancestor that is not true and is this assumption hindering your search? If an online database is being used, are as few search boxes as possible being filled in? The more boxes that are completed when performing a search, the more narrow the search and the greater the chance the desired entry is not located.

Failure to find the desired entry in an online finding aid is not always the fault of the researcher. Sometimes our ancestor is just not in the records. Sometimes he gave misleading information. Sometimes the clerk did not care how the name was spelled. Sometimes the keeper of the records was not concerned with preserving the records. Sometimes the transcriptionist makes a mistake. It is those sometimes that get us in trouble. Think about all the steps that information took from your ancestor's mouth to your computer screen. Remembering these steps may
help you to keep your failed searches in perspective.

Note: This originally appeared in the Ancestry Daily News on 8 June 2005.

11 December 2008

Still Room for Salt Lake

A trip to Salt Lake makes an excellent genealogical present to yourself or that special genealogist you know.

We still have openings in our 2009 trip to Salt Lake City's Family History in May of 2009. Our early bird registration price of $200 expires on 15 December. We also like people to start preparing as early as possible in order to avoid last minute hasty gathering of material. Note--I said "avoid." I did not say "completely avoid." (Grin)

More information on our trip can be located at http://www.rootdig.com/slctrip.html

We have a great time and I help people before and during our time at the library.

Brick Walls from A to Z

Brick Walls from A to Z

This article originally appeared in the Ancestry Daily News on 11 Jan 2006. It is copyrighted and requests for reprint/redistribution can be directed to me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com.

This week we discuss the alphabet looking for clues to ancestral brick walls. The
list is meant to get you thinking about your own genealogy problems.

A is for Alphabetize

Have you created an alphabetical list of all the names in your database
and all the locations your families lived? Typographical errors and
spelling variants can easily be seen using this approach. Sometimes
lists that are alphabetical (such as the occasional tax or census) can
hide significant clues.

B is for Biography

Creating an ancestor's biography might help you determine where there
are gaps in your research. Determining possible motivations for his
actions (based upon reasonable expectations) may provide you with new
areas to research.

C is for Chronology

Putting in chronological order all the events in your ancestor's life
and all the documents on which his name appears is an excellent way to
organize the information you have. This is a favorite analytical tool
of several Ancestry Daily News columnists.

D is for Deeds

A land transaction will not provide extended generations of your
ancestry, but it could help you connect a person to a location or show
that two people with the same last name engaged in a transaction.

E is for Extended Family

If you are only researching your direct line there is a good chance you
are overlooking records and information. Siblings, cousins, and in-laws
of your ancestor may give enough clues to extend your direct family
line into earlier generations.

F is for Finances

Did your ancestor's financial situation impact the records he left
behind? Typically the less money your ancestor had the fewer records he
created. Or did a financial crisis cause him to move quickly and leave
little evidence of where he settled?

G is for Guardianships

A guardianship record might have been created whenever a minor owned
property, usually through an inheritance. Even with a living parent, a
guardian could be appointed, particularly if the surviving parent was a
female during that time when women's legal rights were extremely
limited (read nonexistent).

H is for Hearing

Think of how your ancestor heard the questions he was being asked by
the records clerk. Think of how the census taker heard what your
ancestor said. How we hear affects how we answer or how we record an

I is for Incorrect

Is it possible that an "official" record contains incorrect
information? While most records are reasonably correct, there is always
the chance that a name, place, or date listed on a record is not quite
exact. Ask yourself how it would change your research if one "fact"
suddenly was not true?

J is for Job

What was your ancestor's likely occupation? Is there evidence of that
occupation in census or probate records? Would that occupation have
made it relatively easy for your ancestor to move from one place to
another? Or did technology make your ancestor's job obsolete before he
was ready for retirement?

K is for Kook

Was your ancestor just a little bit different from his neighbors? Did
he live life outside cultural norms for his area. If he did,
interpreting and understanding the records of his actions may be
difficult. Not all of our ancestors were straight-laced and like their
neighbors. That is what makes them interesting (and difficult to

L is for Lines

Do you know where all the lines are on the map of your ancestor's
neighborhood? Property lines, county lines, state lines, they all play
a role in your family history research. These lines change over time as
new territories are created, county lines are debated and finalized,
and as your ancestor buys and sells property. Getting your ancestor's
maps all "lined" up may help solve your problem.

M is for Money

Have you followed the money in an estate settlement to see how it is
disbursed? Clues as to relationships may abound. These records of the
accountings of how a deceased person's property is allocated to their
heirs may help you to pinpoint the exact relationships involved.

N is for Neighbors

Have you looked at your ancestor's neighbors? Were they acquaintances
from an earlier area of residence? Were they neighbors? Were they both?
Which neighbors appeared on documents with your ancestor?

O is for Outhouse

Most of us don't use them any more, but outhouses are mentioned to
remind us of how much life has changed in the past one hundred years.
Are you making an assumption about your ancestor's behavior based upon
life in the twenty-first century? If so, that may be your brick wall
right there.

P is for Patience

Many genealogical problems cannot be solved instantly, even with access
to every database known to man. Some families are difficult to research
and require exhaustive searches of all available records and a detailed
analysis of those materials. That takes time. Some of us have been
working on the same problem for years. It can be frustrating but
fulfilling when the answer finally arrives.

Q is for Questions

Post queries on message boards and mailing lists. Ask questions of
other genealogists at monthly meetings, seminars, conferences and
workshops. The answer to your question might not contain the name of
that elusive ancestor, but unasked questions can leave us floundering
for a very long time.

R is for Read

Read about research methods and sources in your problem area. Learning
about what materials are available and how other solved similar
problems may help you get over your own hump.

S is for Sneaky

Was your ancestor sneaking away to avoid the law, a wife, or an
extremely mad neighbor? If so, he may have intentionally left behind
little tracks. There were times when our ancestor did not want to be
found and consequently may have left behind few clues as to his origins.

T is for Think

Think about your conclusions. Do they make sense? Think about that
document you located? What caused it to be created? Think about where
your ancestor lived? Why was he there? Think outside the box; most of
our brick wall ancestors thought outside the box. That's what makes
them brick walls in the first place.

U is for Unimportant

That detail you think is unimportant could be crucial. That word whose
legal meaning you are not quite certain of could be the key to
understanding the entire document. Make certain that what you have
assumed is trivial is actually trivial.

V is for Verification

Have you verified all those assumptions you hold? Have you verified
what the typed transcription of a record actually says? Verifying by
viewing the original may reveal errors in the transcription or
additional information.

W is for Watch

Keep on the watch for new databases and finding aids as they are being
developed. Perhaps the solution to your brick wall just has not been
created yet.

X is for X-Amine

With the letter "x" we pay homage to all those clerks and census takers
who made the occasional spelling error (it should be "examine" instead
of "x-amine.") and also make an important genealogical point. Examine
closely all the material you have already located. Is there an
unrecognized clue lurking in your files?

Y is for Yawning

Are you getting tired of one specific family or ancestor? Perhaps it is
time to take a break and work on another family. Too much focus on one
problem can cause you to lose your perspective. The other tired is when
you are researching at four in the morning with little sleep. You are
not at your most productive then either and likely are going in circles
or making careless mistakes.

Z is for Zipping

Are you zipping through your research, trying to complete it as quickly
as possible as if it were a timed test in school? Slow down, take your
time and make certain you aren't being too hasty in your research and
in your conclusions.

The "tricks" to breaking brick walls could go on and on. In general though,
the family historian is well served if he or she "reads and thinks in
an honest attempt to learn." That attitude will solve many problems,
not all of them family history related.

Using Genealogy For Computer passwords

I don't know about anyone else, but remembering all the various passwords I have is crazy. And making up new ones always is a pain as well. This is especially true for sites that do not allow you to reuse passwords for a set amount of time. I've revamped my password approach as I'm tired of arbitrary ones that I cannot remembe and I don't want to use anything too easy.

So I went back to genealogy.

Sample "Grandma" was Helen Elizabeth Henry born in 1903. There are several passwords I could create from Grandma's name:
  • heh1903
  • helen1903
  • helenelizabeth1903
  • helenhenry1903

I go through various ancestors---not just Grandma using a similar approach. I do alter the naming scheme from one show here. If the site asks me for a number only, I either use birthdates of ancestors, old phone numbers, or other things that would be hard to guess. If Grandma Jones' old number was 231-456-7890, my password could be grandma4567890.

I particularly like to do this on those sites where I can give myself a password "hint."

10 December 2008

Immaculate Conceptions in my Family Tree

Oh, the discoveries we make on the internet. Today I really learned something about my ancestors.

This one was an immaculate conception. Look at the death date of the father.
Either that or it was VERY LONG pregnancy. Or perhaps some kind of in vitro thing. Any way you cut it, I feel really special.
Note: I stripped identifying parts of this entry, but the dates are as originally displayed. Don't most software packages flag entries when children are born 6 years after the father died? For the record, the year of death for the father is off by at least 40 years. He was reproducing well into the 1880s. Outlived 3 wives, but that is another story.

09 December 2008

Sally-Sarah: What is the Difference?

Sally/Sarah, What's the Difference?

When two people have the same (or similar) names, or one person has multiple names, it can create big problems for genealogists. Records on individuals with the same name need to be "sorted" out into their separate identities, while individuals who used different names may have to be "merged" together to create one identity despite the varying names. The separating or merging is not always an easy process, and sometimes it is downright impossible. Incomplete or hasty research can aggravate the situation. Jumping to conclusions too early and holding on to them for too long may only add to the confusion.

To help with these frustrating occurrences, today's article centers on difficulties caused by individuals with similar names.

Making Assumptions: A Case Study

Philip Smith and Sarah Kile were living as husband and wife in Mercer County, Illinois in the 1870 and 1880 census. This family was the focus of our research. Sarah's children's marriage and death records had consistently listed her maiden name as Kile. But the consistency of secondary sources, while comforting, did not guarantee their accuracy. However, Sarah was listed as Archibald Kile's daughter in a late-1800s Mercer County, Illinois court case. The maiden name seemed fairly solid.

A search of the online Illinois Marriage Index located no marriage between Philip Smith and Sarah Kile. However, there was a marriage between a Sarah McIntosh and a Philip Smith on 3 May 1860. Another search of Kile marriages for females turned up an 1858 marriage for a Peter McLain and a Sally Kile. After finding these online records, I made the connection that Sarah and Sally were one in the same. After all, Sally was a well-known nickname for Sarah. Peter must have had died shortly after the couple's 1858 marriage, and Sarah must have married again. The nickname situation would explain the ladies' first name difference, and the original record was probably just misread so that McLain was mistakenly recorded as McIntosh. The scenario seemed clear, based on these assumptions! (Genealogy Guardian Angel advice: Look at the actual, original marriage records before making a conclusion like that.)

Next Stop: Census!

I located an entry for Peter McLain and Sarah L. McLain in a published 1860 Mercer County, Illinois census. But the published source did not include the actual date the census was taken, and I was still holding strong to my theory. However, listed in the household were an Elizabeth Kile and a William Kile. The 1860 census does not give relationships to heads of household. Sarah, the wife of Philip Smith, was the daughter of Archibald Kile. My theory was starting to unravel slightly, but perhaps the older Kiles were Sarah McLain's aunt and uncle. (Genealogy Guardian Advice: Be certain you aren't trying to make the records fit the theory instead of making the theory fit the records.)

I needed the original census to doublecheck the information and determine the date the census was taken. While I was waiting for that, a quick look at my copy of The Sources indicated that the 1860 census began on 1 June 1860. Philip Smith married Sarah McIntosh on 3 May 1860. This was starting to shoot holes in my theory.

On To 1870 . . .

There's Peter McLain STILL living with Sally! My theory is now bust, as Philip Smith and his Sarah had several children by this time. It is back to the drawing board.

Back to the marriages (more thoroughly this time . . .)

A search in the online Illinois State Marriage Index for brides under the surname "Kyle" located a marriage between a John McIntosh and a Sarah Kyle in September of 1852 in Mercer County, Illinois. This information led to a new working hypothesis, which was as follows:

Sarah Kile married John McIntosh in 1852. This marriage was terminated (either by John's death or by a judge). Sarah McIntosh married Philip Smith in 1860. Sally Kile, who married Peter McLain, was likely a relative of Sarah Kile, who is known to have married Philip Smith. Sarah Kile (McIntosh?) Smith and Sarah Kile McLain are likely related, possibly cousins. A look at Philip Smith and Sarah McIntosh's marriage license lists her as "Mrs. Sarah McIntosh" with a mark on the Mrs. (it's not clear if the mark is intending to strike out the Mrs. or not). This "Mrs." notation is not indicated in the online marriage index and is a considerable clue.

There's still plenty of work to be done: a COMPLETE analysis of census and other records, and an attempt to find out what happened to John McIntosh.

Lessons Learned

    1) Nicknames should not always be an "excuse" to automatically "combine" two individuals.

    2) Consider alternate spellings.

    3) Do not jump to conclusions.

    4) Research with the goal of finding out as much of the truth as you can—not with the intent of proving your initial hunch correct.

    5) Continue to analyze all information as new information is located.

Comments on This Research "Technique"

    1) Sally was frequently used as a nickname for Sarah.

    2) McIntosh and McLain being considered the "same" without any evidence to back it up was a stretch (and a very long one at that).

    3) At least the research continued and the researcher finally admitted that the initial theory was not correct.

Final Note

When I was just starting my research, I hired an individual to look for an ancestral marriage record. The individual found a man with the correct surname and a woman with the correct surname, but the date he found was not the same as the marriage date I had provided. I received a copy of this couple's license with the comment (paraphrased), "Nicknames were common in early days, and people weren't always certain anyway. Likely your date is off. Here's the copy."

It was only some years later, when I researched the records myself, that I discovered my ancestors' marriage record was there—with the date and the names I had given the researcher. My ancestor and his brother had married sisters, and I was originally sent the record for their siblings.

Adams County, Illinois, Court Records Can't be Found

I was hoping to find details of this case in the Adams County, Illinois, court records. It was not to be. Volke Sartorius sued her father's estate in 1892 for money her former beau gave to her father, Ulfert Behrens, to pay for the care of Ulfert's granddaughter, who was the daughter of the beau as well.

The newspaper account of the case goes on, at great length, making the entire situation very much like a soap opera. It goes so far as to name the father of Volke's baby, Harm Habbus. So far, my initial searches for Harm have not located him.

I hired a researcher in Quincy, Illinois, the Adams County seat to research this court case. She has done work for me in the past. This time no record could be located. She provided me a list of records she had used, what she searched for and what was not found. She was frustated as well. I am just fortunate that the newspaper account provides as much information as it does.

Next on my list are to try and access the records of the church where the family attended. They probably had Fredericka baptized and I am curious what name is listed for the father. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has the county's marriage records. I will wait until my trip to Salt Lake to locate the marriage record for Fredericka Behrens. According to the newspaper account she was raised by her grandparents, Ulfert and Fredericka Behrens. We will post more details as they are located.

08 December 2008

What Name do You use and Why?

Do you use your "real" name? Or do you use a diminutive based upon your first or middle name? Do you use a nickname?

In the notes section of your genealogy software indicate why you used the name you did. Future genealogists and relatives might like to know why you used it.

I have always used Michael, never "Mike." This is largely because my family always called me Michael and mother always said "if I had wanted him called 'Mike' I would have named him 'Mike.'". And I always thought Mike Neill sounded too short to be an actual name--at least to my ears--probably the result of being half German where every name needs to be somewhat long and have a lot of consonant sounds.

I started using my middle name because when I started my job, there was another guy in town named "Mike Neal" who was always getting arrested for one various thing or another. That was a way of distinguishing myself.

I know my great-grandmother Neill never used her "real" name of Francis--she used Fannie on everything, Francis appears ONLY on her birth record.

But jot this sort of thing down in your genealogy notes. Someone in a hundred years may want to know and you won't be around to tell them.

Getting Automatic Responses from "your tree" on Ancestry.com

My recent Tips from the Pros on the Ancestry.com blog mentioned getting responses from your trees that are posted to their site. Apparently some are having difficulty with the address I gave. I think I know what the problem is, but will get confirmation and post that. We don't want people missing out on connections.

07 December 2008

On Facebook

I set up an account on Facebook. We'll see how much time I have to use it and experiment with it. Feel free to hit me up there. We'll be posting more later.

05 December 2008

Soundex Searches on Ancestry.com's NYC Passenger Lists

Call me confused. I think.

I have been working with the New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 at Ancestry.com.

I searched for Mueller, using the "exact" option and choosing "United States" Soundex. I got 27, 456 hits.

I searched for Miller, using the "exact" option and choosing "United States" Soundex. I got 131, 856 hits.

Why the difference? Mueller and Miller are Soundex equivalents. Or am I missing something? I guess what I was missing was that to get the same number of results is to leave the "exact" box unchecked with the last name when doing a search for Mueller and Miller.

In both of these cases, I get 314,500 matches (Mueller last name unexact), US Soundex Search. I also get 314,500 matches for Miller, last name unexact, US Soundex Search. I am guessing that 314,500 is an estimate rather than an exact number.

Ok, but.

I search for Bernard (first name, exact), Mueller (not exact), US Soundex--I get 318 results.

I search for Bernard (first name, exact), Miller (not exact), US Soundex--I get 316 results.

It seems to me that these two searches should return the same individuals. After all the names are Soundex equivalents of each other. I really like all the databases at Ancestry.com . But sometimes the searches...

Some Chicago Marriage Licenses on Family Search's Pilot Site

It seems like it is harder and harder to keep up with all the information available on Family Search's Pilot site.

Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, marriages are being added to the records site at Family Search. This is a work in progress, which is clearly indicated on the site.

It made it so easy to locate these records (which I admittedly already had). The marriages shown in this post are for Lewis Demars and Laura Noll in 1901 and for Mary Demar and William Frame Apgar in 1909. Lewis is the father of Mary. Mary and her husband are my wife's great-grandparents. William Apgar "evaporates" around 1918.

No going to the courthouse, no writing a letter, no paying a fee. This is really nice. Now I just have to have time to search for other family members and wait for the site to expand its offerings of these records.

Those who have time can volunteer to help with the indexing of records at Family Search as well. You do not have to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to participate in the indexing program.

The Cook County, Illinois, marriage records currently online at Familysearch can be searched on their site.

At the time of this writing records on the site were from 1900 through 1920.

04 December 2008

List of Mortality Schedules Available at Ancestry.com

We have posted a list of mortality schedules that are currently available at Ancestry.com.

The page is here:


Corrections/additions are welcomed.

Habben Family Found in 1880 Mortality Schedule at Ancestry.com

I already knew they were there, but it was nice to find them in just a few clicks.

The image contained in this blog post contains part of the 1880 mortality census schedule for my aunt Christina Habben and her son Harm. They died in Harmony Township, Hancock County, Illinois. Interestingly the entry indicates that she had been in the county for 12 years and son Harm for 10 years.

I've also included the search results page for Christina from Ancestry.com as well. I really wish they would not use the word "city" on the results, but I realize that database administrators have to pick some word to use. The problem is that the political jurisdictions smaller than county are not always cities, sometimes they are townships. There is no town of Harmony in Hancock County.

The 1880 mortality schedules provide information on:

  • gender
  • marital status
  • place of birth
  • age
  • month of death
  • cause of death
  • census year
  • and location
  • how long in the county

Remember that mortality schedules are a "census of the dead," and only are for those deaths that took place in the 12 calendar months before the census date. So the 1880 mortality schedule not deaths for all of 1880. It is deaths in the 12 months preceding the date of the 1880 census--1 June 1880.

The 1850-1880 United States Mortality Schedules can be searched here.

These records were microfilmed by the National Archives years ago and have been available there at at the Family History Library for some time as well.

Christina was a sister to Johann Ufkes (1838-1924), my great-great-grandfather.

Ancestry Releases Mortality Schedules and Index 1850-1880

Ancestry.com posted a new database on their site, apparently today: United States Mortality Schedules (and Index) 1850-1880). This database is incomplete and is still in progerss, users should read the description to be certain what locations are covered. Not all of these schedules are extant, either. This is a welcome addition to Ancestry.com's set of databases. We'll be posting more about this as time allows.

The 1850-1880 United States Mortality Schedules can be searched here.

03 December 2008

Searching Ancestry's Directories

Sometimes you still have to do it the old-fashioned way.

On the city directories at Ancestry.com, I performed the search as shown on the screen--Cawiezell as the last name, unexact, living in Davenport, Iowa. There were seven matches, some of which are shown in the image. None were for the last name of Cawiezell.

When browsing manually Stone's 1888-1889 Davenport, Iowa, directory, I located the following entry for several Cawiezells, all living with Maria at 1019 W. 8th Street. I am assuming that Josephine is not the kind of stripper that might first enter someone's mind.

It is always a good idea to search the directories manually if you think the family lived there and they are not in the search results. In fact, there should be Cawiezell entries in every directory from ca. 1855 for Davenport. So I'll have to keep looking.

My wife descends from the Cawiezells.

This directory is one of thousands recently posted and indexed on Ancestry.com.The city directories at Ancestry.com can be searched there. I will be posting more about my work in these directories as time allows.

W & D in Rock Island 1888-1891

W & D didn't ring a bell with me, but I bet this is it: Weyerhaeuser and Denkman--who operated a lumber company at 107 4th Avenue in Rock Island. This is the directory entry that was suggested by a reader in an earlier blog post.

It seems reasonable that the Mortiers would have worked for a lumber company in 1888 or so. The 1895 directory indicates they were working for the Rock Island Lumber Company. People may change employers, but the type of work many times remains the same.

More about the history of the Weyerhaeuser Company can be found on its website. Denkmann was Weyerhaeuser's brother-in-law.

This directory is one of thousands recently posted and indexed on Ancestry.com.
The city directories at Ancestry.com can be searched there. I will be posting more about my work in these directories as time allows.

02 December 2008

What is "W & D" in Rock Island in 1888?

The 1888-1891 directory for the City of Rock Island contains entries for August and Charles Mortier, both of whom are working for "W & D." Anyone have any idea what company this is?
This directory is one of thousands recently posted and indexed on Ancestry.com.

01 December 2008

Uploading Your Own Content to Footnote

Remember that you can upload your own images to Footnote.com. You can set up an account at no charge.

I have uploaded the marriage license of my probable 3rd great-grandmother Mary Sargent to her second husband Asa Landon.
Uploading is free and users do not have to be subscribers to see the image. The nice thing is that annotations can be added just like fee-based content on Footnote. Those who have never used Footnote's image viewer might want to view the marriage license shown above and see how it works. It is pretty neat.

Remember that until the end of the year, Footnote.com is offering 15 months for the price of 12. Get the most for your family history dollar.

And any descendants of Mary Sargent and Asa Landon are encouraged to email me.

Discount on Footnote.

Footnote.com is offering a discount where users can get 15 months of access for the price of 12. This is a limited time offer. Footnote is a nice complement to other online subscriptions and we've written about it several times in the past. They have city directories, World War I era investigation files (particularly into German natives living in the United States), complete Revolutionary War pension files, and much more.

Banner offering 15 months for price of 12

Bureau County, Illinois Genealogical Society

The last ten years have been hard on genealogical societies, especially smaller ones in rural communities where the population base was never really large. The internet and changing ways of doing research have made a difference.

It is nice to see a society in a smaller area succeed. That is the case of the Bureau County, Illinois, Genealogical Society. The society has a library in a downtown storefront, an active group of members, and puts out a first rate newsletter for those members that are not close enough to attend meetings on a regular basis.

I have made several presentations for this group in the past and have always been impressed with their facility, their group, and their work to help those with ancestors in Bureau County, Illinois. The society gets a variety of speakers, their monthly meetings keep the "business" part of the meeting relatively short. This is an excellent idea--committee work and Board work needs to be done outside the general meeting of the members. There is always good attendance at their meetings.

Their library has a good amount of local and non-local materials, especially for a town the size of Princeton. The Society's website is always up-to-date, and they do try and help as many individuals as they can with their Bureau County research.

There are other rural societies that are doing well, too, and we'll try and mention them here as time allows. Those who live close enough might want to check out the society and see if they can pick up any ideas.

29 November 2008

Santa Claus in 1930

Santa Claus in 1930?

Santa Claus is living in Saline County, Missouri in 1930 and appears in the census image at Ancestry.com living with Mrs. Claus--in this case Mabel.

This Santa was born in Missouri and worked in river construction. Just slightly different from working in the manufacture and delivery of toys.

Readers can search the 1930 census for their own ancestors at Ancestry.com.

Search for Santa Claus at all of Ancestry.com

26 November 2008

Booking Workshops and Seminars for 2009 and 2010

I am currently working on my speaking schedule for 2009 and 2010. It is best to arrange dates as early as possible to provide flexibility.I would be happy to discuss the possibility of coming to present to your genealogy group or club for their workshop or seminar.

Genealogy workshops and seminars are great ways for members of your group to enhance their research skills and network with other genealogists. There is a world away from the computer.For more information on speaking availability, fees, expenses, and opportunities, send an email to me at michaeln2@winco.net.

Please indicate the potential date of the seminar, typical format, and general audience level. We can go from there.Lectures are informative, relaxed, and fun.Topics can be arranged and new lectures can be developed upon request.

I have presented over fifty all-day workshops across the United States on a wide variety of genealogy and computer genealogy topics. Some have been hands on all day workshops on Ancestry.com, Genline, Family Tree Maker. Others have been more traditional days of lectures and presentations on a wide variety of topics.

I have lectured for small and large groups including NGS and FGS conferences.A list of incomplete topics is available at http://www.rootdig.com/topics.html.

Most upcoming engagements are listed at http://www.rootdig.com/labels/speaking.html

Ft. Wayne Genealogy Trip Hotel Stay Drawing Extended

Our deadline for the drawing for a free stay at the Ft. Wayne Hilton during our trip to the Allen County Public Library has been changed because our registration files were not uploaded promptly. The new deadline to register and be entered in the drawing is 6 December 2008.

This prize has a $400 value and will give the winner extra money for photocopies. Registrants are responsible for their own incidentals and this drawing is for the hotel stay for 4 nights and tax only. Other hotel charges are the responsibility of the winner. More information on the trip is on our site.

Our trip dates are 27 May-31 May 2009.

For more information, send an email to mjnrootdig@gmail.com Thanks!

Make Certain You Read

I mentioned in an earlier post today that Ancestry.com just released Ontario, Canada Voter Lists, 1867-1900 on their website. I was really excited as I was hoping to find my elusive Clark Sargent in this database.

There was one reason I did not find him: he was dead by 1867. Oops.

Make certain your excitement doesn't cause you to waste time and energy. Hopefully you will find your living ancestors in this database. If this had been a list of Chicago voters, then I would have needed to look for the dead.

Ontario, Canada Voter Lists, 1867-1900 on Ancestry.com

Ancestry.com just released Ontario, Canada Voter Lists, 1867-1900 on their website. I was really excited as I was hoping to find my elusive Clark Sargent in this database.

So far no luck. I searched for just the last name Sargent, just the first name Clark and later on I will experiment with additional spellings for the last name. Maybe he is just hiding somewhere. Ancestry.com indicates the areas that are included the Ontario, Canada Voter Lists, 1867-1900 and I should also look to make certain all areas are covered. It is always possible that the entire set of records is not extant. One should not assume.

One of these days, I will hopefully find Clark. In the interim, perhaps readers will have success with this database.

Registration Pages for our Ft. Wayne, Indiana Research Trip

We have finally gotten our registration pages up and running for the 2009 research trip to the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, this coming May. We are looking forward to spending several days at this premier genealogical library. Our early bird registration deadline ends on 15 December, but regular registration continues beyond that date.

Registration Pages:
· In RTF format—for Word, etc.
· In PDF format

Please email me with questions or with other payment options for those who wish to use Paypal or a credit card. We can accept credit cards as payment.

25 November 2008

Questions Not to Ask the Family for the Genealogy Book

Family historians sometimes ask relatives questions at holiday get togethers. Here are some you might want to think twice before asking.
  • Which cousin you cannot stand and why?
  • What was the most disasterous family get together?
  • Which in-law do you never want to see again?
  • What's the real reason Uncle Bob and Aunt Norma are never in the same room?
  • Why did Aunt Gert spend a year in Topeka?
  • What food do you absolutely hate at Thanksgiving?
  • What saying of your parents can you absolutely cannot stand?
  • What is the one thing your spouse does that drives you nuts.
  • There has to be one more thing your spouse does that drives you nuts. Name it too.
  • How come we always have to eat dinner at Aunt Wandas?
  • Why does Uncle Leon's nose not look like anyone elses?

A genealogy colleague sent me back these (she wishes to remain anonymous):

  • Why does Uncle Fred smell like bourbon, even before the party starts?
  • How long do you think it will be before Uncle Fred says something inappropriate? (since this will likely occur within the first hour, please state your answer in minutes)
  • How long will it take after dinner before Grandpa unbuttons his pants?
  • How long before Grandma smacks him and tells him to button his pants?

Feel free to post additional suggestions. If they are clean, we'll add them. If they are not, well...

Another Clipping--this one with a date

This obituary was split over different parts of the newspaper as well. Fortunately this time the item of interest was located near the date of the paper, so that information was preserved.
This is actually something I have never taken the time to translate and I actually should. It is a letter written from F. J. Goldenstein (of Golden, Illinois) to the Ostfriesische Nachrichten in 1913. The newspaper was dated 20 March 1913 and in it Goldenstein writes of the death of his father-in-law Bernard Dirks, who died in Coatsburg, Adams County, Illinois, on 2 March 1913.
Goldenstein was to die himself in Golden, Adams County, Illinois, on 29 March 1913, just over a week after this letter was published. This had to be difficult on his wife Anna Goldenstein who lost her father and husband in the same month.
There are other clues in the letter as well. Goldenstein mentions Fritz Gerdes and Heinrich Dirks coming to the funeral of Bernard Dirks.
Foche and Anna Goldenstein are my great-great-grandparents.

The Drawbacks of Writing on the Back

Years ago, when I made many copies of items from the Ostfriesische Nachrichten, I wrote on pencil the date of the paper. Unfortunately when I scanned these at work using our auto feed scanner I forgot this minor detail and the newspaper dates were not included in my scan. One has to be careful writing on copies of documents so that the writing cannot be confused with the actual document. In this case that would not be a problem.

Somewhere I have the original copy that I made with the date on the back. Unfortunately, until I can locate that I will have to try and estimate the date of the item.

This letter was written by Tjark Janssen, my uncle. Fortunately, he mentions Eilt Ufkes, another uncle, Poppe Fooken, another uncle, and Mrs. Jans Janssen, my great-great-grandmother. So I know right away that the article was written before her death in October of 1913. The article mentions her travelling to Colorado for her health. Jan Janssen was a brother to Tjark Janssen, who wrote the letter.

Ethnic Newspapers-Moline, Illinois

The image in this post is "copy" and "pasted" from scans I made from microfilm copies of the Gazette van Moline. The filmed copy was not the greatest, but I did the best I could.
Readers of the blog know that I am a big fan of ethnic newspapers. This obituary makes that point really well. The obituary for Louise Mortier that appeared in the local newspapers in Rock Island and Moline, Illinois, did not provide any specifics in terms of where Mrs. Mortier was born. Her death certificate was equally helpful--simply stating that she was born in Belgium.
This obituary was split over two parts of the paper. Unfortunately the "good" part was very difficult to read, but it can be deciphered. Mrs. Mortier was born in Oost Winkel, East Flanders, Belgium, on 20 April 1855. Of course, an obituary can contain an error, but I was glad to obtain this location as no other source in the United States mentioned the village specifically.
A quick google search for "gazette van moline" found several references to the paper, including one showing some libraries that have the newspaper. I wrote wrote about this obituary for Ancestry.com's blog a few years ago.

That article contains more information on ethnic newspapers and how to find them. They are an excellent genealogical source. Hopefully when I'm in Salt Lake City this coming May, I'll have time to research the records in Oost Winkel for Louise. Other records indicated her maiden name was Van Hoorebeke.
My wife is a descendant of Louise Mortier.

24 November 2008

Could your Ancestors Read What they Signed?

It never really dawned on me until just now. Just how literate was your ancestor?

The clipping in this blog indicates that my ancestor did not learn to read English until he was 60 years of age. By this point in time, he had
  • become a citizen
  • married
  • bought and sold a mill
  • bought and sold several pieces of real estate

All without being able to read English. I know John could easily read German, so literacy wasn't a problem. And there is also a very good chance that others in his neighborhood here in the United States could read English if he needed it and there probably was at least one local lawyer, bank clerk, etc. who could speak and read German.

But it makes the point. Even if your ancestors were literate, what documents did they sign that they could not read? And what if they had no one nearby to help them translate?

Just a little food for thought.

And a reminder that when John naturalized in the 1870s, there was no language requirement. Just stating a fact--we try to avoid getting political here. Although readers of the newspaper clipping will note that it indicates John indicates he was a Republican, but does not express himself against Woodrow Wilson or the present administration. Maybe John was just a little bit of a politician, like two of his grandsons.

Making a Chronology

Order is good. I took a little time to organize the materials in John Ufkes' cancelled homestead application file from the National Archives.
  • 19 August 1871 John Ufkes filed a declaration of intent to become a citizen in Hancock County, Illinois. The copy of the declaration contained in his homestead application file is dated the same day.
  • 4 September 1871 John pays $13.80 to enter his claim for the northeast quarter of section 4 in township 3 range 15 in Franklin County, Nebraska. The property was 151.87 acres and the claim was entered in the Lowell, Nebraska, land office.
  • 20 November 1873 William Briggs claims John Ufkes has abandoned his claim.
  • 29 Dec 1873 Is the summons date on which John Ufkes is to appear if he wants to defend his claim. Ufkes does not appear and on this date the claim is cancelled by the Register.
  • 17 Jan 1874 The publisher of the Adams County Gazette says that for four weeks in November and December of 1873 he published notice for John Ufkes to appear at the hearing on 29 December.

Doing this is more than a simple exercise. Fully analyzing this information requires me to put it into a complete chronology of John's life. Two other dates are crucial here--John's immigration in March of 1869 and his marriage in Hancock County, Illinois, on 3 March 1874. John is known to have been in Adams and Hancock Counties in Illinois shortly after his arrival in the United States (staying with family).

Based upon the dates in his homestead file, John should be in Illinois in the 1870 census. To date, despite numerous searches, he has not been located in that record. Based upon the homestead application, he was in Nebraska on 4 September 1872, but how long he had been there and how long he stayed after that date is debatable. On 20 Nov 1873, Briggs claims John had abandonded his homestead--probably indicating John had been away from it for some time, perhaps all of 1873.

Family tradition was that John thought Nebraska was "too wild" and not a place to raise a family. His sister and her husband moved to Franklin County, Nebraska, shortly after the 1880 census. John returned to Hancock County, Illinois, where he married and remained for the remainder of his life (except for a few years when he farmed near Golden, Adams County, Illinois).