30 June 2008

Married in Kentucky in 1820--Now What?

Juliana Smith at Ancestry.com just posted my article on some things to try to find information on that ancestral couple who were married in 1820 and just appear to have been dropped off by a UFO right next to a Justice of the Peace marriage license in hand.

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?

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
    last week.

  • 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.

The Brices

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.

Using the Census to Find my Irish Chains

Using the Census to Find my Irish Chains --from Ancestry's Website--29 Sept 2006

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
single man.

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.

Census Review

I began with a careful review of the 1870 through 1910 census entries
for both Samuel and Joseph Neill. My intention in reviewing entries
was to:

  • 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.

A Warning

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
    with him.
  • 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
acknowledge it.

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.

A Connection

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
census records:

  • 1860 Ursa Township, Adams County, Illinois
  • 1870 Chili Township, Hancock County, Illinois
  • 1880 Butler County, Kansas
  • 1900 Caldwell County, Missouri
How did I know it was them? I performed Soundex-based searches of the
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.

Death and a Bible Verse

While in Salt Lake City last May, I copied several records from the Bethany United Church of Christ in Tioga, Hancock County, Illinois.

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

Another item for my wish list at Ancestry.com

One of the neat databases at Ancestry.com is the 1925 Iowa state census, which includes names of parents, including maiden name of mother.

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.

Connecting the Right Sources to the Right Events

I've been playing with Ancestry.com's online trees.

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.

Suggestions for Ancestry.com's Newspaper Collection

I love the newspapers on the Ancestry.com site. There are some improvements I would like to see in the site that I think would make it more userfriendly for genealogists and other searchers:
  • 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

Louisville, Kentucky Seminar 11 October 2008

I will be the featured presenter at the Louisville Kentucky's annual seminar on 11 October 2008 in the Louisville, Kentucky, area. I'm looking forward to my first trip to Louisville

Topics include:

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.

Butte Montana--19-20 September 2008

I'll be making four presentations at the annual Montana State Genealogical Society Conference this upcoming September in Butte, Montana, on the 19th and 20th. The Society recently released a flyer on their website for those interested. I'm looking forward to my first trip to Montana. I'll be giving the following lectures:

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.

Pictures in the Paper?

A continued search of the newspaper on the Ancestry.com site located a picture of a relative of my wife. George K. Freund appears in the 20 July 1924 issue of the Davenport Democrat and Leader extolling his belief in the paper and the fact that he has been a long time subscriber and a long time democrat.

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.

Henry Mortier Robbed in 1922

Sometimes one finds things one was not expecting. Ancestry.com recently released more newspapers on its site and one of the items added were some newspapers from Davenport, Iowa. One of the interesting things I found was a reference to my wife's great-grandfather, Henry Mortier (1885-1966).

The Davenport Democrat and Leader of March 17, 1922 explains. While his trolley was empty, Henry Mortier was robbed by a man in his early twenties. I knew Henry operated a streetcar, but this newspaper item was the first I had ever heard of him being robbed at gunpoint.

Mr. Mortier originally drove a trolley in the Illinois Quad Cities after moving his family from the farm in the 1910s. By the time he registered for the World War II draft, he was driving a bus and his employer was listed as the Iowa Ilinois Gas and Electric Company.

We'll post more about experiences searching the newspapers at Ancestry.com in an upcoming blog entry.

16 June 2008

Finding a Cousin on Ancestry.com

I had just a little time to kill this evening and in a search at Ancestry.com (in their free section), I found a picture of Trientje Habben Nelk, first cousin to my great-grandfather Fred Ufkes (1893-1960). I am going to have to do a little more searching of the trees on Ancestry.com. I have a suspiscion there are more relatives lurking there then I expected.

Newspapers at Ancestry.com?

I've been using the newspapers at Ancestry.com, but am having difficulties with the images. Images of other records work without difficulty, but the newspapers are occasionally not coming up for me.

Suggestions for Most Online Digital Newspaper Collections

There are several sites that offer online images of microfilmed issues of newspapers, particularly newspapers fifty or more years old.

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.

1830 Census Handwriting

Does it look like Jas. Kyle to you?

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

2009 Genealogy Week--Galesburg, Illinois, USA

We have set the dates for our 11th annual Genealogy Week at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois: 9-13 March 2009.

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 mjnrootdig@gmail.com

11 June 2008

Salt Lake City Research Trip 2009

We have posted details on our 2009 research trip to Salt Lake City's Family History Library next May.

Our trip will be 14-21 May 2009 and more details can be seen out our webpage

Temporarily on Blogspot

Due to technical difficulties, we are temporarily hosted on blogspot.

07 June 2008

Charting Relationships for Specific Individuals

I posted this to another genealogical mailing list, but was hoping that a blog reader might have a suggestion.


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 , I have a question.

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

Difficulties Blogging with Images

For reasons I cannot understand, I am unable to post blog entries with images. I have been having this difficulty for the past week. Hopefully I can get it fixed and show some of the things I found in Salt Lake and Ft. Wayne.

02 June 2008

Back from ACPL and FHL

I am back from the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

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.