31 July 2011

Clear the Leaves from the Stone

I took this picture of Riley Rampley's tombstone in the Buckeye Cemetery in Hancock County, Illinois' Walker Township five or so years ago. I really liked the peony bush that was next to it and I thought the bloom looked nice with the stone.

I just realized today that there was something I should have done before I took the picture. The blooms could stay, but I should have moved or done something with the leaves so that they did not block the inscription.

Buckeye Cemetery is on Hancock County Highway 23, west of West Point. Google Maps will pull up the location in this blog post. The small rectangular area is the cemetery. It is on County Highway 23, also known as County Road 350.

View Buckeye Cemetery in a larger map

My Ancestors in the SSDI

Every so often, I practice with a database--usually because that's how some discoveries are made.

Today it was the Social Security Death Index. I located only direct line ancestors in this database:

29 Oct 1903
Dec 1968
62321 (Carthage,Hancock, IL)
(none specified)
Paternal grandfather
01 Sep 1910
21 Jul 1994
62321 (Carthage, Hancock, IL)
(none specified)
Paternal grandmother
27 Jan 1917
02 Dec 2003 (V)
62321 (Carthage,Hancock, IL)
(none specified)
Maternal grandfather
12 Apr 1924
09 Sep 2008 (P)
34205 (Bradenton,Manatee, FL)
(none specified)
Maternal grandmother
16 May 1883
May 1965
(none specified)
Grandpa Neill’s mother
17 Apr 1895
Nov 1986
62321 (Carthage, Hancock, IL)
(none specified)
Granddad Ufkes’ mother
11 Nov 1881
Feb 1969
62321 (Carthage,Hancock, IL)
(none specified)
Grandma Ufkes’ father

I have seven ancestors in the database. I always thought it neat that my grandparents were seven years apart, being born in 1903, 1910, 1917, and 1924. Interestingly enough my parents are only a year apart in age. I searched for all my great-grandparents in the database--except for great-grandfather Trautvetter who died in 1934. I figured he was not in the SSDI.

The search results even listed an age range for my great-grandmother Neill as her date of birth is given as 16 May 1883, but the death date is only as specific as the month of May of 1965.

I decided to search for my wife's ancestors in the SSDI as well. There were not quite as many.

17 Oct 1912
Apr 1991
(none specified)
Wife’s paternal grandfather
05 Dec 1913
12 Jun 2000 (V)
61201 (Rock Island,Rock Island, IL)
(none specified)
Wife's paternal grandmother
10 Jun 1906
Apr 1969
61265 (Moline, Rock Island, IL)
(none specified)
Wife's maternal grandfather
08 Mar 1913
Nov 1987
61265 (Moline, Rock Island, IL)
(none specified)
Wife's maternal grandmother
20 Feb 1885
Dec 1966
61201 (Rock Island,Rock Island, IL)
(none specified)
Father of Grace Johnson--above.
13 Feb 1884
Apr 1981
61201 (Rock Island,Rock Island, IL)
(none specified)
Mother of Grace Johnson-above

Caroline Mortier's first name is spelled incorrectly. I also discovered a number of relatives in the file (particularly on my wife's families) because of how the searches were conducted.

I had a difficult time searching for Wilbur Johnson because there is no death place listed. A quick search did not reveal what (HC) stands for, but I'll look and post a follow up if a reader doesn't first.

(V) indicates the SSA verified the report with a family member or someone acting on behalf of a family member. (P) indicates the SSA saw the death certificate.

30 July 2011

My Trip to the Allen County Public Library In Ft. Wayne

I'm getting ready for my annual group to the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. As a part of my preparation, I'm making a short list of families or individuals on which I want to work while there. I'm going to keep this page up as sort of a log/notebook for what I'm going to do. Hopefully we'll have updates as time allows during my trip.

William Rhodes/Rhodus and Lucretia/Matilda Jones in 1860

I think that William and Lucretia are enumerated twice in the 1860 census--once in Macon County, Missouri, and once in Breckenridge County, Kentucky. This does seem a little bit unusual, but there are a few reasons which I'll get into as the research progresses. I'm hoping to work on some published materials the library has for Kentucky in an attempt to learn more about the Kentucky individual and his family. Multiple census enumerations in non-adjacent states in this era are very atypical.

29 July 2011

School's Out Blowout-Year 1 of Casefile Clues Back Issues for $10

To celebrate the end of summer school for me, we're offering a discounted rate on year 1 issues of my newsletter Casefile Clues.

Grow your genealogy, see how problems are solved, sources analyzed, and information organized. We focus on showing the method, not just the one way that worked to solve the problem. Our concentration is on clear writing that explains process.

Topics from Year 1 can be viewed here--click back to view this offer page.

28 July 2011

10 Signs You Have Genealogy OCD

1) You check FamilySearch at 8 AM; 12NOON, 6 PM, and 9 PM every day for updated releases or databases.

2) You've grabbed a green leaf on a real TREE thinking it was on your Ancestry.com page.

3) Your family takes the long way places to AVOID cemeteries when you are in the car.

4) You have seriously thought about HIDING in a library to get locked in after it closes.

5) You spent more searching for your ancestors 1810 tax records than you did preparing your own 2010 taxes.

6) You know more about your spouse's ancestors than you know about your spouse.

7) You would easily spend your entire vacation in a library.

8) You have already scheduled a vacation day from work for when the 1940 census is released.

9) The majority of pictures in your facebook photo section are of people who are dead.

10) You've recognized yourself in at least half of these signs.

(sharing these is great, but please give credit....thanks!)

22 July 2011

Ancestry.com--Let's Get Better Source Descriptions

I know others have blogged about it, so I'll keep my rant on this topic short.

Online providers of image data need to make it clear where those images were obtained. Any documentation contained in the records needs to be contained in the website created by the online provider. Users need to know where images were originally made. We should take whatever we're being given and "be happy that we have anything at all."

Microfilm copies of actual records usually have a cover sheet or page that at the very least explains the holder of the records. In some cases there may even be more detail in a sheet or two of explanation that was microfilmed before the actual records.

Others have made eloquent arguments that consistent citations need to be created by Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, and others that provide access to digital images of original records. I agree with those sentiments.

We also need information on the provenance of the records, precisely who had the records that were digitized and if there were any caveats about those records.

I used a set of Tennessee marriage records for a Casefile Clues article. The records were on Ancestry.com and came from microfilm at the Tennessee State Archives. That is as specific as Ancestry.com got about the source of the records. Searches for specific individuals took me to specific pages in the apparent books, but it was not possible to move the images to get to a "title page" or "cover sheet" as one can on microfilm. If there was a sheet or two of background information, I did not see it. If the cover of the actual book was filmed (as sometimes is done) I did not see it.

I had no clue where those Davidson County marriages came from. Most likely the county.

Why does it matter?

Because it appears that the records I was using on Ancestry.com's digital images were handwritten transcriptions of the originals. I cannot be certain, but the handwriting was very consistent and the pre-printed form just did not look like late 18th century. But I could be wrong. The problem is that there is no way of telling.

Does it really matter?

Yes it does. The names in this family are slightly unusual and an untrained eye could easily misread Hettie for Lettie or Lottie, etc. And in families where several brothers are in the same area, resulting in thirty first cousins getting married within fifteen years of each other details matter.

Not only am I calling for better citations, I'm asking that vague statements about the origin of images be replaced with meaningful statements.

I'm glad Ancestry.com is indexing records and linking them to record images. It saves me time. What doesn't save me time is when I have to hunt down the probable source of that image.

I'm grateful for the indexes we have at Ancestry.com and FamilySearch. What I'm not grateful for are those record sets where the actual source description is vague. I should not have to try and reverse engineer where the records came from.

20 July 2011

The Old Ancestry.com Search

There were several things that were helpful about the old searches at Ancestry.com. One of those things was that when we had the "pull down" menus for the census searches, only those states and counties for whom the census was extant would appear on those pull down menus.

Now, every location in the WORLD comes up when I'm searching the 1810 census. I have to go and browse to determine what locations are available in 1810.

I really wish there was the old drop down menu for each census year that only pulled those locations listed in that year on the search box.

Why the 1810 census search for the United States needs to pull up "Peking, Bordekreis, Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany" is completely beyond me.

Completely beyond me.

Totally beyond me.

Yes--that is sarcasm.

Finding the Book on Erasmus Trautvetter

I'm hoping to get someone to help me. According to a search of Google Books, this book has a reference to Erasmus Trautvetter. The book apparently is a German directory.

The book is not online and apparently there are few copies. A WorldCat reference indicated the book was only at Harvard University. The book won't interlibrary loan.

Is anyone able to make a copy of the page that contains the entry for Erasmus?

18 July 2011

Organize the Inconclusive with Discrepancy Charts

This originally appeared on Genealogy.com nearly 10 years ago and was written by me.

(note--this post does not use current definitions of primary and secondary--we no longer classifiy sources as primary or secondary, these terms apply to information only)

If the data genealogists collected always agreed and was always consistent, many professional genealogists would be out of business. So would a few authors. Discrepancies and inconsistencies are a matter of course in genealogical research, as is dealing with those inconsistencies.

In terms of consistency, genealogical data can fall into one of three categories:

  1. Entirely consistent, every document providing the same date and place for each event, with no conflict between sources (the ideal);
  2. Conflicting, but consistent enough to allow different researchers to reach the same conclusion;
  3. Entirely inconsistent and inconclusive.

In your research you may run into discrepancies such as ages listed in the census that do not correspond with ages obtained from other sources, birth dates in the family Bible that do not agree with the birth certificate, death dates on the tombstone that do not match the death certificate, and so on. There are many reasons for discrepancies. Sometimes you can determine the reason and explain the difference. Such is the case with birth or marriage dates "changed" in some records so that the first child did not come "too early." Different surnames for an individual may be due to a remarriage by a parent and not the result of dishonesty on the part of our ancestors or ineptitude on the part of clerks.

But often you will be unable to explain the difference and may never be able to say with a degree of certainty which date or location for an event is correct. There are cases where almost every document or record gives a different age or place of birth and determining which one is correct can be nearly impossible. The purpose of discrepancy charts is to summarize the conflicts between different record sources and to indicate the source for each conflicting piece of data. Using discrepancy charts will more easily allow you to weigh the evidence.

Sample Discrepancy Charts

The two samples below show how discrepancy charts can help organize any conflicting information that you may have.

Seeking Birth Information, Case 1
In the process of searching for my great-grandmother's (Ida SARGENT TRAUTVETTER MILLER) place of birth, I found several different birth localities. One locale did not appear on any of the other records and even Ida had listed different places of birth on each of her marriage applications. Some places had been listed more than once and I soon could not remember what document had provided what location. After a while, my confusion hindered my research efforts. While the localities were in close proximity to each other, there was no "preponderance" of evidence that allowed me to conclude which place was most likely.

There was no way that I could list the different places Ida was "born" on a pedigree chart or an ancestral chart (try listing five different locations for a birthplace!). So, in order to help me possibly discover the correct place, or to at least keep track of what each document said, I decided to make a list of all the different localities I had and indicate what sources had given those localities (and, if known, the informant on each of these records). In further research, I am using all of these localities (at least the ones that are specific) with the thought that maybe some of the places were residences of the family at some point in time. For Ida, the birth date of 1 April 1874 seems to be correct, since the majority of records either gave that date or do not significantly contradict it.

As you can see below, I used several columns for each record. Not all the sources provided all these pieces of information and in some cases I estimated her birth date from her age at the time the record was created. When I did this, I indicated that the birth date is estimated. You can see that some records provide both an age and a birth date. For the purposes of this article, some records have been omitted from the chart, citation information is not complete (although it is important), and the exact date of the event/record has not been included.


Birth date




Source Type

John TRAUTVETTER death certificate, 1937Not givenAlexandria, MissouriNot given Secondary
Ida MILLER death certificate, 1939.1 April 1874Adams County, Illinois65 years, 2 months, and 22 daysHospital RecordsSecondary
Ida's Obituary, 19391 April 1874Warsaw, Hancock, Illinois65 years Secondary
Marriage to George TRAUTVETTER, 1898, Hancock County, IllinoisCa. 1874/1875 (estimated from age)Iowa23 yearsProbably IdaSecondary
Marriage to William MILLER, 1936, Hancock County, IllinoisCa. 1873/1874Lima, Adams, Illinois63 yearsProbably IdaSecondary
1880 Census, Hancock County, IllinoisCa. 1873/1874 (estimated)Iowa6 years Secondary
1900 Census, Hancock County, IllinoisApril 1874America26 years Secondary

Seeking Birth Information: Case 2
The second discrepancy chart is for Ida's father, Ira William SARGENT. In this case, the birthplace, while not overly specific, is at least consistent. Based upon the records used in the chart, a reasonable birth date estimate would be between 1840 and 1845.


Birth date




Source Type

Death Certificate, 1916 Peoria County, IllinoisCa. 1840/1841 (estimated from age-birth date not stated on record)Unknown75 yearsHospital recordsSecondary
1880 Census, Hancock County, IllinoisCa. 1844/1845 (estimated from age)Canada35 years Secondary
1900 Census, Hancock County, IllinoisMarch 1843Canada F.57 years Secondary
1910 Census, Peoria County, IllinoisCa. 1841/1842Not listed68 yearsProbably Hospital recordsSecondary
1883 Marriage to Martha PHELPS, Adams County, IllinoisCa. 1842/1843Not listed40 years Secondary
Adams County, Illinois Poor House Records, August 1907Ca. 1844Canada"about 63 years" Secondary
Insanity Case, Adams County, Illinois, September 1907Ca. 1843/1844Not listed63 years Secondary
Insanity Case, Adams County, Illinois, September 1905Ca. 1838/1839Canada66 years Secondary

The Role of Primary and Secondary Sources

While analyzing conflicting pieces of information, genealogists need to be aware of the differences between primary and secondary sources. A source is considered to be primary if it was an original record recorded close to the time when the event actually took place and the informant had a logical reason to know the information and was likely present at the event. A source that is not primary is considered secondary.

Classifying a source as primary or secondary does not comment about its accuracy. Secondary sources can be correct and primary sources can be wrong. However, more credence is placed in primary sources for an event, especially when there are two or more primary sources that corroborate each other.

In some cases, you may not be able to determine who provided the information and therefore not know for certain if it is a primary or secondary record. Some records have a place for informant, but many do not. Speculation about the informant may be necessary, but if you are speculating, you should indicate this by use of "probable," "possible," or some other similar word.

In the case of Ida SARGENT TRAUTVETTER MILLER, the sources all listed are secondary sources for her birth date and birthplace. This does not mean that they are wrong; however, in this case since they all provide different birthplaces, some of them are obviously incorrect. It should be remembered that in some cases, Ida might not have provided the information herself, or that the informant might have misunderstood the question.

Sources will not all agree, and one source can easily be incorrect. For this reason, genealogists need to access more than one record or source where possible and focus on primary sources where available. Unfortunately, there are times when primary sources are not available and genealogists are left using a number of secondary sources. There is no birth certificate for Ida, no baptismal record for Ida, and no Bible record that lists her date and place of birth (I'd love to hear about it if there is!). As one researches in the era before vital records, including secondary sources becomes necessary. For this reason, in this era, analyzing all possible records is even more important.

The discrepancy charts here have focused on dates and locations, but maiden names, and names of parents also disagree. Similar charts could easily be compiled for these facts as well. Again, classifying each source as primary or secondary is an integral part of the chart.

One Last Important Note

You should never change a source to correct it. If you are fortunate enough to determine the cause of the discrepancy, or at least be able to explain it, indicate that in your notes. My grandmother believed she was born in Tioga, Hancock, Illinois. Her marriage record, application for a social security number, death certificate, and obituary all list this birthplace. However, she was not born in Tioga. She was born several miles east of Tioga in a town called Elderville. Her birth certificate and baptismal record indicate she was born in Elderville. Additionally, her parents are listed with an Elderville address in the 1910 Census, a few months before her birth in September of 1910. The sources where Grandma listed her birthplace are secondary sources. Her birth certificate and baptismal record are primary sources. The census record doesn't prove her birthplace, but lends credence to it being in the Elderville area. Grandma always insisted to me she was born in Tioga.

Grandma's belief regarding her birthplace should be recorded in with my notes, either on her family group chart or in her record in my genealogy software program. There are programs that allow you to enter multiple places and dates for an event. Take advantage of this capability. Tracking these different sources and their differing pieces of data is an important part of the research process.

This originally appeared on Genealogy.com

17 July 2011

My Wife's 16 great-great-grand's Pie Chart

I'm not going to have time to post the names and places of birth, and I'm not certain readers are all that interested in those anyway. However, the chart I think is interesting.

My wife's great-great-grandparents pretty much each hale from a different location--with two from each of the following places:
  • England
  • Sweden
  • Belgium
  • New York State
  • Iowa
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Missouri
This makes the chart kind of boring.

The Iowa slice is actually half German and half Swiss. The New York State slice is French-Canadian.

Back to work...

Four Generations of 4H

This isn't my usual genealogy post here. It's the week of the 4H fair in Knoxville, Illinois, so I decided to post some 4H pictures I have in my collection. I've got 4 generations of 4H pictures, beginning with my granddad Ufkes' steer in 1933. I have pictures of my dad and myself with livestock and my daughters with their rabbits. My mother was in 4H too, but I don't have any pictures of any of her projects. Of course, when my parents were in 4H, there were "boys' projects and girls' projects." It's not that way any more.

The first picture in this post was the 1933 4H steer of John Ufkes, my grandfather. This is the only livestock picture I have of Granddad's. It most likely was taken at his parents' farm east of Basco, Hancock County, Illinois. Looks to me like this is a shorthorn, but I could be wrong. Granddad always raised Hereford cattle, but 1933 is a little before my time and I'm not certain what great-grandfather Ufkes raised.

The second picture is my Dad, Keith Neill, with one of his livestock projects, probably in the 1950s. I don't think this was taken at the fair--it looks like the west barn, but I'm not certain. It would have been an Angus calf--there was no other breed for Grandpa Neill.

This is me taken at the 4H fairgrounds near Carthage, Hancock County, Illinois. Probably taken in the late 1970s. It may be difficult to see what is on the hat, but it's a picture of an Angus cow, bull, steer, or heifer. I can't quite see what's on my feet, but I know I'm not wearing tennis shoes.

This picture is of Sarah and Katie Neill, taken in the 2000s at the Knox County, Illinois, fair in Knoxville. The animal of choice is now a rabbit!

16 July 2011

My 16 great-great-grandparents

I rarely try these, but I decided to try Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun and post information about my great-great-grandparents.

16) Samuel Neill, born 1838 probably County Derry, Ireland. Married in 1865 in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. Samuel died in 1912 in St. Albans Township, Hancock County, Illinois.

17) Anna Murphy, born about 1840 in Ireland. Died in St. Albans Township, Hancock County, Illinois.

18) Riley Rampley, born 1835 Coshocton County, Ohio. Married in 1867 in Walker Township, Hancock County, Illinois, which is where he died in 1893.

19) Nancy Jane Newman, born 8 July 1846 Milroy, Rush County, Indiana. Died 1923 West Point, Hancock County, Illinois

20) John Michael Trautvetter born in 1839 in Wohlmuthausen, Thuringen, Germany. Married in 1868 in Tioga, Hancock County, Illinois. He died in 1917 in Walker Township, Hancock County, Illinois.

21) Franciska Bieger, born 1851 in Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois. She died in Walker Township, Hancock County, Illinois.

22) Ira William Sargent, born about 1843 in Ontario, Canada (probably near Darlington). Married Davis County, Iowa 1870. He died in 1916 in Limestone Township, Peoria County, Illinois.

23) Ellen Butler, born about 1856. Died after 1880.

24) Johann Ufkes, born 1838 Holtrop, Ostfriesland, Germany. Married in 1873 in Harmony Township, which is where he died in 1924.

25) Noentje Lena Grass, born in 1848 in Backemoor, Ostfriesland, Germany. Died in 1902 in Bear Creek Township, Hancock County, Illinois.

26) Jans Jurgens Janssen, born in Wiesens, Ostfriesland, Germany, in 1856. Married in Adams County, Illinois, in 1888. Jans died in Bear Creek Township, Hancock County, Illinois in 1929.

27) Fredericka Maria Sartorius, born 1865 near Golden, Adams County, Illinois, died in 1913 in Bear Creek Township, Hancock County, Illinois.

28) Jann Mimka Habben born in Wiesens, Ostfriesland, Germany, in 1859. Married in Carthage, Hancock County, Illinois, in 1881. Died in Elvaston, Hancock County, Illinois in 1939.

29) Anke Hinrichs Fecht, born in Wiesens, Ostfriesland, Germany, in 1860. Died in Elvaston, Hancock County, Illinois, in 1941.

30) Foche Jansen Goldenstein, born 1857 in Wrisse, Ostfriesland, Germany. Married in 1882 in Coatsburg, Adams County, Illinois. Died in 1913 in Golden, Adams County, Illinois.

31) Anna Margaret Dirks, born 1861 in Honey Creek Township, Adams County, Illinois. Died in 1932 in Golden, Adams County, Illinois.

The chart was not a real surprise.

Birth Place Pie Chart

I tend to like fractions:
  • 1/8 Ireland
  • 1/16 Ohio
  • 1/16 Indiana
  • 1/16 Canada
  • 1/16 Thuringen
  • 1/16 Unknown
  • 3/16 Illinois
  • 3/8 Ostfriesland
Actually 3 of my great-great-grands were born in the same Ostfriesian village--Wiesens.

Places of death in the case of my sixteen great-great-grandparents are even more homogeneous. The vast majority died in Hancock County, Illinois. Breaking the individuals up by state would have been rather silly as all but one died in Illinois.
For those who like fractions, the death locations work out:
  • 3/4 Hancock County, Illinois
  • 1/8 Adams County, Illinois
  • 1/16 Peoria County, Illinois
  • 1/16 Unknown
Of the twelve who died in Hancock County, Illinois, most died within 8 miles of each other.

I think in a later post mapping out the locations might be neat.

15 July 2011

A Fruit Fully Ripened for Eternity

The Quincy Whig
Thursday, January 24, 1878
Page: 4

From the "Loraine Notes"

This is the short obituary for Keziah Elliott Holden who died in Adams County, Illinois, in 1878. The last sentence struck me as slightly unusual, ending with she "passed away like a fruit fully ripened for eternity." One just has to love obituaries with phrases like that.

Keziah's son Daniel P. Holden's step-daughter likely married Montivelli Harness, the adopted son of my ancestors James and Elizabeth Rampley, in the 1880s in Adams County, Illinois. Keziah and James Rampley were first cousins. The step-daughter likely died sometime between her marriage and Montivelli's apparent re-marriage in Oklahoma in the early 1900s.

Montivelli's life is not too well documented and we're working on an update on him for an upcoming issue of Casefile Clues.

14 July 2011

Monteville Marries in the 1880s

There's a reason genealogists are told to utilize as many sources as possible and to get to the original when they can.

I've been working on Montevelli, the adopted son of James and Elizabeth Rampley, who lived with them in Walker Township, Hancock County, Illinois, from at least 1860 through 1880 when he appears with them in the census. In 1860 his last name is Lobb, in 1870 his last name is Harness, and in 1880 his last name is Rampley. His age changes by 10 years, which is a slight concern, but given the first name's unusual nature, I'm operating under the assumption it is the same person until information to the contrary is located.

One of the items I was working on was his marriage. FamilySearch, Ancestry.com, and the Illinois State Archives have Illinois marriage indexes online. All apparently pull from the original records--in this case from the Adams County, Illinois, courthouse. The Ancestry.com and Illinois State Archives dates agree (20 September 1881) and the FamilySearch only provides a year (1882) which is different from the other two dates.

[Click on the images for a bigger view]

What's the real date? That will have to wait until I get to the Family History Library to look at the microfilm, unless some kind soul takes pity on me and offers to look it up.

The difference is not crucial in this case. However, there are situations where differing dates could be significant.

And this situation makes the point that any index should be used as a means to get the original record.

Another reason for getting this record: Illinois marriages in the 1881-1882 era have the potential to provide names of parents--especially helpful for the apparently adopted Monteville.

Is Casefile Clues the Answer to Your Tight Genealogy Budget?

Is there not enough money in the genealogy budget for a conference or seminar? Are online educational opportunities a bit of a reach or too generic for your purposes? Casefile Clues may be the answer to your genealogical skill development.

Geared towards the intermediate and experienced researcher, Casefile Clues discusses real genealogical problems in every issue. Not broad overviews of records or generalities about how research should be done. Instead we look at real records on real families, see how those records were used, and what further research will be done.

Will we discuss your family? Probably not--although I do have several distant relatives who are subscribers.

But broad overviews of records do not discuss your families either. We've discussed Revolutionary War pensions, War of 1812 pensions and bounty land applications, civil war pension, land records, wills, probates, passenger lists, pre-1850 census records and more.

There is a fairly comprehensive list of our first eighty so issues here http://blog.casefileclues.com/2011/06/141-issues-of-casefile-clues-for-only.html.

A regular subscription to Casefile Clues is only $17 a year--for 52 issues. We focus on clear writing and explanation. There's no ads, no agenda and we're not trying to sell you anything.

Consider adding a subscription to Casefile Clues to your genealogical skill building activities.
About Michael John Neill:

Casefile Clues author Michael John Neill is a genealogist with over twenty-five years of actual onsite and online research experience. He has given genealogy seminars in over thirty states and researched his children's ancestry in twenty different states and five European countries. He formerly wrote for the Ancestry Daily News and Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter.

12 July 2011

Ancestry.com Stock

Investor's Business Daily analyzes Ancestry.com's stock and predicts growth, etc.

Article fails to mention Ancestry.com's biggest competition: FamilySearch.

Now that's real in depth reporting and analysis.

Maybe I'm in trouble if the managers of my pension fund rely on this kind of advice.

08 July 2011

Who Susannah Rucker Was Not

I'm not yet prepared to say what her maiden name was. I may never know her maiden name.

However, her maiden name was not Phillips.

Susannah Rucker, wife of John Rucker who died in the earl y1740s in Orange County, Virginia, did not have the maiden name of Phillips. Period.

The source of this statement is purported to be Edythe Whitley who made the statement in her 1927 genealogy of the Rucker family, who according to the Rucker Family Society (http://www.theruckerfamilysociety.org/V2_N1.pdf), recanted the statement in later years.

If anyone has any source, reference, for the maiden name of Susannah Rucker, I'd love to hear about it. However, if that source, or reference, tracks back to Whitley's 1927 genealogy--and most of the statements that I have seen do, then that's not going to work.

Numerous sites, databases state that Susannah was a Phillips--remember that in the land of genealogy proof, frequency of repetition is not indicative of accuracy.

Susannah [---] Rucker is my ancestor--the number of greats really doesn't matter ;-)

07 July 2011

Percents and Genealogy

One often sees comments like these made on various blogs, mailing lists, etc.

X% of children were not born of the father.

X% of families followed the pattern of naming the first born child after the paternal grandfather.

I've never found statements like these particularly helpful from a genealogical standpoint.

One reason is that often these statements are made without reference to any study in which they were "discovered" or what analysis was done to reach the conclusion regarding why the percentage is accurate, etc. The source of the statement is often one missing element in these posts. Numbers without data to back them up are truly meaningless.

Even if there is a study to back up the number, one always has to wonder how the study was conducted, how samples were obtained, how random the samples actually were, how representative of the entire population the extracted items were, etc. etc. Is the study really applicable to my research, the family I am working on? Were certain records used that inherently have some bias or tend to only mention members of a certain socio-economic group? That always makes me wonder how applicable the percentage is to my research.

And therein lies the real problem.

Let's say that 75% of families from a certain ethnic background name the oldest son for the paternal grandfather and that this statement comes from a repeatable study that is done using sound research practices. What does that mean for me and my research? It means that I can use the oldest child's name as a clue as to who the paternal grandfather is. That's it. It is not proof. And frankly it really doesn't matter from the standpoint of my research whether the percentage is 60%, 80% or 95%. I can use the fact that there is a tendency to possibly guide my research, but personally in most cases, I'm better off using local records and sources to guide my research.

And rarely does anyone who makes claims provide any documentation of where the number comes from. What about the citation of sources in regards to numbers as well as genealogical facts?

I really do not understand why people are extremely interested in these numbers anyway. Statistics are intended to help us see general patterns or trends for groups as a whole. Genealogy is about proving what happened in specific instances.

04 July 2011

Organizing Data

Organizing Data

From the Ancestry Daily News 18 June 2003

This week we start with a quote not from a genealogist but from a mathematician.

"A great discovery solves a great problem but there is a grain of discovery in the solution of any problem. Your problem may be modest; but if it challenges your curiosity and brings into play your inventive facilities, and you solve it by your own means, you may experience the tension and enjoy the triumph of discovery."
—George Polya

Sounds like genealogy, doesn't it? While Polya was a mathematician, he is better known for his problem solving approach than anything else. And isn't genealogy problem solving? In fact, each genealogist has his or her own problem to solve.

Polya reasoned that there were four steps to the problem solving process:
  • Understanding the Problem
  • Devising a Plan
  • Carrying out the Plan
  • Looking back

    Personally, I think understanding the problem completely is the most important part of the process. One excellent way to understand any problem better is to organize the information we already have. This week we look at a partial list of ways to organize genealogical information. Our discussion is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather our intent is to illustrate some ways genealogical facts can be put together, all the while hoping to notice something we did not notice before. Some of these techniques are old standards in "genealogy land" and some are not.

    Family Group Charts
    A family group chart contains basic genealogical information on one couple and their children and is undoubtedly one of the most popular genealogical forms used today. The form provides a research framework for searching the entire family, which is an excellent genealogical strategy. Blank copies of these charts are also excellent to pass around at the family reunion for relatives to complete. A downloadable family group chart is available at the Ancestry.com site at: www.ancestry.com/save/charts/familysheet.htm Most genealogists started out with family group charts, and these charts continue to serve an excellent purpose throughout our research.

    Pedigree Charts
    This chart typically outlines four or more generations of one person's ancestry, listing at least the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, and is another very popular form. Often the purpose of this chart is to provide a skeleton of one person's ancestry. A downloadable pedigree chart is available at: www.ancestry.com/save/charts/ancchart.htm.

    Discrepancy Charts
    This is one of my favorite types of charts, probably because I have so many confusing ancestors. This chart organizes conflicting dates or places for one specific event in a person's life. My great-grandmother was supposedly born in five different places and charting this information made it easier for me to keep track of what record provided what place of birth. I find it helpful to list all various dates for an event along with where that specific information was obtained and who was the likely informant on that record. This summary helps me to compare all the information and determine as best I can which date or location is most likely to be correct. An article discussing discrepancy charts and two specific examples can be viewed at: www.genealogy.com/37_neill.html.

    Acquaintance Sheets
    For certain time periods and areas, tracking an ancestor's acquaintances is an important part of the research process. Have you ever encountered the name of a witness on a relative's document and been sure that you have seen that name somewhere else before? Tracking the individuals who were somehow involved in your ancestor's life may help you determine where the ancestor was from, to whom he was related, or where he later went. Deeds, wills, bonds, and other records frequently have names of other individuals as witnesses, neighbors, or bondsmen. If the same names appear with your ancestor in Kentucky and in Virginia, there may be a relatively strong connection. A sample of an acquaintance sheet is viewable here:www.rootdig.com/acquaintance.html.

    Working an ancestor out from birth to death (including everything in between) is an excellent way to organize information and notice gaps and oversights in your research. Regular readers of the "Ancestry Daily News" are familiar with this approach as several of us have written about it before, largely because we know that chronologies are an extremely valuable genealogical tool and can be used in several different situations.

    Geographic Organization
    Maps are essential to family history research. Mapping out all those locations in an ancestor's life may help you to see geographic areas that have been overlooked in your research. It may also help you to gain a better perspective on an ancestor's life. Maps organize information geographically; this is something that cannot always be done easily with only text. Things that appear inconsistent may not appear as inconsistent when viewed on a map. The different places of birth for my great-grandmother are in four towns in three states. However when viewed on a map all these locations are in close proximity to each other and are not as different as they appear on the surface. A picture truly is worth a thousand words. And a map may prevent you from wasting many hours of research time.

    Let Your Software Do the Work
    One of my favorite things to do with my genealogical software package is to have it give me a listing of all the individuals in my database who match a certain criteria. I do more with this than just see who is born on the same day as I am. These kinds of reports are especially useful when preparing for research trips or using certain records. Can your software print out a list of everyone in your database born in a certain village, sorted by date of birth? Many programs do, and such reports are especially helpful when using records that are organized chronologically. I insert extra lines between each entry on the report and have a custom-made research log for use at the research facility. This saves me time and helps me to look for everyone in the record that I want. It sure beats flipping through hundreds of family group charts to see who was born in which village. There's an example of a sorted list at:www.rootdig.com/focuslist.html

    Other Techniques?
    There are other organizational techniques that researchers can also employ. Reorganizing information can help us to notice gaps and inconsistencies in our research—and hopefully make us aware of clues we have overlooked. Think about the number of ways a child can "arrange" five building blocks. Putting the five single blocks in a horizontal row or a in a vertical column does not change each individual block and yet the appearance of the configuration is different. There are many other stacking arrangements that can be made without changing each block. Think of your data as blocks that can be stacked or organized in different ways. What you see depends upon how you organize what you have. Just remember, that one big pile on your desk usually does not count!

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    This article originally appeared in the Ancestry Daily News on 18 June 2003. We are posting old articles here on the Rootdig.com blog as time allows.

    Problem Solving

    Problem Solving

    From the Ancestry Daily News 11 May 2005

    As a math professor, I am always asked what mathematics has to do with genealogy. Plenty. Besides my personal favorite of land platting, the analytical and logical skills one gains from mathematics come in extremely handy when solving genealogical problems. This week we look at one mathematician's framework for handling problems and see how it can relate to family history problems as well.

    George Polya was a Hungarian born mathematician who advocated the use of a general problem solving strategy. While his work was focused on mathematical dilemmas, family historians can benefit from applying this same strategy as well. When you have no strategy, the brick walls rarely come tumbling down.

    Polya's strategy had four basic steps:

    • Understanding the Problem
    • Devising a Plan
    • Carrying out the Plan
    • Looking Back

    This week we will look at these steps one by one.

    Understanding the Problem
    Understanding the problem is not as simple as it sounds, but it is an excellent place to start. I have always believed this stage to be the most important in the entire problem-solving process. Generally the problem should be specifically stated and purposely focused, such as:

    • What was Noentje Ufkes' maiden name?
    • When were James Rampley and Elizabeth Chaney married?
    • Where is Samuel Neill enumerated in the 1880 census?
    • How did Thomas Galloway acquire his property in Baltimore County, Maryland?

    Well-defined problems should focus on a person, a place, and an event.

    Then there are problems such as:

    • I want to know all I can about Noentje.
    • I want to completely research James and Elizabeth this afternoon.

    These problems are not specific. The statements are too vague and either unrealistic or need to be broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces. Learning "everything" about one family or couple may be possible over the long term; rarely is it possible in an afternoon. One or two records will not reveal a relative's "whole story." Information gleaned from records must be accurately interwoven with about the history, culture, and lifestyle of the area and era in which the person lived. This takes time. Most successful researchers begin with a specific goal.

    Understanding the problem is more than simply stating the research goal precisely. There are many things that should be learned about if the researcher is not already familiar with them. These items include:

    • The records (both public and private) that were created during the time period under study.
    • The culture in which the person or persons lived.
    • The socioeconomic status of the individuals under study.
    • Groups that the problem person was associated with (Ethnic, religious, etc.).
    • The methodology appropriate for the time period, region, and individuals under study.
    • Words from the native language necessary to perform research in foreign language records.

    One place to start learning about the records applicable to any problem is to read the Family History Library's research guide (www.familysearch.org) to the areas under study. Those researching problems in the United States can also refer to the appropriate section of Red Book (published by Ancestry) for information on local and state records. Both the Red Book and the Family History Library research guides contain references to additional reference materials, including foreign language word lists where appropriate.

    Local and regional histories are also suggested reading material for additional background information. Even "non-genealogy" books may provide a background not gained elsewhere. Historical studies, dissertations, and papers published in academic journals may provide entirely new insight into your ancestors and their problems, positively impacting your research. As an example, Prairie Patrimony (Sonya Salamon, University of North Carolina Press, 1995) discusses agricultural inheritance patterns in the upper Midwest. It confirmed things I had already surmised from personal experience and in researching many families from one of the ethnic groups discussed in the book. Salamon also helped to explain things I did not quite understand and confirmed trends I had noticed. The more you know, the better prepared you will be to solve your problem. Material written by a non-genealogist occasionally brings a fresh perspective.

    If your problem involves the interpretation of a document, make certain you understand the language and the terminology being used during the time period. Sometimes completely typing a document or even reading it out loud will cause you to notice a detail or an interpretation that had been overlooked. It may be necessary to have someone else look at the document with a fresh, unbiased perspective.

    Learning about the methodology appropriate for the area is crucial. One way to do this is to read journal articles for the area under study. If a subscription is out of the question, determine if any nearby libraries subscribe to genealogical journals applicable to your area of interest. Many will contain case studies where other family problems have been solved. The National Genealogical Society Quarterly and the American Genealogist are two national magazines that contain excellent well-written case studies. There are a variety of state publications as well, usually published by a state genealogical society. There are also a variety of publications focusing on various ethnic groups, which usually present their own unique problems.

    Devising a Plan
    Planning usually involves determining what records are most likely to provide the desired information. In other situations, it will be necessary to analyze a series of documents to see if a generally consistent conclusion is indicated. This is why learning about the records is extremely important, especially when researching in a "new" state. What was true about records in Illinois in 1880 is not necessarily true about records in Virginia in 1780. Of course, the plan should always be to locate as many records as possible given that one individual record may be incorrect or inconclusive.

    The plan may be simple or complex, depending upon the situation, but it should be fairly specific:

    • Order a marriage index from the Family History Library.
    • Write a letter to the church secretary.
    • Search for the family in the census.
    • Hire a researcher.

    Writing down your plan is also necessary so that research efforts can be tracked. Polya suggested math students look at similar problems. Genealogical educators would suggest looking at case studies written about similar families in the same area and time period. What helped one person solve their problem may help you solve yours.

    Carrying Out the Plan
    This is the easiest part of the plan. Do it. And track it. You do not want to do the same thing again (unless you realize your previous attempt was flawed, utilized an incomplete database, etc.)

    Looking Back
    Occasionally the plan will succeed. The record will be located. The question will be answered. Of course, getting one answer to a genealogy question usually means that there are more unanswered questions. And so we go back to step one.

    And when our question is not answered, we also return to step one. Perhaps there was something we overlooked, a record we did not understand, an assumption we should not have made, a term we misinterpreted, a name we overlooked, a spelling we did not consider.

    Next week we will take a look at some genealogy problems viewed through this set of steps. There are other ways to organize and solve genealogy problems to be certain. Failing to organize your research can easily add to your confusion and may even create brick walls where none existed.


    This article originally appeared in the Ancestry Daily News on 11 May 2005. We are posting old articles here on the Rootdig.com blog.