30 October 2012

More Pulling from User-Submitted Trees and More to Virtually Ignore

I promise I will not post any more of these today.

This is the 1900 census "extraction" at Ancestry.com for Samuel Neill. The "Suggested Records" includes several items (at the time of this post):

  • 1910 United States Federal Census--yes it's him.
  • 1871 Scotland Census--not him.
  • 1880 United States Federal Census--yes it's him.
  • Ireland, Births--not him.
  • U. S. and International Marriage Records--yes it's him, but this is pretty much not all that helpful.
The 1871 Scotland Census and Ireland Births and Baptisms references are only included because someone has linked them (incorrectly) to a Samuel Neill to which they have linked the three correct references. These two references were not in suggestions for Samuel several months ago--because I looked although I wish I had printed out the screens. 

I usually avoid the user-submitted trees for a variety of reasons. Now it looks like it is even more difficult to avoid the trees because linked records in the trees are being included in the list of suggestions. 

Those Suggested Records at Ancestry.com

The theory behind the "Suggested Records" at Ancestry.com is a good one. However, like many good theories, practice is something else.

The 1900 census entry shown is for James Rampley and his wife Nancy E. James had a brother Riley. The Rampley brothers, and their families, are fairly well-documented and, not all that difficult to trace (except for the fact that they both married women named Nancy Newman).

However, a researcher in their tree has "merged" some information on Riley and James. Because the "Suggested Records" pulls linked items from the trees, the suggestions for James now includes items that are Riley and are clearly Riley and don't include a James born about 1835 in the entry.

I sometimes have used the suggestions to give me ideas. The more that these suggestions are pulled from user trees, the less likely I am to use them. It would be one thing if the suggestions were only pulled from records that appeared to have a "close" match to the desired person. But if the suggestions are pulling in items that users have linked to their trees, then the mess has become even bigger.

28 October 2012

Assumptions Matter

We make them constantly in our research whether we realize it or not.

And they can negatively impact our research, especially when we do not realize it.

Recently I discovered a miinor assumption I made--nothing major. The assumption did not hinder my research and the discovery that I made it did not cause me to have to re-evaluate weeks of work. It simply served to remind me of the importance of having sources for not just "facts" about our ancestors, but also for their potential motivations as well.

A recent blog post discussed a letter that was in my ancestor's Civil War widow's pension file. Written by her Congressman, it was in support of my ancestor getting an increase in her pension in response to a bill passed by Congress in 1916. I assumed that letters of this type were unusual, until I discovered that pensioners were told to contact their Congressman directly instead of hiring a lawyer or contacting the pension office.

My vision of the ancestor immediately fighting for her pension increase and uniquely asserting her rights was dashed. She was simply following orders.

The assumption I made was minor and really only impacted my own mental image of my ancestor.

How many times are assumptions much bigger than that and how many times do they actually hinder our research?

How Close Is Close?

It's common sense when the name is common: make certain you really have the same person.

It is more difficult when the name is less common and certain details match, but others do not.

I've researched Ira William Sargent for years. Ira often used simply Ira Sargent in most records. Based upon extant materials, he was born about 1843 in Ontario and lived in the State of Iowa from the early 1850s until approximately the mid-1870s. His family was apparently from New England, but had spent some time in Canada before settling in Iowa.

There's another Ira Sargent in Iowa during the same time period. This Ira was actually named Ira Horton Sargent and he was born in 1845 in Nova Scotia. Ira Horton died in 1935 in Iowa. His family too had New England origins.

Ira Sargent is not the most common name. It is easy to see how these two men can be confused. After all, they both have the same first and last name, were both born about the same time in the same country (albeit different provinces). They were even of the same ethnic background (and may be DISTANTLY related).  However, searching through census and other records, it becomes clear they are two distinct men.

I'll be honest. Early in my research, I wondered if the Ira Horton had some relationship to my Ira Sargent. However, when I realized that Ira H remained in Iowa after 1880 and my Ira was in Illinois after 1880, I knew there were two different people.

Just because the names aren't all that common doesn't mean the person is the same.

27 October 2012

A Little Terminology

from the former Ancestry Daily News
  Originally printed online at www.ancestry.com on  7/16/2003

A Little Terminology

Words can get us into trouble in more ways than one. This week we look at some terms that can easily cause genealogists to make incorrect interpretations.

A witness usually is only indicating that he saw a person sign a document and that the witness knew whom the person signing the document was. The witness usually should have no direct interest in the document being witnessed and should not be a beneficiary of the document's content or intent. Witnesses may be related to the individual actually signing the document. They may also just be other warm bodies that happened to be nearby when your ancestor signed his will or signed a deed. If the same witness appears on a series of documents for your ancestor over a period of time, then there might have been more of a connection between the witness and your ancestor, so the witness should be researched. But witnesses do not have to be related to the person signing a document.

Appraisers of an Estate
Appraisers of an estate do not have to be related either. Appraisers are typically appointed by the court official charged with handling estate cases. Your ancestor's estate might have been appraised. Appraisers are not to be heirs to the property, but there's no rule that they have to be brothers or cousins either. They could also very well be neighbors who the judge considered honest and reputable enough to make a fair appraisal.

Bondsmen are sometimes confused with witnesses, but there is a significant difference, both legally and genealogically. Family historians frequently encounter marriage bonds, guardianship bonds, executors' bonds, and administrators' bonds. The first type of bond (a marriage bond) serves a slightly different purpose from the other three, but there are similarities among all four. A bond is generally a contract that spells out specific duties or responsibilities of the person signing the bond. Penalties may result if the specific duties or responsibilities mentioned in the bond are not faithfully carried out.

An individual who signs a marriage bond is typically indicating that the person for whom they are signing the bond has no legal impediment to marriage. If it turns out that the marrying party was not legally able to get married (because they lied about their age, marital status, etc.), the person signing the bond may have to pay a fine. Consequently the person signing the marriage bond for the marrying party should have reasonably good knowledge of the person and their past. It is not always the father that signs the marriage bond.

Guardianship, executor, and administrator bonds are similar in purpose. They are drawn up to guarantee (as much as possible) that the guardian of a minor or the executor or administrator of an estate does not abscond with the money and leave bills unpaid. If the actual executor does leave town, the individual who signed the bond will be left holding the bag and will be legally responsible for the settlement of the estate.

Signing someone's bond and being a bondsman creates a potential legal obligation if the person for whom the bond is signed does not "act the way they are supposed to act." As a consequence, bondsmen are likely to be fairly well acquainted with the person for whom they are signing the bond—often they are related to the person. For this reason, names of bondsmen are always good genealogical clues.

"My Now Wife"
A will may use the phrase "I give my farm, the "Worthless Eighty," to my now wife or her heirs." Does this mean the testator had more than one wife? No. This wording is used as a preventative measure.

Let's look at what might happen if "my now wife" is not used.

Henry's will specifies that the "Worthless Eighty" is to go to his wife. Her name is not written into the will. She is the mother of several children with Henry. This wife dies and Henry marries SusieQ, who already had two children. Henry dies. The will says the farm goes to the "wife." SusieQ inherits the property and the farm goes to her children. Henry's children get left out.

If Henry's will had said "my now wife" or her heirs, then his first wife's children (Henry's children) would have inherited the property. To prevent potential stepchildren from inheriting instead of the biological children, the phrase "my now wife" is used.

The "my now wife" phrase really is a contingency phrase in the will—just in case a future marriage takes place and the will does not get rewritten.

While our ancestor may have been late for his own funeral, the use of this word does not always mean "tardy" or even "deceased." In many legal documents, the word "late" should be interpreted as "formerly." A deed may indicate that John and Susan Smith are late of Adams County, Ohio. This use of the word late simply means that the couple formerly lived in Ohio. If a reference is to the "late John Smith," then John is likely dead. "Late of Adams County," however, typically indicates a former residence.

Enumeration District Versus Registration District
Enumeration districts are districts used in the enumeration of the census. The borders of these districts typically follow either civil township or city ward lines.

Registration districts were used in draft registration and possibly for other uses as well. The borders of registration districts may follow county, township, or ward boundaries, or they may not. Registration district boundaries do not necessarily coincide with enumeration district boundaries. The districts were created for different purposes, either for counting people or for registering them for the draft. Do not confuse the two.

For U.S. censuses 1880 and after, relationships to the head of household are listed. Keep in mind that these relationships are only to the head of the household. Children of the head of the household may not necessarily be children of the wife in the household. Nor are all relationships listed in the census correct. The census taker could have made a mistake, or your ancestor might have lied.

Grantor, Grantee, Mortgagor, Mortgagee

These land record terms are frequently confused.

Grantor — one who sells the land
Grantee — one who purchases the land
Mortgagor — one who is borrowing money against land
Mortgagee — one who lends money against land

Do not incorrectly interpret something because you got your "ee's and or's" mixed up.

For Further Reference
Here are a few references for additional terms and phrases:

Black, Henry Campbell. Black's Law Dictionary (For genealogical purposes an old edition will suffice and can easily be picked up on eBay.)

Drake, Paul. What Did They Mean by That? A Dictionary of Historical
Terms for Genealogists
. Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, Inc., 2000.

Szucs, Loretto and Sandra H. Luebking, editors. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, 2nd edition. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1998.

Evans, Barbara Jean. The New A to Zax: A Comprehensive Genealogical Dictionary for Genealogists and Historians. 3rd ed. Alexandria, Va.: Hearthside Press, 1995.

The bottom line is, if you do not know what it means—look it up. Incorrect interpretations may waste a significant amount of time and money.

(c) 2012 Michael John Neill

26 October 2012

Besides the Names?

Year: 1910; Census Place: BaradaRichardsonNebraska; Roll: T624_854; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 0162; Image: 31; FHL microfilm: 1374867

The 63 year old "Nancy J" was the person of interest in this 1910 census enumeration from Richardson County, Nebraska. She's living with her husband Charles who is shown as the head of the household. What is unusual about this entry is that Nancy and her parents were all born in Pennsylvania. There are two widowed brothers living nearby, about Nancy's age, who are also born in Pennsylvania with parents born in that same state.

Now a census can easily have incorrect locations, but a look at this and other pages indicates that there are few Pennsylvanians in the area? Is it a fluke or is there something more?

Turns our that the brothers have the same last name (Wolf) that was Nancy's maiden name (which I already knew from other sources). Is that a coincidence? Maybe or maybe not, but it makes the point that looking at the neighbors is important--and do not just look at their names.

If I had not known Nancy's maiden name, the brothers still would have warranted some interest, given the same set of places of birth as Nancy, their approximate same age, and the fact that Pennsylvanians were scarce in the area.

Are you looking for clues in places besides names?

The names in the entry can be seen here:
Year: 1910; Census Place: BaradaRichardsonNebraska; Roll: T624_854; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 0162; Image: 31; FHL microfilm: 1374867
Reminder--we don't include complete citations on blog posts--just our personal preference. Complete citations are always included in Casefile Clues or you can learn about citations in Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Explained. We always do include enough background information in blog posts that readers can find our original sources.If you think we don't, please fire off an email to me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com

25 October 2012

Brick Walls from A to Z--Powerpoints

This is an online version of my "Brick Walls from A to Z" presentation.

This is just the PowerPoint slides.Download slides and audio--click here to process order. Coupon code is "brickwall" no credit card or personal information except email address is required. 

My slides are functional, not fancy--content is the focus.

You can view a complete list of all my webinars here. The list includes over 30 webinars on a variety of topics.

The downloaded version includes audio and handouts. Just the slides are included in this posting.

Getting Her Congressman Involved-1916 Style

I've read the letter written by Congressman Clyde H. Tavenner several times before, but this is the first time I've actually given the letter or Tavenner much more than a passing glance.

Like virtually all documents, the letter was created in response to something. The problem, as usual, is in determining what that something actually was. This something in this case wasn't all that difficult to ascertain.

The letter from Representative Tavenner is dated 20 Oct 1916 and in it he requests that Nancy Rampley's widow's pension payment be increased according to the "act of Sept. 8 1916."

The letter was apparently written in response to  HR11707 passed on 8 September 1916 which granted an increase in Civil War widow's pensions. The text of that bill can be viewed here; it increased the monthly pension amount of $20 for widows over the age of 70--explaining the comment to that import in Tavenner's letter regarding Nancy's pension.

An article in the Springfield Republican indicated how pensioners were to request their increase and shows why Nancy's request was handled in the way in which it was.

Date: Friday, September 15, 1916  

Paper: Springfield Republican (Springfield, MA)  obtained 

on   Genealogybank.com   

Date: Tuesday, August 19, 1913  

Paper: Belleville News Democrat
(Belleville, IL)  

obtained on 
It is not difficult to imagine that similar notices appeared in local papers where Nancy lived as well. The "relative in Minnesota" with whom she was visiting was likely one of her daughters and they could have easily have noticed a similar item in a local paper as well.

The image of Tavenner is taken from a column he apparently wrote in the Belleville, Illinois, newspaper. It's possible that his column mentioned the pension act and how to apply for the increase. The article in the Springfield, Mass. paper indicates that applications for increase were to be made directly and that no lawyer be involved.

Defeated in 1916

Tavenner did not win re-election in 1916. Based upon a newspaper clipping from after the election, it seemed that his loss had to do with the impending war in Europe and not the pension bill that was passed earlier that year.

Date: Monday, November 13, 1916  

Paper: Elkhart Daily Review (Elkhart, IN)

obtained on Genealogybank.com
The article mentioning Tavenner's defeat claims that Tavenner's campaign was possibly financed by Henry Ford.

All of this was a little more than I had originally intended to discover, but having newspapers at the one's ready disposal makes the discovery of such items easier than it was years ago.

Nancy's Letter?

The letter written by Nancy (or more realistically her daughter) is not contained in her pension file. How long it was retained by Tavenner is another matter entirely.  It may be in Tavenner's papers if they have been donated to a library or archives somewhere. For now, that will have to remain a mystery as I've already got too many items on my to-do list as it is.

24 October 2012

From Whence These New York Marriages?

Ancestry.com recently added (or updated, it's always difficult to determine which) their "New York Marriage Notices, 1800-55," which apparently was taken from Early Marriages From Newspapers Published in Central New York. n.p.: Pipe Creek Publications, 1992. .

That's all fine and good, but I was unable to determine if there was a listing indicating what newspaper the items were from. The one shown in the illustration here has a code of "SD." Others had different codes and, in my quick survey of the site, I could not find a listing of the abbreviations.

The description, shown below, was not helpful:

About New York Marriage Notices, 1800-55

Among the most important states in the young union, New York was home to over a million people in the early 1800s. This database is a collection of marriage notices published in newspapers around the state in the first half the nineteenth century. Each record contains the names of bride and groom, marriage date, marriage location, residence, and newspaper in which the notice appeared. Additional information is provided which in many cases includes names of witnesses, relatives, and parents. For those seeking ancestors from New York after 1800, this can be an informative database.

Frankly that description sounds like boilerplate text to me and could apply to a variety of items.

Hopefully someone will indicate that I've overlooked the list of abbreviations. It would have been nice for them to have been included and I'm hoping they are buried on the Ancestry.com site and I simply have not found them. Having the abbreviations in the description would have been helpful.

Using GenealogyBank Webinar--$2

30 October 2012

2:30 PM Central

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23 October 2012

What I Wish I Had Known When I Started

I posted this very question to the Facebook wall for Genealogy Tip of the Day before starting this post, just to see if it would generate some conversation.  So some of the ideas posted there may be repeated in my own post here.

Part of what we wish we had known depends upon how deeply our involvement in genealogy develops and upon how complicated (or uncomplicated) our family is. Also when a person (in my case, kid) starts researching at the age of thirteen, there are a great deal of things about life in general that one does not necessarily know. As a result, keep in mind that some of the things I wish I had known have as much to do about life as they do about genealogy. And these suggestions reflect my own research and experience.

Record everything.

What you think is meaningless in ten years may be very significant.

Track where you get it.

Your citations do not need to be in the form of Evidence Explained, but they should be emulate it in spirit. Initially, you will want to at least be able to go back and look at things again. As your research progresses and you become a more sophisticated genealogist, you'll see there's more to citation than just "where I got it."

Don't believe everything.

Any document, record, source, or person can be wrong. Even Grandma. Especially Grandma if she doesn't want you to know her brother was divorced or that her great-uncle hung himself.

Spelling doesn't matter.

Genealogy is not grade school or high school English where correct spelling is important. Documents will include different renderings of your ancestors' names. Copy them as they are written. If the name "sounds like" the one for which you are looking, it very well may be.

People are clannish.

Your ancestors did business with and married into families that were of their own ethnic and social background, at least the vast majority of the time. This does not make them bad people. We still tend to do this today.

My ancestors are interesting.

It took me a while to be proud of the fact that I had non-famous, run-of-the mill ancestors.

That's really it. There are lots of suggestions for beginning researchers, but those are things that I wish I had known in those first few years of research. The importance of asking relatives, identifying photographs, and using the courthouse were not really things I wish I had known--I was aware of those from the start. Not everyone is that fortunate. I grew up a few miles from the courthouse in the county where my family had lived since the 1850s and used a variety of local records from the very start of my research.

And there was no internet, so the importance of offline research wasn't an issue.

22 October 2012

Our Casefile Clues Back Issue Special Is Back On

In response to inquiries, we've reactivated this offer. Orders placed in the last several days have been delayed and distribution will begin in 24 hours. Issues are sent as PDF files.

Are you in need of how-to information written clearly, concisely, with an emphasis on instruction and explanation? That's exactly what you get with Casefile Clues--Michael John Neill's how-to genealogy newsletter. Take advantage of our special offer to get all 124 back issues for only $30! That's quite a genealogical bargain. All issues are delivered as PDF files. 

Written in an accurate, detailed, and yet easy-to-follow format, Casefile Clues is geared towards the intermediate level research, but we have many beginners and advanced researchers (including some professionals) who subscribe toCasefile CluesCasefile Clues focuses on genealogical case studies, problem-solving, and the occasional in-depth analysis of one specific document. 

And we always include complete, accurate citations and ideas of where to go next. We also focus on setting goals and keeping on task.

You can download samples following the link on this page:

A complete list of all topics (and order links) can be found here:

Check it out and see what you're missing. It has been a long time since we've had a back issue special. Don't wait. Jump start your research today.


21 October 2012

One Document-Two "S"s

Reading handwriting is part art and part science. It also requires experience with record terminology and form.

The word "sale" and the word "said" both appear in this deed record from a volume of deeds from Bourbon County, Kentucky. Both words begin with the letter "s," but the letters are not made in the same way, even though they "s" is the initial letter in both words.

One always needs to think about context and to be aware that things are not always as consistent as one would like.

20 October 2012

What Are In Your Image File Names?

There are several ways that one can keep track of digital images made of records. When I am at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I usually make a great number of digital images of records from the microfilm. 

I don't take pictures with a camera, but that's just me. I use the microfilm scanners. 

If one is not careful, it is easy to make a great number of images and not leave a good audit trail of what they are or where they were obtained. This can be a grave mistake.

In compiling footnotes for a Casefile Clues article, I needed the casefile number for a document that was obtained from a Kentucky county court record. Fortunately the casefile number was a part of the file name. I did NOT follow my own rule of including the film number on every image as I save it. This is really fairly easy to do if one "copies" the file name when saving the next image. When I'm making digital images of microfilm, I try and include in the file name at least the:
  • FHL microfilm number
  • name on the document
  • other citation information not contained on the image itself--court case file number, deed book name/title, etc. 
Of course this information can be added to the image later, but how many of us are actually going to do that? If I'm making several image from the same record, I number them, usually by adding an underscore at the end of the file name with a number. 

Some examples:


I also don't use a flash drive at the Family History Library (shocking, I know). I save the files to the computer I'm using to make the scans and then I email those files to myself at one of my gmail accounts. My phone then tells me I've got the emails, so I know they've been sent. Of course, a person could upload them to any place in the "cloud" too, but I like the email approach because then I can see on my phone that the message has gone through.

Another personal reason I like to use the email is that I can then make notes to myself about the records being used and the images that I made. The email always includes the family names that were located in the records so I can easily search my emails for keywords to pull up the messages containing specific images. The emails also serve as an "on-the-fly" research log. 

18 October 2012

What Are You Searching On FamilySearch Webinar?

We've just released the media file for my latest webinar which focuses on knowing what you are searching on FamilySearch.

If you are confused by states that have multiple indexes to the "same" set of vital records, why a marriage entry appears multiple times in an index, or how to see what was used to create the index, then this webinar is for you.

We focus on American sources, but the methods will apply to other locations as well. This presentation is not for complete beginners--some research experience is necessary.

You can download the media for only $4 during our introductory price offer. A PayPal account is not necessary, you can "click through" and when time for payment comes, click as a "guest" and use your non-PayPal credit card.

From the Newspaper to Federal Records-Draft Slackers

GenealogyBank in their Facebook Fan Page today posted  part of an article about how genealogy records were used to prove that several men were "slackers" and did not register for the World War I draft.

Date: Monday, June 25, 1917  

Paper: Oregonian (Portland, OR)  --obtained on 


on   Genealogybank.com   
It is a neat little article, but it is worth remembering that these records are available in digital format on Fold3.com. The image below is from the case against Henke. It discusses his naturalization. This image only shows part of Henke's file.
 NARA microfilm M1085, case against Johnathan Jake Henke, obtained in the Fold3 World War 1 Era FBI files
The World War I era FBI files contain information on a variety of "un-American" activities.

[note--This is one of the few posts that has nothing to do with any of my family. I have no connection to Henke.]

Reminder--we don't include complete citations on blog posts--just our personal preference. Complete citations are always included in Casefile Clues or you can learn about citations in Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Explained. We always do include enough background information in blog posts that readers can find our original sources.If you think we don't, please fire off an email to me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com

One More Variant for Trautvetter

Just when you think you've seen about every variant for a last name, the "last name variant committee" releases a new one.

That's the case for Trautvetter--Beckretter.

It is not too difficult to see how this happened when one looks at the original image:

It can be easy to blame Ancestry.com for these errors (and Ancestry.com does make errors), but in this case it's easy to see why they thought what they did. I see that name and I think "Trautvetter," but that is because it's from the 1880 agricultural census for Walker Township, Hancock County, Illinois, and I'm reasonably familiar with the last names in that area.

"Errors" aren't always Ancestry.com's fault--sometimes it's the original record.

Four Wrote on it--I Think

I've been thinking about this 1881 birth certificate for my great-grandfather.

It appears that there are four different sets of handwriting on it. The bulk of the handwriting is from the same person and I've not underlined that handwriting.

There appear to have been three other individuals write on this document besides the person who filled out the bulk of it.

The green is clearly a different hand--probably done later after great-grandfather had been named. Hard telling when this was done.

The red writing is a "correction" of the father's middle name. Mimken was actually the middle name as John's birth (and his first name was actually Jann). When this was done is difficult to say. It could have been done by the person who filled out the actual certificate--execpt that they printed in the correction. Without looking at the original it is difficult to see if the ink is really different or not.

I think that the doctor signed (yellow underlining). It doesn't appear that the doctor completed the form based upon the way he made the letters in his name and the general appearance of the script.

What I really need to do if I want a better idea is to see the original. Then the color of the ink would be more obvious.

Reminder--we don't include complete citations on blog posts--just our personal preference. Complete citations are always included in Casefile Clues or you can learn about citations in Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Explained. We always do include enough background information in blog posts that readers can find our original sources.If you think we don't, please fire off an email to me at mjnrootdig@gmail.com

17 October 2012

How Many Hands?

How many different people wrote on or helped fill out this birth certificate (click on the image to view full size)?

This is my great-grandfather's birth certificate from 1881.

15 October 2012

New or Updated on FamilySearch

As of 14 October