31 March 2014

There's More than One Game in Town

In response to our contest to find Altje Goldenstein's manifest entry, it's important to remember that Ancestry.com is not the only site that has passenger list information for New York. It's worth remembering that in many cases one site is not the only site that could be useful in a search. There are online passenger lists (or indexes) on the following sites for New York:

It is always worth some looking to see if other sites may have the same information for which you are looking. Just be certain to look at their "more about" or "FAQ" to determine how complete they actually are.

FamilySearch: Michigan Birth 1867-1902 Updated

The following database has been updated on FamilySearch since our last update:

Michigan, Births, 1867-1902

Find the Manifest and Win a Copy of Evidence Explained

We are having a contest to see who can find the manifest entry that goes with this trunk. I've had the trunk for years....I'd like a copy of the manifest.

What is known about Altje Goldenstein. She was:

  • born in 1848 in Wrisse, Ostfriesland, Germany to Johann Luken Jurgens Goldenstein and Tjode Anna Focken Tammen
  • married on 28 August 1870 in Adams County, Illinois to Hinrich Schuster
  • died in June of 1907 in Illinois and buried in Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery, Harmony Township, Hancock County, Illinois.
She may have immigrated with a sibling or she may not have.

We are giving away a copy of Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace 2nd Edition to the first person to find Altje on a passenger manifest. Submissions must be sent to michael.john.neill@gmail.com and include a direct link to the passenger manifest on FamilySearch or Ancestry.com or include a complete citation in the email so that I can locate the manifest page of interest. The subject line should be "manifest entry."

Please do not submit census entries, FindaGrave citations, or other information about Altje. This is about the manifest and only the manifest. Entries with first names other than Altje need to be explained as to why it is the same person. Please note that the name Antje is not the same as Altje. They are different names. 

Information on the manifest must be consistent with what is known about Altje and should not provide an immigration date before 1848 or after 1870. The determination of the winner is at the sole discretion of Michael John Neill.

Entries that do not follow the submission directions will be disqualified.  

Next Step On Montvill Harness

Searching for every piece of paper takes time and money and sometimes one needs to remember just exactly what the goal is.

I've been working here and there on Montvill Harness who "appears" as an adopted child in an ancestor's household. I've found where Montvill homesteaded in New Mexico and where he died in New Mexico as well. His life between the late 1880s and 1910 is something of a mystery. I have some unresolved research issues with his second wife and apparently Montvill and his second wife had unresolved issues as well. However, I need to think about what it is I really am trying to find and focus my exhaustive research efforts in that direction--not in the direction of any piece or paper or document that I can find.

Montvill was the adopted son of my great-great-great-grandparents James and Elizabeth (Cheney) Rampley of Hancock County, Illinois. He was in their household in at least the 1870 and 1880 census enumerations. The question is, did he know who his parents were and did they have any connection to the Rampley family?

Montvill's death certificate lists "unknown" for his parents and his marriage in Adams County, Illinois, did not provide any additional information on his origins. Montvill does not appear to have used the Rampley surname after the 1880 census--and of course since he was a youngster in the Rampley household in 1880 he really didn't provide the name on his own anyway.

Here's where reviewing previous research and clearing out old cobwebs is necessary. There are adopted children in the Rampley household in 1860, 1870, and 1880. I discovered the entries early in my research (translation nearly thirty years ago) and for some reason concentrated on the Lobb name and not the Harness name. After reviewing the entries I'm not even certain the three enumerations are referring to the same person--just that they have a similar first name.

For now, I'm operating under the premise that Lobb and Harness are different people. And, I'm focusing on Harness for the time being.

There won't be any adoption records for Harness--it's simply too early for that. But, there could be a guardianship for him, especially if his parents were deceased and had any estate at all or if he inherited something from his biological family while in the Rampley's care.

Harness apparently owned property in Adams County, Illinois. It's unclear how that property was obtained.

To refocus on Montvill, I've decided to work on obtaining the following materials:

  • Adams County, Illinois, deeds to determine how Montvill obtained the property (my premise is that it was through his first wife, but I could be incorrect).
  • Santa Fe, New Mexico, deeds to determine how Montvill "unobtained" his homestead (did he sell it, or was it transferred after his death).
  • Probate for Montvill Harness in New Mexico (this should assist in tracking down descendants who may shed some light on Montvill's origins).
The New Mexico materials may provide details on Montvill's second marriage which may also be helpful in my search. 

Seminar in Whitewater, Wisconsin on 12 July 2014

On Saturday 12 July 2014, I'll be the featured presenter at a conference in Whitewater, Wisconsin, sponsored by the German Interest Group--Wisconsin. Topics will include:

  •  Meyers Orts
  •  Online German Research 
  •  German immigrants, 19th Century
  •  German Material on FamilySearch

What I Like About Ancestry.com

[this post addresses Ancestry.com specifically, but the general concept applies to all the "big sites"]
I made one of my best genealogical discoveries on  Ancestry.com several years ago.

It was not in one of the "trees." 

It was not in one of the "hints."

That's not how I use Ancestry.com.

Since 1983, I had searched for "my" Ira (or William Ira) Sargent. Born in the early 1840s in New York State or Canada, he eluded me and appeared to have been dropped off by a UFO in Illinois in 1880, just in time for the census.  I had reason to believe that he spent time in Iowa or Missouri before 1880 for reasons I won't bore readers with here. I had found three or four other Ira Sargents who were contemporaries with my Ira in the Illinois-Iowa-Missouri area but had eliminated them as being "mine" for one reason or another. 

I pay regular attention to new sets of images of original records and finding aids on Ancestry.com that might help me find Ira or any of my other "problem" ancestors. I was delighted several years ago to see that a database of Iowa state census records had been released on Ancestry.com. I immediately searched it for Ira Sargent. There were several hits. All but one of the results I could "fit" into one of the excluded Iras.

All but one.

There was an Ira Sargent living in Davis County, Iowa, as a child in 1856. His details were consistent with "my" Ira and he could not be one of the "others." 

It didn't mean I had the right one.

It didn't mean I had evidence and it did not mean that I had a conclusion.

It meant I had a clue which I should follow. And I did.

The location of that census entry was the first crumb of information that lead to more crumbs of information which lead to more crumbs of information which eventually allowed me to connect "my" Ira to his family of origin. Most of those crumbs were not online and making the connections required analysis and thought. If finding Ira had been easy, I would have done it years ago. When I first found this Ira there were no "hints" linking his record to "my" Ira--that linking on Ancestry.com didn't happen until others learned of my discovery and put that information in their online trees.  Ira is one of those large number of ancestors for whom Ancestry.com hints don't work when no one else has found them. When I discovered him no one else had made the connection. (This also makes the point that if you don't want others to share "your" information, you shouldn't share with them in the first place.)

Compounding the problem is the fact that in 1856 Ira is not living with his biological parents. But that's another story and one I've written about in Casefile Clues

The indexes at Ancestry.com, while they can contain errors, do have the potential to bring new information to light. While the hints, the trees, and the indexes have their issues, there is no doubt that discoveries can be made. Just because discoveries can be made does not mean that we should be satisfied with the occasional database that is incomplete or the search that doesn't work quite correctly.

But making those connections is not an automated process.

One still needs to think. 

29 March 2014

New or Updated on FamilySearch

New or updated on FamilySearch since our last updated since our last update:

Taking Whatever and Being Happy

[Soapbox Alert]

Several of us on Facebook have had a discussion of Ancestry.com's unusual search results for a "leaf hint." A few of my comments have been buried there and I've decided to bring them out into the open with a blog post of their own and expand sightly upon a few key points. These comments are in response to the "leaf hints" that suggested 1953-era immigration records for a man who died in 1833. I will note that communication from Ancestry.com indicates that they are now aware of the problem and are working to fix it.

1) I'm tired of being told I should be "glad" to get whatever  hits I get--which quite a few companies, websites, and even some of my fellow genealogists tell me. Just because "in the old days" finding things was infinitely more difficult doesn't mean I should be rejoicing today for "whatever" the search algorithm gives me. "Whatever hits" are aren't good enough. This is algorithmic programming, which at the very heart is the result of a complex set of "yes" and "no" questions. Database entries either match the query or they do not. Computerized querying of databases is not the same as the manual searching by a human of thousands of handwritten records where many times finds are simply the result of tedious hard work and a little luck.  I won't even comment on the fact that being told I should be "glad for whatever" I get sounds extremely paternalistic and condescending. Oh wait, I guess I just did.

2) No search algorithm should be set to not return results of this type. Period.  Users should NOT have to manually or otherwise sift through results that include events requiring them to be alive 150 years after someone died. That's what algorithms are for--finding reasonable matches. This match is not reasonable and should have easily been eliminated by the search algorithm (unless Chicago voter records are being searched).

3) And my REAL concern. This is a problem that I can see and that is apparent. When there are issues I can see, it makes me wonder what is going on that I cannot see. If I should be "happy" for the "whatever" hits that come may way, how am I supposed to feel about the "whatever" hits that don't? If a search can include bogus matches, it could also be ignoring good matches as well.

Off soapbox.

27 March 2014

Structuring Your Online Searching Webinar Released

When I search databases for more than five minutes, I stop and get organized. There's a lot to be said for that approach. This presentation demonstrated tried and true approaches that I actually use--not ones simply made up to make a "neat presentation."

This webinar presents suggestions for how to organize your online searches, including creating lists of search options, creating search logs that assist in problem-solving, and tracking negative results and eliminated matches to repeat viewing the same image over and over. Organized searches makes it possible to accurately problem-solve and allows others to provide constructive criticism. Also included is a discussion of when it may be time to stop.  Detailed handout included. Download is immediate.

Order the presentation for immediate download here for $6.25.

URL for this page:

Updated on FamilySearch: NC, NY (Orange and Queens Co.), and WA Records

Updated on FamilySearch since our last update:

A Leaf is Found 100 Years After It Falls from the Tree

I know some people love them, but this is why I am not an overly big fan of the "leaves" at Ancestry.com.

Results like this are also why I am not a fan of any of Ancestry.com's "broad" based searches. There is casting a wide net and there is attempting to drape the entire ocean in fishnet.

The results as shown below for Ekke Flesner border on the absurd. A man who in my database dies in 1833 is a match for a naturalization in 1880 and New York Passenger list in 1950?

I realize that I may have the death date of Ekke Flesner incorrect, but even if I'm off 100 years that still doesn't explain the 1953 passenger list.
"Leaf" results on Ancestry.com for Ekke Andreesen Flesner died 1 Aug 1833--results obtained on 27 March 2014.
The parameters on the years of the record and the year of the death must be set pretty far apart. I realize some people are happy for any match they get. I also realize that crazy matches like these frustrate new researchers. 

As for me, I prefer results that are reasonable. If Ancestry.com expects me to wade through the leaves, they need to do some pruning of their search parameters. 

Wrong Places Can Be Clues Even if They are Not Evidence

I've written about Franciska Trautvetter before, but this post takes a slightly different look at a census enumeration taken 12 years after she died. 

The first time I saw this enumeration, I was confused.

The four children of John M. Trautvetter indicated in the 1900 census that their mother was born in Ohio. It was the first time I had ever seen such a reference. All other sources on their mother, Franciska, indicated she was born in Illinois to parents who were German natives. 

My initial response was to simply write it off as a crazy census taker. After all, I had attended quite a few genealogy lectures by that point in time and had also read several how-to books and knew that some census takers were not concerned about accuracy.

Of course I don't know who provided the information to the 1900 census taker for this enumeration. The place of birth for the long-deceased mother is most decidedly secondary information in this enumeration. The husband did probably not even know his of wife until the late 1850s when they met in Hancock County, Illinois. They married in 1868. He had no first hand knowledge of where she was born.

Obviously her children did not either.

The information is incorrect and some in genealogy circles would say "throw it out" as it's not good evidence.

But it is a clue.

Franciska's parents spent few short years elsewhere before they came to Illinois where their daughter was born in 1851.

That place: Ohio.

Those wrong places can be clues. Had I not learned of the Ohio connection another way--that would have been a place to look for the missing parents, based upon the census enumeration for Franciska's children twelve years after her death that gave a wrong place of birth.

Just because something is not evidence does not mean it is not a clue.

FamilySearch Updates: 1940 Census, Pension Payment Cards, and NC Marriages

New or Updated on FamilySearch since our last update:

Ancestry.com Slider and New Search Webinar Released

I just wrapped up my webinar on Ancestry.com's sliders and "new" search. The initial feedback has been good and I'm pleased with how the presentation went.

It includes a discussion of using the database search feature at Ancestry.com, focusing on how to use exact searches to mimic "old search" as much as possible. A few generalize search strategies are discussed along with ways that I prefer to search. We showed attendees how to tweak their own searches and ways to experiment and interact with search.

You can download the hour long presentation and media file here for $6.25. Just click "Pay with PayPal" and use any major credit card if you do not have a PayPal account. Even I picked up a few tips just making the presentation.


This page is:

25 March 2014

Polya's Four-Step Process

I first learned of George Polya's 4-step process in a graduate course in math education and have been a proponent of it for genealogical research ever since. 

Polya had four steps to solving any problem:

  1. Understand the problem--know all terms and state simple problem
  2. Determine a solution--decide what to do
  3. Execute solution procedure-do it
  4. Evaluate-did you solve it?
It seems to me that genealogists can operate within this framework and still honor the essence of the BCG Genealogy Standards.

I've found this approach very helpful for over twenty years--I don't expect that to change.

FamilySearch Update: Wisconsin and US 1910 Census

New or updated on FamilySearch since our last update:

Compiled Trees: Sources as a Filter

For some families and individuals, there are hundreds or thousands of online "trees." (An earlier post put out the thought prompt that should these trees be part of an "exhaustive search.") If one decides to use the trees as clues (and never as established fact), what are ways to sift out the reasonable from the not-so-reasonable.

This sifting is not an exact science. We are not mixing chemicals where there's pretty much a known reaction and response. This is more like surgery--sometimes you don't know what you are getting into until "you open things up."

If I'm using compiled trees for clues, I tend to loosely put the trees into three categories:

  • no sources
  • files as sources (stuff.GED, stuff2.FTW, stuff3,RTM, etc.)
  • sources
The first two are frequently put aside but unsourced trees can be accurate. It just may be that compiler didn't want to share their sources. Of course, "sources" can vary widely as well as the research and analytical skills of the compiler. If I have many to sift through, I tend to initially concentrate on those compilations that include more material of a primary nature--courthouse records, vital records, etc. But it is an inexact science to be certain.

I'm interested in hearing thoughts on how others sift. 

And, as always, online compilations are best used as clues and suggestions, not as Gospel. 

Montvill's Resting Place

A closeup of Montvill's probable burial spot.
It's not often that I have pictures of burial locations where there is not tombstone.

Kerry Scott of ClueWagon discovered the location for Montvill's burial in the Mountain Valley Cemetery in Barton, New Mexico, using a list of burials from a 1968 issue of the New Mexico Genealogist and information on Montvill's death certificate.

Montvill had no stone when Kerry visited the cemetery the weekend of March 22. Based on the fact that Montvill's family did not live in the area at the time of his death, I am speculating that a permanent stone was never erected.
Montvill Harness' probable burial spot is between
the tombstone (on the left) and the brush to the right of it.

Kerry also include some panoramic shots to provide some area of the terrain in the area. The mountains made travel more difficult in 1925 when Montvill died than they do today.

Montvill died after falling from his horse near Venus and breaking his neck.Why he is buried in this cemetery is a mystery to me at this point. I also am currently unaware of any connection between Montvill and Earl Farmer who was the informant on the death certificate.
Cemetery entrance

A big thanks to Kerry for making the trip to the cemetery for me. Her two children went with her as a weekend educational experience.

Genealogy Lessons:

  • Not everyone has a stone
  • Remember local geography when thinking about where your ancestor went to church, did business, etc. 
  • Plat out the relative location of places mentioned in documents when you are unfamiliar with them. There's a significant distance between Montvill's place of death and place of burial.

FamilySearch: TN and SC Materials

Updated on FamilySearch since our last update:

Uncle Herschel Had His Ph.D. and was a Building Service Worker

Sometimes getting a job with a Ph.D. is not easy. Just look at this 1970 era directory entry for my grandfather's brother, Herschel Neill.

It indicates he was a Ph.D. working in the Building Services Department, seemingly inconsistent. My father always described Uncle Herschel's job at the university as being a "janitor." The phrases "Uncle Herschel" and "Ph.D." were never used in the same sentence.

1970-1971 University of Illinois Staff Directory; digital image on Mocavo.com .

Herschel did not have a Ph.D. That reference appears to have been a simple error. The job at the university was one Uncle Herschel had after he had retired from the military. Uncle Herschel was a career military man and did attend college, but only for long enough to obtain a teaching certificate shortly before World War II, at which point he entered the military. The asterisk indicated Herschel was married and that piece of information, along with the name of his wife, is correct.

The 217 Arcadia reference in Rantoul I think is to his address. Unfortunately I got a little crop happy when saving the image and did not include other references to provide enough context. However, I doubt that the University had any type of physical plant service building in Rantoul, given the distance from Champaign. So a little bit of "common sense" and perspective may answer that question.My first awareness of Uncle Herschel was in the early 1970s slightly after this reference was published and, if memory serves, he did live in Rantoul. We visited him there once in the mid-1970s. All I can remember about the house is that it was white. That really narrows it down.

Lessons and Reminders:

  • Anyone source can be wrong--even ones that are published by universities.
  • Keep a list of the abbreviations used in a directory.
  • Copy record entries in context so that clues are not lost.
  • Employment, university and other directories may provide clues that are not expected.
Your relative may not be working the job you think he should.

And sometimes Ph.D.s end up as janitors. You'll just have to use more than one reference to document that claim.

24 March 2014

FamilySearch Updates: OH and NY Materials

New or updated on FamilySearch since our last update:

No Montvill in Mountain View, New Mexico

A big thanks to Kerry Scott of Cluewagon (http://www.cluewagon.com) for making the trip to the Mountain Valley Cemetery in Barton, New Mexico, this weekend (22 March 2014) There is no stone for Montvill Harness in this cemetery, but based upon a transcription done in the 1960s (and available at the Albuquerque Public Library), Kerry was able to determine where he's supposed to be buried and where the stone should be.

We'll have a more detailed post later, but I've never embedded video in a post. The clip below contains Kerry's panoramic view of the cemetery from where Montvill should be.

Original Sources With Primary Information Are Not Always Correct

Other than the fact that someone born in 1750 is dead, there are no "always" rules in genealogy.

One would think that an 1868 letter using the phrase "our daughter" and an 1860 census enumeration showing a person with that name living with the "parents" in the same location as 1868 would be sufficient evidence of a parent-child relationship.

Not necessarily. 
Letter of consent from Conrad and Barbara Haase
contained in the marriage license of
John Trautvetter and Franciska Haase,
Hancock County, Illinois marriage licenses,
Carthage, Illinois

Franciska Haase is stated as being the daughter of Conrad and Barbara Haase in an 1868 letter giving their permission for her to marry. The original letter appears in her marriage license. It's an original source containing primary information. 

The 1860 census enumeration, which does not directly state relationship, is consistent with the 1868 letter--all three people are in the same household and the stated father is the head of the household.

Seems pretty cut and dried.

Except that sources with secondary information listed a maiden name of Bieger/Biegert for Franciska. One can't always take what children list for their mother's maiden name on their death certificates as being correct, can they? After all those certificates provide secondary information. 

Turns out they were correct--when more research was done. Research that was suggested by the death certificates of her children. Those two records providing evidence Franciska was Conrad and Barbara's daughter does not mean that an exhaustive search was conducted. It was just the start.

Sources with secondary information are not always incorrect. Sometimes they are, but not always. 

If you are not including secondary information and are writing it off as "incorrect," there needs to be a reason other than your gut.

After all, you can't cite your gut.


You can learn more about Barbara's life in this presentation which discusses her marrriages, her children, and the records she left behind.

Barbara's Beaus and Gesche's Girls--Case study of two German immigrants to the American Midwest in the mid-19th century. Discusses Barbara (mother of Franciska Trautvetter) along with another German immigrant with an "issue." You can purchase this webinar for $5.00 -add to cart

Hit "checkout with PayPal" to either use PayPal or your own personal credit card to process payment.

23 March 2014

Compiled Trees Part of an Exhaustive Search?

As I've been reading the BCG Genealogy Standards, I've been thinking about what part (if any) compiled trees, such as those on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch should play in an "exhaustive search," or in any search, period.

I'm interested to hear what readers think of the compiled trees. I'm certain more people use them than are willing to publicly admit it.

22 March 2014

A Mountain of Spelling Variations for Montvill

Individuals whose names can be spelled a variety of ways are frustrating for the genealogist. 

Montvell is one of those names. 

Spelling variations, nicknames, and diminutives can make it difficult for a researcher to find individuals in indexes, finding aids, and original records. Those same variant renderings can also create problems in trying to determine whether two people with "similar names" are actually the same person. 

And there there is the dilemma of how to refer to the person when writing about them.

As I go through the blog posts on Montvell Harness, I realize that I have spelled his name in blog posts in a variety of ways. It is time to stop that and choose one spelling of his name to use when writing about him. Of course when transcribing records, I'll use the spelling that is in the actual record. There are several reasons for that:
  • it is the best way to create an accurate rendering of the original
  • it allows the researcher to be aware of other ways to locate the name in records
  • it provides a glimpse into how the name was pronounced
But flipping around and using different spellings for his name when writing about him is confusing. I've decided to use Montvell as his "name" because that's what he signed on his homestead papers in New Mexico in 1917. 

So when I write about Montvell in the 1870 census in Hancock County, Illinois, I'll use "Montvell" when discussing him, even though it's not spelled that way in the census. I will use the census spelling of his name in the transcription--because that's what the census says.

But in my analysis of his 1870 census entry, I'll use Montvell. 

There's one last reason for using the same spelling. It makes it easier for me. Instead of remembering how his name is spelled in each and every record so that I can refer to it that exact way in my discussion of that record, I'll simply cite my sources and, if necessary, include my reasons for why I think I have the same person. 

Another reason to cite our sources. Imagine that. 

A Horse and a Harness in New Mexico in 1925

With a little help from Kerry Scott (www.cluewagon.com), I have the death certificate of Montville Harness from Santa Fe County, New Mexico.

Montville died in October of 1925 in (or probably near to) Venus, New Mexico. The locations on his death certificate were somewhat difficult to read, but they are:

  • Venus--where Montville died and where the informant lived
  • Moriarty[spelling corrected from my original post]--where the doctor lived
  • Barton--where Montville was buried

The image was posted to Genealogy Tip of the Day on Facebook as a discussion prompt and several individuals submitted suggestions and ideas for these locations. I thought I could read them myself, but was unable to quickly find them in available online references.  Kerry Scott located a reference to The Place Names of New Mexico by Robert Julyan which confirmed the place names on the death certifcate and their locations. Julyan on page 372 refers to Venus as a "trading point ten miles northwest of Moriarity" which had its own post office during the time period when Montville died. Barton is a cemetery outside of modern Albuquerque.

Locations such as these aren't found on modern maps and may not even be easily located online. Difficult to read handwriting aggravates the problem. Sometimes "locals" (who already have the place names in their head) have an easier time interpreting words of this type than "non-locals."

The information on the death certificate is minimal in regards to Montville's origins. His parents unfortunately are not named. This is disappointing as Montville first "appears" in the household of his adopted parents James and Elizabeth Rampley in 1870 in Hancock County Illinois. The place of birth of Oklahoma City seems suspect considering that Montville was born in 1863 and Oklahoma City didn't exist as such during that time. The more realistic situation is that Montville lived in Oklahoma City before coming to New Mexico. The informant didn't know much about Montville, but apparently did know that he was divorced. We'll have an additional analysis in an upcoming issue of Casefile Clues.

As research moves forward on Montville, we'll incorporate the death certificate information with the fact that an attorney requested a copy of his homestead patent in 1924. At this point, it does not look like the attorney was settling up the estate as Montville was not dead. The more probable situation is that in 1924 Montville was selling the property he had obtained in 1917 as a homestead.

Montville died from a fall off a horse and it is possible that mention of his death made the local newspapers. I'm hoping that a 1925 editor avoided the temptation to make jokes about a Harness falling off a horse with a harness.

But we'll need to look at more local land and court records in New Mexico to determine that.

Stay tuned.

[Like most of our research on this blog....this work is in progress. This means that I don't know where this will lead--which is half the fun.]

20 March 2014

New Webinars: Ancestry.com's "New" Search and Structuring Online Searching

Making the Most of Ancestry.com’s Sliders and "New" Search

Already held--learn more and order here.

Structuring Your Online Searching

Do you go in circles when searching online databases? This presentation will provide a general scheme that Michael actually uses for organizing your searches of online databases and search sites--not some theoretical idea that gets put back away after the presentation is over. Sometimes five minute searches are not enough to find that elusive relative. Search strategies will be discussed in the context of organizing searches so that searches are not repeated and that search time is maximized. 6 PM Pacific Time on 27 March 2014--one hour and a half hour afterwards for questions. Register now to reserve your spot. Registration is limited. Downloadable recordings will be sent at no charge to all registrants. 

URL: for registering is 

19 March 2014

For Our New Subscribers: Our Content

We've picked up quite a few subscribers since I last commented on what content gets on this blog, so we'll summarize it here in quick fashion:

  • Research I'm doing on various families. Often this is incomplete, which I think helps to emphasize process and analysis for my readers.
  • My own families only. I only write about research on my children's ancestry. Their background includes the follow countries outside the United States:
    • 1/4 Ostfriesen
    • 1/16 Irish
    • 1/16 Swedish
    • 1/16 Belgian
    • 1/16 English
    • 1/16 French-Canadian
    • 3/32 German (Thuringen, Darmstadt, and Bavarian)
    • 1/32 Swiss (and maybe a little Italian)
    • remainder--probably English, Irish and German
  • My own areas of research. I only write about areas in the United States where my children's family lived. This includes most areas east of the Mississippi (except the Deep South) and also includes, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska.
  • Immigrants in these families run the gamut from Mayflower passengers, Great Migration immigrants, 17th century Virginia and Maryland immigrants, 18th century New York immigrants, and 19th century immigrants.
  • FamilySearch digital image updates. These materials are a great resource. I don't normally include any information about compiled databases that are uploaded to FamilySearch per my own editorial policy.
  • Whatever else interests me. 
Thanks for reading!

FamilySearch: USMC Muster Rolls 1798-1892

New or updated on FamilySearch since our last update:

United States Muster Rolls of the Marine Corps, 1798-1892

Lübeck, Germany, Citizenship Register, 1591-1919 on Ancestry.com

A few days ago, I posted about the database "Lübeck, Germany, Citizenship Register, 1591-1919" at Ancestry.com. Communication with an Ancestry.com staffer indicates that an index is in progress and that the images should have been rolled out and not the index.

So for now I will have to browse the records.

Looks like someone jumped the gun a little bit there.

18 March 2014

160 Acre Revolutionary Bounty Land Warrant for Eleanor Fugate

I've seen these before, but the color always manages to impress me.

This is the surrendered bounty land warrant that Ellen Fugate of Scott County, Kentucky received based upon the Revolutionary War service of her husband Randall F. Fugate. (earlier post here)

Surrendered Bounty Land Warrant, Revolutionary War, Randall F. Fugate, widow Eleanor Fugate,
Warrant 27636-160-55, National Archives Record Group 49.
The warrant was issued in 1836 and Eleanor sold it to Samuel Downing of Fayette County, Kentucky, who actually patented property based upon the warrant.

Black and white scans just don't really do justice to these wonderful documents. Sometimes these are assigned more than once and sometimes they are assigned to family members. That's not the case with Fugate.

And Eleanor's signature is on the back, just as if she was signing over a car title.

Lovely documents. And these "surrendered warrants" are a separate series of records from the Revolutionary War pension materials. Many veterans (or their widows or heirs) qualified for these warrants in the 1850s.

FamilySearch Update: Delaware Vital Records

New or updated on FamilySearch since our last update:

Delaware Vital Records, 1680-1962

17 March 2014

He Could Not Find His New Mexico Patent

This letter from 1924 appears in the homestead application of Montevill Harness.

There is no indication of what prompted the need for a copy of Montevill's patent, but this letter was addressed to John F. Simms in Albuquerque, New Mexico, appears in the homestead file.

Apparent carbon copy of letter dated 26 March 1924 to John F. Simms,
Homestead application of Montville Harness, Santa Fe Land Office,
Bureau of Land Management, Serial Patent 653766
Simms was an attorney who served for a short time on the New Mexico Supreme Court. My guess is that either Montevill was selling the property and needed to document ownership or he had died and his estate was being settled and the ownership needed to be documented.

There's a potential fly in the ointment here and a reason to obtain land records even though typically they don't reveal a great amount of detail. Montevill indicated that he was parted from his wife in his 1917 homestead application. Given his marital status at the time of his homestead application (married and not divorced), it will be interesting to see how the transfer of his property is handled--regardless of whether he sold it himself or it was transferred after his death. It may provide clues as to whether Montevill was divorced or not

Next step in the research process is to obtain land and property records from the county in New Mexico where the property was located.

Stay tuned.

Homesteading Without the Wife in New Mexico

Research on Montville Harness continues. Little was known about him after he left Illinois in the 1890s until he was found living in New Mexico in 1910.

When I discovered Montville Harness was living on a farm in New Mexico in 1910, I knew that a search of homestead records should be conducted for him given the location, the time period, and his occupation as a farmer. When I found a reference to Montville in the homestead records, I knew that I should access those records in an attempt to learn more about Montville. While the details in homestead records are often sketchy, the little I knew about Montville indicated that the records of his homestead should be accessed.

Homesteaders were asked broad questions about the family that lived with them. In many cases those questions confirm what the researcher already knows. In other cases the questions may provide new information about the homesteader and their family.

Montville Harness was no different in that he was asked about his family in his New Mexico homestead application. And in this case, it confirmed what other records had implied--that Montville was not living with his wife.

Montvill's 1917 affidavit indicated that his family consisted of "one wife who has deserted me, not having lived with me for 8 years."

Homestead application of Montville Harness, Santa Fe Land Office, Bureau of Land Management, Serial Patent 653766.

Per the date of the affidavit, it would mean that the couple split sometime in probably 1911. His wife is not named.

I'm not really certain whether or not the statement can be used to conclude that Montvill did or did not have children. Given that his wife lived apart from him and that he was on the New Mexico frontier, it seems logical that, if he had children with the wife who deserted him, that they would have lived with her. What the document does state is that Montville had a wife and that she left him probably in 1911.

Something one typically does not find in a homestead application.

All of which makes the point that "exhaustive searches" sometimes require searching everything, period.

And going forward, the homestead application provided the location of Montville's property. A search of land records to see how ownership left his possession should provide additional insight into his time into New Mexico.

Grandma Was the Sole Heir?

An article I read recently used the phrase "Grandma was the sole heir" to describe the legal situation around "Grandpa's" farm after his death in Illinois in the 1870s. The article made it clear that the writer descended from Grandma and Grandpa--so there were children of the couple. Grandpa and Grandme were not childless.  It may be a technical point, but if Grandma was Grandpa's sole heir in Illinois in the 1870s, then Grandma and Grandpa had no descendants as that's the only way for Grandma to have been Grandpa's sole heir.

If Grandpa had a will and had left his farm to Grandma then she would have been his devisee. If Grandpa had left Grandma his tools and other personal property then she would have been his legatee. Grandpa can't name heirs in his will--at least not technically in most states.

Heirs are usually individuals who have an interest in the estate of a deceased person unless a valid will is approved by the appropriate court. Heirs are defined by state statute.

In the 1870s in Illinois, Grandpa's heirs would have been Grandma and the children of Grandpa. Normally Grandma would have had a one-third interest in Grandpa's property and Grandpa's descendants would have split the remaining portion.

Grandma could have been Grandpa's sole beneficiary or his sole legatee. Grandma was probably not Grandpa's sole heir.

Legal terms may hide nuances of which we are not aware.

Grandma probably wasn't Grandma's sole heir even if they had no children in Illinois in the 1870s. But that's another story.

Did "Lübeck, Germany, Citizenship Register, 1591-1919" Go 'Poof?'

[note: as of 19 March 2014 the images for this database were viewable, but the index has not actually been completed]

It frustrating when databases do not work correctly.

It is more frustrating when they apparently disappear from websites entirely without notice. I recently had difficulty searching a database on Ancestry.com titled "Lübeck, Germany, Citizenship Register, 1591-1919." Now I apparently cannot find it on the site. [note-update 3:31 pm 17 March 2014: A Google search does locate this database which is still on the Ancestry.com site here http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1563. Thanks to LT and MJL for point this out to me on Facebook. It is interesting that Google was the way this had to be located.]

The card catalog doesn't show it.

Catalog search for  Lubeck, Germany database on Ancestry.com taken 17 March 2014
 The new databases for Germany doesn't show it.
Screen shot of  recently updated  or new databases for
Germany on Ancestry.com taken 17 March 2014
Am I missing something or has it been pulled from the site?

Updated on FamilySearch-Utah Death Certificates 1904-1956

Updated on FamilySearch since our last update:

Utah Death Certificates, 1904-1956

St. Patrick's Brick Wall Webinar Giveaway

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, we're giving away copies of my "Brick Wall from A to Z" webinars--all four. This page has the details.

16 March 2014

Is Ancestry.com's "Lübeck, Germany, Citizenship Register, 1591-1919" Working?

The database "Lübeck, Germany, Citizenship Register, 1591-1919" at Ancestry.com appears to not be working. When searching it for the last day or so, I get "this page is temporarily unavailable."
Admittedly I was searching for Flessner which is not the most common name. 

However, there should be a few names in this database matching a last name search of Sch*

Even that search gave the same error message.

15 March 2014

Using Census to Find My Irish Chains--For St. Patrick's Day

"Using the Census to Find my Irish Chains" --from Ancestry's Website (http://www.ancestry.com)--29 Sept 2006
by Michael John Neill

[note: I decided to reprint this sans citations--as is our policy. Since this article was originally published, I've discovered minimal new information but a review of the sources used may be helpful. Personally I don't expect that any of the conclusions reached in this article to be revised. But what could happen is that I notice something different in the process. This article was written when I was a contractual employee for Ancestry.com.]
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 entries) 
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 blank.
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 immigrants.
  • 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.