Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Tuesday's Tip - And That Is Why It Is Called Research

Sherlock Holmes, source: Pixabay

It looked like a good day for staying home and doing some online research. Dreary afternoon, temperature dropping, rain alternating with snow. Time to seriously look for marriage records for some ancestors and relatives, all of whom had lived in or near Elbert County, Georgia.

I had already tried the usual places. For me, this meant starting with the Marriage Records on Microfilm collection on Georgia's Virtual Vault. The only problem was that the earliest records posted there for Elbert County started with 1835, later than the time period I needed. I hadn't been able to find marriage records I was seeking on either Ancestry's collections of early United States Marriage Records or on similar databases available on FamilySearch.org.

Previously I had used the unindexed probate records available on FamilySearch.org to locate information that wasn't available on Ancestry's indexed collections. Looking over the FamilySearch links to 30 image only record collections for Georgia, I saw a collection of records from Elbert County, Georgia. This collection dated back to the 1790s and included church, cemetery, school, and vital records collections. The Vital Records collection was labeled by year, making it easy to search for specific years as needed.

Georgia, Elbert County Records, 1790-2002

Each box of records contained an average of 450-500 records. Soon after I started looking for familiar names, I realized that I did not need to look at every record in the collection, One image would be of the front of the record, such as this marriage record for Dozier Brown and Polly Herndon.

Since this was the marriage license for a relative, I would then look at the next image to see the back of the license. Had this not been the license for a relative, I would have skipped from image 16 to image 18 and read the next new license.

Two other factors were part of my search in these early 1800s marriage licenses. It turned out that the specific document for a marriage license changed through the years. As I moved from box to box of licenses, I could adjust where a new type of license appeared on my screen, then succeeding license images would show up centered on my screen and easy to read, with only minimal adjustment to view the image.

The second factor lead me to look at the names of both the groom and the bride on each license image I viewed. It didn't matter that most boxes of licenses were arranged alphabetically by groom's name. I needed to also look for a bride's name on the image. Looking at each license became particularly important in cases where the license was followed by a marriage bond record which just might include the name of the bride's father.

The whole process took most of the afternoon and a few cups of hot tea, but it was worthwhile. I recorded the years I had searched on my Research Log so I won't accidentally go through this process again. I ended up locating several marriage records, some new to my research, others the original source for information previously seen only in a database.

My takeaway tip was to spend more time going through other potentially helpful image-only records. Once you get accustomed to the record format, it becomes easier to skim over the image and locate names, dates, locations on a record. Admittedly it does involve looking at a number of screens, but it pays off when you locate a nugget of new information. Just as all genealogy information is not digitized and online, neither is all online information indexed. So many records can be accessed only by searching through them yourself. After all, this searching reminds us why it is called research.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

New Year, New Numbers, New Goals

GOALS source: http://www.thebluediamondgallery.com/

The new year is a time for doing more than making resolutions. It's also a good time to look back over the past year, evaluate efforts, and set some personal goals.

A year ago, I posted about finding my ancestor score, as I looked at how many of my direct ancestors I had actually been able to name. Both Randy Seaver in a blog post and Christa Cowan of Ancestry.com's YouTube videos had suggested reasons to do this, and the new year is a logical time to repeat the report. I described my methodology and my results in a previous post

Here is my latest report based on my research in 2015. In running the report I added a new column at the right, how many new direct ancestors I had identified in the past year. It was exciting to see that I now know the surname and given name of 25% of my direct ancestors, compared with only 18% last year.

GenerationRelationship# in generation# identified% identified2015 increase
52 GreatGrandparents1616100%
63 GreatGrandparents323197%1
74 GreatGrandparents645688%14
85 GreatGrandparents1285644%20
96 GreatGrandparents2565722%37
107 GreatGrandparents512296%3

It was relatively easy to explain that increase. I was a participant in Round One of Thomas McEntee's Genealogy Do-Over. What a difference my research took when I because more focused and more methodical in maintaining my research log. I chose to focus on learning more about my Norwegian ancestors, relatives constituting a fourth of my family tree. The majority of new ancestors I discovered in generations 7, 8, and 9 were among these Norwegian ancestors.

Besides learning names, birth dates, baptismal dates, marriage information, and death dates of these ancestors, I also learned about a variety of resources that spurred on my Norwegian research. With the help of Google Translate, I even got where I could "read" a number of the records I had located. I felt a real growth in my research skills and tools.

The best part, thought, was coming to see these ancestors as people. People who moved from farm to farm. People who lived with waves of illness that decimated the families. People who chose to immigrate to America. People who chose to stay in Norway. Because of this, most of my posts in January through March of 2015 concerned these Norwegian ancestors.

Participating in the Genealogy Do-Over was well worth the time. Whether you are a beginning researcher or have been at it for a long time, I would encourage you to look at the G D-O web site and consider participating in the program activities. 

Now for 2016. Over the past few months, I've been plowing through the wills and probate records available through both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. Each will, each record of probate returns seems to provide a new tidbit of information. I've taken a break from my regular posts as I've been reading virtually every line of each record I find. Tedious at times, but definitely worth it.

Goal 1 is to continue to explore these will and probate records for my family tree and then for my husband's also.

Goal 2 is to help a family member learn more about her family history. Because the majority of her ancestors and relatives seem to be clustered for several generations in a few neighboring Georgia counties, I'm already seeming how helpful it will be to use the Cluster Research approach, looking at Family, Associates, and Neighbors, as suggested by Elizabeth Shown Mills.

Goal 3 relates to Family Tree Maker. Like so many other users of FTM, I was surprised to learn of Ancestry's decision to no longer update or sell this product. Over 2016 I expect to decide my final reaction to this news. Will I stick with FTM even after moving to Windows 10 on my research laptop or just stay using Windows 7? Will I switch to another brand of genealogy software? Will I hope that some other company opts to add FTM to their line of products? Whatever my decision, my research will continue.

So there are my goals - records to continue researching, a research approach with which to become more proficient, and a software decision to may. And maybe, along the way, I'll find some new stories to celebrate.

Happy 2016 to all of you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day 2015 - Ways to Remember Our Veterans

Iwo Jima Momument, Marine Corps Base Quantico
personal photograph

On Veterans Day in the United States, there are numerous ways people choose to honor and remember the veterans who have served in the military of our country. Parades. Flag lined streets. School assembly programs. Special gestures extended to today's veterans.

Blogging also provides additional ways for many of us to remember and honor our military ancestors. During the past year, I had four such posts, each written for a different reason.

A recent visit to the Resaca Confederate Cemetery in Georgia reminded me of the sacrifices made by many unknown soldiers who fought of both sides during the Civil War. The story of how this cemetery came to be is also the story of how one person can make a difference in keeping individuals and events from fading from our memory.

It was exciting to look into the life of the young Revolutionary War spy, John Howard, while trying to verify a family story. Learning that a 15-year old was a real spy might just be the hook to grab the attention of some of the younger members of our family and help them see history through the life of a relative.

I still find myself thinking about the life of a Confederate soldier and relative, Samuel G Slade. Learning more about his military service, his injuries, and his later life was a reminder that there are too frequently personal battles fought long after the war is over. Today's headlines about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or long waits for veterans  to receive proper medical care were foreshadowed by what Samuel Slade and countless others went through in their day.

My fourth post concerned one of the Camp Family Letters housed in the Manuscript and Rare Book Library of Emory University near Atlanta, Georgia.  The letter of Thomas Camp to his wife is one more reminder that our veterans are also someone's spouse, parent,sibling, or child. Our veterans are not only soldiers, they may also be part of our family. They are our friends and our neighbors.

To all of veterans today, thank you for your service to our country. For our ancestors who served, we will remember your actions, your efforts, and your place in our country's history.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Samuel Howard, Could You Be Any More Specific?

Power of Words by Antonio Litterio.jpg, via Wikimedia Commons

It started as a simple project. Look for online will and probate records for each of my 4 GreatGrandfathers. First step was to make a 5 Generational chart of each of my four grandparents using one of the simple forms available through the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Step two was to search and browse through the will and probate records accessible through both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. One 4GGrandfather had no will or probate information, one died intestate but there were a few probate records detailing what happened to his personal property.

Then I came to Samuel H Howard. My 4GGrandfather Howard died in 1853, leaving an extremely detailed will.(1)  Item two of his will was such an example. As found in so many wills of that time period, he left his house and household items to his wife Polly for her life or widowhood. Samuel apparently was not content with such a vague statement. Instead, he spelled out that Polly was specifically to receive

  • all the plantation utensils, farming tools, and blacksmithing tools,
  • all his household and kitchen furniture,
  • her choice of seven or eight head of cattle, 10 sheep, and as many of his hogs as she wished to keep,
  • specific slaves by name as well as the names of those who were to be kept together if Polly later decided to sell any of the slaves,
  • his road wagon and harness.

Next Samuel dealt with the distribution of his real estate upon the death of his wife Polly, detailing how it was to have its value assessed, by whom, and the amount of money to be given to son Abner who would not share in the inheritance of certain property.

Samuel Howard had a sister Avis living nearby who had inherited property from their father John Howard. The will described the location of the property by naming the property owners to the north, east, south, and west of it, and which of his sons would assist Avis as caretaker of the property. He did not even own this property but apparently wanted to be certain that his sister had someone to help her as presumably Samuel had done in the past.

He also named one son to receive his desk, bookcase, library, and the family Bible upon the death of his wife Polly. Two sons were named to look after his wife Polly and his sister Avis.

All of Samuel's specific directions came to a screeching halt, at least for me, when I read Item 10. "It is my absolute will and desire that my estate shall be divided into 11 equal parts ... The one eleventh part of my estate I set apart as an undivided part to be managed as I shall herein direct." OK so far.

So why eleven parts? Samuel Howard and his wife Polly had 12 children (Elizabeth, Thomas, John, Abner, P E Augustus, Moses, William, Amelia, Samuel, Harriet, Mary Ann "Polly", and Avis).  Son Thomas and daughter Harriet had both died before Samuel had written this will, so there were 10 living children when Samuel signed his will in 1852. The will stated that an eleventh share was to go to "the legal heirs of [the] body" of daughter Harriet. No mention, however, was made of any provision for the children of son Thomas. Ten surviving children plus a share to Harriet's children does equal eleven shares.

The surprise, for me, is that neither the ten surviving children nor Harriet's children are named specifically. You would expect a will to contain a list of named individuals whenever there is a division of property involved. After all of Samuel's specificity throughout his will, the absence of the names of those to receive a share seems almost out of character. Samuel did, however, state that the executors of his will were to manage the funds for Harriet's children until they came of age.

Samuel concluded his will with the forgiveness of $800 owed to him by his son Moses, forgiven, that is, by the share of the estate that Moses would receive.

Finally, in Item 13, returning to his detailed directives, Samuel had a plan as to how any dispute over property value or shares would be handled. Three respectable land holders (not the executors) would assess the value of the property then make their decision. Any one of the eleven shareholders who disagreed with this decision would simply forfeit his/her share of the property except for $5. There. Samuel had spoken!

Like that old quote, the devil was in the details. Because Samuel Howard was so specific in writing his will, I ended up gaining a much clearer picture of my 4GGrandfather, his life, and his family. And I had thought that reading wills and probate records would be boring!

(1) South Carolina, Wills and Probate, 1670-1980, "Greenville, Will Books, vol C-D, 1840-1867", p 468-472; accessed on www.ancestry.com.