Monday, December 31, 2012

The Internet

Marian asks:
"How much research can I reasonably do using just the internet? My health keeps me from traveling to courthouses and such."

You can't do everything but you can do a lot, more every day thanks to organizations such as FamilySearch. Even if you can't visit courthouses and other repositories you can phone them, email them and write letters to them requesting information and documents so all is not lost. You can also hire other researchers to do some of the leg work for you.

The two things I would recommend to you are Cyndi's List and Online State Resources for Genealogy. Between the two I think you will have access to every online source there is.

I always exhaust all my internet options first, then I formulate a research plan for those things that I can't do on the internet. So many things are being added daily that I go back and try again on the internet if I am looking at a research problem that I haven't worked on in a while.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Planters, Farmers and Slaves

Gail asks:
“I'm looking at the 1850 census for Warren County, Georgia. I see some people listed as "farmers" and others (far fewer of them) as "planters." Value of real estate is one of the items accounted for in the census and there does not seem to be an absolute correlation between value and occupation title. In other words, I see some planters with less real estate value than some farmers. I know some people define the term plantation by size, degree of self-sustainability, number of slaves, or other factors. My question, though, is how would an 1850 census enumerator determine whether to call someone a farmer or a planter? Would it be whatever the family head said he was? I'm a little doubtful about that. I looked at the guidance for enumerators in the 1850 census and didn't see anything about planters vs. farmers."

A farmer is one who grows foodstuffs for his family and his livestock. He could have many acres (though they might not all be in crops) as well as slaves. A planter is one who grows commercial crops. In the south that usually means cotton, tobacco or rice. As a general rule, planters have more acreage and more slaves than your average farmer but that isn't always the case so you can't use that as your criteria. The agriculture schedules will tell you what you need to know. Both the farmers and the planters will appear on the ag schedule. It is always good to look at your ancestor from as many angles as you can which means you need to be looking at the population schedule along with the ag and the slave schedules (whatever is applicable). The slave schedules are available on They have been adding the ag schedules as well as the other non-population schedules to their collection but they are not complete yet.

A related question from F. W.:
"I have been looking at the 1850 and 1860 slave schedules. I am finding my ancestors no problem but I haven't found them to be that useful. The slaves are only identified by race and age. There are no names. I am not sure names would really be that helpful to me anyway since I am not researching the slaves per se. Also, are there other slave schedules for the other years that Ancestry[.com] doesn't have?"

The 1850 and the 1860 are the only slave schedules. In the earlier censuses they do give numbers of slaves on the population schedules themselves. All of the slaves were freed before the 1870 census so obviously there isn't one for that year. Even though the slave schedules don't tell you a whole lot you can glean some clues. You can get a sense of general wealth by the number of slaves owned. If there are mulatto slaves listed, the inference is that either the owner, his sons, or his overseers have been taking liberties. The number of slave houses listed can give you an idea of living conditions.

Here is something interesting for you. Here is the list of slave-holding states in 1850:

Alabama (Confederate)
Arkansas (Confederate)
District of Columbia
Florida (Confederate)
Georgia (Confederate)
Louisiana (Confederate)
Mississippi (Confederate)
New Jersey
North Carolina (Confederate)
South Carolina (Confederate)
Tennessee (Confederate)
Texas (Confederate)
Virginia (Confederate)

Not all of the slave-holding states listed were southern/Confederate states. People who are doing research in states other than the deep south sometimes forget that they should also be looking at these records. Prior to the Revolutionary War all of the colonies had slaves. After the Revolutionary War, states started abolishing slavery one by one over time but several of the "northern" states held on. Delaware and New Jersey didn't abolish slavery until the end of the Civil War. As a matter of fact, Delaware opposed the Emancipation Proclamation because they felt it was their decision not the federal government's whether or not they could have slaves. Stubborn Delaware didn't ratify the 13th amendment until 1901. Knowing all of this could be important to northern researchers. If your ancestor owned slaves one of the first places you need to be looking are the deed records. Slaves were considered personal property and thus deeded. You can find familial connections through slave deeds.

"Know all men by there presents that we for the natural love and affection which we bear for our brother in law William Sterling do give grant and confirm in him our right and title of a certain negro girl named Charity which was given to him by one Jesse Lee during the natural life time of his wife Obedience Sterling by Will after which time she is to belong to the rest of the heirs of the said Jesse Lee according to said Will we as a part of the lawful heirs of the said Jesse Lee do hereby relinquish all our rights titles or claims to the said girl unto him the said William Sterling and his heirs forever." 1

This one deed was used to prove the relationships of 13 people.

As I mentioned in the A Few Followups blog post, when you are doing research you must stay neutral and report the facts objectively no matter what your personal feelings are. I am saying this so that readers of this blog don't think me callous when I speak of these things matter-of-factly.

1Robeson County, North Carolina, Deeds, vol. S (1811-1823): 122, Jacob Pope and Others to William Sterling; accession no. C.083.40005; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, December 29, 2012

My New Adventure

As you know by now, I am always looking for ways to make me a better researcher. Learning opportunities abound if you are willing to take advantage of them.

I am part of the ProGen 18 Study Group which will be underway on January 1st. What is ProGen? It is an 18 month intensive study of the book Professional Genealogy, A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers and Librarians. Eighteen months you say! This book is 654 pages long and is of such a nature to require this amount of time. This is a study group/class with writing assignments all along the way that your fellow classmates critique.

I signed up to be a group leader (you knew I would) because I want to get the most out of this opportunity. I am in the 18th group to go through the process. There is a waiting list to get in and I waited for quite a long time to have my turn.

If you are an intermediate to advanced researcher, this is something you really need to think about doing. You can read more at the ProGen website.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Sad Story of Wright Smith

An anonymous reader commented on the blog post, A Few Followups, stating that it was possible my ancestor John Clay McMichael could have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Anon could very well be right. His/her comment reminded me of a very sad story that happened in neighboring McDuffie County, Georgia in 1897 that illustrates that PTSD is nothing new.

Wright Smith enlisted in Company F, 10th Regiment of the Georgia Infantry on 11 May 1861.1 On 01 May 1864, he was admitted to Chimborazo Hospital No. 3 in Richmond, Virginia with a gunshot wound to his left leg. His service record ends here with no specifics about his wounds or when he was discharged, however, his story is well-known and frequently told in the community where he lived, even to this day. I was unable to find any records to substantiate this part of the story but it makes sense. The story goes that he came home with his leg intact but festering with infection. The doctors treated it for quite some time before his leg had to be amputated. After he lost his leg, Wright was never the same.

Fast forward to 10 Mar 1897. The Augusta paper didn't carry the story but the Times-Picayune (New Orleans) did:

Killed His Two Boys and Shot Himself.
Atlanta, Ga., March 10, -- A special from Harell [sic, Harlem], Ga., tells of a horrible tragedy committed eight miles south of that place yesterday afternoon. Wright Smith, a one-legged confederate veteran, went to Thompson [sic, Thomson] yesterday, drew his pension and went home. He paid some debts in the neighborhood and then asked his three children to go with him to feed some hogs. For some reason, his oldest, a girl of about 8, refused to go. He carried the two youngest, both boys, aged 2 and 4 years, to a cotton-house, where he crushed their brains out with his crutch, and then sent a pistol ball through his own brains. He lived for several hours, but never spoke. An empty laudanum bottle was found near, and the supposition is that he took the contents before shooting himself. No cause has been assigned for his committing this awful deed. He was not a drinking man. He was about 50 years old.2

Wright Smith, 1839 - 1897
Thomas Edwin Wright Smith, 1892 - 1897
Samuel Drury Smith, 1894 - 1897

The three are buried on the old homestead.

1Compiled service record, Wright Smith, Pvt., Co. F, 10th Regiment, Georgia Infantry, Carded records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780s-1917; Record Group 94.

2"An old Veteran," Times-Picayune, 20 Mar 1897, p. 2, col. 5.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Research Binders Part II

T. J. asked a question that was related to research binders and I promised him I would do a followup to explain WHERE to look for the information you need for the binder. You can read T. J.'s question HERE. This post will only be discussing where to find stuff for a specific location (there are other parts to a research binder). You can read the original blog post on research binders HERE.

I checked my file and I have never done research in the state of North Dakota so I will use that as an example. Initially, I would be looking for information about North Dakota generally and then I would add info on the individual counties that I will be researching in. What sort of information am I looking for?

1) I would want to put together a timeline from the time the state was formed until at least 1900. I would want info from before the state was formed if that is relevant. Was the state a territory first? Where there settlers well before statehood? Things like epidemics, natural disasters, participation in wars along with local skirmishes like Indian uprisings, and political upheavals would go on the timeline.

2) What types of industry and agriculture have they had over their history?

3) I would also want present day and historical maps, both political and topographical. Are there any known migration routes?

4) What records were held at the state level?

5) How is their legal system organized?

6) What major depositories exist and what records groups do they have?

Where would I look for this information?:

1) First stop, the State Historical Society of North Dakota. This is interesting because although it says historical society this is the government state archives. This web site also covers the North Dakota State Museum.

2) Next stop, the North Dakota State University Archives.

3) The FamilySearch Catalog page for North Dakota (remember, I would also run this search for each individual county I was researching in).

4) The FamilySearch Wiki page. Sometimes these pages have some interesting factoids that will help you out.

5) RedBook, American State, County, and Town Sources and The Handybook for Genealogists are my two favorite books to obtain general state information and to start looking at county level things like when each county was formed and if the specific county had any records losses.

6) Don't discount the North Dakota Wikipedia page. It is great for an overview and you can glean all kinds of things that will lead you in other possible directions.

7) I own a current Rand McNally atlas as well as Ani-Map. I use these no matter what state I am working with. I would also reference the North Dakota Department of Transportation maps. I would do an internet search for "migration routes." There is a lot of great info out there to give you an idea of how people got to North Dakota. Whenever you are using a website, you need to check the author's sources. The Handybook (already mentioned) also has migrations routes listed and mapped out.

Even though I know nothing at all about North Dakota, I know where to look for the information I need. Once you understand the process, you can do this with any state or any county. All of the info found goes into your research binder. The next time you need it, it will be there and you won't have to do all of that work again. It took me about 5 minutes to find all of the above but I can assure you it would take me a lot longer than that to extract the info I needed and to get it into a form that is easy for me to access. All of it then needs to be copied and placed in the binder.

I still keep a physical research binder but many people do this on the computer using Microsoft's One Note or the freebie Evernote. I can certainly see the benefits of doing it this way, especially in the day and age of laptops, tablets, Kindles and smart phones. It is so much easy to take all of your stuff with you. I am still a dino though. I haven't committed completely to converting my stuff over to the electronic way of doing things though I have experimented a bit with it.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Few Followups

The first two are in regard to the Old Stories blog post.

Carrie comments:
"You didn't seem very upset that your ancestor was a deserter! If I found that I would not be very happy."

History is what it is. I am not the least bit upset about it. If you let things like that bother you, you probably shouldn't be doing family research because eventually you will find a murderer, an adulterer, or a deserter in your tree. I find it all very interesting. It makes me want to know more about John to maybe understand why he did what he did.

Don asks:
"How do you know that John McMichael didn't desert to fight for the Union side?"

I don't know for sure but it is the least likely explanation. There are no Union records in his name and they let him go in 1864 (before the war ended). The book that I referenced said that this situation was a pretty common occurrence (Confederates taking oaths of allegiance and then being released), but, anything is possible.

The next two are in regard to the Who Is This Guy blog post.

Connie asks:
"Have you discovered anything about Gazaway Sims yet?"

It has only been 3 days :) The person on did email me back and said he knew nothing at all. Someone on the Transitional Genealogists Forum mailing list found Gaz on New FamilySearch. I had missed it somehow so I have emails going out to those folks. I only found one marriage for Gaz. Gazaway W. Sims married Miss Ann B. Zachry on 20 Sep 1836 in Columbia County, Georgia. 1 This was actually helpful because Gaz's middle initial is clearly W. on this license/certificate which might explain where the name Watkins came from (Gazaway Sims Watkins Lewis). I do have Zachry/Zacharys in my file that were in Columbia County I don't have a tie between the Lewis' and the Zacharys. So, no, I don't have the answer yet but I haven't been completely idle either :)

Davis asks:
"Is it possible that John Lewis and Gazaway Sims were stepbrothers? Men often name their children after their brothers."

Sure, it is possible. I don't think it is probable though. The two men are less than a year apart in age. John was born in NC and Gazaway was born in GA. The persons on New FamilySearch have Gazaway's parents listed (still waiting to confirm sources) and it appears this couple was married early and stayed married until death. I always go with the most likely scenarios first, and then I widen my net as needed.

This one is in regard to the Location Specific Records blog post.

T. J. asks:
"Is this the sort of thing that you put in your Research Binder? I don't know how else you could remember all of this. Right now I am only doing research in Louisiana. I have only been able to get back to my great grandparents so I haven't had to look at another state yet. I don't even know if I am missing stuff in Louisiana."

YES! You are in the perfect position to get your research binder off to a good start by doing a thorough section for Louisiana. When you go on to the next state you will have an idea of what all you will need to include. You want to cover all of the types of records like births, marriages, death, church, probate, tax, voter records, court, etc. I would also include information on specific counties as well. Add the counties as you do research in them. You need to know things like when the county was formed from which parent counties and if there are any records losses due to fire, flood or theft. Maybe I will do another post on research binders detailing WHERE you can look to get all of the information you need.

1 Columbia County, Georgia Marriage Book B: 74, Gazaway W. Sims-Miss Ann B. Zachry, 1836.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Old Stories

Several times in the blog I have said that old family stories that are handed down aren't always the whole truth. What I neglected to say is that you should be writing down all of the stories you hear exactly as they are told so that these stories aren't lost. True or not they are still part of your family history. These old stories, even if they are greatly embellished, usually hold clues so they are valuable to the researcher.

Here is one from my family.

"John Clay McMichael walked from a POW camp in Northern Virginia back home to Alabama. His family thought he had died in the war. When John arrived at the first relative's house they sent runners to notify his wife." 1

John's daughter Caroline told this story to my cousin Mary in about 1950. Caroline died in 1952 at age 100. This is one of those stories (true or not) that could have easily been lost.

I can confirm John's Confederate service. Unfortunately, his service record paints an unpleasant picture. He enlisted in Company B, 3rd Battalion, Alabama Volunteers on 07 Apr 1862 in Clay Hill, Pike County, Alabama. He is listed as present in Jan-Feb 1863, Mar-Apr 1863, May-Jun 1863 and Jul-Aug 1863. We next pick John up on the Jul-Aug 1864 muster roll for Company A, 60th Alabama Infantry (several units had combined, including John's original unit, into this new unit). He is listed as "absent without leave for 4 months" and he is charged as a rebel deserter. He was apparently later captured because he took an oath of allegiance (to the Union) and was given amnesty on 08 Dec 1864. 2 What happened after that is unclear but John most likely went home as described in the story though the circumstances of his return were different. According to Heidler and Heidler, "Many professed a willingness to swear an oath of allegiance to the Union and either to remain North or return home if the Union controlled the area where they lived." 3

There is a good chance that John's family didn't know he deserted so this story would be completely true in their eyes. I have BOTH versions recorded in my file.

So there are two points to be made. 1) Record all of the old family stories as told to preserve them and 2) Don't be surprised if the stories aren't exactly the complete truth.

1 Mary Taylor Guy (McComb, MS) oral interview by Michele Simmons Lewis, 04 June 2000.

2 Compiled service record, John C. McMichael, Pvt., Co. B, 3rd Battalion (Hilliard's Legion), Alabama Volunteers and Co. A, 60th Alabama Infantry, Carded records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780s-1917; Record Group 94.

3 David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, editors, Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2000), 982.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Who Is This Guy?

I am working on a little something. I have only started working on it so I don't know the answer to the question yet but the question is, "Who was Gazaway Sims?"

John Lewis (1801-1880) named one of his children Gazaway Sims Watkins Lewis (1859-1929). John had a habit of given his children long names so there isn't anything unusual about the name on the surface, however, when I started looking at the census records for John and his family I found something.

In 1840 (19 years before John's son was born), John was living next door to a man named Gazaway Sims.1 The two men seem to be about the same age. Interesting. In 1850 we find the two men still living near each other.2 John is listed as being born in NC and Gaz is listed as being born in GA. I was really hoping that there was a NC tie between the two men but right now it doesn't look like it is going to go in that direction. When we look at the 1860 census, the two men are living next to each other and now little Gaz has been born.3 I don't see Gazaway Sims in the 1870.

There is obviously a tie between the two men. This is a good example of collateral genealogy. I hope to find out more about John by researching Gazaway. Was Gazaway a relative of one of John's wives? (He had 4 so that will be a little bit of work). Or, was John related to Gazaway's wife? Maybe he was just a good friend and neighbor? Was he an arch enemy and John named his son Gazaway just to make him mad? Okay, that one is a little far fetched but you get the idea.

Only one person has Gazaway Sims in their family tree on That tree is private so I have emailed the owner to see what he might know. I have added Gazaway Sims to my database as an unrelated individual which means I can add information to him as I find it just like any other person in my file. If I ever do find a connection, I can easily link him to the family. I already have a ton of tasks lined up on Gaz's research calendar. I pretty much treat him just like anyone else in my file. I need to put together a skeleton of information to include when and where born, when and where married and to whom, when and where died and buried and then follow him through all of the available census records (some of that is already done) so that I can construct a timeline. After all that I will delve into land records, tax records, probate etc. It is no different than working on one of my direct line ancestors.

I am hoping to find something really cool but the possibility exists that I will never find any sort of connection. That is just the way it goes. Even if I don't find anything helpful for me, the time spent won't be for naught. There might be another researcher out there that has Gaz in their line and my research will be of value to them.

11840 U.S. census, Columbia County, Georgia, District 6, p. 300 [stamped], lines 8 and 9, Gazaway Sims and John Lewis households; National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M704, roll 39.

21850 U.S. census, Columbia County, Georgia, population schedule, p. 278 (stamped), dwelling 686, family 686, John Lewis household; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M432, roll 66; 1850 U.S. census, Columbia County, Georgia, population schedule, p. 276 (stamped), dwelling 655, family 655, Gaz B. Sims household; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M432, roll 66.

31860 U.S. census, Columbia County, Georgia, population schedule, Districts 1, 2, and 6, p. 34 [penned], dwellings 274 and 275, families 274 and 275, John Lewis and Gazaway Sims households; National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M653, roll 118.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Location Specific Records

It is hard for me to understand that while it is winter here where I live it is summer in Australia. Even within the United States the climate can be very different. When I lived in North Dakota, we had extreme winters but here in Georgia it is very mild. Another thing that is different in different places is what records are available. The types of records you will find in Wyoming are VERY different than you will find in Massachusetts. That is why it is so important to take the time to really investigate what is available in the area you are researching. I normally research in the deep south. If my research took a detour to New Hampshire the first thing I would do is look in my reference books to see what sorts of records were kept up there. New England had a completely different record keeping system. Many of their records were generated and held at the town level which isn't the case here in the south. There was also much more of an emphasis put on the documentation of vital records than down here. If I assumed that New Hampshire had all of the same record sets that Georgia has then I would miss a ton of information. One thing we have here in Georgia that many other places don't have are Colonial Records. This is a very important record set for Georgia. The types of land records you will find will be different in different places. You need a good basic reference book like the RedBook, American State, County, and Town Sources or The Handybook for Genealogists. Once you have a general idea of what might be available, you can then do more specific research at the state archives and in the Family History Library's Card Catalog.

P.S. We are still hoping for some snow here in Georgia

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, December 21, 2012

Case Study

I have been promising you a case study and here it is. I am trying to prove that Stephen Lee is the son of Revolutionary War Patriot Jesse Lee. Stephen is not named in Jesse's will so I have to prove it using circumstantial evidence.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Patron Ordinance Submission Sheet

In regard to the post I did on the The International Genealogical Index (IGI), several readers e-mailed me asking if I could post a Patron Ordinance Submission Sheet as an example. I said that I would try and get permission from the Family History Library. Well I got permission so here it is! You can click on the image to make it larger. I have blacked out the submitter's name and address as I do not know if she is still living. The person of interest is Carlos Lee (entry 1), who married Eliza Lee. The informant for the information, Leonard Slade, is now deceased. You can read the original post regarding why I consider him such a credible source. If you look at the top left of the form, the first number you see is '81. That tells you that this was submitted in 1981. At that time Leonard Slade was alive and well and in his genealogical hey day.

Used by permission. © 2012 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

A special thanks to the Family History Library for allowing me to use this image. I hope you will use the IGI. Many people write the IGI off but you can uncover some good info as long as you remember to get the original document if you are using the community indexed portion of the IGI or the Patron Ordinance Submission Sheet if you are using the community contributed portion.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Resources for Genealogy Books

You just can't have enough books. I am a sucker for books of every kind but especially for cookbooks, craft/sewing books and genealogy books. Since this is a genealogy blog I will concentrate on how to find genealogy books.

First the freebies:

WorldCat will tell you if a library has a book you are interested in. It will list the libraries in order based on the distance from your house.

Internet Archive
This is where you will find books that are out of copyright. You will find old genealogies, biographies and local genealogies.

Google Books
Another source of books that out of copyright. After you put in your search criteria and get the result back, click the link on the left that says, "Free Google E-Books" because there are also previews for books still in copyright that have links to purchase. This includes books that are out of print (but still under copyright) that you can find used.

Family History Books
This is a collection of resources from the Family History Library (FHL) and their partner organizations. You will find many manuscripts that were sent in to the FHL that were published nowhere else.

Now the paid ones. There are many genealogy books that you just won't find on Amazon. I am going to defer to my friend Cyndi Howell's of Cyndi's List. She has put together a comprehensive list of genealogy book publishers. Here is Cyndi's main book page. Click on the links under Catagory Index for a plethora of publishers on every topic imaginable.

And don't forget:

Ebay Genealogy Page
Amazon's USED books
Barnes and Noble's USED books

I have found some nice books on Ebay including two Lincoln County, Georgia history books, one of which is out of print. I have an extensive library of books here at the house but I also make full use of libraries. In case I am on any of your Christmas lists, get me a book.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Hiring a Professional

Believe it or not, even professional genealogists hire professional genealogists to help them. Many records are not online and are only available locally. If you live far away you will need to hire someone to get the record for you. There are posts all the time on the Association of Professional Genealogists mailing list for researchers looking for other researchers. There is no shame in asking for help! Here is a short list of reasons you might want to hire a professional:

  • Document retrieval at the local level
  • Translation of foreign documents
  • Someone to analyze your research problem and formulate a detailed research plan for you to follow
  • A fresh set of eyes to look at a brick wall
  • Help with lineage society paperwork
  • Help with organizing your research

Here is a good general guideline for hiring a professional researcher. I will tell you the best way to find a good one is via word of mouth. I needed someone to pull records for me at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and several researchers recommended the same person. I have now been using this person for probably close to a year now and I wholeheartedly recommend her to others. She does a fantastic job. I have mentioned the Transitional Genealogists Forum several times before and this is a great place to get recommendations. Anyone interested in learning how to transition from a beginner/hobbyist to an intermediate/advanced/professional level can benefit from this list. Another place is the Association of Professional Genealogist (APG) mailing list but you must be a member of the APG to sign up for it.

Three organizations that require professional genealogists to adhere to specific standards have directories of their members. You can search for a professional that way.

Association of Professional Genealogists Directory
Board for the Certification of Genealogists Directory
International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists Directory

Right now I am in need of a researcher to go to the Mississippi Archives in Jackson for me. I live two states away so it makes sense to hire someone.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, December 17, 2012

New Year's Resolutions for Genealogists

I am happy to report that I made it back from Florida in one piece though I brought back a couple of extra pounds with me. The kids had a hard time prying me out of the seat at the Rockin' Roller Coaster. What could be better than having Aerosmith blasting while doing 60 mph upside down? I could have ridden that one all day :)

There are only two weeks left in this year so it is time to think about New Year's Resolutions. Here are a few ideas for you:

1) I will cite my sources
Make sure that every time you add a piece of information to your file that you also add a source. If you get into this habit is will become second nature. You need to follow a style guide so that all of your sources are consistent.

2) I will digitize, transcribe, analyze and file each document as it comes in
Don't let stuff pile up. It is very frustrating when you have to spend days trying to catch up. Nothing is more daunting than a three inch stack of papers.

3) I will use research calendars
Take the time to write down every source you have checked, or plan to check, and the results of the search. It may seem like a lot of work but it will save you a lot of time and frustration in the long run.

4) I will make time for continuing education
One of the best ways to break through a brick wall is to learn about records sets and research techniques that you didn't know about before.

5) I will stay up-to-date with what is going on in the world of genealogy
Simple things like being on mailing lists and Facebook pages so that you know when major repositories are releasing new digital record sets.

6) I will join a genealogical society
Membership dues are reasonable and they have so many things to offer.

7) I will publish my findings
Learn to write up quality case studies and then send them in to your local, state or national journals for consideration. What is the point of all your hard work if not to share that information with others. You can also publish your work on the internet as long as your information is in the correct format and completely sourced. You need to be an example to others.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Public Service Announcement: I will be out of town this week. I will not be posting again until Monday, December 17, 2012. I will have very limited internet so if you send me an email you might not get a response until I get back. I will tell Mickey you said hello :)

Margaret asks:
"I am still not clear on how you record theories that you haven't proven."

I record my musings/theories in my notes. In Legacy Family tree you have a section for general notes (this is where I write a short biography on the person) and research notes (that is where I put my current thoughts and theories). The best way to show you is to copy and paste examples straight out of my file. These aren't the best examples since I had to chose very short theories because of space constraints. Most of my theories are several pages long (and those would be called case studies). Please forgive any spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. errors. The notes section is for my private use so I don't really proofread it all that well. When it comes time to write it up in a case study I promise you it looks better:

This is in my notes on Ellenor Lee (1769-1801), wife of James Simmons, Sr of South Carolina and the Mississippi Territory.

Researcher [name removed] has Ellenor Lee's parents as Zachariah Lee and Lucy Farmer who are already linked in my file. Researcher [name removed] has no real evidence to back it up but if this were true it would make sense because Zachariah was from the Robeson Co area of NC. Many families in my file did migrate from that area of NC to the Perry Co area of MS and this is a documented migration route [Patricia Edwards, a researcher in CA made this connection and wrote, Robeson Co, NC Connections with Marion Co, MS, May 1987, Robeson County Register] She found connections between the two areas via deed records and there have been more deeds found since the time of this article. The NC State Archives has been unable to locate a will or intestate records for Zachariah.

Here is one out of James Simmons' notes. This one has already been disproven and I just realized I hadn't updated it so I will do that.

Another theory that researcher [name removed] has been working on with some Harrell researchers: "Selah Harrell was married to Silas Simmons in SC. She was the widow of a Mr. Nettles. Mr. Nettles had two boys from a previous marriage, Joseph and James. Mr. Nettles died and Selah married Silas Simmons taking her two stepsons with her. There is speculation that the two boys took the last name of Simmons. If this is true, it would stand to reason that James Nettles might have become James Simmons and named his first son Silas after his stepfather. There are wills in St. John's Parish, Charleston Co, SC for this older Silas Simmons and for Selah's father Jacob Harrell, naming Selah as a Simmons [Silas' will signed 27 Feb 1787; Jacob's will signed 22 Jan 1787]"

Here is one from John J. Simmons (1831-1881)

Family Lore: Sarah Garraway's parents were opposed to their daughter marrying John J. Simmons because the Simmons' were non slave-holding people. Non slave-holding people were called "hill people" by slave holders. As a compromise, the Garraway family gave their daughter a slave to do her housework. This is supported by the 1860 census where John gave the value of his real estate as $50 but the value of his personal property as $1655 which would have included the value of any slaves in the household, however, John is not listed as a slave owner in the 1860 slave schedule. Sarah's father Solomon Garraway is listed in the 1860 slave schedule with 8 slaves. His personal estate is valued at $13,000. Unfortunately, there are no Perry County deeds from this time period because the courthouse burned in 1877.

Here is one from James Elexander Simmons (1870-1937)

J. E. Simmons was listed as the person that buried George Washington Hartfield in the Grantham Cemetery on 20 May 1924. J. E. is most certainly James Elexander Simmons. He went by J. E. on many documents. The Grantham cemetery was his family cemetery and he was also a deacon in the local church (Burnt Bridge Baptist Church).

Here is the original note I wrote on Jesse Lee, Sr. of Robeson County, NC (1735-abt 1810]. What is interesting about this note is that I ended up writing a case study and the case study is 12 pages long in Microsoft Word. I forgot to delete the note which is good because you can see how a short theory can turn into a full blown case study. I need to do some reformatting of the case study and then I will make it available for you to read. I am trying to prove that Stephen Lee was the son of Jesse Lee though Stephen was not named in Jesse's will.

In Jesse's will he only named a couple of his children and his grandchildren but he had given his daughter Obedience Sterling a particular slave that upon her death interest in that slave would revert to all of his children. Obedience subsequently dies and Jesse's remaining children deed the slave to Obedience's husband, William Sterling. On this deed is a full list of Jesse's sons and the husband's of Jesse's daughters that were still living. The one unidentified person on the list is Beedey Hester.

Jacob Pope [husband of Jesse's daughter Sarah]
Benjamin Lee [son]
Joseph Lee [son]
Stephen Lee [son]
Jesse Lee [son]
Willis Loe [husband of Jesse's daughter Keziah]
Benjamin Lee [grandson?]
John Drinkwater [grandson, son of Daniel Drinkwater and Jesse's daughter Penelope Lee]
Joshua Herring [husband of daughter]
John Barnes [husband of daughter]
Beedy Hester [unknown]

I use the notes section to write down my thoughts and theories. As I get more information, I start forming my case study which is a formal presentation of the evidence.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, December 8, 2012


Public Service Announcement: If you read yesterday's blog post you know that I was a little bit upset. Because of that I forgot to mention the importance of yesterday's date. Seventy-one years ago yesterday, the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy. More than 2400 Americans were killed and more than 1200 more were wounded. I am a nurse and I see death all the time but I can't even imagine what 2400+ deaths looks like. I hope that this country never forgets the sacrifices that have been made by our men and women in uniform. I salute all of the men and women in our armed forces, past and present.


ObitMessenger is a FREE service from You can sign up to receive links to obituaries posted in most of the current newspapers available. You can use this MAP to see if the newspapers you are interested are listed. They also cover newspapers in Canada, the UK, Australia, Bermuda and New Zealand. You can check for papers in these countries HERE. I have obit links sent to me from several Mississippi newspapers. They are sent once a day in a single email. When I see a familiar surname I click on the link and read the full obituary. I can't tell you how many relatives I have found this way.

Here is a screenshot of what the emails look like. You can click on the image for a little better view. When you see someone of interest all you have to do is click on their name for the full obituary.

Courtesy of, used with permission

This is a great way to keep a watch on the hometown newspapers. It is a lot easier and quicker than going to each newspaper's homepage to read the obits every day.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, December 7, 2012

Copyright Infringement

Well guess what, I am the victim of copyright infringement. Someone on Facebook copied part of one of my blog posts and passed it off as his own. I happen to be "friends" with this person so I saw the post. Actually, it was TWO posts. I commented on both stating that it was copied without permission so that those persons who had also read his posts and commented would see where the material came from. I then sent a private message to this person telling him to remove both posts. In the meantime, someone else sent me a private message stating that he had seen the Facebook post and knew it came straight from my blog. This person also told me that some of his posts have been copied or paraphrased by this person without permission. Another person, one who had commented on the offenders post saying how good it was, (thank you, I will take credit for that), messaged me stating that she knew of another instance where this person had copied material from someone else. Apparently this was not an isolated incident.

I sent a message to the Association of Professional Genealogists mailing list alerting them and one of the other bloggers on the list went to the Facebook page to take a look and found that one of his photographs had been copied from his blog. I have a feeling that this person received several angry e-mails yesterday.

If this person had just asked I would have given him permission to use it as long as he linked to my original blog post or gave me credit. I think that is a reasonable request. Every one of my pages has a copyright notice on the bottom and he had to have seen it. Not only was what this person did copyright infringement, it was just plain unethical and rude.

The person did apologize and he removed the posts but judging by the wording in his message he didn't really understand the big deal. I sent him my blog post on Copyright. Hopefully it will make things clearer for him.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis <-------- THIS WOULD BE A COPYRIGHT NOTICE

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I Am Moving up in the World

I finally took the plunge and bought a Kindle Fire HD. I will be using it mostly to play games and get on the internet when I am away from home. I might even read a book or two and watch a movie. JUST KIDDING! Of course I am going to use it for genealogy!

Before I download the Families App, I will be learning more about it. The Families App syncs with Legacy Family Tree which is the genealogy database program I use. Legacy Family Tree has a free webinar, Genealogy on the Go - the Families app for your Android, iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, which I will be watching today. I will be out of town for a week starting Sunday so I am looking forward to playing around with it when I am out on the road.

I will also be playing Temple Run and watching Upstairs Downstairs.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Don't Believe Everything You Read

I have told you many times don't believe everything you see but I wanted to show you an example:

Here is a snippet of a census page. This would be the 1920 in Purvis, Lamar County, Mississippi. You can click on the image to make it a little bigger.

This census page clearly says that Houston Simmons is the son of W. Isaac Simmons. This one actually gives you a clue that something is amiss. If Isaac and Mary were Houston's parents, they would have been age 53 and 55 respectfully. 55 is a bit old for a woman to give birth. There are many census pages that wouldn't have been so nice to give you such a clue.

In this case Houston is actually Isaac's nephew. Houston's mother died in childbirth and his father was not in a position to take care of a newborn. If I was seeing this for the first time I would have been inclined to think that Houston was a grandson. I would have used that as my working hypothesis and then I would have conducted a thorough search for additional evidence. I would have found that my hypothesis was incorrect but I would have uncovered the truth if my methods were sound. You should never use one piece of evidence in isolation of all of the other clues out there.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Handwriting From a Different Angle (Graphology)

Most genealogists have to become somewhat expert at reading old handwritings. There are many resources out there to help you learn how to read old scripts and I have talked about those before. Today I wanted to talk about looking at the handwriting from a different angle, graphology.

Graphology is the science of analyzing handwriting to uncover personality traits. I am sure you are familiar with this from crime shows and the evening news but did you know that genealogists can learn how to do this too? Would you like to know if your ancestor was an introvert, a liar, generous, or psychotic? It isn't as far fetched as you might think. Most courts recognize the legitimacy of what a handwriting expert can tell you. Another aspect of learning to analyze handwriting from this point of view is learning to recognize forgeries. This is very important when dealing with the handwriting and signatures of famous people. If you found a document that had George Washington's signature would you be able to analyze it properly to determine if it is authentic?

Handwriting analysis from this angle totally fascinates me. If you would like to learn a little more I have listed some good reference materials below:

Brainprints. Andrea McNichols' materials are my favorite. She makes the information easy to understand and she has a bit of a sense of humor to go along with it. She has several resources. I would definitely start with her basic book, Handwriting Analysis : Putting It to Work for You. After you read that book, then you can delve into some of Andrea's other stuff.

Sex, Lies, and Handwriting: A Top Expert Reveals the Secrets Hidden in Your Handwriting is another really good book. It too throws in a little humor making it a fun read.

Handwriting Analysis: The Complete Basic Book. I own this book too and I highly recommend it.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Handwriting Analysis. I own this book too (first edition). It isn't my favorite one but I mention it because of who the author is. Sheila Lowe has a computer program for analyzing handwriting. You input all of the data and it will spit out an analysis. Many businesses use this to screen employees. I have never used the program but Sheila's website has an online version you can play with. This online analysis looks at 50 aspects of the handwriting. It isn't as extensive as the actual computer program but it will give you an idea. The computer program isn't as good as a human and it is only as good as the data you plug in. Because the graphics on the online version are so small, you really do need to know the basics of the terminology used to be able to use this. You can take a look at Sheila Lowe and Associates. I am a bit skeptical about this but you might be interested. Sheila follows more of the "gestalt" philosophy of graphology. I tend to lean more toward the "trait-stroke" philosophy (what you will find in Andrea McNichol's book).

In your reading you will come across these two philosophies of handwriting analysis, gestalt and trait-stroke. I am throwing these terms out there so you will be watching for them. You need to be familiar with BOTH to be able to analyze handwriting fully.

Being able to "read" handwriting has other advantages. When your daughter brings home a boy for you to meet all you have to do is get a handwriting sample from him and you will know whether or not you need to be looking for the shotgun.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, December 3, 2012

Questions About Inventories, Heraldry and Letters Behind SSNs.

Public Service Announcement: Don't forget to catch Mary Hill's FREE webinar, The Big 4 U.S. Record Sources. It will remain free until 10 Dec 2012. Here is the description, "Research in the United States depends upon census, vital, land, and probate records, the bread and butter of American research. Get an overview of each type of record. Learn where to find them and how to use them effectively in your research.". Please take advantage of all the great free teaching that is out there.

Question from Mel:
"I have my 3rd great-grandfather's estate papers (some of them). I have the inventory of his estate. I am not sure what I am supposed to be looking for here. Does this inventory tell me something that I am not seeing? It is just a list of his property and how much each item is worth."

The inventory will give you a general idea of of the person's wealth and possibly tell you what his trade was based on what items he owned. I found an excellent article about inventories by Patricia Law Hatcher,, CG, FASG, Probate Inventories: A Window to Your Ancestor’s World, that you might want to read.

Harold asks:
"My mother has a coat of arms for her family. How do I know if it is real?"

Heraldry (the study of coats of arms) is a very complex subject. To get you started on your quest to learn more, take a look at the FamilySearch's list of Heraldry articles.

If you mother paid a company to research her family and produce a coat of arms I can pretty much tell you that it is completely bogus. There are many companies out there that will tell you they will find your coat of arms if you tell them your surname. I went to such a website just now and plugged in my maiden name of Simmons. It gave me a nice coat of arms and then they gave me the opportunity to order all kinds of things with the crest on it. BOGUS!!! Different countries have different rules but in general a coat of arms was awarded to an individual, not to a family.

Someone on the Transitional Genealogists Forum (TGF) mailing list asked what the letter "A" behind a social security number meant.

And someone else on the list gave the ANSWER. I thought you might like to know about this too since this was new information to me.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Old Stuff

I was born in Germany and I love all things German. From time to time I troll Ebay looking for old German books. I wanted to show you a couple of things I picked up.

The first is a primer for writing old German script (Sütterlin) dated 1901. My mother was born in 1934 and she was one of the last to learn this in school before the English style of writing was adopted.

The second is a cookbook dated 1896. The special thing about this cookbook is that it was loaded with handwritten recipes on scraps of paper, newspaper clippings and personal notes written throughout the book.

The reason I am telling you all of this is to tell you that you can find many things of genealogical importance on eBay. You will find old documents, letters and family Bibles. I certainly can't buy everything I find on eBay but I always hope that these treasures end up in the hands of genealogists that will realize their importance and take care of them accordingly. Estate sales and flea markets also hold many of these treasures. I was at a flea market once when I found a box of personal correspondence from the the early 1900s. I almost felt intrusive reading these personal letters but then I thought who else would preserve them? It really made me sad to know that these letters had been relegated to a flea market. I encourage you to take a look at eBay and the like once in a while to see what you can save.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Reader's Brick Wall

Here is a real life brick wall for you to work on sent to me by Charlie. I have been helping Charlie behind the scenes but I would love for you to take a look and see what suggestions you might offer him. The more people that look at a problem the quicker it will get solved.

"For 36 years I have searched for the parents of William A. Purvis born between 1824-1827 in NC or SC and died between Sept 1899 and May 1900 without any success or possibilities. I'm at a loss because I just don't have a clue where to go next. I feel that I am an excellent researcher but the lack of any clue to my great great grandfather's parents is putting a cloud over my head about my capabilities. Would you please review these 3 articles and offer up some suggestions."

Here are the 3 articles/blog posts that Charlie is talking about. I LOVE Charlie's timeline! It is an excellent example.
Blog Post 1
Blog Post 2
Blog Post 3

You can email Charlie HERE. Charlie will keep me up-to-date with any breakthroughs and then I will keep you updated.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, November 30, 2012

Today is My Birthday! (How to do Cool Searches Using Your Genealogy Program)

I thought it would be fun to see how many people in my file share my birthday. I am only listing those that are deceased. There are three more that are living.

Paul Wade Harden, 30 Nov 1896 - 28 Jul 1964
Lenard L. Lee, 30 Nov 1888 - 25 Sep 1925
John Wesley Morris, 30 Nov 1916 - 06 Aug 1983
John Judson Perry, 30 Nov 1858 - 24 Jun 1927. This is my 2nd great-grandfather.
Benjamin Rawls, 30 Nov 1800 - 09 Jun 1882
Serena Seal, 30 Nov 1881 - 02 Jan 1976

One of the nifty things about genealogy database programs is their search feature. I use Legacy and its search capabilities are very powerful. For example, I can do searches for any male that was living and the right age to have served in the Civil War. This makes it easy when I am using a Civil War index for compiled service records or pensions. I can find everyone that died in a specific county which is helpful if I am looking at a cemetery book. These are examples of very simple searches but I can also do very complex ones. It is actually quite fun. How about something like this:

Everyone that has the surname Simmons
And was born in Mississippi
Or was born in Texas
And was born before 1850
And was married in Lamar County
Or was married in Forrest County
And whose spouse was named Mary

I could keep adding to the search criteria with as many and/or that I want. I can also do generic built in searches looking for any missing information or missing sources. Legacy also has a nifty built in search that will tell you everyone that should have been alive during any census year and where they should be. It will give you a probability rating. For example, I can tell it to make a list of everyone that should be in Marion County, Mississippi for the 1870 census. The program is so smart it will exclude everyone that you have already recorded an 1870 census event for. You can tell it to use an average lifespan of 80 years (or whatever) and then it will pick up people that you don't have dates for based on the dates of the parents or children.

I am just happy that I am not doing a search for everyone who died on the same day as I did.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, November 29, 2012

County Clerk, Not a Fun Job

When you look at deed books and will books did you know that you are not looking at the originals? The county clerk hand copied the deeds and wills into those books. The originals were kept by the persons involved. When you look at a will you will see the word seal with a squiggly line around it next to the the name of the person that signed. On the original that would have been a wax seal. You probably won't see an original deed unless one has been passed down in your family but you might see an original will if you are doing probate research. The original will was normally brought to the first hearing. If it was retained by the court then you might find it in the probate "loose papers" if your county kept the records in books. If your county keep all of the probate together for a single person in a box/drawer/file then you might find it in there. Every time I am looking at an official court documents whether it be wills, deeds, marriages, or court minutes, I can't help but feel sorry for the poor clerk who had to do all of that writing. I also look at the handwriting in awe when you have a clerk that wrote using Copperplate or Spencerian Script. I have visions of the person really taking pride in their work.

Here is an example of Spencerian Script. If you are interested in learning HOW to write this way then take a look at Spencerian Penmanship. My daughter Kaitlyn used this program and has beautiful handwriting.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An Idea For Christmas

One of the coolest things you can give a person for Christmas is a professionally done pedigree chart. Since you have all of your relatives in your file already, it is easy to use each one of them as a starting person for their own chart so that it is customized just for them.

The company I like is Family Chartmasters. Legacy happens to work with this company so I can design charts and order right through my genealogy program but this company will also do charts using your pedigree file upload and your specifications.

Janet Hovorka of Family Chartmasters has a FREE webinar showing you what all they can do. This webinar was made for Legacy users but they can do all of this using your GEDCOM upload. Take a look at Further Your Research and Unify Your Family Reunion with Beautiful Genealogy Charts

You can find other gift ideas in Thomas MacEntee"s FREE webinar 10 Ideas for Great Gifts Using Your Family Photos.

Giving gifts like this just might spark an interest in relatives who tend to scoff at your obsession.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Evaluating Evidence Part 2 - Who, Why and When

Finding the evidence is only the first step, you must also EVALUATE that evidence before you can decide how much weight you place on its validity. You need to answer the following questions:

1) WHO created the record and WHO was the informant for the record?
When you look at a county marriage record the person that created it was the county clerk. Take a look at the other marriage records this same clerk entered. Does it look like he was being careful in his job? How neat is the handwriting? Does it look like he recorded the information accurately or do you find mistakes in the dates or spelling errors? A sloppy clerk who didn't care much for his job could easily make mistakes in recording the information given to him. The bride and groom are the informants. You would think that they would know their own facts but is there a reason for them to lie about their names or birth dates?

You can easily do this same analysis on a census records. Does it look like the enumerator was being careful? Did he put the place of birth for the first person on the page and that person's parents as Georgia and then ditto all the way down the page in all three columns? Is it possible he took a short cut without asking the people where they and their parents were born? Many times being an enumerator was a temp job for someone out of work. It was also a short term job and maybe the person didn't care how well he did it. When you look some of the census pages you immediately ask yourself, "just how educated was this person?" when you see just how sloppily it was done. And what about the informant? Was it the husband? The wife? The 10 year old son? A neighbor? Was there a reason for the informant to give false information? The 1940 census was the first one to indicate who the informant was which helps you with your evaluation of how accurate the information is.

Another example are death certificates. The dead person did not give the information. Who the informant was is very important in determining how valid the information is. Was that person in a position to know the deceased's full name, date of birth, place of birth, full names of both parents and where they were born? You need to make a note of who the informant and what was his/her relationship to the deceased.

2) WHY was the record created?
Why a record was created will determine what parts of the record are considered the most accurate. For example, if you are looking at a deed the land description is the focus of the document and probably spot on in accuracy. The date of death, place of death and cause of death on a death certificate should be accurate but everything else needs to be scrutinized. Draft cards were created to get all of the eligible men tallied up in case they were needed for service. The person's name and address are not suspect nor is his physical description but if the man wanted to go to war then he might have lied about his age so that he would be eligible. On the other hand, if he didn't want to go he might lie about his age the other way, lie or exaggerate a physical disability or lie about who all he was responsible for supporting. Knowing why a draft card was filled out is important.

3) WHEN was the record created?
Was it created at the time of the event or was it created much later? Bible records are an example of this. If the copyright date on the Bible is 1900 but there are births records that occurred in the 1700s how valid is that information? The information might be 100% correct but you have to be aware that someone wrote it down well after the events occurred. If the Bible has a copyright date of 1850 and the births listed are from 1852 through 1870 you would probably regard the birth information as pretty reliable.

Another simple example are the census records. There was an official census date for each census and the information taken was supposed to reflect what was true based on that date. If the census taker showed up well after that date everyone was trying to calculate how old everyone was 15 months ago and it is very easy to make mistakes.

You must look at each piece of evidence with a skeptical eye and ask the right questions.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, November 26, 2012

Evaluating Evidence Part 1 - Classifying the source, information and evidence

There are a few concepts you need to understand that will help you evaluate every source of information you use in your research. You evaluate sources in three different ways:

Is the source original or derivative?
When you are looking at tax rolls at the courthouse you are looking at original records. However, if you are looking at an alphabetized tax roll  that means someone recopied the original rolls and now you are looking at a derivative, even if it was compiled shortly after the event..  If you are looking at a book of tax roll abstracts that someone compiled then you are also looking at derivative records. If you are looking at a marriage book in a courthouse you are looking at original records. If you are looking at a marriage index on then you are looking at derivative records.

You use derivative records to lead you to the original. If I find my ancestor in a marriage index the index will give me the county and the date. I can then write to the courthouse in that county and get a copy of the original license/certificate. When at all possible, you want a copy of the original. Compilers are human and they make mistakes. You will never know if what the compiler recorded is what is actually on the document unless you see it yourself.

Is the information primary or secondary?
A death certificate is a primary source of a person's death. It was created at the time of death for the purpose of recording the death. The death certificate will also record the person's date of birth, however, the death certificate would only be a secondary source for the birth. A birth certificate would be a primary source for the birth information.  You could make the argument that the birth information is primary IF the informant was someone actually present at the birth (mother or father).

Is the evidence direct or indirect?
If a tombstone says born 04 Jan 1820 that is direct evidence of a birth date.  If you have a male being taxed in 1800 you have indirect evidence that he was born before 1780 (at least 21 years old).  The tax records do not record ages or birth dates.   If you have a 1900 census page where the relationships are recorded then you have direct evidence that a listed child is the son/daughter of the head of household. If you are looking at an 1850 census page where relationships are not recorded then you have indirect evidence that a child listed in the household is the son/daughter of the head of household. Indirect evidence is commonly known as circumstantial evidence.

Understanding the three ways you can classify a source will help you evaluate how much weight/confidence you give that source. Tomorrow you will learn what other questions you need to ask yourself when looking at a piece of evidence.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Children and Genealogy

If you didn't know already, we are career homeschoolers. I started homeschooling our children at birth. All of my children grew up with genealogy all around them since I started doing research before any of them were born. Libraries, microfilm and cemeteries were just a normal part of their life. This post is not only for other homeschoolers out there but for any researching parent who wants to involve their child in their research AND improve their English skills.

There is an English program based on genealogy called Write Your Roots. What I like about this program is that it focuses on writing stories about the family instead of just listing names and dates. If you read the FAQ on the above page you will see how the program works. This is a complete English program so if you are not a homeschooler you might want to modify it a bit to focus more on the stories themselves instead of the grammar/punctuation/capitalization/editing instruction that goes along with it. Or, if your child needs some extra practice with his/her English skills, you could use it as written as a great summer project. This program is recommended for 5th-12th graders though I think it is best for a middle schooler.

The finished product would be a great present for the grandparents or even aunts and uncles, especially if embellished with some photographs and key documents. This project would be perfect for the child that has shown some interest in your research.

An EXCELLENT companion to this program (or you could use this alone if the above program is just too much) is My Family Tree Workbook. This one only costs $3.95! This is a simple fill-in-the-blank workbook that records all of the information for the child through the great-grandparents. It allows you to record all kinds of interesting facts about each person, especially the child himself. All of my children used this workbook. It is an oldie but a goodie (copyright 1982). It is good for the older elementary or younger middle school age child.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, November 24, 2012

God and Horses

I wanted to mention a couple of other uses of genealogy programs that are kind of interesting and fun. There are quite a few breeders of AKC dogs and championship horses that keep track of all of their pedigree information in a genealogy database program. It makes sense to do this considering not only can they keep track of the actual lineage and dates but they can also keep track of all kinds of things using the events feature such as shot records, breeding records, shows attended and the results. I am sure breeders of other types of show animals also do this.

There are also people out there that have used a genealogy database program to detail all of the people/relationships mentioned in the Bible. Now that is a task! One thing that is very helpful for these people is that the program is really good at is keeping track of AKAs as many persons in the Bible were known by more than one name such as Sarai/Sarah. You can add information in the "Title Suffix" field to help distinguish persons with the same name such as Joshua son of Nun versus Joshua son of Josedech. You can also identify all of the people with titles using the "Title Prefix" field such as King Josiah. The multiple marriages and concubine relationships are also easy to keep track of. Dates are a challenge when studying the Bible but you can record dates as well as alternate dates with explanations. You can even record dates as written such as "in the third year of his reign" or you can document using the Hebrew calendar, "even upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar" [13 Adar].

Maybe when I have a couple of years to spare I will do a project like this.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, November 23, 2012

Question About Privacy

Ron asks:
"I am following the methodology you outlined in your post "Starting at the Very Beginning", and I've run into a bit of a dilemma. Given today's focus on privacy and issues with identity theft, I'm not sure how to properly document living people.

How much official documentation do you keep in your files for living people? For instance, do you have a copy of your own birth certificate, marriage license, etc., in your files? What about your children, spouse, siblings, etc,?

I have birth certificates, religious documents and other official documents for myself, my wife and our children. Should I include these items in my files, or should I cite personal knowledge and leave the official items of living people out of my files?"

Excellent question! I keep ALL documentation in my files on everyone, living or dead. However, I never share info on living people. Not only do I have documents for my immediate family but I have stuff on a lot of other people too. There are many records that are public record including marriage licenses and divorce decrees. All court documents are public record unless they concern a juvenile or they have been sealed. The state of Texas happens to be pretty liberal with birth certificates so I have a bunch of those. I have newspaper articles that mention living persons. I also have home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses for many people documented right in my database file. If I send anyone a portion of my file it will be "cleaned" of living persons. If I posted my file on the internet (which I don't do) my file would be cleaned of all living persons.

All of the genealogy database programs have the ability to export data excluding living persons. You can exclude them completely like they never even existed, you can export their names but no information about them, or you can export with all of the names changed to the word "Living." If you upload your file to a website like, the website itself can also clean your file but many people neglect to use this feature. goes so far to say that their upload process automatically cleans files of living persons when you upload but their system is far from foolproof because a lot of guessing goes on when the uploader is missing a lot of dates. I have seen information on living people in some of the trees on and it makes me cringe a bit.

As far as my paper files, they are in my house and no one has access to them, even the documents for dead people. I am more than happy to copy a document (on a dead person) for someone but I want to know who that person is and how they are connected. I also provide a complete citation as an encouragement to cite their sources properly.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Published in 1796, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons was the first cookbook published in America that was authored by an American citizen. It is a lot of fun to read these old cookbooks because they assumed that the reader knew how to cook and bake so the directions many times lacked instructions like measurements and how long to cook/bake something.

Here is the recipe for Potato Cake:
Boil potatoes, peal and pound them, add yolks of eggs, wine and melted butter work with flour into paste, shape as you please, bake and pour over these melted butter, wine and sugar.

I am not thinking this would come out too good if I were to try and make this.

Here is a REAL pound cake:
One pound sugar, one pound butter, one pound flour, one pound or ten eggs, rose water one gill, spices to your taste; watch it well, it will bake in a slow oven in 15 minutes.

How about a chicken pot pie? Pick and clean six chickens, (without scalding) take out their inwards and wash the birds while whole, then joint the birds, salt and pepper the pieces and inwards. Roll one inch thick paste No. 8 and cover a deep dish, and double at the rim or edge of the dish, put thereto a layer of chickens and a layer of thin slices of butter, till the chickens and one and a half pound butter are expended, which cover with a thick paste; bake one and a half hour.

Or if your oven be poor, parboil, the chickens with half a pound of butter, and put the pieces with the remaining one pound of butter, and half the gravy into the paste, and while boiling, thicken the residue of the gravy, and when the pie is drawn, open the crust, and add the gravy.

If you would like to read the entire text of this book you can see it HERE. If would like to see some sample pages of the original book that the Library of Congress has, then click HERE.

Did you notice that Amelia's last name is Simmons? That has always intrigued me because I too am a Simmons. There is very little known about Amelia and I haven't been able to make a connection but I think it would be very cool if she was one of my cousins.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Questions About Lodgers, Britney and Circumstantial Evidence

Question from Dave:
"Is there any difference between a boarder, a roomer or a lodger on a census record?"

As far as I am concerned, no. However, I think it would be interesting to look at a single district that was enumerated by a single enumerator and see if he/she used more than one term. You could then make the argument that these terms meant something different to that particular enumerator but I have always used these terms interchangeably.

Question from Lynda:
"In your example using Britney Spears, you said you shared 6th great-grandparents but you also said you would have to do 9 generations of research. Why the different number?"

Britney - 1
Her parents - 2
Her grandparents - 3
Her great-grandparents - 4
Her 2nd great-grandparents - 5
Her 3rd great-grandparents - 6
Her 4th great-grandparents - 7
Her 5th great-grandparents - 8
Her 6th great-grandparents - 9

Question from Bennie:
"What if you know you know who someone's parents were but you just can't prove it. I am going round and round with this. I want to say that these are the right parents but I don't want to put false information out there either."

There must be reasons WHY you think you have the right parents so what you do is you write it up as a case study to present your circumstantial evidence. Take a look at the top journals and you will see circumstantial cases all the time. Many times you will not have direct evidence to prove your case, especially the farther back in time you get. You build your case by doing an exhaustive search of all available records and you expand your search to the collateral family members. I really enjoy putting circumstantial cases together. The last one I did was 12 pages long and that isn't even a long one. I highly recommend that you become a member of a couple of genealogical societies that publish scholarly journals.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Britney Spears? Really?

My dear, sweet, Cousin Mary told me a couple of years back that she had heard a rumor that we were related to Britney Spears. I of course ignored this because that wasn't something I was overly eager to prove. My curiosity got the better of me and I decided to take a look. I did know that Britney was born in McComb, Mississippi which happens to be the very town where Cousin Mary lives so I was already scared.

The first thing I did was take a look on the internet to see if anyone had done Britney's tree. I found several websites with her family tree. I am only listing the one that doesn't have the compilers' names on it (the one listed below is a wiki type collaborative genealogy). None of the ones I saw had any sources listed so I didn't want to embarrass the compilers by pointing out that they have no evidence for their findings. I will also say that the ones I saw were verbatim identical to the one listed below so I am thinking there is some copying and pasting going on:

Familypedia - Britney Spears

Unfortunately, I saw a name in Britney's direct line that is very familiar to me, Jesse Lee, Sr. (#332 on her pedigree chart). This would be Britney's 6th great-grandfather. Jesse is also my 6th great-grandfather which would make Britney and I 7th cousins. Ouch!

I emailed everyone that I found on the internet that had Britney's tree with Jesse Lee, Sr. included. Not one could tell me where they got their info other than to say they copied it off of the internet.

What I would need to do now is research Britney's direct line from scratch so that I could source it correctly. Then I could add her to my tree and say that we are cousins. Researching nine generations is a lot of work and there is no guarantee that it would work out the way the unsourced tree says it does. Do I really care if I am related to Britney Spears? Not really so it just isn't worth my while. So why did I go through all of this then? I did it to show you two important points:

1) If there are no sources then it is fiction
Even though I looked at all of this unsourced information, I could never use it. The very most I can do with it is to use it as a clue to actually do the proper research.

2) You should always research from what you know backwards in time to what you don't know, one generation at a time and then let the chips fall where they may
A big mistake that beginning researchers make is to find a famous person that happens to have their surname, or the surname of one of their known ancestors, and try to connect them up. People love to do that with the passengers of the Mayflower because if you happen to be a descendant of one of the Mayflower passengers you are eligible for membership in the prestigious Mayflower Society. I have six surnames in common with the Mayflower and I don't even have lines up in New England! It would be foolish for me to try and work my way downward from those people hoping that I will find a connection. I used Britney Spears as an example just because I think it is funny.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Stuart Pecan

You should know by now that one of my favorite things to do is to prove or disprove family traditions. I have already told you about Daniel Boone and Will Purvis. I am also planning tell you about John Wesley Harden, Meriwether Lewis and Brittany Spears but today it is the “Stuart Pecan.”

I have a cousin (1st cousin, once removed to be exact), named Stuart S. Simmons. Stuart was born 09 Sep 1924 in Crossroads, Pearl County, Mississippi. 1 He died 12 Aug 1993 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 2 His wife, now also deceased, told me something about Stuart in 1998. She said:

“Stuart was born at Crossroads, MS which was a small sawmill town near Poplarville. Stuart's father, Lem, set blocks for a lumber company there. The doctor that delivered Stuart was old Dr. Stuart and that is who he was named after. This same doctor got tied in with Bass Pecan Company and this is who the "Stuart" Pecan is named after.” 3

I thought it might be kind of cool to have a cousin named after a nut so I decided to prove/disprove this bit of family history. I turned to the internet and the first thing I found was this:

The Stuart Pecan tree was originally discovered by Colonel Stuart in Mississippi, growing on a fence row, and immediately he was recognized as the father of modern pecan orchards.” 4
I also found this:
“There are more acres of Stuart pecan trees than any other cultivar, and it all began in Jackson County, MS. It was originated by J.R. Lassabe and named for Col. W.R. Stuart of Ocean Springs, MS.” 5
And this:
“Propagated about 1890 by J. Keller and Col. W. R. Stuart of Ocean Springs, MS under the name 'Stuart'.” 6

We already have a problem. The Stuart Pecan was cultivated by Col. W. R. Stuart of Ocean Springs in 1890. This was 34 years before Stuart Simmons was born. This man already has the title of Colonel in 1890 which means he was probably an older man. Let’s say he was 50. That would make him 84 at the time Stuart Simmons was born. That would be pretty old for a doctor to be delivering babies. The Colonel was from Jackson County. Pearl River County is a couple of counties over. If the Colonel was still in Jackson County it would be a bit odd for him to travel that far to deliver a baby.

So now I need to figure out who this Col. W. R. Stuart was, where he lived and when. It didn’t take me too long to find an obituary abstract:

April 19, 1894 Colonel W. R. STUART, Ocean Springs, Miss., buried "last Friday," as per recent notice in the NEW ORLEANS CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE. 7

Colonel W. R. Stuart died 30 years before Stuart Simmons was born. Oops. So let’s look at it from another angle. Was there a Doctor Stuart in Pearl River County in 1924? I searched the 1920 and the 1930 federal census records with no Doctor Stuart found. The fact that Stuart Simmons was even born in Crossroads in Pearl River County is suspect. Stuart’s parents were both in Lamar and Forrest counties their entire lives. Stuart’s obituary states he was a native of Lumberton which is in Lamar County.8 I checked both Lamar and Forrest Counties as well with no luck, however, Doctor Stuart could have easily been simply been listed as a farmer.

There is still plenty I could do to track down the elusive Doctor Stuart (if he exists) but suffice to say that Colonel W. R. Stuart of nut fame was, most likely, not a medical doctor and he was long dead before Stuart Simmons was born. Many old family tales have some basis in truth so my first guess would be that perhaps Dr. Stuart was Colonel Stuart's son or grandson but that isn't the case. I found this:

"Colonel Stuart was married to Elizabeth McCauley (1841-1925), a Mississippi native of North Carolina heritage. Mrs. Stuart had an invalid brother, Robert W. McCauley (1837-1912), who lived with them. She and Colonel Stuart had no children, but were very philanthropic people." 9
I have some feelers out and I will let you know if I discover "the rest of the story."

1 Marie Knight Simmons (Baton Rouge, LA), telephone interview by Michele Simmons Lewis, 1998.
2"Stuart S. Simmons [obituary]," The Advocate, 12 Aug 1993, p. 7D.
3 Marie Knight Simmons, interview, 1998.
4Ty Ty Nursery, "Stuart Pecan," (http://www. Tytyga. Com/stuart-pecan-p/stuart-pecan-tree,htm).
5 Bass Pecan Company, “Stuart Pecan Tree Container,” (
6 LJ Grauke, “Pecan Cultivators,“ (
7 Jonathan Kennon Thompson Smith, “Genealogical Abstracts From Reported Deaths, The Nashville Christian Advocate, 1894-1896”, (
8 "Stuart S. Simmons [obituary]," The Advocate, 12 Aug 1993, p. 7D.
9Ray L. Bellande, "Ocean Springs Archives," (

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis