Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Using Indexes (Or is it Indices?)

Question from Val:
Is it okay to use the indexes on Ancestry.com as a source or do you have to have the original document?

First things first, the plural of index is indexes OR indices. Both are considered correct English. The word indices is more commonly used in technical areas such as science and business but either is correct. Now to Val's question. We were just talking about this on the Transitional Genealogists mailing list. This is a mailing list for serious hobbyists wanting to kick their skills up a notch to a more professional level. It is a great mailing list and I learn new things all the time even though I have been doing this for over 20 years. If you are interested, you can sign up HERE.

The answer to the question is, it depends. If you are working on your direct line it would be a good idea to use the index only as a temporary source until you can request the original document. If this is a far off collateral line I wouldn't be as worried about it but I still think it is a good idea. The reason it is important to get the original is that indexes/indices are fraught with spelling and date errors. I use many of the marriage databases on Ancestry.com with the Mississippi Marriages, 1776-1935 being one of my favorites. There are no images attached to this particular database so I write to the individual counties to get a copy of the record.

Sometimes the database will record the date the marriage license was obtained and sometimes when the marriage was actually performed. How do you know unless you actually look at the document. Sometimes there are big mistakes with names like Sarah put in as Susan. Many times it is small errors like Whiddon put in as Whidden. In the grand scheme of things that is a minor point but you still want to be as accurate as possible.

A quick bunny trail. If you are looking at a document and your person of interest's name is misspelled, you record that misspelling in your file as an AKA. It is very important to note every different way a name is spelled even if it is different than what you "know" the spelling to be. Samuel Slade married Mrs. Mary Whidden on 27 December 1847 in Marion County, Mississippi. Her name was really Mrs. Mary Whiddon but I recorded the AKA of Mrs. Mary Whidden with the marriage record being the source. My source is listed as:

Marion County, Mississippi, Marriage Book C: 53, Samuel Slade-Mary Whidden, 1847.

Bunny trial #2. When you are looking at females, the titles of Miss and Mrs. are very helpful clues and they should be recorded in the AKA field along with the name. In the above example I can see that Mary was married before she married Samuel to a man named Whidden [Whiddon].

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Importance of Bios

Genealogy is more than just a collection of events and dates. I know many researchers whose only goal is to see how far back in time they can get their lines. They forget that everyone in their file is a real person that had a real life. You should be writing short biographies on everyone in your direct line. I also do bios for all the siblings of my direct line ancestors. It makes your research come alive when you put all of your "facts" in context. This is more important that focusing only on how far back you can get.

Here is a very basic example that I cut and pasted right out of my file. Let me know which one you like better.

Choice 1
James Simmons, Sr., was born 14 August 1764 in, most likely, South Carolina and died 10 January 1843 in Perry County, Mississippi [present day Forrest County]. He married Ellenor Lee about 1787 in South Carolina. Ellenor was born 16 November in, most likely, South Carolina and died 20 May 1801 in Washington County, Mississippi Territory [present day Forrest County].

Choice 2
We don't know where James was born only that two of his known children were born in South Carolina so we do know that he at least spent time in that state before coming to Mississippi. The earliest record of James in the Mississippi Territory is the 1803 Mississippi territorial tax roll where he is enumerated in Washington County; however, family tradition holds that James' wife Ellenor died in Mississippi and her date of death is recorded as 20 May 1801 in their son James' family Bible. The Mississippi Territory was opened to settlement in 1798 so we can assume that James left South Carolina for Mississippi between 1798 and 1801. There were a few settlers in the area before it was officially opened up but they were concentrated in the Natchez area along the Mississippi River and in the Lower Tombigbee northwest of Mobile. James' property was located in present day Forrest County which is between these two locations and not close to either.

Why would a family risk everything to move to this unknown and untamed land? By 1798, when the Alabama-Mississippi area was opened to settlement, much of the Upper South’s farmland had been completely exhausted due to poor farming practices. Settlers were also drawn to the area by unrealistic descriptions and promises making the new territory sound like some sort of Utopia. Settlers were made to believe they were on their way to a “new Garden of Eden.” The Simmons family made the journey and succeeded when many other families failed and turned back.

There was another James Simmons, Sr. in Mississippi during this early time but his family was in the Natchez area prior to Mississippi becoming a territory and is well documented. This James Simmons was much older and died about 1786. This James Simmons married Ursula Cleveland and they also had a son named James but James and Ursula Simmons’ son married Nancy Sullivan and migrated to Landry Parish, Louisiana about 1804. No familial connection was found but of interest is that this James (the elder) migrated from the Pee Dee area of South Carolina so a connection cannot be excluded.

In the 1803 Washington County territorial tax roll there is also an Elijah Simmons listed. It is unknown what his relationship might have been. It is unlikely he was a son but perhaps a brother or even James’ father (Elijah would have been at least 21 on the tax roll which would mean he was born when James was 18 years old or younger and wife Ellenor would have been 13 years old or younger). Elijah does not appear on the later Perry County records or in the 1820 federal census.

James is not found on the 1820 federal census in Perry County though he does appear on the 1820 Perry County tax rolls. It is assumed that James remarried after wife Ellenor died as he was only 36 years old. The 1830 and 1840 censuses also support that he had additional children with this unknown wife (wives).

1830 Federal Census, Perry County
James Simmons
1 free white male age 60 to under 70
2 free white females age 15 to under 20
2 slaves

1840 Federal Census, Perry County
James Simmons Sr.
1 free white male age 15 to under 20
1 free white male age 70 to under 80
2 free white females age 15 to under 20
1 slave

We get a glimpse of James’ financial standing and land ownership through the tax rolls [All county deeds prior to 1877 were lost in a fire]. James owned 320 acres of land and kept 2 slaves for most of his adult life. It is most likely that only a small portion of this land was cleared for farming. Most rural Mississippi farmers only farmed enough to sustain their own family. The remainder of his land would have been left in timber. James would have hunted and obtained building materials from the uncleared land.

It is assumed that younger son James Jr. received his father's land at his death as the tax records show the increase in his acreage. It is unknown why older son Silas didn't get at least part of the property. All wills/probate prior to 1877 are lost. James Simmons, Sr. was 78 years old at his death which was a good age. There are three possible burial locations for James and Ellenor; Old Augusta Cemetery [no longer exists], Old Enon Baptist Church Cemetery [no markers, fieldstones only], and the Garraway Family Cemetery. All three are in close proximity and James and Eleanor have ties to all three.

So which one tells you more about the person's life?

[Everything is sourced and footnoted but I excluded the references for brevity's sake and because it isn't easy to get a blog to footnote properly. If you have any questions about where I got something just ask]

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, July 29, 2012

To Upload or not Upload, That is the Question

First a little housekeeping. I finally finished the Essential Books page. Please take a look! I will be updating the My Favs page with more information about Legacy Family Tree and more of my fav web sites.

I want to go off on a bit of a bunny trail from yesterday's blog about privacy issues. I have to warn you, this is one of my pet peeves and I get a little huffy about it sometimes.

I do not have my private file on the internet. I currently have almost 9000 linked individuals which means a lot of research. I had my file on Rootsweb many years ago but I found that people would copy and paste things from my file to their file without bothering to document where they got the information. In my notes I have all of my working theories (and they are labeled as theories). People would transfer this information as fact (again, not bothering to say where the information came from). I finally took my file down.

I am more than happy to share my information one-on-one with people so that I can explain my sources and encourage them to check behind me. I will send people copies of the documents I have so that they can analyze them themselves. I contact fellow researchers via message boards and mailing lists all the time. I have found that when I have the opportunity to explain my research it is much more likely the person will understand the importance of noting the sources.

Please take whatever you see on these GEDCOM websites with a grain of salt and contact the contributor to ask them WHERE they got the information. Here is a great example of this. I have my grandfather's Bible. In it he put, "Silas Simmons married Indian girl Squerloque Miss" If you were to do a search on Ancestry.com you will see that many people have that Silas Simmons married a woman named Squerloque. That came directly from my file years ago when it was on Rootsweb. Squerloque is a PLACE not a person's name (a misspelled place but a place all the same). The woman's name was Janet. It says Squerloque Miss[issippi] in the Bible. It ended up in someone's file as her name being Squerloque and then someone else copied,and then it got copied again and again. I stopped trying to get this corrected because I can't even contact people fast enough to explain the error before someone else copies it again.

I might put my file back up on the internet one day but if I do, it will be on my own website where I have a little more control. I will have disclaimers and information on the site that I can't put on the GEDCOM sites.

Bunny trail of a bunny trail...
Please remember this one very important rule of citing your sources. Let's say you find a marriage date for one of your ancestors on one of these GEDCOM sites like Ancestry.com or Rootsweb. Let's also say that the contributor does cite his source and that source is a county marriage license. If you add this marriage information to your file your source is the GEDCOM file NOT the marriage license! Unless you see the marriage license yourself, you can't (or at least shouldn't) use that as your source. The right course of action is to add the information with the GEDCOM as your source temporarily while you contact the contributor asking to see a copy of the license or write off for a copy of the license yourself. Once you have the license in your hand, you change your source to the marriage license itself.

I will get off of my soapbox now...

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, July 28, 2012


First a quick revisit to Metes and Bounds (Or, Just Shoot Me Now). I just received the June issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. There is a GREAT article focusing on Metes and Bounds by Karen Mauer Green, CG and Birdie Monk Holsclaw, CG, entitled "'Beginning at a Black Oak...': Hachenberger Evidence from a Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Neighborhood Reconstruction." The authors evaluated 96 deeds and plotted the parcels showing the boundary changes over time. If you have any interest in Metes and Bounds I highly recommend you get a copy.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming....
On July 20th I told you the story of Henrietta Louise Holder. This is a true story that comes right from my personal genealogy file. Henrietta was my great, great aunt. The names were changed at the request of the direct descendants of Henrietta and I respected their request. I thought a follow-up blog about privacy issues in genealogy would be appropriate. This is a slight revision from a article I wrote for the McDuffie Mirror in 2004.

All living persons have the right to privacy. Do not publish personal information about them without their knowledge and consent. If you are posting your family tree on the internet, you need to remember this or you might find yourself in civil court. All of the top genealogy database programs can "clean" your file of all information concerning persons still living. In addition, the top internet sites that accept GEDCOM files also have this capability. Your Aunt Eloise might not appreciate her birth date displayed for millions to see. If you do not have a confirmed death date, assume the person is still alive until 110 years have passed since his/her birth.

The deeper you dig in your family, the more skeletons you will find. You need to be careful when you publish sensitive information about an individual even if that individual is dead. In the case of Henrietta, the direct descendants provided me with information that I could not have gotten on my own (Henrietta's medical file from the state hospital). Because I couldn't have gotten that information myself, I felt I had the responsibility of respecting the family's wishes that it be kept private. I was able to use Henrietta's story as a teaching tool without breaching this trust.

Some of the things that you will come across will be adultery, incest, children born out of wedlock, criminal activity etc. You can document all of these things and publish them but you must be sensitive and careful with your wording out of respect for the descendants. The best way to do this is to remain objective.

If you are documenting a crime, include supporting documentation. Newspaper clippings and trial transcripts are good to have. Your audience can read the information provided and draw their own opinions and conclusions. You can include a short synopsis of the main points:

  • 12 June 1912 - John Doe arrested for the murder of Jane Doe [Doesville Chronicle, 13 June 1912, page 1, column 3]
  • 14 June 1912 - John Doe is indicted by the Grand Jury [Doesville Chronicle, 15 June 1912, page 2, column 1]
  • 22 August 2012 - John Doe's trial begins [Doesville Chronicle, 23 August 1912, page 2, column 2]
  • 24 August 2012 - John Doe found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to 20 years [Doesville Chronicle, 25 August 1912, page 1, column 1]

If you are dealing with things like adultery or children born out of wedlock you need to be even more careful. Having the information in your own private notes is one thing, plastering it on the internet is another. If the information is crucial in establishing a certain family line then go ahead and document it. Just make sure you remain objective and document where you got the information. Here is an example copied and pasted directly from my file:

In 1850, Matilda Simmons is 9 years old and living with her parents Silas and Janet. By 1860, Silas and Janet had both died and Matilda is now living with her sister Elizabeth and brother-in-law Henry Dearman under her maiden name of Simmons. In 1870, she is now 30 years old and living with her brother James under her maiden name. A three old named Mary Simmons is enumerated under Matilda and is assumed to be Matilda's daughter. In 1880 she is living as a boarder in the Batson family household. Matilda is listed as single and under her maiden name. Mary Jane remains with her and is now 13 years old. In 1900 Matilda is living with William Perkins and his second wife Ada. Mary Jane was William's first wife and had died. Matilda is listed as William's mother-in-law, single and under her maiden name. Matilda died in 1908 and is buried under her maiden name.

    Possible explanations

  • Matilda had Mary Jane out of wedlock, circumstances unknown [Probable]
  • Matilda was raising the child of one of her brothers (Unlikely. All of her brothers were alive, married, and were raising their known children in their own households during this time period]
  • Matilda had adopted a child from an unknown family under unknown circumstances [Unlikely. It would have been very unusual for an unmarried woman to adopt a child during this time period]
  • Matilda married a man with the same surname of Simmons. [Unlikely, This would explain why Matilda and Mary Jane were listed under the name Simmons but it wouldn't explain why Matilda was listed as single on the 1880 and 1900 censuses]

I was able to present the facts in an objective way which allows the reader to analyze the information and draw their own conclusions. Everything is sourced and footnoted in my file. I didn't include the source information for brevity's sake but it is available.

Tomorrow I will post a bit of a bunny trail off of this privacy post.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, July 27, 2012

Research Binders

First, a question from Don:
I recently found a few of my relatives listed on Find a Grave by a cemetery walker with only birth and deaths. I would like for her to add parents and siblings, but letters to her asking her to do this or transfer listing to me have gone unanswered. What is the best way to handle this?

You can send a message to edit@findagrave.com. Please be patient. The people that do the edits have hundreds to do. [Thank you to Leslie who had a sensitive situation and asked how to contact Find-A-Grave in a more private manner. I have edited the blog post to show this better way of contacting Find-A-Grave].

I do a lot of research in the state of Mississippi as most of my direct lines are there. Many Mississippi researchers know who I am and I get a lot of questions asking about what records are available in specific counties and where to find them. I can't possible have every county in Mississippi memorized so I make use of a research binder where I keep all of that information and a lot more.

Many years ago I read a a research guidance article put out by the Family History Library on "locality files." I tried looking for that original article on FamilySearch for you but I was unable to find it. The idea of locality files was to have a file folder for every country, every state and every county that you do research in. In those files you could keep things like names, addresses and phone numbers of any repositories, libraries and the courthouse. You would put a short history of the location including a timeline and important dates. You could include a list of all the records that are available for that location. I learned very quickly just how important these files were. After years of having a file cabinet drawer dedicated to these locality files I switched over to a more convenient "research binder." It has the same information but in an easier to use format. Here are two great videos on research binders:

  • Research Binder
    This is an excellent video that is part of the mentoring series designed for those persons interested in accreditation with the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen). The speaker is Tristan L. Tolman, AG, a well-known accredited genealogist.
  • How To Create A Research Binder
    This video isn't the best quality but the info is good. Elyse Doerflinger is such a young girl to have such great genealogy advice! I like this video because she gives specific examples of the types of things she includes in her binder.

I consider this essential. It takes some time to put a quality research binder together but along the way you learn so much and in the end it will save you a lot of time and frustration. Once put together it is easy to update and as you find interesting tidbits you just add them in. For example, I just added a page that details all of the epidemics in the United States and where the concentration of deaths were. When you see several members of a family die very close together it makes sense to check to see if there was some sort of regional epidemic.

If you are more of a computer geek than I am you could easily do this in Microsoft OneNote. OneNote is already set up as a "notebook" and the format lends itself perfectly for this project. One of the things on my to-do list is to get my research binder in OneNote. I am not sure I will completely give up my paper version but maybe one day.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mortality Schedules

Question from Pat R.
"Could you tell me if there is a way to find cause of death for Elisha Clyde Akins who died in Tuskegee Al 1875 or anyone who died in 1800. I have seen a Mortality site once."

The state of Alabama did not begin filing death certificates until 1908. If you are lucky enough to have an ancestor that died in a census year from 1850 to 1880 then you are in luck. The death had to have occurred between:

  • June 1, 1849 - May 31, 1850 [1850 Mortality Schedule]
  • June 1, 1859 - May 31, 1860 [1860 Mortality Schedule]
  • June 1, 1869 - May 31, 1870 [1870 Mortality Schedule]
  • June 1, 1879 - May 31, 1880 [1880 Mortality Schedule]

However, census takers make mistakes so if your death date is even remotely close to the parameters then it is a good idea to check the mortality schedule.

Ancestry.com does not have the mortality schedules for Alabama. The 1850 Alabama is available at Family Search . You can also browse the 1850 images by Alabama Counties.

The 1860, 1870, 1880 Alabama mortality schedules are available at the Alabama Department of Archives and History and the National Archives [NARA]. Mortality schedules are great. Here are some entries from my own file:

  • 1850 Abbeville County, South Carolina
    Nancy Martin, age 75, female, widowed, born in South Carolina, died in August, farmer, cause of death - old age
  • 1850 Madison County, Georgia
    Nancy Seegar, age 48, female, white, free, married, born in Georgia, died in January, cause of death - Cronic [?]
  • 1850 Fayette County, Georgia
    Unity Hunt, age 69, female, married, born in Virginia, died in February, farmer, cause of death - typhoid fever, ill for 21 days
  • 1860 Pickens County, South Carolina
    Rebecca Williams, age 78, female, white, free, widowed, born in Maryland, died in July, cause of death - dyspepsia, ill for 5 months
  • 1870 Fayette County, Georgia
    Geo. S. Patton, age 9 months, white, born in Georgia, died in September, cause of death - whooping cough
  • 1880 Perry County, Mississippi
    Elizabeth Garraway, age 36, female, white, widowed, born in Mississippi, housewife, died in November, cause of death - consumption
  • 1880 Columbia County, Georgia
    John Lewis, age 81, male, white, widowed, born in Georgia, both parents born in Georgia, farmer, died in May, cause of death - paralysis, attending physician J. Maddox
  • 1880 Edgefield County, South Carolina
    Mary V. Wood, age 14, female, white, single, born in South Carolina, both parents born in South Carolina, in school, died in July, cause of death - typhoid fever, physician Madison Roberts

When reading mortality schedules and death certificates, you will come across many medical diagnoses that you have never heard of. The terms they used back then isn't necessarily what we use now. I highly recommend the book, A Medical Miscellany for Genealogists. It is a dictionary of archaic medical terms.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Exhaustive Searches

Question from Pat R.:
I haven't been able to find where my great grandfather James Fernandez Adams was buried. Any suggestions?

I happen to be one of those researchers who feels that the job isn't complete until I find a person's final resting place so Pat's question made me want to do a little searching of my own. Unfortunately no matter how much you look, sometimes the answer just isn't there. An exhaustive search is complete when you have checked every source that you know to exist. Here is the background info and negative searches that Pat provided:

  • James died 20 May 1920 in Wilson County, North Carolina per his death certificate.
  • His body was transported to Atlanta, Georgia for a home service and then the body was removed to Alabama [exact location is not noted] per his obituary in the Atlanta Constitution.
  • The funeral home no longer exists and it is unknown what happened to the records.
  • James' first wife died in 1909 and is buried in the Rosemere Cemetery in Opelika, Alabama. There is no marker in this cemetery for James.
  • James' second wife died in 1944 and is buried in the Mount Gilead Methodist Church Cemetery in Fulton County, Georgia. There is no marker in this cemetery for James.
  • James' parents and his grandfather are buried in Old Salem Baptist Church Cemetery in Opelika, Alabama. There is no marker in this cemetery for James
  • There are no church burial records for Old Salem.

Additional steps that I took:

  • There are several people with files posted on Ancestry.com, Rootsweb, and New FamilySearch that have death and burial information for James. [New FamilySearch is only accessible if you are LDS or have been granted a beta account]. I contacted all of these people but no one was able to give me an exact burial location with a source for that information. The locations they listed included Old Salem Baptist Church in Lee County, Alabama and in the town of Opelika in Lee County with no cemetery named.
  • First impressions are that James is buried in either Old Salem or Rosemere, with Old Salem being the most likely. Since he remarried after his first wife's death, it is more likely he is buried with his parents and not with his first wife [burial with his first wife certainly is possible but less likely].
  • Checked USGenWeb [and the internet in general] for possible cemetery surveys for Rosemere and Old Salem Baptist Church Cemeteries in Lee County. Even though these cemeteries are on Find-A-Grave that doesn't mean that these surveys are complete. Also, older surveys sometimes list markers that have been lost. A survey of Old Salem shows a marker with the surname Adams but the first name is unreadable. This survey was done in 2006. When the list of Adams names were compared to what is on Find-A-Grave, there is no marker corresponding to the Adams marker at USGenWeb. A memorial was added to Find-A-Grave along with a photo request and detailed information for the volunteer. A survey of Rosemere was not found.[No published cemetery book for Lee County was found. Other grave websites checked, BillionGraves and Interment.net].
  • An internet search showed that Rosemere is actually owned by the city of Opelika. An email was sent to the Public Works Department [PWD]. Sexton records do exist for Rosemere but the PWD states there is no record of James being buried there.

So now what? I consider the above to be an exhaustive search. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out like Pat had hoped. I advised Pat to document in her notes that she believes James to be buried at Old Salem Baptist Church Cemetery in Lee County, Alabama along with an explanation of why she thinks that. I also advised her to make a memorial on Find-A-Grave for James stating in the bio section that he is most likely buried there in an unmarked grave along with the research to back it up. Other researchers will then have the opportunity to contact her if they have additional information. We are still waiting on the photo of the unknown Adams grave in Old Salem. We have our fingers crossed that whoever goes out to take the photo finds the marker and is able to read the inscription with the use of some flour.

There is a bigger point to be made here. Many resources were checked. How do you keep track of what you have done? What were your positive results and your negative ones? If you don't record this information in some way, will you remember what you did three years from now? I will be doing a follow-up blog on the importance of research calendars/logs to keep an accurate record of all of your research efforts.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Couple of Tips for Working with the Early Censuses

Are you tired of doing the math when looking at the 1790-1840 censuses? All you need to do is print out blank census forms for the 1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830 and 1840. Turn them sideways and then write in the years of birth. For example, on the 1800 in the age blanks you will have this:
Under age 10, 1791-1800
Age 10 to under 16, 1785-1790
Age 16 to under 26, 1775-1784
Age 26 to under 45, 1756-1774
Age 45 and over, before 1756

You can get free blank forms at FamilySearch or at Heritage Quest. When you are looking at one of these censuses, you can see what the date of birth range is at a glance without having to do any mental math (or in my case calculator math). I have the pages in sheet protectors and I pull them out whenever I need them.

If you click on Heritage Quest you will see an extra bonus. On the left side look for the 1790-1840 worksheet. If you have a family in the 1790-1840 censuses you can follow each person and narrow their dates of birth down significantly. This works because the censuses have different age ranges. You can also isolate each individual child through the censuses. You will be able to see who is missing (died or married). I label unknown children as Male 1, Male 2, Male 3, Female 1, Female 2 etc. and follow them through the census. This works especially well if you have the family in the 1950. Then you can follow them backward and pick up extra children you didn't know about along the way. The 1790-1840 worksheet has the censuses lined up in such a way that you are able to see the narrowing birth date ranges as you go through the census. I know that sounds a bit complicated so here is an example. I am going to isolate just one person, Martha Key. I will then show you how her birth date narrows.

1800 Edgefield County, SC
1 free white female under age 10 [1791-1800]

1810 Edgefield County, SC
1 free white female age 16 to under 26 [1785-1794]

1820 Edgefield County, SC
1 free white female age 26 to under 45 [1776-1794]

1830 Edgefield County, SC
1 free white female age 30 to under 40 [1791-1800]

1840 Edgefield County, NC
1 free white female age 40 to under 40 [1791-1800]

Looking at these dates I can narrow Martha's date of birth to 1791-1794. That is much narrower than just looking at one census year. Martha was born 1791. You can actually tweak it even more if you take into consideration the actual day the census was taken. There is an explanation sheet that goes along with the worksheet that explains this.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, July 23, 2012

Metes and Bounds (Or, Just Shoot Me Now!)

Question from Val:
I am looking at some Georgia land records and I just don't get it! How am I supposed to understand this?

Ah Georgia, one of the fine states that uses the metes and bounds surveying system. If it were up to me, metes and bounds would be illegal. There is one (and only one in my opinion) advantage to metes and bounds. The land descriptions will include the names of the owners of the adjoining land at the time of the survey. This can be very useful.

I am only going to give you the bare bones explanation of metes and bounds because I am no expert (and I don't want to be). I will give you some good resources to learn more about it. If you decide you like metes and bounds I will give you a call when I need a piece of Georgia land plotted out. I would like to mention that there is another land surveying system called the Public Land Survey System (Rectangle Survey System). The smart states use this one. It is very easy to understand and very easy to plot. I will save that for another blog post.

The states that use metes and bounds are the "state land states" as opposed to the "public land states." The state land states are CT, DE, GA, HI, KY, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, NC, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VT, VA and WV. This would be the original 13 colonies, New England and a few others thrown in. Some of the other states also used metes and bounds in their earliest history and then switched to the Public Land Survey System.

Metes and bounds uses compass directions in degrees and various lengths, commonly chains, links, furlongs, rods and poles. So far it isn't too bad. The part that makes it difficult is that the surveyors used non permanent landmarks as the starting point and for corners. For example, the starting point might be an oak tree or a pile of rocks. Try finding that spot today. You can easily draw the size and the shape of the land but positioning that drawing exactly where it goes on a map is a little more difficult (more like impossible). There is an excellent step by step tutorial on how to draw a plot using metes and bounds in the recommended book below as well at the About.com site listed.

Here is a typical metes and bounds description:
Beginning at the red oak on the west side of Black Creek, thence southwest 30 degrees 62 chains to the fork in the trail leading to Oak Grove and Sumrall, thence south 82 degrees west 46 chains to the granite rock. From the granite rock along the boundary of William Graham's line southwest 8 degrees 18 rods to the white oak, thence 42 degrees southwest 74 chains to the corner of William Graham and Isaac Yates' boundaries. From said corner, thence in a southwest direction 35 degree, 39 chains to the lightening struck red oak, thence 45 degrees northeast 86 chains, thence north 70 degrees east 30 chains to the bank of Black Creek.

I don't know about you, but that makes me dizzy. Here are some good resources to learn more:

There are some software programs out there that will map your metes and bounds for you. I have a couple of them listed below. I have not used these myself so I can't vouch for them. I suppose if I was overwhelmed with several plots at one time that I needed to get mapped out in a hurry I might consider it (I try real hard to stay in the public land states so that I won't have to worry about this happening).

If you LIKE metes and bounds I would love to here from you!

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Genealogy Standards - Documenting Your Data

Question from Kristen:
I am a little confused about "standardized" data entry. What are the standards and who decided them?

I have an entire Power Point presentation on this topic. When we say data entry, we are talking about entering data into your computer database program. Hand typed formal reports have slightly different formats which are also noted. There is some minor disagreement within the genealogical community on what the data entry standards should be but on most points everyone is on the same page. Standardization of data entry is important. It makes it easier to share information between researchers and it makes your research more professional and credible. If you have any aspirations of publishing to a newspaper, magazine or journal, adherence to accepted standards is expected. In the United States, the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City is considered the authority. Associations such as the Board for the Certification of Genealogists (BCG), the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen), the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), and the National Genealogical Society (NGS) also weigh in on what the standards should be. One book I really like is Getting it Right. I am waiting to hear back from Ms. Slawson on whether or not she is planning a 2nd edition. Here is a very abbreviated list of the most common data entries:

If you saw that Mary Ann Carter was born 03-04-42, what would that mean to you?

  • Was Mary born on March 4th 1942?
  • Or was it March 4th 1842?
  • Another possibility is April 3rd 1942

Dates are always written with the two digit day, standard three letter month, and four digit year. Mary Ann Carter was born 04 Mar 1842. In formal reports the month is often written out in it's entirety for added clarity, 04 March 1842, the order remains the same.

You can also record approximate or estimated dates [listed abbreviations are accepted]

  • Before 1852 (Bef)
  • After 04 Dec 1912 (Aft)
  • Between 11 Apr 1878 and 1880 (Bet, and)
  • From 1790 to 1800
  • About 1792 (Abt)
  • Calculated 03 Nov 1823 (Cal)
  • Estimated 1901 (Est)
  • The term circa is no longer used

Names of Persons
Most genealogy database programs have separate fields for title, given name, surname, suffix, and AKAs. It is important that you use these fields correctly. Examples of titles are Reverend, Elder, Captain, Sergeant. The titles of Miss and Mrs. are only used as titles IF it was recorded that way in the records AND only in the AKA field. Miss and Mrs. can be important clues.

In the given name field record the full Christian name, if known. Examples are Mary Catherine and Thomas Calvin. If all you know is initials, then record that. There is always a space between initials (R. P. vs. R.P.). Some examples are, T., T. J., T. David, Edith A. Do not use quotes in the given name field except in formal reports. Mary "Mittie" Grantham is okay in a publication but not in a database program (Mittie needs to be in the AKA field).

When entering surnames in a database program do not use ALL CAPITALS. This used to be the standard but it is no longer taught. In formal reports you will see entire names in all caps but they are in small caps, two points smaller than the main text.

Examples of suffixes are Junior, Jr. (abbreviations are okay), Sr., IV (the fourth), Esquire, prince of Wales.

Enter all variations of the person's name you find in the records in the AKA Field. Some examples of AKAs for James Colon Simmons would be James C. Simmons, J. C. Simmons, Colon Simmons, Jim C. Simmons and Jim Simmons. The AKA field is also where nicknames go such as Stumpy Brown, Woody Davis, Mittie Grantham, PaPa Jones and Little Sis Morris.

Females are ALWAYS entered with their maiden name, Michele Lynn Simmons. Their married name goes in the AKA field, Michele Lewis. In formal reports and publications, the name is written Michele Lynn (Simmons) Lewis.

Names of Places
For locations in the United States a four field location is used. You go from the lowest to the highest jurisdiction.
town/city, county, state, country = Purvis, Lamar, Mississippi, United States. The words County, Parish or Borough are not included. Commas are placeholders. If you don’t know what one of the fields is you leave it blank.
, Lamar, Mississippi, United States (either the town is unknown or it is a rural area)
Purvis, , Mississippi, United States (the county is unknown, this shouldn’t happen often)

United States is the standard not U.S., U.S.A. or United States of America. Although the standard is 4 levels of jurisdiction, other countries don’t necessarily follow this rule. Be familiar with each country you do research in.
Havana, La Habana, Cuba (3)
Heimersdorf, Chorweiler, Köln, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Deutschland (5)

In formal reports, places are written out with the word county or parish for clarity and the country is left off if it is clearly understood. Leading commas are also omitted, again, to make the report easier to read and more clear.
Purvis, Lamar County, Mississippi
Cook County, Illinois
Walker, Livingston Parish, Louisiana

You will frequently see locations abbreviated severely like this: Purvis, Lamar Co, MS. This method has fallen out of favor.

I could write an entire book on how to cite your sources. Luckily I don't have to because someone already has. Elizabeth Shown Mills is considered the authority on how to cite your sources. She has two books available. I recommend Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian for beginning researchers. If you are past the beginning stages (or if you are just adventurous) I recommend her updated and expanded edition, Evidence Explained:Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Ms. Mills has an excellent website including an even more updated pdf version of the book at Evidence Explained. Citing your sources is an art more than exact science. You want to cite your sources in such a way that anyone coming behind you can find the document you are referencing with no difficulty. You also want your sources to be cited in a consistent manner. Ms. Mills has simple to understand templates for each type of source you will come across. Several of the top genealogy database programs base their source templates on Evidence Explained.

As I said, this is a very small sampling of the data entry possibilities. If you have any questions at all just send me an E-Mail.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Questions About Find-A-Grave, Citing Your Sources and Missing People

Question from Pat:
"How reliable do you think the information is that is on Find-A-Grave?"

It depends. If there is a photograph of the marker then it is very reliable. The problem you will have on Find-A-Grave are those memorials that don't include a photograph of the gravestone. Is the information listed transcribed directly from the marker or did the contributor just type in what they think they know about the person? I want to know EXACTLY what is inscribed on the marker. It is okay to include more information about the person as long as there is a photograph so that the researcher knows what came from the marker itself and what came from the person adding the memorial. If there is a person of interest on Find-A-Grave that doesn't include a photograph I immediately request one. I record the cemetery as an "event" in my genealogy database program and I transcribe exactly what is on the marker. One very important clue that you will only have if you can see the stone itself is whether or not the marker is consistent with the death time period or is it more contemporary. If you have a person that died in 1795 but the marker is of a material and style of the 20th century then the information inscribed is suspect as it was placed well after the death. A good book on cemetery research in general is Your Guide to Cemetery Research.

Question from David:
"I took a genealogy class and learned about how important it is to cite your sources. I have 15 years of research that I just wrote down. Some of it has sources but most of it does not. How can I fix this?"

Been there, done that. I think most researchers start out this way and pay the price later. Believe it or not, this is actually a blessing in disguise. You will need to go back and re-research everything from scratch but as you do this you will see things that you didn't notice before and some of your brick walls will be broken down. It is always good to go back over your research from time to time anyway just to see if you missed anything. Start with your direct line and get them all tidied up first. After that, work your way collaterally from the marriages within your direct line. If you are using a genealogy database program that has a tagging option, you can tag everyone in your file and then untag them one at a time as you get them sourced properly. This is a convenient way to monitor your progress. The gold standard for citing your sources is Evidence Explained:Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. This book is excellent but can be a bit daunting to the beginning researcher. Ms. Mills' earlier book Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian is not as extensive and some of the citations are written is a slightly more simplified format. The two important rules to remember are 1) cite the source so that someone coming behind you can find the document easily 2) be consistent in how you cite your sources.

Question from Karyn:
I can't find someone in the 1880 census. Do you think that they were just missed?

I picked this question today because there has been a lot of discussion on Facebook this week about this. It is possible that a family group was just missed but this isn't usually the case. The problem usually lies within the index. The enumerator could have simply spelled the person's name wrong. The name could be very hard to read and the indexer had to make a best guess. Before Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, Heritage Quest and the like, this wasn't as much of a problem. Yes, there were index books you could consult but if you knew the exact county you would just pull that microfilm and start looking. Because you knew who you were looking for you would spot the person even if the name was hard to read or misspelled. Don't worry, I don't want to go back to that method. I too am grateful for the searchable images available on the internet. You just need to learn how to do effective searches in the index. Start with the very specific and then slowly change your search parameters outward to capture more possibilities. Ancestry.com has the ability to do a combination of "fuzzy" searches. FamilySearch puts the exact matches at the top and then their fuzzy search results below. Sometimes you will need to search by just a first name (don't forget nicknames). Sometimes you have to even go further than that and search by a combination of sex, age, place of birth, and relationship and leave the name completely blank. If it is a fairly small county, you might have to just bite the bullet and run a list of everyone in that county and go through them one by one. Another trick is to check different indexes. I am constantly flipping between Ancestry.com and FamilySearch. I recently got access to Heritage Quest through Galileo so I plan to use their index as a resource as well. If you get stuck, ask one of your researcher pals to give it a go. They may use different search parameters than you do. It takes me quite a while before I give up. So now back to the possibility that a family was just missed. With all of the boundary changes going on in our history sometimes the lines got blurred in one of two ways. Sometimes someone got enumerated in the wrong county because they were close to the line or certain area was missed altogether because each of the surrounding counties thought it belonged to someone else. The easiest way to check for this is look for the family in the previous census and note who their neighbors were. Search for those neighbors as well in the next census. If you are missing several families then the problem might be that they were simply missed.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, July 20, 2012

Henrietta Louise Holder’s Story* [Sometimes Things Are Not What They Seem]

I receive a lot of questions about brick walls so I thought I would share a rather unusual brick wall story from my own family.

Henrietta was the sister of one of my direct ancestors so she was of course of interest to me. I wanted to at least gather the basic information and hopefully write a short bio on her. What I found was a complete dead-end.

According to the 1870 and 1880 censuses, she was born about 1864 and was living with her parents and siblings. After searching the county marriage records, I found her 1882 marriage to Douglas Madison Crandall*. I then went to the 1900 census to try and find Douglas and Henrietta as a married couple. What I found was an unexpected surprise. Douglas was living with his parents and listed as a widower. Not good.

I wanted to know if Douglas remarried so the 1910 census was also checked. There he was with second wife Ella*. The census recorded that he had been married for 8 years. I found Douglas’ grave in the family cemetery but there was no marker for Henrietta. It appeared I was at a complete dead end. The census clearly showed that Henrietta was dead [right?]. There were no death certificates for this state for the time period when she would have died and I couldn't find her in any of the local cemeteries. I thought I was done. I was able to detail her life somewhat. I knew who her parents were and I knew who she married. I also knew they had three children with husband Douglas [two sons were listed on the 1900 census with their widowed father and a daughter, who had died at age 4 months, was found in the family cemetery].

The breakthrough was an email I received from one of Henrietta’s direct descendants. She had seen some of my Holder memorials on Find-A-Grave and knew I was tied to Henrietta’s line somehow. She asked if I happened to have a photograph of Henrietta. I told her I didn’t but I sent her two photos of Henrietta’s brother. The return email was a shocker. Henrietta didn’t die until 1931. Where had she been then? Henrietta had been declared insane in 1899 and was sent to the state hospital where she remained until her death. This was totally unexpected and it again showed me not to assume anything. This descendant sent me copies of all of the court documents as well as Henrietta’s medical records from the state hospital. It was an absolute goldmine of information.

Henrietta had been buried in the state hospital in an unmarked grave. I was now able to order a death certificate for her. I went back to the county clerk and requested a divorce decree and Douglas’ license for his second marriage. I had so much more information about her now that I was able to write a nice bio. I still have a lot of unanswered questions about Henrietta but you never know, another unexpected email might hold the answers.

*The names have been changed in this article at the request of the direct descendants

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Letter Writing for the Genealogist

Question from Marissa:
"Most of my research is in another state. How do I get records that aren't on web sites like Ancestry.com?"

Time to dust off the old fashioned skill of letter writing! I can't tell you how many documents I have because I took the time to write a nice letter. The trick is knowing WHO has what you want. For example, let's say you want a marriage record. You will need to know which court/office holds the marriage records for the county where your person of interest married. The easiest way to get this information is to consult the FamilySearch Wiki. If the Wiki page for your county does not have the information you need, do a simple internet search for the county courthouse. The courthouse page will tell you which courts handle which records. At the very least you will have a phone number you can call. You can help other researchers by going back to the Wiki and updating it with the information you found. The Wiki gets better and better when people take the time to add what they know. Just click on the "edit this page" button at the top. Be aware that some documents are held at the county level (usually marriages, divorces, deeds, probate) and some are held at the state level (usually births and deaths). It all depends on the state so you really need to take the time to learn where the records you need are.

Here is a list of letter writing tips:

  • Design a simple letterhead template in your word processing program (I use Microsoft Word) which will make you look more professional and serious about your work
  • Use quality paper and envelopes and set your printer to a higher quality print
  • Follow a business letter format complete with the proper headings
  • Make your letter brief and to the point
  • Don't put too many requests in one letter
  • Call ahead and find out if there are any copying/mailing fees and then include them
  • Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for their convenience
  • Include all of your contract info so that they can call or email you if they have any questions

For county generated documents I prefer to write directly to the holder of the record but sometimes the county clerk (or whoever has your record) will tell you that they don't have the time to help you. My first back up plan is to consult the Family History Library Catalog to see if the record has been microfilmed. The reason this is my second choice is because there is usually more time and expense involved with this one unless you happen to live in Salt Lake City. You will either need to order the microfilm roll through your local Family History Center or hire a person in Salt Lake City to retrieve the document for you. If you order the microfilm, it can take 4-6 weeks to arrive and it will cost you $7.50 per roll. If you hire a researcher in Salt Lake City, it will cost you $15-$25 per hour with a one hour minimum. You can request the document directly from the Family History Library using this form but you will need to know exactly where the document is (the microfilm number, book/volume and page number etc. Examples of what information you will need are on the form) The good news is that this option only costs $2.00 per document with a $4.00 minimum.

My third choice is to see whether or not the state archives has the record microfilmed. This one can be a little tricky depending on which state you are working with. Some states charge a different fee for those persons living within the state versus those living outside of the state. The out of state fee can be quite high. Most states have a fill-in-the-blank request form available on their website. One nice thing about this option is that the archives are usually willing to do a little work for you if you don't have an exact location or date.

You will need some sort of system to keep track of the letters you have sent out, especially if you have several letters out there at the same time. Most genealogy database programs have a built in research calendar/log for this. In addition to using the built-in research log, I save all my letters in a file folder on my hard drive with file names like this:

  • AL Walker County Circuit Court 2012-07-02
  • MS Lamar County Circuit Court 2012-06-30
  • MS Marion County Chancery Court 2012-07-05
  • MS Wayne County Circuit Court 2012-06-29

I can bring up a letter quickly if a clerk calls me on the phone and asks me a question. As soon as I get a response in the mail, I delete that particular letter (I still have a record of it in my research log).

Now that we have so many things available to us on the internet, many people forget about simple letter writing to get what they need.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis