Sunday, September 30, 2012

18 Days with Sherlock – Day 9 - Take a Methodical Step-By-Step Approach

You need to take a methodical step-by-step approach when you are researching someone's life. It is very easy to jump forward or backward in time when you find something interesting but you will less apt to miss something important if you just plod along.

One of the first things you need to do is follow your person of interest through all of the census records for their lifetime. This will give a a skeleton of when (approx.) they were born, when (approx.) they died, All (or at least most) of the places they lived in their lifetime, who his/her parents were, who his/her spouse was, and who his/her children were. Of course it matters which censuses you are able to consult. Pre-1850 censuses only name the head of household, everyone else is referred to only by age and sex, the 1890 census is practically non existent, and the last available census is 1940. This is still a great way to start building a picture even if it is incomplete. You can then go back and start filling in some details now that you have some dates and locations. I like to work backward in time. If I have someone that died in 1901, I will start with the 1900 census. I try very hard to get this completed before I start looking at other records. One step at a time!

Having a checklist of things to search is a great idea so that you don't forget something. Your checklist of sources will vary on the time and place depending on what resources are available but here is a short list of "standard" things to check. There are certain groups of sources I check on everyone, again, this varies a bit depending on when and where the person lived.

  • Census records through the person's lifetime [federal and state]
  • Burial location and burial date [Find-A-Grave, cemetery books, obituary etc.]
  • Death date and possible death location [tombstone, death certificate, etc.]
  • Marriage date and location [marriage index and then marriage license from the county clerk]
  • Any references to this person in the newspapers?
  • Compiled genealogies for clues
  • Any published Bible records? [There are many online sources of transcribed Bibles and digital images]
  • Follow the person through the tax records
  • Land records [deeds, patents, warrants, grants]
  • Will and probate records

I will be doing a blog on checklists like this in the future which will go into this in greater detail.

Once you get your basic information on the person, then you can start investigating more specialized records. You need to at least know when and where before you know what other records are available to search.

“What steps will you take?”
“It will very much depend upon the results of my first inquiries.”
[Watson to Holmes and Holmes' response, "The Five Orange Pips"]

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, September 29, 2012

18 Days with Sherlock - Day 8 – Process of Elimination

If you don’t have the answer to your puzzle, start eliminating the things that it can’t be. For example, let’s say you are trying to figure out which Smith man married your Mary Jones but there are 8 Smiths in the area during the same time period. Start out by eliminating those Smiths who CAN'T be the right one. This will narrow down the people you have to do more extensive research on to get at the truth.
“Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.” [Holmes to Watson, "The Sign of the Four"]
"But we hold several threads in our hands, and the odds are that one or other of them guides us to the truth. We may waste time in following the wrong one, but sooner or later we must come upon the right.” [Holmes to client Henry Baskerville, "The Hound of the Baskervilles"]
“We must fall back upon the old axiom that when all other contingencies fail, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” [Holmes to Watson, "The Bruce-Partington Plans"]
“That process starts upon the supposition that when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. It may well be that several explanations remain, in which case one tries test after test until one or other of them has a convincing amount of support.” [Holmes to Colonel Emsworth, "The Blanched Soldier"]

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, September 28, 2012

18 Days with Sherlock - Day 7 – Send a Few Telegrams and Submit a Few Ads in the Personal Column

Sherlock was forever sending telegrams all over the place to draw in more information. He also took out ads in the personal column section of the newspapers. Sometimes the answer to your research problem lies with someone else. I send emails and snail mail letters out all the time to people that I think might have some useful information. I also post messages on surname and locality message boards, surname and locality mailing lists, and in the local genealogical society newsletters.
“To do this, we must try the simplest means first, and these lie undoubtedly in an advertisement in all the evening papers. If this fail, I shall recourse to other methods.” [Holmes to Watson, "The Blue Carbuncle"]
“As we walked home together Holmes stopped at a telegraph office and send off several wires.” [Watson narrating, "The Greek Interpreter"]
“…I sent wires from Woking Station to every evening paper in London.” [Holmes to Watson, "The Naval Treaty"].

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, September 27, 2012

18 Days with Sherlock - Day 6 – Focus on the Details

This method goes along with yesterday's Gather All Clues. The difference is, when you focus on the details you are actually evaluating the clues that you have captured in your large butterfly net. Sherlock was very detail oriented. He wanted to know who, what, when, where and why for every clue that he gathered. When you are looking at an official document, you will understand it better if you answer these questions:
"Who created this document?"
"Why was the document created?"
"When was the document created?" [In context of what was going on in the region at the time]
"Who are all of these other people mentioned?"
"Are there other documents that could shed light on this one?"
"It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” [Holmes to client Miss Mary Sutherland, "A Case of Identity"]
“It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles." [Holmes to client Mrs. St. Clair, "The Man with the Twisted Lip"]

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

18 Days with Sherlock - Day 5 – Gather ALL Clues

Sherlock gathered ALL of the clues from the scene of the crime even if he didn’t know if they were relevant or not. Genealogists make the mistake of gathering only what they think is important and then they miss something vital along the way. Take the time to look at the neighbors of your person of interest in the census records. Do background research on the area of interest to see what was going on during that time period. Extract ALL the names mentioned in official documents. Make note of the deeds before and after the ones you are interested in. Look at everyone with the same name in the same area and develop a profile on each one of them. Over time you will be able to figure out which facts go with which person and then you will be able to exclude those that don't belong to your person of interest.
“As I watched him I was irresistibly reminded of a pure-blooded, well-trained foxhound, as it dashes backward and forward through the covert, whining in its eagerness, until it comes across the lost scent.” [Watson observing Holmes, "A Study in Scarlet"]
“Well, Mr. Holmes, what are we to do with that fact?”
“To remember it – to docket it. We may come on something later which will bear upon it.”[Inspector Lestrade to Holmes and Holmes' response, "The Six Napoleons"]
"I had at the outset no particular reason to connect these journeys with the disappearance of Godfrey Staunton, and was only inclined to investigate them on the general grounds that everything which concerns Dr. Armstrong is at present of interest to us…” [Holmes to Watson, "The Missing Three-Quarter"]
"Much of what I tell you is no doubt quite irrelevant, but still I feel that it is best that I should let you have all the facts and leave you to select for yourself those which will be of most service to you in helping you to your conclusions.” [Watson to Holmes in a letter, "The Hound of the Baskervilles"]

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

18 Days with Sherlock - Day 4 – Go With the Obvious

When you are forming your hypotheses, go with the obvious answer first. You can always amend your theory later. Here are a couple of very simple examples:

If you see John Q. Citizen, age 32, living with Mary Jane Citizen, age 30 on the 1850 census, the obvious conclusion is that they were husband and wife even though the census doesn't say so. Yes, they could be brother and sister or some other relationship but go with the obvious until other clues come in that cause you to rethink your position.

John and Mary Jane Citizen were living in Perry County, MS in 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 per the census records. All of their children were born doing that time period. The obvious conclusion would be that all of the children were born in Perry County, MS. It is possible that Mary was visiting her sister in Marion County in 1864 when son Thomas was born but that is a more unlikely scenario. Again, you may find some evidence further down the road that leads you in that direction but for right now you can make the assumption that the children were born in Perry County.

“Perhaps, when a man has special knowledge and special powers like my own, it rather encourages him to seek a complex explanation when a simpler one is at hand.” [Holmes to Inspector Stanley Hopkins of Scotland Yard, "The Abbey Grange"]
“It is possible.”
“More than that. It is probable.” [Watson to Holmes and Holmes’ response, “The Five Orange Pips”]

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, September 24, 2012

18 Days with Sherlock - Day 3 – Have a Working Hypothesis

Sherlock gathered his clues and then formulated a working hypothesis. As new clues came in he would modify his hypothesis as needed. His hypotheses gave him direction for what steps he needed to take next.

Here is a very simple example. Let’s say John Q. Citizen was living with his parents in Perry County, Mississippi in 1880. His soon to be wife Mary Ann Smith was living with her parents in neighboring Marion County. In 1900, you find the married couple living together in Marion County. You know that it is more common for a couple to marry in the bride’s home county than the groom’s so your working hypothesis is that they most likely married in Marion County. You now have a direction to search. You search the Marion County marriage records but come up short. Your new hypothesis is that they married in Perry County.

“His extreme love of solitude in England suggests the idea that he was in fear of someone or something, so we may assume as a working hypothesis that is was fear of someone or something which drove him from America.” [Holmes to Watson, "The Five Orange Pips"]
“Well, we will take it as a working hypothesis for want of a better.” [Holmes to Watson, "The Man with the Twisted Lip"]
“Let us take that as a working hypothesis and see what it leads us to.” [Holmes to Watson, "Silver Blaze"]
“Well, we can adopt it as a working hypothesis and then see how far our difficulties disappear.” [Holmes to Inspector White Mason, "The Valley of Fear"]
“Well, now, Watson. Let us judge the situation by this new information…. All of our reasoning seems to point that way. At any rate, we may take it as a hypothesis and see what consequences it would entail.” [Holmes to Watson, "Wisteria Lodge"]
“At least we may accept it as a working hypothesis.” [Holmes to Watson, "The Devil’s Foot"]
“One forms provisional theories and waits for time or fuller knowledge to explode them.” [Holmes to client Robert Ferguson, "The Sussex Vampire"]

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, September 23, 2012

18 Days With Sherlock - Day 2 - Consult Your Reference Library

As smart as he was, Holmes still had a large reference library which he consulted often. It is well worth your while to invest in books. You need genealogy methodology books, genealogical dictionaries, books on history, topic specific books such as those on land records, census records, court records, books on reading old handwritings, etc. You can take a look at the list of reference books I have listed on the blog but just know that this is only a portion of what I have. I also have many location specific books in my library. I have 11 books just for Perry County, Mississippi. A genealogist cannot possibly know everything there is to know. Surrounding yourself with quality reference materials is a must.
“He stretched his hand up, and took down a bulky volume from the shelf” [Watson observing Holmes, "Sign of the Four"]
“Let us glance at our Continental Gazetteer.” [Holmes to Watson, "A Scandal in Bohemia"]
“Kindly hand me down the letter K of the ‘American Encyclopedia’ which stands upon the shelf beside you.” [Holmes to Watson, "The Five Orange Pips"]
“He picked a red-covered volume from a line of books of reference beside the mantelpiece.” [Watson observing Holmes,"The Noble Bachelor"]
“Holmes shot his long, thin arm and picked out Volume ‘H’ in his encyclopaedia of reference.” [Watson observing Holmes, "The Priory School"]
“I leaned back and took down the great index volume to which he [Holmes] referred.” [Watson narrating, "The Sussex Vampire"]
“There is a great garret in my little house which is stuffed with books. It was into this I plunged and rummaged for an hour. At the end of that time I emerged with a little chocolate and silver volume. Eagerly I turned up the chapter of which I had a dim remembrance.” [Holmes narrating, "The Lion’s Mane"]
“Here is a book which first brought light into what might have been forever dark.” [Holmes to Inspector Bardle, "The Lion’s Mane"]
“Sherlock Holmes threw himself with fierce energy upon the pile of commonplace books in the corner. For a few minutes there was a constant swish of leaves, and then with a grunt of satisfaction he came upon what he sought. So excited was he that he did not rise, but sat upon the floor like some strange Buddha, with crossed legs, the huge books all round him, and one open upon his knees.” [Watson observing Holmes, "The Veiled Lodger"]
“Where is my Crockford?” [Holmes to Watson, "The Retired Colourman." Holmes was referring to Crockford’s Clerical Directory, which is a reference book of the clergy of the Church of England and other churches of Great Britain. It was first published in 1858 and the last edition was published in 2009. Who knows, this book may be as valuable to a genealogist today as it was to Holmes!]

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, September 22, 2012

18 Day With Sherlock - Day 1 - Run Your Theories by Watson

Sherlock liked to present all of the evidence to Watson and then sit back and listen to Watson reconcile the evidence in his own way. Granted, most of the time Watson was wrong but Sherlock did this to not only involve Watson in the process but also to hear how a reasonable person would see all of the evidence. I do this all the time. I gather all my facts and arrange them into a logical sequence of events. I then present the case to other genealogists to get their feedback. Many times they see things that I haven’t noticed.
“Look here, Watson, just sit down in this chair and let me preach to you for a little. I don’t know quite what to do, and I should value your advice.” [Holmes to Watson, "The Boscombe Valley Mystery"]
“Now, I’ll state the case clearly and concisely to you, Watson, and maybe you can see a spark where all is dark to me.” [Holmes to Watson, "The Man With the Twisted Lip"]
“At least I have got a grip of the essentials of the case. I shall enumerate them to you, for nothing clears up a case so much as stating it to another person…” [Holmes to Watson, "Silver Blaze"]
“There you have it all in a nutshell, Watson, and if you can give me any light I shall be infinitely obliged to you.” [Holmes to Watson, "Silver Blaze"]
"Just sit down in that chair, Watson. I want to put you in touch with the situation, as I may need your help to-night. Let me show you the evolution of this case so far as I have been able to follow it." [Holmes to Watson, "Wisteria Lodge"]

Ah but dear Sherlock couldn’t help but tell poor Watson about his shortcomings when Watson did give his opinions about the case.

“ ‘Pon my word, Watson, you are coming along wonderfully. You have really done very well indeed. It is true that you have missed everything of importance, but you have hit upon the method…” [Holmes, to Watson, "A Case of Identity"]
“I am afraid, my dear Watson, that most of your conclusions were erroneous. When I said you stimulated me I meant, to be frank, that in noting your fallacies I was occasional guided towards the truth.” [Holmes to Watson, "The Hound of the Baskervilles"]

There are many instances where Sherlock made fun of Dr. Watson and he rarely complimented him but there is one passage where Holmes’ true feelings for his faithful friend are shown. Watson is narrating the scene right after he [Watson] had just been shot by suspect James Winter.

“You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!”
It was worth a wound – it was worth many wounds – to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.
“It’s nothing, Holmes, It’s a mere scratch.”
He had ripped up my trousers with his pocket knife.
“You are right,” he cried with an immense sigh of relief, “It is quite superficial.” His face set like flint as he glared at our prisoner, who was sitting up with a dazed face. “By the Lord, it is well for you. If you had killed Watson, you would not have got out of this room alive.”

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, September 21, 2012

18 Days With Sherlock - Intro

Sherlock Holmes is a very popular character right now with the two smash hits starring Robert Downey, Jr. as the lead character in two movies and the current BBC series featuring Benedict Cumberbatch. Sherlock has always been popular in film going back to the 1930s and 1940s when Basil Rathbone starred as the super sleuth. We never seem to tire of the eccentric detective.

Sherlock Holmes was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the 1880s. Doyle wrote a total of 4 novels and 56 short stories about the master detective. The stories are told from the viewpoint of Sherlock’s faithful companion Dr. John Watson, with the exception of "The Blanched Soldier" and "The Lion's Mane" which Holmes himself narrates and "The Marzarin Stone" which is narrated by a third-person omniscient narrator. The writing style is absolutely brilliant and you are immediately drawn in. There is no doubt in your mind that Sherlock was a real person and that Dr. Watson’s diaries are accurate remembrances of their adventures. If you have never read these stories you really should.

Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes story, “A Study in Scarlet” was rejected multiple times by publishers before being accepted with a £25 copyright fee paid to Doyle. He wrote this novel with no intention of using the Sherlock Holmes character again. The story was a hit in America so Doyle brought Sherlock back again and again.

First a few Sherlock facts and trivia:

Reading the stories brings you into contact with some familiar characters, Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock’s tireless landlady and Sherlock’s brother Mycroft Holmes. You also meet Irene Adler, the only female Holmes ever had any sort of feelings for and the only feelings he had were that of admiration as she was able to pull one over on him. If you have seen any of the films you will know that James Moriarty was Sherlock’s nemesis. In the story “The Final Problem” both Moriarty and Sherlock were killed, or so it seemed. Three years later Sherlock reappears which causes poor Watson to faint dead away.

Sherlock is described as tidy in his appearance but unkempt in his housekeeping. He isn’t interested in romance but can turn on the charm when it is to his advantage. He usually solves the crime early on but doesn’t reveal his conclusions until much later. He claims it is so he can lay out all of the facts but also admits that he likes the drama of it all. He is a bit vain and really likes it when someone acknowledges how smart he is. Sherlock was a master of disguises and often fooled Watson. Sherlock was quite the practical joker with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He was also an accomplished violinist. He was a very likeable character.

On the negative side, Sherlock smoked cigarettes, cigars and a pipe. When he wasn’t actively working on a case he turned to drugs because he couldn’t handle his mind being idle, however, Watson was able to eventually wean him off of his cocaine habit. Sherlock could get depressed and morose and would go for long periods of time without eating.

Watson tells us that Sherlock’s career spanned 23 years with Watson at his side for 17 of them. Holmes and Watson mention many other cases they were involved in that didn’t make it into Watson’s collection of stories. Sherlock chides Watson a bit for sensationalizing and glamorizing stories which should have been told matter-of-factly in textbook fashion so that other detectives could learn by them.

Many genealogists look to Sherlock for inspiration because his method of deductive reasoning is the perfect approach for genealogical research. Throughout the stories you will find many sound principles that will help you in your quest to uncover the truths about your ancestors’ lives. For the next 18 days I will outline some of these principles and give examples of how Sherlock’s methods will help you.

By the way, contrary to popular belief, Holmes never said, “Elementary, my dear Watson!” in any of his adventures.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Questions About the Vietnam War and FamilySearch Indexing

Public Service Announcement: Get ready for Sherlock! Many researchers have written about how Sherlock Holmes' deductive reasoning methods are perfect for genealogy but my take on it will be a little different. I will be illustrating each principle with direct quotes from Sherlock Holmes or Dr. Watson. I will also be including little interesting tidbits of info and trivia. Tomorrow's blog post will be the introduction to the series. It will be a lot of fun and I am looking forward to it. I am probably one of the biggest Sherlock fans out there.

Marie K. asks:
"Can I get military records for someone that served in Vietnam?"

The short answer is no. The only way you can get military records of this era is if you prove the person in question is deceased and you also show that you are the person's spouse or child. These records are protected. There are casualty lists that are public record as well as lists of people that received service awards/medals. There are also things like the history of units and of particular battles. A lot of what the National Archives has for Vietnam is online HERE.

Barb asks:
"How do you sign up to be a volunteer indexer for FamilySearch?"

You go to the FamilySearch Indexing Page and click the "Get Started" button. I suggest you take advantage of the helps that are available to you on the indexing page. You need to take a little time to learn how it all works. There are also two free Legacy Family Tree webinars that are excellent.

Helping Unlock the World's Records - An Insider's Perspective on FamilySearch Indexing
Helping Unlock the World's Records - FamilySearch Indexing for Power Users

One piece of advice, ALWAYS read the project instructions and the field helps for every project you work on every time you work on them. Under the Project Instructions, click on the link that says summary of project updates. Not taking the time to do this is the biggest mistake that new indexers make. Each project has its own set of rules which you need to know.

Indexing records is a very worthwhile project and you will get a lot of satisfaction out of your work. This is a great way to give back to the genealogy community.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Questions About SS-5s and Civil War Records

Public Service Announcement: Did you know that FamilySearch has Facebook pages for every state and for most countries? For those of you that like Facebook this is an easy way to connect with other researchers. To find these pages just type in Mississippi Genealogy Research (fill in your state or country where the word Mississippi is). I belong to all of the pages for the southern states and I am one of the administrators for the Mississippi page. Networking with other researchers has always been an essential part of genealogy research but today it is just a little more high tech.

Trudy asks:
"Can I send for a copy of my own Social Security number request application?"

Yes you can. You will need to write a cover letter explaining that you would like a copy of your original SS-5 form. You will need to include a copy of a picture ID (driver's license for example), a copy of your social security card and a copy of your birth certificate. You do not need to use the form that is used to request the SS-5 of a deceased person, just a cover letter explaining your request. The cost is $27.00 which you need to include with your request either as a check or money order. You cannot do this online nor are you able to do this at your local Social Security office as they do not have access to these records (they are on microfilm). The address to send the request to is:

Social Security Administration
OEO FOIA Workgroup
300 N. Greene Street
P.O. Box 33022
Baltimore, Maryland 21290-3022

Donald asks:
"I am interested in Civil War records but I don't want to have to pay for a subscription for Fold3. Are there are free ways to get compiled service records and pension information?"

The first place I start happens to be a free site anyway. The Soldiers and Sailors Database from the National Parks Service is a wonderful tool. No, you can't get compiled service records or pension packets here but if you find you ancestor you can read about the history of the unit in which he served and you can also search by his specific company which will give you a list of everyone he served with. This can be very helpful when you are trying to piece together families as fathers, brothers, cousins, brothers-in-law, neighbors etc. often served together.

Civil War records are housed at the state level and some states have some of their records online. For example, Illinois has a nice database, the Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls, that will give you the abstracted information from their compiled service records. The Georgia Archives has Confederate Enlistment Oaths and Discharges and Confederate Pension Application online at Georgia's Virtual Vault.. Just a warning. Georgia's Virtual Vault has been down for a couple of weeks now as they transition to a new interface on their website so be patient with that one. It is worth the time to take a look at your state's archives page.

If your state archives does not have any records available online, you can get copies of the records for a copying fee only if you are able to travel there in person. If you have to send them a written request via email/mail then the cost will be anywhere between $10 to $25 [average] for the request and you may have to pay a per page copying fee as well.

The Family History Library [FHL] has a very interesting collection of Civil War records available on microfilm. To find them you will need to search in the card catalog under the state name but you will also need to check under the specific county name as well as records appear in both places. There are some compiled service records and pension files that have been microfilmed but nowhere near all of them. It is a hit or miss proposition depending on the state. However, you will find abstracted works [from compiled service records and pension files], letters and reminiscences from soldiers, histories of units, confederate cemeteries and indexes. These adjunct resources can give you a more complete picture. Some of these records are available online at FamilySearch and the card catalog will tell you which ones. An example would be the United States Civil War Index. If you need to order a microfilm the cost is $7.50 and it will be sent to your local Family History Center for a 30 day period for you to view.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Oh Woe is Me!

Yesterday was not a fun day for me. I spent hours (yes hours) cleaning out my desk, filing cabinets and bookshelves as well as all the piled up stuff around my desk. I get so wrapped up with doing research that things just start piling up. I was going to take some before and after photos but I was a bit too embarrassed. I had at least 10 reference books on the floor around my desk. I refer to them so often that I don't bother putting them back on the shelves. I had a one inch thick pile of documents that I have already analyzed and put in sheet protectors but hadn't filed in my binders. I had an overflowing inbox of new information that I haven't even had a chance to look at yet. Keeping your stuff organized is essential and I have a hard time with that. When I am pursuing a hot lead, everything else gets shoved to the side. The problem is, I usually jump from hot lead to hot lead and never stop long enough to get all my stuff back in order. It finally got to the point where even I couldn't put it off any longer so I didn't research anything at all yesterday. I am in the middle of a research project for a client with two more clients lined up and it was really hard for me to take a day off.

So my advice for the day is, don't let it get this bad before you put stuff where it belongs!

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, September 17, 2012

Questions About Citations, Nicknames and Rootsweb Mailing Lists

Before I answer a few questions I would like to send a big thank you to the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana Genealogical Society for publishing my article on Non Population Schedules in their Sep/Oct newsletter. What an honor!

Question from Doug:
"How exactly do you cite Find-A-Grave as a source?"

The way I site it is a little different that how you would find it in Evidence Explained. I have modified it just a bit.

"Find A," digital images (, Henry L. Griffin marker, Memorial #43186296, photograph by Cecil Augustus Fountain, Sr; Liberty Hill Cemetery, Twiggs County, Georgia.

Another question from Doug:
"How does your citation differ from a marriage index to a marriage license that you actually have in your possession?" Index:

Hunting for Bears, "Georgia Marriages, 1699-1944," database, (, John Gardner and Pricilla Ryle; Wilkinson County, Georgia, 08 Aug 1846.

License I actually have a copy of:

Marion County, Mississippi, Marriage Book D: 240, Wm. Isaac Simmons and Mary Boon, 1881.

If you read the Pitfalls Beginners Need to Avoid blog you will recognize this as the marriage of Daniel Boon's daughter Mary Catherine and my great, great uncle Ike. This would be Daniel Boon of Mississippi, not Daniel Boone of Kentucky, which was my example for one of the pitfalls.

Question from Michelle:
"I have a relative whose name was Kitty. Every record I can find only says Kitty. I am thinking this was a nickname so how do I record this?"

I would record her name as Kitty until I found something otherwise. You can't assume it was a nickname unless you find a credible source that give her full name as something else.

Question from Don:
"You have mentioned that you belong to several Rootsweb mailing lists. I would be curious to know which ones."

I subscribe and unsubscribe to lists all the time depending on what I am researching. Here is the list of mailing lists I am subscribed to all the time. You can see all the Rootsweb lists HERE.

  • GA-CCGS [Columbia County Genealogical Society] Administrator
  • GACOLUMB [Columbia County, GA]
  • GALINCOL [Lincoln County, GA]
  • GAMCDUFF [McDuffie County, GA]
  • GARICHMO [Richmond County, GA]
  • GLAENTZER [surname list] Administrator
  • ISFHWE [International Society of Family History Writers and Editors]
  • MSFORRES [Forrest County, MS]
  • MSMARION [Marion County, MS]
  • MSLAMAR [Lamar County, MS]
  • MSPERRY [Perry County, MS]
  • SIMMONS [surname list]
  • TRANSITIONAL-GENEALOGISTS-FORUM [list for hobbyists aspiring to be professionals]
  • WEICHERT [surname list]

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Georgia State Archives Closes to the Public

As reported by WSAV Channel 2 in Savannah, Georgia:


Official statement from the state:

"The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget has instructed the Office of the Secretary of State to further reduce its budget for AFY13 and FY14 by 3% ($732,626). As it has been for the past two years, these cuts do not eliminate excess in the agency, but require the agency to further reduce services to the citizens of Georgia. As an agency that returns over three times what is appropriated back to the general fund, budget cuts present very challenging decisions. We have tried to protect the services that the agency provides in support of putting people to work, starting small businesses, and providing public safety.

To meet the required cuts, it is with great remorse that I have to announce, effective November 1, 2012, the Georgia State Archives located in Morrow, GA will be closed to the public. The decision to reduce public access to the historical records of this state was not arrived at without great consternation. To my knowledge, Georgia will be the only state in the country that will not have a central location in which the public can visit to research and review the historical records of their government and state. The staff that currently works to catalog, restore, and provide reference to the state of Georgia’s permanent historical records will be reduced. The employees that will be let go through this process are assets to the state of Georgia and will be missed. After November 1st, the public will only be allowed to access the building by appointment; however, the number of appointments could be limited based on the schedule of the remaining employees.

Since FY08, the Office of the Secretary of State has been required to absorb many budget reductions, often above the minimum, while being responsible for more work. I believe that transparency and open access to records are necessary for the public to educate themselves on the issues of our government. I will fight during this legislative session to have this cut restored so the people will have a place to meet, research, and review the historical records of Georgia."

Story at Georgia Closes State Archives

A very sad day for Georgia genealogists and genealogists all over the world.


This is from the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

By Kristina Torres

"A firestorm has erupted over the state’s decision to sharply curtail public access to the Georgia Archives.

The announcement late Thursday quickly became a cause celebre for academics and family genealogists alike as thousands signed online petitions and Facebook pages through the weekend.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp said even he was unhappy — and it was his decision.

“To reduce public access to the historical records of this state was not arrived at without great consternation,” Kemp said. “I will fight during this legislative session [starting in January] to have this cut restored so the people will have a place to meet, research and review the historical records of Georgia.”

Effective Nov. 1, only limited public appointments will be available to see the state’s important and historical records dating to at least 1733. In addition, the archives’ staff of 10 full-time employees will likely be reduced.

State law mandates the archives be accessible at least every Saturday. But officials aren’t sure there will be access on other days of the week.

Kemp expects the move to save the bulk of more than $730,000, enough to satisfy a proposed cut in his office budget going into next year. Gov. Nathan Deal has asked most state agencies to trim their budgets by 3 percent as he eyes Georgia’s sluggish economy, but those cuts must be approved by state lawmakers, who won’t take up the issue until at least January.

While it’s another sign of still-tough times for state government, many people who use the archives are feeling a personal pain.

“I think it’s devastating,” said Kaye Lanning Minchew of the Coalition to Preserve the Georgia Archives, which formed late last year after a series of nips and tucks left archive supporters wondering what would come next. “The state archive holds the records of the people. So how can you not be open to the public?”

Ironically, the state expects to issue a proclamation Wednesday to celebrate Archives Month in Georgia.

“For a mature society, these [archives] are sort of the hallmarks of civilization,” said Emory University’s Leslie Harris, a history and African American Studies professor who is working on a book about slavery in Savannah. “Of course there are materials in the archive we hope to use. These places are the attic for all of us, where memories are stored.”

The issue goes beyond the historians, researchers and amateur history buffs who have traveled to the Clayton County campus where the archive is housed.

The official record of Georgia also resides within its walls. Therefore, archivists say, so resides a transparency about how state government worked over the last few centuries, and how it works now.

According to Minchew, who is also executive director of the Troup County Archives and Legacy Museum on Main in LaGrange:

  • State officials have used a 1787 agreement kept at the archive to settle a Savannah River boundary dispute with South Carolina.
  • Cobb County has used archived Georgia Department of Transportation maps to establish property rights of way for utilities.
  • Georgia Pacific has used archived environmental records to determine the type of air filter for burner smoke stacks in Warm Springs.

“The cornerstone of democracy is the ability of citizens to know what their government is doing,” Georgia Historical Society President Todd Groce said Friday. “You can’t completely restrict and shut down access.”

The decision puts Georgia in a uniquely unflattering position by making it the only state in the nation without a place for people to have full-time, centrally located access to hundreds of thousands of government and state documents, photographs and historical records.

Georgia’s archives already offered the fewest hours in the nation. Once open more than 40 hours a week, the institution, located in Morrow, has been getting by with 17 since last year.

Mississippi offers public hours six days a week. South Carolina Archives does five days. Alabama’s archives are open four days a week plus every second Saturday.

“This is not the way we want Georgia to be known,” said Marie Force, archivist for Delta Air Lines and president of the Society of Georgia Archivists.

It’s unlikely the protests will have much of an effect before the change takes place. But the issue has galvanized archive supporters into action, with one petition by Saturday afternoon signed by more than 7,100 people from across the nation."

Story at Supporters rally against Georgia Archives closure

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Timelines and History

Question from Ann:
"I see that knowing history of the time period is so important. Is there a site to obtain a dateline for world/state happenings?"

I have timelines for the United States as a whole, each state that I work in, and each county within those states where I do research. I also have histories at the state level and the county level. I keep all of this information in my Research Binder. I update it as I find new information. I can refer to it at anytime to refresh my memory when I am working on a new family in the same area.

The first place I look for information is a simple internet search via Google. The second place I look is the FamilySearch Wiki. The third place I look is USGenWeb. The fourth place I look is Wikipedia. Remember that these are being updated by a lot of different people so remember to check the sources. Since Mississippi is my favorite state here are some examples of Mississippi timelines:

Timeline 1
Timeline 2
Timeline 3
Timeline 4
Timeline 5

You can see just how easy it is to put together a decent timeline by using multiple sources available on the internet.

For local history at the state and county levels I go to WorldCat which is a card catalog crossing over to most of the libraries in the nation. You can search for a book on a particular location and it will tell you which libraries have it. The list is sorted by distance, closest libraries first.

A couple of other great resources for local history is Google Books and Internet Archive. Here you will find books that are out of copyright which is actually an advantage because these will be books written closer in time to the events in question.

I am seriously thinking about converting my research binder from paper over to Microsoft OneNote to make my materials easier to update. Right now I have xerox copies of stuff, notes that I have typed up, handwritten notes etc. I do have bookmark files in Firefox of internet sources for each of the counties I do research in. In OneNote you can link to all of this and have it readily available. One day...

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, September 14, 2012

Records Prior to 1850

Question from Ann:
"Will you walk us through the steps to go about securing the info we will need from probate/wills prior to 1850?"

Ann was asking this question in reference to the comment I made in the Starting at the Beginning blog where I said to trace your first 4 generations thoroughly before going any further back than that. Once your line gets further back than 1850 things get harder because you no longer have census records that spell out all of the names in the household. At this point wills and probate are your best friends for determining relationships.

The first thing you need to do before you try and find a will/probate for someone is to narrow down when and where they died. That is why it is essential to thoroughly research your lines through 4 generations (possibly 5) first so that you will have the time frames and the locations that you need when you start going further back in time. There is no point in trying to find probate or deeds if you have no idea in which counties to search. There are some published will indexes but if you happen to be in a county where you have to hand search through the records you definitely want to narrow it down. The first place I check for wills/probate is the Family History Library (FHL) card catalog. The most confusing thing you will find are separate microfilms for wills, administrations, inventories, estates, guardianships etc. These are all probate records but they are split up into different document sets. Just for fun I looked at the FHL for Greene County, Georgia and here is what I found:

  • Index to records, 1790-1942
    author: Georgia. Probate Court (Greene County)
  • Index to estate record books, 1878-1813
    author: Georgia. Ordinary Court (Greene County)
  • Name index to loose estates, guardianships and wills 1786-1939 Greene County, Georgia
    author: Hageness, MariLee Beatty, 1942-
  • Estate records, 1790-1943
    author: Georgia. Probate Court (Greene County)
  • Wills, 1798-1914
    author: Georgia. Probate Court (Greene County
  • Inventories, appraisements and sales of estates, 1798-1893
    author: Georgia. Court of Ordinary (Greene County)
  • Miscellaneous loose court papers [Greene County, Georgia], 1798-1906
    author: Georgia. Superior Court (Greene County)
  • Administrators, executors and guardians bonds and letters, 1812-1916
    author: Georgia. Court of Ordinary (Greene County)
  • Wills, 1786-1921
    author: Georgia. Court of Ordinary (Greene County)
  • Court minutes, 1805-1893
    author: Georgia. Court of Ordinary (Greene County)
  • Court records, 1820-1836, 1859-1874
    author: Georgia. Court of Ordinary (Greene County)
  • Returns and divisions of estates, 1816-1851
    author: Georgia. Court of Ordinary (Greene County)
  • Greene County, Georgia, wills and appraisements and inventories 1787- 1798
    author: McMinus, J.
  • Greene County, Georgia wills, 1786-1877
    author: Turner, Freda Reid
  • Guardianships, 1804-1916
    author: Georgia. Probate Court (Greene County)
If you guessed that you will need to look through all of this then you guessed right. That is why it is so important to narrow down the date and place before you start. You do this by using all of the other records that you already have.

The reason probate is so important is relationships are usually spelled out. "My wife Matilda" "My daughters Catherine, Mary and Grace" "My daughter Patience and her husband William" "My eldest son John." You can start piecing the family together with this information.

The second record set you need to use are deeds. Many times relationships are also spelled out in deeds which is nice. The problem with deeds is that your time frame will be much wider than with wills and probate. For example, when I was trying to piece together the children of Jesse Lee [1735-1810] I had to look at the Bladen County, NC deeds from 1756 to 1787 and then Robeson County deeds from 1787 until 1810 (Robeson was formed from Bladen in 1787 and these dates cover Jesse from age 21 until his death). I then had to expand my search later than 1810 because I wasn't just looking for deeds with Jesse in them but also for all of his known children because they were deeding stuff back and forth to each other. Let's say there is a deed from Joseph Lee to Obedience Sterling "I give my sister Obedience a slave named Harney." If I have already shown Joseph to be a son of Jesse, I now have indirect evidence that Obedience is also a child of that Jesse. Just to complicate matters further, some of Jesse's children migrated to Marion County, Mississippi so deeds had to be checked there as well. Working with deeds is more time consuming than working with probate but just as necessary.

Whether probate or deeds, sometimes you will have to do research at the local courthouse. Not everything is microfilmed or indexed. If you get to this point, it is better to do the research in person yourself or hire someone locally that can do it for you. Unless you have very specific details like an exact date most courthouses will not pull the records for you unless you are there in person. You will have better luck with getting a courthouse to pull a deed than probate documents. If you see a deed listed in a deed index or abstract book that has the exact date and the principle names, you can write to the courthouse and ask them to pull it for you and you just might get lucky. If you send a request to a courthouse that says, "I think Jesse Lee died sometime between 1810 and 1816 in Robeson County. Can you find his probate packet?" Be prepared for a rejection letter.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pitfalls Beginners Need to Avoid

Public Service Announcement - Did you watch the FREE Legacy webinar yesterday? Michael Hait, CG presented, What is a Reasonably Exhaustive Search? About halfway through Michael presents a most interesting case study that will really surprise you. This webinar will be free for at least 10 days. After that you will have to buy it on CD if you want to watch it.

Pitfalls to Avoid

Don't believe everything you read.
One of the biggest mistakes that beginners make is copying down everything they find on the family tree section of and taking it for gospel. If you see something in someone else's tree that interests you, make a note of it and use it as a clue. Ask the person that submitted it WHERE they got the information. If they can't tell you, use the information to lead you to an original source. Just because the person doesn't have a source doesn't mean it is incorrect. What it does mean is that you can't use it until you find a source.

Also, always look at official documents with a skeptical eye, especially census records. There are many mistakes on census records, both intentional and unintentional. Just because the 1850 census says that John Doe was born in Georgia in 1818 you still need corroborating evidence. In this case you do have a source but even so you still have to scrutinize it.

Document WHERE you got EVERY fact in your file.
This is the #1 mistake beginning researchers make. I promise you that if you don't record where you find something it will come back to haunt you later. Whether you found Henry's date of birth on a tombstone or on a little slip of paper found among your grandmother's effects, you need to document it. There is a standard way to document your sources but at this stage of the game just make sure you document enough information so that anyone that comes behind you could find that source if they needed to. I will be doing a blog real soon about the basics of documenting your sources.

Indexes are a great resource but don't forget to get the original documents if at all possible.
You wouldn't believe how many mistakes there are in indexes. Indexers are human and handwriting can be hard to read. Since you will be familiar with the persons involved, the time period you are researching, and the location where the events took place, it is less likely that you will make a mistake. Indexers do not have this advantage. You will see names spelled wrong and dates messed up. When a marriage document has a license and a certificate on the same piece of paper you don't know if the indexer recorded the date of the license or the date the marriage actually took place. Sometimes you will not be able to get the original. I have a marriage that appears in an index that was created in the 1930s. The original document was lost sometime after that. The index is the only thing that I have. You will also see this with old cemetery surveys. If the marker is no longer there then the survey is all you will have. However, you need to get as many of the original documents that you can. The index will point you in the right direction to get them.

Don't make assumptions.
If you have two men in the same county that are listed as John Doe, Sr. and John Doe, Jr. don't assume they are father and son. In earlier times it was a common practice for men of the same name in different generations to be labeled Sr. and Jr. even if they weren't father and son. They could be uncle and nephew or even totally unrelated. Another assumption you shouldn't make are husband/wife relationships and parent/child relationships on census records prior to 1880 when the relationships were first recorded. This one can really lead you down the wrong path. An unmarried sister might have moved in with her widowed brother to help him take care of the children. They would have the same name and only be a couple of years apart in age. Assuming they are husband and wife would be a mistake. Same with children. There is no way to tell if all of the children in a list of children in 1850 belonged to the listed adults. They could be orphaned nieces and nephews, grandchildren, step children of one etc. Don't assume anything. You can come up with a theory of how the family is put together but you need to use other things besides just the census to prove the relationships.

Don't rush backward in time.
For some new researchers it is a race to see how fast they can get their lines back to 16th century. I would much rather have 4 generations of a well-documented line then 10 generations of a poorly researched one. When someone tells you they have their line back to the 1100s be skeptical, be VERY skeptical.

Don't assume you are related to Daniel Boone.
Or any other famous person for that matter. If there is a story in your family that you are related to Pocahontas don't go and find descendant lineages of Pocahontas and then try and work your way down to you. You are setting yourself up for failure and frustration. You MAY be related to Pocahontas but the only way you will ever find out is through a methodical approach working backward in time one generation at a time. Here is a true story from my own family:

When I was little my grandfather always told me that we were related to Daniel Boone. Since my grandfather said it I believed it. When I started researching my family tree this was one of the first things I worked on. It turns out that I AM related to Daniel Boone! Unfortunately it isn't THE Daniel Boone from Kentucky but rather Daniel Boon (no e) from Mississippi. My grandfather's uncle, William Isaac Simmons, married Daniel Boon's daughter Mary Catherine. Not only am I not related to Daniel Boone, I am not even blood related to Daniel Boon. Of course my grandfather was perfectly aware of who Daniel Boon of Mississippi was and he was playing a little trick on me but I never knew it and my grandfather died before he confessed to his mischief. Here is a picture of Daniel Boon's grave in the Boon Family Cemetery in Lamar County, Mississippi. The photo shows Daniel's last 6 living children (out of 15). This photo was taken about 1920. My great, great aunt (by marriage) is the 2nd from the right. Daniel Austin Boon was born 01 Aug 1819 and died 10 Oct 1886.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Starting at the Very Beginning

I have received a couple of questions recently from absolute beginners wanting to know where to start. I answered one of these on the blog with a short answer. I thought I would expand it a bit here with my top tips for beginners.

Get a genealogy database program.
A lot of people start our by writing everything down on paper. You will be doing yourself a favor if you start entering the info into a computer program from day one. Before computers we did everything on paper. The best thing that every happened was when they invented genealogy database programs. I am so much more organized and focused now. I don't miss my paper notes at all. It doesn't matter which one of the programs you get, they all work basically the same. There are some differences but those differences are just a matter of preference. The top programs are Legacy Family Tree, Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic, Ancestral Quest, and The Master Genealogist.

Take advantage of the FREE Genealogy Courses for Beginners at FamilySearch.
They have 82 videos just for beginners. If you go to the FamilySearch Learning Center's Main Page and scroll down, you will see the first four videos they recommend you watch first.

Interview as many family members as you can.
Your parents and your grandparents we well as aunts, uncles and cousins have information you need to be able to track down your ancestors. Some of your relatives will be happy to help you and some will not want to talk to you at all. You want to especially make note of any interesting facts and stories that they know. These family stories will be lost forever if you don't record them. Here are some Tips for Interviewing People.

Always start with yourself.
A lot of newbies make the mistake of diving in haphazardly because they get excited about all of the information that is out there. You must be methodical and start from the beginning which is you. Once you have everything entered about yourself then you can go to your parents. Another mistake is thinking you are related to a famous person because you have the same last name. If your surname is Washington don't try and work your way forward in time from President George thinking you will make the connection. You start with yourself, work backwards in time and then let the cards fall where they may.

Your first goal is to put together a skeleton of your first four generations, working backward in time one generation at a time.
Why just the first 4? Because this won't put you back any further than 1850. Prior to 1850 the censuses only recorded the name of the head of household. The rest of the members of the household are only referred to by age and that makes it tougher. You want to get your first 4 generations under control before you start digger further back in time. At this stage of the game it is okay to use indexes and compiled genealogies to get your working theories in order. Your relatives might even be able to give you at least the names of some of your direct line ancestors. You will then confirm everything with the original documents in the next stage.
1st generation - you
2nd generation your parents (2 people)
3rd generation - your grandparents (4 people)
4th generation - your great grandparents (8 people)

The bare bones info you are looking for is:
Date of birth/place of birth
Date of marriage/place of marriage
Date of death/place of death (I personally don't think the story is complete until I also know where they are buried).

Your second goal is to go back and fill in all of the blanks in those first four generations.
This is where you are going to follow each person in your direct line through the census years. You are also going to get birth certificates, death certificates and marriage licenses for everyone that you can. You are going to try and fill in all of the children each couple had along with their spouses.

Your third goal is to go back and write short bios on everyone in your direct line.
You want to be able to put everyone in context to their place and time. You want to add any interesting facts and stories about them. This will bring your ancestors alive. Remember, these are real people who lead real lives and they are just as interesting as anyone living today. Beginners make the mistake of thinking the further back in time they can get their family the better genealogist they are. Just listed a bunch of demographic information on someone is BORING and it doesn't show how good of a researcher you are. Here is a previous blog that I wrote on The Importance of Bios.

Now you are ready to research further.
Once you get back to a certain point in time, you will need to delve into the harder record sets like wills/probate and court records. You will need to piece together families using pre 1850 census records. You will be dealing with counties with records losses which means you need to get creative with using substitute records like tax rolls. If you start with yourself and work your way backward in time you will gain valuable experience which will make it easier for you to find the harder stuff.

I am an experienced researcher and I still have to follow this progression. I just took on a 4 generation project for client. Before I could get into any real research I had to interview him to get all of his info and as much as he knew about his parents and grandparents. I had to have some direction. I needed to have a least some rough dates and locations. He happens to be interested in military service but before I can explore that I have to be able to put together the skeleton. This will lead me to the records I need.

Tomorrow I will post a list of pitfalls beginners need to avoid.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Questions About Conflicting Data, Name Variations and Ghost Towns

Question from Debbie:
"My grandmother was born in 1896 according to her birth certificate, marriage certificate, 1900-1930 censuses, my mom, etc. The one thing that is erroneous is the 1940 census. It has her age as 33 rather than 43. My question is should I just ignore this finding or put it in my report with a note in the footnotes or what would you do?"

Most genealogy programs have a way to record "conflicting birth" information. If not, then make a note if it in your notes. Even though it is obvious this is an error, you still need to make a note about it so that people can see what you have researched, the results you got, and how you analyzed/interpreted it.

Question from Constance:
"In every record I can find I have my relative as Charlie/Charley. I am sure that his name is really Charles because that is what his father's name was. Can I put Charles even though I don't have a source for it?"

I wouldn't. How do you know that his parents didn't name him Charlie? Just because his father's name was Charles doesn't mean his is.

Question John:
I use Legacy so I thought I would ask you this since you use Legacy too. What do you do if you have a location that isn't in the Geo Location Database?

This isn't really just a Legacy question. The question and the answer apply to locations in general. There are a lot of little communities that no longer exist. There are also communities in existence today that aren't on any map or in the Geo Location Database. Here is an example. Pea Ridge in McDuffie County, Georgia isn't in the Geo Location Database or on any map. However, there is a volunteer fire department there with the name Pea Ridge proudly displayed and if you ask anyone in that area they will tell you that they live in Pea Ridge (I moved from Pea Ridge about 5 years ago). Years ago there was a community in Columbia County, Georgia called Sardis. I have many obituaries stating that the person lived in Sardis. Sardis no longer exists. It was absorbed by Grovetown and Evans. It isn't on any current map and it isn't in the Geo Location Database. It is, however, a valid location.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, September 10, 2012

Questions About the 1890 Census and Deportations

David asks:
I heard that there are fragments of the 1890 census available. Do you know if there are any available for South Carolina?

Only approximately 1% of the 1890 census survived a fire in the basement of the Commerce Building in Washington, DC.1 and South Carolina was not one of the lucky states.

Here is a list of what survived:

Alabama - Portions of Perry County (Perryville Beat 11 and Severe Beat 8)
District of Columbia - Q, 13th, 14th, R, W, Corcoran, 15th, S, R, Riggs Street and Johnson Avenue
Georgia - Muscogee County (Columbus)
Illinois - McDonough County (Mound Township)
Minnesota - Wright County (Rockford)
New Jersey - Hudson County (Jersey City)
New York - Westchester County (Eastchester) and Suffolk County (Brookhaven Township)
North Carolina - Gaston County (South Point Township and River Bend Township) and Cleveland County (Township No. 2)
Ohio - Hamilton County (Cincinnati) and Clinton County (Wayne Township)
South Dakota - Union County (Jefferson Township)
Texas - Ellis County (J.P. No. 6, Mountain Peak and Ovilla Precinct), Hood County (Precinct No. 5), Rusk County (No. 6 and J.P. No. 7), Trinity County (Trinity Two and Precinct No. 2), Kaufman County (Kaufman)2

If you are lucky enough to have families that are listed in the 1890 then you will get a little surprise. The 1890 census looks completely different than the the other censuses. There is only one family per page.

Wayne asks:
"Do you know where I can find deportation records for 1855/56? I have an ancestor who was married in Milbury, MA in 1855 and then "disappeared". Rumor has it that he had another wife in England and was sent back."

During this time period, expulsions/deportations were done at the local level. Residents were just told to leave. There wasn't a formal process through the state or federal governments. Deportation as we know it today didn't start until the late 1800s There were some deportations during the colonial period through the late 1700s but this practice faded away due to the costs and because some politicians declared it was unconstitutional. Your best bet is to research the local papers. If someone was asked to leave a small town it mostly likely made the paper.

1. Kathleen W. Hinckley, Your Guide to the Federal Census for genealogists, researchers and family historians (Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 2002), 50.

2. Ibid., 50, 56.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Questions About the Early Censuses and GenealogyBank

Emmie asks:
"When you looking at the early census records before 1850, how you you differentiate between two men of the same name?"

If you think that one of the men is your person of interest then try matching up the ages of everyone in the household to see which one matches your person. This is especially easy if the person you are interested in also appears in the 1850 census. Then you can go back in time one census at a time matching up the ages of the children. Here is an example of identifying the known children in an early census. This one is Perry County, Mississippi 1840:

Silas Simmons
2 free white males age 5 to under 10 [John and Benjamin]
1 free white male age 10 to under 15 [James]
1 free white male age 15 to under 20 [Abner]
1 free white male age 20 to under 30 [William]
1 free white male age 40 to under 50 [Silas]
1 free white female under 5 [Matilda]
1 free white female age 5 to under 10 [Melinda]
1 free white female age 15 to under 20 [Nancy]
1 free white female age 20 to under 30 [Mary]
1 free white female age 40 to under 50 [Janet]

I use all of the evidence that I have to narrow the birth dates of the children down so that I can fit them into a census. In this case everyone fit in perfectly but there are mistakes on census records, both unintentional and intentional, so this is more of an art than a science. Now look at this Silas Simmons from neighboring Alabama:

Silas Simmons
1 free white male under age 5 [possibly Benjamin depending on when the census was taken]
1 free white male age 5 to under 10 [John]
1 free white male age 10 to under 15 [James]
1 free white male age 40 to under 50 [Silas]
2 free white females under age 5 [Matilda and possibly Melinda depending on when the census was taken]
1 free white female age 40 to under 50 [Janet]
1 free white female age 50 to under 60 [unknown]
Where are Abner, William, Nancy and Mary?

With as many discrepancies the Silas in Alabama has I can safely say that the one in Mississippi is my guy. I will say that it isn't always as clear cut as this so that is why it is important to evaluate all of the evidence you have, not just census records.

Rob asks:
"I have a subscription to GenealogyBank but I am not finding a lot. I don't know if I am just not searching the right way or if there was just nothing about my family in there."

I Highly suggest you watch the following FREE webinars but Thomas Jay Kemp:

Newspapers: Critical Resource to Complete Your Family Tree
Newspapers for Genealogists: Using to Document Every Day of Your Ancestors' Lives.
Obituaries: Clues to Look For. Tips for Making Sure You Get the Full Benefit From an Obituary Notice
Marriages and Anniversaries. Mining Newspapers for Engagements, Marriages, Anniversaries, and Divorce Records

Check GenealogyBank's list of newspapers to see if there are any for your person of interest's location and time period. Having said that, Thomas gives several examples of finding things in newspapers that are in a totally different location. Sometimes family members far off would run announcements in their local paper so even if you don't see anything that looks like it is the right place or time, don't give up yet. Also, other newspapers would pick up announcements from other locations just to fill space. If the story is a big one, multiple papers will carry it. Here is an example from my own file. I knew a man had been murdered in Wilkinson County, Mississippi but GB doesn't have the papers from that area. I found the story in the Time-Picayune out of New Orleans. An added bonus was that the Times-Picayune named the local paper it got the story from, the Woodville Whig. The Woodville Whig happens to be on microfilm at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. I haven't requested a copy yet but there is a good chance that the local paper will have more of the details.

Also, there is a real art to learning how to do searches. Thomas Kemp will show you have to do effective searches. GenealogyBank is adding more papers to its collection all the time so it is always good to make a note of when you last searched and then you can go back later and check again.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Question About Tax Rolls

Question from William:
"I am not sure I am getting everything I am supposed to be getting out of tax rolls. I saw that FamilySearch has the Hinds County [Mississippi] tax records online so I thought I would take a look. I am looking at a 1822 tax roll this is what it says:"

1 poll
10 slaves
Total amt. state tax $8.25
Amount of tax for literacy fund $1.37 1/2

"So how does this help me?"

It may not look like much but there is a lot of info there. Different states/counties will records different things on their tax rolls and it also varies by year. You will have real estates taxes and personal property taxes. I took a look at the 1822 Hinds County tax rolls and this particular roll does not list the real estate. You didn't say what this person's name was so we will just call him John.

I would follow John through every available tax record. Different years will give you different info and you may very well find out exactly how many acres of land John had. If you are real lucky, you will find the land description. I would also correlate the tax records with the territorial, state and federal censuses to make a more complete timeline for John and to narrow down his date of birth and death. 1822 is the earliest available tax record for Hinds County [Hinds was formed in 1821 from Indian lands]. John was at least 21 years old at that time. There are some exceptions when someone younger could own property and was taxed on it but that would be very unusual. Poll taxes were also age 21 and up. As you are following him through the tax rolls, if he suddenly drops off and the next year his wife is listed that is a big time clue that he has died. When men got to a certain age (different for different jurisdictions) they didn't have to pay the poll tax. In Perry County, not too far from Hinds, I have followed several men through the tax records, James Simmons being one of them. The last year he paid a poll tax was 1822. He would have been 58 years old that year. He continued to pay real estate taxes until 1839.

The Mississippi Territory was formed in 1798 and became a state in 1817. Hinds County was formed in 1821, The first place I would look for John in the state of Mississippi is the 1820 federal census. This is assuming that John was a bit older than 21 in 1822. We know he was at least that old but he could have been much older and listed as head of household in 1820. If he is there, you will know in which county to start looking for earlier tax records. You will start with the county tax rolls and then work backward in time to the territorial tax rolls. Of course it is possible that he came from a different state to Hinds County when the lands were opened up so you might have to widen your search. You always want to start with the narrowest search and then slowly move outward.

You can see that John had 10 slaves and he paid a pretty steep tax. $8.25 was actually a hefty amount of tax back then which leads me to believe he had a decent amount of land. Part of this tax was the poll tax plus the tax on the slaves but this is an amount that would indicate he owned land. Also, why would a man own 10 slaves if he didn't own any land. You can get an idea of how much tax was for each component by comparing the tax amounts of the different men on the roll. Since this was in Mississippi (a public land state) the first place I would look for land records is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The next thing I would look at are the deeds. I checked to see what deed records are available for Hinds County at the Family History Library. They have deeds starting in 1823 on microfilm. John would have gotten his land prior to that so the BLM is your best bet at this point. If you find John in the BLM records you will get a complete land description and you will be able to plot it out on a modern map and see exactly where he lived.

There is one more great clue on tax records. You should be able to see who John's neighbors were and that can lead you to his relatives. Some tax rolls were recopied in alphabetical order with the originals destroyed. Those won't be quite as useful for this, however, if they are in alphabetical order, you will be able to see who all in the county had the same surname. If the land descriptions are listed (or if you get them from the BLM or county deeds) you will still be able to plot out the physical neighbors and the persons with the same surnames easily. Knowing exactly were everyone lived in relation to each other can give you even more clues.

You can see that even though there doesn't seem to be a lot of information on this tax roll there are a lot of clues that can lead you to other helpful records.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, September 7, 2012

Questions about Beginner Books, AKAs, Starting From Scratch and Unrelated People

Question from Dave:
"If you have to pick ONE book to recommend for beginners what would it be?"

If I am limited to just one it would have to be The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy by Val Greenwood. It includes explanations of all of the major types of records you will be using, how to analyze the records, definitions of the new vocabulary you will encounter etc. It is great all around book. I still refer to it often.

Question from Dwyer:
"I have an ancestor who has 6 different variations of his name in the records. How do I chose which one to use as his name and which ones do I pick to go in the AKA fields?"

You have to weigh the different records. Some records are more reliable than others for different types of information. For the sake of argument, let's assume all of your records have the same weight (like census records). I am making this example up but you will get the idea.

1790 census - Jas. P. Davis
1800 census - J. P. Davies
1810 census - Press Davis
1820 census - J. Price Davis
1830 census - James Davis
1840 census - Preston J. Daviss

Looking at these names I would put James Preston Davis in the name field (without a source because I don't have anything that spells it out like that) and then I would put everything else as AKAs. I personally don't have a problem deducing what his correct name might be and going out on a limb by recording it. If I am looking at different types of records then I put them on a scale and weigh them. For a persons name I would give a marriage license more weight than a census record. I would give a birth certificate more weight than a death certificate. I would give the person's will more weight than a census record. You have to look at what the record is, the reason for the record and who wrote the record to decide it's weight.

Here is a fun example of AKAs. My great grandfather was James Elexander Simmons. I have his full name from his son's Bible so I am pretty confident on its reliability. Here are all of this man's AKAs. Some of the AKAs will make sense to you if you know that his nickname was "El." If you say "El" out loud it sounds like "L"

E. L. Simmons
Ell Simmons
Ell E. Simmons
Elmo Simmons
J. E. Simmons (this is the name that I found the most in the records)
J. L. Simmons
James Simmons
James E. Simmons
James Ellis Simmons
James L. Simmons
James N. Simmons
L. Simmons

Question from Nan:
"I really want to research my family tree but I have no idea where to start. I have read a lot on the internet but I am completely overwhelmed. HELP!"

This question needs an entire blog post and I promise to do this in the near future but I will give you a couple of quick tips. You obviously have a computer so get a genealogy database program to keep all of your research organized from the very beginning. All of the top programs are just fine (Legacy, Family Tree Maker and RootsMagic are a few examples). I like Legacy but that is just me. They do have a completely free program that you can download which is a great starter program. You can see it at Legacy Family Tree. Look for the Standard Version link. Always start with yourself and work backwards in time. Fill out as much as you can about a family before you go back to the next generation. The basic information you need to put together a skeleton (your direct line pedigree) is:
Date and place of birth
Name of spouse
Date and place of marriage
Date and place of death

I say skeleton because there is a lot more information you will want to get if you can. You should get into the habit of writing a short bio on every person in your tree (or at least all of your direct line ancestors and their siblings). This brings your research alive. You want to place them in context of where and when they lived. ALWAYS document WHERE you got EVERY piece of information. All genealogy programs have a built in way to record your sources. This is the single most important piece of advice that I can give you.

There really is a lot more to it than this. I would like to eventually post a series of genealogy 101 type articles for complete beginners to get them started off on the right foot.

Question from Pat:
"What do you do with people you think are related but you aren't 100% sure?"

I add them to my computer file as an "unlinked" individual. Unlinked is the term that Legacy uses. The other programs may use a different word. You can easily add a person that isn't linked to your tree. You can research them fully and do everything to them that you can to anyone in your line. You can link them to other people and then they will have their own mini tree in your database program. If the time comes that you CAN link them to your family then the genealogy program will allow you to do that and then they will be part of your main tree. Your program will tell you how many separate trees you have in your file. I just checked and right now I have 10 separate trees. One is my main line and the other nine are family lines that I am pretty sure fit in somehow but I haven't found the exact link yet. Ten is actually a low number for me. Apparently I have been able to link a few trees lately. Here are how many people are in each tree.
1) 8560, this is my line
2) 160, obviously I have done quite a bit of work on this group of people
3) 8
4) 5
5) 3
6) 3
7) 2
8) 2
9) 1
10) 1

Keep those questions coming!

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Questions About Marriage Records, Divorce Records, Time Spent Researching, Collateral Lines and Laptops

First, a public service announcement:
If you missed Lisa A. Alzo's FREE webinar, Beyond the Arrival Date: Extracting More from Passenger Lists, you definitely missed something. It will be available to view for free for at least 10 days. I suggest you head on over there and take advantage of this learning opportunity.

Lisa highly recommends the book, They Came in Ships: Finding Your Immigrant Ancestor's Arrival Record (3rd Edition) which is now on my wish list. I haven't done a lot of immigrant research. On my mother's side, my mother and I were first generation immigrants so the rest of the family is still in Germany as are the ancestors. On my father's side, those persons that immigrated did so in the late 1600s and early 1700s so I haven't had too much luck, especially with their very common names. Lisa's webinar has given me some renewed hope.

Question from Nancy:
"When you are looking at a marriage record which date do you use, the date they got the license or the date they were actually married?"

I use the date that they were actually married. A couple could get a license and then something could happen where they never got married [see the next question for an example of that]. When looking at marriage documents you are going to see all kinds of different dates depending on what part of the country and the time frame. Here are some definitions for you.

Marriage Banns - This is when the couple announced their intention to marry. Usually this was done every Sunday for three weeks prior to the marriage in the groom's church and in the bride's church. This was an opportunity for anyone with an objection to the marriage to voice it.

Marriage Bond - The couple signed a statement saying that there was no legal reason why they couldn't get married. A bond would be posted as an assurance that the statement was true. If the statement turned out to be false, the bond would be forfeited. After the statement was signed and the bond was posted then the couple would be issued a license to marry.

Marriage License - The license was (and still is) issued by the county clerk and not by the church. This license gave permission for a clergyman or JP to marry the couple.

Marriage Certificate - When the couple actually married then they were issued a certificate. The certificate could come from the church or from the county clerk depending on the time frame of the marriage.

The earlier the marriage the more likely it would be the banns/church certificate route. The later the marriage then the more likely it would be the bond/license/certificate issued by the clerk route. You need to know the custom at the time and the place of the particular marriage.

Question from William:
"I have an uncle that was married 3 times. I have all of his marriage licenses. Do you think I should also get his divorce records from his first two marriages as well?"

I would. You never know what clue you might find. If the documents are available then why not get them. I have a half granduncle who was married 4 times (that I know of). He also had a license with another lady but they never went through with the marriage. I did get all of his divorce records. This man moved around quite a bit and these extra documents helped me put together a more accurate timeline.

Another question from William:
"How much time do you spend working on your research every day?"

Hmmmmmmm. A lot? It all depends on what counts. I not only do research on my own family but I do research for others. I also volunteer my time for other genealogy projects and I write this blog. Add it all up then my answer stands at "a lot." If you only want to know how much I spend researching my own family then the answer would be, "not as much." There is no way you are going to get me to admit exactly how much time I spend working on this stuff because if I did, my answer would have to be, "too much."

Question from Emmie:
"Do you just research your direct lines or do you research the families of the spouses?"

I research everybody that has any contact with my direct line. There are so many reasons for this. One is that in the deep south where I do most of my research the families intertwine like you wouldn't believe. On the surface someone might only be a spouse but once you start filling in the blanks you find out that she is also a third cousin. Researching the families surrounding your own may be the only way you can follow your own family back in time. Many times associated families and neighbors traveled together. If you can't follow your own folks back you might be able to trace a neighbor back to the correct location you need. It was common for children of neighbors to marry. You will be missing out on a lot if you limit yourself to your direct lines only.

Question from Dave:
"Do you take your laptop with you when you are going to courthouses and libraries and such?"

Yes I do. I used to do everything on paper and then I would transfer it to the computer (desktop) when I got home. Now that I have a laptop I can skip a step. One day I will get a smart phone or an iPad or something so that I can travel lighter. There are programs out there that will synch with your laptop. Many genealogists keep their data files in "the cloud" [for example, Dropbox] so that they can access their files from any device, anywhere. I am not quite to that point yet.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Volunteering - The Backbone of Genealogy

Without the efforts of dedicated volunteers, you wouldn't have near as many resources to work with. Genealogy has always relied on people taking the time to survey cemeteries, transcribe documents, index courthouse records etc. and making these projects available to other researchers. Genealogists freely share information between each other even though they have spend countless hours putting their family history together. Genealogists are a generous bunch of people as a general rule. Now there is a whole new generation of researchers out there thanks to the hit TV show, "Who Do You Think You Are?" and to's aggressive advertising campaign. We need to stress to the newbies just how important it is to give back to the community that has provided so many things for them. The best way to do that is to be a good example to them by volunteering yourself. Here are a few ideas for you:

Adopt a USGenWeb county website. Right now there are 10 counties available for adoption just in the state of Mississippi. You will be responsible for keeping the website updated with county specific resources. If I am unfamiliar with a specific county, USGenWeb is one of the first places I look. USGenWeb provides step by step instructions so that even if you have never managed a web site before you will have no trouble.

Another thing you can do for USGenWeb is upload things that you have already done like cemetery surveys, document transcriptions, indexes you have put together etc. to their Archives page.

Do you have any genealogy books at home? Then volunteering for the Books We Own project at Rootsweb is just for you! You will be doing free look-ups for people in the books that you already have and are familiar with.

Another thing you can do at Rootsweb is became a Mailing List Administrator. If you look at the left side of the page you will see a link to the list of adoptable mailing list. As a mailing list administrator, you just keep an eye on things to make sure the list runs smoothly.

And yet another thing you can do at Rootsweb is become a Message Board Administrator. Any board that needs an administrator will have a link that says, "Volunteer to Admin." Click on that link and follow the directions. Being an administrator for a message board is very similar to being the administrator of a mailing list. You are there just to make sure things run smoothly.

You can help update the FamilySearch Wiki. Let other people take advantage of the things you have learned while researching your own family. One of the most important things you need to do when researching is learn all there is to know about the location where your ancestor lived. You can update the wiki with this information to help others.

Do you love cemeteries? Then become a Find A Grave volunteer! I get excited when a photo request appears in my email inbox. I get great satisfaction knowing that I am helping someone who can't possibly travel to this part of Georgia to take their own photos.

How about becoming a FamilySearch Indexer? I warn you though, indexing is VERY addictive! You will have the opportunity to index original documents for the Family History Library and at the same time gain valuable experience reading old handwritings. The Family History Library provides you with plenty of training so you have no worries. All records are indexed by TWO indexers and then the record is sent to an arbitrator. You don't need to be nervous about it. Every project has very specific instructions and there is always help available. This is one of the most rewarding projects that I know of.

You can volunteer your time at your local Family History Center or at any local library that has a genealogy collection. Newbies are very grateful to have someone available to answer their questions.

You can take on bigger projects such as abstracting obituaries from your local newspaper's microfilm, going to the courthouse and putting together an index of marriage records, abstracting names from the local funeral home's records, etc. All of these types of projects can be uploaded to the USGenWeb Archives.

As you are taking advantage of all the free stuff available on the internet, just remember that someone did the leg work to make it available to you. Why not do the same for someone else. There are plenty of opportunities out there that will not take up much of your time but are nevertheless very important.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Brick Wall for YOU

Maude Swilley was born about 1903 in Mississippi to parents Ben R. Swilley and Sophronia Cameron.1 She married Lemuel A. Simmons on 12 Oct 1917 in Lamar County, Mississippi.2 Lemuel died on 03 Nov 1926 in neighboring Forrest County.3 Not too long before Lem died, Maude left the family never to return. After Lem died, their three children were raised by other families and all three of those children are now deceased.4 So the question is, "What happened to Maude?" I would like to know where Maude went, whether or not she remarried, and whether or not she had more children.
Here is a list of what has already been done and the results:
  • Maude was only 23 years old when she left her family and when her husband Lemuel died. This suggests that it is likely she remarried. Forrest, Lamar, Marion and Perry Counties' marriage records have been searched for a 2nd marriage for Maude with negative results. 1926-1941 searched by the clerks of those counties.
  • Maude had 8 full siblings and 9 half siblings. The Hattiesburg American was searched for their obits in hopes of finding Maude listed as a survivor. None of the siblings' obits had Maude listed nor was she listed in her father's obit (unable to locate her mother's obit). The earliest of these obits is for Maude's brother Forrest Swilley which is dated 30 Sep 1941. 5 Since all of the surviving siblings were listed in all of each others obituaries, it is assumed that Maude died before this date or maybe her family shunned her for what she had done.
  • The Mississippi Department of Health is unable to find a death certificate under the name Maude Simmons from 1926-1945. This also supports that Maude remarried.
  • The 1930 census was checked for Maude Simmons as well as just Maude in the area surrounding Forrest County with no obvious matches.
  • There are no Maudes fitting the correct profile buried in the Entrekin Family Cemetery (Carnes, Forrest County) where her first husband Lem, her mother Sophronia and some of her siblings are buried nor in the Grantham Cemetery (Oak Grove, Lamar County) where her father, stepmother and some of her other siblings are buried. I have been to both cemeteries.
  • I have posted queries on the Swilley message board and mailing list, the Forrest and Lamar Counties' message boards and mailing lists as well as on the Swilley Facebook page with no responses.
  • One of the children (Opal) spent time at the Baptist Orphanage in Hinds County. 6 I was unable to get copies of the records from the orphanage due to Mississippi privacy laws. Opal is deceased and she had no children so there are no direct descendants that can help me with this.
So where do you think I should look next?

1. 1910 U.S. census, Forrest County, Mississippi, population schedule, Beat 5, enumeration district (ED) 18, sheet 15B, p. 239 [stamped], dwelling 276, family 277, Benard Swilley household; digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 10 Sep 2008); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T624, roll 739.
2. Lamar County, Mississippi, Marriage Book G: 351, Lem Simmons-Miss Maude Swilley, 1917.
3. Mississippi State Department of Health, death certificate 22086 (1926), Lemuel A. Simmons.
4. Lois (Entrekin) Kopp (Baton Rouge, LA) telephone interview by Michele Simmons Lewis, 20 August 2012. Lois' family raised Lem and Maude's youngest child.
5. "Soldier Buried at Lumberton [Forrest Swilley obituary]," Hattiesburg American, 30 Sep 1941; Transcript by Celeste Young [E-MAIL ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE]. Unable to locate the actual article in the online archives. Mrs. Young transcribed this from microfilm many years ago.
6. 1930 U.S. census, Hinds County, Mississippi, population schedule, Beat 1, enumeration district (ED) 26, sheet 2A, p. 254 [stamped], family 1, Baptist Orphanage; digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 03 Mar 2012); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T626, roll 1147.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis