Friday, November 30, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, November 29, 2012

County Clerk, Not a Fun Job

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An Idea For Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Evaluating Evidence Part 2 - Who, Why and When

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, November 26, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Children and Genealogy

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, November 24, 2012

God and Horses

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, November 23, 2012

Question About Privacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Questions About Lodgers, Britney and Circumstantial Evidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Britney Spears? Really?

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

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

Familypedia - Britney Spears

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Stuart Pecan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Question About Numbering Systems

Public Service Announcement: I sent a request for a duplicate Find-A-Grave memorial to be deleted. I couldn't send the request to the person who had added the memorial because that person was no longer an active member. I sent the request to on 02 Oct 2012. I got my response on 17 Nov 2012.

Thank you for contributing to Find A Grave! The memorials have been merged.
Take care,
Find A Grave admin.

So the corrections will be made, you just need to be patient.

Elaine asks:

Thanks for letting us all know about this webinar*. I listened to it and now have a "novice" question. Linda Geiger mentioned a genealogical numbering system - Ahnentafel (also mentioned something about sosa-stradonitz) - are these the same thing? Is this numbering system just for pedigree's? I started using the Legacy Family Tree recently and put myself first (number 1) and then added my husband (so now he's listed as number 2) and then my father/mother (numbers 3/4). Then I added my children and siblings, etc. Linda was talking about filing things according to the Ahnentafel numbering system.... ??? Your thoughts?
*Elaine is referring to Genealogy for Novices: Where Do We Being?

Ahnentafel and Sosa-Stradonitz are the same thing. This is a numbering system for ASCENDING genealogists. This is what you will see on direct line pedigree charts.

Your starting person will be #1. To find the father of any person on the chart you take their number and multiply it by 2. To find the mother of any person on the chart you take their number and multiply it by 2 and then add 1. All males on the chart will be even numbers and all females will be odd numbers. The person in the #1 spot can be male or female. Your #1 person is whoever your starting person is for the family you are writing about. If I am writing about my great-grandfather and his ancestors then my great-grandfather is my #1. His father would be #2.

If you are writing a compiled genealogy report (not a simple direct line pedigree chart), you can add in the non direct line siblings by using lower case Roman numerals.

Here are examples. They aren't the best quality because I am having to do screen shots so that I can save them as jpg images which are a lot easier to post on the blog than pdfs. If you click on the image it will get bigger

1)This is a 4 generation pedigree chart with my dad as the #1 anchor person. Everyone's Ahnentafel number is right before their name.

2) This is a small section of a report using the Ahnentafel/Sosa-Stradonitz system. You can see where I have added lower case Roman numerals for the non direct line children. Because of the number of footnotes, I can't get the entire generation on one page. The anchor person for this report is James Elexander Simmons. These are children iv - vii for James and his wife Corrine. James is actually #4 on the above pedigree chart but in this report he is my anchor person so he is #1. The green squiggly lines are just Microsoft Office telling me that it doesn't like my formatting.

There is another system for recording ascending genealogies (in reports, not on pedigree charts) called the multi-surname system. I have never used it so I am not going to explain it here. It is explained in the booklet that I recommend below.

There are two numbering systems for DESCENDING genealogies. The Register System and the NGSQ System which is also known as the Modified Register System. These are the ones you will see in the top journals. You CAN use the Sosa-Stradonitz system but it is much less common and it must conform to the standards in the Register or Modified Register, depending on the journal. Since I want you to join some genealogical societies that publish journals, I won't post examples of these. You can read more about why you need to join genealogical societies HERE.

There are several other systems out there but these are the most common. The numbering systems aren't that big of a deal though for the average genealogist. All of the genealogy programs will put your numbers in for you when you generate reports. However, if you plan to write an article for any of the top journals then you will need to know these systems inside and out because each journal has its own requirements for which one you must use. Many times the reports that are generated by genealogy programs are just not 100% sufficient. You will either need to edit or write it up from scratch.

An excellent resource is Numbering Your Genealogy : Basic Systems, Complex Families, and International Kin By Curran, Crane and Wray.

I wouldn't use Ahnentafel numbers for my filing system because they are very limiting. Your direct line ancestors are the only ones that are assigned numbers. You could add a lower case Roman numeral behind the number to denote a non direct line sibling but once you get any more collateral than that you won't have a filing number. People that use numbers to file usually use their computer database generation RIN or MRIN numbers (record identification number or marriage identification number). To learn how to file by MRIN, you can go through Karen Clifford's Organize Your Paper Files tutorial.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Story of Ida Perry

The "we" in this story would be Mary Taylor Guy and I. Mary is my cousin (1st cousin once removed) and fellow researcher. She and I worked on this brick wall together.

Ida Perry was my 2nd great-grandaunt. She is very special to me because she was a nurse as were two of her sisters. If I haven't told you before, I have been a registered nurse for 30 years. When I graduated nursing school, my Aunt Carolyn gave me this photograph:

The three sisters were:
Mary Susan Perry [1880-1931]1
Ida Leora Perry [1884-1911]2
Margaret Frances Dona Olive Perry [1888-1972]3

The photo is of Ida and younger sister Dona but they look very similar and I am not sure which is which. Here is a photo of Ida taken in 1904. Thank you LSU Health Sciences Center! I found this photo when doing research on the Charity Hospital School of Nursing. Ida was a mystery to me for a long time.

Mary, Ida and Dona were the daughters of John Judson Perry and Francis E. Lyons.4 The three sisters left their home in Purvis, Mississippi for Shreveport, Louisiana to attend the Charity Hospital School of Nursing.5 Older sister Mary went on to marry Dr. Isaac Newton Adams and they had one son.6 She died on 24 Oct 1931 in Selma, Louisiana of tuberculosis.7 Younger sister Dona married twice8 and lived until age 84.9 But what happened to Ida?

Here is Ida's timeline:
01 Jun 1900 - Living with her parents in Purvis, MS10
12 Jun 1903 - Graduated from the Charity School of Nursing in Shreveport, LA11
1904 - Head nurse at Charity Hospital in Shreveport12
Mar 1906 - Ida resigns her position as superintendent at Charity Hospital13
Nov 1907 - Ida visits her family in Purvis, MS14
15 Mar 1908 - Ida is living in Crowley, LA15
21 Mar 1908 - Ida is living in Crowley, LA16
29 Mar 1908 - Ida is living in Crowley, LA17
03 May 1908 - Ida is living in Crowley, LA18
16 May 1908 - Ida is living in Crowley, LA19
Aug 1908 - Ida travels to Mexico20
13 Sep 1908 - Ida is living in Crowley, LA21
03 Oct 1909 - Ida is living in Eunice, LA (with older sister Mary?)22
18 Apr 1910 - Ida in living in Eunice, LA with her older sister Mary and her husband for the 1910 census23

Our timeline suddenly stops. Cousin Mary states that she was told as a child that Ida had died of tuberculosis.24 If you look at the timeline, this makes sense. Ida was a nurse and could have easily contracted TB. She resigns her post at Charity Hospital in 1906. She visits her family in 1907 (sick and wanted to see her family?) but then returns to Louisiana. In 1908 she travels to Mexico, perhaps for some treatment? In 1909 she moves in with her older sister Mary. Mary too had tuberculosis. She remains in her sister's household for the 1910 census. In 1910 she is still listed as being single. For many years this was a dead end and a brick wall. No death certificate was found in Louisiana or Mississippi.

Our big break came when Cousin Mary came into contact with a grandson of Ida's brother Herman. This grandson had a postcard in his possession that Ida had written to her brother.25 It was postmarked Denver, Colorado and said,

"Dear Bro, I am feeling fine. Had this made to show you all how fit I'm getting.
With love to all from "Jack"

The front of the post card was a photograph of Ida. There was no date but there was a note on the card that had been written by an unknown person apparently at a later date stating:

Ida Perry Faust
died in Denver, Colo
was a nurse
sister of Herman Perry
Sister Dona & Mae

This was the first time we had seen the name Faust. Ida had apparently married. This would explain why we haven't been able to find any more records of her under her maiden name. It made perfect sense that she had gone to Colorado. Many TB patient went out west for the drier air.

The signature line of With love to all from "Jack" was a bit of a mystery. As far as anyone knew Ida didn't have a nickname of Jack.

We checked Louisiana and Mississippi again for a death certificate, this time under the name of Faust. Nothing was found. Colorado also denied having a death certificate for her. Going back to the newspapers with this new name we found the piece of the puzzle we had been looking for, a death notice in the New Orleans Item for Ida dated 04 Sep 1911.26

Mrs. Ida Perry Faust
EUNICE, La., Sept. 4 - A telegram from Denver (Colo.) brings the news of the death of Mrs. Ida Perry Faust, sister of Mrs. I. N. Adams [Ida's sister Mary] of this city. The remains will be interred at Purvis (Miss.) the girlhood home of the deceased.

With this approximate date of death, we again appealed to the state of Colorado who was now able to find Ida's death certificate. She died on 31 Aug 1911 of pulmonary tuberculosis.27 One mystery had been solved but another one remained. Who did Ida marry and when and where did she marry him. The informant on the death certificate was E. P. Foust, who is assumed to be her husband.28

We checked the Hattiesburg American (Ida's home paper) and the Denver Post (where Ida died) for a more complete obituary but nothing was found. We checked for a marriage record in Lamar County, Mississippi (Ida's home county) as well as the surrounding counties of Marion, Forrest, and Perry where Ida was known to have had extended family. We also check Caddo, Acadia and St. Landry Parishes in Louisiana where Ida was known to have lived. Nothing.

Something of interest was found in the Denver Post though. We had Ida's exact address from her death certificate. This address was listed in the Denver Post as a rental. The ad specifically appealed to "Healthseekers" citing its sleeping porch [fresh air].29 Ida's death certificate states that they had only been living at this residence for seven days before her death. We were able to pull the address up on Google Street View and the house still exists. It is pretty neat to be able to see exactly where Ida was living when she died.

We tried finding E. P. Faust/Foust in the census records but came up short. Our second big break came when I posted this dilemma on the Transitional Genealogist's Forum. I was asking if anyone had any idea where to look next. Literally within minutes I had my answer. Someone (sorry, I can't remember who it was and I no longer have the email. If you see this let me know and I will give you full credit) thought to check the state of Texas. There is a known connection between the states of Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. In this case I hadn't thought to explore this because my timeline was so tight. The person on the TGF found E. P. and Ida's marriage license in Harris County, Texas. Enos Pierce Foust and Ida Leora Perry married on 23 Apr 1911,30 only four months before her death. Enos surely knew of Ida's condition and yet he married her anyway. I would love to know more about this man.

We still had one more mystery to solve, why Texas? What was the connection? Our answer would be found in the census records.

In 1900 "Pierce Foust" is found living with his widowed mother in Acadia Parish, Louisiana.31 This puts him in the same county as Ida so now we know where they met. In 1910 Pierce's mother Adelia remained in Acadia Parish though Pierce is no longer living with her.32 It is the 1920 census that gives us our final clue. In 1920 Adelia is living in Harris County, Texas.33 Son Enos P. is living with her. It appears that Adelia moved to Harris County shortly after the 1910 census was taken and Enos and Ida went to Texas in 1911 to be married in the county where Enos' mother was.

Though we know from Ida's death notice and her death certificate that she was buried in Purvis, Mississippi, no marked grave has been found. It is most likely she is buried at Coaltown Cemetery where many of her known family members are buried. Enos went on to remarry and have two children.34 He is buried in Houston, Texas.35

Now back to the postcard that was signed, "Jack." Enos' nickname was Jack as seen on his death certificate. Even though the postcard was written in the first person from Ida's perspective, it was her husband Enos that wrote and signed it. Though the postcard is not dated, this implies it was mailed shortly before her death and she was unable to write it herself. According to Ida's death certificate, they had only been in the state of Colorado for 2 months before her death.

1Louisiana Secretary of State, Vital Records, death certificate 14802 (1931), Mrs. Mary S. Adams.
2Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, death certificate 6775 (1911), Ida L. Foust.
3"Find A," digital images (, Olive P. Ames marker, Memorial #10806434, photograph by Rita Graves; Greenoaks Memorial Park, Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana.
41900 U.S. census, Marion County, Mississippi, population schedule, Purvis, Beat 5, enumeration district (ED) 81, sheet 1A, p. 112 [stamped], dwelling 1, family 1, John J. Perry household; digital images, (; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T623, roll 819.
5Ida Leora Perry, Diploma, 1903, Shreveport, Caddo Parish, Louisiana; Charity Hospital Training School for Female Nurses; Olive Perry, Diploma, 1906, Shreveport, Caddo Parish, Louisiana; Charity Hospital Training School for Female Nurses; We do not have a diploma for Mary. No records from the school have survived according to Louisiana State University who holds all of the surviving records from Charity Hospital. She most likely did attend the nursing school at Charity Hospital as she too left Mississippi for Shreveport. It is possible that she trained privately with her husband who was a doctor but that is less likely. She is listed as a nurse on the census records.
61910 U.S. census, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Eunice, enumeration district (ED) 121, sheet 8A, p. 120 [stamped], dwelling 160, family 160, Isaac R. Adams household; digital images, (; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T624, roll 530.
7Louisiana Secretary of State, Vital Records, death certificate 14802 (1931), Mrs. Mary S. Adams.
81910 U.S. census, LaSalle Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Ward 3, enumeration district (ED) 63, sheet 13B, p. 216 [stamped], dwelling 254, family 256, Virgil Ames household; digital images, (; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T624, roll 516; Mary Taylor Guy (McComb, MS), oral interview by Michele Simmons Lewis, 04 Jun 2000; After Dona Perry's husband Virgil Ames died, she married Shep Bond. Dona and Shep had been sweethearts when they were very young but they broke up when Dona went off to nursing school. They divorced after about 6 months (this was about 1962). Dona moved back to Baton Rouge. Shep stayed in Purvis and when he died he was buried next to his first wife. After Dona died she was buried next to her first. Mary is Dona's grandniece and she knew both Dona and Shep personally.
9"Find A," digital images (, Olive P. Ames marker, Memorial #10806434, photograph by Rita Graves; Greenoaks Memorial Park, Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana.
101900 U.S. census, Marion County, Mississippi, population schedule, Purvis, Beat 5, enumeration district (ED) 81, sheet 1A, p. 112, dwelling 1, family 1, John J. Perry household; digital images, (; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T623, roll 819.
11Ida Leora Perry, Diploma, 1903, Shreveport, Caddo Parish, Louisiana; Charity Hospital Training School for Female Nurses.
12Miss Ida Perry [head nurse], Photograph of Staff of New Sheveport Charity Hospital, 1904; A Chronological History; LSU Health Sciences Center.
13"Personal," American Journal of Nursing 6 (Mar 1906): 400.
14"Crowley," Times-Picayune, 10 Nov 1907, p. 37, col. 4.
15"Crowley," Times-Picayune, 16 Feb 1908, p. 40, col. 3.
16"Eunice, La.," New Orleans Item, 22 Mar 1908, p. 30, col. 4.
17"Society," New Orleans Item, 29 Mar 1908, p. 30, col. 4.
18"Out-of-Town Society," New Orleans Item, 03 May 1908, p. 15, col. 4.
19"The Hotels," Times-Picayune, 17 May 1908, p. 12, col. 7.
20"Eunice," Times-Picayune, 30 Aug 1908, p. 41, col. 2.
21"Society," New Orleans Item, 13 Sep 1908, p. 14, col. 6.
22"Out-of-Town Society," New Orleans Item, 03 Oct 1909, p. 12, col. 3.
231910 U.S. census, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Eunice, enumeration district (ED) 121, sheet 8A, p. 120 [stamped], dwelling 160, family 160, Isaac R. Adams household; digital images, (; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T624, roll 530.
24Mary Taylor Guy (McComb, MS), oral interview by Michele Simmons Lewis, 04 Jun 2000.
25Ida Perry Faust Postcard, undated; privately held by Roy S. McBride, Jr. (Gautier, MS).
26"Mrs. Ida Perry Faust [death notice]," New Orleans Item, 04 Sep 1911, p. 2, col. 4
27Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, death certificate 6775 (1911), Ida L. Foust.
29"Healthseekers [advertisement]," Denver Post, 20 Aug 1911, p. 29,col. 1.
30Harris County, Texas, Marriage Book 4: 106, Enos Pierce Foust-Ida Leora Perry, 1911.
311900 U.S. census, Acadia Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Rayne, enumeration district (ED) 1, sheet 10A, p. 10 [stamped], dwelling 178, family 183, Adelia Foust household; digital images, (; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T623, roll 556.
321910 U.S. census, Acadia Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Crowley, enumeration district (ED) 10, sheet 15A, p. 134 [stamped], dwelling 331, family 331, Adelia M. Foust household; digital images, (; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T624, roll 507.
331920 U.S. census, Harris County, Texas, population schedule, Houston, enumeration district (ED) 49, sheet 6B, p. 77 [stamped], dwelling 101, family 174, Adelia M. Foust household; digital images, (; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T625, roll 1813.
341930 U.S. census, Harris County, Texas, population schedule, Houston, enumeration district (ED) 220, sheet 3A, p. 43 [stamped], dwelling 23, family 24, Enos P. Foust household; digital images, (; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T626, roll 2350; Texas Department of State Health Services, death certificate 8618 (1930), Donald Walter Foust; Enos' second son died before the 1930 census was taken.
35Texas Department of State Health Services, death certificate 18687 (1931), Jack Foust.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, November 16, 2012

Question About Stillborn Deaths

Elaine asks:
"I asked my sister (in PA) about our two siblings: Margaret was stillborn and James only lived a few hours. She couldn't find anything at home on either of them (as in paperwork/documentation). She did look online and found James listed as "Davis, Boy" for a death but no birth record. She couldn't find a birth or death record for Margaret. (Margaret was born 13 Feb 1957 and James was born 20 June 1959.) They are both buried in the same plot with just an "infant marker" (to my knowledge). Unfortunately, that cemetery is not online. (Small church cemetery.) How are stillbirths documented by a hospital (or county/state) - if they are born dead, do they not get a birth or death certificate?

I'm pretty sure the church will have some kind of records. I remember my Mom telling us that because neither one was baptized prior to death that they were not permitted to be buried within the cemetery (Catholic) and had to be buried outside the consecrated grounds. Upset my Mom something terrible. Years later the rules changed and Margaret and James were moved to the family plots within the cemetery. So there should be two sets of burial records from the church. (At least I hope so, I'll have my sister check on that.)

[Names changed since immediate family members are still living]

This can be a little hit or miss. I am not familiar with Pennsylvania records so I had to do a little sleuthing. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health : "The Division implemented a Certificate of Fetal Death in 1950. A Certificate of Fetal Death is filed after delivery of a stillborn fetus when the gestational period is over sixteen weeks and shows no evidence of life." There SHOULD be a Certificate of Fetal Death for Margaret and either a Certificate of Fetal Death or a regular death certificate for James.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has an online index for their death certificates. James is listed in this index but Margaret is not, however, I am not sure if the Certificates of Fetal Death are included in this index. You would need to contact the Pennsylvania Department of Health. I will say that if James has a death certificate he also has a birth certificate. I would want both for my records. I would also request the birth and death certificates for Margaret knowing that they may not exist depending on the circumstances.

The website states that if you are wanting birth or death certificates for genealogical purposes you need only indicate that on the form you send in. The cost is minimal, $9 for a death certificate and $10 for a birth certificate. That is pretty cheap in the grand scheme of things.

Now about the church records. Catholic Churches are famous for the excellent records they keep. I would contact the church. Since this is a small church, it is possible that their records are sent in to their Diocese but that won't be a big deal.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, November 15, 2012


We have talked about Timelines in History which refers to the timelines of PLACES. Now I want to talk about timelines in relation to your ancestor.

It is important to follow your ancestor through time and record where he/she was and when as many times as you can. The more points that you can fill in on a timeline the better. Why? If you know where your ancestor was when, you will be able to predict where he should have been for certain events as well as possibly pick up on clues that will lead you to earlier locations (migration patterns). You can also see who was in the same place at the same time which might lead to familial connections. Here is a list of potential timeline events:

  • When and where was your ancestor born?
  • When and where did your ancestor marry? Multiple marriages?
  • When and where were each of your ancestor's children born?
  • When and where was your ancestor living for every census during his/her lifetime? Check federal, territorial, state and city.
  • When and where was your ancestor living when mentioned in a newspaper article? Was he/she named in an obituary? An engagement announcement? A wedding announcement? An anniversary celebration? On a list of letters waiting at the post office? In an advertisement?
  • Does your ancestor appear in any city directories?
  • Does your ancestor appear on any voter lists?
  • Did you ancestor serve on a jury?
  • Was your ancestor mentioned in any other type of court records? Was he/she a witness for an official document? Involved in a civil suit? A criminal case?
  • When and where did your ancestor buy/sell land?
  • Does your ancestor appear on any type of school record as a child, parent or teacher?
  • If your ancestor served in the military, when and where did he enlist or when and where did he sign up for the draft? Where was he discharged? Did your ancestor appear as a next-of-kin on someone else's military papers? Next-of-kin is given on WWI draft cards with an address/location.
  • Did your ancestor leave behind any letters or postcards that included a date and a location?
  • Does your ancestor appear on church membership rolls or in the church minutes?
  • If your ancestor was born in another country, do you have the year of immigration? A passenger list? Naturalization records? Passport/Visa?
  • When and where did your ancestor die?
  • When and where was your ancestor buried? People are not necessarily buried where they died. There might be some significance to where they were buried.

Here are two FREE courses on timelines offered by the Family History Library/FamilySearch:
Timelines and Lifelines, How Timelines Can Help You With Your Research
Using Excel to Create Timelines

All of the top genealogy database programs have a built in timeline feature as well.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Questions About Wills and Probate

Here are a couple of questions that came up when the Columbia County Genealogical Society took a field trip to the Columbia County, Georgia Probate Court last Thursday.

"What is in a probate file and where do you find it?"

It depends on the state/county [but we are talking Georgia here]. Some probate courts keep all of the papers generated for each probate case together in a "box," "drawer" or "case file." Others keep all of the components separate as does the Columbia County Probate Court. You have the Will Books which contain the wills and the court document when the will was proved, you have the Inventories and Appraisements, Accounts of Sales, Letters of Administration and Administrator Bonds, Guardianship Bonds and [court] Minutes. These are all in separate books. You have to piece the probate file together by checking each book. Usually these courts will also have files of loose papers (miscellaneous documents that didn't make it into a book). If you are lucky, the loose papers will be cataloged and indexed. If you are not lucky, you will be spending some serious time at the courthouse. P.S. The old name for the Probate Court in Georgia is the Court of Ordinary so you will see that term on older documents.

"The wills look like they are all in the same hand. Did the clerk write these?"

The clerk hand copied the wills into the will books. The original was kept by the testator but you might find an original or two in the loose papers kept at the courthouse since the original will was normally produced at the first court hearing (when the will was proved).

"Are all wills public record?"

Once a will has been probated, the court records become public record, even contemporary ones.

Here are a couple more questions I received via email:

Mia asks:
"Where do I go to look to see if my 3rd great grandfather had a will?"

You need to know in which county your ancestor lived near the time of his death (or at least narrow it down to a couple of counties). The first place I look is the Family History Library's Card Catalog to see if that county's probate records have been microfilmed. If there is nothing there, I call the county probate court and just ask them if they have probate from 1860 (or whenever). The reason I like to see if it is on microfilm is that most counties will not do research for you to see if there is a will for your ancestor nor will they copy the probate documents (which in some cases could be hundreds of pages long). You can look at the documents if you go to the courthouse in person but many times that just isn't practical. If they are on microfilm you can easily order the films and look at them yourself.

Question from Dave:
"What does "now wife" mean in a will? Does that mean he was married before?"

Maybe, maybe not. All you know for sure is that the now wife is the one he was married to at the time the will was signed. It could mean there was a former wife. If that is the case then you will normally see children from the first marriage named in the will. This is a way to differentiate the children from a former marriage from those of the subsequent marriage. This could also be the man's one and only wife. He may have titled her as the now wife just to show that he was indeed married to her at the time the will was written ensuring that she gets what he wants her to get.

Nancy asks:
"I found an abstract of my great, great, great grandfather's will in a county history book. Can I use this or do I have to get a copy of the actual will?"

You don't have to do anything at all but I suggest you get a copy of the actual will (along with all of the probate documents that go along with it). I found a will abstract a couple of months ago on USGenWeb that was completely wrong. The person that abstracted it assumed that all of the persons named in the will were children of the deceased. Only one was actually named as a child. The abstracter also took it upon himself to "correct" the spelling of two of the names. I got the will off of microfilm about a week later and couldn't believe it. Use abstracts and indexes as clues to help you locate the actual records. I don't use either unless the original documents no longer exist. For example, Greene County, Georgia is missing some early marriage records, however, the Greene County Probate Court has an index that was made before the records went missing and the marriage I need does appear on this index. I use this index as my source because the originals no longer exist.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Question About a Marriage Record

Question from Ron:
"Are the "statistics" that are sometimes included on a marriage license a valid source of information? I recently obtained a copy of my Great Grandparents marriage license. On the back, there is a statistical section that was returned to the county after the marriage took place. I've attached a copy to this email so that you have an idea of what information I am questioning. I have most of the information on both the Groom and the Bride. However, there are two pieces of information I've seen never seen documented before. First, where she was born. Second, and more important, the name of her father. I know that both of these are starting points for further research. Since the information is contained on an official document, and that document is signed by the Bride, can I consider the marriage license a valid source and list these two items as facts?"

Jackpot! Marriage records can look totally different depending on the state and the county where the marriage took place. I have never seen this information on the back of a license like this before but I have certainly seen this information given in other ways. In several of the Mississippi counties I work with, all of this information is right on the front of the marriage license (around 1900 and later, early records don’t have this). Here in Columbia County, Georgia where I live they have the regular marriage books (licenses and certificates) and then they have marriage application books. In the marriage application books you will find exactly what you have on the back of your license. This is definitely a valid source of information. The information was given to the clerk by the bride and groom themselves so it is assumed to be correct.

Here is the document that Ron sent me:

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Will Purvis, the "Miracle Man"

Remember how my grandfather told me that we were related to Daniel Boone and it turned out to be Daniel Boon of Mississippi and not Daniel Boone of Kentucky fame? My grandfather also told me that we were related to Will Purvis. Will Purvis is a very famous person in the state of Mississippi because he beat the hangman's noose. So was Grandpa telling the truth?

Nutshell version of the events: On 22 Jun 1893, a man by the name of Will Buckley was murdered in Marion County, Mississippi. Buckley's brother Jim testified that he saw Will Purvis at the scene of the crime and Will was subsequently arrested. The First Judicial District Court of Marion County, Mississippi found him guilty and sentenced him to hang. The case went all the way up to the Mississippi Supreme Court before the final judgment was passed on 04 November 1893.

On 07 February 1894, Will was taken to the scaffold. When they hung him the knot slipped and he fell to the ground unharmed. Rev. Sibley, who was in attendance, convinced the Sheriff not to try and hang Will again, instead, they retried him. He was again sentenced to hang. Before the sentence could be carried out, Will escaped from jail with some help from his friends. He was on the run for a time but then eventually surrendered and was put back in prison. Shortly after that he was pardoned by the governor.

In 1920, Joe Beard confessed to the crime. He started that Louis Thornhill had actually pulled the trigger but he was right there with him. Beard died before his confession was signed so his confession couldn't be used against Thornhill. The state ended up paying Will a bunch of money because he had been accused wrongly. Will was not completely innocent though. He had been a member of the White Cap Klan (similar to the Ku Klux Klan) but parted ways with them when he was only 19 years old. Will was convinced that the murder had been "pinned" on him as a lesson to the White Cap Klan. Beard and Thornhill were also members of the gang. Will did turn his life around after he was pardoned. He married and had 11 children. For the remainder of his years he lived the life of an ordinary rural Mississippi farmer.1

So how am I related to Will? Will's wife Sarah Matilda Boon was the granddaughter of, yes, you guessed it, Daniel Boon of Marion County, Mississippi. Sarah's aunt Mary Catherine was married to my great-granduncle William Isaac Simmons. Small world isn't it.

1Frances Williams Griffith, True Life of Will Purvis (1935; reprint, Purvis, Miss.: Lamar County Historical Society, 1989),4-6, 8, 28-9,32-3,37-40; This reprint has the correct day but wrong year for the hanging. The correct date/year was confirmed by numerous newspaper articles including, "Will Purvis' Neck Saved," The Daily Picayune, 08 Feb 1894, page 1, column 6.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Copyright ©

Public Service Announcement: I would like to thank all of the veterans past and present for their service to our country. I am proud to say that my family is full of men and women that served in our armed forces.

Copyright is often discussed on the Transitional Genealogists Forum and the mailing list for the Association of Professional Genealogists but this past week it has been THE topic of conversation. I think the news about Cyndi's List sparked some of this. I am far from being an expert and I am one of those that is always asking questions but I will cover some of the most common situations you will run into as a genealogist.

So why should a genealogist be concerned with copyright? One reason is that you can get yourself in a lot of legal hot water if you infringe on someone's copyright but the most important reason is that it just plain unethical to use someone else's work as your own. I know that most copyright infringement by beginning genealogists is because of ignorance of the law and not malice but that won't matter a bit to the judge hearing the case.

Here are some very basic things you need to know:

If you didn't write, photograph or record it, it doesn't belong to you
You wouldn't want someone stealing your car so why would you steal someone's writings or photographs? If you remember that everything you read in a book, in a magazine or on the internet was authored by someone other than you and it belongs to them you should do fine. Photographs and sound recordings are also covered. Here is what's covered under copyright law. Here is a great layman's brochure on Copyright Basics.

Copyright is automatic
As soon as you create something (writings, photograph, art work, sound recording etc.) it is protected under the copyright laws. You do not have to register the copyright with the copyright office but you can if you want to. HOWEVER, if someone infringes on your copyright you must be registered with the copyright office in order to receive certain damages (look at page 7 of this document). You do not have to put a copyright notice on your work for it to be covered but it is a good idea to do so as a warning to those that read/look at your work.

Fair use
You can quote or paraphrase SHORT passages but you must always give credit to the author. You cannot use large portions of the work without permission from the author. Here is the Copyright Office's definition of Fair Use. To see a more detailed discussion about Fair Use click HERE. Here are two examples taken directly from a couple of my reports. The first is a direct quote:

"I was born in Jasper County, Mississippi, on September 27, 1872, and lived with my parents on a small farm."1

1Frances Williams Griffith, True Life Story of Will Purvis (1935; reprint, Purvis, Miss.: privately published, 1989), 2.

The second example is a paraphrase:

Why would a family risk everything to move to this unknown and untamed land? By 1798, when the Alabama-Mississippi area was opened to settlement, much of the Upper South’s farmland had been completely exhausted due to poor farming practices.1

1Charles D. Lowery, “The Great Migration to the Mississippi Territory, 1798-1819,” Journal of Mississippi History 30 (Aug 1968): 173-192.

Even though I didn't quote Mr. Lowery directly, the thought was his. I got that by reading his article and I must give him credit for it. I didn't know that the Upper South's farmland had been completely exhausted due to poor farming practices, I learned that from him. I don't know if this is fact or not, I am taking it as his opinion after he did the research. This is a mistake that beginning genealogists (and writers in general) will make. They think that if they reword what they have read then it is okay to use. No it isn't. Another word for this is plagiarism.

If I needed to quote a large block of text, say over one paragraph (a short paragraph), I would get permission from the author and put that permission in the citation itself. I have never needed to do this. If I was routinely quoting large blocks I wouldn't be doing my own research now would I. There is no fixed number of words that constitutes a small section vs. a large section. This is a common sense thing but be aware that if someone takes you to court it will be the jury that decides how much is too much.

Photographs are covered under copyright
You cannot copy photos off of Find-A-Grave (or anywhere else) without the permission of the photographer. People do this all the time. I have found photos that I have taken for Find-A-Grave posted all over If you want to use the photo in your own work, ask the photographer for permission. I can mention the existence of the photo without permission from the photographer (still give him/her full credit) but if I actually use the photograph then I must get permission (because you are using the work in its entirety).

Here is a citation where I just mention that the photograph exists:

"Find A," digital images (, Adolphus Armstrong marker, Memorial #20640841, photograph by Ann Rhoden; Mill Creek Baptist Church Cemetery, Glascock County, Georgia.
Here is what I would do differently if I am actually going to use the photograph itself:

"Find A," digital images (, Adolphus Armstrong marker, Memorial #20640841, photograph by Ann Rhoden; Mill Creek Baptist Church Cemetery, Glascock County, Georgia; Permission to use photograph granted by Ann Rhoden, 06 Nov 2012.

When you are dealing with photographs, the photographer holds the copyright, not the possessor. Remember that when you start copying photos that Aunt Mabel took but you have at your house. You need Aunt Mabel's permission if the photos were taken after 1923.

Know the difference between copyright and contractual law
This is a biggie. Here is an example; federal census records are in the public domain BUT if you get the federal census off of, you have to abide by their terms of use and that is restricted.'s terms of use state that anything you get off of their website is for your personal use only. When you signed up with you signed a contract with them stating your would abide by their terms of use. If you violate this, they can sue you for breach of contract (not copyright infringement). Here is's Terms of Use. Every web site that is a repository of genealogical works will have a terms of use page. If you access documents from their website you agree to abide by their terms of use whether or not it is a paid site or a freebie site. Another good example is GenealogyBank. Even though newspapers that were printed before 1923 are in the public domain, if you access them through GenealogyBank you cannot copy them (except for personal use) without their permission. Here is GenealogyBank's Terms of Use.

You cannot copyright facts
If you upload your family tree to, the facts in your tree are not protected by copyright. If you say that Jane Marie Doe was born 12 Jan 1842 that is a fact. Anyone can copy that and they won't be violating any copyright laws. If you have a narrative paragraph detailing the research you did into Jane's life that part of your file is under copyright.

Know the different expiration dates of copyright
Anything published before 1923 is no longer copyrighted and in the public domain. Anything created after 01 Jan 1978 is under copyright until 70 years after the death of the creator unless it was published anonymously, under a pseudonym or is a work for hire, then the expiration is 95 years from the year of its first publication or 120 years from its creation, whichever occurs first. Anything created between 1923 and 1978 is under several different rules depending on the exact date. To figure out the copyright for anything between those dates read Chapter 3 of Title 17 of the United States Code. Or, if you are smart, you will buy Sharon DeBartolo Carmack's book that I have detailed below. She has a handy dandy chart explaining the copyright for works between these dates.

I have only given you the basics. Copyright law can be a little confusing and tricky. The US Copyright Office has a very informative website that is easy to read. I would suggest you spend some time there. They have a FAQ page which is very helpful. Another thing I found on their website that was interesting was a Records Search where you can find everything that has actually been registered with the Copyright Office since 1978. This only includes REGISTERED works but it is interesting to see what is actually registered (though it doesn't make the work any more protected).

I highly recommend Carmack's Guide to Copyright & Contracts by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack. I have only just recently acquired this book and I am so glad that I did.

If you are a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), in the members only area you will find an EXCELLENT webinar by Judy G. Russell, JD, CG called Facts, Photos and Fair Use: Copyright Law for Genealogists. You will find in in the Professional Development section. This is yet another reason to join genealogical societies and professional groups. For even more reasons take a look at Why Should I Join a Genealogical Society?

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Making Find-A-Grave Better

I have received many emails asking about how to make corrections to Find-A-Grave. This post will show you what sort of corrections you can make and how to make them, I think that everyone that uses Find-A-Grave should also take the time to help make it better.

How to make corrections to individual memorials
If you find an error on an individual memorial, the first thing you do is hit the EDIT tab and send a message to the creator explaining what is wrong. If it is a simple data entry error (date on memorial doesn't match date on the photo of the marker) you can just point it out to them. If there is some other error like a mistake in the family links, the person is in the wrong cemetery, or there is something wrong with the information that has been added in the bio area, then you will also need to send them your evidence explaining why you think it is in error. If you are a DIRECT descendant, you can ask the contributor to transfer the memorial to you so that you can make any edits you want. The contributor is under no obligation to do so (he/she may be a direct descendant as well). If the contributor is no longer active, if the contributor fails to respond to your request or if the contributor refuses to change the memorial, you can send an email to Be aware that if the contributor is still an active member on Find-A-Grave, the only thing they will change is obvious data entry errors if there is a photograph available. They will not infringe on an active member any more than that. If the member is inactive they will make the changes you have requested. If the member is inactive, you can request that the memorial be transferred to you and then you can make the corrections yourself.

How to make corrections to cemeteries
If the name of the cemetery is wrong, there are duplicate cemeteries that need to be combined, if the cemetery has the wrong GPS coordinates or no GPS coordinates at all, you fix these by going to the Cemetery Fix/Updates/Corrections forum. You must be logged into Find-A-Grave to use this. When you post, you MUST put links to the cemetery pages you are referring to or your post will be ignored. Mark has hundreds of requests and he doesn't have time to research what you are talking about. Make your post short, sweet, and to the point. On the first page of the forum, there is a detailed list of do's and don'ts. I would make sure you follow these guidelines to the T or your request will be ignored. Keep track of your request and check the cemetery in a couple of weeks. If it hasn't been fixed, put in a 2nd request, NICELY say is it the 2nd request and put the date of your first request. Mark sometimes closes the forum down to new posts when he is at the overwhelmed point. This gives him time to get caught back up. Make a note of your corrections and try back again in a few days.

Others ways you can make Find-A-Grave better

  • Become an active member and manage memorials yourself. I manage a large number of memorials for my direct line (transferred to me as I requested them) and I also manage all of the memorials I add from cemetery surveys. I happily transfer these memorials to direct line family members so that they can add things that I don't know.
  • Before you add a new cemetery or a new memorial, please check to make sure someone else hasn't already added this information. The F-A-G people have enough to without you adding to their work.
  • If you add information to a memorial that is not present on the tombstone, make sure you cite your sources for the information.
  • Request photographs for any memorials you are interested in that don't have one.
  • Sign up to be a photographer.

Here is my Contributor Profile Page. You can see how long I have been a member, how many memorials I have added, how many I actually manage, how many active photo requests I have submitted, how many photos I have taken, and how many photo requests I have fulfilled. The number of virtual flowers are the times I have left a message on a memorial page. At the bottom you will see how F-A-G people talk to each other via a mini public board.

This is an example of a memorial that I created because I know the person is buried in this cemetery. I have requested a photograph of the marker but it hasn't been fulfilled yet.

This is an example of memorial I created and I added the photograph. This one is my family so I won't be giving up the memorial.

This is an example of a memorial I created and I added the photograph but this was just a cemetery I surveyed and I have no connection to this person. I would give this memorial up to the first direct descendant that contacts me.

This is an example of a memorial I didn't create but it was transferred to me because I am a direct descendant. William Houston Simmons was my paternal grandfather.

This is an example of a memorial that someone else created and I took the photograph for them.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, November 9, 2012

Code of Ethics

Public Service Announcement: I received several emails yesterday about the International Genealogical Index (IGI) post asking me if I could post an actual Patron Ordinance Submission Sheet. I will ask the Family History Library (FHL) for permission to use one on the blog. If they say I can, I will block out the submitter's personal information so that you can see what one looks like.

I would like you to read 3 Codes of Ethics. The are actually aimed at professional genealogists that do research for other people but I think these principles are good for ALL researchers. If you ever need to hire a researcher to help you out, you should hold them to these standards even if they don't belong to one of these organizations. Personally, I would only hire someone that does belong to one of these groups.

1) Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) Code of Ethics
2) Board for the Certification of Genealogists (BCG) Code of Ethics
3) The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen) Code of Ethics

The National Genealogical Society (NGS) has Genealogical Standards and Guidelines that you should also read. They are excellent. You do not have to be a member of the NGS to read these but I highly recommend that you join. If you want more information about WHY you should join take a look at Why Should I Join a Genealogical Society?

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The International Genealogical Index (IGI)

The Family History Library's International Genealogical Index (IGI) is a valuable tool that many beginning researchers don't even know about.

The IGI is in two parts and you need to understand the difference. The first part is the Community Indexed IGI (vital and church records from the early 1500s to 1885). Volunteers indexed actual documents from microfilm for this index. Here is an example:

I found this entry:
John C. Entrekin married Mary F. Bethhauser on 15 Jul 1874 in Ross County, Ohio. Click on the link to see the entry.

When you look at the page, you can see that this marriage record was taken taken from FHL microfilm #0281641 V. I-K. If you go to the FanilySearch Card Catalog and plug in the film number 0281641 (leave off the V. I-K) you will see the details of the microfilm. Make sure you change the drop down box to Film Numbers. You will now see that the series is Marriage Records, 1798-1951, Ohio Probate Court. Scroll down a bit and you will see the correct microfilm which is v. I-K, 1865-1875. Normally if you find a record like this in the Community Indexed IGI, you then need to order the microfilm and look at the actual marriage license/certificate yourself and then use that as your source. However, in this case you are quite lucky. There is a link that says, "Ohio County Marriages are available online, click here." Now search for this record again. Surprise! The actual image is available HERE (last entry on the page). You have to be signed into FamilySearch to see this record.

When you see the record you should realize that this is an abstract book that Ross county put together well after the events occurred. If you are a good researcher, you would now contact Ross County and try and get the original marriage license/certificate. If they say the original records are lost/destroyed then you can use the abstract book as your source. It was put together by the county clerk of Ross County and was taken from the original records. I browsed the book to see if they had written the date the records were abstracted but there wasn't anything. Only a small portion of the these records are online. Usually you will have to order the microfilm (click on the microfilm number and you will see the process). More and more records are coming online every day through the efforts of all of the volunteer FamilySearch Indexers.

The 2nd part is the Community Contributed IGI (personal family information submitted to the LDS church). This portion of the IGI is very different. It is a collection of Patron Ordinance Submission Sheets submitted between 1969 and 1991. If you get a hit here, you will need to go through the same process and order the microfilm. None of these records are online. The difference is that these are not official documents but rather fill-in-the blank forms containing family information. Sometimes (certainly not always) the submitter would put WHERE he/she got his information (source) and that is why you need to actually see the sheet.

Here is the marriage of Calvin Lewis and Emily Miles, 11 Nov 1847 in Wilkes County, GA. This couple is actually in my personal file. So where did this information come from? The only way to know is to get the patron submission sheet. I received the sheet today thanks to Rootsonomy. In this case it wasn't that helpful.

The patron submitted the sheet in 1986. She stated the source of her information was "Marriage Records of Wilks [sic] CO, GA." I am sure you know by now this isn't a proper citation and it makes it difficult for me to find the record. I have searched the Wilkes County marriage books and I haven't been able to find this marriage. What is interesting is Calvin was from Columbia County as was Emily. It is a bit odd for them to have gone to Wilkes to get married but not impossible since Wilkes is the next county north. I checked the Columbia County marriage books (digital images of microfilm) and that was negative too. I tried to track down the submitter but I had no luck there. If she is still living, she doesn't live at the address listed on the sheet. So now I have an exact date for a marriage but no good source to go with it.

I have had successes with Patron Ordinance Submission sheets though. Here is the entry for the marriage of Carlos Evan Lee and Eliza Lee in Perry County, MS on 31 May 1948. I requested this marriage record from Perry County and they denied having one. That didn't surprise me though because they have had a lot of records losses through the years. The records are stored in a basement that gets flooded from time to time (don't get me started about that). So where did this marriage date come from? I requested a copy of the Patron Ordinance Submission Sheet and this time I got a nice surprise.

The patron submitted this information in 1981. Her source was "Leonard Slade." I have spoken with Leonard Slade many times over the years before his death in 2007 at age 83. That man knew EVERYTHING and he had it all committed to memory. You could ask him about anyone and he could give you their entire life story including any dates you wanted. The only problem with Leonard is that he didn’t think it was overly necessary to document this stuff on paper in any orderly fashion. He probably had boxes of notes in his attic. He started researching in his early 20s. I was very lucky to meet with him in person in 2000. He has written several books and he was the president of the Lamar County Historical Society. Leonard interviewed everyone he could. Carlos died in 1948 and Leonard could have easily spoken with him. Carlos also had 11 children that lived in the area and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Leonard had spoken with every one of them. Knowing Leonard as well as I do, and knowing his research practices over his lifetime, I can say with confidence that this date of marriage and place of marriage is most likely correct. When I source this, my source would be the Patron Ordinance Submission Sheet but I would add a comment to the source that Leonard Slade was the Patron's source of information and why I think it is reliable. I would also document that the Perry County marriage books had been searched with nothing found and an explanation of the multiple records losses. This Patron Ordinance Submission Sheet is the best known source for this marriage. Maybe one day someone will unearth a family Bible which will corroborate this date.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis