Thursday, February 28, 2013

Childbirth in the 18th Through 20th Centuries

Public Service Announcement:  I write the blog posts in advance.  I usually have at least 4 or 5 blog posts ready to go in case something happens like I get sick or tied up with a big project.  Sometimes when I publish a blog post I might say that I am going to do something but I have actually already done it.  For example, when I posted Who is Green B. Gordon? I stated that I needed to get the land entry files for the two pieces of property that I mentioned.  I have someone that pulls records for me at NARA and I get them FAST.  By the time I actually posted this story I already had the land entry files.  This blog is geared toward beginners and intermediates so I jump on situations that will be a good learning opportunity.  In this case it would have served no purpose to mention that I already had the files.  When I wrote the post I did not have them.  The point was that I needed the actual land entry files and not just the patents. 

When this post published, someone on Google+ stated that I needed to get the land entry files from NARA.  She apparently didn’t see that I stated that I had already ordered them.  I responded back that I had just received them.  The poster seemed to be a little put off that I had the files in my possession but didn’t say so in the blog post.  I then explained that the posts are usually written several days before they are published and in the meantime I had received the files.  Again, she seemed a bit put off.  I have deleted the conversation so that this person can’t be identified.  She is certainly entitled to her opinion.  Since this was a concern for her I thought it would be best if I clarified the purpose of the blog and how and when I post in case someone else has similar concerns. When I want to add something to a blog post that I have already written I do it in the form of a “public service announcement” like I did today.

In case you are interested, the land entry files had a lot of great info but unfortunately there was nothing that helped identify Green B. Gordon.  I have been looking at the federal and state census records to get a basic outline of his life before I delve into things like the tax records.  Perry county is a burned county (1877) as was its parent county, Greene (1875), so I am a little limited.  I do not have any real answers yet.    One thing that I did learn was that the second land transaction, the one after James Sr. died, actually occurred on 14 Nov 1817 so this is definitely James Sr. and not James Jr.  It took them a while to get the patent issues (1849). 

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming:

I needed some background information about women dying in childbirth in the 19th century when I came across these two books:

If you want to get some insight into what your female ancestors had to go through, you need to read these.  I am a nurse and it was still an eye opener for me.  These books are definitely not for the faint of heart.  The first one focuses on the experience more from the point of view of the mother and the second focuses more on the point of view of the midwife/doctor.  You will definitely look at your female ancestors in a different light.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Who is Green B. Gordon?

I have no idea!  I am doing some research into Simmons land records in Perry County, Mississippi and I found this: 

Patent to “Green B. Gordon, assignee of James Simmons,” Credit Volume Patents, Volume 117, page 555, 01 September 1824, Mississippi and Alabama General Land Office, Bureau of Land Management (; 160.12 acres. NW1/4, Section 33, Township 5N, Range 11W.

Patent to “James Simmons, assignee of Green B. Gordon,” Credit Volume Patents, Volume 136, page 318, 01 January 1849, Mississippi and Alabama General Land Office, Bureau of Land Management (; 354.0 acres. S1/2, Section 11, Township 4N, Range 13W.

These are two distinct pieces of property (not adjacent).  The second patent was after James Simmons, Sr. had died so it could possibly be James Simmons, Jr.  This is the first time I have seen Green B. Gordon’s name on any Perry County document or any document associated with this Simmons line.

This is one of those Collateral Lines type of projects.  I need to find out who Green B. Gordon was.  Obviously there was some tie between the two men.  I have already ordered the land entry files for both patents and I am pretty excited about this.  If you want to know more about land entry files and their importance then read Land Patents and Land Entry Files.  I also need to do a family group sheet on Mr. Gordon.  I need to know who his parents were, who his wife was and who his children were.  One possibility is that one of James’ daughters married one of Green’s sons.  I don’t have all of James’ children identified yet so this is something I need to think about.

Collateral line research is especially important in this family because the Perry County Courthouse burned in 1877 with a complete records loss.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Update on DNA and a Couple of Questions

I ordered the 37 marker yDNA test from FamilyTree DNA on 15 Feb 2013.  My uncle received it on 21 Feb 2013 and he mailed it back on 22 Feb 2013.  Now the wait begins…

Anonymous asks:
”Is there is difference between Historical Societies and Genealogical Societies?”

Historical societies normally focus on the place and genealogical societies normally focus on the people. Some organizations are a combination of the two. Here in Columbia County, Georgia we have the Columbia County Genealogical Society and a separate Columbia County Historical Society. They are two completely different groups. Over in Dawson County they have the Dawson County Historical and Genealogical Society which covers everything.

Nan asks:
“You've mentioned Georgia's Virtual Vault several times.  I wonder if you could give us some tips, tricks and hints  to better use this resource.  I had folks in Georgia from about the 1790's to 1830's.  I've managed to find some county records, but am not sure how to go about printing them or saving them.  Any help will be appreciated.”

I LOVE Georgia's Virtual Vault.  The link I gave you is to their old site because their new web site is not functional.  I spoke with the archivist that handles the Virtual Vault and she is unable to update it right now because she is doing the job of three people thanks to budget cuts.  The Archives has big plans to get more of their holdings digitized and online.  Right now there are two Universities vying for control of the archives.  This is a good thing because this means they will no longer be under the Secretary of State.  A university can provide them with more money and a better organizational structure.    They will be able to do things like expand the Virtual Vault.  The new Virtual Vault web site will fix the problems I have listed below.

Now back to the original question.  One of the problems with the Virtual Vault is how you navigate the images.  It isn’t like Ancestry,com or FamilySearch where you can easily zoom in and pan the image.  Instead, you have to use arrows to go up and down and left and right and it is a very slow process.  You have to blow the image up as much as you can to be able to read it and then start moving around.  It is very cumbersome.  Each of these moves is saved so you can’t just use your back button to get back where you started unless you want to hit it 112 times.  The way to do it is once you get to the page you want, use the “open link in new tab” option (right click).  That way you can easily flip to the other tab to get to your original page.  Saving images is actually easy.  There is just one thing you need to know.  Before you save the image make sure you completely zoom out.  If you save it while you are zoomed in you won’t get the entire image.  Just right click and hit “save image as.” 

One hint with the marriage books.  The indexes (indices) are… interesting.  Most of the marriage books have handwritten indexes.  Pay really close attention because your letter may be on more than one page.  Read the entire index list carefully.  Here is an example index from Columbia County’s Marriage Book A.

S (cont.)-T
B,W,Y (cont.)
F,L,M,N,S,T (cont.)
M (cont.)-N (cont.)
A,F,H,I,T (cont.)
J,P,Z (cont.)
D,L,R (cont.)
C (cont.)-W (cont.)
B (cont.)-F (cont.)
C,G,K (cont.)
E,H,S (cont.)
B (cont.)-C (cont.)
D,G,M,R,W (cont.)

There are a few counties with a few books that have typewritten indexes but not many.  Also, if you can’t find your person in the index don’t give up.  Some of the indexes are very hard to read and there are some omissions from time to time.  You might have to flip through the pages one at a time but be aware that the pages are not in strict date order.  They are more in order by the filing date and not by the marriage date and even that isn’t totally strict.  This is when you will go completely batty.  Each page takes a while to load and because of the way you have to zoom and pan with arrows, it will take you a couple of minutes to figure out who is on each page, especially if it is a double page with 6 marriages.  I keep hoping that the Virtual Vault will get the money they need to update.

They have several very useful collections.  They have death certificates to 1930.  This one is really important because in the state of Georgia only the immediate next-of-kin can get a copy of a death certificate.  The only ones that have been released to the public are these.  They have images of the headright and bounty plats for some counties and indexes for all counties in existence at the time.  There are several important military collections including Confederate enlistment oaths and discharges, Confederate pension applications, Spanish-American War summary cards and a Georgia Militia enrollment list.  I am excited to see what might appear next.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, February 25, 2013

Two Cool Photos

This would be my 2nd great-grandparents Albert Gallitan Graham (1844-1926) and his wife Mary “Mittie” Richardson (Grantham) Graham (1839-1917).  Albert was a Confederate veteran and Mittie was a midwife.  Mittie’s daughter Corrine died in childbirth with my grandfather in 1910.  I always wondered if Mittie was in attendance during that birth.  This picture would have been taken around 1889.


Here is the same couple only later!  This one would have been taken about 1905.


“Everyone” says that Mittie was part Indian.  What do you think?  My DNA shows 5% unknown.  Do you think part of that 5% in Native American and came from Mittie?  So many Indian rumors in the family and so little proof.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Don’t Neglect a Simple Google Search

I did a little research on my stepfather’s brother (both men deceased) back in 2009.  I knew that his brother had been involved in a maritime double murder and he was sent to prison in 1967.  The last time my stepfather saw or heard from his brother was well before this.  Before he died, my stepfather asked me to look for his brother.  He wanted to know if he was still living and he wanted to contact him.  At that time my stepfather was pretty ill and wanted to know what had happened to his brother before he died.  He didn’t know if his brother was alive, dead or still in prison.  It turns out that he was released from prison in 1989 after serving more than 20 years.  He died in 2008 before my stepfather could reconnect with him.  After my stepfather died in 2010, I decided to look at his family again (you always want to look at a branch of the tree after someone has fallen off of it).   I already had a family group sheet for the brother and I had  found the newspaper articles describing the event on Google News.

I did a plain old Google search using the man’s name but then I decided to put in the name of the boat he was on and the boat the victims were on and I got some hits that I wasn’t expecting.  I found an appellate court opinion!  The owner of the vessel the two victims were on (the dead captain of that boat was not the owner) sued his insurance company.  Apparently, my stepfather’s brother rammed the vessel several times with his own boat capsizing and sinking it after he has committed the murders.  The insurance company didn’t want to pay for the damages to the boat so the owner sued.  There was a clause in the insurance policy that excluded damages from acts of piracy and the insurance company refused to pay the claim based on this clause.  The insurance company won at the lower court level but then the case went up the chain to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court did not agree that this was an act of piracy as the insurance company claimed.  The appellate court overturned the lower court’s ruling and the plaintiff won his case.  This court ruling became case law and is now used in other cases (and that is why it is on the internet).

This was a fascinating read.  Not only did you have the drama of the appellate case but there were details of the actual crime that didn’t make the papers.  Your person of interest may have generated records that you hadn’t even considered and a simple Google search is one way to find them. 

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Spotlight–Michael Grant Hait, Jr., CG

I was totally blown away by Michael Hait’s “In the Shadow of Rebellions: Maryland Ridgelys in Slavery and Freedom” in the December 2012 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ),  This article was the 2011 winner of the Family History Writing Contest which was well deserved and not the first award Michael has won. I love reading the NGSQ and I learn a lot though the research of other people but sometimes the articles are a bit hard to follow.  Michael is a gifted writer and this complex case was made easy to understand by his clear writing.   It is one of those articles where the story enfolds right before your eyes and you are drawn in.  I couldn’t put it down.  Michael is well-known in the genealogy community as an accomplished researcher, teacher and writer. If you have been reading my blog you will know that I link to Michael’s writings frequently.  You can read more about Michael on Michael's Bio Page.  At the bottom of that page you will see some links that will take you to some radio and print interviews which will help you get to know him even better.

Here are some of Michael’s offerings.

Michael Hait Family History Research Services

Planting the Seeds [Over 2000 people follow this blog by email]

Examiner Pages:
African American Genealogy Examiner
Baltimore Genealogy & History Examiner

Online State Resources for Genealogy

Archived Webinars:
Your Civil War Ancestors: Beginning Your Research
What is a 'Reasonably Exhaustive Search'?

Upcoming Webinar:
Research in the Old Line State: An Overview of Maryland Genealogy  17 Jul 2013, 2:00pm EDT

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Scrap of Paper

Note:  Blog reader Susan found a date error when I posted this originally.  Because of the date error it gave my argument faulty reasoning.  I had to go back and clarify something with my husband and I have fixed the error.  I am very glad to know that y’all are reading my posts that closely.  I want to know if something isn’t right.

Blog reader Cathy and I have been corresponding back and forth this past week via email regarding some research she needed help with.  One of the things we talked about was making sure you follow up on information you find in online family trees.  Cathy then stated,

“I see what you are saying. I have been guilty of that in the past, just accepting someone's findings. But it is a little different or at least more reliable if it's info passed down through the family, right? On my father's side, a great aunt did some research (in the 60s) but she didn't really give all her sources but I have accepted most of that.”

I thought this would be something to discuss on the blog.  I have two examples to present to you.  The first one is very similar to Cathy’s situation.  A distant cousin of mine wrote a family history in the 1950s.  This manuscript has been the basis for many other family member’s research.  When I started investigating my family tree 20+ years ago I too used this manuscript and considered it to be gospel.  When I got my first genealogy computer program I entered the entire manuscript into it.  Over time I started seeing problems with some of the data.  I found some simple typos with names and dates but I also found some assumptions that had been made by my relative that turned out to be false and I also found a lot of information that he had simply missed.  Had I been a more seasoned researcher when I first looked at the manuscript, I would have seen some classic signs that there might be problems.  The first page started out with the classic “three brothers” story and a description of the “Family Simmons Coat of Arms.”  If you are not familiar with these two problems, I suggest you find the following book:

Rubicam, Milton. Pitfalls in Genealogical Research. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, 1987.

This book is out of print but you can find a used copy on the internet with no problem.  It was written 26 years ago but the advice in it is timeless and Mr. Rubicam delivers the information with a lot of humor which makes it a fun read.  Chapter 3 deals with family genealogies and traditions that have been passed down and that is where you will find the infamous “three brothers” story.  The information about Coats of Arms is in chapter 10.

I advised Cathy to use the information in her aunt’s genealogy as a starting point.  She needs to re-research all of the facts presented and cite them properly.  There is a very good chance that Cathy will find clues in this manuscript that she might not have been able to uncover on her own.

Sometimes what family members have written is your best evidence even if you can’t find any corroborating evidence and I wanted to give an example of this.  When my father-in-law Gordon died in 1991 this scrap of paper was found among his personal effects.  


This is not  Gordon’s (nor his wife Miriam’s)  handwriting.  So who could have written this note and why was it found in Gordon’s belongings?  James Nathaniel Young and Jessie (Fountain) Young were Gordon’s maternal grandparents and James William Young was his uncle.  When his mother Lillie Belle was placed in a nursing home, Gordon took possession of a box that contained photos and papers from Lillie Belle.  I was able to verify the birth and death dates of Jessie and James [the son] using corroborating documents.  James Nathaniel Young is another story. I have been unable to find a burial location for James Nathaniel and he died before Georgia started recording death certificates.  All I knew was that he died between the 1910 and 1920 censuses.  His date of birth wobbles a bit in the census records.

In 1870 he is listed as age 21  [born abt. 1868]
In 1880 he is listed as age 122 [born abt. 1868]
In 1900 he is listed as age 253 [born Aug 1874]
In 1910 he is listed as age 384 [born abt. 1872]

In this case this little slip of paper is my best evidence for James Nathaniel’s birth and death dates. I have tried to corroborate the dates but have been unable to, however, the other two entries on the paper have been corroborated which gives some added weight to the document.  I would also put more weight on the 1870 and 1880 censuses since it is most likely that one of James’ parents gave his age and the two censuses agree with each other.  They are within one year of the scrap of paper which is certainly within the margin of error.  In the 1900 and 1910 census, there might have been a reason why James wanted to appear younger.  One of those reasons could be that his wife Jessie was 10 years younger than he was.  So how would I cite this source?  I actually had a hard time coming up with a citation for this since I don’t know for sure who the writer was.  I opted to use the format for “Traditions” [Evidence Explained 3.45] with an added explanatory note. 

Young Family Birth and Death Dates; privately held by Michele (Simmons) Lewis,[ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Harlem, Georgia; This undated, unsigned slip of paper was found in the personal effects of Gordon Sanders Lewis at his death in 1991.  According to Gordon’s son, James Sanders Lewis, this is not in Gordon’s or his wife Miriam’s handwriting.  The three people named on the paper are Gordon’s maternal grandparents and his uncle.  Gordon was known to have taken possession of a box of photos and papers from his mother Lillie Belle when she moved to a nursing home in 1985. It is possible that Lillie Belle herself was the author.

Cathy then wrote me back sounding a bit defeated and overwhelmed.  I tried to encourage her saying that learning how to do effective research and good documentation/citation takes time and even the very top of the top researchers (way above me) are always in leaning mode. Laurel T. Baty, CG is certainly a seasoned researcher and at the top of her game.  She put it best when she said, “I can always see how much I have grown as a genealogist when I go back and revisit previous research!”  Laurel (and I) says it with happiness and that is the best encouragement I can give Cathy. 

1 1870 U.S. census, Jefferson County, Georgia, population schedule, Militia District 77, Bethany post office, p. 43 (stamped), dwelling 316, family 407, Noah O. Young household; digital images, ( : accessed 11 Aug 2008); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M593, roll 160. 

2 1880 U.S. census, Columbia County, Georgia, population schedule, Militia District 128, enumeration district (ED) 18, p. 345 (stamped), dwelling 319, family 349, Noah Young household; digital images, ( : accessed 11 Aug 2008); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T9, roll 141. 

3 1900 U.S. census, Columbia County, Georgia, population schedule, Militia District 131, enumeration district (ED) 6, sheet 10A, p. 86 (stamped), dwelling 169, family 169, Nathan Young household; digital images, ( : accessed 11 Aug 2008); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T623, roll 190. 

4 1910 U.S. census, Columbia County, Georgia, population schedule, Appling, enumeration district (ED) 4, sheet 3A, p. 69 (stamped), dwelling 34, family 36, James N. Young; digital images, ( : accessed 11 Aug 2008); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T624, roll 181.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Day of Truths

Two things came across my computer today that really sum up a lot of what I preach here on the blog.  The first is a cartoon by Deidre Erin Denton of Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches.


Copyright © 2013 Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches, used with permission

The second is a quote from Laurel T. Baty, CG [used with permission]
“I can always see how much I have grown as a genealogist when I go back and revisit previous research!”
Tomorrow I will be answering a question from a blog reader that illustrates both of these two points perfectly so stay tuned!

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Land Patents and Land Entry Files

I love the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) patent search page.  This is for land parcels in public land states.  For more info, read my Public Land Survey System blog post.

Here is the BLM entry for James Freeman.  You will see that his patent is dated 25 May 1825.  The land description is 79.42 acres in Perry County, Mississippi, W½NW¼, Section 22, Township 4N, Range 11W.  With this information I can plot out the exact location of James’ land.  All I need is a map with the townships, ranges, sections marked.  The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) has a map for Perry County (you will need to enlarge the map a bit).  You can see that Hwy 29 goes right through his property.  This is great info, however…

You can’t stop here.  You need to order the actual land entry file.  The patent will only tell you so much.  I did order the land entry file and this is what I found.

On  28 April 1818, James Freeman bought the NW¼, Section 22, Township 4N, Range 11W for $2.00/acre (total of 158.85 acres).  On 01 November 1822, he relinquished the east half of the above quarter which paid for the remaining half in full and his account was closed.   

This gives me a much better picture.  He actually bought the land seven years before the patent was issued.  He originally owned twice as much land but used half of the land to pay for the other half.  I also know how much he paid for the land.  There is something else in the land entry file that was very interesting.  There was a title dispute on the property as late as 1914.  When I looked at the patent originally, I did not notice that the President of the United States (or his agent) had not signed the patent. This messed up the title a bit.  There are three letters back and forth between an attorney and the Land Office.  I can’t tell by looking at this if the title was ever cleared.  The attorney and the land office just went back and forth citing case law to each other.

Some land entry files contain a lot of information and some contain pretty much nothing.  You still need to get the land entry file and not stop your research when you find the patent.  Do you remember the Reasonably Exhaustive Search step of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)? 

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


I am working on a very large Mississippi project so I decided now would be the time to convert my research binder over to Microsoft OneNote.  Most of my stuff needed updating anyway.  To learn what a research binder is, click on Research Binders Part I and Part II.

I don’t know why it took me so long to do this because I am really liking what I see.  The way I have it set up is the name of the notebook is Research Binder (duh!) and I have tabs for all of the states I work in. Eventually I will add tabs for different countries and for general subjects too.   Under each tab you can add pages of information by topic. You can have as many tabs and pages as you want.  So far for Mississippi I have:

Territorial/State Censuses
FamilySearch Resources Resources
Greene County
Perry County
Washington County
internet Bookmarks

I have many more pages I will be adding over the next few days.  These were the first ones I needed for the project I am working on.  For the FamilySearch and pages, all I did was copy and paste their Mississippi page and I have all of the links to all of their collections in one place!  Not only that, the pages are automatically date and time stamped so I can see at a glance how long it has been since I updated the information.  I can go back and copy and paste is anytime I want. 

I copied all of my Mississippi internet bookmarks onto a page.  Eventually the bookmarks will be transferred to the appropriate page but for now it was just easier to put them all together.  Another cool thing I can do is I can send emails I need to keep directly to OneNote because I use Microsoft Outlook. 

I am using OneNote because I already have it on my computer but I know that there are many genealogists that swear by Evernote which is free.  Both OneNote and Evernote have mobile apps for your techno wizards out there. 

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, February 18, 2013

Taking the DNA Plunge

I have already done the autosomal DNA test on myself which was not earth shattering but it was interesting.  I had been putting off doing a yDNA test but I am now at the point in my Simmons research that I need to do something.  I can’t get past my brick wall and I am hoping this will shed some light on my dilemma.  I have no brothers and my dad is deceased but one of my dad’s brothers has kindly offered to donate some DNA for me.  I plan on chronicling the process on the blog so that you can see how long it takes and whether or not I actually find out anything useful.  I ordered the test from Family Tree DNA through the Simmons Group Project on 15 Feb 2013.  You get a little bit of a discount if you order the test through one of their project pages.  I opted for the 37 marker test which is the one they recommend.   

Here is the brick wall that I hope to break down:

James Simmons of South Carolina was born 14 August 1764 and died 10 Jan 18431 in Perry County, Mississippi.  He married Ellenor Lee of South Carolina abt. 1787, 2 most likely in South Carolina.

I have been unable to trace James’ parents though I do have a couple of theories.  So what am I hoping the DNA will accomplish?  Well, there are several people in the Simmons DNA project that have a Simmons ancestor in New England a generation or two before my James and some are even further back to England.  If my DNA matches one of those lines it will get me steered in the right direction. 

For more information on DNA tests, you can read my DNA in a Nutshell blog post.

1 James Simmons, Jr. Family Bible, 1764-1907, The Holy Bible (Philadelphia: Kimber and Sharples, n.d.), "Family Record"; privately held by Homer Kees, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Brookhaven, Mississippi, 1921. Entry for James Simmons Senr; The Kimber and Sharples publishing company was in business 1807-1844 [John Wright, Early Bibles of America (New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1892), 123.] The earliest entries are in one same hand, the later entries are in a different hand and the latest entries are in a third hand.  Per Mr. Kees, the Bible passed from James to his youngest child Charity Green Simmons who was Mr. Kees' grandmother.  He inherited the Bible from her.

2 James Simmons, Jr. Family Bible Records, “Family Record;” Under the entry for James Simmons, Senr. is "Ellenor Lee Simmons, his wife." The estimated marriage date is based on Ellenor being 18 years of age at the time of the marriage.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Unmarked Graves–Part II

Here is the Mt. Tabor Baptist Church Cemetery in Harlem, Georgia. I am a member of this church so of course I love this cemetery.


The cemetery was established in 1862 and it is still being used today.  There are many unmarked graves.  I have been able to identify several of the people buried in the unmarked graves and I am trying to put together a cemetery book for the church’s reference.  If I get really ambitious I will add the obituaries as well.  The church has never kept burial records so they have nothing to refer to when people inquire.  I wrote a human interest type story for the Augusta Chronicle, the Columbia News-Times, the McDuffie Mirror and the McDuffie progress asking people to contact me if they had any information about who was buried in the cemetery without a marker.  A couple of the unmarked graves have flowers placed on them from time to time so I knew that someone knew who was buried there. I also did a search of the Augusta Chronicle/Columbia News-Times for obituaries of people buried in the cemetery and compared it to the known burials. The McDuffie Mirror is a new paper so it wasn’t searched (I have been at the church longer than the paper has been in existence).  The McDuffie Progress has been around since the 1800s but it is on microfilm only and not searchable other than one page at a time. 

Why am I doing all of this?  Read the last two sentences of Yesterday's Post to find out.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Unmarked Graves

If you know for certain who is buried in an unmarked grave and where, you need to get that information out to as many people as you can before the information is lost forever.

In 1977, one year before my grandfather Houston Simmons died, he took me to the Grantham Family Cemetery in Lamar County, Mississippi and showed me two graves marked only with cement posts flush with the ground.  He said, “This is where my parents are buried.”  That one statement was more valuable than you can imagine.  When I mentioned it to my dad and my uncles years later not one of them had a clue as to where their grandparents were buried.  Their grandmother died in 1910 and grandfather died in 1937.  My dad wasn’t even born until 1937.  If my grandfather hadn’t shown me these two graves that information would have been lost forever.  So what did I do?  I told as many people as I could tell.  I put it in my file so that other researchers would have the information.  I also added the pair to Find-A-Grave with the information that the graves were unmarked.

Here is another example.  In 1998 I interviewed Howard Simmons, now deceased. He stated that in 1936, George Simmons, grandson of Silas and Janet Simmons, took Howard out to the Old Enon Baptist Church Cemetery in Forrest County, Mississippi and showed Howard where Silas and Janet Simmons and their son Thomas were buried.  At that time their graves were still marked with fieldstones, though no inscribed markers.  When I went out to the cemetery, the fieldstones were still there but they were piled up in the corner. Howard was a genealogist so he made sure that he recorded this information and passed it on to as many people as he could and I do the same.  Silas and Janet’s grandson is a credible source for his burial. He told Howard that the family visited the graves often. 

How about an entire unmarked cemetery? I wrote an article for Southern Footprints, Volume 2, Number 2, Apr/Jun 2002 detailing the discovery.  Here is a condensed version:

Family historian Mack Simmons [deceased] authored a genealogy manuscript in the 1950s which included information about a cemetery located on the “Old Frank Simmons Farm.” In an 1990 interview, Mack stated that the graves in this cemetery were marked with hand carved wooden markers and that a woods fire in the 1920s wiped the cemetery out. Mack had visited the cemetery as a child.  We were able to pinpoint the location of the property through Benjamin Franklin Simmons’ land patents.  The land description is as follows:
SW1/2NE1/4, Section 29, Township 3N, Range 14W
W1/2SE1/4, Section 29, Township 3N, Range 14W
NE1/4SW1/4, Section 29, Township 3N, Range 14W

Using a Lamar County Highway Map that has the sections outlined, we knew his property was on Ray Boone Road.  My Uncle Leonard and I went out to take a look.  After talking with some of the elderly local residents, a man stated he knew of such a cemetery and took us down Ray Boone Road and pointed into the woods and said, "I remember it being in there somewhere." After approximately 45 minutes my uncle tripped over a piece of wood. When we examined the wood further we found it to be a partially buried, hand carved, wooden grave marker that also showed signs of fire damage. After searching the area we found 3 such markers as well as bricks that had been used to outline the graves. My uncle contacted the current owners of the property who did not know about the cemetery. They gave permission to re-mark the graves and to fence in the cemetery. We had looked into moving the remains to Grantham Cemetery where other family members are located but it was cost prohibitive. My uncle re-marked the graves, enclosed it with a rail fence and put up a sign stating "Simmons Cemetery."

Frank Simmons Family Cemetery


Here is a close-up of one of the markers we found after my uncle cleaned up the cemetery and remarked the graves.

There are eight known burials in this cemetery including my 2nd great-grandparents.  It breaks my heart to think that they might have been totally forgotten.  These were real people that lived real lives.  They deserve to be remembered. 

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, February 15, 2013

The National Archives, the State Archives, and the Family History Library

The records at the National Archives are EXPENSIVE and they take a long time to get to you after you have made a request.  There is a cheaper, easier and quicker way to get records from the Archives.  Hire someone to pull the records for you onsite.  I have someone I consult when I need something.  He just pulled two land entry files for me.  One of those files was quite lengthy.  My total cost for the two files, including the copying and mailing fees, was $30 and I got them in less than a week.  If I had ordered them from NARA directly it would have been $100 and I would have gotten them in 4 to 6 weeks.  If the one file had been shorter, he would have emailed images to me instead of mailing hard copies so my cost would have been even less.

I also have someone that pull records for me at the Family History Library.  I can’t even tell you how much time this has saved me.  It costs me $7.50 a roll to order the microfilm which isn’t bad but it takes 4 to 6 weeks for the rolls it to come in.  The Family History Center in Augusta does not have a copying microfilm reader so I have to take digital photos of the screen.  The readers they have are old and in bad condition with no plans to replace them.  It only costs me $15/hour to have someone pull records for me at the FHL and I get great images via email.  She can pull several records in an hour and I have them in less than a week usually.

If I need something from a state archive, I contact the archive and ask them for a list of persons who pulls records there.  I then contact one of them and I get my records.  There are also people that do this at large genealogical libraries and at courthouses.  I usually write to the courthouse directly and request the records but some courthouses won’t copy records for you.

Paying someone to do your leg work will save you time, money and aggravation. 

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, February 14, 2013


I am fascinated by the early migration trails.  I like to know how my ancestor traveled from place to place.  Knowing the route your ancestor took could lead you to records in other places but at the very least it adds interest to your ancestor’s life story. 

Jacob Perry [1790-1833] was in Robeson County, North Carolina in 1820[1] and then in Perry County, Mississippi in 1830.[2]  So how did he travel? The Fall Line/Southern Road Trail passes right through Robeson County and goes to Montgomery, Alabama. From Montgomery there are two possibilities. Jacob could have taken the Alabama-Mobile Trail to Mobile and then the Mobile-Natchez Trail straight into Perry County or he could have taken the Alabama-Choctaw-Natchez Trail to Meridian and then south on the Choctaw-Bay St. Louis Trail which would put him very close to Perry County.[3]

You know that it took Jacob some time to get from point A to point B so he might have generated some records in the stopover points.  It would be worth taking a look, especially in Montgomery where he most likely stopped over for a time before continuing on his journey. If I were writing up a biography about Jacob you can bet I would be including background info/history about the trails he most likely traveled.

In Jacob’s case I knew the beginning and ending points but in the next example I don’t.  Knowing the migration route might help you work your ancestor back in time if you don’t know where he originated from. 

The earliest record found for James Simmons in the Mississippi Territory is the 1805 Mississippi territorial tax roll where he is taxed in Washington County;[4] however, family tradition holds that James' wife Ellenor died in Mississippi[5] and her date of death is recorded as 20 May 1801 in her son James' family Bible.[6] The Mississippi Territory was opened to settlement in 1798 so we can assume that James left South Carolina for Mississippi between 1798 and 1801 [Even if we discount the family tradition, we can still place James in the Mississippi Territory by 1805]. There were a few settlers in the area before it was officially opened up but they were concentrated in the Natchez area along the Mississippi River and in the Lower Tombigbee northwest of Mobile.[7] James' property was located in present day Perry County[8] which is between these two locations and not close to either. We know that James was in South Carolina at some point because two of his known sons were born there in 1794 and 1797.[9]

I think investigating possible routes is part of a complete investigation.  So where do you think James might have migrated from in South Carolina?  If you take a look at the 1790 census, there are five James Simmons’ in Charleston, one in Spartanburg and one in Orangeburg [including name variations]. Both Charleston and Georgetown sit on migration routes [Kings Highway and Secondary Coast Road. Charleston also sits on the Charleston-Savannah Trail]. Orangeburg is more out in the sticks but that doesn’t mean James and his family didn’t leave Orangeburg overland heading toward one of the bigger trails, most likely the ones already mentioned. At this point we just don’t know.  Part of my investigation would be to look at James’ neighbors in Mississippi and see if I could pick up a migration pattern.  Extended family and neighbors often traveled together.

What is really interesting is that most of the old migration routes still exist. You will know them as major US highways, state highways and interstates. On the Roads and Routes Map [scroll down a bit] you will see a couple of the major trails along with the contemporary road names. If you have been on US 80 or I65 in Alabama then you have traveled on the Federal Road.


[1] 1820 U.S. census, Robeson County, North Carolina population schedule, p. 307 [penned], line 16, Jacob Perry household; digital images, (; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M33, roll 84.

[2] 1830 U.S. census, Perry County, Mississippi, p. 156 [penned], line 8, Jacob Perry household; digital images, (; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M29, roll 71.

[3] A. Lee Everton, editor, The Handybook for Genealogists 10th Ed. (Draper, Utah: Everton Publisher, 2002), 855, 860.

[4] Washington County, Mississippi, "Territorial Tax Rolls, 1805," image 9, James Simmons; digital images, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, FamilySearch ( accessed 13 Jan 2012); citing Mississippi State Archives, Various Records, 1820-1951, Box 144.

[5] Simmons and Simmons, The Family Simmons Living in Perry and Forrest County, Mississippi on Leaf River and Black Creek, Early 1800s Thru 1995, 4; Based on interviews with George Simmons, great-grandson of Ellenor, taken between 1937 and 1962.

[6] James Simmons, Jr. Family Bible Records, 1764-1898, The Holy Bible (Philadelphia: Kimber and Sharpless, n.d.), “Family Record”; privately held by Homer Kees, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1979; The Kimber and Sharplesss publishing company was in business 1807 – 1844 [John Wright, Early Bible of America (New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1892), 123.] The earliest entries are in one same hand, the later entries are in a different hand and the latest entries are in a third hand. Per Mr. Kees, the Bible passed from James to his youngest child Charity Green Simmons who was Mr. Kees’ grandmother. He inherited the Bible from her.

[7] Charles D. Lowery, “The Great Migration to the Mississippi Territory,” 1798-1819,” 179-180.

[8] Federal Land Patents, Bureau of Land Management (; James Simmons, credit volume patent #363, Greene County, Mississippi, 10 January 1820; Land description SW ¼ S33 T5N R11W puts the land in present day Perry County using the Mississippi Department of Transportation map for Perry County ( Though this land description transaction is dated 10 Jan 1820, we know that James Simmons was in this same area prior to this based on tax and census records.

[9] 1850 U.S. census, Perry County, Mississippi, population schedule, p. 384 [stamped], dwelling 185, family 185, Silas Simmons household; digital images, (http://www.ancestry); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M432, roll 379…. 1850 U.S. census, Copiah County, Mississippi, population schedule, p. 251 [stamped], dwelling 606, family 606, James Simmons household; digital images, (; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M432, roll 371.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Even More Questions About the GPS

Question from Dana:
”I am not sure how to record all the things that I checked but I didn’t find anything.”

Great question!  If you use a Research Calendar your negative searches will be recorded there.  If you don’t use a research calendar then you need to have it recorded in your genealogy database program’s research log or to-do list or you can record it in the notes section. I use research calendars.  I use a template that I designed in Microsoft Word and I have a file on my computer called “Research Calendars” where I park them. I use Legacy Family Tree as my genealogy database program.  Legacy allows you to attach photos and files to each person in your tree.  I attach a copy of the research calendar to the person of interest within Legacy so that everything I have on that person is in one place (Legacy actually links to the document.  It is only on my computer one time).  

We talked about this on the Transitional Genealogists Forum (TGF) not too long ago. The discussion was in reference to formal case studies and whether or not you should record your negative searches within the report itself. The general opinion was that you only record a negative search if that negative search had a direct impact on your conclusion.  Even so, you need to have your negative searches/results recorded somewhere.

Question from Anonymous:
”What do you do with all of this proof arguments?  Where do you keep them?”

The shorter ones are just typed into the research notes section in Legacy   I write long ones in Microsoft Word and then I save them in a file on my computer called “Case Studies.” I link these files to the person of interest in Legacy.  

Question from Dan:
”I don’t have the Evidence Explained book.  I use RootsMagic and it has a built in source generator that uses Evidence Explained.  Have you heard about any problems doing it this way?”

I don’t use RootsMagic routinely but I do have the free RootsMagic Essentials program on my computer.  I think their templates adhere to Evidence Explained pretty good.  Just make sure you pay attention to what RootMagic suggests that you put in each field.  Even though I too use templates, I still like to have the book as a reference as a double check. 

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sawdust and Harlem

Public Service Announcement:  Today is another fun post. Tomorrow I will have a few more questions on the GPS.

Last month I told you a little bit about Pumpkin Center, Georgia.  I thought I might show you a few pictures of neighboring Sawdust/Harlem.


This marker is across the highway from Mt. Tabor Baptist Church in Harlem, Georgia where I am a member.  The community of Sawdust doesn’t really exist anymore but it has a interesting history intertwined with that of the church.

According to the Harlem City Hall website,

“When the Georgia Railroad was built from Augusta to Eatonton, Ga., in 1835, Saw Dust was a main stop. The booming lumber town was founded in 1840, situated a mile from where Harlem is today. Travelers often stayed overnight in the town, which sold liquor and bore a reputation of being a little wild.” 1

Apparently the Methodists weren’t too happy about Sawdust’s reputation.  In 1874, the Methodists moved one mile east in protest of the goings on in Sawdust. The old church building went up for sale and Mr. William Lansdell bought it because he had family members buried into the cemetery. It wasn’t until 1883 that the Baptist’s moved in and Mt. Tabor Baptist Church was founded.2  Harlem Methodist Church is still thriving just a stone’s throw away in Harlem proper.

Mt. Tabor Baptist Church, formally Sawdust Methodist Church
Harlem (Sawdust), Columbia County, Georgia003

Every town has an interesting history if you are willing to do a little sleuthing.  Here is a photo of Harlem’s sign.  You can see what Harlem’s claim to fame is.


What is interesting is that Oliver Hardy moved away from Harlem when he was a young child and never returned.3 You would never know it when you visit the Laurel and Hardy Museum in the middle of town. Close to 40,000  people from all over the country (world?) come to Harlem for the annual Oliver Hardy Festival on the first Saturday in October.  Harlem’s normal population is about 2,500. 

If you were wondering if there was a connection between Harlem, Georgia and Harlem, New York wonder no more.

“It was named by a New York resident visiting relatives who thought the town resembled Harlem, NY, the elite artistic area near New York City.” 4

1 Harlem, Georgia City Hall, “Our History” (, A short history of the development of the area that would become Sawdust and Harlem. 

2 Etta Knox Miles (Harlem, GA) oral interview by Michele Simmons Lewis, 18 Nov 2012; Ms. Miles is the church historian and has been a member for over 60 years.

3 Harlem, Georgia City Hall, “Oliver Norvell Hardy” (, A short bio of Hardy.

4 Ibid., “Our History.”

opyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, February 11, 2013

More Questions About the GPS

Public Service Announcement:  I edited an answer to one of yesterday’s questions after receiving a comment from Michael Hait, CG.  You can read Michael’s comment, my response, and the added information to the original answer HERE.  It is the first question.  I consider Michael to be an expert on the GPS so his comments and opinions matter to me.  I linked to several of his writings in the original GPS series.

Davis and J. R. both ask:
”How do you know when you have searched everything there is to search?”

The trick is knowing what all is available for that location and that time period.  You need to do preliminary research to see what records are actually out there at the National Archives, at the State Archives, at the Family History Library and at the local courthouse.  You also need to think about things like newspapers, journals, and unpublished manuscripts.  Genealogical societies may have narratives and surname files. USGenWeb has a lot document transcriptions though you will need to get a copy of the original record yourself.  Out of copyright books are available on the internet.  II find a lot of local histories and biographies that way.  This is only a partial list and in the original post I gave some additional ideas.  You can’t do an exhaustive search until you know what all is out there TO search.

A related question from Ginny:
”Do you look at the trees at as part of your exhaustive search?”

I sure do.  I look at and FamilySearch and I do a Google search to find all of the trees that are on private websites .  I am only looking for clues and for people I think might have information I need.  I never use internet trees as a source for anything.  I also check to see if there is a compiled genealogy [book, manuscript] at the Family History Library.  Someone else may have already done research on the line you are following.  If you are lucky enough to find someone that actually cited their sources properly then it will be easy peasy for you to get the record for yourself.

Here is an example of how this can help you.  I was investigating an 18th century Robeson County, North Carolina family.  I didn’t have any information that this family had been anywhere else but Robeson County [formally Bladen]. I couldn’t find a will or probate file for the patriarch in Robeson County.  I checked the surrounding counties and didn’t find anything there either.  Some of these counties suffered considerable records losses so my negative searches were far from conclusive.  I  did a Google search and found a private website with a family tree.  Someone else had found a probate packet for the patriarch in Wake County.  I hadn’t checked there because it is a fair distance away. The patriarch had a married daughter who moved to Wake County that I hadn’t identified.  The patriarch went to live with her toward the end of his life and he died there.  The author of the website was a direct descendant of this daughter and had researched that branch quite well. 

Gerri asks:
”I know that a certain person is my 4th great grandfather but I can’t prove it.  How do I write this up?

There must be reasons WHY you “know” that he fits into your pedigree.  Follow the 5 steps of the GPS and you will be able to write up why you believe this to be true in a credible way.  Just “knowing” it isn’t good enough.  I like to think of it like presenting a case to a jury.  The jury comes in with no previous knowledge of the case.  It is your job to present the case to them.  You must present the case in a logical manner and your evidence must be credible.  You must draw sound conclusions in your closing arguments and the the jury decides if you have proven your case.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Questions About the GPS

Public Service Announcement: Charlie asked if there was a pdf available of the entire 18 Days with Sherlock series that I did back in Sep and Oct of 2012.  I didn’t have one so I put one together.  Please forgive any formatting issues you might find.  Taking it from the blog to a pdf isn’t an exact science.  When I have time I will go back and redo the entire thing.

18 Days with Sherlock

After the series I did on the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), I received quite a few questions which I will split over a couple of days.

Anne asks:
”WOW!  I am a bit overwhelmed!  I can really see just how important this is but I can’t imagine doing this for every fact in my file.  How do you do this?”

The GPS is used for facts that do not have a direct evidence source or for a fact that has conflicting evidence.  If you have a death certificate for someone then you have direct evidence of their death date.   If you have a marriage certificate you have direct evidence of the marriage between two specific people on a specific date. You would use the GPS for things like “Is John Doe the son of James Doe?” when there has been no document found that specifically states that John is the son of James.  If you have a will that states, “to my son John” that is direct evidence of the relationship.  In that case you might still need to prove that YOUR John is in fact the John that is identified as the son of James in the will using the GPS.  You may have direct evidence but also have other direct evidence that is conflicting.  In those cases you would need to apply the GPS.  For example, let’s say you have a Bible entry for John Doe that gives his date of birth as 04 Jan 1850.  You also have the 1900 census that has Apr 1854 and you have his death certificate that has 02 Jan 1851.  All of these provide direct evidence but you have a problem.  You will have to weigh each piece of evidence and write up your conclusion.  Just remember, even if you have direct evidence it could be wrong.

[Edited to add:  The GPS should be used for every fact in your file.   My answer to the above question was talking more about case studies and I didn’t make that clear.  You do not need to write up a formal case study for every fact.  Case studies are used for the more complex cases so that you can explain how you came to the conclusion that you did.  The case studies you read in journals such as the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ) are examples of the more involved and complex case studies.  I added this paragraph in response to Michael Hait’s comment below.  He was correct when he said the GPS should be used for every conclusion.]

John asks:
”You said to write it up in a word processor and then attach it to your computer file.  I use Legacy and there are notes fields.  Can I write up the summaries there?”

Of course you can.  The only problem you will have are with the footnotes.  In the general and research notes fields you can attach sources but you can’t attach them within the text itself.  In other words, you will have a list of sources that you used but you won’t be able to tell what sources go with what.  Your other option is to write it up in a word processor complete with footnotes and then copy and paste it into one of the note fields but you will have some major formatting issues.  It is just easier to type it up nicely in a word processor and then attach the file to the person in Legacy.  You can make a notation in one of the notes field showing that you do have a proof argument attached.

Anonymous asks:
”Do you really discount the 1850-1870 census because they don’t list relationships?”

I don’t discount the censuses at all.  All I am saying is that these censuses do not give direct evidence of the relationships between the people within the household and you should research further to find other evidence of the relationship.  I have quite a few examples in my own file of minor children in a household that were not the children of the head. 

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, February 8, 2013

Who Was Ainslie?

By now you should know that I am a big Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fan. If you haven’t read my 18 Days With Sherlock series, now would be a good time.  What I didn’t know was that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had a few mysteries of his own in his personal life.  Historian Al Dawson solved one of these mysteries when he identified “Ainslie,” the recipient of a personal letter penned by Doyle.  His investigative adventure is chronicled in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of Michigana which is published by the Western Michigan Genealogical Society.  It is a great read and I am happy to be able to bring it to you with permission from the author and the editor of Michigana.  You can learn even more about the twists and turns in the story by reading, “The Identification of Ainslie: A Tale of Literary Sleuthing Inspired by a Letter Found in the ACD Collection,” also by Dawson, in the Summer 2012 issue of The Magic Door which is published by the Friends of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, Toronto Public Library.  I am not able to link to this back issue directly but you can contact the Toronto Public Library for more information.

Sometimes SinS Yield Dividends: Who Was Ainslie? by Al Dawson

If you would like to send a comment directly to the author, you can e-mail him HERE.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Updated Book List

I get a lot of emails requesting a list of all the books I own including the location specifics ones that I didn’t have posted on the Books page.  I had to do a complete bibliography of what I own for the ProGen Study Group so I have inventoried everything I have and updated the list.  You can see everything I own HERE.  I added several things that l missed when I did the original list.  If any of you want to buy me something off of my wish list just let me know.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, February 7, 2013


When you are reading old documents you will come across words that you don’t know – archaic words, legal terms, Latin words and old abbreviations.  It will make your research less frustrating if you keep a few reference books handy. In the blog post, My Union Soldier, I wrote that Irvin Helpman was listed as a “drummer” on the 1900 census.  I really didn’t think he was a musical drummer so I thought I would look it up and see if maybe it had another meaning (it did).

Here are the resources that I use:


Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Genealogical Proof Standard - Step 5–A soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion

This step is the hardest one for me. When you have amassed copious amounts of data, it isn’t that easy to compile it into a report that follows a logical sequence and is readable.  You also have to worry about English syntax/grammar/spelling/punctuation/capitalization.  Your footnotes should be a breeze though since you have your complete citations on your Research Calendar and all you will need to do is copy and paste.  Here are a few hints.

  • You need a dictionary, thesaurus, English handbook and a style guide (Evidence Explained or the Chicago Manual of Style). A history book of the location in question as well as timelines are also very helpful.
  • Do not rely on your genealogy database program to write your reports for you. Even though the program will tell you it can do it, don’t believe it.  The output will never be what you need it to be.  Even if you have no plans to publish or submit your conclusions to anyone, you should write up your proofs in the correct format.  You can attach the file to your database program.  You never know when you might want to submit it to a journal, donate it to a genealogical society or write a family history..
  • Proof arguments do not necessarily need to be as long as you would find in a national journal.  The cases you see presented there are published specifically because of their uniqueness and complexity. Your proof argument for a specific fact may only be a paragraph or two long.  That doesn’t make it any less important.
  • Always have someone proofread your work, more than one person is even better.  Don’t rely on your word processor’s spellchecker and grammar checker,  They are totally inadequate.  I am the only one that proofreads this blog so you will find errors from time to time that I didn’t catch, however, when I am writing a proof argument I don’t trust myself to catch the errors.  My cousin Mary is a retired college professor and I get her to proofread for me.  She catches all of my syntax/grammar/spelling/punctuation/capitalization errors. She also happens to be a genealogist so she also catches any faulty logic.  I also like to have a non genealogist proofread.  If a non genealogist can follow your proof argument then you are doing good.
  • Normally you do not attach actual records to the report unless it is vital to show your point.  A citation to the document is usually sufficient.  An example of when you would need to show the document would be if you are comparing signatures.  In that case you can just put a photo within the report of just the signatures and not the entire document.
  • Sometimes lists and tables make the data easier to understand but the bulk of your report should be in a narrative format.
  • The best way to learn how to write a good proof argument is to read national journals like the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ), The New England Historical & Genealogical Register and The American Genealogist (TAG).  Your state genealogical society may also publish journals with scholarly articles. 

Skillbuilding: It's Not That Hard to Write Proof Arguments by Barbara Vines Little, CG
Skillbuilding: Proof Arguments by Laura A. DeGrazia, CG
The Genealogical Proof Standard, Step 5 by Shaw Genealogy (This one is short and sweet!)

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Genealogical Proof Standard - Step 4 - Resolution of any conflicting evidence

This is the step that beginners tend to skip.  When you find something in your exhaustive search that doesn’t jive with your working hypothesis, you can’t just discount it as being wrong.

Here is a very simple example. Let’s say you find this for Jane (Doe) Smith:
1850 – age 2
1860 – age 12
1870 – age 21
1880 – age 32
1900 – born June 1848
1910 – age 52
1920 – age 72
1924 – death certificate and tombstone put date of birth at 04 June 1848, her obituary stated she was 76 years old

It would be easy to just discount the 1910 census as an error and pretend like it doesn’t exist.  When you see something like this you need to acknowledge it and research it further.  You might not be able to explain the aberrant age but you won’t know unless you try.

I would look at the census record again AND I would also pull this same census sheet from other repositories.  Each company starts with the same microfilm but they use different digital imaging and enhancement techniques.  If there is something that I am not sure about I will check FamilySearch,, Heritage Quest and InternetArchive.  Is it possible that the 5 in 52 is really a 6?

I would also check to see if the other ages within the family are also off.  This might indicate that a child was the informant or maybe even a neighbor who guessed a bit on the ages.  I would check the other families on the page and on a couple of other pages.  Is there a general sloppiness?  Are there other ages that are off?  Any spelling errors?  Perhaps the enumerator was being careless.

How about this.  What if Jane remarried in 1909 and lied about her age so that her new husband wouldn’t know how old she really was.  He was dead by 1920 so there was no reason for her to lie again.  Far fetched?  Not as far as you might think.  I probably wouldn’t be able to prove this one but I could throw the possibility out there if I saw that she did marry in 1909 and new husband was dead in 1920.

My conclusion would be that she was born 04 June 1848 but now I can say it with the confidence of having investigated the conflicting data.  You will have much more complicated cases than this one but you get the idea.

Contradictions and Discrepancies by FamilySearch
Reconciling Conflicting Information by Michael Hait, CG
An Appellate Judge Discusses Genealogical Evidence by Adrian J. Gravelle

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, February 4, 2013

Genealogical Proof Standard - Step 3 - Analysis and correlation of the collected information

So far you have completed a reasonably exhaustive search and you have citied all of your sources.  Now it is time to take a look at your data and see what it tells you. I like to put everything I know in tables and on timelines.  The more ways you arrange and rearrange your data, the more things you will see.  Many times a researcher will have the answer right in front of them and they just don’t see it.  This is a good brick wall buster technique.  When you think you are at a dead end, go over your research again and put it in a different format.  List things by date, list things by name variations, list things by location etc.  Timelines are great for trying to separate out two people with the same name.

When you are analyzing the information that you collected, not only are you looking for evidence that supports your working hypothesis, but you are also looking for conflicting data.  The conflicting data must be addressed and that is step 4 of the GPS (tomorrow).

Here are a few good resources for more information:

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Genealogical Proof Standard - Step 2 - Complete and accurate source citations

I talk about citing your sources all the time so you can be sure that I think it is very important.  As you are doing your exhaustive search, you need to be recording a complete source citation.  Again, this is where your Research Calendar comes in handy. You will have the date and time you did the search, what you searched [complete citation], what you were hoping to find and what you did find all in one place.  When it comes time to write up your report with your findings it will be easy if you have recorded your information this way.  When I first started out I didn’t bother with research calendars because I thought they were more trouble that they were worth but I was so wrong about that.  I use them religiously now when working on genealogical dilemmas and I keep them as part of my file. If you do a full citation as you are putting your calendar together, you will have that citation later when you need it without having to go back to Evidence Explained or The Chicago Manual of Style to try and get it formatted right.  If you have your research calendar in your computer, you can just copy and paste the citation.

You can read The Basics of Citing Your Sources for more info.  Since I wrote that post, I found another great resource.  I highly recommend Tom Jones’ Seeing the Forest AND the Trees (and Their Leaves): Mastering the Craft of Genealogical Documentation.  He will help you understand why citing your sources correctly is so important and he breaks down the citations to make them easier to understand. James Tanner wrote a GREAT blog post on sources just this past Wednesday.  Please read More Thoughts on Sources.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Genealogical Proof Standard - Step 1 - A reasonably exhaustive search

The first step of the GPS is conducting a reasonably exhaustive search of the records.  Before you can do this you need to know what records are available for the location and time period in question. I can’t emphasize this enough.  If you don’t take the time to find out what all is available you will miss vital records.  So how do I figure this out?  I have some standard places that I check.

Be aware that everything is not online.  Every day more things are becoming available on the internet but if you limit yourself to this one source you will not be doing thorough research.  There are some things that you will only find at archives and courthouses.

I keep track of what is available and what I need to search using Research Calendars.  This is a great way to keep everything organized. You will  have a record of what you searched, when you searched it, and what the results were. You also need to record the list of available records that you found in your Research Binder (a physical binder or a virtual one) so that you will have it for the next time. You can read even more about research binders in Research Binders Part II.

Here is a very simple example.  Let’s say you find that John Doe had a son named James Doe on the 1850 census.  Do you record that James is the son of John and stop there?  No, you look for other records that support,  or possibly conflict, the hypothesis that James is the son of John.  In this particular example it is doubly important because the 1850 census does not give relationships.  You are only assuming that James is the son of John because he was a minor child living in the household.  You are looking for different types of records with different informants to put together your case. 

What sort of records would I be looking for?  John Doe’s will or intestate probate packet might name James as a son. This is before birth certificates but perhaps there is a church baptismal record.  Death certificates usually name the parents of the deceased but don’t forget that the deceased was not the informant.  The same goes for an obituary.  You will have to determine if the informant was in a good position to know this information.  If James was underage when he married his father might be named on his marriage license.  Some marriage licenses name the parents even if the bride/groom wasn’t underage.  You also need to check the other census records.  Did John have a family Bible?  Are there any deeds that name both John and James?  Sometimes you will get lucky and the deed will actually say, “to my son James.”  Remember, at this point you are only collecting your data. You will analyze and correlate it later.


How to Conduct a "Reasonably Exhaustive Search" for Relevant Records.  This is a good article by Michael Hait, CG.  He has authored several things about exhaustive searches and I consider him to be an authority on the subject.

What is a "Reasonably Exhaustive Search?" webinar by Michael Hait, CG.  The case study that Michael presents is an extraordinary example of what you will find if you do a truly exhaustive search. 

Thomas W. Jones, “When Enough is Enough: How Much Searching is ‘Reasonably Exhaustive’?,” Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly 25 (March 2010): 25–33.  I can’t give you a link for this one because you have to be a member of the APG to read back issues.  If you need a list of reasons to join genealogical societies and groups then take a look at
Why Should I Join a Genealogical Society?

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, February 1, 2013

Genealogical Proof Standard - Intro

The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) is such an important concept I will be devoting five blog posts to this topic covering each of the five points of the standard.  In this intro I am going to give you a basic outline and some resources for more information.  I will then go back over each point more in depth.

So what is the GPS and why should beginner/intermediate researchers worry about it?  In genealogy our main objective is to prove certain things like when and where John Doe was born, who were his parents, who did he marry, who were his children, when and where did he die, etc. Many times you don’t have direct evidence to prove your point and must rely on indirect evidence.  For your answers to these questions to be credible, you must follow a methodical and recognized standard of researching practice.  The GPS is a methodology that ALL researchers can use, not just advanced researchers.  It is sound advice and if you follow these guidelines you will produce quality research and you will break through brick walls. 

According to the Board for Certification of Genealogists, the five elements of the GPS are:

  • a reasonably exhaustive search
  • complete and accurate source citations
  • analysis and correlation of the collected information
  • resolution of any conflicting evidence
  • a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion

Even without me explaining the five parts I am sure you can already see how this would make for better research.  Please don’t be intimidated.  This is a very logical approach that is easy to understand. This series of blogs will give you the basics of what you need to know.   I will be giving you some resources for more in-depth learning. Tomorrow we will look at what a reasonably exhaustive search is.

Genealogical Proof Standard by the Board for Certification of Genealogists
Genealogical Proof Standard podcast by Christine Rose, CG, CGL, FASG for FamilySearch
Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case by Christine Rose, CG, CGL, FASG

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis